I know what you're thinking. How much could an 89 year old man I've never met mean to me? Plenty.
When I was 15 years old, I was a frustrated teenager with strict parents who did all they could to keep me at home. We couldn't afford cable, and I wasn't allowed to watch rated R movies without them screening them first and giving me their approval. This kept me out of the loop with a lot of my peers, but I found solace at the library among the plethora of black and white movies which had the bold NR sticker on the side indicating they were not rated and therefore fair game.
I came to old stuff gradually. When I was a kid, my dad introduced my sister and I to black and white comedy shorts, specifically the Little Rascals and the Three Stooges. We owned several of the Cabin Fever tapes, so when I got bored of watching the same movies over and over again I revisited the Rascals.
At this time Roswell had just ended. Roswell was a show about aliens which was aimed at teens. This was in the same era as Dawson's Creek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Felicity. Ever the outsider, I watched Roswell, and while it had a very loyal and passionate fan base (which saved the show from cancellation twice by bombarding the network with Tabasco sauce-- an alien favorite) it couldn't survive the ratings game. I campaigned hard to achieve more viewership, even going so far with my "grassroots" campaign as to email unsuspecting people whose emails I found on various message boards and annoying everyone in my classes with my weekly announcements that "Roswell is on tonight!" It was this energy that was pent up waiting for an outlet that I channeled into my interest in old movies.
Watching the Little Rascals films with young adult eyes was quite a different experience from watching them as a kid. At seven, I was just amused by the various ways the kids played together, and I lived vicariously through them, knowing my parents would NEVER let us out of their sight long enough to explore a cave and meet a giant (Mama's Little Pirate) or to gather various pieces of trash to create a giant fire engine to drive down a big hill (Hi Neighbor). When I was older, I began to see the comedy behind the jokes, and to see just how adorable the kid actors really were.
It was all Dickie Moore's fault that I became the old movie nerd I am today. It was those big brown eyes and that deep put-on little man voice that did it. As a kid I thought he looked like my friend Kyle, but as a teen he just looked like the cutest kid ever, fodder for my budding maternal instincts. I began to wonder if he ever did anything besides the Rascals.
This was dangerous thinking, and I knew it. I had been down that road before, that intense wonder, the obsessive itch to find out everything I could about something and then some. And I knew this topic was an unpopular one, something that could get me teased even more than I already was. I gave it a few days. Curiosity won out.
I did a search of several of my favorite Rascals. I found out about the "curse," or the fact that many of them died young and because of unusual circumstances. But Dickie Moore was not only still living, but also had a long and varied career as a child star. He was the launching point. It was through him that I met Gary Cooper (Sergeant York), Marlene Dietrich (Blonde Venus), Robert Mitchem (Out of the Past) and others. I got his book from the library and read all about child stars I had never heard about before. There were more names and more movie titles than I knew what to do with. It was heaven.
I wrote him a fan letter a few years later, and to my surprise he responded. It was a brief but pleasant note, and the encouragement he gave me lead me to write to other stars I admired. His was one of the few responses I ever received.
At my second Cinevent in 2008, Dickie Moore and the Little Rascals led me to new friends. Sitting on the Kukowski table just inside the door was Volume 8 of the Cabin Fever set, a tape I did not own. I bought it and began talking to David about the Rascals and how much I liked them. He showed me a lobby card featuring Dickie Moore, which I thought was hilarious because it depicted Dickie lying dead in the middle of the street, and Dick was one of the few stars of the era who was still alive. It took some time but I eventually bought the card and ever since have proudly displayed it on my wall.
I heard about a year ago that Dick was not doing well, that he was suffering from dementia and could no longer travel. This made me sad but it prepared me for the worst. Today's news is not a shock, but it is a blow, a close to a life that touched a lot of people through the years, and mine especially.
I recently wrote another fan letter to Dick, this time because of my recent quest to obtain autographs from classic stars before they inevitably pass away. He was married to actress Jane Powell, a very talented musical star who appeared in many escapist movies which never fail to put a smile on my face. I sent their photos and letter together and specifically requested that she relay my good wishes to Dick if he was too ill to read them himself. I wrote:
"My passion for classic movies brought me friends from around the globe, and you were inadvertently the catalyst. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for that. It means more to me than I can ever express... It is satisfying to know that you will receive this letter and understand that after all of these years, the movies you made as a little boy are still making people smile and will continue to do so for years to come."