For most of my life I have been a movie buff. Movies played a large role in my childhood, much as television, comic books, and rock music did. Curiously, I would not go to the cinema until I was in junior high. For whatever reason my parents did not go to the movies. My mother had when she was younger. In fact, she had seen the 1931 Frankenstein in the theatre when she was all of 15. She hated it. I never let her live that down--she had seen a classic movie in the theatre upon its release and didn't appreciate it! I know my sister went to the movies, but she was a good deal older than my brother and I, so that she moved out while we were still very young.
Since my parents didn't go to the cinema and I had no one else to take me, I was exposed to my first movies on television. In those days the premium movie channels (like HBO did not exist yet). And Randolph County would not get cable until around 1971 or 1972. Even then, it would do me little good as we lived in the country. That having been said, in the late Sixties the three broadcast networks set out time in their schedules for movies. In fact, at that time there was a movie on at least one of the networks every night of the week. This was the era of NBC Saturday Night Movies and The CBS (Thursday or Friday, depending on which day it was) Night Movie. In addition, the local stations still showed movies at that time, usually late at night (by which time I would be in bed) and on Saturday or Sunday afternoon. As a child, television offered plenty of opportunity for me to watch movies.
In fact, my first memory of a movie dates back to when I was very young. I must have been about four years old when my parents took us to the neighbourhood Halloween party. After the party we came home and, as usual, turned on the TV. I think it was already set to the CBS Thursday Night Movie, but it could have been another night and another network. I do remember the movie that was on the screen very clearly--it was Jason and the Argonauts, the 1963 Ray Harryhausen classic. I sat transfixed by the screen, particularly fascinated by Jason's fight with the skeletons at the end. It must be kept in mind that neither my mother nor my father cared much for fantasy and science fiction movies, although my father was a bit more tolerant towards them than my mother was. I can only assume they let my brother and I watch Jason and the Argonauts because we wanted to.
Of course, I have no idea why I remember Jason and the Argonauts from such a young age. I suspect I had probably watched movies before then and I would certainly watch them in the next few years. I can only assume that I was captured, as many were, by the magic of Ray Harryhausen's special effects. At any rate, I can say it was a harbinger of my tastes as both a child and an adult. I have always been a fan of the fantastic genres--fantasy, horror, and science fiction.
Indeed, it seems that the earliest movies I remember all seem to be fantastic in nature. I would be five before a movie would make such a lasting impression on me. That movie was The Wizard of Oz. In those days it was shown each and ever year. It was initially CBS which showed the classic movie, initially in 1956. They started showing it yearly in 1959. In 1967 NBC won the rights to air The Wizard of Oz for the next eight years. And it was on NBC that I remember watching it. It quickly became my favourite movie of my early years, so much so that Judy Garland is the first celebrity whose death I can recall. Thinking that she was still the same age as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, I asked my mother how someone that young could die. She told me that the movie had been made long ago and she was a lot older now, conveniently leaving how the nasty details of the drug overdose.
While the first two movies I can clearly remember watching as a child are classic films of one form or another, the next movie I can recall watching is a cult film. The President's Analyst aired on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies when I was around six. For years afterward I could remember details of the movie, especially the climax. Of course, I know that many of the jokes in the movie went over my head, but, having already watched many episodes of Get Smart, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and The Avengers, I was already a fan of spy dramas and spy comedies. I couldn't catch the movie's satire, but I could appreciate it as a good spy story.
I also remember The Beatles movies A Hard Day's Night and Help! from when I was very young. I can't remember where I saw them, but I know it was around the same time that I watched The President's Analyst. I was predisposed to like both movies. As a young child I watched The Beatles cartoon loyally. And my sister was a big fan of The Beatles, so much so that I suspect the first song I ever heard was probably a Beatles movie. Of course, when I was a bit older I would experience the animated movie Yellow Submarine, based on the music of The Beatles. CBS showed it every year for many years, usually around July 4.
It wasn't long after I first saw The President's Analyst and The Beatles movies that I first saw The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao. As child who already had a taste for fantasy movies, it captured my attention immediately. For years I could remember the sequences with Medusa (which scared me a bit) and Pan, not to mention the movie's climax. It was also the first Tony Randall movie I remember seeing, even if he was unrecognisable under all that makeup. I would later become a big fan of Tony Randall, seeing him in both The Odd Couple and those Doris Day/Rock Hudson movies. The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao was another movie that was shown on television for several years, I believe on NBC.
Another movie I remember well from my early childhood was It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. For those of you who don't remember it, it was director Stanley Kramer's 1963 epic comedy. It starred such heavyweights as Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Phil Silvers, and Jonathan Winters, and featured appearances by such big names as Jack Benny, Jim Backus, Stan Freburg, Don Knotts, and so on. In fact, I think Bob Hope may have been the only big name comedian who didn't appear in the movie! At over 3 hours in length, it was truly epic in scope. For years CBS showed It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World every single year, and after that ABC. I seem to recall both networks showed it around New Year's Eve.
By the time I first saw Planet of the Apes on the CBS Friday Night Movie I already watched movies on television regularly, but it stands out from the rest. Let's face it, a movie in which an astronaut must fight to survive in a society of apes is going to appeal to a nine year old boy. Indeed, I became a big fan of the movies. I watched all of the sequels. I watched the short lived CBS TV series spun off from the movies. And I read the Marvel comic book, too. CBS showed the movie fairly regularly in the Seventies, first in their various prime time movie slots and later on the CBS Late Night Movie.
I have often wondered what impact the movies I watched while I was still a very young child had on me. This is especially true of Jason and the Argonauts, which I saw before I even attended school. Alongside shows like Batman, Star Trek, The Monkees, The Wild Wild West, and so on, I have to wonder if it didn't predispose me to seek out fantastic TV shows, movies, and books when I was older. Quite simply, I wonder if Jason and the Argonauts didn't play a large role in shaping my tastes when I grew older. Somehow, I rather suspect they did.