Spring 1975. Kent, Ohio.
Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, released in December 1974, finally arrived in Kent on 4 April 1975. It ran for nine weeks at the Kent Cinema I, the old downtown theater that had only recently divided into two auditoriums, then for another week at the Midway Drive-In, halfway—midway—between Kent and Ravenna, the county seat just six miles east.
We had been living in Kent since the fall of 1969 (we were married that December) and had just recently bought our first house, 114 North Forest Drive, a small wood-frame place less than a mile west of the Kent Cinema. In April 1975, our son, Steve, was nearing his third birthday (in July).
When Joyce and I saw Young Frankenstein that spring, neither of us had read Mary Shelley’s novel; I don’t know that either of us had yet seen the 1931 James Whale film, either. We were both working furiously to complete our doctorates at Kent State University (we both finished in 1977). I was still teaching full-time in Aurora. My salary for the 1974–1975 school year was $13,014.34. Although Joyce made a few thousand as a grad assistant at KSU, money was tight.
But we occasionally went to movies—often with Steve. But we would not have taken him to Young Frankenstein (too scary), and there were a couple of girls in the neighborhood who babysat for us now and then for a dollar an hour. Sometimes, we dropped Steve for a few hours with Joyce’s parents, who lived in Akron, only about fifteen miles away.
I can’t recall exactly when we saw Young Frankenstein, only that it was at the Kent Cinema that spring. I remember laughing a lot, I remember Victor Frankenstein’s grandson (Gene Wilder) screaming that he wants his name pronounced “Frankensteen!” And I remember wacky Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman (as Igor, the bug-eyed gnomish character who does not appear in Mary Shelley’s novel) and Peter Boyle as the creature—Peter Boyle, whom I’d previously seen only in that odd and sanguinary film Joe back in 1969.
Now, I can see an image of a scene from Young Frankenstein: Kahn and the creature. in their post-coital bed. Smoking a post-coital cigarette. Few other memories remain. When the film comes on television, I don’t watch it. I don’t know why. I did not watch Young Frankenstein again even when I was going through a phrase of trying to see every Frankenstein film (the Internet Movie Database lists well over 100 films with Frankenstein somewhere in the title)—from Tim Burton’s early short Frankenweenie, about a dog, to the outrageous Frankenhooker. So why not Young Frankenstein again? Perhaps because I’d seen it already. But I realize, too, that the film would now be much funnier to me because I know so much about the story. Maybe next time it’s on … Or maybe Netflix …
At the KSU Library, in August 2011, I found on local newspaper microfilm the dates that Young Frankenstein appeared in Kent. As I checked all theater times from the date of its December 1974 release to its April 1975 Kent opening, I came across some oddities. Andy Warhol’s Dracula was in town on January 10. That same week—at another nearby drive-in (the East, in Tallmadge)—Frankenstein Created Woman appeared for a week. Peter Cushing plays “Baron Frankenstein.” And those other great and/or popular 1970s films—Buster and Billie, Walking Tall, The Longest Yard, American Graffiti, The Man with the Golden Gun, The Towering Inferno, Murder on the Orient Express, Harry and Tonto, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Lenny, The Stepford Wives, Shampoo—all were in Kent in the winter of 1974–1975. Joyce and I saw most of them, money be damned.
EXTRA! YouTube link to trailer for Frankenhooker!