The Guy You’re Gonna Call

In 1933, renowned spiritual medium Eileen Garrett entered the parapsychology laboratory at Duke University where she met with botanist turned clinical parapsychologist J.B. Rhine to participate in his quantitative study of extrasensory perception (ESP).

Rhine brought out a deck of cards, specifically designed with his partner Karl Zener for the experiments. Each of the Zener cards contained one of five simple shapes. Ms. Garrett simply had to identify, without seeing the shape on the card, which one Rhine presented her with. The assumption was that an accuracy rate more than 20% would indicate ESP.

Zener Cards [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Zener Cards, used to test for ESP [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
A few years prior, Rhine had gleefully exposed medium Mina Crandon as a fraud, so no one was more surprised than he when Garratt did identify the correct shapes more than 20% of the time. The medium herself, however, was not pleased with the results, claiming that she would have performed better had the cards not lacked a certain psychic energy.

She would have been better off graciously accepting her results because later testing by other researchers failed to find any ability to correctly identify the cards above that of normal chance. Actually Rhine’s methods attracted a lot of criticism, particularly claims that he inadvertently cued his subjects to the proper shapes on the cards. His results were never verifiable in subsequent tests.

But still, Rhine is credited with coining the term “parapsychology” and with being the first to honestly attempt to study it quantitatively. He continued his research at Duke until the university discontinued its support in the early 1960s and he founded the Journal of Parapsychology, the Institute of Parapsychology, and the Parapsychological Association. There’s no question he made himself into the foremost expert in his field, the guy you would call with all of your parapsychological concerns.

And in 1984, his dedication to his field of study brought him a great honor. In one of the opening scenes of Ghostbusters, Dr. Peter Venkman, played by Bill Murray, uses Rhine’s Zener card methodology to test two students for ESP, torturing a young male student who fares at least as well as Garratt did, and hitting on a pretty young lady who always seems to guess correctly even though she doesn’t.

Hook and Ladder Company No. 8. NO FIRES! and NO GHOSTS! "Ghostbusters Firehouse 2 (2007)" by Daniel SCHNERF - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ghostbusters_Firehouse_2_(2007).jpg#mediaviewer/File:Ghostbusters_Firehouse_2_(2007).jpg
Hook and Ladder Company No. 8. NO FIRES! and NO GHOSTS! “Ghostbusters Firehouse 2 (2007)” by Daniel SCHNERF – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ghostbusters_Firehouse_2_(2007).jpg#mediaviewer/File:Ghostbusters_Firehouse_2_(2007).jpg

Like Rhine, Venkman faces the end of his university funding with grace and increased dedication to his chosen field of study. Rather than wallow in his misfortune, he and his associates move into an old firehouse and establish themselves as the guys you’re gonna call with all of your parapsychological concerns.

Perhaps you think it is a stretch to call this small nod to Rhine a great honor, and, well, of course you’re right. Because it would admittedly be a stretch to call Ghostbusters one of the great cinematic achievements of all time. Or of the 1980s. Or of 1984.

But even if it doesn’t hold up all that well, I was a child in the 1980s and Ghostbusters was surely the closest thing to a scary movie my parents ever let me watch. Because of that, it has formed an important part of my childhood. And maybe of yours, too. If so, you’re in luck.

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the original theatrical release of Ghostbusters with (and if you have ESP then you can probably know this already) a theatrical release.

Stay Puft: The monster in your closet since 1984 photo credit: Great Beyond via photopin cc
Stay Puft: The monster in your closet since 1984
photo credit: Great Beyond via photopin cc

That’s right. Starting today and going through this next week, you can celebrate this momentous anniversary by donning your eighties garb and heading to a theater near you to experience the Stay Puft marshmallow attack on New York City in its full big-screen glory.

I think you’re going to do it. I see parachute pants, teased bangs, and a whole mess of ectoplasm in your future. And there’s a fifty percent chance I’m right.

 

What the Fabulous Fox Says

In 1904, then twenty-five-year-old William Fox bought himself a nickelodeon in Brooklyn. Born in Hungary as Wilhelm Fried, Fox worked largely in the fur and garment industry before catching the movie bug. And it turned out he was pretty good at it his new chosen profession. As the popularity of silent films grew, so did young Fox’s influence. By 1913 he had opened a string of nickelodeons and was making a name for himself with his own production company.

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He had a keen eye for the future of entertainment and a knack for discovering and developing the next big trend. As head of the Fox Film Company, William Fox pioneered organ accompaniment during film showings, promoted a number of bright stars, acquired patent rights to the Swiss-developed sound-on-film process, built great movie palaces, and generally rocked the cinematic world.

Alas, his success was not to last. Just as he was attempting to take over MGM, Fox became the center of an anti-trust investigation and when the stock market crashed in 1929, his domination of the movie industry began to crash along with it. When he died in 1952, not a single representative of the movie industry turned out to mourn him.

But, of course, Fox’s name lives on. His production company merged with 20th Century Pictures to become 20th Century-Fox and later mergers led to the formation of the Fox Network. Also the name of William Fox can still be found gracing the marquis of several movie palaces he had built at the height of his career in the late 1920’s, each decorated in what he called the“Eve-Leo” style.

The ceiling in the lobby. "Eve Leo" style at its best.
The ceiling in the lobby. “Eve Leo” style at its best.

Because his wife Eve Leo Fox had a flare for ostentatious décor, placing side-by-side objects reminiscent of artwork found in Hindu temples, Egyptian sculpture, and pretty much anything else that struck her as glitzy on her travels.

It might be fair to describe these theaters as gaudy. Or garish. Or kind of gorgeous if you’re into sensory overload and aren’t terribly concerned about the general consensus of good taste.

Clearly I will not be ascending the stairs this guy is guarding.
Clearly I will not be ascending the stairs this guy is guarding.

Which brings me to date night this past Saturday. My husband and I enjoy live theater. Now that we live close enough to grandparents to make an occasional late night possible, we’ve tried to make it to several shows, including some really wonderful productions of Broadway musicals and other such highfalutin entertainment. Some of these fancy date nights have been spent at St. Louis’s Fabulous Fox, built by William Fox in 1929 and restored in 1982.

I love fancy date night!
I love fancy date night!

The venue rarely functions as a movie palace these days, instead offering a range of upscale shows in the performing arts and, as we learned this past weekend, the occasional flatulent sock puppet.

We went to see Alton Brown, famous science-y, gadget-y, know-it-all food expert of Food Network fame. His tour Alton Brown Live! made a stop for a sold-out show at the Fox and I was lucky to have purchased tickets for my husband’s birthday way back last summer.

This man taught me everything I know about yeast. And sock puppets. Alton Brown Photo By Lawrence Lansing [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]
This man taught me everything I know about yeast. And sock puppets. Alton Brown Photo By Lawrence Lansing [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D
To describe this show to you would be next to impossible, except to say that the gaseous nature of yeast represented by unapologetic sock puppets played a smallish part. And that the show was charming, funny, occasionally juvenile, sort of educational, and gorgeous if you’re into sensory overload and aren’t terribly concerned about the general consensus of good taste.

I admit, the chandelier is just whimsical and fun.
I admit, the chandelier is just whimsical and fun.

I don’t know that the visionary that lent his name to the industry he loved long after it had left him behind and who ushered sound into the movies and the movies into grand palaces had this in mind when he lavishly decorated his “Eve-Leo” style theater. But I suspect that the echoes of belching sock-puppet “yeast” bouncing off elephant carvings and gargoyles might have made him smile. You know, because it’s obviously the next big trend in entertainment.