June 06--Tom Conner grew up in Flomaton, Ala., and the only entertainment available to him was in the local movie house.
"I loved movies. I lived in that fantasy world as a child," the 66-year-old admits.
He didn't create his own version of "The Judy Miller Show," the Gilda Radner "Saturday Night Live" skit about a child entertaining herself in her bedroom by playing a cast of characters.
He waited until he was an adult and created something bigger.
Conner opens the 16th University of the Pacific Summer Film Series at the Janet Leigh Theatre on Saturday and invites the public to share his love of film.
This summer's series opens with "Whistling in Brooklyn," a 1943 comedy with Red Skelton as a popular radio crime-solving detective, called The Fox, who finds himself accused of being a serial killer.
"I'm excited about 'Whistling in Brooklyn,' " Conner said. "Hardly anybody knows of that picture unless they're a hard-core film fan who watched them every night on the late show like I did.
"It was a series, the 'Fox' series. Red Skelton played the Fox, and Ann Rutherford was his fiance and co-star on the radio show. In each film they're trying to get married, and something always comes up and stops them from getting married. ... This is a hilarious movie. I think it will be such fun for the audience."
Conner hand-picks the films that make up his series, then complements them with newsreels, trailers and cartoons to make moviegoers feel as though they've walked into a theater in 1943, or 1947, or whatever year a given film was released.
"That's changed," Conner said. "I do a lot more of a production than I did in the beginning. I try to show trailers that are part of the theme of the night. I do the transition tags that say 'Previews' or 'Coming Attractions' or 'Now, Our Feature Presentation.' I didn't have that when I started. I'm trying to make it as close as I can to (the original movie experience), to go back in time."
When Conner started the series 16 years ago, he was simply a movie buff who worked for a trucking company and bemoaned having to travel to Sacramento or San Francisco to see classic cinema.
A friend encouraged him to show his own 16 mm films and suggested he contact the university about providing a location.
Pacific officials were delighted at the prospect.
"It was never about making money," said Conner, who now runs the Janet Leigh Theatre as part of his job in student services at the university, where he was hired seven years ago. "It was something for the community."
His first screening, of "Fire Over England" with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, drew five people, and four were friends of his.
"Only one (person) just came and didn't know me," Conner said. "He's still coming."
So are about 100 classic film fans, who discovered Conner's repertory film series before such oldies but goodies played 24/7 on Turner Classic Movies.
"TCM had something to do (with the popularity of the Pacific series)," Conner said. "It's also the fact these movies are getting so far removed from television. They don't show up on standard television anymore. They're on Turner, or PBS, or something special. (When I was a kid), they were on all the time, all over the place. Now, 'Iron Man' and 'Iron Man 2' are old movies."
Films in Conner's series date back a bit farther. The rest of his summer lineup features 1947's "The Angel and the Bad Man," starring John Wayne; 1938's "Mr. Moto's Last Warning," with Peter Lorre; the 1943 musical "This is the Army;" a Roy Rogers double feature; and the 1964 comedy "Man's Favorite Sport," starring Rock Hudson and Paula Prentiss.
"There's never a theme," Conner said. "I try to pull a little comedy, a little film noir when I can. There's always a Roy Rogers double feature, which is always a big hit, and I try to do a combination of older and newer classics. I don't go for the hard-core (classics) as much as I go for something a little more unusual or something not quite as known."
Contact reporter Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or email@example.com.
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