Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween 2013, Part 3

I hope everyone's Halloween was truly scary--in the nicest, most entertaining way possible. Thanks for stopping by.

"The Wettest Halloween in 19 Years"

That oddly specific phrase kept popping up on weathercasts and websites in the days leading up to All Hallow's Eve. Weather is of some importance on this day, as you might well imagine--trick-or-treaters and their parents need to know whether their little boys and ghouls need to wear a parka or rain slicker over their costumes. We've even had snow on this day, though (thankfully) not very often.

But rain. Oh yes, we've had rain. 19 years ago today, we had buckets of it.

The odd thing is, I remember that specific Halloween--for reasons that really didn't have much to do with the rain.

It had more to do with Gretchen.
Long before she was Mrs. Fluffy, Gretchen (pictured above in Millennium Park with JB)and I dated for about six months. We broke up formally on Valentine's Day 1995--a shitty memory to have of a day I don't particularly care for anyway--but remained close friends until her passing in April 2011.

Gretchen loved her some Halloween, and we wound up celebrating three or four together--she attended at least a couple of HMBs, including the second one ever (at JB's place) and the first one ever held at the original La Casa del Terror--but only one as a couple.

The forecasters of today don't exaggerate the weather that day in 1994: it was coming down in blinding sheets sweeping out of the north on howling winds. Awesome weather for sitting inside and watching horror films. Horrible weather for doing damn near anything else.

Gretchen and I lived within walking distance of each other then--she in Wicker Park, I in Ukrainian Village--so I hoofed it as fast as my long legs would carry me to her place--which was, unfortunately, north and east of me, so I spent the whole time walking right into the wind. Even my leather motorcycle jacket was no protection against the gale. By the time I got to Gretchen's, I was utterly soaked. Even my underwear needed to be rung out. And it was a cold rain, too--good thing I had a warm apartment (and warmer woman) waiting for me at the end of my trek.

We didn't watch monster movies that night. Instead, we watched the Monsters of the Midway--the Bears were playing the Packers on Monday Night Football. That turned out to be a horror show of a very different kind, with the Bears getting crushed 33-6 by their arch rivals in a sloppy, muddy, bruising mess of a game.

At least Gretchen made dinner--she was a more-than-fair cook--and we had a great evening together, even if the weather and the Bears tried to dampen (see what I did there?) our spirits.

I wish Gretchen were here to celebrate this Halloween--and a lot more Halloweens to follow. But that's not how things worked out.

Still, legend has it that on Halloween, the barriers between the here and the hereafter are at their weakest and spirits can come and go as they please.

If that's the case...hop on by, Gretchen--I've got a fresh, hot bowl of white borscht soup waiting for you and a pumpkin-scented candle to light your way.

Halloween 2013, Part 2

Take a good look, kids--this is the closest I get to a Halloween costume these days.

On the Way to Work This Morning 10/31/13

Halloween 2013

Another Shocktober comes to an conclusion--and what better way to end it than with a picture of the fearsome Lon Chaney is his best known role, The Phantom of the Opera?

Happy Halloween, everybody!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

This Week's Travel Reading (Shocktober Edition)

Ever since my friend Margo introduced me to The Dresden Files, Jim Butcher's supernatural mystery series set in my hometown, I've slowly but steadily chewed my way through the books and have now reached the seventh in the series, pictured above--which, appropriately enough, takes place right around Halloween.

And yes, that's an Elvira bookmark--don't judge me.

At Lunch Today 10/30/13

Pictured above is what is likely to be my last purchase for Halloween 2013: A Wolf Man bust bank.

Then again, Halloween is tomorrow. So is payday. So...we shall see.

On the Way to Work This Morning 10/30/13

On the Way Home Last Night 10/29/13

Another Jack O'Lantern bonanza!

Shocktober 10/30/13

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Friday, October 25, 2013


White flowers incline toward the sun;
they know their time is near.
Around them, the leaves wilt and brown;
their time's already here.
The frost comes thick and soon will slick
on flower, leaf and clover.
The branches sigh as seasons die.
The cause? One word: Shocktober!

On the Way Home Last Night 10/24/13

On the Way to Work This Morning 10/25/13

Jack O'Lantern bonanza!

Shocktober 10/25/13

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Friday, October 18, 2013

On the Way Home Last Night 10/17/13

Shocktober 10/18/13

Even Bettie Page is dressed up for Halloween (courtesy of the 2013 Olivia calendar).

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Girl in the White Bathing Suit

The late September Saturday was unseasonably warm, rendering my mostly black attire (shirt, shoes and Go-Go White Sox-style baseball cap) entirely inappropriate for standing outside for any great length of time.

Then again, I hadn't anticipated standing outside for any great length of time. Perhaps I should have. Whatever the case, there I was, baking in a sweat lodge of my own making, waiting in line outside the Patio Theater to get in for a 3D showing of Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Of all the monsters from all the monster movies from Universal, the Gill Man had long been my favorite. It wasn't just because the Creature was inherently sympathetic--yes, he killed people, but did he ask those knotheads to come messing about in his lagoon? No, he did not--and it wasn't just because the story was basically an uncredited remake of King Kong (another inherently sympathetic "monster").

It was really because the design of the Creature (by Millicent Patrick, according to Wikipedia, though the then-head of Universal's makeup department, Bud Westmore, received the sole onscreen credit) was so organically believable. the Creature looked like something that could actually exist--and, when I was a very young child, I firmly believed that he did exist. Not only that, but I was certain that he lived in the lagoon in Humboldt Park; the water sure looked black to me, so why wouldn't he live there? (Then again, I also firmly believe that, if I gathered enough nuts and bolts from around the neighborhood, I could build my own robot. My imagination was, shall we politely say, vivid.)

I had seen Creature many times over the years--first on Creature Features, then later on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray--but I'd never seen the movie on the big screen, much less in its original 3D. But was that really why I was standing in this line under the surprisingly hot September sun, eager to get inside? Or was it because of my boundless love for the Patio itself?

No, it was not. I was really here to see Julie Adams.

Julie Adams was a contract player at Universal in the 1950s and had a number of starring roles in feature films like Bend of the River opposite James Stewart (in one of the six westerns he with director Anthony Mann) and Man from the Alamo with Glenn Ford (for another legendary western director, Budd Boetticher). She later went on to work extensively in television, guest-starring on everything from the original Perry Mason to the Big Valley to Night Gallery to Murder, She Wrote to Lost--a career spanning more than 60 years.

For many fans, though, the signature Julie Adams was in Creature from the Black Lagoon, in which she played Kay Lawrence, a marine biologist who is recruited along with her boyfriend, David (Richard Carlson), and their boss, Mark (Richard Denning), to go up the Amazon in search of fossils of what looks like a human/fish hybrid, only to find one very much alive, very much pissed off specimen (played on land by tall, burly stuntman Ben Chapman and in the water by Ricou Browning, who could hold his breath and swim vigorously for minutes at a time).

This goes about as well as you'd expect for the scientists/explorers: Several get mauled to death by the Gill Man, while Kay, who is intelligent and thoughtful through most of the movie, is reduced to screaming her lungs out when she's grabbed by the Creature and spirited away to his underwater grotto (to be fair: I think anyone would scream under those circumstances) and must be rescued by David.

The last we see of the Creature is his bullet-riddled body drifting down to the bottom of the lagoon, presumably dead. (Except not really: The Gill Man returned for two sequels, Revenge of the Creature and The Creature Walks Among Us.)

Aside from the Creature himself, the most indelible image from the movie--and one of the most indelible images from any movie of that era--is of Adams herself in a one-piece white bathing suit, swimming without a care in the lagoon while the Gill Man matches her move for move beneath the surface. The fact that Adams really only appears in the shots where her character is seen above water (Adams was doubled in all underwater swimming shots by stuntwoman Ginger Stanley) has not diminished the potency of the imagery, in part because Adams was one of the most beautiful women ever to appear on the big screen--then or now--and because numerous publicity shots showed her in that white bathing suit.

A couple of years ago, Adams wrote The Lucky Southern Star: Reflections from the Black Lagoon, a memoir of her time in Hollywood. Since its publication, she has made appearances around the country, talking about her lengthy career and autographing copies of the book.

And that was what she would be doing at the Patio that day--hence, my reason for standing in that line, waiting for the doors that were supposed to open at one in the afternoon to allow us inside sometime before showtime.

Finally, sometime around 1:20, we were told to head inside; people who'd bought tickets online (like me) could go to a table on the left, while everyone else hit the old-school ticket booth on the right. The left branch of the line moved briskly, and I was soon past it with 3D glasses in hand, headed for...another line, this one snaking off to the left of the conscession stand to a corner of the lobby near the entrance to the downstairs men's bathroom. I assumed this was the line that led to Julie Adams and got in step with everybody else.

The usually expansive lobby of the Patio was decidedly clutter this day--not just with people grabbing tickets and standing in snaking lines, but with vendors of various kinds. One sold oil paintings of various horror icons; another sold Halloween-themes jewelry; still another had comic books and action figures (though, somewhat weirdly, none of the Creature, which surely would been hot sellers in this venue); and, nearest the entrance, a table stacked with copies of the novelization of Creature from the Black Lagoon and 11"x17" poster reproductions. I hadn't thought to bring my own copy of the novel (purchased from the same vendor at a Printers Row Lit Fest a couple of years back), but that was fine. I wanted a copy of Adams' memoir, which was almost certainly for sale at the end of this line.

Several other people in line had mementos of their own for Ms. Adams to autograph. A couple had full-sized poster repros. One had a half-bust of the Creature with a flat, smooth patch on the back, ideal for signing. (How this guy intended to display this piece after it was signed was beyond me.) And one surprisingly young fan (looked to be in his early 20s) had a full-head Creature mask that he had Adams sign on its forehead.

The line shuffled slowly forward until, three or four patrons down, I saw her--a small, elderly lady with medium-brown hair, a teal blouse and a white sports jacket. She was signing pretty much whatever was put in front of her, shaking hands and posing for photos with fans and, more than anything else, smiling broadly, clearly enjoying the fact that so many fans had come out not just to see a nearly 60-year-old monster movie, but her in particular.

Finally, I got close enough to the table to see the deal: You could buy her memoir with just her signature; pay a bit more and have said signature personalized to you; or go for the deluxe package of memoir with personalized signature, 8"x10" photo with personalized signature and a copy of the Creature soundtrack (a composite score made up of contributions from several composers, including leftovers from Hanz Salter's music from 1940s Universal monster movies and bits from a young Henry Mancini).

I opted for the deluxe package (seemed like a fair deal, really, considering all I'd be getting, along with the opportunity to meet Julie Adams) and forked over my $40 to the man behind the stack of memoir copies. This man, it turns out, was Mitchell Danton, coauthor of the memoir, as well as being Julie's son from her marriage to fellow actor Ray Danton. He asked my name, handed a copy of the book to his mom and told her my name. She looked up at me, smiled and shook my hand gently. I tend to fumble my words around celebrities, but I managed to get out how wonderful it was to meet her without strangling myself with my tongue. She asked me if the dedication "Hope you enjoy my Hollywood adventures!" would be OK with me, and of course I said that would be fine. Honestly, no matter what she wrote in the book, I'd have been fine with it. I assured her that I did indeed enjoy her Hollywood adventures. "And now you can read about them!" she replied, smiling brightly.

While she was signing my copy of her memoir, her son asked me which photo I wanted autographed. There were at least a dozen on the table, from various points in her career, but my eye immediately gravitated to the shots from Creature--especially those of her in the famous white bathing suit. I chose one of her posed with her right hand on a tree trunk for balance, and Mitchell turned to a box behind the table that held copies of all the photos spread out before me. By the time Julie had finished her dedication and, rather charmingly, blown on the ink to dry it before closing the cover, Mitchell had pulled a copy of my requested 8x10, had handed it to his mother and suggested what the dedication for this particular photo should be: "Join me for a swim?" (Why yes, don't mind if I do...)

After she signed the photo and marveled that she's gotten the dedication right on the first try, I asked if she would mind posing for a photo. She smiled again and was more than happy to do so.

As I came around the side of the table and handed my camera to a bystander, I accidentally kicked over the two bottles of water on the floor beside her (which she no doubt needed--since the Patio was still without air conditioning, the lobby was a bit stuffy, and Ms. Adams had been fanning herself with pieces of paper just a few minutes earlier). I apologized, smiled for the camera and, seeing her start to reach down for the bottles, reached ahead of her, apologizing again. "I knocked them over--the least I could do is pick them up." She thanked me and, again, shook my hand and smiled.

I got out of the way as quickly as I could--there was still a substantial like of folks waiting for autographs and photos--and cut through the line to head down to the bathroom. Before going in, though, I stashed the book, photo and CD in my backpack for safe keeping, though, to pass the time until the movie started, I pulled the memoir back out again once comfortably seated in the auditorium. Though it's technically a paperback, it's printed on heavy stock, no doubt to improve the quality of the many photos spread throughout. The front and back covers were also printed on heavier cardboard than usual, likely because each had numerous photos printed on the other side--the front inside cover had posters and lobby cards from many of her other movies, while the back inside cover was exclusively devoted to Creature pictures, including a shot of the Julie Adams figure that came with the deluxe Creature action figure from a couple of years ago.

As for the movie itself, the showing got off to a rough start--the film ran for two or three minutes without any sound. Audience members started shouting out their own replacement soundtrack contributions (like "BOOM!" for explosions or the score's famous "dun dun DUN!" spike), while others simply sent up shouts of "Sound?" into the darkness. The projectionist stopped the film, and somebody came out to tell us that the problem was being worked on. Sure enough, after two or three more minutes, the movie started up again, this time accompanied by its proper soundtrack.

The 3D varied in effectiveness--the subtle moments scored best (bubbles drifting through the water, rifles or spearguns held by characters suddenly swinging out over the audience, depth of image while Adams and Carlson stand on deck), while one big, obvious effect worked well (the fossilized hand found at the beginning of the movie seemed to stretch out several rows over the amazed patrons, eliciting a few gasps and more than a few laughs).

After the movie was over, Julie Adams was brought out onto the stage to much applause, and a questions-and-answer session ensued. I chose this moment to head out--other places to go, other people to see--but paused at the doorway and looked back as Adams answered questions and smiled at the assembled crowd.

Sunday morning, I framed the 8x10 and placed it on the hallway wall of La Casa del Terror, in honor of Creature from the Black Lagoon's charming star, who turns 87 years old today (coincidentally one year older than the Patio itself)--though nothing was old about those eyes, that smile or the warmth expressed to that line of grateful fans. Nothing at all.