Recently actor Mickey Rooney passed away, he was 93. As I do with the passing of every actor I reflect on the movies they made which made me smile, made me cry, and the movies they starred in that made me want to travel.
For many of us of the Baby Boomer generation our first experience with learning more about an exotic location or a far away land came in a movie house or a darkened theatre. We sailed the Seven Seas (Sinbad the Sailor); we flew in airplanes (The Flying Seabees); we fought wars on foreign soil (Bridge over the River Kwai) and we danced under the stars in foreign countries (Dancing Down to Rio). For me some actors resonated more than others and their acting and their films made me hunger for more. Their movies also opened ideas for places to travel that I had never thought of or in some cased never even heard of before.
Mickey Rooney made over 300 movies in his career and he made me want to travel. Most likely for many reading this the first movie that comes to mind when you think of Rooney would be Boys Town. After wiping away the tears I wanted to know more about Boys Town and so I researched where it was. I also wanted to learn how much of the movie was fiction or fact. The original Boys Town is located in Nebraska. Growing up in Buffalo, NY I had never thought about visiting Nebraska before and as a child it helped to expand my view of my own country. It made me wonder about the other states in the union and what other treasures might be waiting for me to discover. Therefore someday driving across every state was now on my bucket list.
Danny Kaye died in 1987. His movies always made me smile. One of the sweetest movies he ever made was Hans Christian Anderson. Yes, it was historically inaccurate as many movies made are but it made me wonder who was Hans and where was he from. After researching his history at the local library and learning more I determined that going to Denmark had to be on my travel bucket list. Clearly researching Denmark led me to wonder about the rest of the countries in Europe and it led to many years of research and longing to visit all of these exciting places. Danny made several movies like this for me including White Christmas (Vermont) and The Five Pennies (a life lived on the road).
Bing Crosby was more than a crooner. To me he was a singing travel agent. He traveled to exotic places like Rio (Road to Rio), Zanzibar (Road to Zanzibar) and Bali (Road to Bali) and he made me wonder about life and learning to be a seaman (High Society). I do love a good musical and Bing inevitably starred in many of my favorites.
God how I loved Cagney. He could do it all on-screen; gangster serials, suspense, dramas, and musicals. No one else on my list was as well-rounded an actor. Cagney made me cheer for the gangster on-screen and he made me cry with a Yankee Doodle Dandy. Cagney made me want to travel to New York City, the site of George M. Cohen’s greatest triumphs, and to experience the thrill of being there for myself. I have been to NYC a time or two since I first watched Dandy and there really is nothing like being in the Big Apple and watching a live Broadway show.
John Wayne. There is no list for me that would not include this man. John and I have traveled to Ireland (The Quiet Man); to Texas to fight fires (Hellfighters); to Africa on safari (Hatari!) to Alaska to pan for gold (North to Alaska). He made me laugh, and cry, sometimes all at the same time and always he made me want to travel to the places used as backdrops in his movies. He literally went from sea to shining sea and back again. I once owned every John Wayne movie and I watched them over and over again. I still miss him terribly.
Yes, all these actors have one thing in common. None of these people were born after 1950. Maybe they just don’t make movies the way they used too, I don’t know. Movies used to take people places they had never been. They weren’t all about special effects and outrunning the law in a high-speed chase. They weren’t about animation or soundtracks, they were about the emotions of the time (The Best Years of Our Lives), about family values (State Fair), about real artistry and talent that didn’t need trick cameras (Top Hat, Brigadoon, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers). And they were sometimes about the places; places that held an exotic allure; Devils Island (We’re No Angels); Africa (Tarzan), and the South Pacific (Midway).
I know for me these old movies, and these actors, always made me want to learn more about a person, a time in history and even places to travel too. Were they just that good an actor or were the movies just so much better. I don’t know the answer to that. I’m just glad we have classic movies to watch because for me they are the best travel resource money can buy.