“I had an idea for a script once. It’s basically Jaws except when the guys in the boat are going after Jaws, they look around and there’s an even bigger Jaws. The guys have to team up with Jaws to get Bigger Jaws. I call it Big Jaws.” ~ Peter Griffin, Family Guy.
February 6, 1978 • 4 to 8pm in Boston
Despite increasing winds and prediction of a “wall of snow” 11,666 hockey fans show up at Boston Garden for the Beanpot Hockey Semi-Finals. By nine o’clock BU is whipping BC and as the announcement comes over the loudspeaker, ”Boston is under a state of emergency and anyone taking mass transit should make plans to leave early,” many diehard fans wave it off. By the time 200 or so stragglers and concession workers push their way through the doors at 11, they immediately herd back inside. Shored up with free popcorn, hot dogs, snacks and beer, they bed down in sky boxes to ride out what still seems to be a just a wicked snow storm. In the meantime, Logan Airport shuts down. No one is yet aware that snow will blanket New England steadily for thirty-six hours.
“POPPY! COME ON!” I yelled from the back of my grandfather’s red pick up truck. Sissy and I were squeezed in with a dozen neighborhood kids. “I HEARD ON THE RADIO THERE’S A LINE!”
“I bet he lost his teeth,” Sissy mused.
“Naw.” Sully was a tough towhead with more freckles than good sense. “I seen him down the Salvation yesterday. He got whole new pair.”
The Salvation was The Salvation Army and also my grandfather’s equivalent of a mall. He bought everything at The Salvation, even thing he recognized as his own that my grandmother had donated. He was notorious for snatching up sets of false teeth, bleaching them so he didn’t contract “Hoof In Ya Mouth Disease” and filing them down with his tools to insure a perfect fit.
From the floor above street level, he swung open the screen porch door and bellowed, “SHUT THAT YAP! And don’t you worry! I’ve got us covered. I KNOW A GUY!”
The truck passengers groaned. “That’s it!” Sully’s brother Jimmy stood up. “He knows a guy. Good Christ! I’m walkin’ to the habah!”
“Siddow, Sully!” Poppy pointed a finger as he dashed down the stairs. “Or I’ll give ya somethin’ to siddown about!”
“I’m JIMMY!” Jimmy grumbled.
“Siddown JIMMY, or I’ll give ya somethin’ to siddown about!”
Another one my grandfather’s vague nonsensical threats that made no real sense, but we heeded lest we be left behind. Jimmy sat.
The old man pumped the gas a few times and the truck finally roared to life. “What the hell kinda line is there gonna be? This is Scituate!”
He grossly underestimated the Irish interest in the possibility of one’s neighbors disapearring and being able to blame their deaths on a rogue fish. But then again, he “knew a guy” so I wasn’t that worried about the line. I was more worried about the R rating.
A (Not Really That) Brief Note About Movie Ratings
In 1930, the motion picture industry was saddled with what was known as the Hays Code by Hollywood’s Presbyterian censor czar Will H. Hays. Hays had once been the Postmaster General and was the former head of the Republican National Committee. Now for a hundred thousand bucks a year, he became the first president of the newly formed Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America and in charge of Hollywood “standards.” This was due in part to reign in not just the cinema, but its stars as well. National scandals such as accusations of rape against comedian Fatty Arbuckle (false, but ruined his career) and the murder of actor/director William Desmond Taylor (still unsolved) there were quite a few powerful people who considered the entire film industry morally bankrupt and needed a righteous leader to ride roughshod over it.
The Code dictated what was (and was not) acceptable content in motion pictures produced in the United States. The Code office swung the censorship hammer until the fifties when Hollywood began to bite back and the government got involved. In 1948, the Supreme Court delivered a crushing blow to Paramount when it struck down the right of studios to own their own theaters and hold exclusivity rights on which theaters could show their films. Then came television, foreign films and although an alternative ratings system was not instituted by the group who changed their name to the Motion Picture Association of America until 1968; sex, sin, violence and profanity had already snuck back into the movies.
In 1975 the MPAA had the following ratings; G for general audiences, PG, parental guidance suggested. R required anyone under 16 to be accompanied by an adult and good ol’ adults only X. PG was a new term and replaced M for a mature – yet confusing -audience. That was like an honor system that didn’t work well. Who’s going to admit they aren’t mature?
Although nowadays, JAWS maintains a solid PG-13 (another rating added in the 1980′s to keep films such as Spielberg’sGremlins from suffering under the letter R), when the murderous rampage of Bruce the shark hit the theaters in ’75, it rode in on bloody wave solidly rated R.
Most parents hadn’t read the novel JAWS and to this day, it is still mostly eclipsed by the movie. The novel is much more a racy potboiler with spectacular infidelities and boozy confessions. The parents couldn’t care less about fish gobbling up randy teenagers and three guys going after it as the trailer hinted. Perhaps there was a lesson there. Even so, there was only a slim chance that the entire posse of kids in my grandfather’s old rig would be admitted into an R-rated film without an adult but utilizing the strategy made famous by one Ms. Scarlett O’Hara – I’d think about that later. After all, five years earlier I’d wrangled us in to see Dean Martin make out with his pregnant stewardess girlfriend in Airport. More pressing was to get the old man to get us to the movies.
Scituate Harbor was jammed. Universal Studios had been driving advertising for two solid months and it paid off across the country. But in the small towns along the coast of what the entire nation now thought was shark-infested New England? Insanity. Front Street was jammed from the pier all done the main drag and far past the sole movie theater.
“Geez Lousie eatin’ a can a peas!” Poppy grunted through the cigar he was chomping. “This is nuts!” He cut the wheel and maneuvered the truck behind the main strip of Front Street stores to the parking lot that ran along the waterfront.
It was the same back lot the hosted the annual Scituate Carnival. Hosted every summer by the local Knights Of Columbus, it was the height of any kid’s social season. Rides, booths, live music and the best pizza ever tossed – it was the penultimate last hurrah of sun and swimming before the very end at Labor Day. Today it was a carnival of a different kind. Shark fever! The line snaked from Front Street to the back lot.
“We’ll never get in!” I was close to tears. Sissy nodded miserably.
But Sully leaned in close, shaking his head. “Whattya kiddin’ me? He KNOWS A GUY.” The eight other passengers agreed. The mouthy son of a tough Irish fisherman, Sully did carry some weight in the truck bed as he was famous for sewing his calloused fingers together on a bet that he wouldn’t bleed. His winning of that wager really had nothing to do with intelligence but since that day, Sully’s word was as good as a golden movie ticket.
Poppy braked into the sole parking spot and yelled, “Everybody out! Now RUN! Get in LINE!”
February 6, 1978 • 4 to 8pm
South Shore residents are urged to evacuate to higher ground. Poppy is due to report to work at midnight with the rest of any available highway workers to aid in storm protection despite water pouring over the seawall against the house and out into the street. High tide rams toward the South Shore of Massachusetts and first reports of breaches in seawalls are reported. Governor Michael Dukakis declares a state of emergency.
We took our place excitedly in the long ticket line, breathless from galloping. The line wasn’t moving and we jingled our popcorn and candy money out of nervousness.
“This isn’t the only showing,” I reasoned. “We get in now or later, at least we’re here!”
Moments later, Poppy half-jogged by us, waved and continued to the front of the line. Uh oh.
“See, whaddya know?” Sully grunted his approval. He leaned outside of the line and Poppy waved the Get ovah heah! sign. Sully jostled us. “C’mon!”
I sighed. I expected to be met with an uproar from the sweaty crowd ahead of us, as it appeared we were cutting ahead. The very worst would be sent back to the end of an even longer line. To be Eddie Hart’s granddaughter was to throw caution to the wind and have a little faith. As kids, we knew that when Poppy rolled the dice, there was always a better chance his schemes would succeed than fail so I shrugged and counted heads as we strode out of line.
Just off to the side of the ticket booth, Poppy was arguing with Red Sully as he waved a handful of movie tickets. “I don’t owe YOU money! You owe ME money! You got me one too many!”
Red Sully was not Sully-who-sewed-his-fingers-together’s father. That was Big Sully. Red Sully was also not Big Sally who also had the last name of Sullivan but since his mother was Italian and named him Salvatore, he was known as Big Sally and didn’t not particularly care for the nickname. Red Sully was another of Poppy’s pals and known as Red Sully because even though he had a full head of dark hair, he was cursed with pale Irish skin that was always brutally sunburned.
“Look Eddie, I don’t mind about standin’ in the line for ya and gettin’ them tickets since I was down the habah and on account of me owin’ ya twenty bucks. But they ain’t bending the rules about kids and parents on this one. There’s all kind a blood and guts in the movie!”
Poppy was frustrated. “These are fishin’ kids! They see blood and guts alla time. I got them out there guttin’ flounder and chummin’ off the boat.”
Red Sully leaned in and whispered loud enough to ramp up our excitement. “Ya Ed, that’s just dead FISH. This is…you know…dead PEOPLE!”
Sissy almost jumped out of her Keds. Our friends Mary Ann and Maryanne jittered back and forth into each other. The boys hooted. OhboyOhboyOhboy!
“Anyways, I already asked Sully and said no way they can go in alone.”
All heads turned to Sully-who-sewed-his-fingers-together. “Not ME!” he yelped and pointed to the ticket taker at the door. Young Sully. Related to a different Sullivan family.
Poppy grunted. “All right, all right.” He headed to the door; handed Young Sully the tickets, counting off kids as he complained.
“Ya. One, two, three, Jimmy! Get in here. You know I’m not wantin’ to see this movie, Young Sully! This is a stupid rule! Four, five. six…whattya think, that I can keep ‘em from wettin’ their pants? Seven, eight, nine….Mary Margret! You stayin’? Then get in there! Eleven, twelve…”
We spilled into the theater and split up. Half ran to get the coveted first row seats, the rest grabbed spaces in the two concessions lines. My grandfather pulled me aside.
“OK kid, here’s the deal. I’m gonna get me a seat way up in the back so I can slip out. I got business. You watch them kids?”
His business was that he wanted to grab a few beers and watch the game (any kind of game) with his buddies at the Satuit bar down the street. In fact, he’d probably poke out his own eyes rather than sit in a cinema house packed with screaming kids for two hours. He’d taken us to the movies so Nana wouldn’t be burdening him with chores and he wasn’t about to waste his free time on a movie.
I nodded and ran to my seat with two heaping buckets of butter-drenched popcorn and a couple of ice cold sodas cradled protectively like Patriot’s quarterback Jim Plunkett held the football. My sister had successfully saved my seat by straddling two together and refusing to move. I slipped in next to her, the theater went silent and the lights went down.
Then everyone started hooting and hollering as little animated snacks marched across the screen and singing, “Let’s all go to the lobby!” – presumably to buy even more of them. But you get the idea. The excitement was electric.
The first reel rolled. Teenagers at a beach bonfire. The soon-to-be-eaten Chrissie Watkins decides to go swimming and speeds across the sand in the moonlight, dropping pieces of clothing in her wake. The audience leaned forward and silently held their collective breath.
“JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH!
IS SHE NAKED? COVER YA EYES, YOU KIDS DOWN IN THE FRONT!”
Did I just say the audience leaned forward and silently held their collective breath? Ya. Except for one guy. Way in the back row. Care to take a guess? The baker’s dozen or so of us in the front slid down in our seats. That was just the beginning. He wasn’t leaving any time soon.
February 6, 1978 • 4 to 8pm
Winds close to one hundred miles an hour screech toward the South Shore. On the Irish Riviera, very few diehards refuse the final evacuation order. Among those who do are my grandparents.
Author’s note: In 1940, A.L. “Whitey” Shafer, Columbia Pictures head still man and later chief photographer at Paramount, created his most famous work. “Thou Shalt Not” is a one sheet depiction of film elements prohibited by the Hays Code. It was duplicated and circulated throughout Hollywood as both a parody of censorship and a protest against the Code. Will H. Hays, by the way, hailed from a place known as Sullivan, Indiana. But I bet no one ever called him “Sully.”