The First Queen of My Screen Dreams

I recently pondered the question “who was my first celebrity crush?” after seeing ‘Kill Bill 2′ and hearing one of Michael Parks’ characters (the old pimp) reminisce about witnessing young Bill’s first blonde infatuation, Veronica Lake, at the movies. This memory also serves to answer the question “How long have I loved film?”

When I was a kid, I remember my folks wanting to go see the original ‘Walking Tall’ at a nearby drive-in but I badgered them into dropping me and my brother downtown to see ‘Scream, Blacula, Scream’ at the Florida Theatre because William Marshall was the man in Blacula and Pam Grier was a voodoo priestess in this one.

I was probably 11, my brother was 9 or 10. This was 1973 and the Florida Theatre was in hardcore pre-restoratian decay. This was also long before the SB Church bought up huge swathes of downtown acreage for a mega-house of worship and parking garages, and the Jacksonville Landing existed, and things got so tidy we had to bus in prostitutes for that Super Bowl we hosted. This was only a few years after some locals (including neighbors) had gone downtown with bats and axe handles to intimidate voters of color.

I’m sure we were the only white kids for miles after our parents drove off with our youngest brother. I got our tickets and led my brother into the massive and still impressive space. It was rundown and spooky so we were super stoked, real film kid heaven. We got close to the front and had to flip our seats up and sit on the top edge to see over the seriously large afros in front of us and I don’t remember buying any snacks but none of that seemed to dampen our enthusiasm to see a vampire movie by ourselves. I know we enjoyed this still-classic piece of ’70’s black cinema because it still gives me a warm feeling thinking about it over half-a-century later. I remember commenting on Elizabeth Taylor’s butt in Cleopatra at the drive-in but she didn’t hypnotize me and command my gaze like Ms. Grier did that afternoon.

When the movie ended, we stood on the sidewalk in front of the theater, holding hands like a couple of innocents from the Midwest. Many were the passerbies who did a double takes and looked at us disbelievingly or with a surprised side glance. I vaguely understood why but wasn’t stressing about it; in fact, I felt we were special, not because of our color but because of our great film taste:

“Yeah, that’s right, we’re only four feet tall but we came down here for Pam Grier. Look out, we’re bad little crumbsnatchers!”

After ten to fifteen minutes a couple of white cops pulled over to the curb in their patrol car. The one closest to us on the passenger side rolled down his window and – looking concerned AF – asked us if we were lost. I remember wondering why they looked so worried and not marveling at our hipness like everyone else (at the time I didn’t understand the distinction between amazement and incredulity). I stood there grinning like a dolt and told them no, we’re just waiting on our folks. I wanted to tell him how great the movie was and how I was now in love with Pam Grier, but they didn’t really seem interested in that and – once satisfied that we weren’t being trafficked – drove off.

It was a great movie, I’d definitely recommend seeing both Blacula’s (and maybe Ganja and Hess or Vamp if you really want to binge). I never got around to seeing ‘Walking Tall’ btw.

Thank you.

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