|For the first eight years of my life, I grew up in Patchogue, Long Island in New York. It's a little sea side community across from Fire Island. We lived about a block from the fishing pier known as Patchogue Dock.
My memory of that time spanning the years 1951 through 1959 comes in flashes. We did not have a television yet, but there was always plenty to do: Easter egg hunts in the park, happy summers at the beach, visiting the neighborhood fire station, exploring the nearby woods in our Davy Crockett raccoon skin hats (with the dangling striped tail wagging from the back). Winters were cold and on snow days, my eyeline barely made it above the blinding drifts of white powder.
But my main interest was getting to go to the movies.
During the summer, our theater played all the Disney classics and Mom would take me to those. However, I had to talk long and convincingly to get my mother to agree to let me go with my two older brothers to the movies...because my brothers always went to see the SCARY ones! It was OK for me to see Bambi and Pinocchio, but the "scary" films that everyone in the neighborhood talked about were not for eight year old boys.
Somehow my chance arrived, and excitement peaked when I was finally given permission to go to the theater one particular Saturday. I thought the walk to downtown was going to last forever, and I'll never forget the joy of entering the cavernous lobby of the Patchogue Theater. There were so many children and the bustling so unsettling to me, it was frightening.
Soon enough, we were in our balcony seats and my older brother broke out the bag of penny candies for us he had stuffed into his jacket. Right from the first frame, this movie was so different than any others I had seen, and the story so foreign to my way of thinking. The film had real people in it -- not cartoon characters. It was REAL. The main feature that Saturday matinee was The Colossus of New York (1958).
I was in awe. I knew a little about "science" from my oldest brother -- he was the smart one in the family and he knew all about the Sputnik, and how flying saucers were visiting from distant galaxies. So I was amazed to see what science was up to this week...planting a dead scientist's brain into a mechanical robot body! Could it be true? Was this really happening somewhere?
I asked questions only to get "Shhhhhh!" back in my ear. There was a boy in the film, a little boy like me. And he was not afraid of the mechanical man-monster. And because he wasn't afraid, I wasn't afraid. Well, at least mostly!
It was such a sad story and I got the pathos of it right away. The boy's father was somehow transformed into this huge menacing robot man. The robot could walk underwater, and had superhuman strength. And he was angry.
I watched in incredulous, silent awe as the man-monster turned evil and hurt people with his super X-ray laser eyes. And the boy was still not afraid. I feared for him as he pounded on the android's chest and told him he was bad and to stop hurting people. None of the adults could stop this monster being, but there was the little kid fearlessly yelling at the monster-man.
Would the beast kill the boy? Would he cast him over the balcony or evaporate him with his electronic stare? No. He held the child, told him he was sorry, and gave the boy the power to stop the maniacal rampage. Wow, I thought. How brave and sad. Even a monster has some good in him somewhere. And even a small boy has the power to make seemingly impossible things happen.
The Colossus of New York was a step in my own transformation, because it was to become another thread in my empowerment to become a film actor. Within a year, I would have a part in my first Hollywood movie.