The Perfect Saturday
By LUDLOW PORCH
Growing up is not all it's cracked up to be. When the pages of the calendar start dropping off at their frantic pace, and those seven precious teen years are behind us, there is a gradual changing of values. The new set of values is neither better or worse, just different. Use of leisure time is a perfect example.
My idea of a perfect Saturday now is a quiet day of rest at home, a little TV and dinner out with my lovely wife and best friend Diane. Only a few years ago, however, this would have bored the pants off me. In those pre-teen years, my perfect Saturday would have started at noon at the B&F grill.
The B&F was located next door to my favorite place in the whole world, the East Point Theater. We didn't call it a theatre in those days. It was simply called "the show," as in, "Let's go to the show." After a B&F hamburger and a small Coke, I would to outside and get in line. The show opened at one o'clock, and on Saturday there was always a line.
Once you had paid your nine cents admission, the next move was to get your popcorn and Walnettos (if you had a dime) and move to the very first show. The show didn't start until 1:15, so you had to sit there and wait. It seemed to be hours before the big curtain opened. The first thing shown was always the previews. They showed everything that would be on the following week. When the previews were over, the newsreel came on. Several companies made newsreels: Pathe, Movietone and Fox are three that I remember. They all had war news, and I can remember straining to see if I could spot one of my uncles as the camera showed the troops in Europe. I never did, but I never quit trying.
After the war news, they usually had a humorous news feature about a monkey that could water-ski, or a man riding a bicycle coast to coast. The newsreel was followed by a comedy, not to be confused with a cartoon. A comedy was a fifteen-minute feature and usually starred the Three Stooges, or Andy Clyde, sometimes Leon Errol or Edgar Kennedy. If you were lucky, it could even be a Joe McDoakes or a Pete Smith special. No matter what the comedy was, it always had basically the same plot: Some poor guy would get into a lot of trouble, with either his wife, his boss, or the police. The fun came watching him bumble and stumble his way out of the mess. It was fun because you knew in advance that it was going to have a happy ending.
The comedy was followed by the first feature. It was a "B" western, although there were two kinds of "B" westerns: One starred the singing cowboys, and the other featured the action cowboys. The best-known singing cowboys of my day were Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Jimmy Wakely, Eddie Dean, Tex Ritter and Rex Allen. There were others, but these were my favorites. The list of action cowboys is longer, and they were more fun to watch because it was all action. No time was taken up by singing a song to a horse or to some old girl in a long dress. The lists of best know action "B" cowboys does not include two of my idols: Randolph Scott and John Wayne. By the time I came along, both of them had graduated to the big budget westerns. My "B" western heroes were Charles Starrett as the Durango Kid, Lash LaRue, Whip Wild, Bob Steele, Johnny Mack Brown, Sunset Carson, Hopalong Cassidy, Bob Livingstone, Wild Bill Elliott, Alan Rocky Lane, Don (Red) Barry and Buster Crabbe.
Every good "B" cowboy had to have a sidekick, and in many cases, they stole the show. A few of the better-known sidekicks were Smiley Burnette (a.k.a. Frog Millhouse), Gabby Hayes, Dub (Cannonball) Taylor, Fuzzy St. John (a.k.a. Fuzzy Q. Jones), and Max Terhune.
The hero's horse was very important, and they had wonderful names like Silver, Thunder, Topper, Rebel, White Flash and Raider. We not only enjoyed the westerns, but I think we learned a good lesson from them. The good guy never drank, smoked or did anything that was not completely honorable. That lesson was given to us in large doses every Saturday. Good was better than evil, and when the cowboy rode into the sunset at the end of the movie, you sat there with a stomach full of popcorn and brown Walnetto stain on your face, and deep down in your heart you knew for sure that it pays to be a good guy because good guys always win.
When the first feature was over, it was time for the serial, or as we called it, the continued picture. There were generally twelve to sixteen chapters, and they always ended with the hero about to die in a train crash or a fire, or being eaten by a fierce jungle animal. All week long, you and your friends speculated about how the hero was going to survive. You couldn't wait to see the next chapter, especially if the hero was one of your favorite comic book characters. Some of the better-known serials were The Shadow, Batman, The Phantom (we pronounced it "The Phathumb"), The Lone Ranger, Captain Marvel, Zorro and the Black Commando (the black referred to his custom and not his race).
When the serial was over, it was time, at last, for the cartoon. Most of the successful cartoons have since made it big on TV. A few of my favorites were Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Droopy, Tom and Jerry, Daffy Duck, Silly Symphonies, Road Runner, Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig. The cartoon usually lasted seven or eight minutes, and by the time it was over, every child in the show was on the floor with laughter.
When the last feature came on, it was regarded as the big finish. Like the "B" western we had just seen, it was always a low, low budget film. And, also like the "B" western, they were generally a series film. This feature was held for last and nobody even went to the bathroom while it was on. Some of the better-known "B" movie series were Charlie Chan, The Falcon, The Saint, The East Side Kids, The Bowery Boys, Boston Blackie, Blondie and Dagwood, Dick Tracy, The Wolfman, The Invisible Man and Joe Palooka. There were also "B" movies that were not made in series. They had some of the all-time great stars, such as Judy Canova, Joe E. Brown, Lum and Abner, Bob Burns and The Ritz Brothers.
When the last movie was over, the entire thing started all over again. If you liked, you could stay and see it all a second time. However, as a general rule, the movie pretty well emptied out after the first show. Every child there wanted to get outside and start to play. The movie we had just seen dictated what we were going to play. If, for example, we had seen a picture with a lot of swordplay, we all got our swords (usually sticks or small limbs). Garbage can lids made excellent shields. If we had just seen a war movie, we were soon killing imaginary Germans and Japanese. A Tarzan movie, of course, would require a rope swing. Our wonderful Saturdays were usually brought to a close when our mothers called us in at suppertime. We were always tired, dirty and almost starving to death. When we were finally fed and cleaned, our day was almost over. But even in bed at night, with our prayers said and our eyes closed, we were still riding right alongside "Hoppy" or swimming in a quiet pond with Tarzan, Jane and Boy. If I had a magic wand, I think my first wish would be to spend one more day on the front row.
From Who Cares About Apathy by Ludlow Porch, published by Peachtree Publishers. Copyright, 1987, Ludlow Porch. Available on Amazon. Ludlow Porch, who passed away in 2011, was a talk radio pioneer. He was a vital part of the first all-talk radio station in the South as a Ringmaster on WRNG Atlanta. He later helped transform legendary AM powerhouse WSB Atlanta from a stagnant music format into a talk radio giant.