PAGES IN TIME: Horror films scared me out of my gourd

PAGES IN TIME

by Milt Huntington

Frankenstein, The Wolfman and Dracula were the trio of terror who lurched from the silver screen to scare me out of my gourd during the early days of horror films. They survive to this day in sequels and parodies, but they’re not nearly as frightening as they were in their original form.

How well I remember, crouched in a darkened theater, peering through my fingers with my hands over my eyes as the music swelled to indicate something really bad was about to occur. My most horrific nightmares and trepidations of terror were brought to the surface by the monsters on the screen as I continually reminded myself: “It’s only a movie.”

Frankenstein

If I had to pick a favorite spook, I guess it would be Frankenstein, adapted from Mary Shelley’s novel and originally starring Boris Karloff. In spite of his square head, borrowed body parts and electrodes sticking out of his neck, he was kind of pitiful as he walked stiff-legged through the film, not quite understanding what the heck was going on. What fun Hollywood had with their countless repeats of the Frankenstein theme. When Abbott & Costello met Frankenstein in the movie of the same name, Costello looked down on the prostrate monster and scared poor Frankenstein half to death. Herman Munster, of course, was the epitome of modern day Frankenstein parodies.

The Werewolf

The werewolf flicks will never die. They go on endlessly from the original 1935 “Werewolf of London” in which a scientist brings the wolf curse upon himself. Next was the 1941 version of the Wolfman with Lon Chaney Jr, whose remarkable make-up transition from man to wolf captivated me every time. The type-cast Chaney then appeared in a bunch of B-grade sequels, including “Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman.”

The full of the moon brought the Wolfman into full bloom with his evil eyes, two big fangs and hairy face and body. Only a silver bullet could take him out. The King of Pop, Michael Jackson, was the latest to do a take-off on the werewolf legend in his top-selling “Thriller” album.

Dracula

The well-dressed but blood-sucking Dracula may have been the most successful of all the horror films. The vampire has been portrayed nearly 200 times in horror films since the first one was released in 1931, starring Bela Lugosi. No silver bullet for him! You could hold him at bay for a spell by holding a cross to his face, but it took a stake through the heart to really do him in. Daylight was also tough on his skin, so he hunkered down in his casket and waited for night fall to take a bite out of life.

I love the story about Bela Lugosi’s actual funeral. It seems that his real-life friend, Boris Karloff, was standing and peering into the casket. Lugosi was looking ghastly white and very dead, not unlike the way he looked when he was made up for the movies.

Karloff was heard to say” “Bela, you wouldn’t put me on, would you?” Some of the humor born of horror films is equally entertaining. I remember George Hamilton, in a Dracula tale-off movie, being asked: “How do you like your stake?”

Lon Chaney Sr. was undoubtedly the best of the beasts. Known as the man of a thousand faces, his most famous role was perhaps “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”. Quasimodo, the poor deformed bell ringer, was enthralled by a lovely maiden, but he was hopelessly unattractive. I remember the scene when he clamored to the top of the cathedral and said sadly to the cement decorative cornice: “Oh, Gargoyle! Why am I not made of stone!” James Cagney had the leading role in the film depicting Chaney’s life and turned in a memorable performance.

Chaney delivered big time with his portrayal of “The Phantom of the Opera” in which he gets unmasked to reveal a hideous face. Several versions of the movie followed Chaney in the years ahead, one with Claude Raines. “The Phantom” was also a smash on Broadway.

Then, there were the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde films with leading actors like John Barrymore, Frederic March and Spencer Tracy. The kind doctor was transformed into the evil Hyde by drinking some concoction he had devised. Miriam Hopkins and Ingrid Bergman each took a shot at co-starring as the wicked, slutty prostitute. More recently, Julia Roberts gave the role a little different spin with her portrayal of Dr. Jekyll’s innocent maid.

Creaking doors, sudden sounds, fog-shrouded moors and the ever-present scary music all combined to keep my hair standing on end in movies like “The Mummy’s Ghost”, “The Invisible Man”, and “The Hound of the Baskervilles” with Sherlock Holmes. I particularly enjoyed being terrified by “The Beast With Five Fingers” in which a separated hand walks around throughout the flick. In the final close-up scene, the hand appears to be crawling up the shirt front of the narrator. When he sees the hand approaching his throat, his eyes bulge and he grabs at the hand only to find it is merely one of his own.

All the morbid tales of the living dead, the mad scientists and the half-man–half-animal creatures were cinematically designed to slip into the minds of theater-goers like me and keep us on the edge of our seats. Every kind of slimy, over-sized, reptilian monster is being brought to the screen today in movies like “Jurassic Park”. Then we have the movie, “Jaws”, which featured a great white shark approaching unsuspecting victims as the beat of a drum grows faster and louder to herald the monster’s arrival. As a grown-up adult, I handled that scene very well. I simply lifted my feet off the movie house floor and placed them under me on top of my seat.

Ah yes, all these classic monster movies from years gone by and all the scary films of today with their horrifying special effects are designed to raise our blood pressure and send chills down our collective backs. All those vampires, zombies, ghosts, and other grotesque and supernatural fiends play on our fears of the unknown and eventual death. Hey! Get over it. It’s only a movie!

Milt Huntington is the author “A Lifetime of Laughter” and “Things That MakeYou Grin.”

Remembering the Saturday afternoon serials

Pages in Time

by Milt Huntington

We hunkered down in Augusta’s Capitol Theater to watch pulse pounding, thundering, throbbing, breathless, breakneck adventures packed with thrills, spills and chills. It was one of many Saturday afternoons of long ago, when we watched the countless movie serials.

Sometimes we were mesmerized by the adventures of Superman, Batman and Robin, The Lone Ranger or perhaps Flash Gordon. The 20-minute episodes always closed with life or death cliffhangers, only to reappear the following week with miraculous escapes. Sometimes, the movie makers would conveniently invent a different ending to enable the hero or heroine to escape from certain death. I always remember the time that Jackie Cooper played Donn Fendler in the serial and fell off a three-story roof. When the serial picked up again the following week, he managed to land in a rain barrel full of water. Donn Fendler was the real life boy scout in the book about him: Lost On A Mountain In Maine.

The Green Hornet

The Green Hornet

It was an inspirational book for boy scouts everywhere, but the movie serial was really a stretch.

A lot of the serials originated as comic strips, enhanced by special effects and original sounds. I always liked the Green Hornet and Cato who would tear through the night in the Black Beauty super car as The Flight Of The Bumble Bee music buzzed in the background. Who can ever forget the mysterious masked hero of the plains with his faithful Indian companion, Tonto. I can hear the bugle ringing out even now to introduce The William Tell Overture as The Lone Ranger Rides Again. Robert Livingston and Chief Thundercloud were the originals, and then Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels appeared in the feature films when we all “returned to the golden days of yesteryear.”

Flash Gordon

Flash Gordon

Flash Gordon was a fixture of the movie serials. He was played by Buster Crabbe, and Jean Rollins was his sexy blonde heroine-girl friend, Dale Arden. One of the villains was Mingo The Mercilous, ruler of the planet, Mongo. Flash Gordon conquered the universe and took a trip to Mars. It was the most expensive serial ever made, something in excess of $350,000. I remember it being portrayed in green and white instead of black and white. Incredibly, the futuristic rocket ships and equipment were ahead of their time and materialized as the actual space travel of today.

One of my all-time favorite serials had to do with a guy in a tight fitting costume who could leap tall buildings in a single bound, was more powerful than locomotive and was faster than a speeding bullet. Clark Kent was a likeable wimp. Lois Lane was stuck on the Man of Steel. They were both reporters for the Daily Planet. If it weren’t for that darn kryptonite, Superman would have been invinceable.

Then of course, there was Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, the dynamic duo who rode around in the Bat Mobile as Batman and Robin. I never really understood how the police chief was able to send the Bat Signal into the sky in broad daylight . Strange!

The Phantom

The Phantom

 The Phantom was another fugitive from the comic books. He wore a purple and black uniform with a skinny black mask. I sent away for a Phantom ring with skull and crossbones. I also sent away for a full- blown King of the Mounted Police uniform and a magic decoder ring.

I remember Captain Marvel as being a little bit chubby with an ill-fitting costume, but I liked the lightning bolt on his chest and the way he exclaimed “Shazam.” Captain Marvel Junior was another favorite hero, who changed from a handicapped newspaper boy to super hero by simply saying: “Captain Marvel.”

Zorro

Zorro

I also remember Dick Tracy, Terry and the Pirates, Mandrake the Magician, Brenda Starr-Reporter, Jack Arm­strong – All Ameri­can Boy, Hop Harrigan, The Spider’s Web, Adven­tures of Tarzan, Zorro, Tim Tyler’s Luck, Jungle Jim, Gang Busters, Don Winslow of the Navy, and Nyoka of the Jungle.

“Years ago in the Orient, Lamont Cranston learned a strange and mysterious secret, the ability to cloud men’s minds so they could not see him”. That’s when he became “The Shadow,” and philosophized: ”The weed of crime bares bitter fruit. Crime does not pay. The Shadow knows.” Then we would hear his sinister, nasal-like laughter. How much fun was that!

Blondie and Dagwood were technically a series of 28 films with Arthur Lake and Penny Singleton, but they also qualified as feature films. Unlike the cliffhangers described before, they were just a lot of fun with the bumbling Dagwood character and their kids, Baby Dumpling and Alexander. Dagwood was always getting into trouble with his boss, Mr. Dithers. I loved those flicks.

By the 1940s and early 1950s, serials were so numerous with so many boring and stale plots, they totally lost their popularity. There was a brief revival of serials in the late ‘50s and ‘60s, but, but alas, they were never quite the same again, but they were certainly great while they lasted.

Milt Huntington is the author of “A Lifetime of Laughter’ and ‘Things That Make You Grin.”

Pages in Time: Mushy stuff from years gone by

Pages In Timeby Milt Huntington

Fifty percent of the many responses I received from my newspaper articles come from senior citizens over 65 years of age. I know this for a fact because one of them told me so. Both responders agreed that they love all the mushy stuff from years gone by.

So, let us reminisce. Flipping back through the dog-eared pages of time, I found a piece about the home front in WWII. I told of air raid wardens, rationing of butter and gas, patriotic movies and buying savings stamps at school. Yes, there were no bananas, and we ate sherbet instead of ice cream. Contributing to the war effort by helping mother squish red dye into white margarine to make it yellow was a genuine source of pride.

Growing up in Augusta was a priceless chunk of my young life, so I described the beauty of early Western Avenue and the bustle of Downtown Water Street. Western Avenue was lined with shade trees back in the good old days, and it had a skating pond. It didn’t have a federal building or a shopping mall. You could actually cross the street without taking your life in your hands. Heck, you could even watch soap box derbies there or ride down the hill on your bike with your feet on the handlebars.

There was no traffic circle at the bottom of Western Avenue–just the intersections of State Street, Grove Street and Grove Street Extension. There was, however, an elegant yellow brick building–The Augusta House. The historic old meeting place played host to the rich and famous and was the site where many legislative measures were lobbied to death but often revived by mouth-to-ear resuscitation. Gone now–all gone.

To our young eyes, Water Street was the Broadway of the Capital City. There were Class “A” movies at the Colonial Theater featuring musicals with new Technicolor technology. The Capital Theater drew us in with the Class “B” westerns, vaudeville and cliff-hanging serials. The names of a lot of the flicks are beginning to fade from memory, but I remember well, and always will, the nickel candy bars, the Ju-Jy fruits and buttered popcorn. I also remember the eleven-cent price of admission.

Thoughts of the old American Legion building by the little park stir memories of teen-age dances, football on the lawn, post-war suppers and playing pool with friends in that old front room. Those, indeed, were the good old days.

Still there at the top of Rines Hill is the Hartford Fire Station with all of its history and its bellowing nine-o’clock whistle. The beautiful train station at the bottom of the hill was replaced by a parking lot. Arlene’s Bakery and the aroma of doughnuts and pastries is still a tantalizing memory. You can’t get your shoes repaired or shined anymore at Turcotte’s.

The shop is long gone along with Augusta’s shoe factories – R.P. Hazzard and Taylor Shoe.

You want to talk about change? Just take a look at Bangor Street. Whatever became of Hussey Hardware, Doc’s Lunch, Mike’s Lunch, Williams School, The A&P, Charlie’s Market and the Esso gasoline station?

I can still remember, with delight, the taste of a good steak at Hazel Green’s, a shrimp scampi at Al Biondi’s 89 Winthrop or First Tee on Water Street. I remember well how great the meals were at Ray Lammer’s Pioneer House. Nobody served up cheeseburgers like John McAuley did at his place on Outer Western Avenue. Then, of course, we salivated over the fare at the Roseland Restaurant on the Waterville Road and McNamara’s in Winthrop. The beer was also pretty good over a hamburger and fries at the Oxbow hangout in Winthrop.

Don’t even get me started about Island Park. Suffice it to say, the memories are many. All I need to resuscitate recollections of your own is to casually mention the revolving ball that left colorful squares on the dance floor below and the 21 Club that got us high on a bottle of beer. It was the site of my first date with the girl that I married.

For the beer drinkers in the crowd, I would be remiss in failing to mention Ray’s Dine and Dance in the lower end of Water Street and Duffy’s Tavern on the Bond Brook Road. Don’t talk to me about inflation. I remember when “dimies” went to 20 cents a glass. In some of those places and in most cafeterias, juke boxes were mounted on the walls over the tables. For the drop of a nickel, you could listen to Sinatra, the Chairman of the Board; Mel Torme, The Velvet Fog; Vaughn Monroe, Frankie Laine, Perry Como, Patti Page, Jo Stafford, Joni James and Doris Day. If you’ve read this far, you can easily recall the names of all the others who helped promote romances of the teenage years.

OK! That’s it for now. I’m beginning to tear up. I just hope that all my fans, (both of them), will think back on all the things that they remember if I’ve been successful in jump starting their memories again.

Milt Huntington is the author of A Lifetime of Laughter and Things That Make You Grin.

Memories are made of these

Pages in Time

by Milt Huntington

Sit back, relax, and make a few withdrawals from your collective memory banks while I dredge up a few nostalgia nuggets of my own.
I had the honor of speaking at my 60th Cony High School class reunion a while ago and used the occasion to delve into the pages of yesteryear where fond and distant memories were lurking.

I assured my classmates that some things never change like the Hartford Fire Station whistle that still sounds religiously every single day at 12:30 p.m. and again at 9 o’clock. I reminded them that the State House and the Blaine Mansion are still there along with the old Post Office, the Armory, the AMHI buildings and of course the old flatiron building where long ago they built a school upon a hill.

Speaking to a room-full of Cony grads from here and away, I reminded them of the icons of long ago that no longer exist–places like the Augusta House, Jose Motors, the State Street Diner, Forrest’s Drug Store and the A&P. Gone, all gone, I lamented are our old hangouts like McAuley’s Restaurant on Outer Western Avenue, Doc’s Lunch, Mike’s Lunch, The Roseland, Foster’s Smoke Shop, McNamara’s and the Oxbow out in Winthrop. We still all smile with happy memories when we hear of Island Park.

It was my sad duty to remind folks that McLellan’s, Kresge’s and Woolworth;s have all disappeared from downtown Water Street. No more can they visit Penny’s, Montgomery Ward, Sears & Roebuck, Adam’s, Chernowsky’s, Farrell’s Clothing Store, Nicholson & Ryan’s or Bilodeau’s jewelry stores.

Other institutions that have faded into the pages of time include: the Colonial and Capitol theaters, the drugstores with the wonderful pinball machines, the barber shops, the beer joints, the Depot News, the Army-Navy store, Foster’s Smoke Shop and the Hotel North.

Stealing thoughts from one of my earlier columns, I pushed some buttons of memory concerning the clothes that all of us wore. The boys of the 40’s and 50’s wore maroon corduroy jackets with plaid trousers rolled up at the cuffs. Their shoes consisted of white bucks or penny loafers. Crew cuts were far and away the style of the day. I wish I could grow one now.

The Cony girls of long ago displayed pony tails, up-do’s or page boys, and they looked “sharp” in blue velvet, sweaters, clinging skirts, Gibson Girl blouses and midi-skirts. Their feet were decked with bobby sox, white sneakers and saddle shoes.

The guys never called them “cool.” Nah! They called them sharp, groovy, snazzy or neat. Today, of course, all the younger whippersnappers say “like” and “you know” most of the time. Not all the time, just when they open their mouths. It doesn’t take much to get me going on that subject. I think of the the Red Sox pitcher I watched who said “you know” 32 times in a three minute television interview. I expressed my amazement that a lot of college graduates who go on to sports never learned to exhibit some degree of articulateness.

Seizing my moment in the spotlight, I dug down deep to dredge up memories of icons of 60 years ago and more. I asked them to sink into the depths of their memories to remember stuff like table-side juke boxes that played the music of Frankie Lane, Joni James Patti Page, Jo Stafford and Frank Sinatra. The songs that continually spring from my memory of years gone by are the likes of Mule Train, Jezebel, Come Fly With Me, See the Pyramids, Music, Music, Music, Purple Shades and a thousand more.

Those were the days, my friends, we thought they’d never end, but they did–just like the pant leg clips we wore when we road our one-speed bicycles. Gone forever are the glass milk bottles delivered to our doorsteps and the ice boxes that actually contained blocks of ice. Gone, all gone, are the telephone party lines, Howdy Doody, 45 rpm’s, S&H Green Stamps, Hi-Fi’s, Studebakers and Packards, roller skate keys and pizza when we called it pizza pie.

I could go on and on…and I usually do, but suffice it to say: “Those were the good old days.” How much fun it is to pause now and again to think back on all the things that we remember of our own particular and special Camelot.

Milt Huntington is the author of “A Lifetime of Laughter” and “Things That Make You Grin.”

Pages in Time: Growing up in Augusta…priceless! (Conclusion)

Pages In Timeby Milt Huntington

Conclusion (for part 1, please see Growing up in Augusta: Priceless)

Down at the other end of the street was the old Colonial Theater where Class-A pictures were shown. On Sunday, after week-long previews of coming attractions, we would be rewarded with musical extravaganzas starring Esther Williams, Bing Crosby or Jane Powell in living color or flicks like Casablanca, The Wolfman or war movies like Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. The Colonial played their movies continuously so we could sit through a good movie twice for the price of a single ticket.

Once in a cowboy thriller, an Indian chief, played by blue-eyed Jeff Chandler, stood in the middle of a pow-wow session, folded his arms and dramatically declared: “I walk away!” “Our Gang” had seen the movie once, but we stayed for a second showing to get back to that pow-wow scene again, when we stood in the theater, one by one, folded our arms and declared to the rest of the audience: “We walk away. People call them punks today. We were harmless “hooligans” then.

On the way home from the Colonial was Ed Houdlette’s Drug Store which was known to have a particularly vulnerable pin ball machine. We hung out there a lot because Mr. Houdlette was also nice to us.

Water Street is what I like to call a street of dreams because it conjures up so many memories of shops and businesses that vanished with our youth. Remember the five- and ten-cent stores that anchored the center of down town Augusta – McLellan’s, Kresge’s and Woolworth’s. We had ‘em all. I was a stock boy and soda jerk for the Kresge operation, but it suvived anyhow for awhile.

Then of course, we had JCPenny, D.W. Adams, Chernowsky’s, the Army-Navy Store, Lamey-Wellahan, Montgomery-Ward and Sears & Roebuck. A jewelry store graced the corner of Water Street and Bridge Street – A.J. Bilodeau’s. Another one sat on the corner between Farrell’s Clothing Store and the post office. It displayed a sign with a picture of a diamond ring. The caption stated: “I came here to talk for Joe,” a popular World War II love song. Speaking of Farrell’s, it once boasted just a single aisle between two counters with a little space downstairs where I bought all my Boy Scout gear and a tux for the senior prom. Nicholson & Ryan Jewelers was always there, it seems.

Near the bottom of Rines Hill was a liquor store where my father and grandfather liked to surreptitiously shop. They would always leave their change with the Salvation Army lassie who parked out front. Once, running an errand for my mother, I dropped some change into the lassie’s tambourine. When my mother questioned me about that, I replied: “That’s what Papa and Grampy always do.”

On the other end of Water Street were the beer parlors which gave the neighborhoods a shoddy reputation. Across the street was Allen’s Grocery Store. a fish market and Berry’s Cleaners. Depositor’s Trust Co. on Haymarket Square was on the ground floor of a six-story affair which is now the site of the Key Bank building. We’re talking ancient history, I know, but who can ever forget Stan Foster’s Smoke Shop next to the old Hotel North. He specialized in meals, smokes and some real great pin ball machines. Near the

Depot News was Al’s Barber Shop which took care of ducktail haircuts and crew cuts in the early years. His partner and relative bought him out and opened Pat’s Barber Shop at the other end of Water Street near the lights.

Swan Street and Water Street have undergone a lot of change in the last 60-plus years or so. Downtown was the main thoroughfare to all those movies, and it was the pathway to Cony High before the new bridge opened up. Most of those downtown places are now long gone, but the memories (some a little fuzzy now) will remain forever. I wouldn’t swap those memories for anything. Growing up in Augusta was as good as it gets.

Milt Huntington is the author of “A Lifetime of Laughter” and “Things That Make You Grin.”