Tom Hatten is part of that rare breed, the local television celebrity. In these days of hundreds of cable channels, local television stations are little more than a place to park sitcom reruns and celebrity chat fests hosted by former supermodels and C-list television personalities. But it wasn’t always that way. There was a time…You kids all gather ’round Granny, now, as she spills a tale of days long gone by…when each local TV station could be identified by its own on-air staff.
For example, if you fired up the ol’ RCA Victor Color TV in your living room and saw Seymour, AKA Larry Vincent, you could bet you were watching “Fright Night” on KHJ-TV, channel 9. Ah, Seymour! All us kids in SoCal loved him. Side Note: I went to school with his lovely daughters, Diane and Valerie. One year, their father actually attended our Hallowe’en carnival at Lincoln Jr. High in Santa Monica. No paparazzi, just lots of pre-teen adoration to be found.
Meeting Seymour was cool, but for me, there was no greater local TV celeb than Tom Hatten. I didn’t hit Southern California until I was nine-going-on-ten, so I missed most of his “Popeye Show” days. But that’s just me. I know plenty of folk who grew up with Tom and his infamous “squiggles” from the time they were certified ankle-biters, and they all revere him as an important part of their childhood.
For me, it was only a couple of years after my family and I were enveloped into the Southern California fold that I caught the movie bug, and I clearly remember spending countless hours in front of the TV, practically inhaling the offerings of classic movies that were offered up over the air waves, mostly by local outlets.
Keep listening to Granny, kids, as she tells you how it was in them Olden Days. There were no VCRs or DVDs back in them times. Revival theaters were rare and certainly not within the grasp of the average teenage movie geek. If you had the inclination or desire to see a classic (or, as referred to then, old) movie, you scanned your parents’ TV Guide and marked up your choices for the week (with an actual pen or pencil…no highlighters back then, kids). And you could bet dollars to doughnuts that there would be something to see on KTLA’s “Family Film Festival” on channel 5.
It was there that thousands of other residents of the Southland and I came to know and love the host, Tom Hatten. Each weekend, at 3:00 PM (if I’m remembering correctly…and I believe I am), viewers would reunite with this most genial host, finding him comfortably ensconced in a chair next to a 16mm projector, holding a clipboard on his knee, and waiting to introduce his TV audience to another great film. Before the movie began, he offered an introduction; after commercial breaks, he gave out with more info about the film, the director, and the cast; and, at the end, if we were lucky, Tom introduced a special guest connected with the movie. As I say in my introduction to Tom on “The Islander,” he was, indeed, the first film history professor many of us had.
Many, many years ago, I had a personal encounter with Tom on, of all places, Sunset Boulevard. I was a struggling film student at the time and was hangin’ on Sunset to pick up some developed 8mm film I had shot for a class. Yes, 8mm. Imagine. You youngins can look that up. As I left the film-developing establishment, I spotted this dapper gentleman passing me, sporting a sharp satin jacket emblazoned on the back with the logo from the then new-ish musical Annie. Since I am also a musical theatre geek, I actually ran this fellow down so I could say something dopey, like, “Oh! Are you in the show?” The touring company had just hit L.A., and I had tickets to one of the first performances. The amiable fellow in the jacket turned around, and we chatted for a few moments. He told me that, yes, he was in the cast, playing FDR. Suddenly I realized that this most courtly gentleman wasn’t just FDR, he was…TOM HATTEN…my “Family Film Festival” hero.
No one can ever accuse me of being suave when thrust in the face of my idols, and I remember that I babbled like a big dofus. But Tom was extremely gracious and even invited me to visit him backstage. I did, and he was enormously kind to me, going so far as offering me a tour of the backstage area and introducing me to other cast members.
He was a terrific FDR, by the way.
I also think he’s a terrific castaway on “The Islander.”
Islander interview with Tom Hatten, part 1.https://imrud.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/tom-part-one-use.mp3″
Islander interview with Tom Hatten, part 2.https://imrud.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/tom-part-two-use.mp3″