A couple of months ago here at Black Gate, I wrote about my first heroes, mainly the fictional ones I recall from my boyhood in the 1970s. Spider-Man came to mind, as did Steve Austin and a few others. Then not so long ago, over at his Facebook page, author Nick Ozment asked something along the lines of, “What was the first movie you watched inside an actual theater?” That question got me thinking.
Before going further, though, I’d like to point out to the younger crowd reading this that Nick’s question might sound somewhat unusual, but it really isn’t. For many of us with gray hair, as kids we didn’t have streaming services or DVD players. Heck, before the mid-1980s or thereabouts, many of us didn’t have VCR players or even cable television. So, it might seem that our only option for watching movies was in a theater, but that was not the case. We might have only had three or four channels on our television, but there was always a movie of the week on Friday nights, usually a famous movie, even a blockbuster, but most times it had been edited for length and adult language. More importantly, we watched a lot of movies at the drive-in theaters. And I mean a lot of movies. If I had to hazard a guess, before 1980 I probably only ever saw a movie in an indoor theater maybe a half dozen times, but I had watched scores, maybe hundreds, of movies at drive-in theaters.
Okay, okay, back to Nick Ozment’s question. “What was the first movie you watched inside an actual theater?” When I thought about it, I couldn’t come up with a definitive answer. The best I could do was guess, and only two movies came to mind. One was Godzilla vs. Megalon, the other being The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad.
As you can tell, recently I’ve had a lot of nostalgic notions running around in my head. Maybe it’s age catching up with me, or maybe it’s all this quarantining that has given me too much time on my hands.
Either way, yeah, I’ve been thinking a lot about my youth and heroes and the movies that inspired me, the movies that gave me my heroes.
Today, like back in the dinosaur ages, movies were a major source for fictional heroes. But even without the Internet, there were other sources. Television, of course, but novels and comic books were definite big pushers of the heroic.
There were even magazines.
Yep, magazines. One might ask, “What kind of magazines?”
My personal favorite was a little publication known as Starlog.
First appearing in 1976, Starlog quickly became THE magazine for fans of science fiction and fantasy, especially when it came to movies. We didn’t have the Internet to keep us informed about upcoming films, but we had Starlog, and Starlog proved a godsend.
Though not my first introduction to the magazine, my favorite issue of Starlog came with issue 23 from June 1979. The cover featured a preview of the upcoming science fiction movie Alien, which would go on to become something of an iconic film in sci-fi cinema. Inside there were articles about Star Trek, Dr. Who, Darth Vader, many of the movies and characters which sci-fi fans love to this day. Also included were stories on special effects, an article titled “Blacks in Science Fiction,” a convention calendar, and even a section of letters, my favorite being one from the ever-cantankerous Harlan Ellison, here Harlan giving some grief to a young Mark Hamill (Star Wars was still a relatively new thing in 1979 and it had set the world afire in a huge way).
What does this have to do with heroes? Well, I discovered or re-discovered a lot of heroes within the pages of Starlog magazine when I was a kid.
Just looking at issue 23 alone, one can find such heroic figures as Ellen Ripley, Superman, Lt. Uhura, and many more. For myself at the age of nine, when this particular issue of Starlog first became available, the most heroic of figures within those pages was that of The Doctor.
The Doctor, from the television show Dr. Who, was not only new to me at the time, but he was new to most of America. We hadn’t really had much experience with the Gallifreyan from across the Atlantic, but in the late 1970s, suddenly Dr. Who appeared on our TV sets. Or at least the fourth Doctor, portrayed by the awesome Tom Baker, appeared on our TVs.
I was living in a small town in Kentucky at the time, but I was still fortunate enough with the help of extended rabbit ear antennae to pick up a channel out of Chicago which showed Dr. Who.
Each generation of Who fans seems to have its preeminent Doctor, but in 1979, very quickly Tom Baker became MY Doctor, and he has been ever since. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Today’s shows are good and I do love a number of the modern Doctors, but I’ll always have a fond place in my heart for Baker as the Doctor.
Then there was Ellen Ripley, eventually hero of several films in the Alien franchise. By the time issue 23 came out, I had not watched that original Alien movie, though I would soon, my dad taking the young me to a movie which otherwise I could not have seen at the time. Ripley was the first fictional woman hero in my memory; by that point I had read a number of novels featuring girls or women as protagonists, but I don’t really remember any as overly heroic. Until Ripley. Ellen Ripley, as played by Sigourney Weaver, not only proved intelligent, but she also knew how to kick ass, all while not being a sex symbol.
Unfortunately, Starlog is no longer with us today, but I suppose that’s to be expected. What with social media, the Internet, and other technological advancements, fans of the speculative genres have plenty of other places to get the latest info about their favorite movies, books, stars, etc.
Time’s change, but our heroes are always there, and there are always places to learn about our heroes. Who were some of your first heroes? And where did you learn about them?
Ty Johnston is vice president of the Rogue Blades Foundation, a non-profit organization focused upon bringing heroic literature to all readers. A former newspaper editor, he is the author of several fantasy trilogies and individual novels.