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By Jackie Davis
When I was a child in the ‘50’s and early ‘60s, there wasn’t much in the way of children’s programming nor was it necessary. We had many things other than screens to entertain us, particularly on the farm.
However, there were movies on television, old and not so old. By the late 1950s, as most of you may remember, major studios began making movies available to be broadcast on television. Some were older films, some had finished their theatrical release more recently.
In 1961, NBC began broadcasting Saturday Night at the Movies. That was a must-see at our house.
However, the first disturbing movie I watched was an older afternoon movie, shown by one of the local independent stations, The Sullivans. I remember running outside into the yard sobbing at the end it, and my mother so helpfully pointed out, “You know that really happened?” There are no words.
I can’t say just what year it was that I watched The Diary of Anne Frank (made in 1959) on Saturday Night at the Movies but I would have been eight or nine years old.
To say it made an impression on me is an understatement; I clearly remember afterwards asking my parents, “Did that really happen?” I was horrified, though I didn’t understand the extent of the horror at that time.
I read the book as soon as I could get my hands on it. At some later point in my youth, my grandfather told me that our family was German. Again, I was aghast.
The end of WWII was in the recent enough past that I even I had a rudimentary understanding of the implications. But he fixed all that when he told us our family was Jewish before they came over to this country in the late 1800s. That was in junior high.
I began to doubt the veracity of that story when I was in college and had a Jewish boyfriend; he told me it was doubtful as our last name didn’t translate right. (We knew for sure that he made it up when, as an adult, my sister checked out a genealogy book from inter-library loan. They were Lutherans.)
The Time Machine starring Rod Taylor continues to be lodged firmly in my memory. However, when I saw it as a child, what stuck with me was that in that movie, the atomic war occurred in 1964. Every time I heard a sonic boom in 1964 I went running for the cellar, sure the end was nigh.
These days, the scenes that come to mind are when the time machine goes too far into the future, as the earth is winding down and the sunrises and sunsets go back in seconds as time continues to speed up.
The finale on my scariest movie list is Fail Safe. I would have been in the fifth or sixth grade when I watched it at home on a Saturday night. There was no discussion with either of my parents after that one. At least I was able to appreciate more of Dr. Strangelove when I watched it at an age too young to fully understand the satire.
And yet we were not allowed to watch The Twilight Zone as it was deemed too scary. Geesh.
And then there was the fact that my father made me watch some of the historic events that unfolded both live and on the news in the late 50s and early 60s. “It’s history in the making,” he would say. And it was.
And I have been watching and reading those scary stories ever since.
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