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Jack Cleary was a former cop who was dismissed on trumped-up charges. Rumpled and unshaven, he turned to the bottle. Things only got worse when his brother Nick, a private eye, was murdered. Johnny Betts had worked for Nick off and on, but Jack – who took over Nick’s business – didn’t want any part of him.

“The last thing I need in my rear-view right now is some thrill-crazy rock-and-roll delinquent with a ‘Blackboard Jungle’ wardrobe, a nightmare for a car, and a haircut that needs a building permit,” said Jack.

Born of a woman, like most children, the true birth of “Johnny Betts” can be traced back to the first grade. There was a kid in Johnny’s class named Wendell who, through first-grade eyes, appeared to be approximately seven feet tall. In reality, he was only about six inches taller than everybody else, but his height advantage gave him confidence, and he enjoyed picking on his fellow classmates.

His tactic worked. The entire class lived in fear of him, including little Johnny. Every time the two crossed paths, Wendell punched Johnny in his ripped midsection (he started doing crunches at a young age). The punch most likely hurt Wendell’s hand more than it did Johnny’s abs, but it was an annoyance, nonetheless.

Telling his teacher, Ms. McDonald, about the bullying was an exercise in futility. Known for her cruelty, she refused to concern herself with such matters. It was to be expected. This was a bitter old woman who once, upon being told by Johnny that he had gotten sick and thrown up in the cafeteria, coldly replied, “Well I guess you better clean it up then.”

Johnny then approached his parents and informed them of the situation. His dad laid it on the line, “I don’t advocate you starting fights, but if you’ve told your teacher and she won’t do anything about it, then the only thing you can do is hit him back. Next time he punches you, you punch him HARDER.” The words of 2 Timothy 1:7 echoed loudly, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

Johnny wouldn’t have to wait long to put his father’s advice into action. The moment of truth arrived the very next day. He walked into the bathroom just as Wendell was leaving. If Wendell threw a punch, Johnny knew that he had to stand up and be a man or forever cower in fear. He didn’t want to be a coward. He wanted to be the kid who stood up to the bully.

Then it happened. Wendell stayed true to form and punched Johnny right in the gut. But this time the response he got was much different than usual. Johnny cocked his fist and threw it right at Wendell’s face with all the strength he could muster. BAM! His fist connected solidly with Wendell’s jaw. Wendell reeled from the impact.

Seeing that he was rocked, Johnny moved in and rared back. Wendell quickly reacted like most bullies do when they’re given a taste of their own medicine. “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Let’s be friends! Let’s be friends!” was his high-pitched reply. Johnny couldn’t believe it. He had faced Goliath, and he brought him down with little more than faith and a tiny first-grade fist.

Instilled with a new sense of fear, Wendell spent the rest of 1st grade following Johnny like a puppy. No one knows what happened to him after that. Johnny headed to private school the following year and never saw or heard from him again. One can only hope that Wendell is out there living a productive life, one much better than if he had never been confronted and changed of his bullying ways.

Many refer to this incident as “The Birth of Johnny Betts,” and it’s hard to disagree with that assessment. But just who is “Johnny Betts”? He’s an alias. An attitude. An ideal. He’s the “thrill-crazy rock-and-roll delinquent with a ‘Blackboard Jungle’ wardrobe, a nightmare for a car, and a haircut that needs a building permit” that resides somewhere within all of us.

Adam. Johnny. The Movie Mark. Three names. One hero.

The “Wendell episode” is a representation of more than just a moment in time; it has become symbolic of one of my lifelong philosophies – when life punches you, you punch it HARDER. It’s a lesson in what rarin’ back and movin’ forward will get you.

You have a choice. Cower in the corner and allow your circumstances to control you, or come out swinging and put everybody on alert that you’re not one to be messed with. I made my choice, and now I’m America’s favorite movie reviewer, saving you from Hollywood … one bad movie at a time.

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