MY PERSONAL STORY Scene Three: Formative Years

Heart murmur.  Not being able to play with other kids. My Mom, the Nurse, being overly protective. My little cousin Frankie, dying at an early age from a disease that my uncle Frank, a Medical Doctor, my Doctor, thought Frankie caught from someone at his in-home office.  I remember going to Frankie’s funeral  — my first –and riding in the procession sandwiched in the front seat between my Mom and Dad, peering through the front windshield past the sticker that said “FUNERAL” at my Uncle Frank’s car, which carried Aunt Olga and cousin Glava, and the hearse in font of them carrying the casket to Roosevelt Cemetery in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I was sad and scared seeing Frankie’s tiny  casket being lowered into the ground.

My Uncle Frank introduced by Dad, who had a pharmacy at Jefferson Hospital, to my Mom who worked as a Registered Nurse there.   She was Valedictorian in her high school graduating class. She wanted to be a doctor, but her family was poor, and although she was offered a scholarship, she couldn’t accept it because she had to help support her family in Skullville, New Jersey, not far from Mays Landing and Atlantic City.

Uncle Frank treated patients at his in-home office and also paid visits to homes — that’s what Doctors did in those days. Tragically, my Uncle Frank died at an early age from a heart attack, probably because he blamed himself for his son’s death. I clearly remember that day, my folks receiving the phone call and racing out of the house to go and help him. I stood at the window, crying, because I didn’t want to be left alone.  I heard a siren wailing and knew it was a medical vehicle for him.  Not long after he passed on, I had a private conversation with Uncle Frank because I felt awful that I was selfish and cried about being left alone at the house the night he was struck down.

As a child I didn’t speak until I was almost three years old — what I did do was invent my own language.  Later in life, my Mom told me one of the words I said was “Dum dum,” which meant water.  I recall being a slow reader.  In first grade we sat on tiny chairs in a circle and read from books like “Fun with Dick and Jane.” My teacher always went around the circle clockwise from child to child to give each one a chance to read.  The next time we had a reading class we would continue clockwise in the same direction from where we left off the day before.  But I had a plan.  Every day I changed my seat and sat to the right of the kid who had read the day before. The reading circle hardly ever got around to me. When it looked like I might actually be called on to read, I would raise my hand and ask my teacher permission to go to the bathroom.  I managed to pull off this ruse for quite a while.  In first grade, one of my classmate’s was Leon Brown, a black boy, who was affectionally called Bunky and my constant rival for the daily “best dressed” award.  I was painfully shy, I remember my aunts and uncles always asking, “What’s the matter with Johnnie?” Although I didn’t speak very much I watched and listened.  At H.C. Lea(Grammar) School in West Philadelphia I became the captain of the audio visual squad. This meant skipping classes and avoiding homework, the tradeoff for my showing educational movies: carting the equipment around, setting up the beaded screen and threading the Bell & Howell 16mm sound projector. I was a good projectionist because I figured out the reason for the loop was so that each still picture could come to a complete but brief stop in the film gate behind the lens and the optical sound track was advanced 19 1/2 frames in front of the picture so it could roll continuously over the drum where it was read by the optical reader. Somehow this all got melded together inside the Bell & Howell projector and became a “sound movie.”  These movies were generally boring but I loved to watch them just the same.

MY PERSONAL STORY will continue…

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MY PERSONAL STORY Scene Two: Bitten by the Showbiz Bug

The curtain rises and scene two begins in 1944, maybe plus or minus one year.  I had developed a heart murmur from pneumonia, so I was constantly being monitored by machines to evaluate the seriousness of it, due to the fact that my Mother was a registered nurse, my father was a registered pharmacist.  (His six brothers and sisters, with the exception of one brother, my favorite uncle, whose death certificate stated he was a pharmacist’s assistant — many years later my father confessed to taking the test for him — were either doctors, pharmacists, or had married pharmacists.)  With all of doctors’ tests and medical speak floating around my house, my imagination ran wild.  Here I was thinking I was going to die at an early age, maybe at any minute! You might wonder why all of this is important.   Well, the simple fact is this 5-year-old boy had lots of drama in his life.

Enough.  No More Medical Stuff.  Time for Some Theatrical Drama.

The Goldman Theater was located one block west of Broad Street and one block north of Chestnut Street in center city Philadelphia (City of Brotherly Love), close to City Hall with the famous statute of William Penn on top of it.  I remember the Goldman Theater vividly.  The letters spelling the name of the theater were huge. Here, I had a scare that seemed worse than my fear of an early demise.  “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” produced in 1938 was playing, and my parents took me to see it.  It was a large movie house and I recall sitting in the center section on the right-hand side. There were many fun moments between Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, painting the fence and things like that.  But then, holy shit!  That cave!   Pirates carrying lighted torches, and one particularly mean-looking guy with a brass earring.   His evil stare penetrated my brain as if I had been shot,  and shadows danced on the walls of the cave like devils celebrating the victory of Evil Forces over Good .  Tom and Huck were about to die, and me right along with them.  It was so-ooo real!  I started crying, screaming, a piercing  animal sound that echoed off the walls of the movie theater.  I was also kicking my feet and flailing my arms.  My mother and father hustled me  out of the theatre, and I remember carrying on even when we were outside on the street. What I had just experienced was real and that was that.  I don’t know how  many weeks after that, one of my uncles, a pharmacist of course, told my parents that he knew the owner of a movie theater, and I could go into the projection booth, where I would  see the projectors and film reels spinning on them.  So I went there with my parents.  It wasn’t scary because I wasn’t going into the theater’s auditorium, just a little room upstairs — the projection booth — whatever the hell that was.  There was a big metal door leading to the projection booth because highly combustible Nitrate film had not been outlawed yet.  Inside, I stared.  What iron monsters those two projectors were!  Those amazing mechanical devices clicked and clacked and a flaming carbon arc caused bright light to be emitted through the lens in front and then through a tiny square window.  Holding my mother’s and father’s hand, I ventured closer to the projector and was held up in the air so I could peek through that tiny square window the beam of light was passing through.  My God!  Spewing out of that iron contraption was a movie!  I could see with my own eyes the images on the screen were coming from the projector, and came to the conclusion the images on the screen weren’t real!  It was an unforgettable, seminal moment in my life, and the beginning of a passion for the magic of the motion picture that consumes me to this day.   Now the curtain closes, but rest assured in the very near future there will be new reels spinning on the projectors and the curtain will open again.

MY PERSONAL STORY will continue…

EXTRA! EXTRA! 2010 Academy Awards Season: Connections (#1)

Actress Jessica Biel, pictured here, hosted the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Scientific and Technical Achievement

Occasionally I will post a Blog that is newsworthy and needs to be posted immediately.  This is one such occasion.  Yesterday, January 7, 2010, an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Certificate for Technical Achievement was given to a business associate, Mark Jaszberenyi, for his contribution to the development of the Lustre color correction system, which enables real-time digital manipulation of motion picture imagery during the digital intermediate process.

I worked with Mark over the Internet color timing a theatrical motion picture at his facility Color Front, which he owns with his brother Aaron, in Budapest, Hungry. The 35mm negative had to be shipped  there  to be scanned and color timed as part of the DI process. I began the project with trepidation, but in spite of the great distance between our two countries, there were no mistakes or technical problems, and I was completely satisfied with the final color timing.

MY PERSONAL STORY Scene One: Entering a Brave New World: My Mother as an Actress and My First True Love

Like those who have preceded me and those who have come after me, on July 18, 1939, I was born into this world. I might have been nine pounds, I might have been ten pounds, but I wasn’t much less or  much more than that.  At a very early age, while I was in a crib I developed pneumonia. I wouldn’t swallow my medicine until a Doctor Muchatz, mustache, fedora, overcoart, came to to see me. The good Doctor scared me half to death and ordered me to take my medicine, which I did. Little did I know Doctor Muchatz was an actress, my mother, a Registered Nurse at the city’s most prestegeous hospital. I can remember my tiny chest being packed with a thick goop called Antiphlogistine, a Medicated Poultice something akin to a mustard plaster — it was like being in a body cast but I don’t remember complaining about it.  Perhaps I was too sick. I had a satin cat named Minnie Memow.  I loved Minnie. She wasn’t that small, and I’m not sure why she was named Minnie.  Perhaps this satin cat was named after Disney’s Minnie Mouse.   I hugged that damn cat tightly to my sweaty little body, day after day,  and dripped mucus and slobbered all over it, so my dear Mother shedding the persona of Doctor Muschatz kept having to replace its’ stained satin cover with a clean new satin skin.   I guess this was my introduction to the theatre — Vaudeville , with a performer  and a puppet.  And so the first scene ends and the curtain closes.

MY PERSONAL STORY will continue…

MY PERSONAL STORY Prologue: 2010! Hello World!

It’s a new decade, with new adventures, new challenges.  To go back a few years, on New Years Eve 2000, my wife and I were passengers on the Sea Lion, a Linblad Expeditions ship, which is now in partnership with National Geographic, exploring the Sea of Cortez. A few minutes before midnight we  left our ship on Zodiac rafts and landed on an uninhabited island, where we were met by crew members dressed in tuxedos, holding silver trays with champagne glasses which they handed to us when we waded  ashore.  It was a glorious celebration, a huge bonfire, a pig roasting on a spit, all the champagne you could drink, and billions of twinkling stars visible in the night sky.  This was the beginning of a new decade, and you could wipe the slate clean and start over.  The only worry was Y2K, but fortunately the meltdown of the world’s computers was over hyped and didn’t happen.  This uninhabited island seemed very safe, so the world seemed safe.  I was in total denial that my view of the outside world  from the perspective of this uninhabited island  — peace,  love, good health — was only an illusion  In reality, there would soon be 9/11, the economic downturn, and a long list of problems facing every American Citizen.

So, I’ve started to write this Blog to inspire you  a little bit, to make you laugh a little bit.   You will read about a determined young man from Philadelphia who came to Hollywood and didn’t know anyone but persevered and fought his way into the motion picture business as the Old Guard was being pushed aside and Studio System was about to collapse.  This is MY PERSONAL STORY and it’s 100% true…