Looking Back, We Were Gullible

A Geezer’s Notebook, By Jim Foster

You have to be old to remember this stuff. When I was a kid in the ’50s they still had serials every Saturday afternoon at the old Oxford Theatre on Danforth Avenue in Toronto (25 cents and that included a box of popcorn). 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 Power Pods back then; women had to haul the family laundry down to a river and pound the dirt out of it on the rocks.

The Phantom wore a mask he borrowed from the Lone Ranger – 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 had beaten him senseless with her dust mop. Nowadays, she’d assume he was wearing something by Alfred Sung or Jean-Paul Gaultier and invite him in for a cappuccino while they discussed the latest fashions from Milan.

The serials were my life when I was 10. The hero was always up to his bum in alligators as the picture was ending. We kids had to stew all week over how he would get out of, out from under, or away from whatever the peril the director had left the poor jerk in the Saturday before.

Quicksand was good stuff. There are acres of it all over Hollywood apparently. Why Californians worry about earthquakes and wildfires seems ridiculous when the damn quicksand must suck down people 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 10 seconds away from being this week’s headlines in the obituary column.

Phantom dies in jungle accident, leaves Model A Ford, a rope, 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 that 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 really bought the farm this time. So home we went to sweat it out for another week. Which 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 has gone too, I’m afraid.

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 Jungle Jim, or Sabu, the elephant boy in. It didn’t matter; the plots were 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 stunned idiot 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, wasn’t really theirs (what a dumb name for a kid, too stupid to pick out a half-decent name for the little squirt). They found him under a banyan tree or something. That’s what Tarzan and Jane thought sex was –  wandering around the jungle all night looking under bushes.

More next week:

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