Friday, April 8, 2011

Part 3 - Going to the Movies and life with Dad

There were certain advantages to being the son of a local entertainment critic and there were corresponding drawbacks.  Among the drawbacks was that nothing was normal in the house.  Of course, growing up in an environment, one just accepts the conditions as being "normal" but through the lucid lens of hindsight, oddities begin to flourish in that "normal" household.

To illustrate: My father, since at that time he was on television, would spend a good part of Saturday, lying in the backyard in a chaise lounge chair in his swimsuit, tanning.  His excuse: He didn't like wearing the thick foundation make up that television required in those days.  That could have been true.  In any case, when he was tanning (with his little transistor radio next to his head) the kids were not allowed to bother him. Tanning time was sacred.  On the off chance that one of us would get hurt playing in the neighborhood, we knew to avoid the browning giant otherwise we'd feel the wrath.  We never went camping, or fishing, or to a sporting event.  He generally disliked the popular New Orleans offerings: The Saints and Dixieland Jazz Music and he insured that his children (well, two out of the three) would not sound like New Orleaneans, much less "West Bankers!"

On the other hand, my father LOVED movies and for the most part, we went to a LOT of movies as kids.  True, we had to suffer through some events like the re-release of GONE WITH THE WIND (which, when you are a kid, is pretty boring stuff except when the guy gets his leg sawed off), but we did see James Bond movies, and The Beatles HARD DAYS NIGHT & HELP, and Disney cartoons and live action movies, and horror and science fiction movies whenever they would open.  See, my Dad, because he was a critic, NEVER PAID FOR MOTION PICTURES!  For him they were free so he had no problem distracting his kids by taking us to the movies.

My father, modeling a male wig for an advertising campaign.
It was not uncommon for Dad to take us to a small multi-plex (back in those days, if you had two screens, you were a multi-plex) he'd drop us off in one theater (usually at the very end of the picture, so my brother and I would see the last 5 minutes of the movie and have to sit through the end titles before seeing the start of the next showing) and then he would go into the theater next door to see something he knew we would fidget through and therefore drive him nuts.  That's how my brother and I saw films like DANGER: DIABOLIK.

For us, the film started with a guy covered in gold, then there were the credits, then we'd sit for 10 minutes goofing around, and then the film would start over and we'd learn the events that would lead up to the guy getting covered in gold.  Sometimes, Dad would pop in about 10 minutes BEFORE the film had progressed to the point at which we had come in and we'd have to beg him to sit down so our curiosities could be satisfied.

One of Dad's regular distractions for birthdays was THE COLISEUM theater on well, Coliseum street on the East Bank just outside of New Orleans proper toward the Garden District.  The Coliseum was an old second-run (more like third or forth run) movie house that primarily showed Horror and Science Fiction Films.  And since Dad didn't have to pay to get in...he would take my brother or myself and as many kids that could fit in our car and drop us off to see films like DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, or THE TOMB OF LIGEIA, or one of our personal favorites THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM.
The Coliseum Theater in New Orleans.  Probably isn't even there anymore...

The other advantage to Dad being an entertainment critic was that he got stuff from studios.  Posters, T-shirts, and tons of 8 x 10 b&w stills.  He had a filing cabinet in the garage FULL of photos of actors from movies that he would use if the studio didn't provide him with a picture to accompany his articles.

For those of you in your twenties, the "Old Fogie" has to remind you: There were no home computers, or the Internet.  If you wanted information, the Public Library was your best option and that was limited.  My father kept this cabinet for decades, adding photos from the Press Books he received.

Not only that, but he worked for the NBC affiliate so, one day he brought home three, matted, color, publicity photos of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy from STAR TREK and gave them to my brother (I believe he still owns them).  I recall seeing these photos which were much larger and clearer than any photos I had ever seen and I noticed two things (yes, even as a kid): There were faint lines running down the midpoint of Mr. Spock's ears, and what was that netting on William Shatner's forehead?  When I asked my father what that was, without hesitation he responded, "William Shatner wears a hairpiece."

What?! I thought.  Captain Kirk is BALD???  It was one of the first lessons that my father would teach me about the illusion of Motion Pictures over the years.  I don't think he was trying to take away from the experience, but I do think that he wanted his kids to know that HE knew (or thought he knew) how motion pictures were made (and boy! Did I find out later how wrong HE was!).

I would be remiss to mention this about my father and it is important to my development as a person and as an artist.  He had a temper.  Not only did he have a temper, he didn't know how to express it any other way than screaming and striking.  It didn't take much to amp up Dad and have him go on a tirade that would end up with one of us kids getting slapped or having our hair yanked.  Sometimes at the dinner table he would scream so loud and talk so fast he would BITE HIS TONGUE and have to leave the table with blood seeping between his lips.  I'm sure he thought he had his reasons, but it didn't make it any easier growing up in that house.

All of this leads up to the one, important thing living with Dad did provide: He had a make up kit.  No fooling.  My father had a theatrical make up kit that contained grease paints, some crepe wool, spirit gum, a little nose putty and, of all things, blue liquid body make up (don't ask, I never did).  I wasn't supposed to get into it, but every now and then, I would open the little bottle of collodion and paint a line across my cheek and watch it form a "healed scar" as it dried.  This was my first foray into Make Up Effects.

If you haven't read my Facebook Note about the Christmas practical joke I played on my father, here's the link:


  1. I hope when you get to that point, you will share your Art Center ghost encounter :-)

  2. You better keep writing this story... I'm hooked.

  3. You are correct in your photo caption -- The Coliseum Theater, and the adjacent Mississippi River Bridge on-ramp seen in Interview With The Vampire, are long gone...

    Remembr the MEGA-plex at Oakwood Shopping Center? Started as a 2-screen, then progressed to a 3-screen by splitting screen #2, and later a 4-screen by splitting screen #1... Ain't there no more...

    Then there was Westside Cinema, with Shakey's Pizza in the same parking lot.The cinema is now an off-trac betting parlor, and the parking lot is predominantly occpied by Home Depot and Big Lots...

    And the cinema at Village Aroura Shopping Center was torn down about 20 years ago...

    There is only one movie theater remaining on the Westbank -- one of the giant AMC corporate cookie-cutter square boxes. Sadly, I honestly cannot remember the last time I sat in a movie theater and watched a film. It may well have been "The Bourne Supremacy" (2004).

  4. I remember you giving me one of those "scars" when your mother was livingon Rio Vista... AGES ago...

  5. Also, the Robert. E. Lee theater closed in 1987 and was heavily damaged by flooding post-Katrina. Alas, it was demolished in 2009.

    The old Pitt Theater on Elysian Fields has been torn down and replaced with a Walgreen's drug store. It had been closed since 1995.

    The Saenger on Canal Street is "being renovated" and scheduled for re-opening in fall 2011. Crazy details. The facility is to be renovated and "given" t the city, which will operate it. Recently it was announced that construction has not even begun, and it will not re-open before the 2013/2013 Broadway season.

    The Abalon Theater in Algier Point is now the New Home Family Worship Center of Algiers.

    The Prytania is still open and listed as the only single-screen theater remaining in Louisiana.

  6. Scott, that ghost was in the Theater Department at CalArts and yes, I will tell that story ;-)

  7. Theaters all over the country have been closing. I think that Austin's Alamo Drafthouse model came a bit late to rescue those old movie houses. What a shame. Cocooning is not just alive and well, but seems to be encouraged even by Hollywood.