Wednesday, August 10, 2011

MEETING LENNY BRUCE

Once upon a time, long long ago, there were places where people would congregate to watch movies under the stars.  The screens were huge an it was a little difficult for the projectionist to focus the image of the film very sharply.

People would drive to these theaters and park upon little hills that resembled speed bumps.  The people would park their cars in an arc around the huge screen and park the car on the hill so that they could see the screen sitting back in a comfortable position without the rear view mirror getting in the way.

They were called drive in theaters.  At one time I can remember approximately twenty to thirty drive in theaters in the Kansas City area.  As the popularity of the drive ins grew, some of them added a second screen.  This would allow you to watch two movies at one time.  The problem was you could only listen to one of the movies.  There were poles sticking out of the ground every where that a car could park.  The speaker would be taken off the pole and hung on the window of the car.  It had a little knob that controlled the volume.  The sound quality was horrible.  You could get better sound from an AM radio then you could from one of these speakers.

Sometime late in the last century the popularity of the drive ins began to fall off.  They would soon try all kinds of things to keep making money.  One of the drive ins in Kansas City began to show X-rated movies.  It was a drive in theater that was located in what use to be Fairyland Park, a very popular amusement park long before in Kansas City.  A place where families use to go to all the time to ride the Wildcat roller coaster and other rides and would stay for a movie was now an adult film house under the stars.  They were able to get away with it because the screen was hidden back in the woods in the midst of lots of trees.

Other drive ins began trying to bring back the younger set to their screens.   They began showing films that had run through the new multi-screen theaters that were going up all through the suburbs drawing the movie watchers back inside.  There were advantages to going back inside to watch movies.  The seats were more comfortable, you didn't have to deal with rain storms that would blur the screens and, of course they were air conditioned.

Still there was a certain magic that the drive ins had and young people.  You could take all the snacks in with you that you wanted.  You could expect a little privacy when you were with your girl.  You could talk back to the movie when you were with a lot of friends or not have to listen to others talking back to the movie in other cars.

The biggest draw to the younger set was the midnight showings of old cult movies.  One of our favorite theaters to show Saturday night midnight flicks was the old 63rd street drive in.  They would come up with some of the strangest movies that you had never seen and probably would not see again.  They showed the classics of course like "Reefer Madness" and the like along with lots of shorts. among these you would likely be able to see the Three Stooges on the big big screen.

It was at the 63rd Street Drive In where I first met Lenny Bruce.  There were several of us in the car that night.  Mike was driving while Larry, Barb and myself rode along.  When you went to a midnight showing, you had to wait until the regular movie goers had left after watching the feature.  The entrance to the 63rd Street was long and it was steep.  Mike had a car that did not have a parking brake and so as we waited to get into the drive in, we had to put rocks under the back wheels to keep the car from rolling back down.

We finally made it into the theater and before long the midnight cult movies began to be shown.  This particular night would be a night that would add to my lifetime philosophy in a very big way.  They started off with a couple of shorts followed by a so called "Feature" film.  Then the moment I would long remember happened.

It was an animated short called "Thank You Masked Man".  It was a satirical look at the Lone Ranger and Tonto.  It was meant to be funny with a little bit of shock value.  I watched it and I enjoyed it a lot.  Larry and I began to quote some of the lines on a routine basis from that day forward.  As the credits for the little cartoon rolled I noticed a name that was given credit for writing, producing, and all of the voices in the short.  The name was that of Lenny Bruce.  It was the first time I had heard of Lenny Bruce and the first bit of his that I had heard and I liked what I had heard.

I did not go looking for more Lenny Bruce material after that night but I never forgot it either.  Then Dustin Hoffman did a film called simply "Lenny".  I read the ads about the film.  The story of one of the modern ages tragedies.  The story of a philosopher for the ages.  The story of Lenny Bruce and his trials and tribulations.

I went and saw it on it's first run.  Hoffman brought Lenny Bruce to life in one of his better performances.  In the film I heard more of Lenny's routines for the first time.  He had fought the system for freedom of speech and freedom of thought.  Between my first introduction to him back at the drive in and the eye opening film that told what Lenny was all about I became very interested in him.  When I heard George Carlin say that his main influence was Lenny Bruce, I became a fan.

Lenny and I share a birthday. We were both born on October 13.  Lenny was born 31 years before I was.  He died on August third when I was ten years old.  Lenny's intellect and philosophy spanned the generations though and it still does.  He fought for constitutional freedoms that were promised but suppressed.  Thanks to Lenny Bruce we were given George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Lewis Black, Margaret Cho, Sam Kinison and Kevin Smith.  Doors were opened and doors were walked through.

The 63rd Street Drive In still is there but there is no screen and there are no movies shown.  It is a swap and shop on the weekends now.  But the old sign that use to light up the night still stands indicating that it is indeed still the 63rd Street Drive In.

Still today when I drive by the 63rd Street Drive In on my way to the office, I often think of the night I met Lenny Bruce for the first time.

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