Saturday, August 31, 2013

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 9/2/63 to 9/8/63

Rome's growth spurt continued: Rome/Floyd County retail sales in the second quarter of 1963 showed a growth of 3.5%, or more than a million dollars (and this was a time when a million dollars actually meant something... cue dr. Evil...). Not only is the growth noteworthy, but it's also interesting to note that it took the state until early September to tally all the figures for April-through-June sales in those pre-computer days. It's easy to forge tthat information access wasn't always instantaneous!

West Rome launched their football season on September 6th by confronting Rossville, the George Class AA Champions, on their home turf. "You can't accuse West Rome of hunting for a breather! The plain fact is that, on paper, we're just outclassed in this one," Coach Paul Kennedy said. Nevertheless, West Rome fought 'til the very end, though: Rossville barely won in a 14-12 game that wasn't decided ntil the very end of the game. "I think they just happened to relize they were bout to lose their first ball game at home in five years," Kennedy explained regarding the fourth-quarter touchdowns that put Rossville ahead (West Rome was winning 12-0 as the fourth quarter began). "I really think that tradition is what beat us." The Chieftains may have lost, but the game was so close that everyone had to consider West Rome a real contender as the season began.

One more sign that high school football season was here: Pure Oil stations in Rome were selling 69¢ stadium cushion seats--you know, those cheapo vinyl-covered fiber-filled seats that provided some comfort and insulation from cold bleachers or concrete seats. I certainly remember that we had a couple of those, and I suspect we weren't the only ones...

And apparently hunting season was pretty big in 1963: Economy Auto was advertising Springfield shotguns from as low as $23, all the way up to $106 for a Springfield automatic five-shot rifle. Don't see too many ads like that today!

The Rome City School System launched its new driver education courses under the direction of Don Unsworth; students spent 3 hours in the classroom and 6 hours behind the wheel of a car. West Rome students attended class from 6pm until 8pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday evenings. I presume everyone who took the course from Mr. Unsworth still remembers those gory driver's ed films that were intended to scare us into being careful drivers.

A new school year meant new club meeting schedules. The Tri-Hi-Y and Hi-Y met every Tuesday at 8:10 AM; the Pep Club met every Wednesday at 8:10 AM; the Jets and Science Club met every Thursday at 8 AM; and the Honor Society met every Friday at 8:10 AM.

Lynda Hill was selected to represent West Rome in the Miss Coosa Valley Fair contest.

In 1963, those of us who rode a bus to school may remember that we rode city transit buses, not traditional school buses. The bus schedule was published in the Rome News-Tribune on September 4th (apparently it took them that long to finalize the schedules), and it obviously took a look of finagling to work out a schedule for all the city schools with the limited number of buses that the City Transit Department had on hand! Student population growth accounted for much of the scheduling difficulty; West Rome had 925 students enrolled for the 1963-64 school year.

Couch's had ground beef for 39¢ a pound, Peter Pan chunk tuna for 29¢ (and no, that's not a typo--apparently there was a Peter Pan canned tuna in 1963!), and four rolls of Northern toilet tissue for 35¢.Kroger had medium fresh eggs for 39¢ a dozen; fryers for a quarter a pound; and catnaloupes for 19¢ each. Piggly Wiggly had seedless grapes for 15¢ a pound, Tab for 89¢ a case ("Just 1 calorie per 6 ounce serving... but brimming with flavor!"), and Fig Newtons for 35¢ a box. A&P had all meat bologna for 49¢ a pound, bananas for a dime a pound, and Marvel ice milk for 39¢ a half gallon. Big Apple had chuck roast for 37¢ a pound, yams for 8¢ a pound, and turkeys for 39¢ a pound.

The first half of the week brought The Thrill of It All (with Doris Day & James Garner) to the DeSoto; A Gathering of Eagles (with Rock Hudson) to the First Avenue; and It Happened at the World's Fair (with Elvis Presley) to the West Rome Drive-In. The weekend brought Lady and the Tramp and Almost Angels to the DeSoto; The Trojan Horse (a Steve Reeves sword-and-sandal flick) and The Mongols (with Jack Palance & Anita Ekberg) to the First Avenue; and Duel of the Titans (yet another Steve Reeves sword-and-sandal flick!) to the West Rome Drive-In. Then, beginning Sunday, both the First Avenue Theater and the West Rome Drive-In showed Brigitte Bardot's Please, Not Now ("the most provocative comedy of the year")--showing that sexy sold quite well, even back in 1963!

The number one song this week in 1963 was "My Boyfriend's Back" by the Angels. Other top ten hits included "Blue Velvet" by Bobby Vinton (#2); "If I Had a Hammer" by Trini Lopez (#3); "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah" by Allan Sherman (#4); "Heat Wave" by Martha & the Vandellas (#5); "Then He Kissed Me" by the Crystals (#6); "Surfer Girl" by the Beach Boys (#7); "Monkey Time" by Major Lance (#8); "Sally Go 'Round the Roses" by the Jaynetts (#9); and "Mockingbird" by Inez Foxx (#10).

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 8/26/63 to 9/1/63

You could tell that school was beginning, because all sorts of stores were advertising back to school sales. Enloe's, Wyatt's, Brackett's, Murphy's--all of them were advertising specials on school supplies, from your basic pencils and pens and tablets adn carayons to water colors, paints, fountain pens, ball point pens, scissors, construction paper, gym backs, school-mascot-decorated binders, and more. $1.39 could get you everything you needed from the first grade school supply list; 99¢ filled the needs of second and third graders; and $1.89 was al it took to send 3rd through 7th graders back to class fully stocked. No special list for high school students, of course, because our varied schedules meant that no standardized list was possible.

Rome and Floyd County school were packed as the year began, with enrollment up more than 4% in the Floyd County system and 3% in the Rome City system. As we all knew, West Rome saw more growth than East rome, thanks to the number of new homes being built in the West Rome area.

Coach Paul Kennedy was optimistic as the Chieftain's football season was approaching. "The boys' spirits and attitudes are still good, but some injuries and sickness may hurt us in the opening game, Kennedy told Don Biggers, who had recently become the sports editor at the Rome News-Tribune (we were proud of you, Dad!). West Rome's first game was against Rossville, the defending region champions. In typical Coach Kennedy form, he added that "I guess we'll be trying to get out of the game without being humiliated or suffering any serious injuries."

Rome's professional football team, the Bisons, proved that they weren't really ready for prime time as they posted another loss on August 31st, falling to the Chattanooga Cherokee. That left Rome with a 0-5 record, which isn't exactly the way to build a successful football franchise...

Gala Shopping Center came one step closer to reality when land negotiations were completed for the entire corner of Shorter Avenue/Alabama Road and Redmond Circle. The final land deals paved the way (no pun intended... well, not initially, at least!) for a major shopping center with more than a thousand parking spaces. G.L. Sutton announced plans to begin grading in the fall, with construction following soon after; the shopping center was slated to open in the second or third quarter of 1964, and Sutton said that Romans would be very pleased to learn about the new merchants who were coming to Rome (in 1963, most of us had never heard of Big K!).

The Coosa Valley Fair was still a month away, but fair organizers were already touting their celebrity performer. George Hamilton IV (well known in 1963 for his hit "A Rose and a Baby Ruth" as well as his ferequent appearances on network television) was slated to perform at the 1963 fair. And if that wasn't enough, the fair's organizers also said that they were bringing to Rome many of the same fair rides that had been featured at the recent Seattle World's Fair, including the giant Sky-Wheel. (Tilt-a-Whirl, here I come!)

Grocery specials for the week included pickled peaches for a quarter a jar, ice milk for 33¢ a half-gallon, and a case of Coca Cola for 89¢ at Piggly Wiggly. Kroger undercut them by offering that same case of Cokes for 69¢, as well as a large box of Tide detergent for 19¢ and a one-pound can of Kroger coffee for 49¢. Big Apple had 5 pounds of sugar for 55¢. ground beef for 39¢ a pound, and Maxwell House coffee for 49¢ a pound. A&P countered with tomatoes for 15¢ a pound, whole fryers for a quarter a pound, and bananas for 9¢ a pound. Couch's had watermelons for 33¢ each, sirloin steak for 89¢ a pound, and corn for a nickel an ear.

The first half of the week saw Summer Magic airing at the DeSoto; the "rowdy, risqué, rioutous" Carry On, Teacher at the First Avenue (I had no idea the First Avenue was home to so many naughty films!), and the equally tawdry-sounding Nature Girl & the Slaver and The Shame of the Sabine Women at the West Rome Drive-In. The weekend brought The Thrill of It All (with Doris Day and James Garner) to the DeSoto, A Gathering of Eagles (with Rock Hudson) to the First Avenue, and Elvis Presley's It Happened at the World's Fair at the West Rome Drive-In.

The Angels' "My Boyfriend's Back" was the number one song this week in 1963. Other top ten hits included "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah" by Allan Sherman (#2); "If I Had a Hammer" by Trini Lopez (#3); "Blue Velvet" by Bobby Vinton (#4) "Candy Girl" by the Four Seasons (#5); "Heat Wave" by Martha and the Vandellas (#6); "Mockingbird" by Inez Foxx (#7); "The Monkey Time" by Major Lance (#8); "Blowin' in the Wind" by Peter, Paul, & Mary (#9); and "Hey Girl" by Freddie Scott (#10).

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Happy Birthday, Jack!

Today would have been Jack Kirby's 96th birthday were he still with us. If you don't know who Jack Kirby is, you might wonder why that matters--but if you've ever enjoyed Marvel characters like the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, the Silver Surfer, the Avengers, the X-Men, Captain America, or Thor, you owe a debt of gratitude to the brilliant artist who envisioned these characters. Heck, if you're a Spider-Man fan, you  should celebrate Mr. Kirby's life and accomplishments as well--because while Kirby didn't illustrate Spider-Man (other than a cover here and a story there), he did make the Marvel Universe so popular that it was popular for Spider-Man to join Marvel's superhero world in 1962.

My admiration of Kirby is well documented: even before I enjoyed superhero stories, I thrilled to his pre-hero monster and SF tales for Strange Tales, Journey into Mystery, Tales of Suspense, and Tales to Astonish. His art enthralled me; his monsters were massive and monstrous, his action sequences were dynamic, his panels struggled to contain the energy that he conveyed in his linework. I was a Marvel superhero fan from the moment I saw his artwork on Fantastic Four #1; even though I wasn't capable of putting an artist's name with his work at that time, I knew this was the work of a man who was equally adept at drawing the monstrous, the grotesque, and the heroic. He brought a monster-movie sensibility to superhero comics in a way that no one else did, and I loved it.

On his birthday, I'll share two Kirby stories that my friends have heard me tell and retell.

Story Number One: At one San Diego Comic Con, I was lucky enough to enjoy a lengthy conversation with Jack and wife Ros. I had interviewed Jack over the phone previously, and wanted to introduce myself and express my sincere admiration for his work. Jack remembered me and invited my friend Charles and I to join him. We had been talking for several minutes when a brusque man stepped directly in front of me, his back to me as he greeted Jack and began talking to him. He didn't even acknowledge that we existed; he acted as if he thought it would be beneath him to speak to us at all. Suddenly Jack interrupted him by putting his hand up; the speaker halted, at which point Jack pointed to me and to Charles and said, "Bob, have you met my friends Cliff and Charles? Cliff, Charles--this is Bob Kane." Bob Kane, of course, is the man who has been contractually credited as the creator of Batman  (although I would argue that Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson deserve much of the credit for that). At that moment, though, Bob was just a guy who had interrupted a conversation, and Jack wouldn't let him get away with it. Jack treated everyone with equal respect, and expected the same of others--even those with an ego as large as Bob Kane's.

Story Number Two: Jack regaled us with conversations about his war experiences, with tales of his work in the early days of Marvel's Silver Age, about moving to California--and then he began asking us questions. What got us into comics? What titles did we like? Then, since I had mentioned being a fan of his work from the beginning of the Marvel Age, he asked me what was my favorite story of his. I replied instantly. "'Fantastic Four #4. I loved that Sub-Mariner story," I told him. Jack smiled; the he looked me in the eye, and said with absolute sincerity, "Cliff, I drew that story for you." And  at that moment, I believed it just as much as he did. I have never looked at that wonderful story the same way since then; it holds a special significance, because when Jack drew it he knew that there were legions of younger readers like me who had never heard of the Sub-Mariner before, but would be captivated by Kirby's reintroduction of the character into the then-new Marvel Universe.

Thanks, Jack--thanks for the memories, thanks for the talent and genius you shared with us, thank for the amazing worlds of imagination you let us peer into. And 96 years later, I commemorate your birth and want you to know that you changed my life.