In January 1992, I produced my first column for the Tri-City Herald. Reviewing film is my favorite thing to do, it’s a hobby, it’s a job and it’s a life love.
As I begin my 20th year doing this for the newspaper — and now for atomictown.com — I wanted to put my 20-year career in perspective. I decided the best way to do that would be in an interview format. So I interviewed myself about how I came to love movies, how I got the moniker "Mr. Movie" and my history with the Tri-Cities.
So you’ve been the Tri-City Herald’s critic for 20 years. Congratulations. What one thing stands out about your career?
Answer: I have not missed a column in 20 years. Week in and week out, I have been in the newspaper and for the last couple of years on this site. One column didn’t get published, but I wrote it. (Issues beyond my control caused it not to be printed.) That must be some sort of record.
I am able to get time off for a week in the summer because the films around the 4th of July are screened early enough that I can write the column and then head out for vacation. At the end of the year, there are two weeks of dead time. That’s when I write my year in review, and that’s done before the two-week break so I do get some time off.
I’ve noticed by reading your column regularly that you are a big fan of independent movies. And we’re now seeing a lot of them in the Tri-Cities.
Answer: After years of lobbying the theater chains — first Cineplex Odeon, then Act III and finally Regal — to run art films, I finally got someone at Carmike to listen. Bob Scarborough books films for the Tri-Cities. He listened to reasons why art films ought to play here and told me to name four art films. He said he’d book them and if they did well, he’s book art films on a regular basis.
That was in 2001. It worked. The rest is history.
What made you decide on a career as a movie critic?
Answer: Other than my beautiful wife and family, I have three life loves.
The first is movies. My love affair with them began at age 6 when my mom took me to see The Wizard of Oz. This was in Umatilla, Ore., and it was the final time that the film did the theater circuit before becoming an annual television event in the late 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
It was love at first sight and movies — sorry Mom — became my first love.
I didn’t know that you are a Tri-City native?
Answer: I grew up in Tri-Cities.
Is that where you began to explore being a movie critic?
Answer: Yes and no. But you’re getting the cart a bit ahead of the horse. But yes, this is where I started my love affair with the movies. As a kid, I remember we had four theaters: the Benton Theater in downtown Kennewick, the Liberty and Pasco theaters in Pasco and the Uptown in Richland.
Seems to me there might have been one more Richland theater, but if there was, I can’t remember the name.
My friends and I made the rounds and would catch our favorites in all three cities. We’d do this — as an example — with great kid films such as Swiss Family Robinson or Journey to the Center of the Earth.
A movie usually opened in Kennewick or Pasco, and the next week it would travel to whatever city didn’t get it first. Richland was the third stop. And in those days all the theaters regularly showed double-features.
We lived in Kennewick. A trip to Pasco was easy via the old bridge that used to stand just east of the cable bridge. A trip to Richland to catch a movie required a little more planning. It was seven or eight miles on a highway and bicycles were out of the question.
You seem to have fond memories of movies in the Tri-Cities.
Answer: They were my major source of entertainment. We had a TV, but most of the time it didn’t work. And when it did, there was never anything on that interested me. Even as hot as it is in Tri-Cities, I preferred being outside to watch daytime TV and we were at school fall, winter and spring.
Like most families in those days, we had only one TV and at night, my dad owned it. We watched what he watched. What he watched wasn’t that interesting, so I’d usually read or go to a movie.
During the summer, all the theaters had a kid’s special with a double, sometimes even a triple feature. They showed this old black and white comedy horror movie or that, or an old Disney flick and about a dozen cartoons.
Merchants all over the area sold advance tickets for the season for something like a buck or two. When I couldn’t afford to buy the tickets, I “volunteered” to clean the empty soft drink cups, popcorn bags and candy wrappers out of the Benton Theater auditorium so I could get in free.
Answer: My family left the Tri-Cities in 1964 and outside of a quick stay in 1967, I didn’t return until late 1988. I was thrilled to come back, and I stayed for 13 years. I have lived all over the Northwest, but no place has been home like the Tri-Cities.
Our move in 1964 was to Portland, where my love of movies took a twist. As a teenager and young adult, I worked as a projectionist for a company that owned a chain of drive-in theaters. For a couple of years, I even lived in an apartment in one of the snack bars and later in a single-wide trailer on a drive-in lot.
My short career as a projectionist taught me the finer arts of movie presentation. Things such as making sure the film is always in frame or in focus and that the light is right on the screen — something the automated projection systems and the projectionists that operate them in modern theaters have never quite figured out.
But with the digital age and more digital theaters, the problem is becoming less acute.
What is your second life love?
Answer: Love No. 2 is media. In 1971, I started my broadcast career. I have been fortunate enough to work in every major form of media: radio, TV, newspaper and the Internet.
Where movies and media intersect with me is the medium of writing. More on that in a second.
Other than in personal relationships — which still puzzle the hell out of me — I have always had what some call “keen” observation powers and see life a bit differently than most. A career as a news reporter was the natural evolution of that skill.
I worked radio news in the early 1980s and programmed and managed stations in the mid-80s and finally left the business in 1989. In the 1980s, we all discovered Siskel and Ebert. That program blew my mind, and it occurred to me that I could do the same thing.
A decade later, I took the first step.
How did that come about?
Answer: In 1991, I paid to see several clunker movies in a row. Income was low at that point, and I hated to waste the money. Then I remembered that movie critics get to see films for free. I checked with two friends -- Terry Bailey who managed KEY radio at the time, and his program director Jim Swartz -- and asked them if they’d like to have a local movie critic.
The answer was an instant "yes".
How did you get the name Mr. Movie?
Answer: On my first broadcast for KEY, Jim began to use my real name. I wanted to be anonymous, so I caught his attention and in mid-sentence he glibly backed off my name and referred to me "Mr. Movie."
The anonymity didn’t. I was the marketing supervisor for Ben Franklin Transit, and when I got to work 20 minutes later, a half a dozen co-workers came up and asked me if I was KEY’s "Mr. Movie."
At this point, I need to posthumously thank Terry and Jim for their help in launching what has turned out to be my favorite gig in a long media career. Toward the end of my stay in Tri-Cities, I did a Friday morning review on 97 Rock where Jim was doing news.
I used to tease him and call him "Dad."
So how did you end up at the Tri-City Herald?
After about a year of doing radio, I contacted Andy Perdue at the Tri-City Herald. At the time, he was editing the paper’s Friday entertainment page. I can’t remember its name now. Somehow, I was able to convince him to let me review film for the paper.
Later, I added TV to my repertoire and did reviews on KNDU for a year and then on KVEW for another seven or eight. A few years ago, I did TV again on Northwest Public Television’s In Steppe with my friend/fellow columnist Lucy Luginbill.
The transit group downsized in 2000, and I lost my job there. I left Tri-Cities that same year.
When I learned that I was leaving and moving to the Seattle area, I gave notice to editor Ken Robertson. He asked me to continue review film for the newspaper. After all, he said, "isn't it easier to review film from a major market than from Tri-Cities?"
So here we are still collaborating, 20 years and several thousand movies later.
And your third life love?
Answer: My third love is writing. Though I’ve been doing this for 20 years, there is still some frustration. So my goal for the next year is to have a little more fun with the column and the blog.
As for writing, nothing beats doing what you love for a living. And nothing I have ever done has been more fun, or more personally rewarding, than sharing my love of movies with the readers of the Tri-City Herald and now with you on the atomictown.com.
Anyone you want to thank before we end this?
Answer: Thank you Andy Perdue for giving me a shot. Thank you to the Tri-City Herald editors that have helped me become a better writer. Thanks, too, to Ken Robertson, Rick Larson and Laurie Williams for their support and for enduring my personality quirks and stubbornness via long, involved emails or phone calls.
Thanks to Eric Degerman, who takes such good care of me on this website and whose input and support I value.
Thank you Regal Cinemas and your CEO Greg Dunn, who makes sure I get an annual pass to catch the movies I can’t screen and to film bookers Marine, Carolyn and Donna who have helped me over the years.
At Carmike, Bob Scarborough has not only been a source of movie information but also has become one of my best friends. What’s ironic is that while we’ve talked on the phone at least once a week for most of the last decade, we've never met face-to-face. His staff of Melissa and Regina have been wonderful, too.
Also thanks to Jeff Fairchild and his daughter Megan, who have one of the most beautiful theaters I’ve seen in a long time.
Also thanks to my friends at the Battelle Film Club. You guys rock. I’ve learned more about movies and had more fun talking movies with you than with anyone in the last two decades. The people of the Tri-Cities are lucky to have such a dedicated group. Its relentless pursuit of movie excellence prompted the chains to bring in more art films to a region starved for art films.
And finally, to you — the reader of the Tri-City Herald and the reader of this website. Your support of my column has kept me doing this for 20 very enjoyable years. I always look forward to your comments — positive or negative — and enjoy exchanging thoughts about my all-time favorite subject — movies.