It's 1930 and John Wayne's first starring movie role in widescreen
John Colaresi
Club member and author for Facebook film groups and Amazon reviews
April 16, 2019

How did a 23-year-old football player out of USC get the starring role in the most important Western movie made up until 1930? That was one of many questions about John Wayne answered by film reviewer (and Y’s Men member) John Colaresi for 60 members of the Y's Men of Meriden at their meeting on April 16.

This early Western was notable as the first sound film on a wide screen and was filmed by Fox Film Corp. as an experiment with a cast of thousands, a blockbuster budget, and produced in five languages. In short, Hollywood had never seen anything on such a grand scale. (Colaresi also noted a Meriden angle: William Fox, founder of Fox studios, in 1928 owned two local theaters, one on East Main St. and the other on West Main St.)

Overnight, Wayne, who grew up as Marion Morrison in Glendale CA, became a marquee name in spite of being picked from the set crew on a hunch by the director, Raoul Walsh, because he “had that certain look.” He was paid $75 per week. That movie was “The Big Trail,” filmed in the so-called 70mm Grandeur Process, later known as Cinemascope. “The Big Trail” heavily influenced later movies and TV shows such as “Wagon Train.”

This all-but-forgotten epic is about settlers crossing the Oregon Trail in the 1800s with Wayne as their scout and defender, all the while seeking the killers of his trapper friend. “The hardships depicted make you think you are almost watching a documentary about pioneers,” Colaresi said. “But what's also important is that the movie was shot in a wide format that was new at the time; all movies were shot and shown in an almost square 4:3 ratio called the Academy Ratio.” This shoot took almost five months at an unheard cost of two-million dollars, eight times the usual budget, and was the most expensive feature Fox had made up until that time.


Movie poster


John Wayne on the "Big Trail"

Although “The Big Trail” got good reviews, it lost over a million dollars largely because theaters weren't equipped for the Grandeur format. The wider format did come into vogue later as a way for Hollywood to better compete against the popular TV set. After 1930, John Wayne played in a number of Grade B Westerns, a training ground for him until he hit it big again in “Stagecoach,” before settling in as one of the big screen's premier idols.

Introduction to the Connecticut Port Authority
Evan Matthews
Executive Director
April 9, 2019

Managing Connecticut’s three deep water harbors (New Haven, Bridgeport and New London) along with numerous smaller ports is no easy achievement. Addressing 66 Y’s Men of Meriden on April 9, Evan Matthews, Executive Director of the Connecticut Port Authority (CPA), first described how CPA separated from the Dept. of Transportation in 2016 and has since grown to include five staff members (including Andrew Lavigne who accompanied today’s speaker).

CPA is charged with coordinating port development, pursuing federal and state funds, supporting and enhancing overall development of maritime commerce and industries, and coordinating the state’s maritime industries. These three deep water ports are a major conduit for goods arriving in our state; indeed, virtually all imported petroleum products come through New Haven. Both New Haven and Bridgeport have on-dock rail systems for receiving and transporting cargo. On May 21, 2018 the cruise ship M/S Hebridean Sky docked in New London on her way from NYC to Nova Scotia.

In addition to the three deep water ports, CPA also works with about two dozen smaller harbors, such as Stamford, through a program called SHIPP (Small Harbor Improvement Projects Program), coordinating dredging (done by the Army Corps of Engineers), construction of piers and breakwaters, marina repairs, boat ramp construction, and harbor management plans and studies. Part of this program is to increase the size of terminals, many of which are too small.

Also for the future: more competition with NYC for containerized cargo shipments, initially using rail and barges to move these consignments and later to have a CT port able to directly dock container ships. This would expand the state’s current ability to handle cargos, now mostly limited to shipments of petroleum products, iron ore and steel.


Offloading rolled steel

Improving the state’s maritime infrastructure would have a ripple effect on the economy, expanding adjacent businesses (warehouse construction and management, shipping agencies) as well as government entities (Naval submarine base, Coast Guard Academy, UConn Avery Point Campus, town ferries). Also benefitting would be private and non-profit employers (Electric Boat, ship financing and insurance companies, commercial fishing) and tourism (Thimble Island cruises, Mystic Seaport, Mystic Whaler cruises, along with numerous marinas and yacht clubs).

Why a Wide Range of Housing Options Can Make Your Town Healthy
David Fink
Housing Consultant
April 2, 2019

“Housing plus Transit is a marriage that has to happen.” So noted David Fink, housing consultant, as he addressed 63 Y’s Men of Meriden on April 2. 

Fink spoke with authority derived from his extensive career in the field. He served as newspaper reporter and editor for five newspapers during a 27-year career, including 17 years at The Hartford Courant as a legislative reporter, politics editor, government editor and associate editor of the editorial page. He then spent two years as Press Secretary for the Speaker of the CT House of Representatives. He then moved on to a 14-year career as policy director for the Partnership for Strong Communities, a statewide policy organization seeking to prevent and end homelessness and create affordable homes for all Connecticut residents.

Fink noted that CT is currently facing a “Perfect Storm” in the housing industry. Our state’s housing boom began in the 1970’s with construction primarily of single-family homes (what people wanted). But today, those baby boomers (born following WW II, 1946-1964) are looking to downsize their homes, just as millennials (born 1981-1996) are rejecting the traditional housing model in favor of multifamily housing apartments, causing house prices to drop due to oversupply. In CT, the average household allots 37% of disposable income to housing, well above the 30% that is recommended.

And new families also want this denser housing to have easy access to mass transit such as rail, allowing reliable on-time arrival for work, less need for cars and no traffic woes, which in turn makes CT a more desirable location for businesses. Our state currently has 43 towns and cities with regular train service. Perhaps future state incentives will further extend this trend of housing construction adjacent to efficient mass transportation.

Fink was especially complimentary of the extensive apartment construction in downtown Meriden next to the newly-renovated rail service. He noted, “Meriden has done extremely well. The demand for multifamily housing will persist, especially if it is built near transit lines.”

Advancing our communities
with science, technology, engineering and math
Donna Hylton
President of STEAM Train, Inc.
March 26, 2019

She was already an Information Technology (IT) professor at Middlesex Community College as well as a counseling pastor. But Donna Hylton, inspired by Harriet Tubman (who was born into slavery and subsequently became an abolitionist using the Underground Railroad to rescue enslaved people), felt the tug of another calling which she described to 57 Y’s Men of Meriden on March 26.

Speaking without notes, the engaging and enthusiastic Hylton noted the virtual absence of IT graduates by people of color, especially women. This led her to approach the administration and successfully request a six-month sabbatical in 2017 to create a special one-week STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) camp for 90 mostly black preschool-6th grade students. These “campers” were soon immersed in robotics, solar energy, math fundamentals and a visit to an engineering museum.

During this same time frame, 20 teenagers attended a two-week mobile application development camp where they were immersed in technology.  And five adults signed on for a three-month intense course in website design, learning the workings of html, CSS and WordPress programming. Indeed, one of these women was selected for a web development apprentice job and today remains employed in this field.

In January 2018, “STEAM Train” was incorporated as a non-profit organization, with Hylton as Founder, Board Chairman and President, and today supported by 11 Board members, an administrative assistant and several Wesleyan students. With Connecticut currently challenged by 37,000 unfilled IT positions, the future seems bright for individuals entering this field. Fortunately, the programs created in 2017 were repeated in 2018 (with several more adults continuing to careers with local companies) and will repeat again this year.

Today, another new program titled STEAMBOUND, a seven-week program arising from a collaboration between STEAM Train and Upward Bound, provides training primarily for non-white students in website design, InDesign desktop publishing, Access database management, Photoshop graphics editing, and other digital skills. And a partnership with Meriden and Middletown Public Schools will provide both summer and after-hours programs. As Hylton noted, “this train just keeps on moving.”.