They Call It Screwball

They Call it Screwball

No. I’m not writing about the baseball pitch that behaves in an opposite manner to the curve ball.

I am referring to the meaning of the word when it is applied to a slightly (or totally) off-kilter personality. When it comes to film, the word is usually shackled hand and foot to another word – “comedy.” In this genre, these aforementioned personalities are thrown together into situations that range from the absurd to the downright silly.

And they’re a lot of fun.

My wife and I received our indoctrination into the form in Seattle in 1974. A little storefront theater had sprouted out of “nowhere” down in the Pioneer district. The young couple (the Curtises) who gave it “birth,” christened it – The Rosebud Movie Palace. It was all of 88 seats, to which you gained access by running the maze of plywood walls thrown up to enclose the auditorium area. To my notion it was a throwback to the old Nickelodeon era.

[Research aside – The whole film industry in these United States owes its existence to similar tiny beginnings. In New York City of, say, 1904 – these establishments in the statutes of the city were known as “common shows.” This term described theaters of under 299 seats, and were not subject to the fire code of the larger legit theaters. And because the admission was five cents, they gained the moniker Nickelodeon.]

I first ran across the Rosebud theater when perusing movie ads in the newspaper. A film title caught my eye – “The Philadelphia Story.” It was a film we had heard about, but never seen. So we paid them a visit on my day off from the Fifth Avenue Theater (a bus man’s holiday). And we were delighted to watch the trials and tribulations of the three main characters played by Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart. Want to know anything more? I don’t do spoilers. Catch it for yourself.

We kept a weather eye out for other titles in the genre and soon tracked down the likes of:

It Happened One Night

Bringing Up Baby

You Can’t Take It with You – (my personal favorite)

His Girl Friday

Will you look at that  – Capra – Hawks – Capra – Hawks. I am aware that other directors toiled in the genre, but those two are easily the best. But I am thankful to Cukor, as the director of The Philadelphia Story, the “gateway drug,” as it were, to this rather mild addiction.

I come to the end of this post and hesitate to mention that we also saw films of other genres at the Rosebud. Like “Fury” the Fritz Lang thriller with Spencer Tracy; and “Queen Christina” the historical drama with the enigmatic and beautiful Greta Garbo.

But look I’ve gone and done it anyway. I didn’t hesitate at all.

Just call me “screwball.”

Fireflies and Ticonderoga

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First you placed two chairs, preferably wooden with high backs, some three to five feet apart, and then stretched between them a blanket or a sheet that you could either secure to the chair seats, or if big enough pull them out as wings forming a larger structure. And thus you had a fort. And there, especially on rainy days, with your toys about you, you entered the joy of an imaginary realm.

But what was better was visiting an actual fort.  

One summer day, Dad loaded us up in the car and we set out westward to Cambridge in Northern New York. My Mom wanted to visit an old classmate from her hometown of Colville, who now lived there with her family.  I remember two things about our stay there. I was fascinated to meet my Mom’s friend, because she told us all ahead of time that her friend had been born a Hanks, the same family related to Abraham Lincoln’s mother. I was a little awed. It was strange to realize that here was someone in the present connected to someone from the past that I had heard about in school.

The other – was my first sighting of fireflies. In the cool of the evening they flitted among the trees at the back of their property.  It was eerie to see them as they moved. Their luminiscence blinking on and off in a totally random fashion, but somehow in a left-hand kind of way revealing an intricate pattern, a choreography of dots to which your mind’s eye supplied the lines.

From there it was on through the countryside and towns named after falls – (but no Bedford Falls and no Jimmy “George Bailey” Stewart), up to Fort Ticonderoga, a stone edifice alongside Lake Champlain. Originally built by the French, it fell to the British in 1759, and to the Americans in 1775.  On this latter occasion its cannons were transferred to Dorchester Heights and were instrumental in breaking the British seige of Boston.

Standing inside, it was difficult to see the beauty of its design. Being limited to the two dimensions of Flatland, you needed to be lifted up to a point above to see the star like configuration. The map helped in that regard. But the mind wandered to other things, like the view from the walls outward from the fort – and in the mind’s eye seeing Hank Fonda (Jimmy Stewart’s good friend) slipping out of a beseiged fort to go for help in the film Drums Along the Mohawk. An imaginary realm you could reach out and touch.