Saturday movies included rustlers, fist fights, gunslingers, and the ever present danger of growing up

Every person’s life is worthy of a book. I hope you are writing yours, or saving and collecting the material to one day write it.

I am in the midst of mine.

For those of you who just tuned in, this is the next installment of my memoirs currently in production. The previous installments are available on my web page I hope you find it interesting.

The book is titled, Live Long*,  Learn a Little, Laugh a Lot.

I always wanted a horse. I got bitten by the cowboy bug early. I’m not sure why; Roy Rogers mostly. Gene Autry was ok, but he sang kind of funny; more appropriate for the mega hit song he later wrote and recorded,Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

For me Roy was just what his press agent said, “King of the cowboys.” And whoever named his horse “Trigger” should have gotten a raise and his name on the marquee.

But though Roy was the best, he wasn’t the only. Any hero with four horse shoes thundering under him got my undivided attention. I even liked the white hats in the cheapo B westerns; guys like Ken Maynard, Hoot Gibson, Lash Larue dressed in black, and his white clad copycat Whip Wilson. Make that almost any. I could never get past the name with Hopalong Cassidy. Does the English language contain any word less heroic than “Hopalong?” What were the Hollywood name gurus thinking? Where was the guy who named Trigger?

Lash Larue was cool because he had this marvelous whip. When he whirled it around his head it was like a modern day electronic shield. Lash could flick that whip and keep the enemy at bay. He could wrap it around the wrist of a bad man, flip the gun out of his hand, and hog tie him with his whip. Nobody ever explained to me why the bad man didn’t shoot Lash while he was swinging his whip around. Actually for all the noise and flying lead in those old westerns, I don’t remember anybody ever dying from a gunshot. Even the chief villain usually got run down in the last horse chase, dragged out of the saddle by the leaping hero, and pummeled into bloodless and bruiseless submission to be handed over to the sheriff.

The top tier cowboys often had a fumbling sidekick for comic relief. Gene Autry’s was Smiley Burnette Roy Roger’s was George “Gabby” Hayes. The low budget heroes apparently couldn’t afford this luxury on the payroll. But we watched them anyway. We would watch anything on Saturday afternoon. You could restock your mind and imagination with a double feature, a couple of cartoons, a “March of Time News of the Day” newsreel and the demise and miraculous survival of Captain Midnight. Every week C.M. would get himself blown up, pushed off a cliff, drowned or shot dead. No problem. Next Saturday you would come for the last rites and burial, and instead see again the final scenes from the one you watched the previous week. You would see a detail you didn’t notice the Saturday before. Mostly because it wasn’t there that week. I remember once his car went flying over a cliff, hit the ground, exploded and burned. That was totally absolutely incontrovertibly the end of Captain Midnight. It couldn’t be any other way. But we came back next Saturday and they showed that deadly scene from a different camera angle. Lo and behold Captain Midnight had miraculously freed himself from the car on the way down, and dived graceful as a porpoise into a nearby stream of water just as his car exploded on the nearby rocks. We all went, “Yeah, right.” But we were back the next Saturday.

All this adventure for us and baby sitting for our parents came at the nominal cost of thirteen cents up until age 12. Then the cost, skyrocketed, more than tripled in fact, to 40 cents. There wasn’t much we could do to resist this robber baron exploitation of our natural aging process. We did all we could. We hunkered down at the window and tried to look small. For those of us who were tall for our age this was not very effective. Monte Montegue and I suffered from this. Max Reece didn’t. He was such a little springy guy I suspect he could still get in for 13 cents if that were still the price schedule.

Actually it didn’t help all that much to scrunch down at the ticket window because even if you did get the coveted 13-cent ticket in your sweaty palm you had to go inside and face the wrath of Ol’ Swede the ticket taker. We always figured he wasn’t Swedish at all. One accent was the same as another to us. We figured he was the Kommandantat of some Nazi prison camp before Mr. Breathwaite, the theater manager imported him to intimidate us. Swede had wormed his way into America and was using the Star Theater as a cover.

He wasn’t fooling us. But neither were we fooling him. He would start working on us tall ones when we were about eight. We would hand him our 13-cent ticket. He would scowl and say, “You are over tvelve.” We would tremble and protest we were only eight, or nine, or ten, or eleven, or eleven and a half, eleven and three quarters, eleven and eleven twelfths.

I had heard about prisoners being tortured for information. The standard advice from the old hardened ones was, “Don’t let the answer into your head or it will slip out under the strain of torture.” I took this seriously. I kept only two words in my head as I went into the theater and stood before Swede at the bar of judgment; “Only eleven, only eleven.” No matter what ridicule or threats or glowering Swede might heap upon me, I would repeat my mantra, “only eleven.”  This worked for months, partly because I had the forces of right and truth on my side. I was in fact, only eleven. But so many grown up things happen to you when you turn twelve. If you are a Mormon boy you get the priesthood. You get socked with a couple more meetings on Sunday, but you also get a little more respect. You go from grade school to junior high school. Now in your school are guys who even shave now and then. It was hard not to feel all of a sudden grown up. Too hard. Standing in front of Swede that fateful day I lost my cool. Swede took my thirteen-cent ticket and grumbled, “How old are you.”

“Twelve. I mean eleven,” I blurted out. Too late. I was 40 cents worth of dead meat. The downside was I had sealed my fate. I was probably bound for some underground railway off to a German Stalag for the rest of my life. At the least my financial future was ruined. I would be paying forty-cent tickets forever.

But the upside was that something happened that day that had never happened before in the Star Theater, maybe in America, maybe in Europe, the entire world for all I knew.

Old Swede’s frozen face cracked. He couldn’t restrain himself. He broke into a smile. It was stunning to watch. It was almost worth forty cents.

What do you think about this part of the book?

Everybody I know is busy, including me.  Where are those golden years I was planning on of sitting on the back porch picking my guitar? So I will send just one little part of the book at a time. You can give it a quick read and tell me what you think if you would like.

I’ve slimmed that process down to two questions, and four strokes on the key board (six if you count “Reply” and “Send.”)

The questions are these:“A” How much did you enjoy this?

“B” How much do you think a person who doesn’t know Duane Hiatt would enjoy this?

The rating is:1. Glanced at it, printed it out and lined the bottom of the bird cage with it.

2. Sped-read it and filed it with my tax return receipts

3. Thought it was about as interesting as a well written obituary

4. Could have put it down, but didn’t want to

5. Couldn’t put it down. Put it in a magnetic frame and stuck it onto the fridge door

So your response would perhaps be A-4, B-3, (Or maybe A-5, B-5, I’m expecting a minimum number of those.)

Also feel free to add comments if you like.

Also, also, feel free to forward this material to anyone you want to.

Next Installment If some is good, more may be better—or not, my father taught me