Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Papa's Delicate Conditioning

January 26th is a momentous date in my movie history. It's my father's birthday. And besides the inherent logic of Dick Cavett's maxim that if your parents didn't have children, you probably won't either, I maintain that it was through him that I picked up my all-encompassing love of the movies. In all likelihood, it goes back even further.

In Cincinnati of 1875, Hubert Heuck had turned his successful saloon on 13th & Vine into a performance space, Heuck's Opera House, and created the "Burlesque Wheel," which united a lucrative network of theatres in eight cities that guaranteed 30 weeks of work for shows and performers. He took over a neighboring beerhall on 12th & 13th in 1882 to create a new Heuck's Opera House, rechristening the previous location Peoples Theatre. Both houses hosted acts like Buffalo Bill Cody, Sarah Bernhardt, and W.C. Fields. In 1905 he opened a third location on Fountain Square near Vine named the Lyric, which became a hub for New York's Shubert Organization. Eventually by the '30's, all these locations got acquired by RKO and converted to film presentation, and like that, the Heuck family was out of show business. However, Hubert's daughter-in-law Mathilde Eisenlohr Heuck launched a longer-lasting family business in kitchen gadgets, upon her invention of the turkey lacer.

Mathilde's grandson Roger William Heuck was a youth who loved going to the movies. In the Golden Age where one could find two or three single-screen theatres on a major city thoroughfare that was a short bus ride away, he would spend a Saturday hopping from one show to the next, without any parental supervision. Long Naval voyages were always made tolerable by the nightly 16mm screening that would take place aboard ship. During his bohemian days as a starving writer in Italy, he struck up a brief friendship and patronage with silent film great Ramon Novarro. And while ultimately he would return to Ohio to run the family business and take root in suburban security, he never lost the taste for two hours' diversion.

That prime directive, had it not been in Marc Edward Heuck's (yes, I was named with the company initials) blood already, was fed to him in the formative years. I started out a TV baby, enraptured by cartoons and sitcoms, but Dad steered me to the longform narratives. My first memory of going to the movies was seeing a subtitled film with my parents at the Esquire, a pair of scenes lodging in my brain and puzzling me for years as to where they came from. In my 20's, in the course of an ordinary laserdisc rental, I would discover it was Fellini's AMARCORD; appropriately, the translation of the title is "I Remember."

When my parents got divorced, my Friday night and Saturday afternoon visits with him would often entail going out to the movies. My palate was wonderfully expanded; as I once stated in an opening boast on that game show, I asked him one afternoon to take me to Disney's DARBY O'GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE, instead he took me to STAR WARS. (GENIUS!) My school-induced Catholic paranoia was gradually dissipated thanks to his lassez-faire attitude on taking me to R-rated fare. And in a refreshing divergence from the conventional wisdom, he was not satisfied going to the same theatre; we would go all over the city to see stuff. Of course, in the late '70's, there was still a healthy amount of neighborhood theatres and a smaller number of multiplexes, and some of the traveling impetus would be to accomodate other friends of his who would join us. But the fact remains that I was able to visit many beautiful venues - the Carousel, the Valley, the Ambassador, the 20th Century, the Westwood, the Kenwood, the Hyde Park, the Mt. Healthy drive-in - that are gone, and I'm the richer to have those memories, especially since there are still others from my past - the Alpha, the Mt. Adams, the Studio, and a dozen drive-ins - that I can only constantly wonder about. To this day, I continue to carry that spirit of adventure, sometimes driving an hour or more to see an exclusive run or a surviving single screen facility.

The one minor drawback of our moviegoing is that my father was not interested in exploitation or lowbrow fare, aside from the occasional slob comedy like STRIPES. So sadly, I would never be able to take in the almost annual triple bill of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT, and DON'T OPEN THE WINDOW that would blast the drive-ins, or any of the other horror and action outings that have now become bread-and-butter in my household, in lieu of actual bread and/or butter. But he was an early VCR adopter and cable subscriber, so to an extent, I was able to start perusing that stuff on my own. While he did intervene in my attempt to tape an ON-TV broadcast of a softcore edit of TRASHI with Lisa DeLeeuw, on other occasions, so long as he didn't have to watch, I was free to freak myself out, and any other poor suckers who entered the home. Ask certain members of the Roger Bacon class of 1987, and they may admit to still having trauma from my 17th birthday party and their first unprepared look at Stuart Gordon's RE-ANIMATOR.

Another important nugget of my upbringing was that on his own, my father took in THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW 'round 1980, and was so blown away by the outrageous behavior and the catchy score he bought me the soundtrack album and a mini-poster for Christmas that year, and Dammit Janet if I didn't start memorizing those songs top to bottom. It wouldn't be until two years later that I finally got to see the movie, and by then midnight was already too late for him - my cousin David Beran took me instead. But the subtle message underneath this small gesture was that in a time where it was still a topic of fear and myth, my father was not hung up about gay people or unusual sexual expression, and he felt neither should I. And that's done wonders for my self-esteem, ways of representing myself, and my worldview, not to mention that I received early initiation into a community of kinks and kooks that as recently as last Saturday night has always made me welcome.

As I left home to become an adult, Dad finally had enough of trying to tilt at Wal-Mart windmills with turkey lacers, and began gradually phasing out all ties to the factory, to the point where today any family connection to the M.E. Heuck Company is in name only. While his cousin John Morrison would find himself back in the old Heuck business of sorts, forming the coalition that would save and rehab Clifton's Esquire theatre, Dad decided to explore another realm of the family tree, and follow the example of his great grand uncle John Henry Twachtman, and take up impressionist oil painting. He had always decorated the house for years with classic art; now he began to make it himself. And he's very good: The American Impressionist Society chose this painting, "Fog Lifting on Dollar Island," to be part of their 9th Annual National Exhibit at the CODA Gallery in Palm Beach back in November 2008.

As with many older fellows, Dad isn't as motivated to do the kind of trekking to the movies like we used to do. He's got a house on a hill and a beautiful downtown view and a bigger-than-sod-it-all widescreen TV, so between a nice sunset, a Netflix subscription, and Fox News, why ever leave the house? Not that there's many of our old haunts left anyhow. But when I come home to visit, I always make a game effort to get him out to something with an audience; I've taken him to KING KONG and THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, and he's enjoyed them. And I bring a stack of DVDs that I'm pretty sure he wouldn't seek out on his own. Sometimes the choices click, sometimes, eh, not so much. But it's always a good and simple pleasure to sit down to a movie with your dad.

Well, Big Rog, you're 71 today. The Lyric and the Opera House are flatland now, Peoples Theatre is now a pizza parlour run by nuns, which must give a good atheist like you a chuckle. But flip those digits around, and you get 17. Having picked up the cinema bug from you, I think you'll agree that when we watch a great movie, we feel as excited as a young buck ready to explore the world; it makes us feel like 17 again. And it happens to be your favorite song too.

Psst! Got some money burning a hole in your pocket? Go to RogerHeuck.com and buy a painting! Sure he loves my endearments, but that don't pay the bills!


  1. It's funny; my father doesn't particularly like going to the movies, even though he's worked in them for almost 40 years, but he still managed to instill a respect and love for the cinema in me. I'm hoping I can do the same for my godson. :)

  2. What a great story you tell Marc. :) Thanks for sharing & happy birthday to your papa! :)

    Julie R K

  3. Thanks for the memories Marc. Happy Birthday to your dad! :)

    Natalie C.

  4. <3 Happy Birthday Dad!

  5. Happy Birthday, Daddy Heuck! Thanks for gifting us with your son Marc, he is absolutely one of the most brilliant people I've ever met and truly is a wonderful soul. Your taking the time to watch movies with him instilled an early passion that he now shares with all of us and our lives are better for it! Marc has taught me a lot.

  6. What a fantastic, moving story, Marc. Your dad sounds like a great guy.

    And, hey, that oil painting would make a great movie poster for a film about a house on a fog-shrouded island. It's a thing of beauty.

    Your dad should be proud of you, Marc. You're one of then icest, most honest people I've ever met in LA(!), so you're super-rare.