Monday, August 30, 2010

Happy New Year 1976!

I recently solved a long-time mystery. Sorry, this has nothing to do with the meaning of life or anything as groundbreaking as all that. No, this is a rather mundane mystery, but solving it meant a lot to me personally. Please bear with me...

I come from a rather large family, and am the youngest of nine children. I have seven sisters and one brother. By the time I came along my family already had many long-standing traditions. One of these was a big New Year's Eve party at my parents house. There probably hasn't been an "official" New Year's Eve party there in over twenty-five years (due to children growing up, leaving the house, starting their own families, and starting their own traditions...) but they were still going on strong when I was a young lad. Beyond the obvious celebration of the end/beginning of the old/new year these parties were best known as feasts of interesting and odd foods. My father enjoyed supplying a number of delicacies that we wouldn't normally see or eat that he would discover and share with us. To be honest I don't remember what many of them were (or didn't comprehend them at my youthful age), but I'm sure my fondness for the idea (if not the actual practice) of heating Vienna sausages over a can of Sterno (not unlike how we'd heat up items from our Pu-Pu platters at the China Pacific--our local Chinese restaurant) came from these parties. And I've also heard that one year featured chocolate-covered ants or grasshoppers.

Back to the mystery. For as long as I can remember I've had some rather specific memories of one of these New Year's Eve parties, but could never be sure how accurate my mind was remembering it. Could it have been bits and pieces from several different parties? Could part of what I remembered been from an event that had nothing at all to do with New Year's Eve? Could I have been imagining it all together? Sadly, because of the way the mind works (see the various studies suggesting that eyewitness testimony is very unreliable in court cases) all of that could have been the case.

So what exactly were these memories? This may have been too great of a build-up, as the memories are actually pretty simple. I mostly just recall being pretty young and enjoying the food and games that were part of that particular New Year's Eve party. The main thing that stood out was that we settled in late at night to watch a horror/monster movie of some type. Of course, this detail would be very important to a person who would eventually be calling himself "Monster Dad". I remember sitting on our old green couch with my mother and being pretty scared as this late-night movie spooled out. The only details of it I recall (imagined?) concerned some people from a boat walking through the jungles and rocky ledges of a small island and encountering a large white ape or gorilla. Not a heck of a lot to go by when trying to figure out what movie it was. It seemed very likely that the movie was in black & white (though I'm pretty sure that the TV we would have been watching it on at the time was a B&W set). I also always remembered the movie having something to do with King Kong for some reason. This was the aspect that seemed the most likely part of my memory to be faulty. As a little kid I probably would have associated any movie with a large ape or gorilla in it with King Kong.

Those fragments of memory weren't much, but it has always been a pleasant thing to remember that party and the little details that I thought I remembered from that night. I never really thought about doing any kind of research to see if my memory had been realistic or faulty. If I had thought about it, it might have seemed like a good idea to leave well enough alone and to just enjoy the memories I had. Then last fall while my father was undergoing his first round of treatments for cancer I found myself thinking about that party once again. Fall always makes me feel a bit nostalgic and even sad about the past; The weather changing and moving away from summer toward winter. The leaves changing color and ultimately falling and making a brown blanket over the rapidly cooling ground. The days getting shorter and shorter, and darkness arriving earlier every day. Returning to school for another year and all the stress that went along with that... Anyway, I got to thinking about that party and felt like I wanted to know if it had actually happened as I remembered it. But where to start? The only thing I really had that was quantifiable in any way was the bits and pieces of the movie I thought I remembered. So I figured I'd try to figure out what that movie was.

I didn't know what year this particular New Year's Eve party took place. I knew I had been pretty young--but just how young? The one thing I did know for sure was the date of the party--December 31st. If I was indeed remembering a New Year's Eve party then that's the only possible date it could have taken place on. The Worcester (MA) Public Library has microfilm of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette newspapers. These were the main newspapers we got our news (and TV listings) from when I was growing up (along with the Woonsocket Call and the Milford Daily News). I was very familiar with the Telegram microfilm because I had been working in the Worcester Public Library at the time and had looked up literally hundreds of obituaries for genealogists over the past eight years. I also used the T&G microfilm for my own research into the old Boston channel 56 (WLVI) show Creature Double Feature, but that's a different story for a different blog...

I had a date and only needed to read the TV listings for a few (I hoped) New Year's Eves until I found the right year. I started out going through the late 1970s and into the early 1980s when I would have been between eight- and 12-years-old or so. Nothing seemed to match up. I went back a year at a time: 1979, 1978, 1977. Just about to give up I tried 1976, which would have made me only seven-years-old. Nothing. Then I decided to try just one more year. I checked the listings for December 31, 1975 (when I would have been only six-years-old) and struck gold! At 9:30 that New Year's Eve WLVI channel 56 ran the movie "Son of Kong" (1933)--the lesser-known sequel to 1931's "King Kong"--as the second part of a double feature with "Gog" (1954)--a movie occasionally aired on Creature Double Feature. Now, I had remembered watching the movie in question very late at night (like just before, or more likely after, the stroke of midnight). 9:30 seemed a little early until I realized the movie didn't end until 11:00 PM. And, more importantly, to a six-year-old boy, 9:30 PM would have felt very late indeed, even if it really wasn't.

The only thing left was to confirm that "Son of Kong" was indeed the movie I had remembered bits and pieces of for well over thirty years. Clips of it on Youtube seemed to indicate that it was the right one, but the final proof came very late (really this time) on New Year's Morning of 2010. "Son of Kong" was released on DVD at some point and Netflix had it available for rent. My wife and kids and I spent New Year's Eve with some friends. Well after everyone else had gone to sleep (around 3:00 AM) my best friend and I put in the DVD and watched "Son of Kong". It had the same feeling I remembered. It had the same island and people walking around I had remembered. And, most important of all, it had the same large white gorilla that I had remembered for the past thirty-four years!

True, I still couldn't be absolutely sure if the other memory fragments I had from that New Year's Eve party were reliable or not, but the biggest piece of the puzzle had been solved. I don't really know why it was so important for me to confirm my memory and put an exact date to it, but it was very rewarding nonetheless. To think I had watched "Son of Kong" on the night of December 31, 1975 and then never saw it again until the early morning of January 1, 2010. It was just a nice personal moment for me and gave me a bit of a feeling of...well, closure might be too strong a word, but it was a good feeling, whatever it was.

As a postscript, I just got an issue of the Eastern New England edition of TV Guide for December 27, 1975 to January 2, 1976 a couple of days ago. I've been collecting TV Guides from around this time for a while now, looking for ads for Creature Double Feature and other neat Boston-area TV stuff. When this particular issue arrived I opened it up and was initially disappointed to not find a Creature Double Feature ad. There wasn't even an ad for the Saturday 6:00 Abbott & Costello movie that Worcester's channel 27 (WSMW) used to run at the time. I was still happy to be able to read the listings themselves, but the ads would have made it that much more enjoyable. Then I flipped through the rest of the week. The date hadn't occurred to me, but that Wednesday (the 31st) was New Year's Eve of course. Scanning the pages I suddenly saw something that made the issue exremely interesting. WLVI channel 56 was running a "New Years Double Feature" and they put in an ad very similar to the ones they frequently put in TV Guide for Creature Double Feature. The movies featured that night? Well, obviously they were "Gog" and "Son of Kong"!

Here's the ad:

Here's a trailer for "Son of Kong"

And here's a poster for the movie

1 comment:

  1. Cool, Glen! I like the way you tracked down your memories until you found the movie. Then, to watch it again on New Year's Eve (day actually...) is way too cool. That's my brother! xoxoxox