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James R. Stout

You Oughta Be In Pictures

            I had a craving last night. I just had to watch an old movie that I have known about since I can remember. It just so happened to have been a big hit movie the year I was born. The movie is “Blackboard Jungle”. Well, I went into look for it in my extensive DVD/Blu-Ray library and before I could find it, I came up another movie from the year I was born. It’s called “The Desperate Hours”. I had about decided to watch it instead when another movie caught my eye. No, it wasn’t from the year I was born. I was a whopping 4-years-old when “Anatomy of a Murder” came out. I ended up watching it after all. It didn’t end there though. After watching James Stewart as a humble country lawyer on the Michigan Peninsula defend Ben Gazzara for murder (and very much enjoying the lovely Lee Remick) I decided that I needed a little bit more of James Stewart and the 50’s. So, I made the second feature the hugely successful movie, “Vertigo”, from 1958. All of these movies are terrific, and I put hold them all in high esteem. But watching “Vertigo” is what inspired this blog entry. Why? For one thing, it was the only one in color. Don’t get me wrong. I love black and white movies and especially the film noir genre. But there was something special about seeing the period of time when I was a toddler in living color.

            The clothes and especially the cars showed reminded me of what it was like back then. Seeing them in color instead of black and white certainly helped. Barbara Bel Geddes who would 20 years later be famous as the matriarch on the TV series “Dallas” was the trusted friend of James Stewart. Oh, she was in love with him too, but he didn’t seem to notice. He was too smitten with Kim Novak. Speaking of which, did she fall in the same vat of goo that The Joker did or what? The architecture of the buildings, the Golden Gate Bridge at only 20 years old that year, Alcatraz was still a working prison, and some of the minor little things such as the telephones (just the handset on one was a lethal weapon) all reminded me of how things were when I was very little.

            Now, I didn’t get to San Francisco for the first time until 2004. So, I never saw that city in the 50’s. But the cars, clothes, buildings, and telephones I remember. Phones were pretty much all black and very heavy. The cords were usually short, and our houses all had a phone nook in the hallway where calls were made and received. People didn’t spend much time on a phone call in those days. If it rang at all, then it was a source of excitement for whoever was home. We had party lines too. Most men wore suits with hats that matched, and the women wore dress hats and gloves. I remember my mother had several hats and sets of gloves in the top of her closet. There were these guys who delivered milk to your house. They had a uniform that was usually white and wore a cap (not a baseball cap, but more like a military cap). The wet head was alive and well for men. My father used Jerris Hair Oil. He always had a little wave in his hair in the front for style. It seemed most adults smoked in those days and were blissfully unaware that they were willingly and greatly enhancing the chances of heart disease and cancer in their future.

            The TV families in the 50’s mostly had nicer homes than the majority of Americans, but then that was part of the appeal of the show for us. Most families that owned a home lived in a 2-3 bedroom wood frame house with 1 bathroom and a 1 car garage. We had a toaster, stove, washer and refrigerator, but dryers and dishwashers were for the well-to-do. June Cleaver was probably the only housewife who vacuumed in a nice dress wearing a string of pearls. Two-story brick homes were for rich people. To prove a point, my uncle was an attorney and they lived much nicer than we did yet they didn’t have two cars, a brick house, and such things until of the 60’s.

            But we had a great life. Oh, there was the atomic bomb fears and once in a while you would hear about someone being murdered, but for the most part we didn’t have the everyday violence and global fears of viruses that would lead to zombies in the street. That was 10 years later.

            Watching those movies last night made me a little homesick for those days. I am sure that a lot of my homesickness was because I didn’t have the weight of the world on my shoulders that we gain as adults. I’m realistic enough to realize that not all things from today are worse than back then. I have a nice car that will likely last me 150,000 miles with little problems. A car was about ready to be traded in when it got to 50,000 miles back then. But then we didn’t drive as much as we do now. I think our 1961 Ford Galaxie 500 was a demo that my parents bought with about 2,000 miles on it. It was ready for trading in by 1967 and had about 55,000 miles on it. The rear end went out on it and Dad put a used one in it just to keep it running and traded for a new car shortly thereafter. Cars are most definitely made better today. They just lack style. They seem to all look the same. I don’t drink beer, but it seems that beer is about the only drink in a convenience store that is sold in a glass bottle. Soft drinks aren’t unless they’re from Mexico and that stuff is just nasty. People still smoke and chew and now they vape. Every generation has to learn for itself, I suppose. Baseball and football uniforms have sure changed. As for football, I think it’s a good thing. It’s safer for the players even if they do still seem to get injured a lot. Baseball uniforms are not as baggy as they once were and much more colorful. I heard that one team is going to have a trashcan lid patch sewn onto the right arm of the jersey. Not sure what that’s all about.

            Well, I guess I’ve said enough about this subject for one entry. The truth is there’s a part of me that really misses the way things were back then and then there’s a part of me that is glad it isn’t like that. Frankly, I never liked wearing a suit and tie to work during the years that I was required to. I don’t work now, but in those old days’ men wore suits just to go to indoor movies. I guess what I do miss is the way people were in general. It was kinder, gentler, and decent society to live in as opposed to today. And, since it was movies that started this blog entry, then I might mention that those movies are great and classic by any standard yet none of them had crude language, nudity, or excessive violence. Which proves it’s not necessary to have those things to make a great movie. I like seeing the way things were when I was a kid. Especially the period of time when I was alive but was too young to remember. It’s a window into how things were. It’s sort of like knowing something happened, you didn’t see it yourself when it happened, but there’s a film that caught it all and you can watch it knowing you were just around the corner, Metaphorically speaking. Whatever your age is, go find a movie that was set in the contemporary time when you were too young to remember and see how things were. I’ll leave you with a few suggestions. If you were born:

(1960-1964) – “Fate Is The Hunter” (1964), “Experiment In Terror” (1962), and “Take Her, She’s Mine” (1963)

(1965-1969) – “That Darn Cat” (1965), “Bullitt” (1968), and “In The Heat of The Night” (1967”

(1970-1974) – “The French Connection” (1971), “What’s Up Doc” (1972) and “McQ” (1974)

(1975-1979) – “Three Days of the Condor” (1975), “The Goodbye Girl” (1977), and “Coma” (1978)

(1980-1984) – “Caddyshack” (1980), “My Bodyguard” (1981), and “Starman” (1984

(1985-1989) – “Witness” (1985), “Batteries Not Included” (1987), and “The Dead Pool” (1988)

            That’s as far as I’ll go. You get the idea. Until next time, keep singing “You oughta be in pictures.”

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