7/15/14

L.A. TELEVISION OF THE 70s: A COMPLETE FILM EDUCATION


(The below post was originally published in 2007, shortly after I began this never-ending experiment in blogdom. I forgot all about it until recently, when somebody I didn't know e-mailed me thanking me for having written this piece which brought back so many memories etc. etc. I went back in the archives and found, somewhat remarkably, that people had been posting comments on it for a period of six years. Obviously the subject--old movies on old LA TV stations--seems to be one that elicits nostalgic interest from those of us who grew up in LA in the seventies. So I'm reposting it...largely because I'm too lazy to write a new post. KMA.)

As I found out while growing up, one could get a remarkably full film education by watching local 1970's LA television on a black and white Zenith--while being interrupted by Cal Worthington and his dog spot every ten (five?) minutes. Indeed, I find it astonishing 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. 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 the summer of '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 (too gay, perhaps?) 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 smiling dude on the right. He smoked, drank coffee and even did a little call-you-at-home gimmick called, I think, Hunter's College of Obscure 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. (For a fascinating glimpse of LA TV commercials back in the day--including Ben Hunter pitching a Home Loan company--see the first video posted below.)

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 as it was known thanks to a fit of house-cleaning in the early sixties, when 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 the early 1990s, when I saw it projected at Film Forum. (For a 1989 look at Tom Hatten in all his glory, see the second video posted below).

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. But for a very nice view of some 1970s commercials that interrupt a showing on KHJ of "What's New Pussycat" see the third video posted below.

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", starring the charisma-free  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: KBSC, 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. Weirdly, they also showed Speed Racer as well as some very sexy women's Roller Derby on Saturday nights. 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?) For a very nice 'tribute video' to KBSC, see the last video posted below.

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...






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2 comments:

  1. Spot on about film history education. Sounds like we spent our summers in the exact same posture. People marvel at my encyclopedic knowledge of film. I got it all from 1970s local L.A. stations. Would even scope out the T.V. Guide weekly and if there was a film I COULD NOT miss, I would begin my "I think I'm getting sick" act. Worked like a charm.

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