By setting Dead During Intermission during 1944, author John Dandola had to recreate the long-gone Windsor Movie Theatre as it once stood in his hometown of West Orange, New Jersey. Besides describing the building itself, he also had to make two important character choices: how to portray both the theatre manager and the public relations person sent by Paramount Pictures to prep for a fictional movie premiere. In most cases, Dandola personally knew or vicariously knew (through his parents and grandparents) the actual owners of the West Orange businesses he mentions in his stories but when it came to the movie theatre, no one could recall the manager and no records could be found. As for the Hollywood publicity person, even though Dandola had met several people from Hollywood's Golden Age, that was a behind-the-scenes character who had to be created from scratch. To solve both problems, Dandola concluded that these two characters should be people who actually would have seen movies at that theatre and he once again drew on his childhood friends.
"For the manager, I remembered a boy in my kindergarten class who, to my imagination, fit the bill. Besides, his name was perfect and you just couldn't make it up: Randy Crate. Randy was just the nicest unassuming kid. His father was a milkman for Becker's Farm Dairy—which we kids thought was the neatest thing. In hindsight, I guess his father must have suffered through a lot of jokes associating his surname with 'milk crates'. By second grade, Randy had moved away. If memory serves correctly, it was to the next town and closer to Becker's Farm for his father's commute. Randy was the type of kid you wanted to say good morning to on the schoolyard before classes started. It was always just a pleasant calming way to begin the day. He always sported a smile, a crewcut, and a clip-on bowtie (it was the 1950's). For those of my generation, I can best physically describe him as a cross between television kids' program host Sandy Becker and actor French Stewart. Randy lived on Kling Street which is catty-cornered across Main Street from the movie theatre so that logistic was perfect for making him the theatre manager. I haven't seen him since we were eight years old but I remember him so clearly."
For the PR person, Dandola remembered another classmate who lived on Shepard Terrace, a short block from the theatre.
"Joey D'Auria—later he was Joe or his much preferred Joseph. We went all through grammar school and junior high school together although we attended different high schools then lost touch. I don't think he and I ever exchanged a harsh word. Quiet, reserved, and always perfectly dressed, he was a terrific dancer making the rest of us boys look like oafs at junior high school dances.When called upon, he was also a wonderful public speaker who left us in awe as to how his voice could hold such expression and emotion at a very early age. In our sixth grade play of Tom Sawyer, he was the minister who gave the eulogy for the presumed dead children and he stopped the entire show as the audience erupted into applause. With that personality, it was a no-brainer to cast him as the PR person."
For a writer, patterning characters after real people allows a tip of the hat to those who conjure fond memories. That's why Dandola has recurring minor characters based on childhood friends such as John Fallon, Mike Matta, and Donnie Paradiso.
"It makes the work so much more worthwhile," Dandola confesses. "Don't get me started about my Patty Drury character; I've known her since we were both eleven years old and I married her."
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Hometown Denizens Once Again
Lend Inspiration to Author John Dandola