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Among my souvenirs…

by larrydachslager on September 8th, 2013

We’ve all had the experience of seeing a movie in a theatre and immediately becoming besotted with it.   Perhaps it struck such a positive emotional chord or succeeded artistically on so many levels, it warranted multiple viewings just to catch everything.   For the past thirty or so years, anyone who saw and loved a theatrical movie could touch head to pillow later that night secure in the knowledge that in just a few months that movie would be available for purchase on videocassette or DVD.  Once owned, the magic could be revisited often.

For the thirty years before that, (early 50s through early 80s), loving a movie in the theater meant knowing that it would eventually be shown on television, but only at the whim of the networks or local TV stations.  Movie lovers knew they’d get to see their favorite films again, but just didn’t know precisely when.

It is strange and almost unthinkable today to realize that, in the years leading up to the introduction of television in the home, once a film ran its theatrical course, its fans, unaware that TV was in their future, not only didn’t know when they’d get to see it again, they didn’t even know IF  they would ever see it again.   High profile movies like Gone With The Wind might get a theatrical re-issue, but if someone absolutely fell in love with Henry Aldridge Haunts A House, that person left the theater with the full realization that that particular movie experience would never be repeated.

Hollywood saw the value of specific movie-themed merchandise early on.  When a film was popular, its fans wanted a “souvenir” of it to keep the experience alive in their memories until they (hopefully) got to see it again.   Since re-watching a film is much easier now, there is no longer any need for such souvenirs.   In an earlier entry, I discussed 8mm home versions of Hollywood films.  This week’s blog entry is about more of these movie keepsakes that have all but disappeared from store shelves due to the fact that we now have ready access to the real thing.

Soundtracks and Story Records:

The movie souvenir that has proved most durable is the Soundtrack Recording.  Today, if you enjoy a movie’s score or songs, you can still purchase its music to listen to while driving, walking, working, etc.  However, soundtrack albums of today are still somewhat different from those available before home video.  In addition to music, many soundtrack albums of the 60s and 70s contain significant sections of dialogue.  As a kid, my records of Young Frankenstein, Romeo and Juliet, and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory allowed me to commit key lines and dialogue exchanges to memory, even though I had only seen the films once or twice.

Young Frankenstein

Home video also brought about the slow extinction of an essential element of my childhood, the Story Record.  This is not the same as an audio book read aloud by the author or an actor.  A Story Record used music, sound effects, and a cast of voice actors to create a “movie” in the listener’s imagination – much the same way radio did before television.   Many children’s TV shows and cartoons came out with record albums featuring their characters, and I got my introduction to classics like Treasure Island and The Invisible Man through story records.   My favorite way to hear these records was lying in bed with all the lights off, allowing no visual distractions to interfere with my imagination as I listened.

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Invisible Man

The following was one of my favorite records for your listening pleasure.  Yes, this was at a time when the average child knew who Alfred Hitchcock was.

I was one of many children whose reading skills were improved by the now all but defunct Book And Record sets.  Many companies produced these, including Golden Books and Peter Pan Records, but the ones that stick in most people’s memories came from, of course, Disney.   Nearly every film the company produced resulted in a Book and Record version with its familiar narrator voices and Tinkerbell’s “brrrrrreng…” signaling that it was time for a page turn.

The long-playing versions had the memorable “magic mirror” covers.  The Disney company had a long-standing tradition of shrewdly withholding many of its classic films from television and re-releasing them theatrically every seven years for each new generation of kids could discover them on the big screen.  The Disney Book and Record sets allowed us to visually and aurally experience our favorite stories during that long seven-year hiatus between viewings.

Bambi

Alice

Here’s a trivia fun fact:  The very first movie to commercially release an accompanying soundtrack album was Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1938.

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Novelizations and Photo Novels:

As we all know, books have provided source material for movies for almost as long as movies have been around.   If you couldn’t watch the movie, you could read the book that inspired it.  However, what if you loved a movie with an original story and screenplay that wasn’t based on a book?  In these instances, the process was reversed and the movie’s screenplay became the source material for its “novelization.”   For decades, many a writer made a solid living turning movie scripts into novels.  In the 70s, I was an avid collector of novelizations of live-action Disney films, happily reliving the wacky antics of The Million Dollar Duck or Snowball Express and other such “classics” whenever I was assigned a book report.

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The hilarious thing about the Disney novelizations is that they were sometimes based on screenplays that already had books as source material.  But the films took so many liberties with the original stories, they were almost unrecognizable and warranted updated, Disney-ized literary incarnations.  For example, the novelization of The Shaggy Dog  was adapted by Elizabeth L. Griffen from the screenplay by Bill Walsh and Lillie Hayward which was adapted from the book The Hound of Florence by Feliz Salten.

Novelizations are still published on occasion, but there are not nearly as plentiful as they were in the 60s and 70s.  While hardly considered great literature, they are fun to read in comparison with their source films.  Also, they were usually written long in advance of a film’s release and based on early drafts of the screenplay, so they sometimes contain character information and scenes not present in the finished film.   Or the book’s author might have special insight to a film’s content.  Take note, for example, of who authored the novelization of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. 

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For those without the time or inclination to read an entire book, movies were adapted to other literary forms.  Batman and Spiderman are okay, but no respectable comic book collection is complete without Peter O’Toole. This was one of the few comic books I owned.

Chips

Movie buffs in the 1970s will surely recognize the name Richard J. Anobile.  In 1971, Abobile published a wildly successful book called Why A Duck: Visual and Verbal Gems from the Marx Brothers Movies.  The book consisted of carefully selected blow up images and accompanying dialogue depicting highlights from the Marx Brothers’ films.  Since the films were not readily accessible, this skillfully rendered book was a revelation.  When I was thirteen, it was well known that I was a fan of both old movies and the Marx Brothers, so I received no fewer than seven copies of Why A Duck for my Bar Mitzvah.

Why a duck

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The book was such a hit for Anobile, he subsequently released similar books featuring W. C. Fields, Laurel and Hardy, and Abbott and Costello.  Later, he delighted movie fans by publishing the Film Classics Library in which he devoted an entire volume to one specific film.  Titles included Casablanca, Psycho, The General, Frankenstein, Ninotchka, Stagecoach, and Play It Again, Sam.

anobile frankenstein

Frankenstein

I was grateful for Richard A. Anobile’s books for many reasons, but one of them served a very special and personal purpose.  For many years, I was too afraid to watch Hitchcock’s Psycho.  Being a Hitchcock fan, I desperately wanted to watch it and it appeared on late night TV quite frequently, but after all I’d read and heard from those who’d seen it, I just couldn’t muster the courage.  I eventually prepared myself for it by going to the book store, leafing through Anobile’s pictorial version of the film, and “watching” the scary scenes that way.  Thanks to that book, when it came time to actually view the movie, I was ready.   I still found Psycho very scary, but at least I knew what was coming.

Psycho

In the late 70s and early 80s, Anobile also produced “Photo Novels” of contemporary films, including Alien and Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.  Even though they’ve been made obsolete by home video, the Anobile books are still fondly remembered by movie buffs of a certain age.

Star Trek

View-Master:

When I lived in Houston, I had a large collection of… collections.   I accrued toys, records, posters, books, pens, etc.  When moving to Chicago, I didn’t want to bring it all, so I gave away or sold most of it.  However, the one collection that I brought with me was my extensive and, if I say so myself, impressive array of View-Master reels and viewers.

A View-Master is a stereoscopic 3-D viewer that was first introduced at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.  In the 40s, the viewers and content of the reels were clearly designed for adults and most of the available photo sets were of a scenic nature.  Eventually, the company produced a few fairy tale reels aimed at children and utilizing puppets and miniature scenery.  The children’s reels caught on and the View-Master slowly evolved into a popular toy aimed at viewers of all ages.   The company also manufactured a projector, but since the images were in 2-D, it never achieved the popularity of the individual 3-D viewer.

VM

The heyday of the View-Master was during the 60s and 70s when 3-D reels were available for nearly every movie and television show.  I still remember walking into stores and seeing the enormous selection of View Master reel sets on display, looking like tiny record albums.

At that time, View-Master photographers actually went to the set of the show or film and shot stereoscopic photos to provide the 21 images that made up the three-reel set.  For the most part, the images were photographed and selected with great care.  (One exception that comes to mind is a photo on one of the Mary Poppins reels that actually reveals the top of the movie set and some lighting instruments.)  The reels based on cartoons were done with puppets and actual miniature sets, adding to the 3-D effect in a way that couldn’t be achieved with drawings.

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Peter Pan

It wasn’t only children’s movies that were given the View-Master treatment.   My collection includes 3-D reels from films such as Superman, The Poseidon Adventure, several James Bond films, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and Fiddler on the Roof.    The sets came with story booklets as well.   Back then, fans of “Fiddler” or “Poseidon Adventure” may not have been able to watch those films whenever they wanted, but we did get to see Shelley Winters swim and Fruma Sara rise from the grave in 3-D.  How cool is that?

Superman

Fiddler

Nowadays, View-Masters are still sparsely available and are geared strictly for young children.  Since today’s kids have DVDs of their favorite movies and TV shows, only sets based on extremely popular characters and films are available.  Now that 3-D television is on its way, I imagine View-Masters are nearly extinct.  The last few times I went to Toys R Us and inquired about them, I had to explain what I was talking about to the sales people.  They didn’t recognize it by name.

On a few occasions during my teaching career, I brought my View-Master collection to show my classes.   For some reason, I always had to remind the students not to close one eye when looking through the viewer.   The kids’ reactions to the 3-D photos of their favorite cartoon and Disney characters were always heartening.   Kids who often gave rather jaded responses to things I showed them would marvel enthusiastically at View-Master reels, say things like “Wooooaaaah!” and “This is soooooooo cool!!!!”  The reels that consistently impressed them were Cinderella, The Wizard of Oz, the flight images in Disney’s Peter Pan, and one of my favorites, the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World reel.  I included an image from that one below, but believe me… it’s much cooler in 3-D.  The kids would always ask where they could get those reels and how much my collection is worth.  The answers: You can’t, and unfortunately, not very much.

Seven

Hopefully, some of you remember some of these movie souvenirs.  For those of you who are too young to remember them or to even need them, I’m glad to share some insight into the fact that we actually did have some cool things back then that aren’t around these days.   Next week, I’ll share my final thoughts on life before and after home video and then move on to other topics.

 

 

3 Comments
  1. Ray permalink

    Greetings!
    OK, sui after all these years I was accused of being the only person that collected items such as the ones you feature here.
    Growing up in the 60’s and beyond, a major source for s lot of the items you feature and many more was the Scholastic Book and Music club that would send flyers to many grade schools and the schools would hold “book days” where they would pass the flyers out and you’d go home being mom and dad that you had to have to movie dialog book anywhere from Bad News Bears Breaking Training to Brian’s Song to any of the classic Disney/Kurt Russell movies etc…

    Then vinyl albums from the Wizard of Oz film to The Adams Family tv show, not movie, and many more…

    Amazing. I’ve always said those who scream the loudest have the most to hide. Niw that I’ve shared your blog, my friends are all coming out of the woodwork finally admitting their guilty pleasures from growing up.

    Thanks for sharing!!!!!

    • Ray permalink

      Sorry for the grammar errors, the kids play around with my phone and they deliberately play with the spell Czech… :-)

  2. larrydachslager permalink

    Hi Ray,

    I’m sorry for my delayed response. I’m a slow learner when it comes to all things computer and I just discovered your most welcome and appreciated comment. As you say, it’s great to learn that others had similar childhood experiences, no matter how seemingly trivial. Many many thanks for reading the entry and for sharing, both with your friends and with me.

    Sincerely,

    Larry

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