Southern Life

Oscar award season is just around the corner, and my thoughts turned to you as they often do this time of year. When were we last together? Although it seems like only yesterday, it was in 1967 at the Carroll Theatre when you were starring in Caprice. I was the mesmerized 9-year-old boy in the middle of the theatre all alone that Saturday morning. I fell in love with you several years earlier. I can’t remember…was it Do Not Disturb, The Glass Bottom Boat, or possibly Send Me No Flowers? Barely into my first decade, I didn’t know why I loved you so much. As the years passed, I came to know the reasons were many. You were my very first crush, followed shortly by one on James Garner, but that is another letter!

Now, over forty years later, I resist attending today’s movie houses, but this year there are several films I wanted to see before the little gold fellows are handed out to the lucky actors. I girded myself for what I knew was to be a challenging trip and headed out to my local movie megaplex. You see, Doris, the moviegoer’s experience has changed drastically since you and I were together last. I am sure you knew all too well how Hollywood was changing back in the “60s. With that foreknowledge, you wisely exited the system with grace, class, and your personal dignity in place. Unfortunately, today’s moviegoers have a tougher “row to hoe,” as my grandmother used to say, for time spent in a theater is not what it used to be. What passes for the patron experience in 2011 can only be compared to, well, dental work without anesthesia.

The pain began as I drove into the vast expanse of concrete and asphalt surrounding the movie palace, designed so that 32,000 cars may park simultaneously. Once parked, I approached the gaping maw of the glittery beast, stopping to gather my breath after trekking across that asphalt Sahara. Shelling out $20 to several disinterested employees for my ticket, popcorn and a drink large enough to quench the thirst of a small country (Doris, I asked for the smallest size!), I began the second safari of my afternoon searching for Screen 16. I located it at the end of a labyrinthine hallway somewhere beyond the horizon, apparently in the next county. Once there, I collapsed into my seat and took in my surroundings. Doris, today’s moviegoers no longer step into a magical world, comfortably enveloped in darkness, cool air, and the magic of flickering images. I remember when you had to stop and wait until your eyes adjusted to the dark. No longer, as THIS IS THE NEW HOLLYWOOD! You step into a half-lighted room, replete with chairs built with cup holders large enough to hold those quart size drinks. That long-ago, familiar and comforting aroma that was popcorn, Junior Mints and malted milk balls has been replaced with a pervasive aroma that is a cloying mixture of utterly ineffective disinfectant and sweat. The small silent screen seemed sad in its inactive state, like an eye that can’t close, even though it is asleep.

When you and I were together in those halcyon days, there was always something on that silver screen, whether it was a cartoon, a newsreel, or even local advertisements. The theatre was a special place, another world, where I could escape from everyone and everything, surrounded by the darkness and my larger than life friends on the screen. Today, no such magic exists. Jarringly and with the sound system blaring, the blank screen crackled to life with no, not a film, but a slide show Hollywood trivia game (designed evidently by someone who thinks movies were invented about the time that Julia Roberts and Richard Gere starred in Pretty Woman).

Mercifully, the game ended after about five minutes. The lights dimmed somewhat, and my pulse quickened with anticipation. Surely now the preview of coming attractions would begin. How wrong I was. What appeared on the screen was a ten-minute advertisement for…Doris, are you are sitting down…TELEVISION SHOWS! I am a patient man, but that was almost too much to handle. I endured this barrage of images and, eventually, the movie for which I had paid dearly to see was screened. For those two hours, it was almost like the old days (with emphasis on almost).

Stopping at the local market on my trip home, I was again faced with the horror that is today’s Hollywood world of entertainment. I hope you have someone do your marketing for you and your pets, Doris, for it is not a pretty sight out here at the checkout lanes of suburbia. Today, we are forced by law (the law of media, you see) to know everything about every celebrity, whether or not we need or even want to know. Magazine headlines scream out at me about who is not wearing panties, why this celebrity is sleeping with that celebrity, who is now a half human and half plastic reconstruction, and who needs to eat more. Now the media even merges the names together of two celebrities who are dating. They don’t even bother to marry. Thank goodness that we never had to hear about Bogie and Bacall as Bogall, or Liz and Dick as Tayton or Burlor! And the onslaught of useless information is all but inescapable, what with at least six daily entertainment update television shows as well. Do I really need to know that Sally Sexpot ate a salad yesterday wearing a red pants suit and big sunglasses on the patio at The Ivy? I mean, who cares?

At home while recovering from my trip to Hollywood Hell, I flipped on the television set to my favorite channel, Turner Classic Movies. It is my cable oasis of entertainment in an ocean of telecommunicated entertainment drivel. I suppose my luck was due to change, so it was a pleasant surprise to find that coming on shortly was The Thrill of It All, in which you starred with gorgeous James Garner. In minutes, I was entranced by Beverly Boyer, her lovely home, two children, and Happy Soap! It was great watching the film and didn’t create stress or aggravate me in any way. I avoided being both robbed at the box office and visually assaulted by gruesome lobby posters of various slasher movies and cars and buildings exploding! Nor was it necessary to walk further than the road Bing, Bob and Dorothy took to Zanzibar. Yet times change, and not always for the better. I will be content with my memories of the theatre experience as it used to be, and savor the programming at Turner Classic Movies.

Doris, I know I can never get you back on that big screen. But I can find you in Love Me or Leave Me, That Touch of Mink, or even Romance on the High Seas, needing to travel no further than my own video collection. I hope this letter finds you well. Despite the state of movies and Hollywood today, it is nice to know that I have a safe and comfortable place to see you. For in the theatre of my heart, the seat next to me is always reserved for you.

You are still my girl.

Affectionately yours,

Jim Warren

See our movie reviews by Brett Martin in Sights & Sounds

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Jim Warren

Jim Warren

Jim Warren, a Marietta, GA resident, is a self-taught writer of essays and observational humor. He is currently working towards completion of his second book: Barefoot on Hot Asphalt. His first book of essays: Cowlicked! Rants, Remembrances, and Ruminations is available through Amazon.com, Lulu.com or by contacting the author.

23 Comments
  1. Well written, took me back to both times and gave the feeling I was in both Theaters with the author! Couldn’t be a more appropriate post with the Oscars quickly approaching again.
    Doris was my first crush as well!

    Thanks

  2. It’s interesting to me that older folks who can’t or won’t adapt to change always remember the old days as halcyon. A friend, with justification, refers to these types of articles and comments as “geezer musings.” There are a lot of them floating around, a lot of folks living in the past and myopically remembering it as perfect. It was no more perfect than is the present, and living in the past deprives one of fully embracing the present and seeking happiness within it.

  3. Robert Lamb

    Nice writing job, Jim.
    Bonnie, unless you’ve lived in both eras, you’re not qualified to criticize those who are simply comparing them — and telling the truth of the matter.

    1. I’m 66 years old and therefore have lived in both eras.

  4. Jim Warren

    Thank Bob.

    And yes, thanks even to you Bonnie. I appreciate all my reader comments, even the snide ones. Although I am not sure age 52 makes me a geezer, I do take that as a compliment. No doubt when you become that “old”, you will have your own fond memories, perhaps SNOOKIE: The Movie.

  5. Darby Britto

    For some Dew readers I guess I am old. I remember going to the movies on a military base where the national anthem was played before the movie. Now, the trivia slide shows are fine, but I also have my smart phone to keep me company while I wait for the movie. I would still prefer to download a movie from the internet and watch it at home. Does that make me a geezer or anti social? I don’t know, I think it just makes me a comfortable spendthrift.

    1. Jim Warren

      Thanks for reading my essay. I think you have just the right idea, so from one spendthrift geezer to another, here’s to you!

  6. Oh come on! This crap on the front page? What a joke!

  7. Doris Day? I think this might have been more appropriate the now defunct Southern Voice.

    1. Jim Warren

      Didn’t know that Hollywood and Doris Day was a “gay” thing…not that there is anything wrong with that. Were Southern Voice still in business, they would not have run this. I once submitted an opinion piece on why I disagreed with Gay Pride Festivals, and after that they blocked my emails. But thanks for reading.
      BTW, are you the same Gadsden that I refused to go out with in college?

  8. It is truly unfortunate that there are still people out there who do not realize how truly gifted Doris Day was as an actress AND as a singer. And they never will…their minds are set and they are not worth the effort s.
    Your letter, Jim, was superb. As superb as Doris Day was, and always will be. I can’t tell you how many TEENAGERS today (even younger kids…4, 5 and 6) are discovering DD and her movies and music and loving it. Thank God there is a future generation that will keep the wonderfulness of DD alive. To those who continue to sneer…I hope you are stuck watching those God Awful Movies on the big screen for the rest of your natural lives. You don’t deserve to be treated to the deft qualities of Doris Day.

    1. Jim Warren

      Thanks Mike. I am really surprised by some of these responses, even accounting for variances in personal taste in movies and such. Such is the world today. I don’t let it get to me. Reading supportive comments such as your from folks who “get it” takes away the sting anyway.

      1. You are welcome. I like DD so much that I am doing a series of podcasts on her wonderful music. The launch date for the shows (which will happen about every two weeks) is 2/13, but feel free to take a peek at the website and let me know what you think.
        http://www.sampod4u.com

        1. Jim Warren

          I will check it out on Sunday ! Thank you for sharing the joy.

        2. Jim Warren

          Mike:

          Really like your website. Even more, I admire you knowledge and working with your dream to make the site.

  9. Dear Jim,

    Thank you for your delightful article! I also have a fondness for Doris Day and her many leading men such as Rock Hudson, Cary Grant, James Garner as well as lovable Tony Randall, Paul Lynde and Gig Young.

    I loved watching Doris Day when I was a small girl – I was a big fan of The Doris Day Show. In case you are not familiar with the show, the opening scene of the show took place in San Francisco. I have vivid recollections of watching Doris Day ride the cable car at Fisherman’s Wharf – it was a powerful image (she looked like she was having so much fun – I should mention I was five at the time). Doris Day planted the seed in my impressionable little head to move to San Francisco and I am happy to say that I moved to San Francisco in my early twenties and made some of the best friends of my life – thanks Ms. Day!

    I have a five year old daughter and later today I am going to introduce her to some of my favorite Doris Day movies ~ Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back, Send Me No Flowers, and That Touch of Mink.

    Thank goodness for classic DVD collections and TCM!

    Kind regards,
    Monica

    1. Jim Warren

      Monica:

      So glad you enjoyed it. I tend to write from my heart, so sometimes I can get sentimental to a fault. That’s just me and it is the truth.

      Hope you will also enjoy my other published pieces on here.

      Jim

  10. What a great description of the very unpleasant experience of going to a multi-plex movie venue, Jim! “Blaring” is an understatement in describing the sound level of any movie I’ve seen in the last several years. That’s why we watched “Winter’s Bone” at home this week. (Great acting by Jennifer Lawrence!)
    Your article was well-written and fun to read.

    1. Jim Warren

      Mom,

      So glad my piece spoke to you. I don’t filter my writing much, so it can be very…well, un-crafted. I like to think that is a plus. Hope you can check out my other postings.

  11. Enjoyed the post. When we ventured out to see Avatar to experience the 3d effects last year, we remembered why we enjoy Netflix and now our AppleTV so much. Just the earsplitting sound (noise) is enough to stay home. And “didn’t know … that Doris Day…was a…” gay thing? Surely you’re joking.

    1. Jim Warren

      Tom:

      Well, yes. One commenter said my essay should have been in Southern Voice, inferring my piece was “gay”….hence that reference. As a fledgling writer, I am also working at having a thick skin. I can’t expect that everyone reading will
      “get it”, or even enjoy it. It wasn’t written as a gay thing, just what is in my heart.
      And you got that.

      Nowadays, we all feel compelled to type (ie comment) just because we can. If I read something that doesn’t appeal to me or I don’t agree with, I tend to move on rather than jab the author. Writing ain’t easy, so… I tend to give the benefit of the doubt.

      Glad you liked my essay, and hope you will also click on my other postings here. I can be corny and sentimental, but hey…that is just who I am.

  12. Jim –

    What a beautiful letter to a beautiful lady. I am in my late 50’s and while I can appreciate Bonnie’s opinion, I disagree insofar as I find great joy in many aspects of the world and my life today. However, I agree with Jim on many levels and especially with respect to the moviegoing experiences of an era that is gone forever. While I still attend a great many movies of all varieties and tastes, nothing can erase the thrill of attending a film in my youth.

    The first time I saw a Doris Day movie in a theatre was in 1960 and there were more than 1200 other people in attendance, so it was a real community experience. Seeing Doris on that enormous cinemascope screen was awe-inspiring and I sat there enthralled for two hours, never even considering leaving my seat or taking my attention off the screen. She was a larger than life star.

    The theatre itself was ornate, with plush red curtains that were made even more opulent by the red footlights that lit them before the film started. There were no ads for television programs, car dealers, fast food restaurants or anything that might remind us of the reality that awaited us outside the theatre. We were transported to a wondrous place replete with previews for upcoming features, a Woody Woodpecker cartoon, a short subject on England and then the feature, “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies”.

    Doris Day represented an era when a star was really a star. People went to a “Doris Day movie” or a “John Wayne movie”.

    On August 14, 1968 I attended the world premiere of Doris Day’s last feature film, “With Six You Get Eggroll” at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston. When the credits started and Miss Day’s name appeared on the screen, the more than 2,000 attendees burst into spontaneous applause.

    Although I recognize and appreciate the passage of time, I still miss the joyous experience of “going to the movies” when it involved more than marking in a mall lot and pondering which of the twelve features I want to see in an often stark setting where I am prevented from fast forwarding past the seemingly endless commercials and ads.

    That part of my past was truly as mistily warm, fuzzy and nostalgic as I remember it and Jim you captured it beautifully.

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