7/30/07

UNDER THE (non-alcoholic Analog) INFLUENCE, Part 2

Continuing on the theme begun while on two cocktails last night...

I find it remarkable that I was able to acquire as broad a background as I did in movies of the past (twenties, thirties, forties) while growing up in a non-digital universe (Los Angeles in the early to mid seventies). There wasn't cable yet (Z channel happened around '75, but showed only new movies at the time) and our first VCR didn't arrive until 77 or 78. Revival theaters were around, of course, and we occasionally went to the Vagabond Theater on Wilshire Blvd. where, one stunning night, Rita Hayworth herself Norma Desmondishly dropped in--heavily accompanied of course--to take a gander at her younger self in "Gilda". (Was she already deep into Alzheimers? Did her companions hope that seeing her old movie would spark something?) Also the Tiffany Theater on Sunset was then a revival house--it hosted the first 3D festival that I remember attending. The Vista, in Silverlake, was somehow not on our radar. And the New Beverly, if I'm not mistaken, was much more foreign-artsy-indie fare-ish, which I didn't get into until teenager-hood. Indeed, most of my old movie education happend via the black-and-white Zenith in my parents bedroom. In LA in the 70's, there were plenty local tv stations showing old movies--albeit of execrable print quality and mercilessly chopped up and shortened for commercials.

Cheif among them were the Ben Hunter Movie Matinee on KTTV (Ch. 11) every weekday at noon. I spent most of my summers indoors, in the air-conditioning, watching this program which was simply a different movie every day--but hosted, for some reason, by the above-named personality. He even did a little call-you-at-home gimmick called, I think, Hunter's College of Movie Knowlege. The KTTV library was largely MGM movies and they also had a Saturday afternoon movie which was repeated that same evening at 11PM or so. This was important because I remember the odd effect of seeing a movie in the afternoon and watching it again so close to its first viewing and being able to anticipate not just the plot but the camera angles and the cutting. My first film school? Probably. Ben Hunter's set also sticks in my mind--a faux-wood paneled den with bookshelves, leather "easy chair" and couch, none of which ever convinced me that we were anywhere but in a cheesy television studio. He interviewed people occasionally (who were they?) and use to end the show with a Laurel&Hardy short.

Then there was KTLA, Channel 5, home of Tom Hatten (and his fake projector) as well the 8PM Channel 5 movie club. This was largely the Paramount film library--or the "MCA" library. (In a fit of house-cleaning in the early sixties, Paramount stupidly sold all there pre-WW2 movies to MCA for a pittance who promptly slapped their logo on the beginning of all the best movies Paramount ever made--Marx Brothers, Mae West, W.C. Fields etc.) Comedy wise, at KTLA the Hope-Crosby axis crossed with the Goldwyn Danny Kaye movies. (In fact, I think I remember a KTLA weekend afternoon movie program called "Goldwyn Theater.") I very definately remember seeing my first Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges movies on the Channel 5 movie club--though I rarely was able to stay awake for the ten pm finish. In fact, I didn't see the ending to "The Lost Weekend" until a few years ago when I saw it projected at Film Forum.

And KHJ, Channel 9, had "Million Dollar Movie". Which frankly was not usually as good as its competition on KTLA. Though they did play the "Tara Theme" ("My Own True Love") at the beginning. Indeed, I can't remember what studios films turned up on Million Dollar Movie.

The loser station was KCOP, Channel 13, who were stuck with the Universal Library. In other words, Ma and Pa Kettle, Francis the Talking Mule, and dramatic fare like "Mississippi Gambler" or somesuch, usually starring the pre-'Music Man' Robert Preston. And Abbott and Costello, of course, but I seem to remember their movies programmed on weekend mornings. Early on I figured out to avoid the A&C movies where Bud had a pencil-thin moustache and spoke an octave deeper than usual--the unfortunate post 1949 crop.

Finally: Channel 52, from Corona, of blessed memory. This strange indie station somehow controlled the Three Stooges and Our Gang (or "Little Rascals" as they were re-dubbed in their television years) movies as well as an outstanding selection of Warner Brothers 30's movies which aired weeknights at 8 PM under the banner "Hollywood Movie Classics." This was where I caught early Busby Berkeley, James Cagney/Pat O'Brien, the pre-Bowery Boys "Dead End Kids" and a pile of John Garfield/George Raft/Bette Davis/Ida Lupino stuff. All of it, I believe, uninterrupted. (Or was it? I can't remember Channel 52 having any commericials--was it a case of it being simply too obscure a station to attract any advertisers?)

Actually, the one commercial I remember on Channel 52 was an ad for Larry Fine's (of the Stooges) autobiography, "A Stroke Of Luck." They filmed Larry at the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills and, after plugging his book, he invited any kids who were watching to come out and say hi. One long forgotten day, in 1974, my sister took me out there to meet him. But that's for another time...

25 comments:

  1. I'm sure you've been told a hundred times by now, but on the off chance you haven't, Movies til Dawn aired on KTLA. My Mom would drop me off at my grandparent's house around 5 am every weekday on her way to work, and I would catch the last hour or so of some obscure (particularly to a 7 year old) b&w flick. I'll never forget The Brain That Wouldn't Die....

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  2. Channel 52 in Corona will always remain in my memory. I used to watch Little Rascals when the TV station came on the air at 4PM weekdays after I got home from school. I remember the song they would play with the 52 logo. Long ago, I was a latch key kid, we had a silvertron B&W TV, and I lived at 614 Roxley Drive, La Puente. But, that is ancient history. Thanks for the memory!

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  3. So Cool i just googled Ben Hunter for a slice of nostalgia hard to believe there is so little about 60s and 70s LA programming GEN.JONES 4ever!!

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  4. I was at that 3-d film festival too. I saw a kung fu film and ran into John Landis and told him I still liked his kung fu movie better (Kentucky Fried Movie's satire of Enter The Dragon) to which he said well I hope you like my new movie coming out next year The Blues Brothers! and gave me his Blues Bros. lapel pin! Great blog. Here's to lost L.A. and the ghost of Ben Hunter driving down the Imperial Highway in the sky.

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  5. Channel 52 out of Corona. Man we didn't know what we had back then.

    Even with Cable and Sattelite and out hundreds of channels now, we don't have anything like that.

    Just to go back one day. (sigh) just one day.

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  6. Thanx for the memories of Ben Hunter, Channel 52, and the KTLA Movies til Dawn! I had nearly forgotten about the logo for Movies til Dawn. I agree too with you on what the logo seemed to say to the viewer. About Ben Hunter, I also remember his movie matinee on KTTV and I also remember the background that seemed to imply he was in his den at home! Do you recall(and tell me if I am wrong)the commercials during his show for Beacon Carpets? I would also like to know if anybody out there remembers The Fabulous 52 on KNXT(now KCBS)where they showed old movies on weekend(don't remember if Sat or Sun)afternoons?? I used to love the opening for it and I've tried to find it on YouTube or at least if there is an image from it somewhere so I can see it again. Like anonymous said in an earlier post, just to go back for one day and see this stuff again! If there's something about the Fabulous 52 online let me know at calchick82@yahoo.com

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  7. Just to add to the nostalgia of Ch. 52 out of Corona. According to Wikipedia the cheesy song played during air-time transition was, "That Happy Feeling" by Bert Kaempfert, which can be found on iTunes for a buck. What I just can't remember are the station ID letters. I've heard a few such as KBSA and KVEA. I just don't believe that those were the letters for the Channel 52 that I remember. Please prove me wrong if you are able to. I'd like to see an actual TV GUIDE add or something concrete. I remember the station going away around 1980, too. That was due to the "ON T.V." box next to my Atari 2600. Does that sound right?

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  8. KBSC were the call letters for Channel 52.

    I do remember the commericials they had, like the Wizard of Oz soundtrack LP, or Larry Fine of the Three Stooges in a wheelchair.

    There was also a short-lived host called "Ghoul Guy", or something like that.

    I love the Monster Marathons KTLA used to show around Halloween.
    I remember seeing "Night of the Living Dead" for the first time around 1 am in the morning (had a hard time going to sleep after it ended).

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  9. I also remember KTLA showing the same movie every night for a week, Giant Robot always came on.

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  10. Thanks for the flood of memories and who could forget saturday night with seymour and sunday after church watching all the monster movies like outer limits and chiller and cheacher feachers

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  11. I remember watching Ben Hunter and his movie matinee on KTTV. I also remember the background that seemed to imply he was in his den at home! But he was actually in the studio! Yes! I remember Beacon Carpets! How about "Hey Culligan man!" Commercials? And the call-in quiz segment of Hunter's show was called Hunter's College of Obscure Knowledge, Not Movie Knowledge. Okay? I would also remember The Fabulous 52 on KNXT(now KCBS)where they showed old movies on the at night. Called Fabulous 52 because for 52 weeks (on the weekends, of course) of the year they showed these movies for all to see!
    And the Opening theme song for "The Million Dollar Movie", which played the same movie (believe it, or not)for sometimes five nights a week, was "The High and the Mighty", never heard of this "My Own True Love" being played.

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  12. Re. 'thosewerethedays' comment: "And the Opening theme song for 'The Million Dollar Movie', which played the same movie (believe it, or not)for sometimes five nights a week, was 'The High and the Mighty', never heard of this 'My Own True Love' being played." . . . "Tara's Theme" from Gone with the Wind (from which "My Own True Love" was derived) was the theme music for Million Dollar Movie on WOR-TV (Channel 9) in New York. Apparently, KHJ's theme was different.

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  13. I was as kid in the '70s... I remember the theme music to the Ben Hunter Movie Matinee, although I don't remember what it was called -- it's too bad nobody has ever posted this music anywhere.

    I remember watching the KHJ Million Dollar Movie, where the announcer would say, "Tonight's story is 'Spartacus' or Tonight's story is 'Casablanca." Genius. The opening music for Million Dollar Movie was a muzak version of "No Milk Today" by Herman's Hermits... a couple of the films I remember watching on Million Dollar Movie were two early '70s items -- a motorcycle horror picture called "Psychomania" and a Peter Ustinov-directed picture called "Hammersmith is Out."

    I used to stay up all night and watch old Christopher Lee movies on Channel 13 (KCOP) as well... "The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism," Jess Franco's "Count Dracula," "Horror Express," etc.

    I miss those days.

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  14. Ben Hunter's Matinee started and ended with a xylophone tune that was very modern and sublime. The movies that were shown were usually family oriented, and often enjoyable. At the time, there was no internet, and gate keeping censorship of information made real information about world events seem almost impossible to find without being spun and tainted. - I wish some one who knows would post the name of his musical theme!

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  15. Baja Marimba Band

    "Big Red" from the A&M album "Those Were The Days".

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  16. I was there watching too. Great bloog posts and memories from a nicer, simpler, fun childhood times.

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  17. How rare to see a blog where the comments stretch on for six years! Shows the value of all the memories shared here. I recall watching Ben Hunter Matanee on KTTV in the mid-'60s after school. He showed Laurel and Hardy on occasion, and I remember when he featured "Sons of the Desert" and at commercial breaks continued a running dialogue about the thought of Stan and Ollie as Arabs wandering the deserts of North Africa (of course not related to the actual plot of the film in question)! I also recall from the same time when Mr. Hunter aired an Experimental" commercial where the images flickered and supposedly created color effects on black and white TVs! Ah, the innocence of those times - to be cherished, indeed.

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  19. I remember all these, but particularly, I enjoyed Ben Hunter's Matinee. I recall he would sometimes highlight an artist (Lucille Ball is a good example) and show the movie that launched her career early in the week, and then each day, highlight a significant movie in the star's career. I remember in the 90's when HBO aired a show called "Dream on" that nearly every snippet he recalled, was from a movie I had seen as a child. It saddens me that there is not a Ben Hunter archive. Do you remember "Ralph Stories"? I believe there are still a few segments of his on the www.

    Peace!

    ~Angel

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  22. Is it possible Ben Hunter's movies were on Ch. in North San Diego County? I remember watching him when I was quite young. I believe I saw La Dolce Vita on his show sometime around 1968 or '69. I remember being shocked that such bad people could be on t.v. with no good guys around. Is there any way to verify whether good old Ben Hunter showed a Fellini movie in the middle of the day, thereby forever zapping the psyche of a pre-adolescent boy living in the provinces of North County?

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  23. Just wanted to add my 5 cents. The best thing about summer or being home from school ill was watching Ben Hunter Matinee. Also weekends and summer Fabulous 52, The Late Show and The Late, Late Show talk about goody goody! Ginger and Fred, Jean Harlow, Clark Gable...Myrna William.....bliss I tell you. All 'free' and on our Sears and Roebucks B&W T.V. Wonderful.

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  24. This is great seeing all of the memories of our "wasted youth" which in reality was very precious and rare! I grew up in Santa Ana and was glued to the tube with all of this fine movie programming. I was a huge fan of Ben Hunter. Does anyone remember a TV movie show back in the late 60s or early 70s hosted by the actress Jackie Joseph? I used to watch this during summer vacations as it was on mid-week during the day. She was married to the actor Ken Berry at the time. Also, I saw my first Bergman film, The Virgin Spring, in 1963 on our portable b&w TV when I was just eight years old! GENJONES -yay!

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