The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Michele Bender

May 31, 2014

Those oldies, but goodies

JOHNSTOWN — Twice yearly Hollywood marches out a platoon of war movies. Spring films remind us of Memorial Day courage and sacrifices made by our soldiers. Fall spotlights Veterans Day and the bravery of our ancestors.

War movies aren’t my faves, but I pray that future generations watching will pause and reflect on history and its consequences.

Handsome actors don’t really light me up either. Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Johnny Depp (Mascara! Yuk!), and Richard Gere appeal to lots of ladies, but give me an old Steve McQueen flick. Heck, when the postal service conducted their competition a few years back, I voted for the fat Elvis.

A few actors do elevate my blood pressure. If Patrick Swayze climbed out of his casket to dance with Jennifer Gray one more time, I’d tune in. James Garner’s looks and personality seem well preserved. And I’d brush the dust off to catch one more glimpse of Mark Harmon’s remains.

But a “boy-next-door” type who started as a child star, Martin Milner, is my ideal, my Romeo.

Huh?

He’s 80 now, but still handsome with a fluffy head of snow-white hair. Think “Cheaper By the Dozen (Clifton Webb),” “Thirteen Ghosts,” “Route 66,” “Adam 12.”

One sleepless night, I heard a familiar voice coming from my TV. Yes, MM was heroically rescuing John Wayne from angry ocean waves. “Sands of Iowa Jima.” MM in 1950. Had to see that one.

The movie stars John Wayne as a commander who must train and merge the skills and traditions of U.S. soldiers and New Zealander troops preparing for a pivotal, history-altering battle that depended on the two factions understanding and cooperating with each other.

In a scene illustrating cultural blending, soldiers on a break chat about home.

“Where are you from?” a New Zealander asks.

“Johnstown, Pennsylvania, sir,” the GI announces. “About 60 miles from Pittsburgh.”

Now, they had my attention.

“Know what they got there? Right at the edge of town ... almost downtown ... an amusement park!”

“No foolin’?” the NZ trooper asked.

“A roller coaster, merry-go-round, miniature golf, ice cream stand, and best of all ...” the kid stopped for breath, “a Ferris wheel. Me and my girl, Betty, would wait till we stopped at the top and ... well,” the kid blushed.

I was awake. MM’s voice would have done it, but mentioning Luna Park was amazing.

I rode that wheel. My dad used to drive my friend Lorraine and I over there on warm evenings. The coaster and merry-go-round were pretty lame, and so were my golf skills. But we saw all our friends, the ice cream hit the spot, and the Ferris wheel was magic.

By 1963, Luna Park had faded away. My first summer job was filling cones with “soft-serve.” The ice cream stand was open weekends only. I got fired in less than two hours, disgracing my paper hat.

The Roxbury Bandshell stood proudly, but the crumbling cement paths of the miniature golf course, overgrown with weeds, and the shabby ice cream booth were the only remnants of Luna Park.

I started nodding off to sleep after Patricia Neal bandaged more of John Wayne’s wounds.

My eyes shut for an enchanted dream. Martin Milner waited for me at the Ferris wheel.

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