It started with a girl named Maria and a boy named Tony who thought something was coming. That’s what I usually tell people when they ask how I became a classic movie fan: it happened on a fateful March evening in 2003 when I saw West Side Story. I became obsessed, end of story. But my West Side Story obsession (which is a whole other blog post) isn’t even close to where my classic film education began. Let’s travel back in time to 1988, the year I was born. Or maybe 1991, I would have been a bit more coherent to films at age three.
My parents introduced my two older sisters and me to classic film at an early age. Some of these movies were Disney movies like Lady and the Tramp or Swiss Family Robinson or family-friendly movies like White Christmas and Yankee Doodle Dandy.
I distinctly remember watching Meet Me in St. Louis when I was five or six and thinking that Judy Garland looked pretty or laughing at Julie Newmar’s name, “Dorcas,” in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Basically classics have always been in my life, but as a child I never realized that they were old and thought all of these wonderful movies were brand new. My real interest in movies started when I was in third grade and I saw the cartoon version of Anastasia on a rainy November day in 1997. No this isn’t a classic movie, but it started a long line of movie obsessions to come. I mean, I even thought I was somehow the lost princess Anastasia Romanov. I was hooked. Fast-forward to middle school. I became interested in shows on TVLand, The Monkees and 1960s pop culture. I was interested in anything old, and naturally gravitated towards movies, which is probably where it all began.
But the real gateway drug to the classic film addiction was West Side Story. On an evening in March 2003, my dad said, “You like musicals and old movies; you should see West Side Story.’” He later said he created a monster and wasn’t joking at all. From West Side Story, I snowballed into a musical love and I went out of my way to tape them off the television. I started a new musical list that is still growing at 390 titles. I then found actors I liked, like Doris Day and Jane Powell, and wanted to see their movies and the interest just grew and grew and grew. Now, I’m not obsessed with one particular actor or movie, it’s more that I’m crazy about the whole classic film shebang.
As a rule I only watch movies from the beginning of film to the mid-1960s. Pre-code movies are great because their vulgarity is done in a tongue-and-check way that sometimes can go by unnoticed if you aren’t paying attention. Once you get into the 1960s and beyond, the plots run thin in an attempt to be artistic, nudity isn’t rare and morals go out the window. Also actors from the Golden Era were fading away and the studio system was crumbling.
I guess if I had to make an analogue with how it all started, West Side Story would have been that first beer that led me into old movie alcoholism. It didn’t matter what I watched as long as it fulfilled my movie viewing needs. I think my viewing is a bit more mature than that now. Sure I still watch a few clunkers, or watch a stinker movie for the sake of fulfilling a classic actor list (like Night of the Demon for Dana Andrews) but it is just all part of the experience.
What kind of movie fan am I now?
•I only buy books, paper dolls, posters or anything of that nature that is movie related. I often search Ebay for classic film memorabilia, and as much as I would enjoy Lana Turner ’s evening bag from Imitation of Life, as a 21-year-old college student, that really isn’t in my budget.
•I don’t have any real obsession now. I have my favorite movies, actors and actresses but no one that I hyperventilate over when I think about them. I guess the only movie that would come close to that is Since You Went Away or the actor Van Johnson.
•I want to meet Robert Osborne one day. He is my hero and I think we would be best friends. Robert, if you just happen to be reading this, let’s meet in Atlanta and have lunch, okay? I’m just in South Carolina so it’s not that far.
•I’ve come to realize that the Hollywood I dreamed about in middle school and early high school is non-existent now. I used to dream about going to Hollywood and thinking it would be like it was during the Golden Era: clean, historically preserved and bowing down to Hollywood greats like Joan Crawford. My family took a family vacation there in 2006 and I’ve realized there is nothing for me there. Hollywood is not interested in preserving history, and even though the Hollywood Bowl was cool, it’s not like Kathryn Grayson will be singing a concert there ever again.
Comet Over Hollywood, named for the 1938 Kay Francis film Comet Over Broadway, offers anything from Hollywood beauty tips to rants about Katharine Hepburn. Jessica Pickens is a journalism student at Winthrop University who is interested in silent films to anything made before 1964. She writes for Winthrop’s student newspaper, The Johnsonian, and the Shelby Star in Shelby North Carolina.