How Movies Changed My Life

movies changed my life

Guess blogger Jeff Heise writes:

Back in 1971, when I was 13, I was wandering around the library in my small Ohio town looking for books to check out. I usually ended up in the history or humor section and took home a bicycle basketful where I could escape into the past or get a chuckle. I wasn’t terribly social and, being an overweight kid with glasses who really was not into sports (I HATED gym class), books were my truest friends. I also did not know what I wanted to do with my life-living in a small Midwestern town in those days one hoped for something to inspire and neither of my parents’ professions (father-a machinist; mother-a civil engineer) interested me, although for a while being a weatherman intrigued me. The local on-the-air guy from Cleveland named Dick Goddard whetted my appetite for a while until a science teacher discouraged me from that career.

Then I found myself in the “Q” books-the oversize section–and, particularly, the section on movies. I found both my eye and my hand drawn to a book entitled The Films of Laurel & Hardy by William K. Everson, published by Citadel Books. As I looked at it, I remembered seeing one of their films-Helpmates-on TV in Los Angeles when I was seven. We were visiting relatives out there at Christmas and I laughed quite heartily, especially at the sight of Oliver Hardy sitting in the burned-out shell of his house (after Stan Laurel accidentally burned it down) as the rain started to fall. Being a firm believer in Murphy’s Law-“If anything can go wrong it will go wrong, at the worst possible moment,” which my father impressed on me-I sympathized with this poor guy and filed it away in my memory.

Finding that film in that book brought it all back to me, and I began reading about other films by Stan and Ollie while standing there. The Music Box, their Oscar-winning classic that is pretty much a retelling of the Sysyphus legend of pushing a rock up a hill only to have it roll down and have to do it again, fascinated me, so I checked the book out and took it home.

Laurel & Hardy in The Music Box (1932)

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in The Music Box (1932)

I took it to school one day and my Social Studies teacher pointed out their short film Big Business, where they are Christmas tree salesmen who trigger an apocalyptic showdown with a homeowner. That teacher had a film collection, and he said that was their greatest film and that one of the Robert Youngson compilations featuring that comedy would be on late-night TV that week. I made a point of watching it (When Comedy Was King) and never laughed so hard in my life. I ended up renewing that book time and again, and made a point of looking at other books on movies and media and falling in love with other movies and stars. W.C. Fields and Cary Grant became and still remain favorites through those tomes and late-night TV viewings.

I decided right then to see if I could make my mark in the entertainment field, and while my attempts at working in the creative part may have struck out (you can’t just walk into the Director’s Guild and ask for a union card, dammit), I did find my niche as a researcher and historian and over the past 20+ years have assisted a few writers and organizations by digging for facts and presenting them to the world as a way for them to know more about their favorite movies and movie stars. Seeing both my name in print and the little nuggets I found in texts and quoted by others has given me both a thrill and a sense of purpose, and now I hope to make my mark with some historical projects of my own…and perhaps inspire some other youngster to watch a movie or TV show with a somewhat more focused eye.

Michigan-based researcher Jeff Heise is currently working on a book about the blockbuster films of the 1970s and ’80s.