Monday, August 29, 2011

a funny man

I first became with Gene Wilder's unusual acting presence as Willy Wonka, but Wilder had more to offer.  In the seventies Gene hooked up with the great Mel Brooks.  We American movie goers had lots of comedies to watch throughout the seventies and eighties.  Amid all the laughter, Gene and Mel were giving us some real classics.  At the top of my list is Young Frankenstein...or is that  FRONKENSTEEN!?  Just prior to Young Frankenstein, Wilder starred as The Waco Kid that was originally offered to John Wayne in Blazing Saddles.    We all loved to watch anything with Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman - which includes The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother.

Gene later hooked up with comedian Richard Pryor in the smash hits Silver Streak and Stir Crazy.  They made a great comic duo - but the following movies with the two were not as cleverly written.  It's a shame, because Wilder and Pryor were incredible together.  Richard Pryor struggled with drug addiction and later suffered from Multiple Sclerosis.  Their last movie together, See No Evil - Hear No Evil, was a dismal failure.

In The Frisco Kid, John Wayne was to play the role of Tommy the cowboy.  John Wayne backed out of the project because he had a set amount of 1 million dollars per picture. Warner Brothers wasn't willing to pay him for the part.  A young rising star Harrison Ford took the part.

Gene later married former SNL comedian Gilda Radner and made some humorous pictures together.  I know the two would've given us more - if Gilda had lived.
"I'm not so funny. Gilda was funny. I'm funny on camera sometimes. In life, once in a while. Once in a while. But she was funny."
-Gene Wilder

Sunday, August 28, 2011


The recent remake Charlie & The Chocolate Factory is an enjoyable movie.  I don't think any remake can recreate the Wonka world that starred Gene Wilder playing Willy.   Tim Burton cast Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka, and did a quirky-great job with the 2005 version - it just wasn't scrumdiddlyumptious.

When Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971) was released, I had no idea what it was about.  I clearly remember a hot Sunday morning packed into the family station-wagon.  We were heading to a church in which dad was going to preach.  Dad did a lot of lay-speaking in those days, filling in for vacationing pastors.  Most of these preachers who were vacationing always seemed to pastor out of the way churches in the country.  I can't count how many Sunday's we spent driving to and from churches I'd never been to before.  Usually these churches were small white country churches with a cemetery around back.  There were so many trips like these, but I particularly remember this one because all the kids were talking about this movie about Willy Wonka.

Most of the preaching trips were long drives.  On this very trip I remember dad pulling the station-wagon into a small filling-station for a pit stop.  When we went into the building, I noticed a rack of a large selection of Willy Wonka candy.  I thought to myself "So this Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory is real?"  Having candy on the shelf somehow, to my young mind, seemed to validate that there really was a Willie Wonka somewhere out there.

So it was the first time I had ever heard of Willy Wonka.  Every time I think of that movie, I think of that long Sunday drive, a long time ago, through the Alabama countryside with my family.

Friday, August 26, 2011

return to el dorado

The following is lifted from my old tripod blog posted Friday, February 9, 2007.  I made a few edits and update.  This post definitely belongs here at Boomerville, USA. 

This is downtown Gadsden, AL the way I saw it as a kid.  I hadn't seen one of those old green city buses in ages.  This picture really takes me back.

I remember a particular trip downtown.  There was a new John Wayne movie playing at the Pitman Theater called El Dorado.  My older brother Brooky and I would make such trips together and I anticipated each one.  We were living atop Lookout Mountain at the time.  City buses would make runs from Scenic Hwy to town. 

That particular Saturday morning I remember needing money for the adventure.  Mom said I could go but expected me to earn the money.  I washed windows and vacuumed the floors as fast as I could.  I had to have enough money to pay for bus fair to and from, the movie, and some candy.  My movie candy of choice at that time was a a big Tootsie Roll.

El dorado was a great movie.  John Wayne was always bigger than life.  After the movie was over, Brook and I would always hit all of the five and dime stores up and down Broad Street.  My favorite store was Grant.  They had a huge toy section downstairs.  You'd have to decend two flights of stairs, passing the popcorn guy (Tommy Parks) half way down.

We'd hit Murphree's and McLellans too.  Gadsden Variety and Deli is where McLellan's  used to be.  That building is a time machine.   Walking across those wooden floors with the smell of popcorn in the air.  It's a hint of what Gadsden stores used to be when I was a kid.  Go there and you'll know what I mean.

Brook and I would ALWAYS check out Horace's Hobby Shop and The Little Army Store.  I LOVED The Little Army store.  You could buy all kinds of cool used stuff for playing army.  Helmet's, web belts, bayonets, dummy grenades and the like.

We'd make the day of it, walking the length of each side of the street before hopping on the green city bus back for home.  I believe that particular trip Brooky bought me a plastic yellow handled pistol (much like The Duke's) with his own money.  I took very good care of it for the longest time.  Golly gee, a gun like John Wayne's gun.  Every time El Dorado comes on I think of that trip downtown with my big brother.  Hmmm...1967...that would make Brook 15 years old.  Different world then than now.  No way would I send 15 and 9 year old boys on a trip to town alone together.
Little things mean a lot to kids.  My daughters Katie and Kelsey love trips downtown.  Katie loves for me to take the time and walk with her downtown among the city lights at night.  Christmas holiday of 2006, I parked the van and took both my little ones for a walk and took the time to pause and look at the storefront window decorations of each store.
It's nice looking back, but nicer here with a wonderful family.  Thank you God!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

the wacky world of yesterday

I've had this picture for quite some time now. I ran across it when dad asked me to get rid of a ton of old records from his office. I found some cool stuff that he let me keep. This image is of one of a 'Battle of The Bands' next to Biff-Burger in the parking lot of Agricola Shopping Center at the foot of Noccalula Mountain. The Gadsden Cinema was later built behind (and to the left) of Biff Burger. This picture has always made me chuckle at the turnout. Biff-Burger must have made a killing on fifteen cent cheeseburgers that night!
I didn't eat there much growing up. The last time I went was with Dan Noojin. His dad wanted a milk shake from there and we all drove down together. That was sometime in the mid-eighties, during Biff Burger's waning years. If memory serves, the place was leveled by the end of eighties. Gadsden used to have a bunch of burger joints back in the 1960's. The big hang out when my older brother and sister were in high school was Burger Chef on Meighan Blvd. I remember eating there a good bit. I also remember Pick-A-Burger. Wayne's Burgers, a local joint, was in Alabama City and offered good old school tasting burgers and great service. Wayne's is now gone. Majik Burger in Attalla closed for good only a few years ago. Gina doesn't like going to these places for some reason. I like to go to them because they usually serve better tasting food than the big franchises.  The last stand for the experience is Big Chef in Glencoe.  They make good burgers and great shakes.  I've been told they make a mean grape shake.

I've got an idea...How about packing your family in the car one night during Spring Break and hit a mom and pop burger joint?  They're some still around.  I think I'm going to take my girls to Big Chef for a banana split. Sounds like fun huh?

Well what do you know, Biff-Burger was a franchise!Website: -dbf

Monday, August 22, 2011

to dream the impossible mission

Mission Impossible (1966-1973) was a pretty impressive television series for it's day.  It had a great cast and great writing.  The show had lots of special effects, but didn't try to rely on the gimmicks and gadgets to fill time.  Everyone from my generation remembers the intro of the show - the match being lit and that awesome score that always pulled us into the story.  I never got tired of it.  We also remember how the show always started with the team leader getting his mission instructions via a tape recorder rigged for self-destruction.

Steven Hill played the Mission Impossible Force (IMF) team leader Mr. Dan Hill in the first season.  He was replaced by Peter Graves as Mr. Jim Phelps.  Steven was released because of scheduling problems because of his faith and because he refused to perform a stunt.
According to Wikipedia:

" As one of the few Orthodox Jewish actors working in Hollywood, he made it clear in advance of production that he was not able to work on the Sabbath (i.e., sundown Friday to dusk Saturday), and that he would be leaving the set every Friday before sundown. However, despite Hill's advance warnings, the show's producers were unprepared for his rigid adherence to the Sabbath, and on at least one occasion Hill left the set while an episode was still in the midst of filming."

Peter Graves came into the show and the pace never slacked.  I like this spy show because the IMF was a team effort.  Most spy television shows of that time were based on one or two agents taking on insurmountable odds.  The members of the IMF synchronized each of their efforts to pull of their mission.  Jim Phelps was the only full time IMF member, and specialist would be pulled in to complete each mission.  Greg Morris, Peter Lupus and Barbara Bain played special agents that were regularly recruited for IMF missions.  Actors Sam Elliot and Leonard Nemoy (and others) also had reoccurring roles in Mission Impossible.  My favorite agent aside from Peter Grave's character was Martin Landau.

Monday, August 15, 2011

truth, justice, and the American way

What red blooded American kid didn't dream of being Superman as a kid?  Did we not all? Did we not all somewhere in our childhood run around the house with a towel clipped to our shirt - pretending to be the Man of Steel?

He's an humble guy that just has a heart to serve his fellow man. Superman always tries to do the right thing.  He's the most powerful superhero ever drawn, and all he ever does is protect and serve mankind.

I still like this guy though I rarely read a comic book of his. Does he still stand for what he once stood for?  I don't know.  I read a few months ago that Superman renounced his United States citizenship to become a global citizen.  Is 'Truth, Justice, & the American Way' now passe'?  If Superman has lost his way, maybe he's just reflecting how America has lost her way too.
Kelsey circa '06.  She's still into super heroes and is in fact a super kid.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Most of the stores on Broad Street are participating in the Downtown Gadsden Sidewalk Sale today and tomorrow.  Stores were open after 5 which meant I could actually poke around town while the stores were open after I closed up my store.  I rarely buy comic books.  It's kind of strange that I don't because I've always enjoy drawing cartoons. It was after all Marvel artists who were influential in me drawing in the first place.

I happened across some Nick Fury magazines.  They sold me three vintage comics for a very affordable price.  I don't have to have 'like new',  so I guess that's why I got a good deal.  I am posting this picture because it's one of the coolest comic book covers I've ever seen.

I also purchased a comic entitled What If Sgt. Fury Fought World War Two in Outer Space (1979).  How quirky can you get?  I had to buy it.  I'm sure Marvel was trying to cash in on the big success of Star Wars.   I asked the guy how much and he said "a dollar".  SCORE!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

give me some sugar

Being a child of a father who had been paralyzed by polo, it was a very big day for the Finlayson family.  I remember being packed into the car and driven to my elementary school, R.A. Mitchell.  Dad had had polio since he was a young boy.  He came from a time when many children were afflicted by the disease.  I have often wondered what was running through his head when he was watching his children line up with all the other mountain kids for that long awaited cure.

I remember holding the sugar cube in my hand.  I was young but knew there was medicine inside.  This was supposed to keep me from walking on crutches like my Dad had done all his life.  I put it in my mouth and chomped down on it's crunchy sweetness.  I don't remember any strange taste or feel any aftereffect. I was just glad there wasn't a needle involved in the delivery of the serum.  I just took my lump and went home.

What a day though.  I'm sure Dad was relieved with a wonderful hope.  Westbrook's children would never have to experience what he had.