Day 10 – Reliving 16 Days of Jackson through Vincent Price
The summer of 1981: my favorite summer.
1981, so full of growing-up experiences at home, at the movies and in Westchester County, Manhattan and the Bronx. Taylor Swift: my apologies to you. I was wrong. 1989 was not the year. 1981 was better than 1989 and even greater than 1984 the year highlighted in America by the performances of Carl Lewis and Mary Lou Retton at the Los Angeles Summer Olympics.
But there was one summer of ’81 experience — a family legend often told by my late mother — I was meant to relive in Jackson.
On most summer evenings, I would open wide the two windows of my room in Vista, New York and watch the fireflies and listen to the crickets. The previous Christmas I received a compact black & white television, compact enough to watch under the covers after everyone else had gone to bed. I would stay up late to watch Reggie Jackson and the New York Yankees on WPIX, Channel 11, the same network that aired comedy classics by day and Chiller Theater horror classics by night. Vincent Price captured my imagination that summer, joining Battle of the Network Stars CBS Team Captain Tom Selleck, Hall of Fame running back Earl Campbell (who put up a combined 1,981 yards from scrimmage with the Houston Oilers the previous season), President Ronald Reagan and the Yankees quintet of Ron Guidry, Dave Winfield, Goose Gossage, Graig Nettles and Reggie Jackson as my heroes.
Mr. Price’s House of Wax was re-issued in theaters in polarized 3-D that summer and quickly became one of my favorite films of the year alongside Raiders of the Lost Ark, Chariots of Fire and For Your Eyes Only. His remake of “Monster Mash” had turned our house into the ghoulish hot spot on Kingswood Way the previous Halloween, with eerie sounds emanating out our living room windows, over our front lawn and into the cul-de-sac shared with our neighbors.
One weekday afternoon in the Summer of ’81, my mother dropped me off at New Canaan train station with a round-trip Metro North railroad ticket to Grand Central Station. I carried a New York City map, my wallet and one dime for that solo trip to meet up with my father at his ancient antiquity gallery on Madison Avenue in Manhattan. The train ride to Grand Central was scenic and fun. I exited from the subterranean network of tunnels into the iconic grand room with the 4-sided clock atop the central information booth. I ascended the west staircase, as I had done in a practice run with my dad. I headed north on Madison Avenue and walked and walked until the intersection with 59th Street. I looked to the left for my dad’s building but couldn’t spot it. I looked across Madison Avenue and couldn’t find it. I looked up the next block on both sides and still didn’t recognize it. All the buildings looked the same. I walked down 59th Street and my heart raced. My blood pressure rose as I began to panic, I remembered the fail safe option: use the dime to call dad from a pay phone. I ducked into an office building lobby and located a pay phone.
Within ten minutes I was reunited with my dad. The tears of panic I had shed were dried up long before he and a business associate arrived. I didn’t want to lose this independence privilege my dad had lobbied for successfully with my mom. I couldn’t let the final step failure ruin a journey with so many other perfectly executed steps.
With his arm around my shoulder, I walked with my dad back to his office. As we turned onto Madison Avenue I looked up, stopped and gasped. Vincent Price was walking right towards us. He smiled, greeted me with a “How are you young man?” and extended his hand. I shook the hand of one of my heroes.
My memories end there. I don’t know what we did that evening, or even the real purpose of my solo trip to Manhattan, but I like to think it involved the Russian Tea Room or the Carnegie Deli or a Yankees game in the Bronx.
Why did I relive this memory in Jackson, Michigan?
I was baptized and confirmed in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Vista, New York. The only image I have of the church today is courtesy of the controversial Blue Oyster Cult “On Your Feet” album cover.
The St. Paul’s Women’s Guild founded the Jackson Town Hall Series in 1959.
Their first speaker, most frequent speaker and most popular speaker?
The 1959 lineup for the speaker series:
Wow, what a start. Vincent Price followed by Eleanor Roosevelt. Price went on to speak in Jackson in 1967, 1972 and 1976. Like many other great Jackson activities, the Jackson Town Hall Series ceased operation in 1979. But Vincent Price had left his mark. Several years later, he shook my hand on Madison Avenue.
How appropriate was it for Tim Burton to name the Edgar Allen Poe and Vincent Price-adoring lead character in his short film “Vincent” … Vincent Malloy? It’s a trip listening to Vincent Price narrate that classic short and say “Malloy” multiple times.
As I researched this Day 10 of 16 Days of Jackson post, I found images of Vincent Price on View-Master reels. Wow, I’d love to use a View-Master and look at still shots from 1960s/1970s/1980s classics.
Fun fact: 1.5 billion View-Master reels have been manufactured.