Tahlequah Daily Press

July 26, 2012

On John Wayne, alcohol, flashers and ‘Alien’

Managing Editor

TAHLEQUAH — One of my all-time favorite movies – certainly my top pick in the horror/sci-fi genre – is “Alien.” Though it came out in 1979, it may impress you to know I even remember the date I saw it in the theater: June 11.

I hope a few of you are thinking, “Wow, she has a good memory, for a woman of her age.” Truth is, I probably wouldn’t remember that date, if it weren’t the same day Marion Morrison departed this earth. Who was Marion, you ask? This was one of the brain-teasers I used to give students in my editing classes. They rarely got it right, any more than they got Chuck Windsor, Karol Wojtyla, or Gordon Sumner. (To save you the trouble of googling, the latter three are, in the order they appear: England’s king-in-waiting, Prince Charles; Pope John Paul II; and the musician Sting, of The Police fame.)

Marion Morrison is John Wayne.

When I was a kid, we all liked The Duke. Most kids like cowboys, at least in Oklahoma and Texas, and all fathers seemed to like him. In hindsight, he wasn’t the greatest actor to grace the silver screen. Though saying so may put me in the cross-hairs of some aging Cherokee Countian who still hasn’t used his “one free killin’,” I think Jeff Bridges did a better job as Rooster Cogburn. But none of that mattered, because John Wayne was the quintessential American. And if a John Wayne movie was making the circuit, we kids could be assured of a Saturday night trip to the Sunset Drive-in in Muskogee. For us, that was the lap of luxury.

John Wayne wasn’t in “Alien,” although if you played the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game, you could probably tie him to one of the seven actors in the movie. Eight if you count Bolaji Badejo, who played the alien. Nevertheless, The Duke is inextricably connected to “Alien” in my mind.

On June 11, 1979, I was enrolled in summer classes at OU, between my freshman and sophomore years. I was living in Walker Tower, one of the high-rise dormitories. The trend among the college girls was to knock loudly on one of the upper-story windows to get the attention of the high school boys attending sports or band camp on the lawn below, and then “flash” them. That pastime ended abruptly when a group of the high school boys entered the building and rode the elevator up to the floor where the girls had been baring their bosoms. The randy young bucks confronted the does in the lounge, apparently intent on getting more than a brief glimpse of skin.

I missed all the excitement, because I was getting my hair permed at a beauty shop on Campus Corner. The perm wasn’t bad, though it elicited comparisons to Barbra Streisand. But I suspect I might have gotten lucky. This particular beauty shop had one of those old-fashioned Coca-Cola boxes with sliding doors on top, and the shop owner appeased his co-ed customers by serving them Everclear and Coke. Some of you younger folks may be surprised by this flagrant violation of the law, but all I can say is, things were a bit more relaxed in those days.

Anyway, when I made my way back to the dorms (on foot), all the girls on the floor were talking about the near-miss with the high school boys. Some of them decided to work off the stress by going to a movie. They’d heard some flick called “Alien” was playing. I had seen the trailer – the one with the egg, with the slogan, “In space, no one can hear you scream” – and I liked sci-fi, so I was down for it. I did not drive.

And there we sat for about two hours, mouths agape in horror as John Hurt’s chest exploded, Tom Skerritt was taken out in a nail-biting segment when he went into the air ducts to hunt down the monster, and Yaphet Kotto got chewed into hamburger by the alien’s second set of pop-out jaws.

We were still shuddering when we got back to the dorm, and someone yelled that my mom was on the hall phone, and it sounded like an emergency. (A “hall phone” was necessary because no one could afford one in their rooms, and this was way before the advent of cell phones.) I rushed into the hall, picked up receiver and, in trepidation, said, “Hello?”

It was clear my mother had been crying. “What’s the matter?” I asked. I was thinking something had happened to one of my siblings or my grandparents. She sobbed a few times, then burst out, “John Wayne died!”

You’d have thought the world had ended. And in some ways, perhaps it did. Later that night, we went to the disco, wearing our Candie’s shoes and shimmery polyester dresses, and shook our booties to the likes of Donna Summer, The BeeGees and the Commodores. That world also ended soon enough – mercifully, some would say.

A few weeks ago, my husband, son and I went to see the prequel for “Alien,” which is called “Prometheus.” It was pretty creepy, too, but not as much so as the original. There were a number of gross-out moments, where you had to sort of peek through half-closed eyes to avoid the impulse to retch. There were a couple of jump-out-of-your-seat shots, though nothing like the chest-burster. And for the guys, there was eye candy in the form of Charlize Theron, who takes the role of b*tch to new heights – but for good reason, as you find out eventually.

After the movie ended, everyone filed out of the theater, and we couldn’t help but notice that no one said a word. You could have heard the proverbial pin drop. I half-expected to get a call from my mother, telling me something had happened to Robert Downey Jr. or Johnny Depp.

That didn’t happen, so even right now, I’d have to think hard to tell you the exact day I saw “Prometheus.” And no one even made me drink rubbing alcohol before I saw it.

Kim Poindexer is managing editor of the Tahlequah Daily Press.