Black curves behind her black mask. Black leather boots with three-inch black heels. A gold sash draped about her sequined waist. A gold chain dangling between her breasts. Long gold fingernails at the ends of her black silk gloves. Black kitten ears in her brunette mane.
As an Oregon boy, I watched her show alone at least once a day, and usually three times in a row.
My parents didn’t know. Neither did my sister or friends. There I was, secreted away in my bedroom—first in Molalla, then later Oregon City—in the analog days, well before a boy had a large color television or thin computer at his private disposal, sitting on the floor. I would gather up the contraption with my left hand, load the reel into the slot with my right, bring it to my eyes, and point it to the light at the window or overhead. Through the binocular portals I’d see the first image of the show. All I had to do was depress the contraption’s lever with a finger and soon I would see the show’s star.
Click. The depressed lever rotated the reel forward revealing a new image of the drama. Each reel contained seven images, as well as a sentence or two of Spartan text in the white space between the binocular portals, which meant you had to retreat from the image to read the words.
I think I read the show’s text one time.
Another click—the star, the special guest villainess, and then click click click for a better image, and then I would stare at her for minutes, exploring every detail, every contour. She was always an undiscovered body and her legs like one of those maps with monsters at the edges, before Columbus invaded the New World.
Click to another image of the star, and then click click click to rotate and repeat. Surely the sound of machine gun fire could be heard beyond my door.
Reel one concluded, I slid in reel two, and clicked away. When it ended I loaded the third and last reel, and too soon the show was over.
But not really. I simply emptied reel three and reloaded reel one, and two clicks later….beheld the nuclear-powered stereographic image of Julie Newmar starring as Catwoman, a weapon of prudish mass destruction, in my bedroom, in my hands, in my eyes, in spectacular 3-D!
My first lust was invented by an Oregon man and manufactured in Oregon by an Oregon company, View-Master. And no! I never masturbated to the image of Catwoman, with or without the viewer in my left hand. I could not defile her like that. Defilement was reserved for Ginger on Gilligan’s Island.
In the summer of 1938, a young German immigrant named William Gruber and his new wife honeymooned at the famous Chateau in the Oregon Caves National Monument. Gruber, an organ maker and piano tuner residing in Portland, was also a serious photographer. He had a fascination for stereographic images, once a commercially popular photographic format in the late nineteenth century (as black and white stereoscopes), but then a novelty mostly of interest to 3-D aficionados.
While at the Chateau, Gruber met another Oregon man, Harold Graves, president of Sawyer’s, a postcard publishing company in Portland. There meeting was sheer coincidence—Graves wasn’t on vacation, but had stopped for the day to photograph deer on his way to California on business. And according to View-Master lore, Gruber walked into Graves’ photo set-up and captured his attention by using a strange double camera he’d invented, which took two pictures simultaneously to produce a stereo pair.
The two men began to talk about Gruber’s camera. Later that evening in Graves’ room, Gruber told Graves of his idea of printing seven color stereo pairs on tiny film transparencies and mounting them side-by-side on a thin reel that a person could watch and rotate manually on an inexpensive, handheld, binocular viewer. In 1939, Sawyer’s View-Master: “Three Dimension Color Pictures” debuted at the World’s Fair in New York City.
Seventy years and an estimated billion reels later, View-Master is still in business, now owned by Fisher-Price. Its original concept of seven pairs of stereographic images affixed to a reel and viewed by a binocular viewer has essentially gone unchanged. A reel purchased in 1939 will work with a viewer made today and vice versa. The only object remotely comparable in American culture is that someone using a rotary telephone can still make a call to a cell phone and vice versa.
In 1968, my father, a minister in the Church of Christ, signed the family on for Operation 68, a two-year mission to Belo Horizante, Brazil. The unfortunately named Operation 68 originated at Camp Yamhill, located in the Willamette Valley, after youthful campers issued a zealous challenge to the adults to do something constructive in the larger world as America was coming apart at the seams.
We couldn’t take much with us on our sea voyage to Brazil, but my mother did bring along two View-master players—one for me and my older sister—and a lot of reel packets. “Batman: The Purr-fect Crime” serial, released in 1966 as a companion to the campy television series starring a stiff Adam West as Batman, was one of the titles.
If I recall correctly, my Batman serial was essentially my only connection to American poplar culture, as we had no radio, television or movies. My mother brought along a few other secular titles, but the vast majority of View-Master reels at my disposal in Brazil and after our return to Molalla, Oregon in 1970, were Biblical in nature.
As I search my mind today, and consider how well I know my Old and New Testament stories, I must rank View-Master as my greatest Bible teacher, with my father’s sermons a close second, and Sunday school a distant third. In particular, I remember the three-reel packets “Miracles of Jesus” (water into wine!), “Parables of Jesus” (Good Samaritan), and the “Teachings of Jesus” (Prodigal Son), where I undoubtedly formed my impression of Jesus as blonde haired, blue eyed, and vaguely counterculture hero who fed the poor, healed the sick and lame, and didn’t judge anyone, lest ye be judged.
All of this inexplicably came back to me when I was driving one day, thinking about Oregon. The memory of Julie Newmar as Catwoman simply exploded into my consciousness and I immediately called my mother and asked her about Brazil and View-Master. I also asked if by some miracle she’d held onto the viewers and reels. It’s been nearly forty years and nearly a dozen moves since the missionary days.
Two days later a package arrived from my mother. I ripped it open and the reels spilled out on the counter. Also inside, tucked in more securely, were two viewers. Freeing them both from tissue paper, I instantly recognized mine. I picked it up, and after a nearly thirty-five year absence, two old Oregon friends were reunited.
Then I inspected the reels. No Catwoman! Where had you gone Julie Newmar? No matter. It took less than a minute to locate a coveted View-Master title online and I ordered it for twenty bucks.
While I waited for Catwoman to arrive, I brushed up on my Jesus, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Noah’s Ark, and Samson and Delilah (she wasn’t hot). As I looked through the binocular portals, and the stereo images of the various Biblical characters, some clay, some actors, on the cheesiest of sets, I felt an extraordinary intimacy with these stories that television, video games or even a book could never replicate. The world isn’t flat, you know.
A week later, my order appeared and I loaded up reel one…click click… Purrrrrfect. A digitized alien in Avatar or Lara Croft as the Tomb Raider could never compare to a celluloid 3-D Julie Newmar as the Catwoman—in my hands! It wasn’t even close, but the Oregon boys growing up would never know. Their lust would just have to originate somewhere else, most likely in digitized and boring two-dimension. And for that, I truly pitied them.
A few months after renewing my hand-held crush on Julie Newmar, I published my View-Master fantasy in print and online. A few months later, I opened my email account on a rainy morning and discovered a letter with no subject line from an unfamiliar sender. Spam, I thought, but I read it anyway.
Dear Matt Love:
Thank you for the lovely things you said about me. I am producing a book titled “First Fantasy.” I would like you to contribute, if the mood inspires you. Although I am discouraging people from writing about me, in your case, you could write about anyone you like. As a matter of fact, there should be one or two stories about me in the book, so you do have that license. I love writers and enjoy your column so much.
You haven’t lived until you’ve received an email from Julie Newmar. I wrote back in seconds. She responded.
Yes it was the View-Master piece. It is so vivid. The stories that will be in the book are mostly one page, though there are no limits.
I wrote back in seconds. She responded.
I found the View-Master piece because of Google Alerts. I look forward to the new piece you have written. I’ve always wanted to visit Portland, originally for the roses. I have a book on roses that I’m working on and a rose named after me. When will you be in Los Angeles? My number is 310-***-***. I’m here most of the summer.
I had Julie Newmar’s phone number! I submitted the essay but never heard of its editorial fate. A recent check of Newmar’s web site, where she writes wonderfully on a whole range of subjects, including #MeToo, revealed the project was apparently shelved. What a blow!
I should have flown to Los Angeles and seen her. I would have brought my View-Master and reels with me. I would have watched them with Julie watching me watch her as Catwoman.