It was 36 years ago today that Flapjacks and his pals captured hearts and souls at the Roxy
A small brick of granite on the shelf in my garage could be interpreted as my tombstone. It says “Flapjack” on it – not “Flapjacks,” which is my News Brothers nickname. That’s because my dad, who fell in love with the stray mutt I’d adopted one cold Clarksville night 35 years ago or so, kept the dog I named “Flapjacks” when my life’s circumstances made it temporarily impossible for me to do it. He shortened my old dog’s name – I named him after myself, in a way -- to Flapjack.”
Even when I became able to take a dog into my restored life, I left old Flap with my dad, who needed face-licking cheering up as my mom’s health continued its mortal struggle. She’s been gone 19 years now and Flap quickly followed.
I had the dog’s tombstone carved, but never planted it at the pet cemetery mainly because of the poor practices there that had led to the losses of stones I had made for my other pets and for my folks’ animals. Now I keep the ashes of my dead friends of the animal variety on the top of my dresser with instructions to have them join me whenever and however my own body is disposed of…. Sooner or later. My hope is later, of course. At least most days.
Getting a little somber and sober here, but that’s not the spirit I maintain as I sit here and write about what happened 36 years ago today and tonight, November 12, 1982, when the real Flapjacks – me --and my band of merry men took over, literally, the city of Clarksville for one night … and the succeeding dawn.
This marks the 36th anniversary of the “world premiere” of a 45-minute movie titled “Flapjacks: The Motion Picture.”
It starred and was produced by me and my pal Rob “Death” Dollar. The cast included the rest of The News Brothers with nicknames “Flash,” “Chuckles,” “Dumbo,” “Street” and “The Stranger.” Jim Lindgren was Flash and Jerry Manley was Chuckles and they were the two other main News Brothers. Others came and went, depending on their jobs and their personal lives. Those included Ricky “Dumbo” Moore, John “Street” Staed and the late, great and extremely kind Harold Lynch as “The Stranger.”
John Glenn, the great astronaut, also appears in the film and I’m told it was, other than his first triple orbit of the earth and his Space Shuttle journey, among his life’s biggest thrills. I don’t know who told me this. Perhaps it was Rob. Or I may have been talking to myself.
Since Rob and I wrote it and are in every scene and even did a good bit of the filming – I’d hold the camera while he did a scene and vice versa when we couldn’t summon our pals like prize-winning photographer Larry McCormack (who now seems scared of us, but that’s another discussion for another day) and Robert Smith, a great photojournalist who only recently was put to the curb by Korporate Amerikan journalism.
It happened to the rest of us – well “Dumbo” seems safe in Chattanooga -- years ago. I led the soft parade to the korporate curb 11½ years ago when Gannett tired of its poor, lonely, huddled masses, or at least its older staffers and offered the “generous” buyout, a conscience-salver for the givers, a few bucks for the receivers who had to restart their lives at 55 years old, nearly 56.
That movie, though crude by today’s standards (I don’t mean crude as in nasty, just crude as it was filmed long before the emergence of home video, so we shot it on Super 8mm film, pieced it together (thanks Robert) and synchronized a soundtrack, some of it spoken, other sections carried by music from my record collection (pre-CD as well).
It was a Beatles-emulating newsman’s version of “A Hard Day’s Night” or perhaps it was closer to The Monkees stuff. After all, we used “Last Train to Clarksville” to provide the sonic backdrop for our climactic pie fight scene, which included a police officer (a real one who had blue-light chased us to the railyard where the fight began) and The News Brothers at their best and brightest.
There is much to tell about the film, but I’ll spare you here. Only note that it really is quite good – although it was best when shown on the big screen at the Roxy Theater in downtown Clarksville 36 years ago tonight.
In addition to the film, we had aid and entertainment from the Clarksville High School Cheerleaders, the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Jazz Band (from nearby Fort Campbell), The Clarksville Police Department and the Fire Department, which delivered The News Brothers to the theater while we clung to the sides and rear of the wailing tanker truck. The friendly coppers busted the film showing and arrested us as a means of getting the garbage can filled with admission money out of the building in what was then a desolate and disturbing section of Clarksville.
Oh, we had visits from ET and also from Santa Claus (former and somewhat disgraced editor Tony Durr, who died alone many years ago now and I miss every day).
The mayor of Clarksville, Ted “Wild Turkey” Crozier – a friend of mine until his death a couple years or so ago – proclaimed it “News Brothers Day” in Clarksville. And the local radio station newsman Scott Shelton – who later became “Badger” News Brother – broadcast the proceedings. Scott’s dead now, too. As are Harold “The Stranger” Lynch (who starred in the Sergio Leone gunfight scene), Durr, a pal of ours named Okey Stepp, an old man who lived in the local flophouse who we loved and called “Skipper.” He dressed up in a bellhop’s uniform and looked like a member of Sergeant Pepper’s famed outfit as he presided over the money-collecting. Also dead, of course, is my dog, “Flapjacks” aka “Flapjack,” who was one of the sweetest animals I’d ever rescued from the streets or orphanages. That’s another story as well.
The reason for the community enthusiasm? We were showing the film for charity. “Laugh for a Good Cause” said the marquee outside the Roxy. All money gathered – we had a suggested ticket price of $20, but people could give what they could afford – went to charities of the Police and Fire departments as well as to the Mustard Seed, a homeless-advocacy agency in downtown Clarksville.
Hell, Rob and I even paid $20 apiece to get into our own movie, mainly because we hoped it would seed a trend for those at the 8 p.m. and midnight showings.
Another thing that happened is that once city leaders saw how nice the Roxy looked after we scrubbed and waxed the dusty, old abandoned theater, it was not demolished to make a parking lot. It instead became a community theater.
The News Brothers story is not as simple as that one-night takeover of the 200 block of Franklin Street in downtown Clarksville. That was just a wonderful and starry, starry night for us.
If you are interested, Rob and I wrote a book: “When Newspapers Mattered: The News Brothers and their Shades of Glory,” two men’s trek through the newspaper business, that was published six years ago. If you are interested, you can buy it at Amazon.com.
At the time it was published, many of our newspaper friends – of the employed variety – refused to buy it, snidely claiming that they still had newspaper jobs, so they refused to embrace a rebellious and fun book with such a title.
Now, most of them have felt the ax and have plenty of time to read.
My late friend John Seigenthaler, the legendary journalist, embraced the book as “M*A*S*H in a newsroom,” by the way, and he featured me and the book on his local PBS author interview show. He loved the book and could relate to the decades’ worth of tales and anecdotes of journalistic fear, loathing and enterprise collected there. I know it provided him a few good laughs there near the end of his life.
But enough about the book. This little tale is about the movie that opened to drunkenly raving reviews and howling audiences on a cold November night in an old, abandoned movie house we had revitalized for the showing.
Details may be found in the book, which you will like, I promise, which was a blockbuster seller on its first printing and just about made up the costs Rob and I put into its glorious publication.
One of these days, I’ll post this little movie, but it hasn’t held up well in its translation from film to VHS to DVD, so it never will be as good as that first night’s viewing.
Today, 36 years later to the day, I sit here at my basement desk, trying to find my next freelance story, nursing a really nasty black eye (another sad story) and remembering that night when The News Brothers presided over Clarksville and the world was a much nicer place.
Now, I believe I’ll go out into the garage and get the “Flapjack” tombstone on my shelf. One of these days it may come in handy, though I have no idea how they’ll add the “s.” Won’t be my problem.
Have a damn nice News Brothers kind of day.