I suppose that in favorable circumstances, adolescence can be one of the most exciting times in a young man's life. His biological changes give him a unique, heightened and pleasurable, if sometimes disorienting, view of himself and his world that he will probably never experience in quite the same way again in this lifetime. At least it was for me.
Problem was, my mother wouldn't let me buy any more comic books. Among other reasons, I probably had about a thousand of them already. However, she still let me buy Famous Monsters, Monsters Unlimited and others which I had also been a fan of all my life.
The still quite "traditional' mid-1960's experienced seismic birth pangs within it's popular culture. The Beatles rocked the world. Marvel and D.C. comics were arguably at their zenith. The classic horror, sci-fi and fantasy movies of the 30's, 40's and 50's were released to TV and were followed by an unprecedented proliferation of toys, model kits, games and other collectibles tied in to them. TV programs like The Munsters, the Addams Family, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.(and let's not forget Soupy Sales), to mention just a few examples, ruled the airwaves.
So, although I missed the comic books, it helped to remind me how good some of those old movies were, especially the Universal classics, particularly my favorite, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN. Several years before, it had been aired for a week straight in the New York metropolitan area, which I had watched religiously every day, and had re-enacted many times in our backyard with my brother and our neighborhood friends, and monster play figures. So several years later, now in upstate NY, I was primarily a movie fan again.
And then there was Mrs. Simon.
(Not her real name. Just a little wordplay, and a nod to Joe Simon, co-creator of Captain America).
I had never had a teacher that seemed to draw on movies in class as frequently as did My Social Studies teacher, Mrs. Simon, partially from her own personal interest I guess, as well as the "modern" approach that was being taken by our school in general.
Like when we attended a screening of the film FRIENDLY PERSUASION with Gary Cooper when we were studying the Civil War. And how she wrote and directed a Halloween play that was a spoof on the old horror movies(which, sadly, I didn't try out for because apparently it wasn't "cool" enough for me and my friends). And how she and a few other teachers and students did a short "Roaring 20's" film when we were studying that time period. She also stimulated philosophical discussions in class, which I liked, and once made up a test with some hilarious multiple choice questions.
Did I mention she was beautifu?
And she was beautiful. Think kind of Raquel Welch(who was at the height of her popularity at the time) with blue eyes. (Alright, so I'm the first guy on the planet to notice what color Ms.Welch's eyes are. Anyway, back to my story). She was also rumored to have been a Playboy centerfold(this, however, I proved to be false, when I stayed over my friend Howard's house one weekend, by an inspection of his father's personal copy of that particular issue). So this lady was probably the first crush of a sizable number of young men who were graced to have been in her class.(I also read what some of the girls wrote in her yearbook at the end of the year. They liked her, too).
At that point in time, probably due in large part to those factors mentioned previously, relating to film, I began to think that maybe a person like me should go out to Hollywood when I was a little older and pursue a career in the movie industry, preferably acting. I even auditioned for a school play, which my friends, in whose eyes I fervently sought to maintain "coolness", found considerable humor in, pointing and laughing from outside in the hallway.
I was rather hypersensitive at the time(Michael Landon's young man in I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF comes to mind). Having had some serious health problems and my dad leaving our family when I was about five, my mom tried to shelter me from the world to a large extent, which seemed to feed my interest in fantasy material. Still, I wanted to be one of the guys, and was increasingly attracted to girls, but was facing an uphill battle.
Mrs. Simon seemed to be the perfect antidote, in that, although she had a bit of a problem with me herself at the beginning, (which, she later told me had to do with matters in her own life) she apparently, eventually developed a degree of fondness for me, within social limits, in a plastic bubble as it were.
A plastic bubble that, as the months raced on as they never had before in a school year, became ever more tenuous.
I wondered if there was some way I could have more of an impact on her, beyond the day-to-day manner, a way that would reflect a uniqueness in me, when one began to rise up, of all places, out of my collection of monster movie magazines.
We had been studying the events of the Russian revolution, which included the presence of a particularly mad monk named Rasputin. The same Rasputin that had been the subject of a fairly recent Hammer film starring Christopher Lee, which was covered in a couple of picture articles in an obscure and rather inoffensive magazine, in spite of the title, called Shriek!. What if I were to bring them to school and show them to movie fan Mrs. Simon? It just might create the connection I wanted.
So I brought them to school with me, and as the minutes ticked away to the end of class, my heart seemed to pound harder and harder, and, although the words seemed to be frozen in my mouth as I spoke, I showed them to her.
And she seemed very interested and excited!
I went to lunch after that, feeling more triumphant than I can ever recall being around that time. And I was even nice to a cafeteria monitor, who sort of reminded me of Linda McCartney, with whom I had previously locked horns in mortal combat regarding my bringing a tray back that wasn't mine or something, and whom I had to acknowledge was actually as sweet and lovely as she could be as well.
I wasn't completely happy about going to high school. However, the possibility of my coming back to visit Mrs. Simon from time to time seemed favorable. When she offered to give me the magazines back a while later, I told her she could keep them for future reference. My gift to her.
Still, there remained yet one thing needful to be done.
Christopher Lee, the star of RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK had a birthday coming up on May 27, so I decided to send him a card and share with him my victory that would not have been possible without his unknowing assistance. I confided in him my heart's desire, and how I was able to have advanced it slightly by his having played Rasputin. To the victor, as well as his comrade-in-arms, go the spoils of war, or at least a nice card saying thank you.
About a month or so later, I received a large flat envelope postmarked: London, England.
Christopher Lee had sent me an autographed picture of himself, with a little slip to fill out to become a member of his fan club! Christopher Lee, who had appeared in films with Boris Karloff and Raquel Welch. Future "Band on the Run", LORD OF THE RINGS, ATTACK OF THE CLONES Christopher Lee! I was glad that he didn't say anymore, lest my mom might see, but I did wonder what crossed his mind when he read it. I did read later on that he appreciates hearing from his fans, and how his work touches their lives.
I went and visited Mrs. Simon a few times after high school, and she was very gracious, but among other things, wisdom seemed to dictate that my life's path was destined to be different from that of a married woman who, however lovely, was well beyond my years and life's experiences for the types of feelings that inclined me towards her. I stopped by the school about a year later and learned that she had left to have a baby, and, hopefully, from then till now, a happy and rewarding life.
Not too many years after that, circumstances came about which enabled me to come out to California to pursue my life's dream of becoming an actor. My first paid work along these lines was as an extra in Steven Spielberg's feature film 1941. To my surprise, when the film was released, I learned that one of the film's co-stars was none other than Christopher Lee!
Years after that, I was Associate Producer and Historian for the film THE HAUNTED WORLD OF EDWARD D. WOOD, JR. Around the time it was released, The Phantom's Videoscope magazine had an issue with articles about both RASPUTIN, THE MAD MONK and our film, so, on the cover, for all the world to see, was a picture of Christopher Lee as Rasputin, and the title of our film on the side! Boy, do I wish I had a copy of that issue back in 1970!!
I told this story to my friend, noted teen modeling agent William Adrian, and he encouraged me to write it up.
There are things, places, and most importantly, people, in our lives that, although seeming to have cosmic significance, are in fact more transitory than most. Like the proverbial rose that is bound to fade and wither, or a kaleidoscope which is only reflections of color in glass, so these experiences seem to exist only to heighten our awareness of beauty and love, that we might create some where none exists, or to replace that which has gone.
Perhaps the movies, characters, and artists we love the most reflect our longing for this Paradise Lost, and our often blind efforts to find our way back, and redemption and renewal in spite of all else, and often, ourselves. For them, we can be thankful.
Alan Doshna can be reached at