Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Cinevent Film Festival Turns 50

This is big news. So big it will be the only blog post I make this month.

In May of 2018, thousands of classic film fans will gather in Columbus, Ohio, for the 50th consecutive year to attend the Cinevent Classic Film Convention. The convention, first held in 1969, celebrated the history of movies with screenings of dozens of movies, including silent films with live piano accompaniment, and an enormous dealers room for the buying, selling, and trading of films, movie posters, and a wide variety of other film-related merchandise.

The mid-1960s saw the beginning of classic film conventions starting with Cinecon and then followed by regional Cinecons. In 1967 and 1968, Bob Cooper, who owned Cooper’s Film Rental, held regional conventions just an hour’s drive down I-70 from Columbus in Dayton, Ohio. When he decided to not hold another convention in 1969, two of the founders of Cinevent -- John Stingley and Steve Haynes -- asked Bob if he would mind if they took over the show. With help from other members of the Columbus Cinelodeon Club, they held their first convention (not yet named Cinevent) in May of 1969 at the Neil House in downtown Columbus.

Steve Haynes, co-founder of Cinevent.

Little did they know that this first convention was the beginning of what would become an annual tradition that would span decades. It started out with just a few dozen attendees. The films were not prearranged -- people brought along films they wanted to propose showing -- and the only dealer/vendor was Bob Cooper who sold items from the back of the screening room during breaks between films. Nevertheless, the show was a hit and later in the year the crew started talking about holding another show the following year.

For the second convention, the club decided to rent a print of Harry Langdon’s The Strong Man and advertised that it would be screened at the show. Today, if you search for “Harry Langdon Strong Man” on YouTube, you will find the film in its entirety. In 1970, however, this was a hard-to-find film and Langdon was a major draw for attendees to come see it. For the second year the convention moved to Hotel Fort Hayes, another downtown Columbus venue.

It was not until the third convention, held in 1971, that the name Cinevent was used. Due to a disagreement about what qualified as a “Regional Cinecon,” the Columbus group was asked not to use that name any more. A local attorney and jazz film collector John Baker, generally considered one of the three founders of Cinevent with Stingley and Haynes, came up with several suggestions and he and Stingley and Haynes proposed Cinevent as the name for the 1971 show. Forty-seven years later, the name remains.

Throughout the 1970s, the convention quickly grew, from thirty or so people at that first show in 1969 to hundreds at the shows in the late-1970s. At some point during this time, the first official dealer’s room was set up as well. With this growth came the need to move from hotel to hotel to accommodate the larger gathering. Among the hotels Cinevent called home was a Howard Johnson’s on 161 and a Marriott on the southeast side of Columbus.

Example of movie posters and lobby cards you can find in the vendor room.

The film schedule formulated by request of the attendees, selecting specific actors and film series at certain times of the day. While a minimalistic “program book” printed for 1974’s event does list ten specific screenings, there were also nine spots for features “To Be Announced.” By 1980, only a reference to “informal screenings” before the 7pm Friday program start remained as a vestige of those early schedule-free shows. Also beginning at this time was the scheduling of Cinevent over Memorial Day weekend – a weekend that attendees could almost always count on to remember the dates of next year’s show.

Another noteworthy development from the 1970s was the addition of Art Graves, an associate of John Baker’s, as one of the convention co-chairs. Baker was older than both Stingley and Haynes and, knowing he would be retiring sooner than the other chairs, he brought Graves in to the management of the convention to help fill his eventual departure.

Leonard Maltin, guest of honor at this year's show.
Every year there are at least a dozen movies screened that have never aired on television in decades, or been released commercially on VHS or DVD. This provides attendees an opportunity to enjoy something rare. As with the 1970 screening of The Strong Man, the staff of Cinevent are proud to continue that tradition of screening hard-to-find movies. In 1981, a screening of The Black Pirates with Douglas Fairbanks was planned, but the deal to rent the print fell through and it was not until 1989 that it was screened at Cinevent. There were other notable titles shown such as the 1935 version of She, which had been thought to be lost for many years until a print turned up several years before it was shown at the 1984 convention.

The 1990s were a boom era for Cinevent with an article in Ohio state magazine, contributing to a major attendance boost, as well as a recurring nostalgic boom in the trade industry. In the middle of that decade, Morris Everett’s annual Hollywood Poster Auction started running alongside Cinevent every year and in 1999 the convention began offering Sunday morning 35mm screenings at The Ohio State University’s Wexner Center for the Arts – with buses hired to transport hundreds of filmgoers. The first such screening was of 1924’s PETER PAN with Betty Bronson where longtime Cinevent accompanist Dr. Philip Carli and the Flower City Society Orchestra performed Carli’s newly written score for the film. While the Sunday Wexner Center screening program only lasted for several years, the Wexner Center continues to schedule a Wednesday evening classic film double-bill to help kick off the convention.

The turn of the millennium saw more change come to Cinevent. In 2002, Art Graves stepped down as co-chairman and as he was not officially replaced, Haynes and Stingley were responsible for running the show from there. Only several years later, in early 2007, John Stingley passed away, leaving Steve Haynes as the sole surviving founder of Cinevent (Baker had died as well, in 1998.) Throughout all this, the convention kept rolling along, year after year with dozens of film screenings and its traditional enormous dealers room, packed with goodies.

The Internet helped promote the event, along with articles in the monthly Classic Images publication. It seemed like nothing to top the momentum of Cinevent until 2015, which brought a seismic shift to the convention as preparations for its 47th occurrence were under way. In late January of that year, Steve Haynes fell outside his home and went in for surgery to repair his broken leg. It was there that he discovered he had advanced-stage cancer. His son, Michael, began working on the activities needed to prepare for the convention, as did others, but there were more obstacles to come. In mid-February, the convention’s longtime hotel suddenly closed. With just over three months until the show was to be held, Cinevent had no home. Dozens of calls were placed to area hotels, trying to find a fit for the show, but between hotels that were already booked or were too small or were too expensive, finding one began to look unlikely. The convention was too large to fit into any hotel. Finally, a deal was struck with the Renaissance Downtown hotel, bringing Cinevent back to downtown Columbus for the first time in almost 40 years.

Sadly, Steve Haynes did not live to see the ultimate success of Cinevent 47, despite its many obstacles, as he died in April of 2015. The convention that year saw many tributes to the last of its founders and the attendees were delighted when new chair Michael Haynes announced that Cinevent would continue.

Cinevent signed a multi-year deal to stay at the Renaissance in 2016 and 2017. In 2017 a special screening of the recently-rediscovered print of Laurel and Hardy’s The Battle of the Century occurred and Cinevent announced that the convention would return to the same location in May 2018 for its Golden Celebration.

Already announced as part of this year’s show are screenings of Dreamboat with Ginger Rogers, Sea Spoilers with John Wayne, The King of Wild Horses featuring Charley Chase in an atypical role, and Don’t Change Your Husband with Gloria Swanson. The John Wayne film, as a perfect example, is one of five or six action films he did for Universal Studios in the early-to-mid 1930s, before he became known as a cowboy star. If you thought you saw every John Wayne film ever made, guess again. In addition to the film program and the massive dealer’s room, New York Times best-selling author Scott Eyman will be attending, as well as film critic Leonard Maltin. There will also be a reception to celebrate the milestone year, a commemorative program guide, and other special events.

Information about attending this year’s show can be found on the Cinevent website (www.cinevent.com) and you can follow their Facebook page (www.facebook.com/cineventconvention) for updates.

STRONG PERSONAL NOTE: If you cannot afford the expensive luxury of flying to California and attending the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival this April, consider attending Cinevent. Fifty years is a milestone and worthy of attending. You will not regret it.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Radio Drama and Comedy Writers, 1928 - 1962

Ryan Ellett has a new book out through McFarland Publishing. For radio buffs like myself, this is a welcome addition to my bookshelf. My concern is whether or not this 230-page reference guide will be accepted with arms wide open from the general collector. As Ryan explained in his Preface, "In a literature that includes hundreds of books and even more articles penned by professional historians and devoted amateur enthusiasts, the writers of those old-time radio programs lack a resource with a singular focus on their output. This book attempts to remedy that oversight..."

What Ryan is referring to is the consultation of published reference guides as they lend themselves to assistance in research. In my field, for example, my custom-built bookshelves contains two shelves of "essentials" -- that is, books I consult so often that I group them together for easy access. Some of the paperbacks were made into hardcovers thanks to my local printer (or replaced with the hardcover editions when they became available). Then there are the second tier reference guides -- books I pull off the shelf to consult the indexes and determine if any of them have something I might be looking for. Nothing in the index? Back on the shelf they go. The third tier books are ones I have rarely consulted but maintain possession in the event I need to turn to them. The price was right at the time and I could not turn them down. Some are so old and loaded with so many mistakes that the only reason I keep them is to consult once in a blue moon on the off chance I can use them to track down the source of errors. 

Ryan's book falls into the second tier level and this is not to say his book is bad. On the contrary, within minutes of flipping through the pages I knew this was an essential second-tier book because of the wealth of material contained in alphabetical order. Like all the other books on my shelf, almost every radio program I research in the future will require a quick consultation of what has been put to print and Ryan can be sure I will be pulling this one off the shelf many times. 

Essentially this book lists radio script writers and brief biographies, along with extant radio credits. Les Crutchfield, for example, was working as an engineer at Cal Tech when he first met Norman Macdonnell. His graduate studies included physical chemistry and mathematics which led him for a time into the mining industry as a foreman and explosives expert. He eventually became an established radio script writer for such programs as GunsmokeThe Man Called X, Suspense, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and Escape, among others. This is the kind of information you can find easily with or without the index. 

Ryan Ellett attempted to fill a void that was necessary for researchers of old-time radio programs to pull off the bookshelf with ease of access. He accomplished his goal and for that, my sincere appreciation.

You can purchase your copy here:

Friday, February 16, 2018

Filmfax Magazine Celebrates A Milestone

In 1986, editor Michael Stein introduced us to a new magazine that would preoccupy hundreds -- if not thousands -- of hours of pleasurable reading, saturating my love of nostalgic pop culture. As Stein remarked in his editorial in the premiere issue, "Filmfax is not a 'nostalgia' magazine. Filmfax is a graphic time machine powered by your interest, and the memories and opinions o those who have contributed to our editorial body." If you love those old Universal Studios monster movies, 1950s film noir, The Three Stooges, Space Patrol, interviews with actors and directors like Roger Corman and Julie Adams, this is a great magazine.

I first discovered Filmfax in 1992 when I bought the most recent issue from a vendor at a convention in Baltimore. There was the creature from This Island Earth plastered on the cover, larger than life. There was an article about comic book heroes adapted for the cliffhanger serials, an interview with character actor Turban Bey, an interview with Russell Johnson (Gilligan's Island), an interview with Mark Goddard from Lost in Space and Johnny Gringo, and other engrossing articles. Over time I enjoyed reading an interview with Fess Parker, the making of Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, a biography of Hans Corned, a history of radio and television's Dragnet, an interview with Bill Scott (co-creator of Rocky and Bullwinkle), a making-of documentary of Beverly Garland's Decoy, and a rare interview with Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of OZ). 

As a fan boy, the magazine was fantastic. For a generation that grew up with Famous Monsters of Filmland, I could understand how a bi-monthly magazine would become part of my childhood. I remember when one of my high school teachers took the magazine away from me because I was more fascinated in reading an article than classwork in front of me. (He would return the magazine to me a fe ways later but not before confessing that he himself read the magazine and loved those old black and white monster movies.) Over the years I sought out back issues when the pricing was affordable and I am proud to say I now have almost every issue in my collection. For collectors today: The first two issues sell for ransom prices and fluctuate based on market trends -- from $125 to $280. Issues #3 to 14 sell anywhere from $10 to $30. Issues #15 and up can sell anywhere from $3 (sale price) to $5.  

By issue #61 (June/July 1997), I started noticing an editorial change with two issues consisting of VHS/video reviews (possibly because the magazine was swamped with too many complementaries that was necessary to review else the complementaries stopped coming in) and too many articles about Bela Lugosi and Bettie Page to make me question renewing my subscription. Also, there were too many advertisements of products sold by the magazine (not a third-party paid advertiser) that I felt like I was paying for a mail order catalog. Factoid of the day: Most people do not decide overnight to stop subscribing to a magazine -- they simply let the subscription lapse and have no incentive to renew when the time comes around. That is exactly what I did. And for five years I stopped receiving the issues. 

One afternoon at the Monster Bash convention I noticed a vendor liquidating overstock of Filmfax at a rock bottom price of $2 per issue. And there were issues I never received because I let my subscription lapse. After careful review I discovered there were multiple editors over the years and as anyone with an I.Q. above room temperature knows, a magazine is only as good as the editor. So, without skipping a heartbeat, I renewed my subscription.

In full disclosure: Today, with limited time on my hands, I only read one or two articles in each issue. But I find the magazine worthy of subscribing. What arrived in my hands this week was issue #150, a milestone to be publicly acknowledged. Articles in the latest issue include "Space Kidets from the 1950s," an interview with Dick Tracy newspaper strip writer Mike Curtis, an article and interview with Clint Walker, and a biography of Marie Coolidge-Rask, who wrote the photoplay based on the famous London After Midnight motion-picture. There are a few other articles but I had to skip past seven pages of advertisements to get to the table of contents...

The magazine is no longer published six times a year. Now available as a quarterly magazine, you can subscribe at the price of $30 per calendar year or $55 for two years. There is an official website that you can make payment and sign up for a subscription, www.filmfax.com, which has not been updated since issue #127, but do not let that throw you off. The company is reliable and your subscription is ensured. Collectors also have the option of purchasing back issues for $3 or $4 a piece using an order form in their latest issue. (And a sale where you can buy ten issues for $50 postpaid, 20 issues for $90, etc.) Do not ask me why it is cheaper to buy back issues than to subscribe to today's issues but it is what it is. Many of those back issues are gems. The sale price starts with issue #15 (which features an interview with Mel Blanc) and I would recommend you start there and work your way up. A bargain of a price for hundreds of hours of satisfying reading.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Myth Debunked: Bass Reeves was NOT the Inspiration for THE LONE RANGER

For almost a decade there has circulated a myth that falsely suggested an African-American U.S. Deputy Marshal named Bass Reeves was the inspiration for the fictional character of The Lone Ranger. Triggered by recent folklore and influenced by racial bias, the myth circulated across the internet like wildfire. With a lack of concern for factual documents, many on the internet mistook myth for fact. While the real life of Bass Reeves deserves to be better-known, it is unfortunate that this fanciful “inspiration for the Lone Ranger character” theory is what has brought him additional attention.  

Besides documenting the true accomplishments of Reeves, a book published a decade ago caused unnecessary confusion by falsely suggesting he was the inspiration for the fictional character of The Lone RangerFollowing examination in archives across the country, it was discovered that three individuals, living in two different states, were responsible for the formation of The Lone Ranger. On top of this, proof was found that The Lone Ranger was intentionally patterned off of Robin Hood and Tom Mix, debunking the myth that one person deliberately created a children's program based on a historical figure that was never printed in reference books until two decades later. 

Type Bass Reeves on a standard google search and you will find websites claiming he was the inspiration for the Masked Man, but no archival or historical documents proving this statement. Thankfully, a recent 22-page thesis was published, now available as a free eBook (in PDF format), debunking the myth in detail. Also included are reprints of archival documents to back up the facts.

A link to that free PDF can be found below.

Bloggers today would provide a good turn to Bass Reeves by documenting his accomplishments, rather than repeating a myth that diverts attention from his achievements. You can also do Bass Reeves (and The Lone Ranger) a good turn by sharing this pdf on your blog, newsletter, Facebook page and other venues to get the word around. The author and publishing company is giving this away for free. And the next time someone on Facebook or social media reprints the myth, you can provide them this link.