“Have a good time!”
That was my first line on a Biograph Theatre midnight show handbill about six months after the theater opened at 814 West Grace Street, Richmond, Virginia, in February of 1972. Eventually, the line became the Biograph's slogan/motto and I became its official spokesdog.
My name is Rebus. That’s me in the illustration above that was lifted from the top of the Biograph Theatre’s Program No. 53, published in January of 1980.
In case you're wondering what my name means, a rebus is a puzzle using symbols. For example, the viewer sees a line drawing of a person's eye, then a plus sign, then the letter “c”, then another plus sign, then the letter “u.”
Decoded that rebus means “I see you.”
If I look vaguely familiar, in addition to my work at the Biograph, you may remember me from my breakthrough appearances in the Commonwealth Times’ special all-comics issues of Fan Free Funnies in 1973, or from my appearances on posters promoting rock ‘n‘ roll shows and various other schemes.
First at the Biograph, then afterward in countless projects, I’ve worked for the guy who wrote the stories that follow my comments here. F.T. Rea, who goes by Terry, likes to say he keeps me around because I’m a lucky charm.
Well, I know Rea is a little superstitious, but I think it has more to do with real charm. Although his memory is getting more fuzzy every day, my boss is still smart enough to know that most folks have always liked me more than him.
Naturally, I told him to put more funny stuff in the stories, but Rea rarely listens to me these days. Now that he sees himself as more of a writer than a cartoonist, he doesn’t spend all that much time at his drawing board, anymore.
To set the stage for the stories about the theater, Chapter One offers some context. Its stories begin with the telling of how a lesson was learned about the nature of cool in 1961. Ever the baby boomer, Rea also dredges up some memories associated with the Vietnam War and then an account of his initial plunge into the world of show business and after-hours shenanigans.
Hopefully, this recounting will offer the reader some insight into how those times passed in Richmond's Fan District. These yarns serve up some firsthand pop history about a repertory cinema in what was the golden age for such movie theaters. One thing for sure, some of the events described could only have happened in the 1970s.
The stories in this collection of remembrances are supposed to be true. Hopefully, readers too young to know better will have a good time reading them, anyway, even if they do seem somewhat fanciful, at times.
Naturally, I prefer the illustrations.
Since Rea claims his earliest memory, which he sees as a picture in his mind of a dog running -- a yellow dog chasing a car -- perhaps it was only fitting that he would eventually conjure up a cartoon dog character.
As a ten-year-old Rea created a series of newspaper-like sports sections. He invented eight teams in an imaginary baseball league made up of cartoon animals -- monkeys, bears and dogs. He played out the games in his head and wrote stories about them. And, he drew illustrations of the action.
Immediately following the Beatles initial appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, in February of 1964, Rea drew caricatures of the band members that had girls at Thomas Jefferson High School lining up in the cafeteria to buy for a dollar each.
In the Navy, in 1967, Rea got busted for drawing an X-rated comix-style parody of what he saw as a lurid training film. The offending artist was sentenced to extra duty -- he spent several hours wielding a sledgehammer for his punishment, breaking big rocks into little ones. Whereupon, the wiseass sailor said it was perfect: A cartoon punishment for a cartoon crime.
At the Biograph, as its manager, he had the perfect opportunity to hone his skills as a advertising copywriter, film note-writer and graphic artist. In the 1970s he collected old magazines and studied the looks of the designers and popular illustrators going back to the late-1800s. He poured what he was learning into his regular chores of designing handbills, programs and T-shirts.
Among other goose-chases, Rea spent most of the 1980s trying to gather and depict how his memories looked and how imaginary, fresh images looked in his head ... and the difference between them. During that decade he wallowed in the study of 20th century American and European political art. He experimented with doodles, thinking they were close to some pure form of expression. He tried to stretch his cartoonist sensibilities and techniques into different applications. He made intricate collages he saw as frozen movies.
Rea became a self-publishing political cartoonist with his satirical card set about a prison break on death row, The Brileys. That story is told in Chapter Eight.
Eventually, Rea began dumping his single-panel cartoons and caricatures into his vanity press magazine, SLANT, which was distributed almost regularly in the middle of town for several years. Perhaps one day Rea will put together a highlights package of that off-the-wall story.
It’s now my job to say I hope the reader will have a good time consuming what's being offered as Biograph Times.