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It began with a Ray of sunshine in the morning: My journey from the small screen to the big screen to FGA

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Posted: Wednesday, June 27, 2012 10:12 pm

Long before there was FGA, there was WGN.

What does that little spoon of alphabet soup have to do with Hollywood’s golden age? Well, both are sort of bookends to different chapters of my life thus far.  

 Who am I? Some of you may already know me from the credits that roll in each issue of the magazine you hold in your hands. Mine are simple and unassuming enough. Right there, nestled on page 8, it reads “Rusty Schrader.: Page design.” I’m the guy behind the scenes — the one who does photo work and lays out the pages for our talented cast of writers and contributors. I design pages that, hopefully, do justice to the classic films and stars that they write about. I’m sorta like the camera guy who helps the stars look their best. When the stars — our writers — are ready for the close-ups, I’m there, focusing all my creativity on their work.

But back to those six letters.

My personal golden age — the time when I was a wee lad who hadn’t even seen a decade of life yet, and the time I recall enjoying my purest and most innocent of happiness — was spent watching another golden age: Hollywood’s, or at least some of it, anyway, on Chicago’s WGN-TV.

I grew up in Rock Falls, Ill., during the 1970s. At the time, having cable didn’t mean 500 channels at your fingertips; it  meant getting a dozen channels, if you were lucky, from such “faraway” places as Chicago. One of those channels on our cable system was WGN-TV.

And that’s where I cut my teeth on classic films.

First, there was Ray Rayner, the host of a morning kids’ show that ran five days a week from 7-8 a.m.. Ray’s show graced the airwaves from 1962-81, and when I was growing up, there was rarely a morning that didn’t start by sharing a bowl of cereal with Ray before I headed off to Merrill School. Ray would arrive in my living room (after our old console TV warmed up for what seemed like forever) in his colorful jumpsuits and delight viewers with his antics, along with Chelveston the Duck and a host of other characters. During the show, he would play old Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies and Looney Toons, as well as Buster Crabbe’s Flash Gordon serials. Seeing those serials today, it’s obvious that the special effects aren’t quite as special as they seemed to be 30-plus years ago, but it didn’t matter back then.  When I was 8, the serials with my cereal were pure magic.

Then there was Frazier Thomas, the host of “Family Classics,” who played films from Hollywood’s heyday every Sunday, ranging from family fare such as Treasure Island and Mickey Rooney’s Andy Hardy films to sci-fi thrillers such as War of the Worlds. After a hard day of play Saturday, it was real treat to wind down on Sunday afternoon and watch Thomas sit in his wingback chair in a studio library and introduce his “Family Classics.” (though most of Thomas and Rayner’s TV legacy has been lost to people who didn’t have the foresight to save it, some clips of their shows still exist. If you go to you can catch a glimpse of these two gents).

That Chicago TV powerhouse also turned me on to the Marx Brothers films, still one of my top comedy picks of all. Speaking of comedy, I was probably the only 8 year old in Rock Falls who could sing along with Zero Mostel when he belted out “Comedy Tonight” from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. That was thanks to the WGN’s on-air promos for their comedy lineup, where they used this song. From there, my fascination with the silver screen only continued to grow through the years.

But what’s all this have to do anything, you might ask?

I guess it has to do with the fact that I hate to say goodbye, which is what I’m doing with this issue of FGA. You see, after a long journey that began in the ink-stained delivery room when Films of the Golden Age was born back in 1995, I’m reluctantly giving up my duties with this fine magazine.

It’s not because I’m unhappy with doing it or for any other reason like that, but the time has come for me to put my family and friends and first. I’ve spent many a weekends working on FGA after my other full-time (plus) job was done. You see, I’m also the News Editor of the Muscatine Journal, the newspaper that shares office space with Films of the Golden Age and Classic Images, and that’s a job that takes 50-60 hours a week by itself.

Don’t get me wrong; my work with FGA has  been a labor of love, to be sure, but I’ve spent a lot of time with this magazine when maybe I should have been spending it with people close to me. I’m not getting any younger and I’ve lost many loved ones in the last few years, and the time has come for me to spend my free time with the family and friends I have left. I’ll still work in the same building where CI and FGA are produced, and my hope is to someday return to the pages of CI and FGA — maybe in a different capacity. Who knows? If movies have taught us one thing, it’s that anything is possible.

I can still remember that first issue of FGA rolling off the press in 1995. The reproduction was awful, owing the fact that we were printing on an old newspaper press that wasn’t equipped to do a 100-page magazine, but I still recall the sense of pride I felt knowing that I had helped create a magazine.

A magazine!

Maybe people today in the world of Facebook and instantaneous info don’t appreciate that sort of thing, but it really was a rush. And you know what? It still is today. We’ve moved on to a better printer (thanks, K.K. Stevens!) and the rough edges have all been worked out, but I still get a thrill when the pallets of FGA arrive on our loading dock. And to know that my hands created every single page (sans the ads) of every single FGA gives me a pride that I can’t express in words.

It’s pretty amazing what the staff at Films of the Golden Age and Classic Images can do. I bet if you walked into the offices of any major national publication, you’d be greeted by layer upon layer of writers and editors and managers and designers. In Muscatine, Iowa, where CI and FGA are produced, there are 2 full-time people creating movie magic that goes out around the world. Bob King and Carol Peterson do most of the work, and a few support staff, including myself, help pull it together. To me, it’s pretty damn amazing that so few people can put out such a high-quality publication. But that’s a testament to their dedication and devotion.

Before the closing credits roll on my time with FGA, I want to thank a few people, including Bob King, the editor/manager of CI and FGA. Bob and I have nursed FGA along from its sometimes rocky youth to what it’s become today. Bob’s always allowed me the freedom to flex my creative muscles and do what I do best. I’ve spent many a nights in our office with Bob, talking about movies, classic TV, comic books, corporate America and life in general. I could never hold a candle to Bob’s far-reaching knowledge of all things film, but I hope I’ve been able to do justice to his vision of what he’s wanted FGA to be. I think we make a pretty good team and I’m glad to call Bob not only a co-worker, but a friend.

Likewise with Carol Peterson, the “Carol of all trades” at CI. Her smile, laughter and jokes have helped me through many a days when I may not have been as chipper as I would have liked, and I can only hope I’ve helped her do the same. Many of you, no doubt, have talked to Carol when you call Classic Images, and probably even shared a laugh or two with her. I’ve always believed that laughter is one of the greatest gifts a person can give, and Carol sure has given me a lot of gifts through the years.

There’s also been others on the mighty CI/FGA team that I’ve had the pleasure of working with through the years. They’ve since moved on, but I still remember them fondly: Marlene Hanifan, Amy Safely, Ted Barnhart ... fine people all.

And last, but by no means least, I’d like to thank the writers and readers who’ve sent me such kind letters and

e-mails through the years. Those of us who design pages for a living sometimes feel a bit sorry for ourselves because we toil away in anonymity, but thanks to the caring contributors and readers of FGA, I can actually tell my co-workers, “I get fan mail!” (and, yes, I’ve saved every one of them, including a signed photo by silent screen legend Anita Page, for whom I did some layout work years ago).

It’s been an honor and pleasure to be a part of this preservation of film history, especially since this year marks Classic Images’ 50th year. Though my interests tend to lean a bit more toward classic television these days, my respect and admiration for the gold that’s graced the silver screen has never dimmed. From its humble beginnings as The 8MM Collector to a worlwide presence with Classic Images and Films of the Golden Age, Sam Rubin’s original vision is still alive and well, thanks to our loyal readers, talented writers and dedicated staff.

I never had the honor of knowing Sam, who passed away in 2009, but I hope that wherever he is, he’s reading a Films of the Golden Age and going “Good work, Rusty.”

If he is, then maybe Ingrid Bergman will turn to him and say, “Read it, Sam. Read ‘Films of the Golden Age,” and Sam will say, “Oh, I can’t remember it, Miss Ilsa. I’m a little Rusty on it.”