There was not a specific prompt for the Chatham Memoir Writing Group for last Friday, which means we can write about anything. My friend, and creative writing group colleague, John Chamberlain and I were talking about old movies, which genres we enjoyed and the fact that certain independent TV networks broadcast many movies of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s on a nightly and weekly basis. I recalled when I was a kid how my friends and I would get together on Saturdays and play act the action movies we had seen. The more I thought about our conversation the more I liked the idea of writing about the fun we had. My memoir follows.
Super Adventure Theater/Super Adventure Saturday
When I was a kid, one of the advantages of living in close proximity to New York City was the fact that we could get seven TV channels. In addition to the big three networks, there were three independent broadcasters and a public TV station. One of the indie stations, Channel 9, would broadcast a Saturday morning program called Super Adventure Theater. Hosted by a guy named Claude Kirchner, who for some reason dressed up as a circus ringmaster, he would introduce classic, and not so classic movies from the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. There was a type of rotation of genres – westerns, sci-fi, horror, comedy, war, adventure, crime, no romance films – hence the name Super Adventure.
For us kids, a good Super Adventure movie led a super adventure Saturday of play. We would analyze the channel guides on Friday to see what was going to be broadcast on Saturday morning then establish the scenarios we would re-enact. “OK guys, it’s King Kong! Dress the part and meet at the Cherry Hill woods at 10:30.” Adjacent to the Cherry Hill playground was a large pie shaped wooded lot that would serve as the setting for many of our re-enactments, especially jungle or wilderness type settings. Although we enjoyed the Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello and Olson & Johnson comedies, you just couldn’t re-enact a comedy sketch. It was more fun trying to outwit a giant gorilla or bank robbers.
For some reason the adventure movies of the ‘40’s and ‘50’s seemed to feature quicksand. It had an influence on my grandmother because she always cautioned my brothers and I to be on the lookout for quicksand if we played somewhere other than in the backyard of our house. Some of the trails through the Cherry Hill woods had sandy patches – not quicksand, mind you – but would suit the purpose in our imagination. With the advent of the nuclear age, there were a plethora of movies released in the 1950’s that employed the gimmick of a nuclear accident being the catalyst for the creation of giant ants, giant crabs, crawling eyes, a 50 foot woman, melting glaciers that released carnivorous dinosaurs. With the exception of the 50 foot woman, we encountered all of these things in the Cherry Hill woods.
Horror movies were also fun to re-enact and it was fairly easy to recruit someone to play Wolfman or Dracula. One of my friends wanted to be the Invisible Man – “pretend you don’t see me as I try to throttle you” – but that didn’t work. It was hard to find someone to be Frankenstein though. He lurched along slowly with extended arms, kids wanted to be something that ran or flew like a bat. We tried to talk one of our friends into playing Frankenstein, we pointed out with his square head and peculiar haircut, he resembled the monster. He took exception, got upset and told his mother. No more Frankenstein re-enacting.
There was always that one kid who was so fixated on a single character that he always wanted to be that character. That one kid was my friend Chris, who lived in the house behind my grandparents. He loved Tarzan and always wanted to be Tarzan, no matter what the scenario. It taxed our imaginations to fit Tarzan into unfamiliar situations; Tarzan and cowboys, Tarzan thwarting Al Capone, Tarzan fighting a T-Rex with a sling-shot and Bowie knife. Chris would actually swing on a rope hanging from a tree branch and scream that Tarzan yell. This never worked well and at times we would end our re-enacting in disgust and go play kickball or baseball.
This nonsense came to an end in rather dramatic fashion for Chris. We were actually playing a scenario suitable for the Tarzan character, a jungle setting involving archeologists who discovered some ancient, bejeweled statues. Chris, as Tarzan, was to swing in and rescue an archeologist, played by a friend named Kathy, from quicksand. Kathy was on her knees in the middle of one of those sandy patches, pretending to be sinking. Chris began his rope swing, emitting his Tarzan call. The call became a scream when the branch his rope was attached to broke. He landed on his back, still gripping the rope, a cloud of dust from the fake quicksand rising over his prostrate form. Astonished, we stood with mouths agape. The wind was knocked from him and he was gasping “Help”. Regaining his breath he stood up slowly, a little shaky on his feet. He muttered, “I quit, I’m going home.”
Although he continued to be part of our Saturday Super Adventures, he never played Tarzan again. Instead he he became Robin Hood. All the time, Robin Hood. Robin Hood and cowboys, Robin Hood and gangsters in Chicago, Robin Hood and Wolfman, dinosaurs, martians, giant crawling eyes. Robin Hood. Robbin’ us of our fun on a Super Adventure Saturday.
Chatham Memoir Writers Group
May 26, 2023