Sunday, April 12, 2009

Harry Boy Was Here

"Hey, see if they have Julie Christie and Robert Blake in there."  That was my father Harry's first question when I showed him my new copy of Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia.  The book, which has not been updated since its initial late 1995 publishing, did have entries for both actors. Dad excitedly told me about two of his favorite films when he was a young man, Tell Them Willie Boy is Here and Electra Glide in Blue both starring the diminutive Blake, who, Dad also told me, had made quite a career as a guest on Johnny's Carson's couch in the '70s.  I don't remember what he said about Christie, but her appeal, is obvious, I think.  I was intrigued, as my father and I had rarely bonded over anything other than sports, but I was 17 and didn't fully appreciate the fact that my dad was reaching out to me.  

In less than a year he became sick with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and we lost him in December of '96.  He would have been 61 this past Friday.  In my teenage years, we clashed quite a bit as I saw him as gruff and uncommunicative.  He was a home builder and I could see his working class qualities, but it wasn't until after he died that I was able to recognize the deep-seated love of film and music he had developed as a young man of the '60s and '70s.  He had been a great admirer of the European directors who came of age following the New Wave, particularly Bernardo Bertolucci. Long after he'd cut his shoulder-length hair, he took my mom to the arthouse theater, whether in Montclair or at the Paris in the city, to see each new Bertolucci film.  Stealing Beauty was the last one he saw.  He would regularly read the Arts and Leisure section on Sundays and tell me about emerging filmmakers that he'd learned about.  I remember him talking about Robert Rodriguez one time when El Mariachi was being released. Going through his extensive collection of mostly Latin and avant garde jazz LPs, I was curious about Mikis Theodorakis' soundtrack to Z and Giorgio Moroder's American Gigolo. He told me about The Conformist and The Spider's Stratagem.  Unfortunately, these moments never led to a sustained dialogue between us.

It was only after he passed away that I sought out all the films and filmmakers that I knew he liked and, later, others that I thought might be "Dad movies."  It became my way of memorializing him in a most personal way.  When I finally saw Tell Them Willie Boy is Here, I was struck by Dad's resemblance to star Robert Blake (pre-plastic surgery).  It was so uncanny that my aunt was prompted to nickname Dad "Harry Boy."  When I was in college, I envied my friends who would go home for breaks and go out to the movies with their fathers and, to this day, it remains the one thing I wish I could do with my dad again.  Electra Glide in Blue, maybe, or Petulia...


Dean Treadway said...

I have a very unusual TELL THEM WILLIE BOY WAS HERE poster---all blue, with robert blake running in black in the foreground, and Redford larger in the background. Also have the famous ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE poster with the cops, and the line about Alan Ladd (all black on silver). And I have the original PETULIA poster which is stunningly beautiful, and a strange MCCABE AND MRS MILLER, with elegant artwork of the two stars images and names, and the film's logo, set against a bed's wooden headboard, and with a surplus of white space at the bottom, but no further credits. And my Z poster is just a large photo of the pic used in the one you included here.

Ned Merrill said...


Sounds like you have an amazing collection, my friend.