As I begin my first article for filmmatic.com my thoughts have taken me back to the days of my youth when I first became enthralled with the idea of film making, theater and writing. Each of us, especially those who visit this site, can probably tell a story of what engaged them in the arts. What was that magical moment when suddenly that sting was felt as if we were bitten by an “entertainment bug?” When and where was that sting first experienced? You know what I’m talking about; it’s that call which beckoned us to stand on the stage or before a film camera, behind the curtains or on the sound stage, behind a keyboard or using photo shop or a publishing program?
To answer those questions for me, I must take you on the EL, the elevated train system in Chicago, when I was almost 13 years old. From the west side of the Windy City my cousin and I would travel on the EL to the Loop, downtown Chicago. I know what you may be thinking. My parents trusted me at such a tender age to travel to the big city alone with a cousin of the same age. In those days the dangers youth face today didn’t seem so evident or maybe we were just oblivious to them. In any case, every week we were on that train and got off at State and Lake Streets. When we skipped down those stairs to street level the marquee of one of the great movie palaces in America stood over us. It was the Chicago Theater. In its “hey day” it would have live stage shows and then show a movie. By my time, it just showed movies. And now it’s back to live performances of concerts with musical or comedic performers. This circle of life, as it were, made it a monument to the golden years of Hollywood. Across the street was the State Lake cinema and down on Randolph St. a block away was the Oriental, Woods and Palace theaters. Today only the Palace and Oriental survive and are back to being legitimate theaters. But at least their grandeur has been preserved to speak of a time when movie palaces mixed with live shows reigned supreme.
Now on this particular Saturday, we were not “making the prices,” as we called getting the cheaper ticket by seeing a movie before noon. No on this not so bright day, when rain threatened but couldn’t dampen our spirits, we were headed for the Harris Theater. We were going to see our first play direct from Broadway because its star was none other than Captain Hook of the Mary Martin’s TV production of Peter Pan. The play was “The Pleasure of His Company.” Fred Astaire would play the role in the movie version, if I remember correctly and I was P. O’d that it wasn’t my hero. Not many years after that the Harris became the Cinerama Showplace where I saw Ben Hur and now it’s back to presenting live productions as part of the Goodman theaters.
After the performance I dragged my cousin to the stage door. We had bought an umbrella for Cyril Ritchard to welcome him to Chicago. Two scrawny lads at the stage door before the days of extreme security waited for a chance to enter. That moment came when we were confronted by Cyril’s assistant or stage manager as the case may be. He was kind and directed us to the actor’s dressing room. We entered with umbrella prominently uplifted to present. In the time we were there he told us of his life in theater and film which began in Australia, grew in Britain and exploded on Broadway. I had been bitten. It was the acting life for me or so I thought. From that day at age twelve until the day he had a stroke on stage back in Chicago during which I would accompany him to Northwestern Hospital where he would pass on to eternity, he would keep in contact with me. When I visited New York in my teen years he had tickets for me for the latest shows. When he came to Chicago, he did the same for my wife and me in later years.
That summer I wrote my first movie script. It was called The Green Slime. Later in my teens we filmed 8mm movies. One was called The Desert Queen and another, Vampire’s Curse. I joined the theater club at Oak Park High School. Then life called me to another path, that of teaching. But I never gave up my love of the arts. In rural schools with kids who never had exposure to the arts and in urban schools where the kids had never been to a theater I directed school plays and adapted scripts for Jr. High School students to perform. Of course Peter Pan was always one of them. Along the way our school won the Bicentennial Award for my original production titled, “What is America?”
Now after three decades in education I am back to my first love, that of story telling. I have done this through the writing of four novels and a screenplay based on each of them.
This week I am meeting with a film producer to discuss how to organize and plan the Table Read of my screenplay titled “Ring of the Magi,” which is based on my novel The Stone Cutter Genius. We hope to film the table read in Chicago this summer and will be seeking actors to participate in the project. So if the acting bug has bitten you give us a shout. We’ll keep you updated on the progress of the “read” in future articles.
In the meantime, never give up on your dream to write, act, direct, design or whatever flows through your veins from that entertainment bug which sets your heart a flutter as you strive to make your dreams come true.
(The books of Arthur Cola may be found at amazon.com/Kindle and www.feedaread.com)