Archive for the ‘history’ Category

Finally Found: A Photo Of Hunter’s Books

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

Until yesterday, when this image rather randomly popped up on my Facebook feed from a group I follow, I’d made countless unsuccessful attempts to find any photographs of a place I worked during my junior and senior year in high school that was so near and dear to me: Hunter’s Books.

Situated on the southwest corner of Rodeo Drive and Little Santa Monica, my history with the place is one filled with fond memories and a fair share of intrigue, which one day I may go into in far greater detail. How I got my job there as a stock clerk itself involved a bit of stealth. I was sitting in chemistry class awaiting the arrival of one Mr. Thorpe, who I despised. I overheard a fellow student by the name of Marc Sugarman talking to another about a job for which he was supposed to apply at some bookstore on Rodeo. He said it was a done deal, all he had to do was show up and the gig was his — but he wasn’t really feeling it.

Since I was definitely in need of gainful employment at that time, as soon as school let out, I hustled on over and met with the stock manager, Barry, a short middle-aged guy with a gray goatee and spectacles. I told him I heard there was a job available, and he made some comment about me not being who he was expecting, meaning Marc. I feigned having no idea what he was talking about and boom, I was hired, wherein I joined a ragtag crew of underground characters who worked primarily in the basement or back. There was Reggie, the loveable short black frenetic homosexual who was in charge of shipping and receiving. There was the middle-aged and also gay Arthur with his huge mustache and his Joseph A. Bank wardrobe in charge of returns. There was Wiley, a tall quiet black man of a certain menace who primarily assisted Arthur and who almost always had some white gunk in the corners of his mouth and never had much to say. And stock clerk  Manual, the aspiring guitarist philospher , with his giant afro, his snide laugh and his coolness. Rounding things out was Dennis, an actor, whose receding hairline tormented him enough to seek out the Bosley Medical Group’s that left him with a line of hair plugs circumnavigating his forehead like a picket fence. Upstairs the sales floor was dominated by Susanna, an elderly German frau never without a scowl and menthol cigarette dangling from her lips. Her assistant was Margaret, a lovely young black woman who had a thing for James Dean. Last but not least was Larry, the boss of us all, who ruled from his roost up on the third floor.

Like I said, I have plenty of stories about this place, but I’ll save them for later. In the meantime I’m just thrilled that this photo materialized.

April 29, 1992

Saturday, April 29th, 2017

As a San Fernando Valley resident at the time and far removed from the greater LA basin, it’s rather ironic how I came to experience what I did on April 29, 1992, and where; roughly a 4.5 mile straight line to the riot’s epicenter at Florence and Normandie. I was a student at Pierce College in Woodland Hills at the time and a photography class assignment to illustrate the theme of “Man’s Impact On His Environment” (speaking of ironic) was coming due. On the early afternoon of April 29 I got on my motorcycle from my home in Sherman Oaks and rode to Baldwin Hills with the idea of photographing the oil derricks pumping there along the hills and ridge lines. Dissatisfied with the compositions I found I ended up at serene oasis that is nearby Kenneth Hahn State Recreational Area at one of the horseshoe pits, taking set-up shots of my shoe print and a crushed flower in the dirt.

 

While I was doing this a woman came over, sat on the backstop of the pit and watched me for a few moments until she finally asked me if I’d “heard the news?” I stopped and shook my head. “They were found not guilty,” she said and I knew instantly she was referring to the officers on trial for the beating of Rodney King. I expressed my incredulity and then promptly went back to taking pictures of my shoe print. She waited a few more moments before standing up. “I don’t think you understand,” she said, and I looked back up at her. “I’m getting out of here.” I stared blankly. “And I’m black,” she finished, and started walking purposefully toward the parking lot.

Finally and fully I comprehended what she was trying to get through my thick white head, and when I did I offered up an emphatic “Thank you!” wished her good luck and wasted not another second getting back to my motorcycle at which time a pick-up truck drove slowly past me, stopping a few spaces down. In the cab were two young black men with two more riding in the bed and all were staring at me with a fury the likes of which I will never forget. There was no mistaking their rage and that it was focused directly at me and the color of my skin. Fortunately — no: miraculously — parked farther down past them at the end of the lot was a black-and-white — not LAPD but rather a “Safety” police vehicle, whatever that meant. I couldn’t see if there was an officer inside, but its presence made the four men hesitate enough looking from it back to me and back to it to give me enough time to get my helmet on and my motorcycle started and like a bat outta hell I was northbound on La Cienega and gunning the throttle.

By the time I got to the bottom of the hill, the Fedco at Rodeo and La Cienega (now it’s a Target) was already on fire and being looted, and I split the gridlocked lanes between cars many of whose drivers looked terrified stuck there in the gridlock as if a tsumani was bearing toward them from the rear and they had no escape.

When I got home to the relative calm of the valley I turned on the television and the Los Angeles I had earlier been in the middle of had turned into a living burning hell. I locked the doors, loaded the gun, and stayed glued to the newscasts broadcasting the horror and the heartbreak of a city seemingly hell bent on burning itself down.

I watched the endless replays of the attack on Reginald Denny, and who’s to say what might have happened to me if that woman hadn’t warned me or that police vehicle hadn’t been there, but I’m thankful either way I didn’t have to find out.

Days later after the chaos had been quelled and a certain order had been restored, I was in the dark room at Pierce College developing images from those few frames I snapped for the photo class assignment (I believe I got a C grade for the passable quality of the photos as shown with comments that I took the assignment too literally), and it dawned on me that the image’s subject matter was something I could have easily recreated in the comparative safety of my own backyard instead of in the midst of the waves of rioting that flooded the city.

The Hi-Fi

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

In the months of 1989 leading up to the birth of my daughter things were not at all great financially or emotionally, but at the time we had a relatively sweet deal managing the 20-unit Van Nuys apartment building in which we were living in exchange for free rent on the two-bedroom we occupied.

Not long after she was born in September of that year it was decided that we would relocate to manage a building in Burbank, almost triple the number of units at only about half-off the rent, in part because a friend of my then-wife’s lived in the building and encouraged her to take the opportunity. There were pluses: it was in a better neighborhood; a newer building with nicer amenities. But in the end it increased the stretch on our finances and our already rocky relationship to the breaking point and I ended up moving out in January of 1990.

After all this time, my biggest regret of that whole inevitable failure as a man and a husband and a father? Leaving behind the stereo I’d inherited from my mother when I moved out on my own in 1985. Mind you, it was nothing fancy. Made by Admiral, it was called the Solid State Sterophonic High-Fidelty system, and without getting too overly sentimental, it played aaaaaall the music across the first 21 years of my life. Barbra Streisand, Carole King, Nat King Cole, Henry Mancini, Rossini, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Mendelsohn, Dvorak, Fleetwood Mac, Vicki Sue Robinson, The Beatles, The Who, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, countless Broadway soundtracks, Louis Prima, Kansas, Journey, Queen, and on and on and on.

What happened was I had at some point in my early independence I upgraded to a Marantz system and thus unceremoniously relegated my mom’s to the garage storage compartment where it sat throughout the duration of meeting my future ex-wife, moving in with her, getting married, getting pregnant, et cetera. Then when it came time for that move to Burbank, I couldn’t find the key to the storage compartment’s lock and just said to hell with it and left it behind.

Compounded by my mom’s disappointment that I didn’t bring it back to her when I quit using it, my abandonment of it has bothered me ever since, up to and including this past weekend, when it disturbed me that we didn’t have a functioning phonograph with which to play my Nat King Cole Christmas album this season. That in turn triggered the thought of the number of Christmases it spun on the able Admiral and so of course in this day and age I googled “Admiral High-Fidelty Stereo System,” and wouldn’t you know? BOOM. In full jaw-drop, I found one available on eBay, looking pretty much in a similar well-worn condition that my mom’s was when I banished it to the garage:

s-l1600

It should be no surprise seeing that picture auto-triggered some verklemptification.

According to the Indiana seller’s description everything works but the record player, which is in need of a needle. The asking price is a prohibitive $329.99, especially considering I ordered a suitcase style self-contained stereo phonograph from Wayfair for $70 that should arrive by Friday.

But I’d be a liar if I denied putting this old lady on my Watchlist. And you really shouldn’t be too surprised if I end up putting in a low ball offer as we get near the end of the 27 days left at auction.

Just Vin, Baby

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

A couple days ago over on Facebook I posted about getting a pair of cheap seats to the Vin Scully Appreciation Game at Dodgers Stadium in September and how by not spending $1,400 for butt rests down near the field I would have mooooore than enough to get a “SCULLY 67” customized Dodgers jersey honoring The Greatest Broadcaster Of The Last 67 Years And Of Aaaaaaall Time who I unabashedly idolize and cherish!

Turns out easier said than done.

Almost immediately after securing the tix, I went to the store at MLB.com and tried with aaaaaalll my might to order one but for reasons unknown to me, when you enter “SCULLY” in the name box, it gets rejected. Period. To paraphrase the pop-up error message: “Noooooot! Please try again.” Don’t believe me? See the screengrab below (click to enlargify) and/or go try it for yourself.

failjersey

Suitably apoplectic, the only alternative I found to circumvent the heinous ban was to enter Vin’s last name backwards — “YLLUCS” — and then actually consider making the purchase and taking the jersey to a tailor to have the letters re-reversed into the proper order, at additional expense of course. I kid you not, this was a length I was willing to go. This is how much I want to celebrate and recognize the retiring institution that is My Vin, who has been around every spring and summer of my e-n-t-i-r-e-t-y  — all the more remarkable because it’s happened in my native city where history and longevity don’t mean shit. Additional disclosure: This fervent drive to represent is augmented by the fact that for the previous two seasons as a DirecTV subscriber, thanks to the greedy SportsNetLA debacle, I was unable to watch games and hear Vin at will as I had been aaaaaall my previous years on this planet.

But first bless me, I opted to do a desperation search for “Scully Custom 67 Jersey” in faint hope of finding any other options. And as miracles would have it found an eBay page for a obscure little local El Monte outfit called TNS that was offering what appeared to be Exactly What I Wanted readymade for sale — and at $6 less than what MLB.com was charging.

So I went ahead and ordered it, triple-crossing my fingers that I wasn’t getting supreeeeemely ripped off.

The jersey arrived from TNS (here’s their Facebook page) Tuesday night — and boy did I NOTNOTNOT get ripped off. In fact the jersey deserves a triple OMG for being beyond my expectations. Feast yer eyes at the authenticity and gorgeousness with details like an embroidered Vin Scully signature and a microphone patch on the sleeve!!! And the fit? Perfection!

I will wear it soooo proudly for Vin Scully Bobblehead night Tuesday, September 20, and Vin Scully Appreciation Day, his final home game of his illustrious and incomparable 67-year career, September 23.

Lost Angeles: Tara Spotting

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015

Oh no: not that Tara. I’m talking about the famed fictional plantation manse from a little film back in the day whose name coincidentally rhymes with the last name of the film’s central character — O’Hara, as in Scarlett. As in “Gone With The Wind,” or GWTW, if you will.
 Yeah, that Tara.

F6C958BBF538394F1E5FF56102D9B0F4
Let me back up. I ravenously follow the Photos of Los Angeles group on Facebook, gobbling up its never-ending parade of pictures of L.A.’s distant and not-so-distant past. A few days ago this photo (at right, click to enlargify), was posted of a still from an episode of the 1950s TV series “SupermClark! Behind You!an,” showing its star, George Reeves (who coincidentally had a part in GWTW) in full Clark Kent mode, on a hill back-dropped by a broad swath of our smog-inundated city. The poster, Sally Deupree, asked, “Culver City. Recognize the building in the lower left with four columns?”

I immediately recognized it as Tara, which meant Reeves was standing hat in hand on what is now a section of the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook State Park — which meant beyond him was Jefferson Boulevard, then the Ballona Creek channel and then the old Pathe Studio backlot, where so many of the exterior scenes of GWTW were realized.

In an attempt to get a past/present frame of reference (I last did that with the location of Wrigley Field’s homeplate in South Los Angeles), I went on a googlehunt for a layout of the old studio, and hit gold at the 40 Acres website with this 1940 map (click to enlargify) pinpointing the various GWTW sets on the Pathe Studio backlot, with Tara’s position indicated there on the left.

40acres_plot_plan_1940

Then, of course, for a present-day juxtaposition I google-mapped the location (click to enlargify):
current
Which means basically that at the deadend of Hayden Place south of Higuera Street, somewhere around the current location of Woo Agency and Omelet you can stand on the paved-over land upon which Tara once stood, not to forget Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, and, yes, George Reeves. Cue the sweeping overture that is “Tara’s Theme”:

http://youtu.be/F86gx2sww88

A Creek Runs Through It

Friday, October 4th, 2013

Well, it is official. I’m a landowner. Last January when my Uncle Doug died I was informed that in his will he bequeathed to me property he owned in Walker County, Alabama. Nine months later, the legal process is complete and I am now sole titleholder to 15 reportedly well-timbered and entirely undeveloped acres, replete with a creek known as Sims Branch (named after my grandmother’s parents) running through it, pictured approximately as shown below via Google Maps.

mine

What makes the gift even more special than being deemed worthy of it by my uncle — who was pretty much one of a very few adult males who demonstrated any kind of regard or concern for me during my childhood — is the fact that this particular plot of land is where my grandmother lived and where I stayed with her when I’d visit as a child.

Her house is long gone now. It was sold years back and its buyers jacked it up off its foundation and moved it to an unknown location. Though I last was inside when I was 7 years old, I can easily recall its layout… and lots of memories.

It’s an interesting sensation to own land that’s been in my family for quite some time, even if its far away and smack dab in the middle of nowhere. I certainly hope to stand upon it sooner rather than later, but who knows. If this life-long experiment as a Los Angeles native ever craps out, odds are this is where you might be able to find me. Either in a log cabin, a double-wide, or a recreation of my grandma’s home constructed from memory.

 

Book ‘Em: Search Complete

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

When I discovered a book review last week about “The Searchers: The Making of An American Legend” by Glenn Frankel, I was already ordering it before I read whether the reviewer thought it was good or not.

My motivation wasn’t just my unconditional adoration of John Ford’s 1956 masterpiece, starring John Wayne. It was also because I was hoping for an answer or at least insight into Ford’s decision as to why he filmed the climactic scene where Wayne’s Ethan Edwards finally catches up to Natalie Wood’s Debbie at Bronson Canyon here in Hollywood.

caveIn the film Debbie flees across the barren plains of Monument Valley with Ethan in hot pursuit on horseback. But instead of reuniting them there, Ford quick-cuts to Debbie running up to the mouth of the Bronson Canyon cave/tunnel. Wayne comes charging down the adjacent slope, dismounts and approaches his long-lost niece, undecided still as to whether he’s going to save her because she’s kin or let his hatred of Indians take over and kill her because she’s long assimilated into the native culture she was abducted into as a child.

As a local who’s haunted them thar Hollywood Hills since I was a kid, I’ve known about Bronson Canyon since I was in elementary school, and I can remember watching “The Searchers” for the umpteenth time about 10 years ago and finally recognizing it. And yes, during visits since, I’ve gone to the mouth of that cave entrance in full-on fanboy awe knowing that I was standing in the exact spots where The Duke and Ford themselves had stood. One time, while overhearing a trio of visitors talking about the place’s use in lesser vehicles such as “Batman” (the ’60s TV series), “Star Trek VI,” and “Army of Darkness.,” I shared what I knew with them. Sadly, my enthusiastic description of the scene (complete with where Ford set up the camera) was lost because none of the three had seen the classic (which I feel should be a crime against entertainment).

I hold the film dearer to my heart knowing part of it was filmed in what is basically the playground of my past and so readily accessible at present. But with so much of the film’s exteriors shot in and around the organic magnificence of Monument Valley (itself a star of the film), I’ve long wondered what happened to bring Ford and Wayne and Wood to film that pivotal scene back here in Hollywood at what is in essence so fake a location entirely incongruous to the established wide-open scope of the West’s great outdoors. As such, I couldn’t resist diving into the back of the book to see if it was there. Thanks to Frankel, I now have the answer and so much more.

From the book:

Four days later, Ford took John Wayne, Natalie Wood, and a camera crew to Bronson Canyon to shoot the film’s climactic scene in which Ethan finally hunts down Debbie. The canyon was one of Hollywood’s classic outdoor locations, a former quarry carved into the southwest corner of Griffith Park just a few miles east of the Culver City studio. Brown and barren, it readily stood in for the rocky terrain of the West. From “Riders of the Purple Sage” (1925) to “I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang” (1932) to “Zorro Rides Again” (1937), anyone who needed a cheap natural location within a bus ride from a studio had resorted to Bronson Canyon over the years. Ford didn’t go there save money, however, but to solve a problem. As usual, he left no notes to explain. But it’s likely Ford and his crew had filmed the climactic scene in Monument Valley in July according to the [Frank] Nugent screenplay and that Ford had decided at the last minute to change it.

Nugent’s original script spells out exactly what is supposed to happen and why:

Ethan Dismounts with his gun drawn, pointing it at Debbie. “I’m sorry, girl,” he tells her. “Shut your eyes.”

The camera holds on Debbie’s face — the eyes gaze fearlessly, innocently into Ethan’. After a moment, he lowers his gun and puts it away. “You sure do favor your moth,” he tells her. Then he extends his hand, puts his arm protectively around her and a reconciled uncle and niece head for home.

013-Debbie-Cowering-In-Cave-The-Searchers-1956Somewhere between the original filming of the scene and August 12, Ford decided to reach for a different ending. He clearly wanted something more visual and ambiguous — something the audience could see and feel and not have explained to them. “I wonder, did they box themselves into a corner and find themselves having to shoot this at the very end?” asked Ford scholar James D’Arc. “Bronson Canyon’s the obvious quickie solution.”

As he did so many times, Ford threw away Nugent’s dialogue and improvised. The face that he would be jump-cutting from the flat parched floor of Monument Valley to the hilly rock-strewn path leading to Bronson Canyon did not seem to trouble him. In the filmed version, Ethan chases Debbie down, calling out her name — similar to the way he had called out Martha’s name earlier in the film when he searched for her among the flaming ruins of the ranch house. Desperate to escape him, Debbie reaches the mouth of the cave and then collapses. Ethan dismounts, stands over her, then lifts her over his head in one sweeping motion and takers her in his amrs. “Let’s go home, Debbie,” is all he says.

For Ford and his crew, it was a quick visit. They started shooting at Bronson Canyon at 11:00 that morning and finished up at 12:45. They broke a half hour for lunch and then headed back to the studio.

Damn. I’ve long been a searcher for that information. I can’t wait to start at the beginning of Frankel’s book and see what else he has to show me about one of the greatest motion pictures ever made.