Recently, I’ve been labeled the Monarch of Muppet by my friend Marty. “Nobody likes the Muppets as much as you do”, he says. And I really don’t deny it. I’ve already mentioned that when I was a kid, I wanted to be Kermit when I grew up (which is part of why I love Hot Fuzz so much- Nicholas Angel/Simon Pegg confesses to the same thing). All of this Muppet talk has served as my madeleine, prompting my very own Remembrance of Things Past. I’m sure Freud would have a field day with this. Here are some of my earliest TV and movie memories.
The Muppet Show
Re-watching some of these as an adult, it’s easy to see how and why it was so popular. The humor worked for both children and adults, and it had some really impressive stars of the era making appearances on the show. Each week, Kermit, Fozzy, Rowlf, Dr. Bunson Honeydew, Gonzo, and the rest would win you over joke by joke. If you were born between 1973 and 1980, there is no way this doesn’t make you smile:
Watching the Dukes of Hazzard on Friday nights
It was immediately followed by bed time so my parents could watch Dallas without fear of their 4 year old son finding out the lurid things that happen in the state of Texas. Daisy Duke was the apex of beauty when I was 4 and 5 years old, sort of a hillbilly Aphrodite. Boss Hogg had the same first initials as me, and nothing was more fun than hearing my dad do a Roscoe P. Coltrane impersonation. I lived in South Carolina when this show was on; it was a de facto documentary as far as I was concerned.
Seeing The Dark Crystal with my older brothers
I haven’t seen this movie since 1982. I was six years old. I don’t remember a single thing about the movie. I do remember being scared of the freaky muppets. And I also remember my older brothers threatening to drop me off in the neighborhood graveyard, late at night, on the way home. They might have even followed through on the threat and I’ve repressed the memory. I’ll be sure to ask them the next time I see them.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
I was 8 at the time. For weeks afterwards, if something looked a little bit goofy on our dinner table, someone would make a chilled monkey brains reference. I also remember thinking that Short Round was pretty cool. In retrospect, I’m really not sure why. After all, that little bastard was a Yankee fan.
Losing my parents’ faith in my movie tastes after I said that I liked Howard the Duck
I was 10 years old. I didn’t know any better. Obviously, even at age 10, I had an appreciation for B-movie quality. But my parents were completely untrustworthy of me for a few years after that.
The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi
These selections were made mostly for my older brother. He had quite an imagination, and the Star Wars films helped to feed it. In fact, seeing Empire prompted him to use Kenner toys to create a slide show and make a short movie- sort of a deleted scene. The thing I remember most about Return of the Jedi was my mom thinking that the ewoks were “cute” or something, which I’m sure was George Lucas’ aim.
History is kind of a big deal in my family. Everyone has some level of appreciation for it. And having had my movie-choosing privileges taken away after the Howard the Duck fiasco, my cinematic experience was bound to be used for good and not animatronic-duck related evil. In retrospect, I can’t say that I have any complaints. I have very fond memories of that movie. It’s also one of the last times that Denzel Washington didn’t play a cop (evil or otherwise) on screen. It’s also notable because it’s the first time I found out what this piece of music is, and that classical music can be used to great effect in film:
The Naked Gun
I detailed this experience in my memorial to Leslie Nielsen. In brief summation, a film with beaver references might be funny, but it’s also somewhat awkward for a kid in the throes of puberty to watch sitting next to his parents.
I was (and still am) a baseball fan. I go bananas for the game of baseball. By the time Major League hit theaters, my family had moved to Wisconsin. The majority of my baseball fan experiences at this time were amassed at Milwaukee’s County Stadium (which had a giant beer keg beyond the outfield fence, but I digress). We would go to 5 to 10 games a year at County Stadium. And for reasons not known to me, Major League had been filmed there. This added to my enjoyment a great deal- I could watch the film and recognize all of the ads, all of the seats, all of the goofy little County Stadium nuances, on the big screen. Throw in Bob Uecker, the local team’s actual radio voice in my reality as well as the star of my favorite TV Show when I was 8 (Mr. Belvedere), and it was a can’t-miss movie. I wish I had Ricky Vaughn’s heater.
Field of Dreams
I saw this as a matinée when I was 12. We were literally the only people in the theater. And that’s great, because in an empty theater, nobody would see me tear up a little bit when Ray Kinsella asked his Ghost Dad if he wanted to have a catch.
Rain Delay Theater
If you are a baseball fan, like me, then you know precisely what “Rain Delay Theater” is. Whenever there’s a rain delay during a baseball game, the station carrying the game is forced to show alternate programming. On Madison, Wisconsin’s WMSN-Fox 47, they used the opportunity to show classic television shows. Thanks to rain delays in Milwaukee Brewer games when I was a kid, I became familiar with the Adams Family, The Munsters, Leave it to Beaver, The Brady Bunch, and even occasionally- but not often- Petticoat Junction while waiting for my good friends Paul Molitor and Robin Yount to come back out and play.
National Lampoon’s Vacation
Every kid has one movie that they watch again and again. They memorize the lines, they completely wreck their copies of one movie via multiple viewings, and then they preach the gospel of said movie to all of their friends. For most people close to my age, that movie is The Blues Brothers. For me, it’s National Lampoon’s Vacation. There was something about spoofing the familial bonds that resonated with me. As a result, now I think fondly of dog urine-soaked sandwiches, the song “Holiday Road”, Rusty Griswold stabbing his brain, Wally World (and Marty Moose, by extension), Christie Brinkley, and Chevy Chase as a sort of deranged Ward Cleaver. Also, as a St. Louis resident, I can tell you that the city isn’t nearly as bad as Vacation makes it look. But if you want, I’ll still be glad to paint “Honky Lips” on your car for you.
And then in 1990, I turned 14, effectively ending this little journey down memory lane. I’ll save the teenage years for a later entry.