Back in the early 1970s when I was a kid, if you wanted a poster of a celebrity, there were surprisingly few choices.
Sure, there were plenty of colorful, vaguely psychedelic photo collages of rock icons like Led Zeppelin and The Beatles - not to mention flocked, black light-sensitive enlargements of R. Crumb drawings and the like - for about $1.25 each at chain stores like Spencer Gifts (or from mail-order firms advertised in the back of Rolling Stone). But other than those - or uplifting, motivational illustrations featuring cats on branches or poems about missing sets of footprints on the beach - one's choices were limited.
There was, however, one other category of posters that piqued my curiosity: Large, black-and-white reproductions of old movie biz publicity photos. Somehow both grainy and blurry, with noticeable enlarged flaws from poorly kept or clumsily retouched negatives, these posters were limited to a handful of iconic actors, all of whom were Caucasian, and most of whom were deceased.
You had Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields, Buster Keaton, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. That was it, and those posters were everywhere. You couldn't get away from them. It's like they were the only actors whose images were legally allowed to be hung on walls. True, there were a dozen or so additional celebrities available as washed-out B&W prints, but they were historical icons like Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud and Gandhi.
Above them all, Marilyn seemed to reign supreme, and I could not for the life of me figure out why.
Now, in hindsight, I see it's because the late actress and singer was one of the very first sex symbols of the modern age, and as she died at the tender age of 36 from an overdose of pills, she'd be forever (conveniently) frozen in showbiz amber.
The same happened to another star who shuffled off this mortal coil before continuing down an inexorable slide toward personal catastrophe and artistic irrelevance: Doors frontman Jim Morrison, whose insouciant visage also graced pulp-stock posters of the time.
As a child, I could not grasp why all sorts of folks would eagerly place life-sized cardboard cutouts of Monroe in their living room. Nowadays, I see what she represented to an earlier generation.
To some, she was the archetypal girl-next-door-turned-sex-kitten. To others, a gifted dramatic and comedic actress whose troubled life ended well before her estimable talents could fully mature.
The cult of Marilyn still exists (finding new converts every year), although it's been diluted by all the subsequent "next Marilyns" that have come in her wake. If you're one of the uninitiated, or merely have forgotten what all the fuss was about, this weekend the Lucas Theatre salutes Monroe's legacy on what would have been her 87th birthday by screening two of her most beloved star vehicles.
On June 6, they'll show 1953's "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." Directed by Howard Hawks ("Bringing Up Baby," "The Thing From Another World") and based on a hit Broadway musical, it's the lightweight story of two flirtatious young lounge singers from Arkansas (Jane Russell plays the other) and their hijinks during a transatlantic cruise to Paris.
Ever seen Marilyn's oft-spoofed dance number "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend?" It's taken from this film.
The following night, the Lucas presents director Billy Wilder's 1959 comedy "Some Like It Hot," co-starring Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis as two Chicago musicians on the run from a violent mobster. Desperate to blow town, they disguise themselves (rather unconvincingly) as women and slip into an all-girl band heading to Florida by train.
The result is a zany rom-com that finds Tony Curtis in drag trying to woo Marilyn's character (a singing ukulele player) without divulging his real identity.
Considered a minor classic, it nabbed six Oscar nominations and earned Monroe the Golden Globe for Best Actress. Admission to either film is $8 or $5 for students and seniors. Showtimes are at 7 p.m.
Another cinematic encomium takes place June 12 at the Sentient Bean, when the Psychotronic Film Society marks the 32nd anniversary of the theatrical release of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas' 1981 action-adventure blockbuster "Raiders of The Lost Ark."
The exact title of this insanely rare Special Mystery Film will remain a secret. I can report that while it's not "Raiders" or any of the official sequels to that loving tribute to sci-fi and Western serials of the '30s and '40s, this amazing, related movie is simply "as close as it gets," if you know what I mean.
True fans will not want to miss this rare public screening. $6 admission, 8 p.m. showtime.
Jim Reed directs the award-winning Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah - presenting indie, foreign, classic and cult cinema year-round. Read more from Jim on Savannah's film scene at filmsavannah.com.