The newspaper ad for The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) was the most frightening image of my childhood. I was a few months shy of my 9th birthday when my friend and I were taken downtown on the bus to see the movie by his babysitter. She may have been 14 (at least that’s the number that sticks in my head) and she lived in a trailer park across the highway from WLW-C, Channel 4. Anyway, we both were traumatized by the film. It was the scariest thing I had seen up to that point in my movie-going life (trumping Them, which I will talk about later). My friend was so shaken up that he slept with the light on for several weeks (and may have even slept in his parents’ room for a time, if I correctly interpreted what I heard his mother say). While I didn’t want to admit I had been bothered by the movie, I remember shudder going through me every time I caught sight of this ad in the newspaper. On the other hand, I couldn’t stop myself from looking. A real approach-avoidance situation.
Naturally, I set about learning everything I could about Hammer Films, the company responsible for the movie, and its star, Christopher Lee. I remember imitating the way he stalked about. He became my hero, I guess. The following year, he was back with The Horror of Dracula. By then, I was hooked and had to see every Hammer film I could find. Confront your fears and all of that. My friend, on the other hand, didn’t share my enthusiasm for monster movies. And I don’t remember seeing the babysitter again.
Nowadays, there are scarier TV shows in in prime time (e.g. The Walking Dead). And Hammer Films is back after going dormant for many years. But I still love to watch the old Hammer Films from what Esquire magazine once called “the renaissance” of horror films. There’s something rather comforting about the old monsters.
Earl Vorhees was a proud graduate of The Ohio State University and an unapologetic Buckeye booster. Over the years, he was responsible for creating a number of Ohio State commemorative items, from posters to coins to autographed footballs. In fact, he was the guy behind “100 Years of Ohio State Football” promotion. One of his last projects was a limited edition bronze bust of Coach Woody Hayes.
While Earl was working with the artist on finalizing the sculpture, they made several plaster casts of the mold. On one of his frequent visits to Columbus from his home in Florida, he brought one of the casts to show me. He didn’t want it back because it had a few flaws, so I put it in the garage. Several years went by and Earl passed away. When I was cleaning out the garage on day, I ran across the plaster head and decided to put it out in our garden. It was either that or throw it away.
The bust had a steel rod protruding from the neck, so I simply stuck it in the ground in the northwest corner of our yard facing southeast. As it so happened, it was football season. After the first game of the year, which Ohio State won, I noticed Woody had turned and was now facing southwest – in the direction of Ohio Stadium, some four or five miles away. I figured it must be some sort of prank, so I turned it back to the southeast.
The following weekend, the Buckeyes won again. And again the plaster bust of the old coach was facing southwest. Again, I figured it was some sort of joke by a neighbor, so I turned it back to the original direction. This went on for several weeks. Each time, Ohio State would win, Woody’s head would be turned towards the stadium, and afterwards I would turn it back to face the southeast.
Then one day I happened to notice there was a lot of cat hair on the plaster head. Curious, I started paying attention to the neighbor’s cat. It turned out that it liked to brush against the bust of Woody Hayes, always on the east side, gently nudging the head in a clockwise direction as its body rubbed against the bill of Woody’s cap. By week’s end, Coach Woodrow Wilson Hayes was once again facing Ohio Stadium.
The mystery solved, I didn’t give it much more thought – that is until the Buckeyes lost a game. When I looked out across my backyard, Woody was still facing southeast, away from Ohio Stadium. The cat apparently had stopped brushing up against the plaster bust. So, naturally, I took it upon myself to turn Woody back to face Ohio Stadium, where he remains to this day. Sadly, the bill of his cap is gone, as are his glasses, and his face is slowly eroding away.
The magic is gone, too. Woody’s head no longer guarantees a win.
SI-U, Ohio State’s “Sidewalk University,” was an informal fraternity formed by guys who didn’t have the money to join a regular fraternity. It met at Smitty’s Corner, a drug store at 16th Ave. and High St., as well as in the basement of Hill Tailoring Co.
Smitty’s was operated by Nate Fraher and Jim “Smitty” Smith. As early as 1932, during the great depression, it became a hangout for O.S.U. athletes. No one had much money and a lot of Smitty’s business was “on the cuff.”
At some point, Fraher, Smith, and some of the regulars such as Bob Hill, Jack Conrad, and future governor Jim Rhodes began calling themselves SI-U. There were no charter, no dues, no song, no handshake – they were just a bunch of friends, enjoying each other’s company.
Supposedly, they used a beer bottle cap as a pledge pin. And it is claimed there was no fraternity pin, but at some point somebody apparently created one (see photo). I suspect it was for their later alumni get-togethers where they would honor such people as Jerry Lucas, Jesse Owens, Milton Caniff, and Woody Hayes.
Whether they still exist, I have no idea.
Among his many accomplishments (and, from my standpoint, the most important) was coming through the Civil War unscathed. His two brothers, on the other hand, died during the fighting in West Virginia.
For many years, Fritz was captain of a state boat – the Homer Meacham – plying the Miami & Erie Canal. Later, he was awarded the contract for bringing mail from Botkins to New Bremen. He was one of two canal boat captains who made their home in New Bremen. The other was Bill Combs. When the nearby Lock One was restored in recent years, town historian Delores Stienecker recalled a conversation she had with Combs. “He’d always tell about how the canal boat crews would jump off the boats as they waited at Lock One and fight each other to see who would go through the lock first.”
I was always curious about the name, Homer Meacham. A photo of the boat was used on the cover of this book and used to be the backdrop for the canal exhibit at the Ohio Historical Society. I recently learned that Meacham was actually the name of a division superintendent on the canal who lived in Paulding, Ohio. The boat, itself, was a repair boat and, if I remember correctly, Fritz was responsible for maintaining the canal between Spencerville and New Bremen and, perhaps, further.
Coincidentally, Homer Meachum was the name of a “hillbilly” comedian who worked around Ohio in the ‘thirties and ‘forties. His roots apparently went back into the old minstrel shows and is remembered for having said, “They’ll always come back for the cork.”
The coolest guy in our Junior Achievement television company was Keith. Rail thin with neatly coiffed hair, I don’t recall ever seeing him when he wasn’t dressed in a sport coat with a colored shirt, narrow tie, and pointy boots. He was also a musician (he played the electric bass), and had just released a recording of two of his original songs. The lyrics of one of them were: “Come on girl, don’t be afraid / We’re gonna tear down the wall that you made / All around you / Gir-ir-irl, all around you.”
Keith’s band, The Myrchents, included his cousin, Jack, and some of their friends. They had recorded their 45 at Mus-i-col Studios which wanted to start its own label to compete with Cincinnati’s Counterpart. (Counterpart had enjoyed a measure of success promoting a Columbus band, The Fifth Order.) With Mus-i-col’s backing, The Myrchents recorded a second 45 for the studio’s Ironbeat label. Keith told me he designed the label to look like a pinwheel, but it was printed in reverse so it turns in the wrong direction.
Needless to say, The Myrchents did not become the next Beatles (nor even the next Fifth Order). WCOL matched The Myrchents’ single up against other recordings in a radio “battle of the bands” and they lost – big time. And then the band started coming apart as members left for various and, sometimes, unstated reasons. Keith stuck with music for a few years, most notably as a member of Sky King. (His departure from that band set the stage for the formation of The Godz, who were signed to a major label.)
After that, Keith drifted in and out of music. He had gotten into law enforcement and wasn’t comfortable being on the stage anymore. The last time I spoke with him, he was working at an elementary school and was getting a big kick out of teaching music to kids. He felt he had finally found his calling. I was hoping he had a photo of The Myrchents I could copy, but he didn’t think one had ever been taken. Then a year or two later, I was shocked to learn Keith had passed away.
Ironically, The Myrchents, now, have a world-wide following, at least in record collecting circles. The band’s recordings have been included on several compilation albums of “garage rock” bands and copies of the original 45s sell for hundreds of dollars. What sets the group apart is its proto-punk attitude and Keith’s original songs, particularly one entitled, “Indefinite Inhibition.”
How did the chorus go? “Well, it happens nearly all of the time / I want to turn and run instead of . . .” – instead of what? I don’t remember anymore and Keith isn’t returning calls.
Margo Olson was the daughter of one of my mother’s friends and, coincidentally, my Principles of Democracy teacher. If it hadn’t have been for her influence, I would have gone to The Ohio State University like my brother and sister had. In retrospect, this decision was one of the most momentous of my life. As I have mentioned previously, I was inordinately shy. I didn’t want to be, but that had come to be the expectation among my peers. It was the role I played. I knew that if I truly wanted to change, I would need to go someplace where no one knew me.
A graduate of Miami University, Margo insisted that I consider her alma mater. I also applied to the University of Wisconsin, but couldn’t afford the out-of-state tuition. So in the fall of 1966, three of us from Brookhaven enrolled at Miami – the editor of the school newspaper, the homecoming queen, and the president of the audio-visual club (me). Although the other two were far better students, I was the only one who stuck it out the entire four years. They missed their friends; I was making new ones.
Taking up residence in Stanton Hall, I found I was in a dormitory filled with guys who were even more socially backward than I was. At this point in my life, I had dated exactly two girls: Amber and Barb. However, as soon as I arrived on campus, I began asking girls I met in my classes if they would like to go out and, to my amazement, most of them did. Nearly every Friday and Saturday night, I had a date with one girl or another and, as I would leave Stanton Hall, my roommate and other residents of our corridor would line up to watch me go. I felt as though their hopes were riding on me.
One of the girls I began dating was Cheryl from J.A. Presents. For some reason, I didn’t know she was going to Miami. Soon, we were each other’s “fall-back” date in case we needed someone to go to a party or concert and couldn’t find anyone else. Cheryl was a willowy blonde a la Veronica Lake and I had more than one guy tell me how jealous they were of my girlfriend, but, in truth, we were just friends. We were both going through fraternity/sorority “rush” and it was convenient to take each other to events which required a date.
I had started out in Air Force R.O.T.C., but quit after awhile because I was being pressured to take a leadership role I didn’t want. Basically, I knew how to march because I had been a Boy Scout and there didn’t seem to be too many recruits who possessed this “essential” skill. Afterwards, the only thing I missed was not being able to keep my powder blue, wool overcoat. Cheryl, meanwhile, was a member of Angel Flight, the female wing of A.F.R.O.T.C. At the time, all the beautiful girls on campus seemed to be in Angel Flight.
Around our junior year, Cheryl and I saw less and less of each other. I knew something had happened in her home life, but I wasn’t quite sure what. It wasn’t until 35 years later that I learned it had something to do with her father. As a result, she lost her parents’ financial support and, consequently, had to make a commitment to the Air Force so that she could complete college. Following graduation, she carved out a career in the Air Force, married, and had a couple of sons.
When Cheryl’s mother died a couple of years ago, I saw the obituary in the newspaper and went to the funeral home during visiting hours to see her. She looked much the same; time has been kind to her. However, I was saddened to learn that she has no happy memories of Columbus. I didn’t push her for details, but whatever had happened way back then hadn’t been pleasant. She said that after things settled down a bit, she might give me a call so I could help her remember the good times. But she never did. Maybe it’s easier that way.
All of my energies were, now, being directed towards my part-time job with the Columbus Board of Education and my participation in J.A. Presents, the Junior Achievement television company sponsored by WLW-C. Since I left school every morning at 10:30 to go to work until 5:00, I didn’t associate with many of my classmates except for Joe and Anita who were also in J.A. Presents. (Actually, there were a few others from Brookhaven in the company, but their names escape me.)
When I finally got ready to ask a girl to the prom, it seemed like everyone I knew had already been asked. (Except for Linda; I could never get up the courage to ask her, but it would have been inconceivable to think that she was still available.) So I asked Barb. As a sophomore from a different high school, I felt the odds were pretty good that no one had asked her to Brookhaven’s senior prom. What I didn’t count on was 1) this would be her first prom and 2) first proms are a pretty big deal to teenage girls.
Barb also liked to write – so we had that it common. Joe, in the meantime, asked Sue to go with him to the prom, and we decided to double-date. Pooling our money, Joe and I rented the flashiest automobile that Hertz would dare to rent to a couple of teenage boys: a Plymouth Satellite, one of the company’s least popular models ever. As I recall, we went out to eat at the Jai-Lai, stopped in briefly at the high school to hear the Chuck Selby Orchestra play the Neal Hefti “Batman Theme” (a current hit), visited a Dairy Queen, and then drove around for several hours spraying Silly-String out the windows. However, before we could attend the “After Party” at Bridgeview Country Club, I had to take Barb home. I think her parents had set a curfew of 10:30.
After that, Barb and I dated a few more times. I remember we went to Hunt’s Cinestage Theatre to see the 1965 movie, Doctor Zhivago, and Barb couldn’t stop sobbing afterwards, even as she was apologizing for doing so. When I went away to Miami University, we exchanged letters for a time, but that was it. I assumed she went to some Ivy League school, but later found out she wound up at Ohio University.
Then a couple of years ago, we reestablished contact through her brother, a musician (now, a therapist) I had interviewed a few times over the years. Barb was working on the west coast. She had married an older, “southern gentleman,” who was the love of her life. However, when he passed away, she took a job in California. Things were going well until she came down with a disease which destroyed both of her kidneys. Desperately in need of a transplant, she was amazed to find that one of her staff was a perfect match and insisted on donating an organ. (I hope I am not garbling this story too much; it’s not as though I was taking notes.) Anyway, Barb is now in fine health and enjoying her second chance at life.
I am happy that Barb is well. I just wish when we spoke she had had more memories of me – the prom, the letters, tennis – and fewer of Joe. I guess I was never Barb’s “old flame.” Funny, I can still remember hearing WCOL radio play “Cherish” by The Association as Joe and I drove out to some place on Cleveland Avenue to pick up our tuxedos.
As I mentioned before, J.A. Presents was a Junior Achievement television company I joined during my senior year in high school. Although I saw my role as primarily being a writer, I was also tapped to be the booth announcer because I have a deep voice. That was how I became the “voice” of Tidy-Didy Diaper Service. Anita or Keith, I believe, had sold a commercial spot to Tidy-Didy and because the company did not have a ready-made commercial to run, we had to create it. Since I was in the booth, I don’t know what was actually shown on TV. I just know that when I was cued I gave forth in my best basso profundo, “And remember when you make a change, make it Tidy-Didy!”
After hearing my announcing debut, Bob, one of the good guys at the station (who also did community theatre), said, “If we ever sell caskets on TV, you’ve got a career.” I also remember doing voiceovers for Kentucky Fried Chicken, White Castle, and Continental Wigs. For Continental Wigs, I also had to design a logo because they didn’t have one (I seem to recall it was just a small, hole-in-the-wall shop downtown). Anyway, after I had come up with this hand-lettered creation done with pen-and-ink on poster board, Mike, another station employee, insisted that I bill Continental Wigs for it. I didn’t really want to, feeling that it hadn’t been part of the discussion when the commercial spot was sold, but Mike wouldn’t take no for an answer. So I did and the company begrudgingly paid me $25 (which was almost as much as the airtime cost).
Giving a bunch of teenagers free rein to create any kind of TV show they wanted probably is not what management at WLW-C had in mind when they agreed to sponsor a Junior Achievement company. Maybe they expected Mike, Bob, Lou, and the other staff to keep us under control. Whatever the case, when we decided to do a satire on high school study halls it was a recipe for disaster. All of us contributed ideas and, I think, all of us appeared on camera. My big moment was when I got up to sharpen my pencil, slipped on some marbles, and did a tremendous pratfall (I had done some high jumping in junior high, so I was an “expert” at taking falls). The other members of the cast engaged in similarly outrageous antics. We were quite pleased with result, feeling it was an accurate representation of what was going on in central Ohio high schools.
The show never aired. Apparently, someone in management got word of what we had committed to tape and decided it wouldn’t be prudent to broadcast it.
So for our grand finale, we did something really stupid. “Laugh-In” was a popular comedy show of the time and had gotten a lot of mileage out of various catch-phrases. We decided to string together a series of blackout sketches, each of which concluded with, “J.A. Presents!” (You had to have been there, I guess.) So we busily constructed a number of sets, each of which we only used for a minute or two. For example, we had some men exploring a cave and uncovering the inscription, “J.A. Presents.” The joke, as I remember it, was that we were essentially promoting a show which, since this was our final broadcast, would never been seen again.
We taped it, ran it, and said goodbye to Channel 4.
In my senior year of high school, I joined a Junior Achievement television company sponsored by WLW-C in Columbus. Instead of making and selling the usual Junior Achievement products (“Would you like to buy a jar opener?”), we were responsible for creating a weekly TV show (actually two) and selling commercial spots to pay for them. WLW-C assigned three or four of their staff (Mike, Bob, Lou) to mentor us, but, in general, we had a free hand to do pretty much what we wanted. So we kept testing the limits until our next-to-last show of the year was pulled off the air by the in-house censors.
I had actually been talked into getting involved by my best friend, Joe. He, Anita, and I represented Brookhaven High School, Barb, Dan, and Ed came from Whetstone, Sue from Worthington, Cheryl from West, Dave from Upper Arlington, and Keith from New Albany. Each of us had to wear several hats according to our interests. Mine was writing, but I also wound up doing some of the art work, set construction, booth announcing, and appeared on camera. Basically, we produced a 15-minute show every Saturday morning on a topic of our choosing and a 5-minute show each Wednesday (which consisted of an interview with a local band). We called ourselves J.A. Presents.
The golden age of live television had started to wane, but WLW-C still broadcast a morning show with host Spook Beckman every weekday morning. Beckman had been around town for more than a decade and was particularly adept at building a fan base of middle-aged women (who became card-carrying members of his “All-Pooped-Out Club”). During his tenure, Beckman was king and we were repeatedly warned not to touch anything on his set. Otherwise, we were free to “borrow” whatever furniture, props, etc., we could find at the station.
For our Wednesday morning show, we would audition bands. Mike, an assistant director at the station, took a particular interest in this. I remember once we were auditioning a band called, I believe, The Beau Jestes, and Mike had them do the same song over and over and over again – just because he could. What I didn’t realize at the time was that Mike also managed several local bands so this may have been his way of gaining more clients. One of the bands we featured was The Toads, and some twenty years later I interviewed a couple of the members when I began researching local music.
Even then, my obsession with music was well developed. As a result, I wrote and hosted one Saturday show called “The History of Folk Music.” It was the only show we did which was, essentially, a solo production – just me, the camera, and a series of cutaways to record albums I had brought in. The only one that wasn’t mine was a Joan Baez album that belonged to Barb (who wasn’t happy when they stripped away the shrink wrap and sprayed the cover with something to dull the finish so it wouldn’t reflect the studio lights).
I am not a performer, but I can read a script reasonably well. So dressed in a suit and with the hot studio lights beaming down on me, I addressed the camera and stole glances at my typewritten script whenever I could. After a few minutes, however, my hands began to sweat and the pages of the script stuck to them. I couldn’t simply turn them over, so I began letting the drop to the floor out of the view of the camera. I could also see out of the corner of my eye that the director (generally Mike) had gotten the visuals (i.e. the record album covers) out of synch with my script. Consequently, I might have been talking about Joan Baez, but the viewers were seeing Judy Collins or Ian & Sylvia. Nevertheless, the powers-that-be at WLW-C chose this program as our best and kept a tape of it around for at least a year or so. Everything else we did was taped over.
Friday night, my wife and I attended a gallery opening, something I normally am not inclined to do. I had no expectations that I would know anyone and doubted the artist would remember me, although I am a big fan of her work.
When we arrived, the gallery was already so crowded that people were spilling out into the parking lot. Nevertheless, we pushed ahead through the throng until we were inside. As my wife endeavored to get a peek at the artwork on display, I dutifully followed along behind her, oblivious to my surroundings. Then I heard a woman’s voice call out, “I think I see my old high school flame!”
Turning in her direction, I was surprised to see a woman looking at me. Her face looked vaguely familiar and a name leaped to mind, but I waited for her to say it. I was afraid I might be wrong. I also was thinking of the Spike Jones song, “My old flame, I can’t remember her name,” sung by Paul Frees in imitation of Peter Lorre. I couldn’t believe anyone would refer to me as “my old flame.”
“It’s me, Amber,” she said. She took me by the hand and started pulling me in the opposite direction.
Memories began flooding back. To put things in perspective, I was president of the audio-visual crew. Seriously. A nerd’s nerd – socially awkward and shy. And Amber was the first girl I ever asked out on a date. We got to know each other in speech class when she asked to borrow my copy of “Tom Jones” (the screenplay of the Tony Richardson film). Which she promptly lost. But it was an opening.
I felt Amber was the artiest, most sophisticated girl in our high school. And after I heard her sing, “Girl From Ipanema,” I worked up the courage to ask her out. We went to see Richard Burton and Claire Bloom in “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold” at Cinema East. She seemed stunned by the downer ending and as we left the theater she found a bench, sat down, and said nothing for several minutes.
That summer, I went on vacation with my parents. We drove to Seattle and back. Along the way, I sent Amber a postcard every opportunity I got, providing her with a running commentary on my trip. I believe I called them “The Postcard Chronicles,” or some such thing.
I hadn’t seen Amber in 43 years, but I had thought about her from time-to-time, hoping she was well. Now, one of the first things she said was she had been thinking of me lately – and that she still had my postcards. We introduced our respective spouses and briefly recounted our lives since we had last seen one another. Before we parted, Amber said, “Let’s not lose track of each other this time.” She then added, “Do you have a website?”
A timely question. Just this week, I had registered the URL davidmeyers.biz and had spent a number of hours constructing a website, including this blog.
“Yeah,” I said, and gave her my card.