Walter Mencken 9 a.m., May 23
4th row center, special drive-in edition: Midnight Cowboy
In which my parents escort me to my first X-rated movie.
Who among us can claim that their parents took them to their first X-rated movie?
Mom and Dad probably thought Midnight Cowboy was a sequel to True Grit. It took some work, but they eventually agreed to take their 13-year-old son to a drive-in screening of the then X-rated Oscar-winning drama.
Being big for my age -- or “husky” as the slacks salesmen politely put it -- the MPAA only stood in the way of a paid admission a few times. At 16, I didn’t make it past the box office for A Clockwork Orange. A painfully withdrawn fellow sophomore, void of humor and, being smart for her age, a full year younger, decided to exercise what little power she had in life. From inside the box she refused my admittance on the grounds that she knew “for a fact that I was not eighteen-years-of-age.”
Nor did I have much luck at a thousand-seat suburban dream palace where the white-haired, well-groomed manager personally sold and ripped tickets. Not only wouldn’t he entrust the cash drawer to his teen staff, he was always the first to caution my father against bringing a kid to certain R-rated movies. After the Midnight Cowboy fiasco, any hopes of seeing Harold Robbins’ smutty The Adventurers were quickly dashed when dad took old whitey’s advice and purchased a pair of tickets for Disney’s hateful, The Barefoot Executive.
Even more deflating was an underage attempt to see the wonders on display in Russ Meyer’s Cherry, Harry, & Raquel. Friends and I miraculously managed to gain access to the auditorium. Halfway through the opening credits a nervous manager rethought his decision, yanked us out, and cheerlessly refunded our money.
After turning eighteen the MPAA could officially kiss my husky ass, but 5 years earlier, it took a bit of arm-bending to convince the folks to take their impressionable kid to an X-rated movie.
Even with the excess padding there was no way that I could convince a ticket-taker that I was 18. At least not at a hardtop theatre. Things might appear different through a dirty window. For weeks I watched the ads, hoping that Midnight Cowboy would play the Sunset Drive-In.
My prayers were answered soon after Cowboy took home the Oscar for best picture.
“But, dad,” I pleaded. “It won the Academy Award. It must be good.” Even then I knew it was horseshit, but for once played the ‘prestige card’ needed to eventually wear him down.
Parked in the backseat of my parent’s Rambler Ambassador, the characters in Cowboy might just as well have been speaking in Swahili for all I understood. They kept calling Joe Buck a “hustler,” but I never once saw him pick up a cue stick.
Seconds after Bob Balaban orally relieves Joe Buck in a movie theatre men’s room, my dad leans across the front seat and whispers to my mom, “I don’t think this was a good movie to bring the kid to.”
What was the big deal? I was 13, didn’t know a blow-job from Odd Job, and at that age was a lot more interested in watching Harold Sakata fling a Gillette-rimmed bowler.