I was an only child for seven years until my baby sister was born. In those young and formative years my daddy was away in the Army and my mother worked every day at a doctor’s office. I had a woman who ‘sat’ with me although most of that sitting was me being parked in my little rocking chair watching the tiny screen. No, my brains didn’t turn to mush and I never felt like someone wasn’t paying attention to me. I had all the attention I wanted because I wanted to be left alone to watch TV. But that wasn’t my entire world. I had an active imagination and was quite content playing alone in my room or the backyard. Although, I do remember entertaining myself one morning when I was 2 going on 3 by watching our yellow cat sitting in the sun, his tail twitching back and forth, back and forth and for some reason I thought this must be a constant bother for him to behave that way and being a child who possessed critical thinking skills I went somewhere in the house, found the wire plyers and was just about to snip that thing off at the tip when I was caught red-handed. Someone had the presence of mind to snap a photo of this happening before taking the plyers away from me so there is proof buried in a box of photos.
Back to that TV. From that earliest of ages, I knew that the power of stories coming to life was pure magic to me. That magic hasn’t left me ‘till this day. My mother read to me as a child, played classical music on the stereo. She bought me a paints, an easel and a red painter's smock. Enriched I was. But at night before bedtime we would be back in that little den watching something amazing. And it was at this early stage of my life that one television show had an incredible impact on me.
Have Gun-Will Travel had all the elements I needed to complete my life. There was a man dressed all in black with a black hat, a gun holstered and slung low on his hip with the perfectly cast Richard Boone in the lead. Here’s the skinny on that show.
Have Gun - Will Travel
(From the IMDB page)
“Professional gunfighter Paladin was a West Point graduate who, after the Civil War, settled into San Francisco's Hotel Carlton, where he awaited responses to his business card: over the picture of a chess knight is written "Have Gun, Will Travel...Wire Paladin, San Francisco."—Ed Stephan
Besides his physical strength and weapons of perfection, he possessed an extreme intelligence. Much like the Paladin, which is the horse of the chess board (a fact lost on most viewers), he was able to circumvent obstacles and achieve victory where it was seemingly beyond the reach of a mere mortal. There was no hint of bias or bigotry in his character (keep in mind that this was the period of Civil Rights activism); he evaluated each man instantly and treated immigrants with respect and dignity. All of this took place while America was celebrating the centennial of the Civil War and public knowledge of weapons and that time period was intense.
The dashing, daring character of Have Gun - Will Travel had the refined taste of James Bond and the wardrobe of Johnny Cash.
Based out of the luxurious Hotel Carlton in San Francisco, Paladin, played by Richard Boone, offered his services for steep fees, typically $1,000. He carried business cards embossed with his chess knight logo and his promise, "Have Gun – Will Travel." Paladin was everything from guardian, tutor, rescuer, bounty hunter, treasure hunter, detective… whatever the client needed.”
He was smart. He read things. He appreciated fine art, music, wine – and most likely – women. And as a little girl who would grow up to be a woman – I knew by instinct these were some highly desired characteristics in a man.
But then men dressed all in black are my weakness. Think Elvis, Johnny Cash, the oldest brother on Bonanza, that sexy ginger haired priest on the PBS show, Grandchester. But I digress.
So, my time spent in front of that little television only brings good memories and influences that I think contributed to who I am as a writer today. My coffer was full and by what I deem as one of the luckiest strikes of my life, when I was eight years old and we had returned from Germany where my daddy was stationed we moved into the St. Andrews neighborhood of Panama City, Florida. And right down the street was The Florida Movie Theater in all its large one screen glory. Fresh popcorn at the always. As in – always. A pay phone in the lobby. Why, you might ask would anyone need a pay phone in the lobby of the theater. I’ll tell you why. For kids being able to drop a dime (bless my Generation Jones heart) in the pay phone and call Mom to say it the movie was over and it was time to be picked up. Only that’s not what we used that phone for. We called to simply say, “We loved it so we are staying to watch it again!” The same movie over again without even a pause. And the other amazing thing about the golden oldie days - you didn’t have to by another ticket. You just went back in the theater and waited for the lights to go down and the magic to start again.
In this neighborhood my sister and I had four places we were allowed to walk to on our own. St. John’s Church to ask if Sister Rosemary could come out and say hello. To the duck pond to feed the ducks. To the Oakland Terrace Baseball Park and – to the theater. If that theater had been on the other side of the busy intersection it would have been off limits. Mom never would have allowed us to do it. But by our good fortune it was on ‘our’ side of the street and the rest is history.
Two little girls, me holding my sister’s hand and walking our way out of the hot summer sunshine and straight into the cool dark of the theater where we caught the likes of the original Jungle Book and came home (after seeing it twice) singing all the songs in the movie by heart. Likewise, when Lady and the Tramp hit the screen we did the same. And, yes, we sang that Siamese cat song until we drove Mom half crazy.
Years upon years later I stood in line on a double date with Cousin Deb to see Jaws on the big screen and the perfection of that movie has never been lost on me. Or the fact that when the great white shark’s head comes up out of the water for the first time as Brody throws out chum - I screamed and threw popcorn straight up in the air. Like a whole bag of it. That was the summer where I didn’t see anyone in the Gulf over their knees. I swear I don’t remember seeing anyone out there in the deep unless it was a lone surfer and I would have just said – your history man. It’s lights out for you. I am still not a fan of the black-eyed creatures from the deep and no amount of education changes that for me. No. Amount. Never mind that just the summer before I was swimming after work at night in the Gulf in the dark way out there with other young idiots just like me who had gotten off work from a long shift and a refreshing swim in the dark waves seemed just like the thing to do. That’s when you are young enough to think you are immortal. I had smart friends who would not have done such a thing. They did not work the night shift. But, again, I digress.
These days it seems the excellence of stories on the little screens (which aren’t so little anymore) and the big screen have disappeared. I am as lost in the creation of the show Andor, The Rings of Power, One for All Mankind - or shorter offerings like Ted Lasso, Severance, Shrinking – the list goes on and on as I am the movies that are a never-ending stream of delicious story goodness. It’s Awards season and I’m checking off my list of all the nominees which I’ll be writing about in depth over on my blog – Notes from the Coast – in days to come. Not in an Academic way (well, not mostly) but with the pure joy of a movie lover who values, desires, needs that special magic that only the big screen offers.
I hope along with all the wonderful reading that you are doing between the pages you still work in a big screen offering that gives you that little two hour pause of escape, adventure, and wonder. It’s good medicine right now for the things we feel we can’t bear any longer. Like a prescription – Grab some popcorn and a coke and go lose yourself in the wonder that is the Silver Screen.
Which brings us right up to this year's Oscars. Just a special note here - if you happen to hate movies, Hollywood, and awards shows that is totally okay with me. But you will have to just skip my posts about movies I love and the awards shows in general. Watching the Academy's is something I have done since I was a child with a sense of wonder. Now, I know how the publicity campaigns roll out the carpet and that the ones with a bigger PR budget will outrun those without one - generally. But there is always that odd little movie that will bust through in spite of everything. If the Oscars just aren't your thing, or you hate all the movies that were my favorite pics - against it's okay. Which means - you don't have to tell me. Just sharing my love for the silver screen here and the power of story in our lives. I have friends with movies based on their novels that will be debuting soon. Others with movies or scripts optioned or currently in production. And when they step up to win their awards for best screenplay adaption or original script - I am going to be sitting with something good to drink watching the awards and pulling for them with all my might. They would do the same for me. If we both have nominated movies the same year - all bets are off. (insert wink here)
But for those of you who are in this race like some of the crazies out here who watch every film nominated and fill out our mock up ballots as we pour a glass of wine and pull for our top choices - then you're all in like some of us who enjoy the ceremony. (I truly miss my old mother-in-law Nancy who watched these with me every year drinking her sherry and offering her running commentary from the red carpet dresses to the last award for best picture.)
Next week I'll be joining Michael Shields on the podcast, Welcome to the Party Pal to discuss the awards ceremony and winners. It's always a conversation of people It's always a lively discussion between movie lovers so I hope you can stay tuned for the air time and join us.
In the meantime - I hope you are finding books, movies, and tv series that bring joy to life no matter what they are. When I read the news and realize so many things that are dark in this world are out of my control to 'fix' or help other than in my prayers and movies bring me solace, a vacation for my mind for a few hours, and often a deeper understanding of what this thing called life is all about in an often sweet and nuanced way.