Fragmented Memories (Next To Last)

A Geezer’s Notebook, By Jim Foster

4. And his nose stuck out the trap door

Let’s see, we were discussing (well you weren’t, I was) the movies and what it did to the simple minds of teenage boys in the 50s.

TV movies are doing major damage to our society today. I’m not sure who heads the new programming committees these days, but I suspect it’s the Marquis de Sade. I’ve had quite enough vampire and zombie movies, thank you very much. If you are a fan of The Walking Dead, perhaps you should consider booking yourself in for a psychiatric assessment

I’m going back even further to the 40s. When I was 10 they still had serials every Saturday afternoon at the old Oxford Theatre on Danforth Avenue in Toronto. My heroes were all there, Mandrake the Magician, Flash Gordon and my personal favourite, The Phantom. The Phantom wore long grey underwear that went right to the top of his head. Maybe it started out white and ended up grey, I don’t know. We didn’t have Tide Free and Gentle ‘Dermatologist Recommended’ Pods back then. Incidentally, they come with a warning not to swallow them – people must be hard up for snacks these days.

The Phantom wore a mask he borrowed from the Lone Range… as if somebody would want to recognize a guy in his underwear with the end of his nose sticking out the trap door.

I have no idea what the Phantom did for a living, but I know he wasn’t doing all that well with the ladies. In the 50s if a guy showed up at a woman’s door wearing a full-length body stocking and a mask, she would shove him down the front steps and call the cops – that was after she beat him senseless with her dust mop. Nowadays she’d assume he was wearing something by Georgio Armani and invite him in to sip a cappuccino while they discussed the latest fashions from Milan.

Our hero was always up to his ass in alligators as the picture was ending. We kids had to stew all week over how he would get out of, or out from under, or away from whatever dread peril the director left him in the Saturday before.

Quicksand was good stuff. Apparently there are acres of it all over Hollywood. Why Californians worry about earthquakes seems ridiculous when the damn quicksand must suck people down by the truckload.

When we left on Saturday afternoon, the Phantom would be up to his eyeballs in a huge patch and sinking like a rock. Everyone knew he was ten seconds away from being this week’s headline in the obituary column – Phantom dies in jungle accident. Leaves Model A Ford, a rope, and two sets of long underwear.

When we came back a week later, he was only in to his ankles and while we were away, a tree came out of nowhere and was growing over the quicksand. Plus, someone had tossed him a ladder, a 50’ lariat and a grappling hook.

Just as we were starting to think maybe this stuff was getting a little far-fetched, the poor slob got caught again. This time he was right in the path of an avalanche and we knew he’d finally bought the farm this time. So home we went to sweat it out for another week, which of course was good, because it gave the film crew time to change the avalanche to a bookshelf and when a hundred worried kids came back the next Saturday, he was buried under the complete works of Mickey Spillane.

Mickey is gone too, I’m afraid. I better hurry up and finish these columns before all my heroes are dead and me along with them.

The best part of the serials was all the sets and story lines were interchangeable. RKO would film the Phantom caught in a man-eating plant, haul him out and MGM would stick in Jungle Jim, or Sabu the elephant boy. It didn’t matter, the plots were basically the same. Man-eating plants were all the rage in the serials. A good-sized Venus fly-trap could eat a half a dozen natives on a Saturday afternoon. Sometimes they’d wolf down a white guy for dessert, but usually the white guys were reserved for the giant spiders.

I hated those damn spiders and poor Tarzan spent most of his life whacking away at the big ugly buggers. All the kids would be screaming at him to stay away from the flipping web, but oh no, the silly ass would march right in and get caught every time. For a guy who was supposed to be so damn smart about jungle stuff, he was one dumb bunny if you ask me. For the life of me, I could never see what Jane saw in him.

I guess she wasn’t the smartest coconut on the tree either. Jane and Tarzan didn’t have much of a sex life if they had one at all. Their son, Boy, (what a dumb name, they were too stupid to pick out a half-decent name for the little squirt.) wasn’t really theirs. They found him under a banyan tree or someplace. That’s what Tarzan and Jane thought sex was — wandering around the jungle all night looking under bushes.

Next week: Hang on, we’re coming to the end.

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