Reflections on the Simpler Days of My R-Rated Youth

As a parent with free time to kill reading parenting blogs and websites (i.e., I’m at work), I see a lot of articles wistfully harkening back to the unstructured, unscheduled, carefree summer days of my generation’s youth, when our stay-at-home moms turned us out of the house to roam the neighborhood with our pack of neighbor friends, we drank from the hose when thirsty, and entertained ourselves until sundown, when our respective parents would call us home for dinner. While my childhood summers were definitely idyllic by the above standard, it also occurred to me recently that most of my favorite movies, shows, and books from those days were wildly inappropriate for my age. For those of you wanting to do the math at home, I was born in 1970.

Books

I devoured anything by Stephen King: Cujo, 1981; Pet Sematary, 1982; Christine, 1983; In retrospect, when I was reading the Hunger Games trilogy a few years back, it was crazily popular with the middle school girl crowd (much to my embarrassment for having the same taste in books as an 11 year-old girl), so I guess my reading history was not so unusual after all. How about the 1979 bestseller (admittedly, I am guessing here and have done no actual research) Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews? While I’m sure I got my hands on a black market paperback copy at least a year or two after its initial publication, I am pretty sure a majority of the subject matter was over my head, not unlike the 1966 Valley of the Dolls paperback, whose cover I can still clearly picture, whereas many important details of my day-to-day life are generally overlooked, scribbled on a sticky note, or outright forgotten. And where did these books come from, anyway? It’s not like I could check them out from the library at my parochial grade school, or even the public library across the street. I suppose I might have pilfered them from my mom, although I don’t recall her ever reading so much as a cereal box and, let’s face it, with four kids and a drinking problem, she didn’t really have much time for the leisurely pursuit of reading. Alas, the suppliers of the dog-eared paperbacks from my youth remain lost to me.

valley of the dolls

TV Shows

I know my son cannot imagine life without 24/7 Netflix streaming, on-demand shows, You Tube, etc., but when I was his age, we had 3 network channels and UHF. Movies like The Wizard of Oz were aired once a year and the whole family looked forward to it. My older brothers would frequently scream from the downstairs tv room for me in my upstairs bedroom, and I, not unlike Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football, would fall for it time and again…they didn’t actually need me, they just needed someone to change the channel because they were too lazy to get up and do it themselves. But let’s take a closer look at some of my beloved childhood sitcoms, shall we?

WKRP, 1978-1982. I had the biggest crush on “Andy,” with that feathered hair and those super-starched tight jeans! And I knew that Loni Anderson’s character was supposed to be sexy, but I always preferred the girl-next-door looks of “Bailey.” wkrp

Let’s see, what other shows aired in the household of my youth? Oh, how about Three’s Company, circa 1977-1984? With its storyline of a man pretending to be gay in order to respectably live with two hot women, what’s not to love for a 7 to 14 year-old girl (nevermind one who went to Catholic school and didn’t even know what “gay” was)? I especially remember the fondness for pantyhose in the 70s–from those wacky gals Janet and Chrissy wearing them under shorts, to the commercials for how to avoid “elephant ankles,” I am thankful I was a child then and not subjected to the torture of pantyhose.

And who could forget the Friday night double feature of The Love Boat, 1977-1987, and Fantasy Island, 1977-1984, while it lasted? A floating vacation paradise filled with swinging singles followed by a tropical vacation that taught you to be careful what you wish for? Sign me up! How I longed to be a sassy cruise director, planning the activities for the Pacific Princess line’s zany, flamboyent guests, from the sexy lounge singer Charo (the Coochi! Coochi! girl) to the (gasp!) crossover character played by none other than Loni Anderson.

The-Love-Boat-image   fantasy_island

Despite my being somewhat creeped out by Tattoo, I yearned to be a guest disembarking from the plane (de plane!) and gratefully accepting a lei along with Mr. Roarke’s vaguely sinister toast. On nights when I was able to stay awake for this second feature, I felt as if I was getting a sneak peek into the complexities of the adult world.

Dukes of Hazzard, 1979-1985. Another fine example of pantyhose and short shorts. Throw in bootleg moonshine and an affinity for “outsmarting” Johnny Law, and you’ve got yourself some great educational programming!

dukes-of-hazzard-cast (1)

Movies

Even though I saw all of the usual, PG offerings of the era (Bad News Bears, 1976; Star Wars, 1977; Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1977; Oh God!, 1977; Grease, 1978; Heaven Can Wait, 1978; Superman, 1978; E.T., 1982; Poltergeist, 1982; The Outsiders, 1983), upon further reflection (and some IMDB.com reference checking), there were far more R-rated movies in a walk down my childhood memory lane. And, not unlike the fog surrounding my recall of how I got my hands on the books noted above, I have no specific memory of who took me to these movies or how I got there. Did one of my older brothers begrudgingly let me tag along? Did my best friend’s older sister vouch for us? Did my parents not read the rating? Did we buy tickets to a PG movie and then sneak into the R-rated one? While I may never know the answers to how I got there, here is a brief overview of some of my favorite movies of yesteryear. Keep in mind that this was waaaay before the VCR (or Beta-Max if you were super wealthy and bet on the wrong emerging technology), so it’s not like I could have seen the movie once legitimately 17 and then just gotten confused about seeing it earlier. Although, let’s face it, my memory is comparable to Swiss cheese, so there’s an outside chance I may have done that in one or two instances, but definitely impossible that I would do so for all of the titles listed. Without further ado, I offer this abridged list of R-rated movies that helped shape who I am today:

  • Blues Brothers, 1980. Car chases! Nazis! A scene filmed at Phil’s Beach, aka Bangs Lake, where we used to go swimming! So many great lines, including one so good a KC tribute band took their name from it, but this is my favorite.
  • Fame, 1980. Like the other great dance sensation to come in 1983, Flashdance, my best friend and I may have convinced her older sister to take us to see this. The ripped-neck shirts exposing one shoulder and leg warmers did nothing to improve our singing or dancing, but you couldn’t tell us that back then.
  • Caddyshack, 1980. Despite it being lost on the 20-something with whom I work, I still quote this movie at least once a week and work in a “caddy day…caddies welcome from 1 to 1:15” or “pool and a pond” reference whenever possible.
  • Little Darlings, 1980. This may be one that I actually saw later than 1980 and retroactively assigned it to my 10-year old’s memory because it included Tatum O’Neill of Bad News Bears fame, the tomboy who I totally wanted to be.
  • Private Benjamin, 1980. This may have been parentally blessed because it starred Goldie Hawn who we all loved in 1978’s PG-rated Foul Play (and, of course, Laugh-In).
  • The Shining, 1980. Even though I never read this book, based on my heretofore noted love of Stephen King, I presume I bamboozled one of my older brothers to take me to see this.
  • The Blue Lagoon, 1980. After squeezing my chunky 10-year old self into over-priced Calvin Kleins that I somehow convinced my parents to buy me, you bet I was going to find a way to see this film starring Brooke Shields. Sidenote, as a 10-year old girl not yet into boys, I think my main takeaway from the movie was how pretty the water was.
  • Stripes, 1981, and Neighbors, 1981. I am pretty sure one of my older brothers took me to see these. Still recall Dan Akroyd’s character indignantly shouting “he spurned my sauce” from the latter.
  • Sharky’s Machine, 1981. This one is squarely on my best friend’s family, although whether it was her sister, one of her brothers, or her parents that took us, I can’t recall.
  • Fast Times at Ridgemont High, 1982. I think maybe we snuck into this one, possibly with my almost-Irish twin brother who loved Phoebe Cates. Jeff Spicoli’s stoner/surfer talk endured through high school among my guy friends as a direct result of this movie.
  • Cat People, 1982. This is also one we probably snuck into, based solely on our love of David Bowie and his singing the movie’s theme song. Looking on IMDB to confirm this, it’s downright embarrassing that we chose to see this based on the movie synopsis.
  • Risky Business, 1983. Even at age 13 with my first kiss under my belt, the whole prostitution ring storyline of this movie is overshadowed by the iconic dance scene.
  • National Lampoon’s Vacation and Trading Places, 1983. No idea how we got into either of these, but the same collective consciousness that unites John Hughes movie lovers of our generation applies to SNL-veteran movies as well.
  • Christine, 1983. As an 8th grader at this point, I presume that this, and many of the following movies released in 1983, were ones we snuck into.
  • Valley Girl, 1983. I loved this movie so much, I already blogged about it two years ago.
  • All the Right Moves, 1983. It had Tom Cruise and was about football, so I think my pack of girl/guy friends all snuck in together to see this one.
  • Easy Money, 1983. Of course, I loved Rodney Dangerfield in Caddyshack (Don’t sell yourself short, Judge, you’re a terrible slouch!), how could I miss out on this role of a lovable gambling addict trying to reform in order to inherit his MIL’s fortune? Several years later, my father took me to see Dangerfield perform over Christmas Break. Despite all of my youthful exposure to R-rated films and sexy sitcom stars, it was primarily of the wink, wink, nudge, nudge variety so I was totally unprepared for, and duly mortified by, Dangerfield’s gratuitous use of the “f” word in person.
  • Nightmare on Elm Street, 1984. I am pretty sure this was snuck into with the aforementioned first kiss in the hopes of some of the old “feign stretch and put arm around date” move, but this movie scared the bejeesus out of me and I spent most of it scrunched way down in my seat and peeking at the screen from between my fingers.
  • Purple Rain, 1984. My brother and I were in NYC visiting our dad for break and we went to see this in a really beautiful, old theater that had two stories and side balconies. I don’t recall sneaking in, per se, but rather that we seemed so cool to be wandering the city parentless, they just assumed we were old enough to get in. I wore the soundtrack record out, BTW.
  • Footloose, 1984. How was this rated R? Who didn’t love this movie/soundtrack/Kevin Bacon? And who couldn’t bear to see the re-make for just those reasons?
  • Repo Man, 1984, I was thinking that I would’ve wanted to see this because of Emilio Estevez, but a quick IMDB search shows that this movie came out before The Breakfast Club, so I’m chalking this one up to an older brother’s “babysitting” choice.
  • Beverly Hills Cop, 1984. We used to listen to Eddie Murphy’s record and recite his routines to one another on the playground of St. Theresa’s, so of course we found a way to see this. We’re not going to fall for a banana in the tailpipe trick again. 
  • Hot Dog, the Movie, 1984. A lot of the guys I grew up with were into skiiing, so I think that was why this ended up in my memory vault.
  • St. Elmo’s Fire, 1985. Much of the adult-y angst was lost on my 15 year-old self, but to a teenager, angst is angst and we all identified in some way with those beautiful people up on the big screen.
  • Vision Quest, 1985, rated R. A subset of the guys I grew up with were really into wrestling, so I’m guessing that’s how this one ended up on this list.
  • Re-Animator, 1985, unrated. By this point, I was dating an older boy and a bunch of us went to see this based solely on the fact that it was unrated. I think it was kind of a Frankenstein-esque tale?
  • To Live and Die in L.A., 1985. Not unlike Cat People, I’m pretty sure I saw this with my brother and we went because Wang Chung was on the soundtrack.

There you have it. Whether you believe it takes a village or are a practicing helicopter parent, I think we all need to take a cue from our parents, and just chill.

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