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Beyond the Beatles Part 4

Updated on August 30, 2013

The above cool vintage poster is one Kevin had hanging over his bed in 1964. Actually it was a tall bunkbed he shared with his older brother Richy, so clearing the top of that bed had that poster hanging just inches from the ceiling. Looking up at it was more mesmerizing than a chandalier. I think at one point Kevin might have cut it up into four sections, one per Beatle, or he had a second copy he cut up and redesigned around the whole one. He liked cutting things up and rearranging them. He would cut out pictures from Famous Monsters of Filmland, and other monster magazines, then paste them into new arrangements inside some sort of notebook. In that way he introduced me to the idea of "the scrapebook." Actually, he might have misled me, as it took me years to realize "scrapebook" might pertain to more personal items: withered rose pettles perhaps, or a napkin with lipstick on it, or the ticket stub from an attended Shea Stadium Beatles concert.

While he had a liking for monsters, my tastes ran toward action heroes, comic book and mythology. After the Batman tv series aired in 1966, a compilation of articles about super heroes in movie serials, reprinted from an old magazine titled Screen Thrills, hit the stands. At the time, I had no idea that the articles came from there, or that there had even been a magazine named Screen Thrills, but I had my pics to cut up and rearrange into my own scrapebook: live actors in Superman, Captain Marvel, Captain America, the Phantom, Blackhawk, Batman and more, costumes. I barely had any idea what movie serials were. I had seen some Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials, starring Buster Crabb, and on my first day of kindargarden I recall thinking about a robot I saw in a commercial airing for a Commander Cody serial.

In the days before television took over weekly episodic story telling motion pictures, serials were shown in movie theaters, one chapter per week for 12 to 15 weeks until the story concluded, as a way to get customers to return to the theater regularly. Each chapter would be sandwiched in along with the feature film, a newsreel, some cartoons and maybe a comedy short. They lasted until the early 50’s, managing to produce Atom Man vs Superman, Columbia Pictures 43rd serial and Superman’s 2nd, in 1950 before it was all over.

The following year, 1951, The Adventures of Superman began production as a tv show, starring George Reeves, on CBS. Reeves, after appearing in small roles in such movies as Gone With the Wind and From Here to Eternity, expected a bigger career for himself than playing Superman, but he became the face of the Man of Steel for two generations of viewers.

By the time I was around to enjoy it, his version was in syndication on WPIX-TV channel 11, a station that was owned by the NY Daily News newspaper. Along with daily airings, WPIX featured episodes, as part of a smorgasbord of great programming, on Chuck McCann’s Let’s Have Fun Sunday morning show. Chuck’s three hour program, that began with Chuck walking through the studio greeting the crew while singing Put On a Happy Face, also aired other great sydicated tv shows like Abbott and Costello, as well as some of those mentioned old movie theater comedy shorts, The Three Stooges, The Little Rascals, and Laurel and Hardy.

Chuck had a bit of a side career doing a good imitation of Oliver Hardy, some times with Dick Van Dyke impersonating Stan Laurel. Chuck, wearing a dress and with white disks squeezed over his eyes, also impersonated Little Orphan Annie, as well as Dick Tracy with bulldog nose and Dondi with big plastic ears and a cap. He promoted the station’s newspaper by reading its Sunday editions of those comics to his audience while dressed as the character he was reading. He rounded out the show with some puppet acts and, for 12 weeks, aired one episode per week of the serial The Masked Marvel.

I was excited to learn that there had been an abundance of super hero movies made before I was born. I would begin to track them down. Kevin, my partner in the quest, and I would search camera departments and shops on Bergenline Avenue and on Kennedy Blvd, from West New York to Jersey City, and sometimes my Dad would take us to Times Square and we’d search camera shops along 42nd street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue. That was about 1966, and 42nd street was a film haven, filled with camera shops and with real, not just porn, movies playing in the theaters that lined both sides of the streets.

The 42nd street theaters still showed real movies, not porn, in 1975 when Kevin, myself, and some friends went to the above theater to see that Brannigan movie
The 42nd street theaters still showed real movies, not porn, in 1975 when Kevin, myself, and some friends went to the above theater to see that Brannigan movie

The mayor then would have been the newly elected John Lindsey. I suppose somewhere between him and Koch the street transformed into that version of sex and drugs that director Scorsese scared tourists away with in with his movie Taxi Driver, but even at that Scorsese point it was still a real street in a real neighborhood, not the squeeky clean tourist business Disney version Mayor Guiliani succeeded in turning it into. But I’m being bias The years of its sex and drugs version were among the same years I was heavily into sex and drugs, so of course I liked it that way, the timing worked out well. One positive thing I’ll say about the Disney version, you can now walk down the street without being assaulted by dozens of street husslers hitting you up for a coin, a cigarette, or a deal, doing their intimadation act, "I’m a New Yorker MF, you best give me a cigarette you f-ing tourist!" Anyway, back in 1966, Kevin and I be rewarded by our search to find 5 to 15 minute super 8 films that I could watch, without audio, on a Bell and Howell projector my parents bought.

We’d have most luck finding Batman and Captain Marvel chapters, and we’d also buy clips of Universal monster movies, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, the Creature Walks Among Us, Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the original One Million BC... all put out by Castle Films, originally a producer of business and advertising films that in 1937, with footage of the Hindenberg disaster. branched out to 8mm and 16mm home distribution. It followed up its news reel debut by purchasing rights to Warner Brothers, Terrytunes, and Walter Lance cartoons, produced training films for the military during WW II, and, in 1947, after United World Films, Inc., the non-theatrical division of Universal Pictures, purchased a majority stake in the company, acquired rights to distribute the Universal Monster flicks. In 1977 they changed their name to Universal 8 until home video put them out of business in 1984.

Upon ABC’s success with the 1966 Batman TV series, the 1943 Batman chapter serial was re-released in theaters as an all 12 chapters in a row marathon presentation, each chapter running about 20 minutes. My Dad took Kevin and I to the Loew’s Theater in Journal Square to see it. It was a tedious presentation that even Kevin and I couldn’t sit through. We left the theater after maybe six chapters.

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CONT from: Part 1

CONT to: Part 5

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if you enjoy this hub, please check out my art site where I post more of my own writing, my music and paintings... thanx, Mike Marks


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