As a child I was able to drift in and out of disparate social circles. I was as comfortable with the popular kids as the outcasts. Parents of kids in this latter group seemed grateful for my presence and lavished every kindness on me.
Some of these kids were such loners that I really think without my sole friendship they may have grown into Jeffery Dahmers.
I had a friend named Joel who sat next to me in Band at
He was just too strange to the other kids. Poor Joel was always getting beat up because he was a little too effeminate and nerdy. Years later I learned Joel was gay. I couldn’t decide if he already had been or if he had been driven into an alternative social dynamic by the cruelty of the kids.
One person that had a big effect on me was a 4th grade buddy of mine named Melvin Bozen. You know with a name like that he was in for a lot of trouble. Melvin was an only child and his mother spoiled him rotten.
He had a movie projector, an endless collection of 8mm Universal horror movies, and a tall stack of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines. Here was a counter culture I could really believe in.
I fell in love with the Bavarian gothic villages in Frankenstein, the foggy woods of the Gypsy wagon camps in The Wolfman, King Kong’s
Ray Harryhausen, who did all the great skeleton battles in the Jason/Hercules/Sinbad movies, did the animation grunt work for Willis O’brien on King Kong. O’brien had already done the great dinosaur clay animation in the silent movie The Lost World.
It was all about atmosphere. Boris Karloff was my first favorite actor and his second film, The Old Dark House, was so dimly lit it makes the Film Noir movies of the 40s and 50s look like they were lit with stadium lights. It’s still one of my all time favorites and it must be pre-code because of all the innuendo.
I wish the old movie houses hadn’t turned into art film houses. The most intense visual experience I ever had was watching The Creature from the Black Lagoon on a large screen in 3D. Or, as Whoopi Goldberg put it, “The Creature from the African American Lagoon.”
Needless to say, I was totally absorbed with this stuff. I had a huge stack of Castle 8mm films and an editor viewer. I never could afford a real projector. I subscribed to Famous Monsters and Eerie.
I was disappointed when my first copy of Eerie arrived. I was hoping it would be like Famous Monsters with photos from old movies and interviews. It ended up being a mag sized black and white comic book. It grew on me though. The stories were written by the likes of Harlan Ellison and H.P. Lovecraft. The cover was always some gorgeous painting by Frank Frazetta.
I began to appreciate the sets of TV shows like The Munsters. Fred Gwynne is still one of my favorite actors. I modeled my bartending style on his performance in Iron Weed.
Whatever happened to sets on television? Think about F-Troop, The Munsters, Gilligan’s
Atmosphere is as important as substance to me.