By Judith Geer
Every year when the Oscars roll around I flick through my mental Rolodex holding memories of my relationship with the movies. A prominent card in that rather large archive is my fond remembrance of the first full-length feature I ever saw.
My dad’s memory of that storied event was not exactly fond, however. Years later when I’d bring up the incident to him he’d shake his head and grimace with embarrassment.
It all started at a local school carnival in 1949 at which Dad and my uncle won four tickets to the Aurora Theatre in East Aurora. At that time, “The Wizard of Oz” was making the rounds of national movie houses celebrating its 10th anniversary of production, and Dad and Uncle Bill decided that my cousin, Kathie, and I, ages 6 and 5, respectively, were old enough to see it.
I recall happily snuggling into my seat at the Aurora nestled between Dad and Kathie, not really knowing what these things called “the movies” were all about. There were no TVs common to working class homes like ours back then, so I had no basis of comparison to judge between reality and the imaginary life on the screen.
I wasn’t prepared for the complete intellectual and emotional absorption that movies can elicit, especially for those of us in the kindergarten set. Everything went smoothly as I crunched my popcorn and listened to Judy Garland sing “Over the Rainbow.”
The audience was quickly introduced to the characters in that iconic film family in Kansas as the flickering images became more substantial in my child sensibility. The tornado’s winds didn’t bother me, nor the swirling house as it plopped down in Munchkinland.
When the Good Witch emerged from a rosy bubble I thought she was gorgeous. What little girl wouldn’t be entranced with the wand-wafting, beatifically smiling lady clad in yards and yards of pink gossamer as if she’d been spun round with cotton candy? And her tall crown was diamond-encrusted, no less. It was perfection.
The tenor of the film changed when the Wicked Witch of the West flew in on her broomstick. I remember being puzzled at first and not quite understanding what was going on in her initial brief appearance, but my fully rapt emotions overflowed after Dorothy/Judy and little Toto, the cutest dog I’d ever seen, were menacingly accosted by this green-skinned, wart-nosed being. After examining my recollections later in life, I really believe it wasn’t the witch’s appearance or her threats to Dorothy, Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion that caused my sudden spectacular hysterics forcing my dad to lug me screaming into the theater lobby.
You see, I’ve always loved animals, to the point where I’m convinced I was a card-carrying member of the SPCA in utero. I think in hindsight that when the witch pointed her broom at Toto and growled, “… and your little dog, too,” I just snapped. “Not the doggy,” I remember sobbing as Dad comforted me in the lobby.
I did calm down and returned to the film, but the same thing happened a couple of more times before it ended and my bewildered father took me home.
Strangely enough, this incident did nothing to deter my love of movies and as all of us do as we grow up I learned that films, as gripping as the good ones can be, are not reality. That being said, the cinematic world certainly can help us fantasize feelings and modes of action and intermingle them with our everyday lives to increase our understanding of what may be unfamiliar to us, chartreuse-colored witches and flying monkeys notwithstanding.
Judith Geer, of Holland, still worries about the fate of Toto.