Tuesday, November 02, 2010

He was King of the Cowboys



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Published by Studio "D" Publishing Company
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ISBN 978-0-615-37758-2
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        Roy Rogers and Flint theaters

"Is it safe, is it safe?" Well, this was a line spoken by Laurence Olivier in "The Marathon Man," but I was hearing it from another actor, who at one time was more well known than the British actor. It was ROY ROGERS who was asking me the question. He was at Cromer's restaurant in Flint, and had finished his meal and wanted to know if it was safe to leave by the side door? There was a large crowd of fans in front, waiting for him to leave so they could get his autograph and he was looking for a way to avoid them. I walked with him to the side door, he opened it and said it didn't look too safe because it led into an alley. I had "goose bumps" being next to him.

The famous cowboy star was appearing at the Industrial Mutual Association (IMA) auditorium in Flint, which was a large 5,000 seat auditorium where many Flint events took place. The Pollack Bros. Circus opened there every January, sponsored by the Flint Shriners. It was always called the Shrine circus and all of the Flint schools would close for a day (on different days) to let the kids go see it. I didn't have money to buy a ticket to see Roy but I had heard he would be going to Cromers, a nearby restaurant, to eat. So, I got there ahead of time and waited inside for him to arrive. After he arrived they locked the front door to keep out the many fans. Luckily, I was locked "inside.

Roy asked me if I had seen the show and I told him I hadn't. He told me to come around to the back, side door, at intermission and he would let me in. I was thrilled to death. I had been at the auditorium when the horses and props arrived. And when the famous horse, Trigger, was being unloaded from the trailer, he stepped off the side of the ramp and hurt his leg. The trainers put a purple ointment on the leg to help it heal. I heard one of the guys say Roy would be mad as hell.

I left Cromers and went to the back of the IMA. It was the evening show and several young guys were hanging around the back door. I didn't tell them about Roy going to let me in. There was also a Mexican guy there, who said he was a security guard and showed us his badge. It sounded fishy to me and he kept the kids away from the door so they couldn't try to sneak in. Some guys had tried to get in through the coal chute that led into the basement, but he caught them and made them come out. Eventually, the guys all drifted away and called him "queer."

Then the guy asked me to follow him to the back of the building. I had a funny feeling about him and he didn't act like a policeman or security guard. I followed him to the back of the building and since this was the evening show it was dark out. He suddenly unzipped his pants and pulled "out his cock." He said, "here, touch it." I said, "no," and he had a hold of my hand pulling it towards him. I jerked away and ran around to the front entrance where a man was taking tickets. I told him there was a man in the back who tried to get me to play with his "thing." He took me inside to the security office and to my embarrassment my cousin, who was a policeman, was also there and I had to tell what happened in front of him.

Well, the man had left the back of the building, but from the description I gave to them, they located him a couple blocks away and arrested him. By this time it was too late to see Roy at the side door and I left and went home. "Happy Trails" Roy. I miss you.

A few weeks later I had to go to the police station where they told me the guy pled guilty and that he lived in Detroit with a black prostitute. He told the police he had just gotten a hard on. They asked him what he would do if he had been walking down the main street and got a hard on? He said he would go into the alley and jack off! He was sentenced to jail.

The Strand theater was in downtown Flint, and that's where all of Roy's pictures played. It seemed there was a new Roy Rogers' film every month. The Strand was an old theater but not as old as the State next door. The State had old wooden seats and a smelly bathroom which was usually flooded from the urinals that were always plugged up. They also played western movies, with kiddie matinees on Saturday, but they never played the Roy Rogers films. The State played westerns that starred Charles Starrett, as the Durango Kid, Wild "Bill" Elliott played Red Ryder with Robert Blake as Little Beaver and Don "Red" Barry had also played Red Ryder. Eddie Dean, Gene Autry and my favorite, Sunset Carson movies played there. Sunset, I later learned, had only been sixteen years old when he starred in films. These were some of the matinee idols. Carson stood over six feet tall with a Texas accent and really handsome. I would talk to him later, which I mention in another chapter.

Don "Red" Barry used to get drunk and cruise Hollywood Boulevard. One night he tried to pick me up. He followed me all over the boulevard. The next day I was surprised to see him at Grauman's Chinese theater, when church services were being held there on Sunday mornings. He even married a concession girl who was working there. So, I assume he was bisexual. He committed suicide by shooting himself in the head, about twenty or more years ago.

Most of the western films were low budget Republic films and often some of the same scenes were shown over and over, from picture to picture. As I left the theater I would be shooting an imaginary gun and riding off into the sunset, just like they did in the movies. Sometimes I feel like the character Dennis Christopher played in "Fade To Black." Dennis lived the characters he had seen in the movies.

Gene Autry's pictures played both the State and the Strand. Gene was called the "singing cowboy" and Roy was the King of the Cowboys. Roy also sang in his films, so I don't know why there was such a difference. Both were box-office western stars and made a lot of money from films and personal appearances. Roy, to me, was a lot sexier than Gene.

There were also a lot of serials, which were called chapter plays. One episode would play each week, over a twelve or fifteen week period. Serials like Nyoka, the Jungle Woman, and Captain Marvel. Many of the Bowery Boys' films played there too. I really liked them. The Strand played all the Blondie and Dagwood films. So, it was the State on Saturdays and the Strand on Sundays. It was twelve cents for me to get in and I could stay all day if I wanted, watching the features a second and third time.

I used to sell my grandfather's empty beer bottles to get the twelve cents to go. The State, Strand, Garden, Capitol and Palace were all downtown, as well as the Rialto, which was open all night. This was just a couple of blocks from where I was living, so it was convenient.

My favorite theater was the Garden. It was a small Art Deco theater. Although it was small, it still had a balcony. So called art films (foreign films) played there, although they did run the Superman serials. The doorman, Kenny, would often let me in free. I had a feeling he was homosexual, and one time he took me down into the basement, where the lost and found articles were kept and showed me a condom. He never approached me but I sensed he was gay when he took me downstairs. I guess I was too young for him at that time. One time I asked him for a Superman lobby photo and he gave me one. Although he later married a concession girl, a cousin who knew him confirmed my belief, many years later.

My favorite Flint theater when I was in my teens. Like half of downtown Flint, it is gone for good.

                                        I went to see "SALOME," but the guy that sat next to me wanted my salami.
The manager at the Garden, at that time, was Earl Berry, whom I would later work for at the Capitol. He used to park his car close to where I lived and if I saw him, I would walk and talk with him towards the theater and he would often let me in free, or give me a free pass. He made up a lot of contests for patrons and I was a winner, several times, answering questions about movie stars and films. And of course, the prize was always a free ticket to the theater.

Those movie days were fun but also created a problem for me. I always sat close to the front rows so I would feel like I was in the film and on several occasions an older man would sit next to me and in a matter of time he would be putting his hand on my leg and then try to grope me. I usually got up and moved or pushed his hand away. But, on one occasion when the movie "Salome" was playing at the Garden, a guy sat next to me and started the same thing but I decided to pull a switchero and I reached over and grabbed him! He pushed my hand away but I unzipped his pants and reached inside and got a handful of....goo! Needless to say, he got up and left the theater. I thought it was funny that I had turned the tables on him. But, it really got to be a hassle because everytime I went to the theater, it seemed this would happen. Someone sitting down next to me and rubbing their leg against mine or reaching over and touching me on the leg. I guess if I had sat toward the back, this wouldn't have happened. Not too many people sit real close to the front. It didn't occur to me that these guys were breaking the law. It was just a sexual thing that I felt was normal, although it wasn't a forced thing like at the IMA. They just liked to feel young guys cocks!

One time I was at the Palace, another large first run theater, and an older man sat down next to me and started the same thing. He wanted me to go downstairs to the restroom with him, but I wouldn't and tried to ignore him. He put his arm around my shoulder and pulled me closer to him. A lot of people were coming in because it was the early evening show. A couple of guys looked at us and said, "Look at the queers." I know my face was beet-red and I got up and left.

A few times some friends would pay my way into the theater because I could get in for children's price, then I would open the exit door and let them sneak in. This was usually at the Capitol theater. The children's admission was twenty-five cents, twice the cost of the other theaters. A few years later, when I would work at the Capitol, I knew all of the tricks and "no one got in free." I really did know all of the tricks and used them to get in. When you love the movies and are broke, you have to do something, especially when you are thirteen or fourteen years old.

At the Capitol, I knew the doormen changed shifts, at 6:00. So, I would wait until the day doorman left to change his clothes from his uniform and I would then tell the new doorman that the day doorman had let me leave the theater for a minute to go get something. And he would believe me and let me go in.

Other times they would advertise "sneak preview" in front of the theatre and I would pick up a theater stub in front of the theater, that someone had thrown away, and tell the doorman I had been inside and left (showing him the ticket stub), then I would tell him I noticed there was going to be a sneak preview and that I wanted to go back in. It always worked and after the sneak preview, I would stay and watch the regular feature.

The first film I remember seeing was. "Meet Me In St. Louis," at the Strand with mom and dad. It starred Judy Garland and I remember that on the screen there was a picture on a wall that suddenly came to life and people were walking and singing. That amazed me. I had gone to the Nortown theater with my grandmother when they were giving away a free dish, to all of the patrons, even children, to get them into the theater. But, at that age, I wasn't interested in watching movies and I stayed in the lobby playing with a toy car on the carpet, until the usher or doorman made me sit down. I remember they had a large fish aquarium in the lobby with goldfish and I used to watch them instead of the movie.

(link:the-gossip-columnist-54.blogspot.com) Hank Williams in person.