Wineka column: Lowder’s Golden Age of Hollywood comes to life in the pages of early scrapbooks
CHINA GROVE — As a kid growing up in Kannapolis, Myrtle Lowder could purchase a nickel Coke and a nickel hot dog at Kay’s Luncheonette on Main Street.
With the money she had left from her quarter allowance, Myrtle bought movie magazines at Woolworth’s. The magazines were publications such as Modern Screen, Photoplay, Movie Guide and Movie Mirror.
The actors populating those pages had names such as Clark Gable, Van Johnson, Dick Powell, Lana Turner, Tyrone Power, Bette Davis, Jimmy Stewart, Spencer Tracy, Joseph Cotton, Greer Garson, Barbara Stanwyck and Elizabeth Taylor.
As an 8-year-old in 1936, Lowder took her magazines home, spread them out on the kitchen table or on the living room floor and cut out the biggest, most glamorous photographs of the stars.
She glued them into scrapbooks, adding more pictures with her new magazines each month.
“I made the paste myself sometimes — out of flour,” Lowder says.
The thing is, Myrtle didn’t really stop her version of movie star-scrapbooking until she was married.
She filled book after book, and they moved with her through life. Marriage. Two daughters. A granddaughter. And jobs in mills, department stores and restaurants.
“And if I moved again they would go with me, I guess,” says Myrtle, now 84.
When she periodically digs out the scrapbooks from a bedroom and spreads them onto a coffee table, it’s as though Lowder is a school girl again.
She’s dreaming of Hollywood, falling in love with many of the handsome men on the pages or envying their fairy-tale lives.
“You remember Errol Flynn,” she says pausing at a photograph of the actor. “He was the bad boy. I read once he had 88 private lines into his house.”
Lowder pages through several of the scrapbooks — she has at least 30 huge volumes — looking for a particular picture of Betty Grable, the World War II pin-up girl whose legs were insured for $1 million.
“There she is!” Lowder says, stopping at Grable, showcased in several dancing poses labeled “Blonde Rhythm.”
Lowder still recognizes every face of every star. It’s fun to hear her capsule summaries of each one.
Randolph Scott: “That’s another love.”
Susan Hayward: “I thought she was really pretty.”
Ray Milland: “He never was one of my favorites.”
Lon McCallister: “He was just good looking.”
Rita Hayworth: “I always liked her pretty good. She made a lot of movies with Glenn Ford.”
Dana Andrews: “He was a preacher’s son.”
Gary Cooper: “‘High Noon.’”
Claudette Colbert: “I liked her, but she wasn’t so beautiful.”
Robert Walker: “He killed himself.”
Alan Ladd: He’s in there a lot. Remember ‘Shane’?”
John Wayne: “I guess that’s everybody’s favorite.”
Truth be known, Myrtle Lowder’s favorite movie actor was Gene Autry, the singing cowboy. She fell in love with Westerns when she was going to the movies three times a week.
Saturdays were devoted to the genre, and Lowder remembers staying at the theater from noon until 7 p.m.
“We had to be home before dark,” she recalls.
Her first movie as a 5-year-old was a Western starring Buck Jones. She remembers seeing cowboy Fred Kirby in movies at the YMCA. Sunset Carson and Roy Rogers were the only cowboy stars she ever met in person on their visits to Kannapolis.
Because she loved the movies, especially Westerns and musicals, keeping the scrapbooks became her pastime.
“You have to realize,” Myrtle says, “when I was 8 years old, there wasn’t much to do. We didn’t even have a radio.”
As a seventh-grader, Myrtle and her classmates were assigned to put together scrapbooks about North Carolina. When the project was finished, many of the other students gave their scrapbooks to Myrtle, knowing she could use them for her movie-star pictures.
In the ninth grade, she cut out a picture of a young William Holden, framed it and told another girl Holden was her boyfriend. The friend believed it for awhile.
Lowder saw movies in her younger years at theaters such as the Gem, Swanee, Palace, Colonial and Dixie. Ticket prices then were 10 and 15 cents. Popcorn was a nickel.
Myrtle says she still has a program from 1939, during the week “Gone With the Wind” was supposed to play at the Colonial, but the movie house burned down.
Not all of Lowder’s photographs came from movie magazines. She bought Gene Autry comic books, so she could cut out the pictures of Autry on the covers.
The Sunday News edition of the newspaper usually had movie stars on the front of its weekly magazines, too.
“Just like I told you, I lived and ate movie stars,” she says.
Lowder thinks part of her movie star obsession goes back to being a country girl and daydreaming of a different life.
“I did good to get out of the country, but the country will never get out of me,” she says.
Paging through another scrapbook, she stops at a photograph of Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour and announces they “must be on the road to somewhere” — a reference to the trio’s many comedies together with the “Road to ...” theme.
Myrtle says the last Photoplay she purchased was about 1977, the year Elvis Presley died. She’s a big Presley fan and one of her prized pieces of furniture is an Elvis lamp that plays “Hound Dog.”
On television, Lowder prefers watching old movies and old episodes of shows such as “Rawhide.” She also likes football and baseball games and considers herself a fan of gospel and country music.
Lowder has never flown in an airplane, nor traveled to Hollywood. But she knows where to find it — in her scrapbooks.
And in her family.
“I’ve got two pretty daughters and a pretty granddaughter,” she says. “They’re all movie stars to me.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263,or firstname.lastname@example.org.