2

Heeeeeeeeere’s Janet

ImageLet’s fast forward eighteen months past the earthquake and my reminiscent trip home.  It is now my 24th birthday.

I was still working at KNBC. The Sales Department was becoming pretty dull by this time. I could type proposals and magnify expense accounts in my sleep. One of the great things about NBC were the job postings on bulletin boards all around the place. I’d stop from time to time and check it out.   One day, much to my surprise, I saw a posting for The Tonight Show. The real one with Johnny Carson. They had moved to Burbank from New York the year before and the commercial production assistant was moving on. I couldn’t apply for that job fast enough. I was far from the only applicant, but as a former New Yorker I think I had the inside track. Most of the staff had come out from New York the year before. Several of the Talent Coordinators were attending AA meetings during lunch time – big difference between walking the streets of NY after hoisting a few during the taping and hopping on the 405 in a car you weren’t used to driving. I loved the small building – “bungalow”, they called it at the end of the studios that held the show offices. ImageAll except Mr. Carson’s.  He was a very shy man and preferred to be behind locked glass doors at the top of the studio.

After two interviews I was told the job was mine. What was a commercial production assistant, anyway? More to be revealed. But, my working on the show made page three of the Locust Valley Leader. I had arrived. I was going to start the new job in a week.   I gave notice at KNBC ~ housed on the same lot ~ and looked forward to a week off.

I’d left Lakeside Apartments and my Golddigger pals and was living in the guest house on the estate of an old time movie producer in Toluca Lake.  The house was right next door to Bing Crosby’s original compound Imageand belonged to Sidney Salkow, the producer of the original Lolita. The guest cottage didn’t have a real kitchen – a hot plate and toaster oven with the sink in the bathroom – but that was ok because I didn’t cook.

On my 24th birthday Jake took me to a very special dinner. In Las Vegas. So big a surprise that my best friend and her husband came along, too. We met them at the airport and spent the night enjoying ourselves. I didn’t win at roulette but around 1AM, Jake looked at me and said “let’s get married.”

Before I could seriously sift through the haze of champagne cocktails I heard myself agree.  And, so that’s how I wound up at the Little Chapel in the West.  Image

A week later I started my new job on The Tonight Show with my new name – Janet Howe. Unless you’ve grown up with a name like Mafera (M as in Mary a F as in Frank e-r-a) you can’t possibly understand how nice a simple last name could be. A new job, a new name and a new life. Amazing – dreams can come true.

My first few days of marriage were less than idyllic. Suffice it to say my father was not a huge fan of Jake’s. Perhaps it was the age difference, perhaps it was the divorce thing, perhaps the four kids. Come to think of it, there was a pretty long list of why this was not his ideal choice of a son-in-law. (note: post therapy I understood it all more clearly but that’s for another chapter)  As always, my mother tried to put a positive spin on things. She sent out marriage announcements. The same print and card stock as the “wedding that never happened”.  A few gifts trickled in and I display the Waterford pitcher proudly to this day.  We were going to live in my guest house and look for a bigger place.

But, first things first….my first day on The Tonight Show. I walked in without a clue as to what to expect. The basic job description: the commercial production assistant helps in the production of live and pre-taped commercials to air on the Tonight Show, i.e., Alpo spots as the most sterling example I can think of. I was also responsible for typing (yup, still typing) the daily commercial log ensuring the right commercial was in the right place. If it was a 60 second commercial the advertiser was entitled to a “live” lead-in read by Johnny himself. So, I wrote the scintillating copy, such as “We’ll be right back after this message from United Airlines.”   Show business was my life!

That first day found me amazed at everything. The other part of my job was attending rehearsal and making sure the right commercial had been inserted in the show for the feed to New York. The show was taped from 5:30-7:00PM – it was ninety minutes then – and sometimes I would be expected to be at the taping.  Advertising agency folks sat up in a viewing room to report that they had, indeed, seen the right commercial directly inserted in the show.

The first night my boss said, “You can’t be backstage tonight. We have to let Johnny know you’re here”. What? Somebody was going to tell Johnny Carson about me????  Truthfully, it was really that he didn’t like anything different back stage. The second night of my tenure I sat silently on a stool as the director, Bobby Quinn walked him through the studio doors. The same thing happened every night. Ed would do the warm up and Bobby would go up-stairs and get Johnny to walk him through the studio – right up to the place behind the curtain where he would stand until Ed announced, “Heeeeeeere’s Johnny.”

That night Johnny Carson looked over at me and nodded slightly as he walked past me.

I had died and gone to heaven….honestly!!!

My life had certainly changed dramatically. Working on the Tonight Show AND being married. Jake and I knew we had to find another place to live – hotels on the weekends with his kids were cost-prohibitive, and the guest house was barely large enough for two. My landlord wasn’t thrilled with the change of events, either. He’d rented the place to a single woman – not a family of six.  A family of six?  How the heck had that happened ~ even part time?

Looking for a place to rent proved challenging for several reasons.

I haven’t spoken much about Jake’s work other than to say he was an “agent”. Well, there are all sorts of agents, some with high ticket clients, others not so high. There are all sorts of agencies too. Jake was “almost in the middle” on both counts. He represented people you’d maybe recognize but not necessarily know their names, except for the couple on “Days of our Lives”….everyone knew who they were.  Since the divorce Jake had been in a professional slump. He had an eye for talent but now not so much. His boss wasn’t thrilled with the situation and a remedy needed to be found fairly quickly. With his 40th birthday looming in the not so distant future, Jake was not a happy camper.

I enjoyed my job – even putting Alpo in the bowl for the pups before the commercial. There was a professional dog trainer, of course, and the dogs always arrived hungry. Except for the night one didn’t and just stared at the dish. Ever the comedian and quick-wit, Johnny ran back stage and pretended to gobble the food. I stood right there watching what became a famous Tonight Show story.

None of this helped us find a place to live, though, and time was running out.  Sidney Salkow was less than enthusiastic as every other weekend approached and finally said, “one month more, Janet”.  We ramped up the search. We had almost decided on a small rental in Burbank with two bedrooms and enough room for bunk beds and a couch for Sylvie, his four year old daughter.

Jake had been living on a very small boat at the Marina before moving in with me, and on his last trip he noticed a “for sale” sign on a significantly larger cabin cruiser on his dock.  He returned enthusiastically pitching this as our next home. I’d love life on the water. The freedom, the fun of taking our “house” out for a sunset cruise. And there would be room for the kids. How big was this floating palace?  28 feet. In the spirit of being stupid I went to take a look. It was a nice boat, it wasn’t hideously expensive and it might be fun for a little while. But we had to pay cash and that wasn’t our largest commodity right now.  The picture I show you now is a much newer fiberglass model, but you catch the drift…and the size.  Image

How about my taking out a loan at the NBC credit union?   It could come right out of my paycheck.

We moved onto the boat about two months before my 25th birthday and our first anniversary.

Let’s just say it was not smooth sailing.

 

 

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4

You Can’t Go Home Again ~ Can I?

ImageSo, here I am, having lunch at a famous LA haunt the day of a HUGE earthquake.  Nerves akimbo.  But running into the “Man I Met In Vegas” on my way into Los Angeles had me and my charm bracelets jangling.  So, Jake really did live here.  That afternoon, in between typing all important missives regarding a rough-cut of a what was deemed a hideously misrepresentative Barbie commercial, I thought I’d been too rough on Jake. I could have at least said “hello.”

Let’s face it, my social life wasn’t stellar. Los Angeles is a big place. No local hang outs and meeting people wasn’t all that easy. Kate and I had gone to a few “clubs”.  I’d met Steve the Stuntman who turned out to be the primary jumper-off- buildings in the Western show on the Universal Studios tour. He was so important that we didn’t even get a discount, let alone get in free.  Two or three dates later it was definitely determined we were not a match.  One of the guys at the agency handling the Mattel account had asked me out but I’d heard he was a real “player”.  No thanks.

By 4:30 that day I was ready to head back over the hill and call it a day. Right after I arrived home there was a ferocious aftershock. The thing about earthquakes is when the rattling starts you have no idea how intense it’s going to get.  And, even better, they come out of NOWHERE.  This was a pretty good jolt.  I picked up the phone and was thrilled to hear a dial tone. I called American Airlines and made a reservation for Friday afternoon.  I was flying to New York…. but, just for the weekend.

As the plane circled over Kennedy Airport I wondered exactly why I’d made this decision. Knowing full well my father wanted me home for good and the fear I’d felt over the past three days since the earthquake made returning a more than distinct possibility. I was pleased when the plane landed.  A friend picked me up at the airport – I hadn’t told anyone I was coming home.  For the weekend, I kept repeating like a mantra.  Only for the weekend.  Image

When I walked into the house around 10PM my mother, of course, cried.  My father was asleep in his La-Z-Boy lounger and awoke with a start.  I was replaying hundreds of nights – my walking through the side door after a date and him awakening with a start.  I almost tripped over the “remote” cord – remember the “first” remotes with the box on the cord that stretched across the room?   But I digress.

After an hour or so of conversation with my mom – her repeatedly asking if I was alright, my repeatedly saying “yes” and neither one of us believing it at all – I went up to bed. I had no idea what I was to do with the next two days and wondered if this was all a huge mistake.  As I crawled into my bed, I was questioning just about everything in my life.  But, I slept very soundly. I  felt safe.

I startled awake early the next morning thinking there was another earthquake, but this time it really was the garage door opening beneath my bedroom. I was back in Kansas, Dorothy.  And I wondered if I’d have the courage to leave again. Why not return to Locust Valley?  And do…what?  When you’ve planned your life around a man and the relationship fails, so does the planned life. And, so far I’d failed to find a real replacement.

Ironically, that very day was the 24th birthday of the nice boy I didn’t marry.  We hadn’t spoken word one since the night I’d given him back his ring and listened to what he had to say…”someday someone will hurt you the way you’ve hurt me and you’ll know what it’s like.”  Sixteen months later found me wondering how he was.  Not for the first time. Image
I went downstairs to the all-familiar kitchen.  My father had left, no doubt wishing to continue our non-conversation, so Emmy and I sat down over a cup of coffee.  Long before Starbucks there was instant Maxwell House.  The New York Daily News sat on the table with cover photos of Los Angeles looking like a war zone.  Truth be told, this earthquake damaged one area significantly but not so much everywhere else.  I guess the era of sensational journalism had begun long before I realized it.  My mom was an amazing comfort.  She understood my confusion and while she would have loved me to return home I know she knew it was best for me if I didn’t.  Yet she would listen and help me to come to my decision without judgment.  Most of my friends weren’t around so the next day loomed with a lot of time to soul search.  And drive around town.

I felt all sorts of memories rushing back.  I rode past many of my friends’ houses, familiar roads and haunts, the high school, the house “the nice boy” and I had rented to live in after the wedding and found myself parked outside “the family restaurant.”   It was lunch time and I saw his familiar face behind the grill.  I sat in the car, unobserved, for a half hour or more.  I was either going to open the door and get out or drive away.  I knew in my heart the time for looking back was over.  I would go back to Los Angeles.

When my parents and I arrived at the airport and said goodbye for the tenth time, my mother put a piece of paper in my hand and said, “Go have dinner with the Petrys.”  The Petrys were old family friends from Long Island.  Jack Petry worked in television in “the city” and had been Stage Manager on the Howdy Doody Show during my youth. A favorite picture is me sitting on the lap of Gabby Hayes with my childhood nemesis, Mark Hellreigel. Image

Mark and I had attended a show and saw Howdy, Princess Summerfallwinterspring, Clarabelle the Clown and Buffalo Bob’s cousin right up close. In fact I sat in the seat right next to Bob’s cousin (think Buffalo Bob was in rehab – no, seriously, no) and in front of me was a package of Twinkies. I thought they were for me…I took a bite out of one. There was quite the scrambling for a new package when they went to commercial break and realized the “prop” had been opened and eaten. My first show business experience.  But I digress

The Petry family had moved to Los Angeles a couple of years earlier when Sam was given a pretty high job at NBC.  On some level their being in the same city had helped my mother help me move to L.A. As I flew back, smoking a cigarette and sipping a cocktail, I thought I might as well give them a call.

Settling back into my Burbank routine was simple.  One of the “Gold Diggers” and I went to the Smoke House for dinner – the best cheese garlic bread in the world. One order and a glass of wine = dinner. She really was from Kansas, a few years older than I, and told wonderful tales about working at NBC on the Dean Martin Show.  He really was a nice man, not a drinker at all – those glasses always held apple juice and was about to marry an under 30 year old.

Dinner at the Petrys was fun, I must admit.  Hearing more about NBC made me think that my time at the Television Code should come to an end.  Did Mr. Petry think I should apply for a job there? Well, why not?  He would make a call to personnel.

Two months and three interviews later I started as a sales assistant at KNBC – the NBC owned affiliate…in Beautiful Downtown Burbank.  Image

The fringes of show business had become my life!

 

2

Peacock Point, the Duke and Duchess and the Two Mrs. Grenvilles

ImageI wrote this two weeks ago and planned to post it a few days later.  Why is it that life gets in the way of best laid plans.  SO…here is a bit more on Locust Valley history.  You will be subjected ~ I might say, inundated ~ with posts about our move to San Diego during the next few weeks.  I apologize in advance for what you will be subjected to.  

Back to the past!

I love that my post including  Ken Deecken’s meeting the Duke and Duchess sparked comment and discovered all sorts of information about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and their stays on the Gold Coast at Peacock Point, the Lattingtown estate of Edith Kane Baker. Image 

I never really knew where Lattingtown started and Locust Valley ended but it sounds like it was somewhere between the high school and the Creek Club.  It seems Edith Kane Baker, one the Duchess’ BFF’s  Image was also the mother of Grenville Baker, for whom the Locust Valley Boys and Girls Club was named.  When I was a pre-teen it was just the Boys Club and that always annoyed me.  But I digress. 

The Grenville Baker Boys and Girls Club website says this about the formation of GBBC ~  

It all happened May 12, 1947.  Incorporated as the Associated Boys Club of Locust Valley, Inc. great efforts were made to serve the Locust Valley youth, but the lack of an adequate meeting place was a hindrance. Milward W. (Pidge) Martin, who was Pepsi-Cola’s chief attorney treasurer, and Edith Hay Wyckoff, editor of the Locust Valley Leader, joined forces and initiated the first steps in creating a place for the Locust Valley children to play.

It was Mrs. George P. Baker Jr. and her family who took the final step that made everything possible. The family made a donation to purchase the land on Forest Avenue and built the original clubhouse.  Dedication of Grenville Baker Boys Club took place on December 5, 1950 in memory of Mrs. Baker’s son, Grenville, a decorated Air Force Captain and Harvard graduate, who met an untimely death in 1949.

I then looked into “untimely” death of Grenville Baker and discovered he was found dead, at the age of 27, by his mother at their Palm Beach mansion under questionable circumstances.  Authorities never learned whether a suicide, homicide or an accident caused his death on January 17, 1949.  Mrs. Baker might have been well served had Hercule Poirot been one of the house guests at her Palm Beach dinner party that evening.  First published reports described an accidental late-night overturned jeep mishap. Hours later, the coroner found a bullet in Baker’s head, overlooked by sheriff’s deputies; stories speculated about a possible suicide. Then, the FBI conducted testing before announcing “not a suicide,” and “all clues futile.” The case was closed. The funeral was held in New York; the will was read.   

Named for his maternal grandfather, Tuxedo Park pioneer Grenville Kane, a descendant of John Jacob Astor, Grenville Baker attended St. Paul’s and Harvard. When his father, George F. Baker, Jr. died in 1937, Grenville’s trust was reportedly worth $8.3 million. Despite his family’s objections, he married Alicia Grajales Corral in 1943, described in the press as a “Mexico City girl.” In a will dated one month before he was killed, Grenville Baker had reduced her cut to a cash settlement and one-half of his personal estate, leaving the remainder to his mother Edith Kane Baker.

Moving along ~ in October 1955, the Duchess of Windsor  (##  Duchess in dress)  was the guest of honor at Peacock Point, along with Ann and Bill Woodward, the night Mrs. Woodward mistook her husband for a prowler and shot him twice, killing him instantly.  Some background.  Anne Woodward came from less than prominent beginnings in Pittsburgh, Kansas.  In 1950 she was voted “The Most Beautiful Girl in Radio,” which seems a rather odd distinction.  Later she married William Woodward Jr. , a wealthy heir and prominent member of New York society circles.   

 Image Ann & Billy Ann was courted by “the” Billy Woodward, son of William Woodward Sr., a wealthy heir to Hanover National Bank and Belair Farm in Maryland, and they married in 1943.  Though she was initially shunned by high society, Ann Woodward became an adept socialite and the couple had two sons, William and James.  Billy asked for a divorce in 1947, but Ann refused, unwilling to give up her wealth and social status.  On the night of Oct. 30, 1955, Billy and Ann Woodward had returned to their weekend estate in Oyster Bay on Long Island, after attending the dinner party honoring the Duchess of Windsor at the Baker Estate, Peacock Point . There had been reports of a prowler, and the couple retired to separate bedrooms armed with loaded weapons.  Awakened by what she later described as the sound of an intruder, Mrs. Woodward grabbed her gun and fired at a shadow in her doorway. It was her husband.  The two boys, asleep elsewhere in the house, did not wake up.

The shooting became front-page news. Life magazine dubbed it ”The Shooting of the Century.” Distraught and visibly anguished, Mrs. Woodward eventually appeared before a Nassau County grand jury, which deemed the shooting an accident. But the family would never recover.  Mrs. Woodward was ostracized socially and hounded by whispers. The whispers eventually reached Truman Capote, whose unfinished, but published, novel, ”Answered Prayers,” included a thinly veiled fictional account of the Woodward shooting. He depicted Mrs. Woodward as Ann Cutler, a harlot and a gold digger who killed her husband because he had discovered she was a bigamist.

In 1975, Esquire published an excerpt from the novel, and Ann Woodward was soon found dead in her Fifth Avenue apartment from suicide. Susan Braudy, whose 1992 book, ”This Crazy Thing Called Love,” documented the shooting, said New York society quickly accepted Capote’s fictional account as fact.

”Well, that’s that,” Elsie Woodward, then in her 90’s, said six weeks after Ann’s death, according to Ms. Braudy’s book. ”She shot my son, and Truman just murdered her, and so now I suppose we don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

Sadly, family tragedy followed both Woodward sons as well as stalking the male line of the Baker family for decades.

But my high school friend, Steve Young has nothing but great memories of Peacock Point and the summer he spent seeing the faded opulence up close and personal during the Summer of 1969.

“I had the opportunity to work at the Baker Estate in 1969. Old Mrs. Baker was in her 90′s then. Part of my daily job was to make sure there was a fire set up and ready to light for her to enjoy during her breakfast in bed each morning. Mostly i just wandered around the mansion (they called it the “summer cottage”) polishing doorknobs on beautiful solid brass doors. I got to know the wonderful staff and it was much like Downton Abbey in its atmosphere. Dear old Nellie Lynch had been a maid there for over 30 years. One evening she shared with me the secret that when their frequent guest, the Duchess of Windsor, was done in the bathroom, she always had the maid come in and flush the commode. Pretty hoity-toity if you ask me!  Overall It was a wonderful experience, sadly interrupted when I returned to college the following year.  Peacock Point was 25 acres on Long Island Sound.  Mrs. Baker had a 3 story townhouse in Manhattan with its own elevator. I got to go there only once. They also had a vault at Peacock Point containing all the silverware.  In it also was a Louis XVi ice bucket that was so valuable only the butler, Douglas Griffin, was allowed to handle it.  I snuck in and got it down once for a look-see  🙂  I remember heading home after Mrs. B’s big Thanksgiving dinner party with a turkey 🙂 I also remember she had an original George Washington painting in the front foyer.  I shamelessly would touch George’s nose when I entered that way.  My bad! 

     
 

After reading so much about Edith Kane Baker, her family and some of her guests I’m thinking Steve had a better time at Peacock Point than many of them did.

You know that old saying  ~  if you put your problems in a circle with a group of others, given the chance you would take back your own rather than switch with anybody else?

Truth be told, the grass isn’t always greener. 

Perhaps there’s just more to mow.    Image

3

September 11th

ImageMy heart is heavy today.

As a nation we have undergone much these past twelve years.  Yet September 11, 2001 is a day that, for me, lives in a place like no other day I have lived.  As a nation we lived through a loss of life unequal and unfathomable.  As a nation we cried.  Someone I do not know posted about being in New York on that day.  She went into a market hours after the attack.   While she was there they played “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” to honor the firefighters who had lost their lives just hours before.  Lise said everyone in the store cried…unabashedly and unashamed.  I cried reading her post.

As a nation we supported ensuring this type of loss would never happen again.  Every day we pray that it won’t.

Last night I listened to our President.   Please understand I really am not a political animal.  I wish I’d paid more attention throughout the years, but I was busy living my life, believing those we’d elected knew more than we did.  Sadly, at this point in time I’m doubting that judgment.  There is plenty of blame to go around on both sides of the aisle, both past and present.  That’s not my point.

My point is I’m afraid that as a nation we have lost our way.  There are problems everywhere, both globally and locally.  We listen, we debate ~ perhaps Facebook isn’t always such a good thing ~ but do we solve?   Do we have a clue as to what the solutions are?  Does anybody?

Our house is close to a hospital.  The sound of sirens becomes background noise.  Most of the time I’m not even aware of it.  Today I am.   At times we are in the flight path of a small airport and private jets fly over head.  Most of the time I’m not even aware of it.  Today I am.

Lately I have found myself angry about those we have elected to serve because I don’t think they’re doing a very good job.  Most of the time I believe they don’t care about us, that they’re only doing this for their own personal power and wealth.  Most of the time I think I am part of the problem because I have absolutely no idea what the solution is and have become very judgmental about our politicians and our political system.

I believe they should know better.  They tell us they do.  I believe they should do better. They tell us they will.  After all, it’s their job.

Last night I listened to our President and have many questions.  I don’t have the answers but I do believe it’s time they all ~ be they Democrat, Republican, Independent or Libertarian ~ take the time to figure it out rather than kick the can down the road.

We’re at the end of the road.

It’s their job.

God Bless America

2

Beautiful Downtown Burbank ~ Take One

ImageThough loathe to admit it at the time and, in some ways unaware the neighborhood we lived in was not the best.  While “happy hour” with unlimited free appetizers on Friday night at the Captain’s Table was an attraction, circumstances were changing and it was time to look for a new place.  My roommate from back home had decided to go back to Locust Valley.  The original appeal of the apartment was waning and Kate definitely wasn’t a match as a roomie.  She gave new meaning to the word “territorial” in the frig with her labels and “you didn’t take that, did you?”

I was working as a secretary at the now-non-existent NAB Television Code a few buildings away from Grauman Chinese Theater. Image  My first star sighting had been on Hollywood Boulevard right after the holidays.  Walking to pick up an egg salad sandwich I looked up and saw Broderick Crawford heading toward me.  Now, anybody under 50 won’t have a clue who he is but he was the star of one of the first television detective dramas “Highway Patrol,” a big, bulky, brusque kind of guy, and his famous moniker was “10-4…over and out”.  I have no idea what possessed me but as I walked past him I said “10-4″….he looked over and smiled.  Image

Ok, now this was Hollywood.  I’d arrived.    Image

Just up the 101 Freeway and over Barham Boulevard was Burbank and Toluca Lake.  Even though Johnny Carson joked about it, it was a sweet little city.  Housing a major television studio, NBC, restaurants and Bob Hope I thought I could be very happy here and went in search of an apartment of my very own.  

The Lakeside Apartments were adorable. Probably twenty buildings, almost identical, housing one and two bedroom apartments. Two story “courtyard” style with swimming pools in the middle.  I quickly signed up for a furnished one bedroom at a cost of $175 a month.  For me… ALONE.  Well, it just meant more Kraft Mystery Dinners for dinner, which was actually fine with me.  To this day I am a patron of the day-glow orange powder.

I moved in early February…lock, stock and charm bracelets. I’d unpacked my worldly belongings – two trips in the Triumph Spitfire – my Galiano bottle filled with pennies and 17″ black and white television among them, and was settling in at 4221 Kling Street.  Most of the people in the building were young. In fact, the apartment across the court from me was filled with “Gold Diggers.”  I am not referring to women looking for rich husbands but rather, dancers on the Dean Martin Show taped at NBC.  Really, Dean Martin.

My apartment was on the second floor and I immediately set out to make the impersonal furnishings my own.  I couldn’t paint but ran right out and bought cork board squares and double taped them in a ridiculous collage on a wall.  The bathroom suddenly had bright purple daisy decals on the walls and I thought I was incredibly cool.  I’d probably been there about four days and had fallen asleep pretty early.  All that mindful decorating had taken its’ toll. 

At 6:00AM on a Tuesday in February 1971 I felt an intense shaking.  Before I was awake I thought “somebody must be taking a car out of the garage,” My bedroom in Locust Valley was over the garage and that’s where I initially thought I was.  Then I realized I certainly wasn’t.   I sat up in bed and watched my prized television slide off the small table, hit the bed, and then the floor. I jumped up, ran through the apartment and opened the front door. The building was moving from side to side as the water from the pool sloshed over the side in a mini tidal wave.  And then…it stopped.  I went back into the apartment to survey the damage. The cork boards were still on the wall and not one dish broke. Probably because they were all in the sink.  I was still traveling light in life.  About five minutes passed and I had no idea or what to do or where to go.  Where there earthquake days?  Should I go to work? 

Then the phone rang…it was my mother.  She said she had a feeling something was “wrong.” I’ll say….she turned on the television and discovered the details…a 6.6 earthquake had hit Sylmar – about fifteen miles up the 405 freeway. Just hearing her voice calmed my jumping heart. We talked for a few minutes and then the phone went dead. I tried to call her back and, amazingly, got through. I hadn’t spoken to my father since they left after Christmas which was par for that course and, actually, fine with me. But my mother, once again, said magical words, “if you want to come home for a few days we’ll pay for the ticket”. I told her I was just fine as the first of hundreds of aftershocks hit. I hung up the phone and shakily went outside just in time to hear one of the Gold Diggers say “my mother says it will all be just fine”.  I asked where her mother was and she responded, “Kansas”….ok, then.

I can’t say I remember the next couple of hours but I got dressed and decided to go to work – on the 6th floor of an office building in Hollywood. I wasn’t sure what to take with me when I left.  Charm bracelets….most definitely.

 Ok – so I drove into Hollywood, parked my car and decided not to ride up the six floors on the elevator.  There was very little damage where I was but everybody was very quiet. The office phones weren’t ringing…at all. 

Not usually one for wearing a lot of jewelry, my three jingling charm bracelets made an impression.  It was a small office, only three people. The man in charge was an interesting but somewhat sour soul.  Frank was writing his autobiography, entitled “Trapped on a Treadmill.”  Need I say more?  

The Television Code mostly put their “seal” on television commercials out here in Hollywood. Mattel speed racers could only be shown in commercials going as fast as they actually went. No “puffery”…swear to God.  There was an office for this kind of stuff and I worked in it. 

Frank. He stood out by my desk and asked, “what are those bracelets?” I replied “my charm bracelets,” and proceeded to type some important memo about a robot whose head really couldn’t turn 360 degrees but sounded like it would be in the script he had not yet approved.  Again….really! 

He came out of his office at lunch time and said we were going to El Coyote. Here’s the thing. I had never in my life had Mexican food. J ust hadn’t run across it, even during my tenure on Occidental Boulevard.  He said “you’ll love it, El Coyote is a legend in this town.”  Image
And so it was…but on this “day of the earthquake” it was a quiet legend.  Seriously, I had never heard such silence.  Everybody spoke in hushed tones and waited for the next aftershock. A pessimist by nature – perhaps you picked that up by his proposed book title – Frank was positive this had merely been the precursor of “The Big One” which was on its’ way…soon.  Thanks, Frank.  Sure am enjoying this cheese enchilada stuck in my throat. Every time I lifted my arm the bracelets jangled and finally he asked, “what’s with the bracelets?”  Again, if you’re under 50 you will probably not remember that charm bracelets were bracelets with little dangling tokens ~ charms ~ commemorating various life events.  I’d gotten my first when I was six and every occasion brought a new charm.  A new bracelet at 16 and 21.  So I had quite a few. The ballerina, the report card with the “?” for conduct among them. 

I told him I had no idea what he meant and he replied, “what are you trying to ward off with the charms?”  Huh?  He had obviously given this a lot of thought and determined the charms were there to ward off evil spirits.  We laughed at his misunderstanding and started to leave.  My eyes met those of someone standing by the front door waiting for a table. 

It was Jake.  He started to say something and I looked away. No thanks, pal.  Been there…didn’t do that.  Maybe there was something to ward off, after all. 

That’s how we “found each other again.” 

Two natural disasters in one day.  OY!

Enough said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2

LA Here I Come ~ My Arrival ~ Labor Day 1970

Driving cross country had been an adventure.  We’d made a decision to go to Las Vegas instead of the Grand Canyon and stayed one night.  The next morning  it was time to get on the road for the final day of our drive.  My “drive mate” and I were anxious to arrive at our final destination.  Downey, California – a suburb of Los Angeles. There was a reason for this particular choice. While at the time I would have willingly moved to Guam to get out of town, Los Angeles became possible because two Locust Valley friends, Kathy Lawless and Linda Ziegler, were there visiting Linda’s grandmother.  Janet.Linda.Kathy  .
Pre-cell phone by decades, we stopped at a pay phone to them know we were on our way.  They had booked us into a reasonable motel for a week while we would get our bearings and figure out next steps.  Linda had just accepted a job in downtown L.A. ~ wherever that might be ~ Kathy was leaving in a couple of weeks to finish her last year of college and my drive mate, Kate, was going to work at the Los Angeles office of a large insurance company she had worked for on Long Island. We had a week to find a place to live somewhere near Wilshire Boulevard ~ wherever that might be.  Image  It should be noted that Wilshire Boulevard is a major artery and one of the few streets that runs completely through the city of Los Angeles from the ocean to downtown.  There are at least fifty completely different worlds located along that 14.4 mile corridor.  We didn’t yet know that fact or have any idea which world would be closest to Kate’s job.

The drive from Vegas to Los Angeles took around four hours and one more call as we approached ascertained our meeting at the motel in destination Downey.  As the freeway signs announced our arrival to the area I felt a knot beginning to tighten in my stomach.  Where were the palm trees and mansions?  Movie stars and talent agents couldn’t possibly live here.  Where was Beverly Hills adjacent?

What part of town was this?  The part with the Giant Donut located right off one of the many freeways.  Image  We won’t discuss the reasonable motel…all I could say about Downey was “we gotta get outta here…fast.”

The search for Wilshire Boulevard began early Monday morning.  During rush hour. Remember the “real” Tonight Show with Johnny Carson?  He did a skit where he was Art Fern showing a massive tangle of L.A. freeways and it always ended with cutting off your Slauson.   Image

Well, our first journey on the mass of tangles they call “commuting in LA” was not for the faint of heart.  Especially since we had absolutely no idea where we were going.  Kate had called human resources and gotten the address~- remember, no computers, no internet…just people who, thankfully, answered the phone. They were located in the “mid-Wilshire District”.  Now all we had to do was find Wilshire. We’d figure out the mid-part later.  What we did find were several freeways and each had a Wilshire exit, or off-ramp as they are called. Since every freeway seemed to merge from the right at warp speed, it was impossible to exit unless you spotted the signs far in advance.  Image I don’t remember which freeway finally deposited us onto Wilshire Boulevard, but I do remember we were deep in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.  To two girls from Long Island, that was almost as scary as Downey.  There are no homeless people in Locust Valley. Very little dirt, except in gardens and no traffic.   This was truly life in the fast lane. I had a vague idea of how Alice must have interpreted falling through the looking glass.1954 Brown Derby Los Angeles

We found the office building and decided mid-Wilshire looked wonderful.   We began driving around and it seemed a more than acceptable place to live.  Luckily, most of the apartments had live-in managers so we would stop at one and ring the buzzer.  How safe and secure a building with a buzzer seemed.  And, wait ~ there were palm trees lining Occidental Boulevard.   The Sunset Strip was about five miles West.

The Sunset Strip with billboards for Cher, Eddie Money and Judy Collins in Los Angeles, California

The Sunset Strip with billboards for Cher, Eddie Money and Judy Collins in Los Angeles, California

Dino's

Driving through Hollywood was jaw dropping….Musso       Musso.1Musso inside

But ~  Oh my gosh…the apartment ~ #101 ~ was just like a Doris Day movie.  Built in furniture and shag carpeting ~ a completely furnished one bedroom for $175 a month including utilities.  Between three of us that would be more than manageable.  It would be downright thrifty.

When my parents’ arrived for a visit at Christmas, my father’s immediate exclamation ruined my fantasy first apartment….”Jesus Christ ~ you’re the only names on the mailbox that aren’t Mexican.”  The man had a way with words.  I guess we’d noticed but I’m happy to say it hadn’t mattered until then.  The rest of their visit was tense.  My father emphatically decided it was time for me to return home.

OK, here’s the deal.  My father was the boss of everything, and I’d been told my first full sentence was “you’re not the boss of me.” It was the on-going struggle I fought to win and thought I had by moving three thousand miles away.  But the indiscriminately allotted three months was up and there was no way in hell I was going back.  I had an ok job, that cool shag carpeting in my apartment and I was free at last, free at last.

Big Joe~ as he was not always so fondly referred to ~ decided enough was enough and the ethnic composite of my apartment building was his excuse. I just wasn’t safe in Los Angeles.  As my mother and brother sat silently in the restaurant, Big Joe and I replayed the dinner scene of my youth.  He and I were talking loudly in disagreement and she and my brother were nervously coughing, twitching and throat clearing.  Somewhere between the soup and salad at Sorrentino’s in Burbank ~ I’d found my way to the “Valley” ~ my mother said sternly, “enough.” We both looked at her in amazement.  This was not part of the normal agenda.  Her next words rang clear and true, “she’s staying here, Joe….she’s staying here.”  She usually let me fight my own battles and had only intervened once before.

About ten weeks before I was supposed to be married she came into my room and said “I don’t know what’s going on with you, but you’re not acting like somebody who’s getting married.”  Then, “if you don’t want to do it, you can call it off, but you have to do it now – there’s a shower for you in two weeks.”   She closed with the magic words, “I’ll fix it with your father.”  I think they ate off the reception deposit at the Swan Club for a very long time.  And now, for a second time she really proved that “mother knows best” as she saved me from a fate far worse than that marriage would have been.  Returning home.

They flew back to New York two days early.  She cried at the airport when she said goodbye – she was quite the crier ~ and I thanked her.

She smiled and said “move to Burbank.”   It was the home of the original Bob’s Big Boy…and NBC….and my next chapter.

bobs-burbank1

But throughout all my years and adventures in California ~ I’m a bit like Dorothy ~ there’s no place like home!!!         our-house

LV Library

7

You Take Home With You Wherever You Go

ImageBefore the Boomer blog I had one called “Life After Locust Valley.”  It was mostly truth with a little fiction thrown in for spice.  Then I got to a point where I couldn’t fictionalize certain things and the truth was a bit too real, albeit thirty years old, so I stopped writing.  The Boomer blog came about when one of my neighbors from The Knolls “found me,” through my e-mail address and flooded my present with past memories.  Our cul-de-sac contained fifteen or so homes and was built in 1960.  The land had been part of the Carver Estate on Ryefield Road. Image   In fact, the house next door to ours was the original carriage house, and both the house and barn remained next door to ours.  Image   Several houses were still under construction but others had already been sold and families like ours were living there when we moved in.  It was one of many similar streets and neighborhoods in Locust Valley.  The kids on your block were your pals, especially when we were young, especially during the summer months.  When Diane contacted me she reminded me of things I’d forgotten and remembered things about me I didn’t realize anyone would possibly care to remember.  One of them was “The Knolls Star News.”  Our neighborhood newspaper.  My father’s secretary was the publisher on the office mimeograph machine.   My next door neighbor, Kathleen Fitzgibbons, reported today that I came to their door when they moved into their house in February 1961 to “interview” them.  That timing makes sense to me, but was surprising for what it led me to remember.  We’d moved to Locust Valley the previous March during the middle of 6th grade.  Coming from a small private school in Queens I found the adjustment daunting.  No more uniforms, and 7th grade was “tracked.”   A~B~C~D~E~F.  I’d skipped first grade and had absolutely no business starting junior high at just 11.  I remember clearly that I’d hoped Miss Weser would make that abundantly clear to my parents, but my father wouldn’t hear of it.  Boy, did that come back to bite me in the butt years later.  But I digress.

Now I know the sequence of events ~ so grateful for Kathleen’s memory ~ there I was in 7C, not really fitting in at all.  So I started a neighborhood newspaper and interviewed new neighbors.  Then the new neighbors and I were the reporters.  Yet what Diane remembered about me all these years later was that I was a good writer.  Putting the pieces together today made perfect sense.  Writing was an outlet for me.  I felt lonely and out of place in 7th grade.  I belonged on The Knolls and that little mimeographed paper was the way I fit in.Image

That was what was truly wonderful about where I grew up.  We all belonged.  In our neighborhoods where boys and girls played, both together and separately.  Perhaps because the world moves so fast now and is so often disconnected, belonging seems much harder to come by these days.   We think back to when it seemed easier ~ well, I know I do.   But then today I realized when I was eleven it wasn’t really that easy to belong.

As my school years went on, things got better ~ and, at times, worse, as I recall slam books ~ but for me one thing never changed.  I loved living in Locust Valley.  I loved the holiday decorations.  I loved the Memorial Day Parade.  I loved the walk home from the Valley Tea Shoppe.  I loved going to Shu Swamp, swimming and smoking when it was too cold for one and I was far too young for the other.  I loved walking in Coffin’s Woods and looking through the windows of the old summer cottage filled with cobwebs and covered furniture.  There is so much to remember I could on for pages filled with happy memories.

Where we lived, and when we lived there, helped to make us who we grew up to become.  I know that.  People from Long Island are feisty.   We are, for the most part, very opinionated and usually right.  Just ask us.  We are loyal and we are committed.  Or, rather, is that we should BE committed?

We grew up in an amazing place filled with tradition and history.  Also lots of money.  While most of us were not to the manor born we were able to hear about people who were and, in some cases meet people who are part of history to everyone else.  Just yesterday, my friend Ken wrote about people he’d met at the Creek Club when he was in high school Image

Nobody important.  Just the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.  Get out of here!  The former King of England and his wife, the infamous Wallis?

Please note Ken has always been on a personal pedestal due to my vivid memory of the day he delivered my freedom, in the form of my driver’s license.  I am now impressed that he was not impressed meeting the former King of England ~ merely noting, he was very nice and even brought along his own brewed tea in an aluminum mug.  I guess growing up in Locust Valley prepares you for just about everything you never thought you’d need to be prepared for.

The first night we moved to Locust Valley we had burgers at Barney’s Corner.  Before I was 18 I had beer at the Barneys with fake ID.  Now it’s a classy restaurant.Image

Even Locust Valley changes.

I started this blog in April because Diane Hill remembered I loved to write many, many years ago.  Now that I’ve been writing off and on these past several months I remember I still do.  So not everything changes, does it?

Most times when I start to write I have an idea of where I’m going.   Today was surprising. I write about then and now and I thank you for reading.   I love your comments.

I’m sure wherever you grow up there are fond memories.  But all things are possible when you grow up where I did.

You might even meet a King of England and his infamous wife.Image