A few summers ago, five or six maybe, Turner Classic Movies launched a nationwide tour to promote both classic movies and the TCM brand name. Being a well-to-do mega-community located on the interstate between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. (we ranked #2 this year in Money magazine's top 10 places to live), the twin-towns of Columbia/Ellicott City proved to be a convenient place for the TCM crew to set down its circus.
And, man, what a great time! There were games, prizes, souvenirs, photo booths (have your picture taken with John Wayne!) and on-stage contests pitting audience members against each other in a battle royale of movie trivia. Yours truly won a plastic softball with the TCM logo (answer: Joan Crawford), and Katie-Bar-The-Door—well, we'll get to that in a moment.
Like all good tent revivals, though, the point wasn't just to reward the faithful but to convert the non- believers —plant a seed, coax a bud, harvest a crop of new movie fans. And as the grandson of a sharecropper, I can tell you that requires a certain amount of fertilizer.
The most coveted potential converts were teenagers—get when they're young and they're yours for life—and to give a fighting chance to kids who (it became clear as the day wore on) had never so much as heard of Casablanca much less seen it fifty times and memorized all the dialogue, the emcee steered the contests toward "word jumbles"—collections of letters which when arranged in the proper order spell out a word, or in this case, a film title or movie star. And then to nudge things along, he also gave them a cheat sheet with possible answers.
Now, let me tell you, the older you get, the more you know, but you know it a lot slower than you did when you were young and fresh, and while us middle-aged geezers cleaned up on straight trivia, the teenagers kicked our asses on word jumbles.
Especially when close was close enough.
And thus it turns out the star of Queen Christina, Camille and Ninotchka was in the mind of one perky blonde cheerleader, and forever after in this household—
"Here," said the emcee, handing her DVDs of Casablanca and Singin' In The Rain, "go home and watch these—and pay attention to the cast lists!"
That was okay with me—as far as I'm concerned, Pete Townshend nailed it when he said "the kids are alright"—and it was okay with Katie-Bar-The-Door, too, until, that is, she found herself tied two-to-two in a best of five face-off with the high school quarterback.
Now, I think of Katie as a kind of cross between Myrna Loy and Maureen O'Hara —the perfect wife and the fiery redhead—except in the case of the latter it would have been Katie who dragged John Wayne five miles and beat up the brother, not the other way around. I mean, her idea of a chick flick is Rio Bravo and she once gave me a copy of The Dirty Dozen for Valentine's Day because for her Jim Brown and a satchel full of hand grenades is romantic. She's a sweet, elegant woman with exquisite manners, but she stands five-foot-two the way Napoleon stood five-foot-two, and when the emcee said, "The tie-breaker will be a trivia question—or should we have another word jumble?" he only thought the choice was his to make.
"No, no, you said trivia," laughed Katie, the way I imagine General Patton laughed just before he destroyed Rommel at El Guettar. "I want trivia!"
I guess I should feel bad for the poor kid on the other side of the stage, but just between you and me, anyone who's never heard of Gone With The Wind—the answer to the question "Which 1939 movie received thirteen Oscar nominations?"—probably shouldn't have been up there in the first place.
"I would have won if it had been a word jumble," he said afterwards.
"Absolutely!" said Katie. "Why do you think I wanted trivia?"
Katie won a copy of the DVD game Scene-It—the TCM edition —a real hoot to play, especially after a couple of gin rickeys. And we discovered a new favorite actress that afternoon, too.