Sunday, June 21, 2020


My dad and I didn’t go to the movies together often— he was a big fan of those four-walled nature documentaries that plagued screens in the early to mid ‘70s and I did not share that enthusiasm. But every once in a while there would come through town a picture he wanted to see which also piqued my interest and I would jump at the chance to go with him.  

Of course, those movies were usually big outdoor-oriented action movies, often westerns, and we enjoyed them together— stuff like The Green Berets, True Grit, A Man Called Horse and Man in the Wilderness. (You would think he was a big John Wayne or Richard Harris fan, but he was not— those guys were just in the right movies.) I infamously used his interest in these sorts of epics to my own purpose when Deliverance rolled through town in 1973, a deception that kinda backfired on me when Mom decided to come along and I ended up sitting between them for two of the most uncomfortable hours I ever spent in a theater in my young life. 

When I got older, we watched The Wild Bunch and Chinatown and a passel of public domain John Wayne and Hopalong Cassidy classics, all on TV, when I briefly moved back to town after college. But it was during college that I had probably my favorite moviegoing experience with my dad. (I know I’ve told this one before, and I apologize in advance if you find yourself caught in my repeat fire, but you can always stop reading, I guess!)  

It was early September 1978, just before school was to get under way, and my parents had brought me back to Eugene from Lakeview, where I’d spent the summer working in a local sawmill. Of course, Animal House had come out that past July and was still enjoying the early stages of its long theatrical run, which boasted packed houses (certainly in Eugene) till almost Christmas. That summer I had the pleasure of overhearing Dad bragging to some of his pals, after the movie had been released and word had gotten out, that I was in it, and believe me, that eavesdrop was not only satisfying but surprising, because as far as I knew he rarely boasted about my interests or achievements, such as they were. 

So, when Dad and Mom drove me back up to Eugene to get my sophomore year at the University of Oregon started, they naturally wanted to see the movie and we made plans to meet up with Bruce for the occasion. (Both of us had already seen it a few times, but this would be the first time we’d be able to see it together.) The problem was, Mom and Dad had brought along my little sister Angie, who was just seven years old at the time, and they figured— rightly, I suppose— that she was too young to see a purported raunch-fest like Animal House. So, a strategy was hatched to drop me, Bruce and Dad off at the McDonald Theater downtown, where Eugene’s favorite film was being showcased, so we could watch the 7:30 show while Mom stayed at their motel with Angie. Then she would meet us outside the box office after the show, Dad would take Angie back to the motel, and we would go back inside and watch the movie again, this time with Mom, at 10:00. Good plan. 

Dad loved the movie, and he laughed like a hyena throughout the entirety of it. I have an almost absurdly over-the-top tendency to really let loose when I find something funny— when I saw Blazing Saddles for the first time, several people came up to me in high school the next day and told me they *heard* how much I enjoyed the movie, and they meant it literally— and that’s definitely a trait I inherited from good old Pop. In particular, Dad found the character of D-Day (played by Bruce McGill, seen above) riotously funny, and I couldn’t help but notice how much the two of them sounded alike in their uncontrolled, maniacal laughter during the moment at the end of the movie when D-Day tips his head back, lets loose a high-pitched cackle and speeds off into the land of whereabouts unknown. 

The movie ended, we promised to ask for Babs, and then we headed up the aisle afterward to go outside and meet Mom. I could tell that Dad loved Animal House-- he was chattering to Bruce and I about it and all the while he was still laughing. We met Mom and Angie outside, among the throng of Friday night moviegoers lined up to buy tickets to the 10:00 show, and when Dad approached Mom, I could see he was talking to her about something. Bruce and I caught up, and we heard Dad saying something to Mom along the lines of, “Oh, it wasn’t so bad.” Hmm, we thought. Is he downplaying how much he enjoyed it for some reason?  

No, he was actually trying to talk Mom into letting Angie come in and watch the movie... so he could come back in, rather than retreat to the motel, AND WATCH IT AGAIN!!!! And so, after a minute or two of cajoling, while we disbelieving Delta Pledges looked on, Dad’s last-minute campaign to expose his youngest, quite underaged child to the raucous goings-on inside Faber College’s most infamous fraternity achieved success and we all bought tickets for the 10:00 show. We all enjoyed it together, I definitely heard/saw Mom yukking it up, and my sister eventually grew up to full adulthood, completely free of psychological or emotional scarring from the experience. 

But for me to see my dad turn around and watch a movie he’d just seen for a second time in one evening, well, that was a very big deal, and something I’d wager has not been repeated in the 42 years since that night in September 1978. I would see Animal House countless times again during those years, probably close to 50, and of course the movie means a lot to me and Bruce and everyone else who got to participate in making it during the fall of 1977. Seeing it for the first time, at the National Theater just down the block from the McDonald, when a Universal held a special screening in July 1978 just after the movie came out, was a special thrill. But for me that first exposure can’t come close to seeing it twice with my dad in one night, watching him laugh like he was gonna lose his mind, and imagining him thinking, “Hey, my son was in that!” Now, there’s a memory for Father’s Day that I am extremely grateful for. Thanks, Dad. And thanks, D-Day, wherever you are.