BITS and PIECES # 32

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July 13, 2013 by palamow

BITS and PIECES # 32

Hello again from Luquillo,

I’ve been working on a story for you for a couple of weeks now, but have yet to finish it to my satisfaction. As I close in on age 80, with a scattering of minor medical problems, none disabling, I’m glad to be alive, but I find that an ever-increasing frequency of doctor appointments and medical tests tend to limit the time I have for writing…

All of that is in way of an apology — instead of a ‘new’ story — I beg your indulgence to instead consider an ‘old’ story that I have rescued from my 2011 book of memories; ‘Snapshots from the Road’ — I think you’ll find it interesting (and fun) to read, even if you’ve already done so…

I promise to have a new story ready soon, God willing…

IT’S MAGIC!

The Picfair movie theater on the corner of Pico and Fairfax in Los Angeles was an oasis for penny-savers – admission there was far less expensive than at Hollywood’s more opulent, first-run movie houses – a mere 50¢ to see two movies, a newsreel and a cartoon.  Even after I added the 40¢ bus fare from my home in Beverly Hills, I still had 10¢ left over from my one dollar budget for a bag of popcorn or a candy bar.

One summer Saturday in 1949, I walked down Benedict Canyon Drive to catch the bus on Sunset Boulevard – I was headed to the Picfair theater’s Saturday matinee performance of ‘Road to Rio’, starring Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour – I was a huge fan of the Road movies, grabbing any opportunity to see them over and over again.

I bought my ticket, paying scant attention to the other half of the double bill – something called ‘Romance on the High Seas’ with Jack Carson and Janis Paige.  I laughed my way through Hope and Crosby’s antics and began watching the next attraction – when suddenly, up there on the screen, Doris Day was singing ‘It’s Magic’ – I was captivated!  My teenage heart began thumping furiously – I was hopelessly in love…

When her movie was over, I remained where I was, anxiously sitting through another session of Hope and Crosby – I had to see Doris again…

As I rode home on the bus later that afternoon, I kept a tight rein on the image of Doris singing ‘It’s Magic’ – just to me, of course. The song quickly became my all-time favorite…

Four years later, I was an eighteen year old Airman Second Class in Tokyo, Japan on rest and recuperation leave from the war in Korea — I struck up a conversation with a fellow serviceman over a few cold bottles of Asahi beer in the lounge of the Ga-jo-en Kanko hotel where I had been lucky enough to find a billet.  My new-found friend was an Army Corporal who was also on leave from Korea. He was about to rejoin his outfit, the Armed Forces Korea Radio Network in the southern port city of Pusan.  He was assigned as a military disc-jockey, sandwiching news and military policy information between recordings of top-ten songs of the fifties.  As young men often do, we were soon discussing our favorite female movie stars and singers. When I casually mentioned my Doris Day fixation. He generously offered to send me some extra master copies of her recordings that he was no longer using as soon as he arrived back in Korea.  In those pre-CD days, master copies were the metal discs that companies like Capitol Records employed to manufacture 78 rpm plastic records. When a record company ended a production run, some of their masters were often sent free of charge to military radio stations overseas to use in their broadcasts.

When my all-too-short leave ended a week or so later, I reluctantly boarded the airplane that returned me to Korea, my squadron and the war.  As I entered the drafty, canvas tent that I shared with eleven other airmen, I discovered that our mail clerk had left a package on my cot. It was from my Army friend, and it contained the promised masters of Doris Day’s songs, including my favorite – ‘It’s Magic’.  Fortunately, I had inherited a battered portable record player from a friend when he rotated back to the states.  Over the next few weeks I played It’s Magic so often that my tent mates began to mutter darkly about using the record for target practice.

A few weeks after returning from Japan, I was reassigned to a bomber squadron located south of us in Kunsan.  While attending Airborne Radar School at Keesler AFB in Mississippi, I had trained to operate and maintain the APN-3 /BC-1 Bombing/Navigation System, which led to my temporary reassignment. I was to fly with a B-26 bomber crew to operate their newly installed equipment.

I reluctantly left my record player and prized Doris Day records with a friend for safekeeping.  Military regulations allowed me to bring along only the few items that I could stuff into my well –worn canvas B-4 bag.  I listened to Doris sing ‘It’s Magic’ one last time before I climbed onto the truck that took me to the flight line to catch a Marine Corps C-119 flight to my new assignment.

I never returned to my old squadron – instead, I was permanently reassigned to the new squadron.  Some months later, after emerging relatively unscathed from a number of airborne adventures, I returned home.  Sadly, I never reconnected with my friend and was unable to retrieve my cherished records before I left…

Three years later, just before Christmas in 1956, as I was looking forward to celebrating my twenty second birthday, my father phoned me.  He had recently finished playing a cameo role in Mike Todd’s epic Cinemascope production of Jules Verne’s classic tale ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ and was scheduled to attend the premiere at the Carthay Circle Theater in Hollywood.  Since my sister, Patricia was somewhere back east appearing in a play, and my mother had just been laid-low by a flu bug, it was up to me to accompany him to both the premiere and the lavish cast party held afterward at the Beverly Hills Hilton hotel.  At the time, I was working the night-shift at the Douglas Aircraft factory in Santa Monica, while studying on the GI Bill at UCLA.  I was sharing a charmingly shabby beach front house in Hermosa Beach with two friends from my high school days.  Dad informed me that I would need to wear a tuxedo to the event – I quickly rented one at what I recall was an exorbitant amount for someone existing on the GI Bill, and a part-time job.  I shined-up my only pair of black shoes (Air Force leftovers) and drove to my parent’s home to await the limousine which would whisk my father and me to the theater.

I had never dreamed I would attend a motion picture premiere – my parents occasionally did, as did my sister, but since I had been gone from home a lot, I had missed-out on those opportunities and had only seen them portrayed in movies and on TV.  The real thing was even better than I had expected – red carpet, well dressed celebrities, and reporters clutching microphones, klieg lights and so on.  On the way in to the lobby, Dad was briefly interviewed by entertainer Steve Allen, who referred to me as Alan’s tall son, a sobriquet I found hard to live-down for the next few weeks, as my roommates had been watching the proceedings on our well-worn black and white TV.  Once in the theater, Dad and I were seated with his fellow performers Victor McLaglen and Gilbert Roland – excitement enough for an avid movie fan like me, but it was afterwards at the Beverly Hilton party that my lifelong dream came true.   Dad and I were seated at a table with Gary and Rocky Cooper, and (Gulp!) Doris Day and her husband Martin Melcher  During the course of a sumptuous meal consisting of foods from all over the world, arranged to match the theme of the movie, dad and Mr. Melcher began discussing future movie prospects, and, wonder of wonders. Doris Day looked across the table, took pity on me, and asked ‘Would you care to dance, young man.’ 

After taking a moment to regain my composure, I replied coolly, with an air of insouciance I had copied from Humphrey Bogart’s movies – ‘Gee, yes Ma’am, I sure would.’ 

I don’t remember much about our dance – it may have been a foxtrot, a mambo or a waltz – I only recall that, miraculously, I managed to get through it without stumbling over my feet, or stepping on hers, that it was over in next to no time and that an enticing hint of her perfume remained on the shoulder of my rented tux when we returned to the table.

Too soon, I found myself back in the limo with dad, as we wended our way back to Beverly Hills. Still reeling from the effects of my dance with Doris Day, I bade my father good night, while mentally thanking my sister for being absent and somewhat heartlessly, my mother for being under the weather.  As I climbed into my aging and rusty 1948 Plymouth sedan and drove back to Hermosa Beach, I sensed how Cinderella must have felt when the clock struck twelve on her way home from the ball

I never saw Doris Day in person again after that evening at Mike Todd’s party.  Like her other fans, I watched her as she played many memorable movie and TV roles, but that was as close as I got. 

Now that I’ve reached my late-seventies, I sometimes wonder if it really happened the way that I remember it, or if my aging mind is playing tricks with me.  When this happens, I open the bottom left hand drawer of my desk and rummage through an old, red accordion folder that contains a lifetime of memorabilia, carefully removing the dog-eared dinner menu from Mike Todd’s Beverly Hilton party that I snagged and took home with me so many years ago.  A prized possession, it instantly brings the details of that brief encounter back into focus for an aging romantic – and, once again – It’s Magic…

 © 2011 – 2013 – Alan Mowbray Jr.

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One thought on “BITS and PIECES # 32

  1. mkhulu says:

    That really is Magic.

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