The Lincoln Theatre was the biggest movie house in Calvin City, and naturally the majestic old building drew numerous students from the city’s local college. Going to the movies was good entertainment at a reasonable price, and offered the kids an opportunity for social interaction. In short, date night in Calvin City usually meant an evening at the Lincoln.
One night in 1941, the crowd was particularly large, and among the masses sat a short youth with reddish hair. His name was Al Pratt, and he was alone in the crowd, since he had no date. He watched another girl nearly as often as he watched the cartoon. He had arrived for the main feature, anyway. Still, it was hard for him not to feel annoyed at the sight of Mary James sitting with Truck Tarbel. Mary was a pretty and rather shallow brunette, while her hulking date was a crude football hero at the college. Al sighed in resignation. He had asked Mary to attend, and she had offered the already timeworn excuse that she had to wash her hair. I guess all that hot air from Truck’s blowing in her ear dried it pretty fast! smirked Al as he thought over the situation and munched popcorn.
“What’s the matter, Pratt? Shouldn’t you be sitting up front with the other little kids? You can’t see back here!” laughed another football player as he passed the short Al.
Al choked back his retort, which would have been, “As long as a face like yours is around, I’d rather be in the dark!”
There was no use starting a fight he could not win. Oh, thanks to the secret training of Joe Morgan, he could drop the whole team in a fight, but since he wanted to keep his excellent physical condition a secret, Al endured the taunts and the bullying. Still, he could dream, and how different life was in Al’s rich imagination.
Seeing Truck slip one arm around Mary, Al thought, Boy! The next gangster I meet is going to lose some teeth!
Al decided to forget his troubles and enjoy the show. Broadway Kids was an MGM musical, and as such offered good music and light escapism. Al felt the need for both. It also offered something that made him almost forget the fickle Mary James entirely. Boy, that Julie Gumm is something else! he thought. She sends me! Funny how a girl that age could have such a super voice! She’s so sweet, too. That’s the kind of girl a guy could really be happy with as a date. I just bet she never tells her dates that she has to wash her hair!
As he felt the simple yet powerful effect of the girl’s charisma or star power, for a while it was more than enough to make Al happy. He looked a bit bemused as Julie’s character was romanced by the young male lead, Ralph Andrews. Andrews was a dynamo as a performer. He sang, danced, and won the girl and the audience with the same high-energy charm that had made the teenager the biggest box office draw in Hollywood. You know, I don’t think Ralph is any taller than I am, he thought. He even has my coloration, too. Yet he gets the girls through sheer force of personality. Maybe I could do that, too.
Al walked out of the theatre and whistled one of the movie tunes. He had enjoyed himself greatly and felt pretty chipper. One thing that lifted his spirits was his innate optimism. He now had hopes that even a short guy like he could win a beautiful girl.
For the next few nights, Al was busy with a series of petty crimes that had occupied him in his costumed role of the Atom. He handled each crime with his characteristic energy and determination. If he seemed to see the features of Truck Tarbel as he tore into some of the goons, then so much the better.
That night Al sat on his bed and listened to a radio quiz show in between studying for an exam. “So, for our next big jackpot prize: Who did Julie Gumm sing to on his birthday in one of her first big film appearances? Call us at 657-7889 to win the night’s jackpot prize!” echoed the show’s announcer.
Al moved with his impressive speed and made the call. “Julie sang to Kent Goble! She sang, I Didn’t Mean to Love you!” said an eager Al.
“Correct! You just won tonight’s jackpot prize of a trip to Hollywood!” cried the announcer.
Al smiled broadly. “Swell! Maybe the old Pratt luck is changing for the better!”
The next few days passed in a whirlwind of activity as Al Pratt completed his exams and prepared for his trip out west. He relished the chance to get away from Calvin City. He had no family, and his friends were mainly members of his team of costumed champions, the Justice Society of America. His pal Joe Morgan had been away for quite a while, too. He hoped the old trainer was doing all right. Got to remember to look up old Joe next time I get time off from classes, he thought.
Al enjoyed his flight to Hollywood and was soon engaged in a heavy round of sightseeing. He had made more bizarre trips in his time, but seldom had he taken such a vacation as Al Pratt. It’s nice to be moving around the nation without that blue mask over my face. The Atom may find such a trip to be routine, but ordinary Al Pratt is living it up! he mused as he strolled down the streets of the glamor capitol of the world.
Smiling as he spotted the dashing Errol Flynn, Al thought, I’d bet even Hollywood’s Robin Hood couldn’t handle some of my pals from the JSA!
Al Pratt spent a pleasant few days in the sunny realm of make-believe and cinema magic before the big day arrived. He was going to attend a showing of a new Gumm/Andrews film at one of Hollywood’s fabled old landmark theaters, but this particular showing would be preceded by a performance by the famous pair of young stars.
But he found himself only frowning as the huge crowd outside the theatre mingled and chatted. As usual, his height prevented him from easily seeing. A woman with an elaborately feathered hat blocked his view. High heels and a massive hat! he thought, inwardly fumed. That combination is enough to ruin the show for a guy my size!
He stared at and around the ugly hat with increasing irritation until the two stars bounded out on the stage above, and he craned his neck to see them. He could just make them out clearly, although it cost him a stiff neck.
“Mornin’, folks! We’re sure glad you decided to spend some time and money with us!” beamed Ralph Andrews as he gripped the microphone stand with confidence. Girls screamed as the handsome young man worked the crowd like the seasoned pro he was. His pretty co-star Julie Gumm smiled at him with her own eager affection and admiration.
She’s stuck on him, too! I guess that figures. He’s got all the girls around going ga-ga for him, including Julie Gumm! pondered Al.
Julie’s slightly curly brown hair reached her shoulders, and she wore a simple dress with white trim. She looked every inch the combination of starlet and girl next door that movie audiences adored. She waved to the crowd with an effervescent charm as she joined her friend in a medley of songs.
Al smiled broadly as he watched her. She’s terrific! I wonder if that kind of charisma could count as a super-power! She’d be a swell addition to the JSA, but I doubt the Spectre would welcome her! He’s never been much of a fan of swing music! He laughed inwardly at his own joke.
The duo finished their performance, and the crowd filed inside the theater to catch the show. Al decided to linger and try to get an autograph. As he waited, he noticed a car pull up to the curb. The driver was a rough-looking man, and his companion was equally sinister in appearance. Now that’s a face only a wanted poster could love! thought Al, frowning as he drew close enough to hear the whispered conversation of the pair of stars.
“Say, Ralph, after we finish here, would you like to get something to eat?” said Julie. “We could talk and enjoy some quiet time together.”
Ralph patted her arm. “Sorry, kid! I have plans with a blonde. Maybe next time, huh?”
Julie smiled quietly and said, “Sure.”
Al frowned, and he realized that his idol was experiencing the same kind of brushoff from someone she cared about that he had often received from Mary James. That guy is out of his head to ditch a swell gal like Julie, he sighed.