I’m glad I was born when I was. The 1970s represented the last stand of the Monster Kid, those children fascinated by the classics of cinematic horror history. During that time, there were still local horror hosts and stations running packages of old horror movies. That would all change during the 1980s, though. You’d still find some classic movie programming, but it was becoming scarcer and scarcer.
But during the 70s, classic horror still had a home on newsstands thanks to Forrest J. Ackerman’s glorious Famous Monsters of Filmland and horror comics such as DC’s twin Houses, House of Mystery and The House of Secrets (not to mention Warren Publishing’s more “adult” lines, Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella), which kept the spirit of the grand old EC age alive. But more on those later…
One of the first books I remember picking out for myself was Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, which I saw in a K-Mart in LaGrange, Georgia. I must have been 4 or 5. I know that I was in kindergarten, and that I could tell you just about anything about any Universal horror movie. Hell, maybe it was before that — the book was published in ’73, and I knew enough to be upset that I wasn’t allowed to see Young Frankenstein on its original release. So I could’ve been 3. At any rate, the question must be asked: who buys a 3-4 year-old kid this book and expects them to turn out normal? The answer inevitably comes back, my mother. But then, she’d probably have to deal with me raising hell for not getting it, so this was most likely the safer option. And, after all, it’s got a variation of the same image of Glenn Strange from my previous post. But the Glenn Strange poster I spoke of earlier didn’t come out until ’75-’76, so this might be the first manifestation of my Frankie fascination. At any rate, this, along with Richard J. Anobile’s Why a Duck?: Visual and Verbal Gems from the Marx Brothers Movies, would quickly become my most-read book, eclipsing the previous record-holder, The Monster at the End of This Book Starring Loveable, Furry Old Grover.
Anyway, Gifford’s book introduced me to all kinds of arcane movie knowledge, and I soaked it up like some hideous sponge creature from Planet X, sent here to absorb all life on this puny planet. I could tell you why Kenneth Strickfaden was important. I could rattle off Tod Slaughter movie titles. I could wax eloquent on the makeup skills of Lon Chaney, and that his only speaking role was in the Unholy Three remake. I knew who Aquanetta was. I marveled at the aerodynamics of Julie Adams in images from Creature from the Black Lagoon. It would take me years to see many of the movies mentioned in the book, but it unlocked an unquenchable thirst in me to see them *all*, from the most obscure silent flick to the most over-the-top Japanese kaiju eiga. It’s probably the most important book I’ve ever read. Not important to the world of literature, and probably not all that important in the world of film scholarship in the long run, but the most important book *to me.* Without it, I might not have indulged that lingering imprint branded upon my brain that night in front of the TV…
Knowing that my mother was ultimately responsible for my owning this book does kind of force her into a position of responsibility. It may be an unfair burden for her to shoulder, but what the hey. And, after all, she’s the one responsible for my earliest memory to begin with. Let’s discuss why that is…
In the 1970s, we lived in the house owned by my maternal grandmother, Nana. Not only did Nana love old movies, and know all the stars, she also used to work at the local drive-in. Because of that, my mother spent a lot of time there as well. And since the local hard-top theater was just two blocks away, she spent a lot of time there, too. And they’d both stay up watching old movies on TV. Both women played a huge part in my childhood, so I learned about old movies from them almost via osmosis. (My dad, on the other hand, was never big on movies, though he carted me around to see every Bigfoot movie that came down the pike, bless him.) And because local TV stations still played movies from the ’30s through the ’50s during off-peak hours (this being before the advent of infomercials and the phenomena of anybody who wants one being able to host a daytime syndicated talk show), there was always a chance to see old films from Abbott & Costello, the Marx Brothers, the Bowery Boys, Deanna Durbin, Clark Gable, etc.
And the living arrangements in our house were slightly odd. My folks’ bedroom was almost a living room in itself. We had a TV, one of those console stereo cabinet systems that seemed about 6 feet long, a La-Z-Boy recliner, a king-size bed, and a twin bed (with a Cat in the Hat comforter) that I slept in. My bed lay parallel with the TV, and the recliner was between me and the set. My mom would stay up late at night, as had become her custom, and watch old movies. I’d lay in bed behind her, ostensibly sleeping, and watch along. This is where I saw Frankenstein’s monster. Under these conditions.
After Gifford’s book opened my eyes, I soon discovered that a little station out of Atlanta that we picked up aired classic Universal (and other) horrors every Friday night at about 8 o’clock. That station was WTCG 17, and their slogan was “Watch This Channel Grow!”
Wow. The Munsters *and* The Addams Family. You couldn’t ask for better than that if you were me. And I was, so it worked out pretty nice. They also showed the syndicated package of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, at night and supercool stuff from Japan like Ultraman and Space Giants after school. And on Saturday afternoons, you could *always* catch some sci-fi battle, whether it was War of the Worlds or Frankenstein Conquers the World. If it was Saturday, the world was in peril from something or other.
Next time, let’s talk Uncle Forry, shall we? Stay tuned, true believers.