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Originally posted on WGN Radio - 720 AM:

The Park Ridge Classic Film Series will be presenting a special 75th anniversary screening of ‘Son of Frankenstein’ next Thursday October 30th at the wonderful Pickwick Theater.  Donnie Dunagan, the last surviving cast member from the film, will be a special guest.  Get more details when programmer Matthew Hoffman joins Nick Digilio.

To download this or any of Nick’s podcast visit our I-Tunes page.

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Who is Donnie Dunagan?

lefils  994550_10151745258122432_1051500962_n13463935_o_518cce6be087c337516da457What happens to a childhood actor once they no longer act? The first order is to grow up. And who do they grow up into? Let me tell you a true story.

The boy was affectionately called Donnie by his friends when he was five years old. Now, when the names of a little boy’s friends just happen to be Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone the wheels start to turn. Just who is Donnie Dunagan? You might well ask this question. The easy answer, there is no easy answer; he has been many things to many people. Let me begin from the beginning.

Donald Dunagan was born on August 16, 1934 to parents who didn’t have much more to give their son than love. As Donnie says, “They were dirt poor.” But Donnie’s destiny was not to remain the poor boy from the poor side of town. At the age of two and a half Donnie’s family moved from San Antonio, Texas to Memphis, Tennessee. There his father worked on a golf course as an assistant to the assistant golf instructor. He worked long hours helping men try to recapture their youth at the age of forty to fifty when they picked up and swung a club for the first time in their lives. It didn’t pay much but it kept the family afloat.

They didn’t know it but 1937 was the year things would change. At the local theater in downtown Memphis a talent contest was announced. With a top prize of $100 everyone who had talent up to the age of thirteen planned to be a contestant. Donnie had been taught to dance and the little tyke had plenty of talent as far as the family and neighbors were concerned. He was promptly entered. The Orpheum Theater was about to be surprised and so was Donnie.

Wearing hand-me-down shoes from a richer neighbor, sporting a paper hat made to look like a top hat and carrying a whittled stick that looked from a distance like that of an English walking stick, Donnie took his first few strides onto the Orpheum stage thinking he was in the wrong place. The dancer before him was so much better, how could he possibly compete. The outcome was a fairytale come true. Donnie danced and the audience lost their hearts. He won that first place prize but he won something else so much more. For seated in the audience was a Hollywood talent scout.

In mere weeks Donnie found himself on a sound stage. His first film was released in 1938. Mother Carey’s Children gave young Donnie a new look at life. Gone were the days of not having enough. He was making money and helping his family. One might think that a boy of his tender years might not understand, but Donnie did.

His next picture would cement him years later in the movie buff’s who’s who. 1939 was a magical year for Hollywood and for Donnie Dunagan. Son of Frankenstein boasted an incomparable cast for Universal. The names Karloff, Lugosi and Rathbone fairly jumped out at you. Such talent, such thrills, such horror, those thoughts hit the audience watching the trailers. Was Donnie afraid of Karloff’s monster? Did he fear Lugosi? Did he view Rathbone favorably?

Now five years old and a veteran of one movie, little Donnie understood the dynamics of an actor’s life. His mother would drop him off at the studio and a nanny took over his care. Only the nanny always disappeared. So Donnie picked out his own nanny. Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone became his friends but they probably would balk at the term nanny being applied to them. The reality was that they helped each other.

The boy had an amazing ability for memorization. Not only did he know his own lines but he memorized and coached his fellow actors on their lines. He became an integral cog. Even as lines were changed, added and taken out, little Donnie kept up. In return for Donnie’s line coaching Karloff taught him to play checkers and to his incredulity little Donnie won on is own when Karloff didn’t give the game his full attention. Rathbone read him classical poetry and attempted to teach the lad chess. That game proved too much but the memory of those tutored lessons has lasted a lifetime.

His other co-stars left lasting impressions for other reasons. His mother in Son of Frankenstein, Josephine Hutchenson left the sound stage after takes leaving her co-stars to their own devises and that is what little Donnie remembers most of her. The same can be said of Lugosi. Donnie didn’t like Lionel Atwill. In fact, Donnie stayed away from the man who played a policeman in favor of the man who played the monster.

Donnie’s memories of making pictures have remained vivid throughout the years showing a strong and perceptive mind. He would make five more films for a total of seven with Son of Frankenstein and Bambi being his most memorable.

With the latter he was hired by Walt Disney to be the facial model of the young deer but in time they discovered his remarkable memory and he became the voice of the fawn as well. With those two films his name will continue to be memorialized.

Getting back to the earlier question of what happens to childhood actors, Donnie grew up into a man the whole nation could be proud of. In December of 1952 at the age of eighteen Donnie received a message from the draft board. Answering the call he went in for his physical. Standing in line with the others he was singled out by a combat gunnery sergeant who realized in the young man’s form the build of a football player. After a thirty-five minute talk Donnie was a Marine.

He rose quickly in rank almost from the first day. Responsibility was handed to him and Donnie followed through. He was sent to boot camp in charge of thirty to forty men. While still only a private first class he was made a drill instructor, becoming the youngest in Marine history.

In the final days of the Korean War Donnie was ship bound. Before they could get there the war ended and his ship turned around. It was a hardship to be in Hawaii with all the pretty girls. While he might have averted combat then, he didn’t escape Vietnam.

Vietnam painted a tattoo across his body. His injuries were never easy or superficial. He got it in the head, the lung and the leg among other places. Consequently he over heard last rites being said over him three times and three times he was medivaced out. His head has a plate in it, he didn’t lose his leg as initially thought and at eighty he’s still breathing and walking around with enough spunk to be dangerous. After all, Donnie was the champion heavy weight boxer for nine years in the Marines. Add to that, the fact that he served as a counterintelligence agent during the Cold War and you really don’t want to mess with Peter Von Frankenstein. Like his fictional father and grandfather – Donnie Dunagan know how to take a body apart.

So who exactly is Donnie Dunagan? He is –

 

  • A childhood Hollywood actor,
  • A 25 year career Marine wounded in combat numerable times who also served as a counterintelligence agent and retired as a major,
  • A champion boxer who still coaches the sport today,
  • A mathematician,
  • Physicist and an
  • American Mensa Society member

 

This multiple Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient is quite the man. Acting gave Donnie the skills he would later need to survive as the man of action he remains.

 

To meet this fascinating man in person, Chicago area residents haven’t far to go. This month the gates of Hollywood’s golden age are opening up. On October 30, 2014 Donnie Dunagan will be at the Pickwick Theater in historic downtown Park Ridge Illinois to personally invite guests to participate in the 75th Anniversary showing of the movie that really introduced Donnie Dunagan to the world, Son of Frankenstein!

 

 

For more information please visit Park Ridge Classic Film.

 

What:

The 75th Anniversary showing of Son of Frankenstein

With special guest Donnie Dunagan

 

When:

October 30, 2014

7:30 p.m.

 

Where:

The Pickwick Theater

5 S. Prospect Ave. Park Ridge, ILL

Admission:

Regular – $7

Seniors – $5

{Autographs $20}

 

Don’t forget to bring the kids and your cameras. There will be a costume contest for children twelve and under with prizes.

 

 

A List of His Films:

 

Source used:

Earth vs. the Sci~ Fi Filmmakers: Twenty Interviews
By Tom Weaver
© 2005
Donnie Dunagan, Pgs 86 ~113

Grace Rellie:

Please check this out. If you live in the area and have ever wanted to say Hi, now is your chance. I’ll be there and so will a great movie.

Originally posted on WGN Radio - 720 AM:

Nick Digilio visits with Matthew Hoffman, programmer of the Pickwick Theatre Classic Film Series about their 50th anniversary showing of Goldfinger on September 18th.

To download this or any of Nick’s podcast visit our I-Tunes page.

View original

As I write this I stand behind the counter of a small four pump gas station. I know times have changed. With the passing years innocence has been lost and with it the general trust of a nation. No longer can there be doors left unlocked. Cars no longer can be found left standing idle and the owner vacant from his seat.

The world has truly changed. Coming into my little gas station over seventy miles from Chicago you know you’re in rural America and yet like the big city you will find things locked. There is a key to the propane stand, a key for ice and separate keys for the restrooms. The men’s room even had its key stolen block and all once upon a time.

Who would have thought thirty years ago that we’d have to pay for such things as water and even air to fill our car tires? These days we even buy soil for our gardens (though the gas station draws the lines there.)

Gas today will begin at $3.59 and it’s gone down 20 cents in the last few weeks. A propane exchange will cost $16.99. The cheapest cigarettes are $5.23 a pack.

I think of my not so long ago youth. Gas was $1.39 a gallon. I don’t know what propane cost but I don’t think I was much, for if it was my neighbors down the clock wouldn’t have bought a new gas grill three years in a row when theirs got stolen for the third consecutive year. Cigarettes couldn’t have been as high then either. My best friend’s dad was a trucker and he always seemed to have a cigarette hanging from his bottom lip. They never had much but he always had his smokes.

It’s not just the cost of living that’s gone up. It’s our very sense of being that has changed. Think to when you were a child. How often were you actually in the house? Were you playing baseball or stickball in the street? Did you go exploring around the woods or in the creek? Did you collect rocks, feathers or even bits of string? How often did you stay out until your Mom called you in for dinner? Didn’t you go out again as soon as you finished and stay out until it got dark?

I did all that and I’m only 28. I was behind for what the world had already become. I lived and imagined. I still do. I believe that fun can be made on your own and not manufactured. I believe that children should be allowed to be children. They can learn how to behave and still have the freedom that belongs to them.

These days the children of America by and large, whether they live in the country or the city, whether the family has money for food or not, these children live in front of the television or the computer. They gain weight eating snacks, their vision dims from looking at the glow from that TV or monitor and they develop allergies because they don’t experience the great outdoors. In an age of freedom we have voluntarily caged ourselves.

As Americans we live in the greatest country in the world. We have the most advantages. Why do we squander them? Why do we live the way we do?

I don’t have the answer. All I have is a call. Don’t wake up one morning with regrets. If you do now, make a decision. It’ll change your whole life and you’ll find that if you didn’t like yourself or your life before, you will now.

Good luck.

A very good friend of mine who is just as passionate about the movies as I am will be showing the iconic 007 film. Once again we are introduced to, “Bond, James Bond.” Goldfinger celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and I can think of no better location than the lavish Pickwick Theater in historic downtown Park Ridge Illinois.

 

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When you step up to the ticket office you will be greeted by a Bond girl in gold who won’t ask for your soul or your virtue but the price of admission. Inside more dazzling beauties in gold will be on hand to help you.

 

Special treats include a prop from the film and a man from the Ian Fleming Foundation. There will be much to see and tell upon your return home. Please step out on the 18th of September and see Goldfinger with us.

 

What:

Goldfinger starring Sean Connery (1964)

 

Where:

The Pickwick Theater

5 S. Prospect Ave, Park Ridge, IL 60068

 

When:

September 18th, 2014

Live Organ music by Famed Organist Jay Warren at 7 PM

Goldfinger at 7:30 PM

Be sure to come early and bring your camera to have your picture taken with a Bond girl.

 

Why:

The 50th Anniversary

As if we needed an excuse!

 

Price:

$7 Adults

$5 Seniors

Please check back in with us to learn what other movies and surprises we have in store for you.

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Driving on expressways is fast, hectic and at times nerve wracking. If you occasionally use Chicago’s expressways you know exactly what I mean. Driving the city streets the traffic is often times bumper to bumper and the city driver feels a sense of freedom in the speed they experience when they drive the tollway. It is said that they fly like demons and in some ways they do.

Chicago drivers on the expressway drive as if the road were free and clear. They don’t seem to see anyone in front, beside or behind them. There is even a move that according to one New York driver is unique to the Windy City, the three-lane crossover. Without hesitation and with no turn signal the driver will notice at the last second that their exit ramp has come up and they cross three lanes of heavily laden traffic and the possibility of sudden death to make their exit. If they notice the sudden sound of screeching, burning rubber and squealing brakes they don’t show it. They drive fearlessly like a cat with double its nine lives. Why they think this behavior is no big deal remains a mystery to all safe drivers.

For the thousands of drivers who transverse these paths every day and the dozens of lunatic drivers who cross them up, it would seem luck is with them but luck only lasts so long and goes so far. July 20th of this year luck ended for two drivers as Dennis Anderson changed lanes unexpectedly in his Pontiac coupe leaving no room for Tito M. Rodriquez’s motorcycle. The two collided and Rodriquez, an off duty police officer was killed.

Anderson paid for his crime with a ticket for improper lane use and invalid insurance. Those will soon go away but the memory of taking a life will haunt him for the rest of his. The event is still under investigation.

 

Source: Chicago Tribune Monday July 21, 2014, Section 1, Page 9

The Lack of Caring

It always amazes me about some people. They’re self-esteem must be very low. How else can you explain the actions of your fellow man? Walking through a supermarket you get a good idea of what the local population is like and if you think at all about how others view you, you will be shocked.

People walk around in their pajamas and at times these are very close to underwear. Flesh hangs out in all the wrong places and yet they fail to cover themselves. They don’t care. I do and I avert my eyes. Bad hair days are really, just rolled out of bed at 3 pm. Rats nests abound.

Other than their appearance is their manners. I don’t expect everyone to adhere to Emily Post because I too am guilty of many a taboo but there are certain things that are givens. If you are waiting in line and haven’t yet put your perspective purchase on the convaire belt and discover someone standing behind you with only a few items as opposed to your several dozen, you should let them go first. There are still some brave souls who do but mostly they pretend you aren’t there. Instead of a quick one, two, three you spend ten to fifteen minutes waiting for Food Stamps, Link, credit cards and checks to pass through their hands while you stand in line with achy arms holding your gallon of milk in one hand and gallon jug of water in the other waiting to pay cash.

Then there is the eater. Yes, when we buy groceries we get tempted to buy what is looking back at us from the shelf but there are others who don’t just get tempted. They open the package up and begin to eat it right in the store. Have they paid for it? No. Is it ethical to eat the bag of chips as you shop and pay for it later? Not really. Do they always pay? No. Sometimes they simply stash the empty package on a shelf and walk away.

If people don’t care what others think when their in public, imagine what their house’s look like. Do you think that they’d be neat, tidy and clean or do you suppose their home looks very much like they do – unkempt, soiled and thriving in being lesser than the rest? I wish I could say that it would all change some day but I highly doubt it. People fall into habits and find it almost impossible to get out of them. Why? Mostly, because they couldn’t care enough. They have people in their lives who think as they do and so they cling together and remain who they never were meant to be. For what parent held their child in their arms for the first time and said – “Some day my daughter will be a window washer and toilet scrubber at a fast food restaurant!”

Please, I implore you, if this sounds like you, look at yourself in the mirror. If you admire yourself and think you look great, I’m happy for you. But if you look at yourself and say, “How the heck did I get here,” please take some action and be who you can be – a wonderful person with great qualities. No one was born to be a slug and you shouldn’t be content to be one. Take some action. Be a wonderful beautiful person with a smile on your face. Start today.

Her name was Betty Joan Perske but the world will remember her as Lauren Bacall. She was born September 16, 1924 in the Bronx section of New York. Like many young girls she dreamed of her name in giant letters across the marquis of Broadway. To help that dream come true she studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. It helped and she found herself performing on Broadway in minor rolls but she didn’t make it to the top.

To keep money coming in she exchanged lines on a script for curves in magazines and became a model. She had the looks and she used them well. Her big break came in March 1943 when her picture graced the glossy cover of Harper’s Bazaar. Mrs. Howard Hawks took one look at the woman and showed her husband. Her Hollywood producer-director husband agreed and in one month Bacall had a seven year contract from Warner Brother’s in her hot little hand.

Perhaps the studio sensed something but either way their pairing her with leading man Humphrey Bogart yielded pure magic in her screen debut, To Have and Have Not. The two were fire on the silver screen and the now famous and much quoted line, “If you want anything, all you have to do is whistle,” spelled it out. Her line, “It’s even better when you help,” to a returned kiss from Bogart informed viewers that they were witnesses to much more than film simply rolling from one reel to another.

The true reality was the 19-year-old Bacall and the 45-year-old Bogart were falling in love during the film’s shooting. By the following year they were married and together they would make three more films together. Each with a slightly different tone but each with the same smoky come hither look from Bacall that would earn her the name, “The Look.”

Over the years she made more movies but they were sporadic as the studio presented her with parts and pictures she refused to do. Eventually Warner Brother’s suspended and fined her. From there she moved on to 20th Century Fox and other studios. During the 50’s her career was in a slump but always Bogart stood beside her, loving and encouraging. She became content with simply being a supportive wife and caring for their two children, Stephen and Leslie. When he diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 1956 she devoted herself completely to him. He died the following year and for a time she went into depression.

She remarried in1961 to Jason Robards, Jr. and together they had a son (actor Sam Robards.) Unlike her marriage to Bogart, which was complicated but good, her marriage to Robards was stormy. No longer able to deal with Robards’ violent behavior when drunk she left and they were divorced in 1969.

At the end of the 60’s she returned to Broadway where she appeared in the successfully received play Cactus Flower. Then in 1970 her youthful dream came to fruition in the form of a play entitled Applause (a musical remake of the film All About Eve) for which she won the Tony. After an eight-year absence from the movies she returned in 1974 but she didn’t give up on appearing in plays. In 1981 she had another hit when the play, Woman of the Year, rose to the top. In movies she found another triumph when she was nominated for the first time for best supporting actress in the 1996 film The Mirror Has Two Faces. In 2009 she received an honorary academy award.

Miss Bacall made her last film in 2012. She died of old age 35 days before her 90th birthday on August 12, 2014.

 

A List of Her Most Memorable Rolls:

 

  • To Have and Have Not (1944)
  • Confidential Agent (1945)
  • The Big Sleep (1946)
  • Dark Passage (1947)
  • Key Largo (1948)
  • The Shootist (1976)
  • The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996) – Academy Award Nomination (Best Supporting Actress)
  • The Forger (2012)

 

Sources:

The Film Encyclopedia by Ephraim Katz 4th Edition Ó 2001 Bacall, Lauren, pg. 73

Chicago Tribune Wednesday August 14, 2014, Section 1, Page 14

Chicago Tribune Thursday August 15, 2014, Section 4, Page 1,6

Who can say why some things happen but what happens later is oft times an even bigger problem. In the Chicago northwest suburban town of Crystal Lake, ILL Thursday was garbage day. Amid the still sleepy drivers headed to work who wished it were Saturday garbage trucks rumbled up and down the streets.

The regular routine of one truck came to a sudden change when smoke and flames began to spark from its belly. The police and fire department were called around 6:30 in the morning to this unusual haul being driven down Route 14.

The story quickly changed again as the truck turned northward onto the Route 31 ramp the fire contents were emptied accidentally onto the side of the road and the nearby grass licked it up hungrily. Firefighters worked for twenty minutes to put the brush fire out but at seven that morning they were still working to put the smoldering garbage pile down. These hot spots of rubbish had no intension of giving up but the men where just as determined.

That morning drivers found a detour at the closed ramp and a very unusual sight. What caused the fire was a mystery. It could have been a teen’s prank to set a garbage can at the curb on fire or it could have been an early morning jogger throwing out a spent cigarette that wasn’t quite out. However it could have been a total accident. We’ll never know but the image of a garbage truck’s contents on fire will not soon leave our retinas.

 

Source: Northwest Herald, Friday April 11, 2014 – Page B2

There has always been a fascination between children and trains? How fast is it going? How much does it weigh? Will it really flatten a penny? The answer is simple. Trains go fast, they weigh a lot and they will flatten a penny.

As we get older our questions change to, ‘What if’s.’ What would happen if the tracks froze? What would happen if a car where on the tracks? How about a tire? Would that be a problem? If the tracks freeze the train goes on, if it hits a car it’ll spin the vehicle and stop when it can but it’ll stay on the tracks.

Unlike the penny that simply gets flattened, a tire on the tracks is an entirely new deal. If it hadn’t been proven before, it was a few months ago when a Chicago train encountered just such an issue. The Blue Line train left the city headed to Forest Park. At approximately 7:40 p.m ., they left the West Side station at Cicero Avenue. Shortly there after, the train encountered a very out of the ordinary problem.

There on the tracks was a semi trailer truck tire. With the tire suddenly in the driver’s vision there was no time to stop. Only Superman could see a tire a mile away and it takes a mile for a train to stop completely. With nothing to do but move forward train and tire hit head on. The result? The front car of the train derailed! The score? Tire 1, Train 0. The tire won.

As of the source date there were no injuries reported. The passengers were shuttled to the next station and the tale of the tire had come to a full circle. Pun intended.

 

Source: Chicago Tribune, Friday April 11, 2014 – Section 1, Page 9

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