The Crack of Dawn
The Crack of Dawn
It’s night as I begin.
There are a wonderful series of interviews on YouTube called Pioneers of Television. Actors from TV shows of the 1960s through the 1990s speak at length about their TV careers. I think I’ve watched about 15 of them, and last week I watched Nichelle Nichols, Uhura from Star Trek, who died the day before yesterday, which seemed coincidental. But Nichelle’s interview was so good that I told it to my sister last week. After the first season Nichelle decided she was going to quit and return to the theater. Gene Roddenberry was really against it, tried to talk her out of it, but she was firm. He said, “Take the weekend to think about it.” She had a singing gig at an NAACP event that next night. In her dressing room after the show, as people were coming and going, a low, resonant voice behind her said, “I’m your biggest fan.” She turned around and it was Martin Luther King Jr., whom she had never met.. He told her that he had seen every episode of Star Trek and loved her Uhura character. She admitted that she was seriously considering quitting. Dr. King said, “You can’t,” then explained that she was the most empowered black character on TV, and a woman, and that she was far too important to society to quit. So she thought, “If God is sending Martin Luther King to tell me not to quit, I guess I shouldn’t quit.” So she stuck it out.
It can say on my tombstone, “He saw all three Sensurround movies in the theater.” Sensurround was a very short-lived movie sound system in the mid-1970s where they took three gigantic sub-woofer bass speakers and aimed them down into the floor. The first movie to use it was the utterly awful, Earthquake (1974). I got to the theater a bit late and had to take a seat in the front row. My feet were up against one of the Sensurround speakers. There was no use of the system in the first half of the movie, but in the second half it’s used constantly and it literally shook the whole theater on its foundation. I thought it was really cool. Well, most movies don’t have earthquakes in them, so what do you use it for? The second use was Midway (1976), a terrible WWII film, and the Sensurround was only used when they started plane engines. And the final use was in the miserable piece of crap, Roller Coaster (1977). I watched this film entirely alone in the gigantic Egyptian Theater. And that was the ignoble end of Sensurround.
An early goal of mine was to see every Best Picture Oscar-winner. By the time I was twenty I had seen them all, except the second one, Broadway Melody (1929), the first “All-Talking, All-Singing” movie, that was never shown. The second time I lived in Hollywood in 1979, a strange, tiny little movie theater opened on the Sunset Strip (right near Book Soup), with perhaps 100 seats. One of the first films they screened was Broadway Melody, and the star of the film, Anita Page, was there. It’s nothing more than a stage musical badly shot on a theater stage, but it did have sound all the way through it, which was a big innovation for 1929.
One of the truly weird, wonderful, old Hollywood films is King’s Row (1942). It tells the story of a number of residents of this little town and how their lives intertwine. It is considered by many to contain young Ronald Reagan’s best performance, and I wouldn’t argue with that. Reagan’s final scene is so fucking creepy it gave me a nightmare.
There is only the slightest hint of light in the sky.