The horror of seeing a young girl’s arm slashed by an old witch in Boris Karloff’s Thriller… the acute embarrassment of seeing the Beaver photographed by Fred Rutherford during his first kiss. Memories of the past haunt the present and remind us of lost innocence.
I think I imprinted on the black peignoir that Laura wore in the Dick Van Dyke episode in which Rob got into a skiing accident and Laura (clad in black) lovingly kissed and comforted him. (“Don’t Trip Over That Mountain.”)
That sequence of allure, witnessed so long ago (in 1963), has created wonderful whorls of psychological scar tissue, to be discussed later.
In 1962, I experienced my first tragic ending in a movie, years after its initial release: the gut-wrenching last minutes of Something of Value, in which a Kenyan rebel named Kimani (played by Sidney Poitier) is savagely killed after falling into a pit of bamboo spikes. (Re-released in 1962 as Africa Ablaze.)
I find it critical to catalog such climactic scenes; due to my obsessional nature, such “cusp” events stick like teeth to my mental calendar. To relive a state of mind is to pin it down forever.
My obsessions frequently involve time, and to illustrate this principle, let’s return to the black peignoir. For example, how old was I during that Dick Van Dyke episode, just mentioned? The copyright date is 1963. However, does that date refer to the show’s original creation, or to its first airing? Was it telecast in the fall? … Or the following year?
I should point out that I turned eleven in October 1963. What are the chances I saw Laura’s lingerie before my eleventh birthday? (If I first saw it in November or December, I was already eleven.) If the episode appeared at the beginning of the year, I would have been a young ten-years-old. If I first saw it as a summer rerun (or in September), I would have been almost-eleven. The exact date is important! The difference of a few months — in childhood years — can equate to the passage of a geological era.
It’s probable that I first saw the Dick Van Dyke episode as an original, not as a rerun. (The originals exceeded the number of reruns.) If an episode wasn’t a repeat, then it was probably seen during the first half of the year, or else during the period of September to December.
Let’s settle this once and for all. I was probably about ten-years-old when I first laid eyes on Laura’s lacy negligee. That’s when my libido hatched out of its chrysalis, giving birth to my earliest moments of puberty.
Some of us are doomed to integrate our memories into neat, ordered patterns. The great Robert Osborne (former host of Turner Classic Movies), once kept a diary of everything he saw. (His voluminous written notes in college prepared him for his illustrious film career.)
In the absence of total recall, our impressions of the past are like wisps of smoke; as we age, our impressions grow dimmer.
Archaeologists through the centuries have sought the impossible dream: To scan the light of a blessed relic (like the first rapture of adolescence) and to dissect it under a microscope.
I share the same impulse to decipher the past; and, if I can, to capture time in a bottle.
In pursuit of this goal, it seems that all I can manage (most of the time) is to try to keep track of the grains of sand as they trickle through my fingers.
(UPDATE: I have looked up “Don’t Trip Over That Mountain” on IMDb. Its release date is listed as 20 February. That’s significant! But the question remains: Did I see it as a premiere…or as a rerun? Or in later syndication?)
I will never know for sure, but the dream persists.