Thursday, April 16, 2009

Billy Bob models monsters

Intrepid reporter-at-large TED NEWSOM covers the beat of "weirdness where you find it," and contributes this special report on Billy Bob Thornton for TDSH. Here's his reporting on the love that the mercurial ex-Mr. Angelina Jolie has for monster models, Famous Monsters Magazine, and its legendary editor Forrest J. Ackerman.

The Plastic World of Young Billy Bob Thornton

by Ted Newsom
c. 2009

The ubiquitous video of performer Billy Bob Thornton waxing surly with a flustered Canadian DJ became an internet must-see last week, but his non sequitur "answers" actually gave a great deal of insight into his psyche, for those willing to mine for it. The entire embarrassment can be seen here:

Respected Toronto-based musician, music historian and broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi interviewed Thornton and his band The Boxcutters to promote their support of a Willie Nelson tour (The Boxpackers have since packed it in and gone home). Rather than answer Ghomeshi, Thornton mumbled "I don't know" to such toughies as "How long has the band been together?" Apparently angry at Ghomeshi for saying in passing that Thornton's main claim to fame was his success in films, he left much of the interview to his openly-shocked fellow Boxlunchers, then launched into left-field autobiographical anecdotes which seemed to have nothing to do with music, or morning coffee, or reality.

BILLY BOB: Uh… Uh… I subscribed to a magazine called Famous Monsters of Filmland. The publisher [sic; he was the editor] was guy named Forrest J Ackerman, who passed away recently [December 4, 2008].

INT: Do you remember what you were listening to musically, when you were a kid?

BILLY BOB: They had a contest, where you could build your own model, and it could be like a King Kong, or it could be anything… they made these plastic models in those days, that you could buy and then put together. But this was like a thing you could create your own world of it. Make telephone poles and make the railroad tracks and everything. And uh.. I actually did enter it once. I didn’t win anything. But I gave it a shot. It was a big deal for us kids in those days.

Thornton, 53, is a "monster kid," a child of the horror movie craze of the 1950's's and '60s. As he said, there was indeed a contest in 1964, co-sponsored by Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, Universal Studios, and Aurora, which manufactured plastic models of Dracula, The Mummy, Godzilla, etc.

Willie Joe Sasskatoon, owner and sole proprietor of the Hide-de-Ho Hobby Shop in Thornton's home town of Malvern, Arkansas, remembers the contest, and the young would-be monster-maker. “Li'l Billy Bob was a handful for a li'l runt,” the nonagenarian wheezes. “But that peckerwood jes' loved his modelin'.”

Sasskatoon recalls the moment the mini-Thornton, then eight, became intrigued at the striking art decorating the Aurora models. “They were done by a feller name of James Bama, and li'l Billy Bob drooled over 'em. Fact is, he named his band after 'em: the Boxcovers.”

“He used to hang out with fellers who musta loved them little monsters as much as Billy Bob. They'd tell me they'd have Friday night 'modelin' parties'. All I know is, he and his pals used to buy about twenty tubes or more o' plastic glue every Friday, and by the next Monday, they'd be back for more.”

During the contest, Billy Bob's intriguing customization of these models struck Sasskatoon. “You look at 'em and you see where the boy wuz at then, and where he wanted to be, and what kind of a feller he became. He'd come staggerin' in here after one of them weekends and talk no sense at all. He'd jus' mumble and roll his eyes. He had pret' near every one of them monster models, but he'd keep comin' back for more glue every week, like clockwork. I'd ask, 'You bust it?' and li'l Billy Bob'd say, 'I dunno. Why dint I win nuthin'?' He was a regular card.

“I'd ask what he was gonna do when he grew up and he'd get this glassy look and say, 'Modelin'. Oft as not, then he'd curl up in the corner of the store with one of the copies of Argosy. From the looks of him nowadays, I'd say he's still modelin' like a sumbitch.”

Although the young Thornton did not win anything in the contest, the now-wizened Sasskatoon vividly recalls Billy Bob's crowning glory. "The company came up with a special model, Big Frankie, which I reckon looked a lot like the actor who played 'im in pictures, Peter Lorre, or either Brian Keith, or mebbe Van Heflin. It weren't like the little guys, which was all about seven, eight inches high. This was a big 'un, two foot high. L'il Billy Bob put his soul into makin' his version real special. He musta gone through twenty tubes of glue on that. Some folks liked his Phantom of the Opry or King Kong, but for my money, Billy Bob Thornton's version of Big Frankie is his 'piece of ass resistance', hee hee."

Copyright 2009, Ted Newsom. Used with permission.

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