Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Famous Monsters of Filmland and Comics

I've neglected something truly important in my youth. Forrest J. Ackerman, the editor and publisher of Famous Monsters of Filmland. Our favorite magazine. We ran to Margie's luncheonette to buy each months issue. It detailed the great and near great horror films of the 20's, 30's, 40's, and 50's. It was a beautiful mixed up hodge podge of memorbilia by a man who loved horror movies. Today I read in the Times that Ray Bradbury's first work was published by Forrest in the late 30's. He loved monster movies and we loved them with him.
Our personal favorite was The Thing that Came From Outer Space. A movie that scared the shit out of us. But Forrest turned us on to Ed Wood and Frankenstein with equal approval. He didn't diss Ed Wood as an oddball. Plan Nine from Outer Space was as important as any Bela Lugosi film. We were mesmerized.
Chris had seen one of the Frankenstein films and we acted it out in the shell of a house under construction at the end of Jefferson Street. Gary Condell was the Monster. Chris was Baron von Frankenstein. We were various particpants in the drama. We all knew how to act even though we'd never seen the movies.
Which brings me to comic books. We devoured them. First, Superman and Batman and the Flash and the Justice League of America, but then Marvel Comics. I bought the first issue of Spiderman as a birthday gift for Ted but took it back. It was too good for him. We devoured all of them. The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, Dr. Strange. It was a wide world open for the taking. All on display in Margies once a month.
We all wanted x ray specs. I suspect some of us ordered sea monkeys. I know my friend Jack Shephard filled out the forms so he could be an artist!
There were no real monsters in Wenonah. We lurched like Frankenstein in half completed basements. We assembled like frightened villagers to destroy the monster but really nothing was there. It was a joy. A pleasure.
We mounted a play the summer of 1962 to mimic the movies we'd read about but never saw. Gary Condell was the monster. Chris the mad scientist. One of us, who knows who the hero. We wrote a script, sold tickets and were prepared to sell refreshments. Then Joel Cook saw the monster in rehearsal. He was terrified. He ran home in hysterical tears. His parents shut down the production before it ever happened. Little Ed Wood's stymied in our artistry. Mick and I were punished and banished to our rooms. We sat and ate the candy we were going to sell while our friends played outside.
Oh, the vagaries of the artistic life!
But still, perhaps there were aliens among us. Perhaps we were at risk of imminent demise.
Perhaps the siren of the fire whistle might portend more than a minor fire in a kitchen somewhere in town.
Then came the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Now we're talking.
Now it's all real.
Now all the duck and cover nonsense made sense.
Now everytime we heard the fire whistle it meant that Russian missiles were streaking our way. And when they detonated we'd have hell to pay. Zombies walking among us. No food. Horror.
All the stories we made up on the way to school seemed to get a little pale. A little shallow. Maybe we were children in a world not quite so safe.


Jim Maddox said...

I grew up surrounded by comic books.
My uncle Pat was an employee of the city of Woodbury, and he worked at the city dump. He would collect all of the comics and Mad magazines and Cracked magazines, and give them all to me. My brother and I would spend hours surrounded by Superman,Batman,The Flash,Justice League of America,Sad Sack,Little Dot,Sgt Rock, The Haunted Tank,etc.The wonderful smell of pulp and ink. The exciting covers beckoning you to come inside and spend your day in fantastic adventures. Comic books even urged you to read literature; Classics Illustrated gave you a taste of all the great books,whetting your appetite for the whole story.We read them over and over,they weren't collectibles then; they were our cherished friends.
The Cuban Missile Crisis sacred us all shitless. Duck and cover,hide under your desk or stand in the basement of the school. We had seen the nuclear test films and the images of Hiroshima. We knew we would be vaporized. How gullible the government thought we were!
Walking to school in Woodbury Heights during the Missile Crisis, I remember us singing this to the tune of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer:
Kruschev the bald-headed Russian,
Had a very shiny head.
And if you ever saw it,
You would even say it's red.
All of the other Russians
Used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Kruschev,
Join in any Commie games.
Then one foggy launching night,
The Russians came to say,
Kruschev with your head so bright,
Won't you guide our sa-tell-ite.
Then how the Russians loved him
As they shouted out with glee,
Kruschev the bald-headed Russian,
You'll go down in his-to-ry!
It helped us laugh when we were scared to death.

Anonymous said...

I too grew up in Wenonah, and Lynn Condell and I were blood sisters, closest of buddies, confidantes. Though older than you youngsters, we all knew each other. After all, Wenonah was the perfect backdrop for all we kids to run free and explore our fantasies, wasn't it?

Anonymous said...

Have been trying to recall the words to the song for YEARS! Thanks.

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