A Mother’s Gift of Movies and the Love of Literature


I’m re-introducing this blog with a short essay for Mother’s Day. It’s a departure I know, but I hope it gives you a personal insight into how much the movies and literature are inextricably bound together in my psyche and how and why both are so very important to me.

 

Nixon TheatreWhile my father was on the road with Chris Powell, Bullmoose Jackson, or BB King I was my mother’s constant companion until my siblings came along.  This meant going to the movies several times a week. I remember the first movie I ever saw in a movie theatre: Black Board Jungle with Glenn Ford, Sidney Poitier and Vic Morrow. I was too young to be admitted to the movie theater even with an adult, so a half block before we got to the movies my mother would open up her big blue swing coat and tell me to grab her around the waist hoist myself up and wrap my legs around her then she would wrap her coat around me pay at the ticket window and waddle in to the theater looking like the most pregnant woman on earth. Blackboard-Jungle-Canada-re-1960s

 

When we went to see Rita Hayworth and Robert Mitchum in the 1957 film Fire Down Below  at the Locust Theatre, I remember Hayworth singing “There’s a fire down below,” on board a ship in one scene and I turned to my mother very much alarmed and asked her if the boat  was burning and everyone sitting around us starting laughing. It took me years to figure out that was not the kind of fire Rita Hayworth was singing about.

 

My mother, who died in 2008, had an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz vocalist, character –actors, film and film gossip. My late brother Martyn Merritt was named after an obscure British actor named Martyn Green known mostly for his work with Gilbert and Sullivan. My oldest brother Marlon is named after Marlon Brando (I’m actually named after Marlyn Road in the Overbrook section of Philadelphia). By the time I was in the sixth grade I knew who Raymond Chandler was and I wanted to be either Gwendolyn Brooks or Lillian Hellman.

I grew into a love of literature from watching movies and television. In fact, because I was so shy, withdrawn, geeky and isolated as a child I used the movies as a means to understand human nature and how to interact with people. It helped that I grew up in the Golden Era of both mediums.

During this part of my childhood from three until about ten I became an obsessive/compulsive movie watcher. I started out watching movies on TV and then at about age eight I would go to movie matinees at the Nixon Theatre (now defunct). There are some movies I have watched at least a thousand times like The Searchers, Vengeance Valley, Ben-Hur (w/Charlton Heston) All About Eve and The Big Sleep just to name a few.

I saw the movie and then read the novel until I just got into the habit of reading. Then it became more than a habit; it was an obsession, even if I didn’t understand what I was reading. I’d go back and read things again until I did understand. There were whole passages of The Great Gatsby or The Fixer, The Comedians or The Magic Mountain I would read over and over like a machine because I couldn’t believe it was possible to write like that.

I still wake up some mornings and re-read a Hemingway story because it shocks my senses like a cold pitcher of water in the face. It’s that carrot on a stick in front of me pushing me on wards to maybe writing something that comes close to being good. Joyce’s The Dead and Chekov’s The Lady with the Dog just make me wonder why I bother at all. I have learned how to be, how not to be, how others are, and how we all could be from good writing. It has defined me, intrigued and inspired. It is the foundation of every great movie ever made, the impetus for every great actor who ever lived. What writing has done for me as a reader I would like to do for other readers, I guess it’s my way of paying back all the writers I’ve read. And on a more selfish note, while in the process of crafting a story or a poem I feel I am always becoming a better person and if not better certainly more blissful.

Dorothy and Keely
My mother the late great Dorothy Merritt (left) with the legendary Keely Smith

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!