Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Long Cool Summer - Tom Snyder RIP

THE LONG COOL SUMMER – That’s what they called it, and wrote on the round metal container that the film has been kept in for the past forty some years. They don’t even try to play it, as the fragile, deteriating celluloid will crumble apart if wound through a machine today. Stored in a remote, temperature controlled storage area by Urban Archives at Temple University, the KYW TV3 News specials from the Sixties are waiting to be digitally mastered so they can be seen again. When that happens, those reels will become like a time capsul back to another era, and The Long Cool Summer will be one of the first to be reviewed.

With all the reminiscences of the Summer of Love 1967, there are some people are having flashbacks to the summer of 1965, an even more pivitol summer between the old fashioned, traditional lifestyle was being infringed upon by the first ripples of a social revolution that in a way, is still going on.

In 1965 Life Magazine portrayed Ocean City, New Jersey as a collegate beach town, like Ft. Lauderdale in Florida, “where the boys are,” beach, blanket bingo, last stop for a few weeks of summer before heading back to college. The Jersey Shore was the playground for college students from Delaware, Pennsylvania, Ohio and as a far away as West Virginia, with coeds living with their parents and jocks and fraternities renting cheep rooms by the week at the old, dilapidated hotels on 9th Street.

The boardwalk and the beaches from fourth street to fourteenth street were packed, all summer long, by young college kids who staked these few blocks as their own, and it was something of a cultural phenonomin that it made Life Magazine, and caught the attention of the news producers at KYW TV 3, the CBS network outlet in Philadelphia.

David Brenner, who later became popular as a standup comic, and now does casino showrooms, was a producer for KYW TV back then, and won some awards for his documentary films. Another South Philly guy who wasn’t famous yet, Brenner talked his boss into letting him come down to the Jersey Shore to do an hour long livestyle documentary on the scene that was then Ocean City.

At the time, 9th street was lined with old hotels, the Lincoln, Strand and Biscayne were filled all summer long with young people, primarily college kids who could afford the $5 dollar a night, $20 a week hotel rooms and stayed out all night anyway. After the beach and boardwalk, there were the rock & roll nightclubs across the 9ths street causeway in Somers Point – Tony Marts, Bay Shores, D’Orio’s, Steel’s, the Anchorage and others.

The summer reaches a crescendo as it nears end, so it was appropriate that David Brenner talked his executive producers at KYW into letting him take a crew down the Shore to Ocean City and Somers Point and film the scenes at the beach, on the boardwalk and at the bars, and put on a special one hour TV feature program on Monday, Labor Day evening.

Unknown to Brenner and his crew, there was a drama playing out behind the scenes, as Ocean City officials were concerned about police reports that the Hells Angels outlaw motorcycle gang were coming to town and they were afraid of all hell breaking loose.

The Hells Angels had come to Ocean City early in the spring, and were unceremoniously run out of town by then mayor Tom Waldman. Word on the street was that they threatened to return on Labor Day weekend with an army of bikers and tear up the town.

Waldman, who went eyeball to eyeball with the leader of the gang when they came to town in the spring, took the threat seriously. He called the governor for assistance, the National Guard were placed on alert, and 500 young police recruits from the State Police Academy were bussed in to beef up security.

The crew heading down the shore with Brenner included Gary Shenfield, the cameraman, and rookie TV reporter Tom Snyder, whose later TV talk show would be humorously spoofed by Dan Akroyd on Saturday Night Live. Snyder was young, goofy and something of a numskull whose real life persona didn’t need spoofing, though Shenfield later recalled that Brenner’s sense of humor was budding over into the dramatic documentaries they were making.

When they arrived in Ocean City, 9th street, the boardwalk and the beach from 4th to 14th street was swarming with thousands of young people, and they recorded the scene as it was, the last fling before school starts. On the beach they would flip girls up into the air on blankets, guitars would be playing under the boardwalk and the police were trying to keep order. D. Allan Stretch, the director of public safely, directed his regiment of police officers with a microphone, arresting anyone who gave his men any trouble.

After the sun went down, Brenner, Shenfield and Snyder kept the cameras rolling as they crossed the causeway to Somers Point, where they continued to film and document the nightclub scene on Bay Avenue – the Anchorage, Bayshores and Tony Marts, where Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels were playing their hit song, “Devil With The Blue Dress.”

Brenner was a serious documentary producer however, and got wind of a local scam, where the all night court run by Judge Helfant quickly convicted and fined the drunk and disorderly and kept local taxes down. They would arrest young people on various charges, underage drinking, urinating in public, etc. and Helfant would fine them whatever cash they had on hand. No records were kept of this local legal procedure and nobody complained until Brenner made a stink about it.

Years later, after becoming a popular standup comedian, David Brenner often sat in for Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show, and one time on national TV he recalled the KYW TV3 documentary he did that Labor Day. Brenner said that they broke into Helfant’s court and called him from his office, and was then arrested for it. But they got the story, the story of the collegate scene at Ocean City and Somers Point, a scene that no longer exists, as the old, dilapidated hotels are gone and the college kids now go elsewhere.

The one hour documentary on KYW ran that Labor Day night 1965, and then was filed away. When I tried to locate the show, I learned that the old KYW TV3 documentaries, including the ones produced by David Brenner, were donated to the Urban Archives at Temple University’s Paley Library. Urban Archives says that the old KYW TV reels, including the Labor Day show and possible outtakes from that weekend shoot, are stored away in a separate facility and not easily retrieved.

The old 16 mm film is fragle and has deteriated in the past 40 years, and would be difficult to run through a projector without breaking, but it can be digitalized and saved on the most modern DVD format.

Brenner’s KYW TV documentary could be a time capsule for us to view Ocean City and Somers Point as they were four decades ago, and compare the situation then to today. The current KYW TV crew could reshoot the same scenes as they are today, and we could see who had more fun.

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