9 minute read



The Power of the Silver Screen

My love for the big screen was born from my love of the little screen. For all practical purposes I was an only child until the age of seven when my baby sister was born. In those young and formative years my daddy was away in the Army and my mother worked every day at a doctor’s office. So, I had a woman who ‘sat’ with me although most of that sitting was me being parked in my little rocking chair watching the tiny screen. No, my brains didn’t turn to mush and I never felt like someone wasn’t paying attention to me. I had all the attention I wanted because I wanted to be left alone to watch TV. But that wasn’t my entire world. I had an active imagination and was quite content playing alone in my room or the backyard. Although, I do remember entertaining myself one morning when I was about two by watching our yellow cat sitting in the sun. His tail was twitching back and forth incessantly and for some reason I thought this must be a constant bother for him like an itch he couldn’t scratch. Being gifted with critical thinking skills I went into the house, found the wire pliers, and was just about to snip that tail off at the tip when I was caught red-handed. Someone caught me and snapped a photo of this catastrophe in the making before they took the pliers away. There is proof of this incident buried in a box of old photos.

Back to that TV and me being my happiest. I knew that the power of stories coming to life in such a way was pure magic. My brains probably didn’t turn to mush because my mother read to me, played classical music on the stereo, bought me a paint set, an easel, and a smock. Enriched I was. But after my morning routine of shows, again, before my bedtime we would be back in that little den watching something amazing. And it was at this early stage of my life that one television show had an incredible impact on me.

Have Gun-Will Travel had all the elements I needed to complete my life. There was a man dressed all in black with a black hat, (the show was black and white – research later proves he was wearing midnight blue), a gun holstered and slung low on his hip with the perfectly cast Richard Boone in the lead. Here’s the skinny on that show.

Have Gun - Will Travel(From the IMDB page)

Have Gun - Will Travel(From the IMDB page)

“Professional gunfighter Paladin was a West Point graduate who, after the Civil War, settled into San Francisco's Hotel Carlton, where he awaited responses to his business card: over the picture of a chess knight is written "Have Gun, Will Travel...Wire Paladin, San Francisco."—Ed Stephan <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

Besides his physical strength and weapons of perfection, he possessed an extreme intelligence. Much like the Paladin, which is the horse of the chess board, he was able to circumvent obstacles and achieve victory where it was seemingly beyond the reach of a mere mortal. There was no hint of bias or bigotry in his character; he evaluated each man instantly and treated immigrants with respect and dignity.

The dashing, daring character of Have Gun - Will Travel had the refined taste of James Bond and the wardrobe of Johnny Cash.

Based out of the luxurious Hotel Carlton in San Francisco, Paladin offered his services for steep fees, typically $1,000. He carried business cards embossed with his chess knight logo and his promise, "Have Gun – Will Travel." Paladin was everything from guardian, tutor, rescuer, bounty hunter, treasure hunter, detective… whatever the client needed.”H

e was smart. He read things. He appreciated fine art, music, wine – and most likely – women. As a little girl who would grow up to be a woman knew by instinct there were some highly desired characteristics in a man. But then men dressed all in black were my weakness. Think Elvis, Johnny Cash, the oldest brother on Bonanza, that sexy ginger haired priest on the PBS show, Grantchester. But I digress.

So, my time spent in front of that little television only brings good memories and influences that I think contributed to who I am as a writer today. My coffer was full and by what I deem as one of the luckiest strikes of my life, when I was eight years old and we had returned from Germany where my daddy was stationed we moved into the St. Andrews neighborhood of Panama City, Florida. And right down the street was The Florida Movie Theater in all its large one screen glory. Fresh popcorn always. As in – always. A pay phone in the lobby. Why, you might ask, would anyone need a pay phone in the lobby of the theater. I’ll tell you why. For kids being able to drop a dime (bless my Generation Jones heart) in the payphone and call Mom to say it the movie was over and it was time to be picked up. Only that’s not what we used that phone for. We called to simply say, “We loved it so we are staying to watch it again!” The same movie over again without even a pause. And the other amazing thing about the golden oldie days - you didn’t have to buy another ticket. You just went back in the theater and waited for the lights to go down and the magic to start again.

In this old neighborhood my sister and I had four places we were allowed to walk to on our own. Something I wouldn’t let a child do now which is such a shame, most likely overly protective these days but these days aren’t those days. We were allowed to walk to St. John’s Church to ask if Sister Rosemary could come out and say hello. To the duck pond to feed the ducks. To the Oakland Terrace Baseball Park and – to the Florida Theater. If that theater had been on the other side of the busy intersection it would have been off limits but by our good fortune it was on ‘our’ side of the street.

I have a perpetual memory on a loop from years of me holding my sister’s hand, walking our way out of the hot summer sunshine and straight into the cool dark of the theater where we caught the likes of the original Jungle Book and came home (after seeing it twice) singing all the songs in the movie by heart. Likewise, when Lady and the Tramp hit the screen we did the same. And, yes, we sang that Siamese cat song until we drove Mom half crazy.

Years upon years later I stood in line on a double date with Cousin Deb to see Jaws on the big screen and the perfection of that movie has never been lost on me. Or the fact that when the great white shark’s head comes up out of the water for the first time as Brody throws out chum - I screamed and threw popcorn straight up in the air. Like a whole bag of it. That was the summer where I didn’t see anyone in the Gulf over their knees. I swear I don’t remember seeing anyone out there in the deep unless it was a lone surfer and I would have just said – your history man. It’s lights out for you. I am still not a fan of the black-eyed creatures from the deep and no amount of education changes that for me. No. Amount. Never mind that just the summer before I was swimming after work at night in the Gulf in the dark way out there with other young idiots just like me who had gotten off work from a long shift and a refreshing swim in the dark waves seemed just like the thing to do. That’s when you are young enough to think you are immortal. I had smart friends who would not have done such a thing. They did not work the night shift. But, again, I digress.

These days it seems the excellence of stories on the little screens (which aren’t so little anymore) and the big screen have disappeared. I am as lost in the creation of the show Andor, The Rings of Power, One for All Mankind - or shorter offerings like Ted Lasso, Severance, or Abbot Elementary - the list goes on and on along with the movies that are a never-ending stream of delicious story goodness. It’s Awards season and I’m checking off my list of all the nominees which I’ll be writing about in depth over on my blog – Notes from the Coast – in days to come. Not in an Academic way (well, not mostly) but with the pure joy of a movie lover who values, desires, and even needs that special magic that only the big screen offers.

I hope with all the wonderful reading that you are doing between the pages you find time to include a big screen. It’s an offering that gives you that little two hour pause of escape, adventure, and wonder. It’s good medicine right now. And when Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny hits the big screen, well, my phone will be silent but you’ll know where to find me.

River Jordan is an author, speaker, teacher and radio host. As a southerner with a global perspective she is a passionate advocate for the power of story. River's writing career began as a playwright and she spent over ten years writing and directing. She is the best-selling author of four novels and a three spiritual memoirs. As a critically-acclaimed author her work has been most frequently cast in the company of such writers as Flannery O'Conner, William Faulkner, and Harper Lee.