At 17

November 19, 1968


November 19, 1968

Looking back, the symptoms of clinical depression are in neon lights – but in 1968, I didn’t know what that meant.  If anyone had asked, “Are you okay?” I would’ve said “I’m fine” – the correct Norwegian response to any inquiry about mental or physical health, even on one’s death bed.
KK and depression 1

I felt terrible about disappointing my father but powerless to level up my game.  Was it more important for me to make it to school or look human? They wanted both? I couldn’t do it anymore. Sure, other people managed it without too much difficulty – I did it once myself, but those days were behind me now.

KK depression 2

I saw darkness everywhere, even when babysitting. Two little girls spent hours play-acting “drunken father coming home.” Another couple, who left me with their daughter, urged me to have fun with their cat. The kids appeared in desperate need of affection. They begged to sit on my lap but I was too lost in my malaise to respond with genuine warmth. I felt guiltier for what I couldn’t feel and do than anything that I did – because I couldn’t do much.

KK depression 3

That fall, I had a recurring nightmare, in which I was stalked by an unidentified killer. Just as he was ready to strike, I’d wake up screaming. The trouble was, no one heard me. Surely, someone would have comforted me if they’d heard. If I really screamed out loud.

 

May 17, 1968

May 17, 1968

We went to see Elvira Madigan, my first foreign film
We went to see Elvira Madigan, my first foreign film

JS was the only boy I ever dated who actually went to Vietnam. In retrospect, I was an academic snob, attracted almost exclusively to college-bound guys. Because of this – and because JS was shipping out soon – I didn’t take JS that seriously. He wrote me letters after he deployed and I wrote back at first, but not as often as he wrote me. Gradually, I tapered off.  To my mind, his letters took on an angry slightly threatening tone – ranting about me and my “hippie friends” – so I stopped writing to him entirely.

The Draft

In retrospect, I wish I’d continued to write back to him. It wouldn’t have required that much effort and from all I’ve learned about what life was like for enlisted men in Vietnam, it probably would’ve comforted him to have a friend back home even if I wasn’t his girlfriend.  In all of his interactions with me, he was nothing but kind and he deserved kindness back.

Me a few months before then
Me a few months before then

Both J and I have casual acquaintances who served but in our immediate social circle, there’s exactly one Vietnam vet. In the thirty plus years we’ve known him, he’s only talked about it – to me, anyway – once. Nonetheless, it’s obvious the experience had a profound effect on him and not for the better. Recently, he’s fallen on hard times and faced homelessness so for the past eight months he’s been sleeping on a fold-out sofa in my husband’s home office.

Feelings of guilt?

The situation is less than optimum for all concerned and I’m hoping a better option will present itself. I know I’m not responsible for his well-being but I feel a certain amount of responsibility nonetheless. He did something my husband and everyone else we know got out of.  Maybe that’s on him, since on some level it was his choice. When he made that choice, however, he didn’t have the advantages that I – and most of the people I know – take for granted. Maybe I’m still feeling guilty about my lack of compassion for JS. Vietnam is far in our national past but I can’t be the only one struggling with the fallout – and I didn’t even have to worry about getting drafted.

Probably the same sweater, sure around the same time.
Probably the same sweater, sure around the same time. I was 17.  I thought I knew what was going on, but – Did you?

 

May 5, 1979

May 5, 1979

This was one of my very first meetings on the first of my spec screenplays to be optioned – in this case by the late Steve Friedman who ran King’s Road Productions in ’79. The script was inspired by Janis Ian’s brilliant song “At 17” although I doubt anybody involved actually acquired the rights to the song (I know as a fledgling writer, I couldn’t afford it.)

Me, the fledgling writer
Me, the fledgling writer

Ultimately, the script got optioned three times by different companies and/or producers but – alas – never produced, at least not as of this writing. It did, however, launch my career. It was the sample script that got me hired to adapt S. E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders.

Page 1 - "At 17"
Page 1 – “At 17”

Over the years, I rewrote it many times – incorporating notes from various producers and directors.  Although almost every line of the script Steve optioned has been changed – hopefully, for the better – the original characters, theme and the crisis Steve and I added remain.  Every time I completed another draft, I’d think I can’t possibly do more only to discover that if I set it aside for a year, the next time I looked I could easily spot room for improvement.

Caught in the act of re-reading
Caught in the act of re-reading

The lessons, for myself and anyone who aspires to a writing career?

  1. You’re never done. No matter how wonderful you might think your current draft is, it can be better.
  2. Take a break – as long as possible. My most recent break from this script lasted over twenty years. Talk about fresh eyes! It was like reading a script by somebody else.
  3. Cutting improves almost anything. In particular, look for flab in the first act.
Writing frenzy - Day and night
Writing frenzy – Day and night

April 5, 1968

April 5, 1968

Sadie Hawkins Announcement

That was the last I heard from Lewis for thirty plus years. I glimpsed him a couple times – once at Valley Fair and once at Santa Clara University – but I felt ugly and unprepared to run into an ex so I ducked out of sight. He never called and having taken the initiative in asking him to the Sadie, I wasn’t about to call him again.

Kathy & Lewis at Sadie Hawkins April 1968
Kathy & Lewis at Sadie Hawkins April 1968
Sandra (Walker) Hegwood and Joey Chadim at the same Sadie Hawkins dance
Sandra (Walker) Hegwood and Joey Chadim at the same Sadie Hawkins dance

This was the rule, not the exception, of how my relationships ended.  Upon parting, we invariably promised to stay “good friends” after which we never spoke to each other again. Why was it so impossible to stay friends back then? None of my relationships ended in screaming or hatred – quite the opposite.   I rarely if ever instigated the break-up although – looking back – in my passive-aggressive way, I drove more than one to dump me.  I was sincere in my desire to stay friends but in those days, there was a stigma against girls calling boys – but maybe that’s just an excuse.

Suffice to say, if a boy didn’t make the first move and call me – which they did not – we didn’t stay friends.

The internet – Facebook in particular – was a game-changer. For starters, it’s a lot less threatening to send an email than pick up the telephone. The passage of time helps too – not many wounds remain raw after twenty or thirty years.

In addition, we’ve all grown into ourselves and – most important of all - the pressure’s off.

In my experience, in any given break-up, one of the people involved wants it more than the other. Even if the dumpee agrees to be friends, there’s a hidden agenda to be more than friends. Twenty or thirty years after the fact, no one expects a relationship to pick up where it left off – hence, it’s possible to form a genuine friendship based on what two people originally had in common. I’ve been lucky that way with several exes, Lewis among them. While I can’t call this phenomenon closure – because these friendships aren’t over, they’re ongoing – they satisfy my need to make sense of what happened all those years ago.

 

 

February 5, 1967

February 5, 1967

 This day has always loomed large in memory – in many ways, it epitomizes my adolescence. First, I have to cop to outrageous thoughtlessness due to the self-centered cloud I lived in. This was a momentous day for my father – in fact, I’ll wager it meant more to him than it did to me.

My Dad, the Pastor of Hope Lutheran
My Dad, the Pastor of Hope Lutheran

 

My Father's dream come true
My Father’s dream come true
My Mother and Father dressed for the occasion
My Mother and Father dressed for the occasion

My indifference to its importance in his life shames me today. I was incapable of grasping a world beyond my transient teen-age hurt over a bad time at a dance or my elation at meeting a new boy.

Natalie and I goofing off
Natalie and I goofing off

Natalie and I always egged each other in ways that got us into trouble and this was no exception. (The fact it was a Catholic Youth Organization dance – and in 1968 Lutherans and Catholics weren’t all that ecumenical – didn’t help.) Natalie got grounded too. Maybe that added to the drama and thrill of it all. Since we paid the price, the experience had to be of value, right? When Natalie was alive, no matter where we were, we called each other on February 5th to remember and commiserate.

Natalie and I always egged each other in ways that got us into trouble.
Natalie and I always egged each other in ways that got us into trouble.

For me, the ramifications of that Sunday adventure lasted for years. I became obsessed with X (after he dropped me). At the time, I blamed my senior year clinical depression on my obsession with that failed romance but it was a scapegoat – the depression was inside me, just waiting for an excuse. And in some ways, the obsession served me well – it kept me aloof from other serious romantic entanglements that might’ve changed my life – maybe for better, maybe for worse. Like most events of my adolescence, it  doesn’t matter; I’m happy with the life I live now.

What plans lurked behind those bright eyed smiling faces?
What plans lurked behind those bright eyed smiling faces?
Hope Lutheran, forever in my mind, forever in my heart
Hope Lutheran, forever in my mind, forever in my heart

February 2, 1968

February 2 1968

We used carpet for the shattered windows
We used carpet for the shattered windows
I wouldn’t feel comfortable modeling at all today (not that anybody’s asking) and I definitely wouldn’t wear any kind of fur. But this was fifty (gasp!) years ago and times were quite different then.
I wouldn’t feel comfortable modeling at all today (not that anybody’s asking) and I definitely wouldn’t wear any kind of fur. But this was fifty (gasp!) years ago and times were quite different then.

I’m sure some forward-thinking people were anti-fur in 1968, but I was unaware of the movement and – in my self-centered state – I didn’t feel particularly guilty about cloaking myself in the fur of dead animals. I’m not sure if this is much of a defense, but the reason JoAnn and I were modeling furs in the first place was the Hills were raising chinchillas – very rodent-like little creatures – specifically for the fur trade. I saw them in their cages at the Hill house, stroked their soft fur, but never really put it together they had to die to fulfill their destiny as a piece of a fur cape.  I wouldn’t feel comfortable modeling at all today (not that anybody’s asking) and I definitely wouldn’t wear any kind of fur. But this was fifty (gasp!) years ago and times were quite different then.

I saw them in their cages at the Hill house, stroked their soft fur, but never really put it together they had to die to fulfill their destiny as a piece of a fur cape.
I saw them in their cages at the Hill house, stroked their soft fur, but never really put it together they had to die to fulfill their destiny as a piece of a fur cape.

The other thing that strikes me about this entry is the extreme contrast between this elegant (at least to my adolescent mind) SF furrier salon and a car in which sticks and carpeting served as a rear window. It sounds as if the ludicrous dichotomy escaped me entirely – I enjoyed the whole bizarre experience which I characterized as simply a

Wild Day

I lost touch with JoAnn years ago and I’m hoping if she or somebody who knows her happens across this, she’ll get back in touch.

I lost touch with JoAnn years ago
I lost touch with JoAnn years ago

JoAnn Hill

A year later we modeled the furs at the Hyatt in San Jose.  That is replayed in a blog I shared with you last February 8th (Modeling at the Hyatt).

May 25, 1968

May 25, 1968

 Proms have become a trope in teen-age movies, which would have one believe that attending (or not attending) the prom defines high school existence (Pretty in Pink springs immediately to mind although there are plenty of others). This wasn’t my experience.

Wilcox Senior Ball with Tal Pomeroy

I went to several proms – all in the same lace-encrusted blue dress – and while they were all memorable in their own way, they were not the apex of my teen-age years. I doubt I’m not alone in this. I’ve never met one single person who claims their prom was the defining moment of their high school life.

Same old Prom dress at our Prom Party
Same old Prom dress at our Prom Party

In real life, I don’t think who got crowned king and queen of the prom was of matter of life and death (Carrie).  I was never in the running so I didn’t really care. My parents, however, were the King and Queen of their high school prom

My parents as King and Queen in 1943
My parents as King and Queen in 1943

Our Prom Party sent up the movie-fantasy stereotype of a high school prom, it didn’t have much to do with the real thing. One of my Columbia students, Holden Weitz, wrote a hilarious teen movie that parodies this trope. That’s the movie I want to see made!

 

 

 

February 25, 1969

February 25, 1969

In late February 1969, my clinical depression escalated. (See November 30, 1968) My part-time job at California Book couldn’t save me but it staunched the bleeding. It forced me to adhere to a schedule. I only worked 16 hours a week, but it was my first job and I took it seriously. It didn’t infringe on my social life since I no longer had one. I didn’t miss it.

Some people lose weight when they get depressed. They find no pleasure in food. That was never my problem. I packed on twenty pounds in no time.
Some people lose weight when they get depressed. They find no pleasure in food. That was never my problem. I packed on twenty pounds in no time.
In a futile attempt to hide the extra pounds, I made poor fashion choices like this.
In a futile attempt to hide the extra pounds, I made poor fashion choices like this.

The major symptom of my despair was a total lack of interest in anything. Anhedonia is the technical term. It means “an inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable … including the motivation or desire to engage in activities.”  It took enormous effort to shower. If I also washed my hair, I was too spent to go to school. Not so long ago I could do both – wash my hair and attend school –  but not anymore.

Trying to hide behind my happy nuclear family, I make another poor fashion decision.
Trying to hide behind my happy nuclear family, I make another poor fashion decision.

I knew I wasn’t living up to the curse of my so-called potential. My parents were disappointed, although they never said so. It was nothing compared to how much I loathed myself.

The last thing I needed was more time in bed to think. That kind of self-centered contemplation was like swimming through quicksand – there was no way out, only down. The answer was activity, to get out of bed and out of the house. I knew what to do, but I lacked the energy – and the desire – to do it.

HANG ON!
HANG ON!

Writing about my year of depression is about as much fun as living it. I do it because so many people get stuck in something similar. In the thick of it, I felt alone and empty. It might’ve helped to know I wasn’t. If you’re depressed and read this, remember – you’re not alone or empty either. Things get better. Hang on.

February 20, 1978

February 20, 1978

 The script I refer to here turned out to be my breakthrough spec script “At 17”, inspired by and loosely based on the brilliant Janis Ian song of the same title. I didn’t have the rights – I don’t know if anyone actually did – but ABC was developing it as a Movie of the Week (MOW).

Jani and I when we were both close to At 17 in real life
Jani and I when we were both close to At 17 in real life.

My former boss at NBC, the late and much lamented Len Hill, was one of the ABC executives in charge of MOWs; my sister Janet was his assistant/secretary. He told me if I could write a brilliant script in the next ten days he’d consider it equally with the scripts the network paid for. Ten days isn’t enough to write a great script from scratch under any circumstances and it wasn’t the best of times for me. My son CD was 14 months old but well on his way to the terrible twos.

Most of my time and energy went into containing CD
Most of my time and energy went into containing CD

Nonetheless, I gave it my best shot. The tension was so high I threw up on some of those late nights (gross, I know) but – with Jani’s assistance – I finished it.  I don’t think Len or anybody else expected me to do it.

Janet and I
Janet and I

The problem was – it wasn’t good enough. The network preferred the writer who cashed their big checks. The rejection was so devastating I gave up until my pride and desire for revenge resurrected me. “I’ll show you,” I thought. “I’ll do a great rewrite and prove you were wrong to dismiss me.”

"I'll show you. I'll do a great re-write and prove you were wrong to dismiss me."
“I’ll show you. I’ll do a great re-write and prove you were wrong to dismiss me.”

 Did I succeed? I think so. Although the film never got made, it was optioned three times and garnered interest from directors like Martha Coolidge and Amy Heckerling. Years after Molly Ringwald aged out of playing a teen-ager, she told me she would’ve loved to play one of the parts. To say the least, I would’ve loved for her to play it but my script didn’t reach her at the right time.     

No one was better than Molly Ringwald when it came to playing complicated teenagers.
No one was better than Molly Ringwald when it came to playing complicated teenagers.

That’s the way things go. Big ups, big downs. Victories won, battles lost, it’s hard to quantify wins and losses when script quality is so subjective and the industry’s in constant flux.  The bottom line is, were those ten sleepless days and nights worth it when I failed to get what I wanted?   Would I do it again? Hell, yes. If I had my life to live over, I’d try harder, reach higher and risk bigger losses.  The only way to fail for good is giving up.

February 14, 1981

February 14, 1981

 Prom Party Invitation

John and I in Mexico-themed photo booth with Co-hostess Anne Kurrasch
John and I in Mexico-themed photo booth with Co-hostess Anne Kurrasch

The invitation for this party (reproduced above) explains it all.  I wore the dress I actually wore to real proms in the sixties when I thought it was the most beautiful gown I’d ever seen. The style failed to age as well as I hoped – the dresses worn by most of the other female guests fared better (but I still got to be Prom Queen, an opportunity denied me in real life)

Kirk Hulstrom and Arthur Everett in character.
Kirk Hulstrom and Arthur Everett in character.

In this case, the photos are worth a thousand words so here are some of my favorites.

Ceiling stars and disco ball were more effective live than they appear in photos - I guess you had to be there.
Ceiling stars and disco ball were more effective live than they appear in photos – I guess you had to be there.
Joyce and John Salter (one of few people who look young enough to actually be in high school)
Joyce and John Salter (one of few people who look young enough to actually be in high school)
Bennett Traub with JJ Johnson - Danny and JoAnn Hill
Bennett Traub with JJ Johnson – JoAnn Hill and Danny
Kim Mistretta and Karen Hermann, the future Mrs. Art Everett (this was the night they met) & Ken Millikian and Steffani Graham
Kim Mistretta and Karen Hermann, the future Mrs. Art Everett (this was the night they met) & Ken Millikian and Steffani Graham
Some girls campaigned shamelessly to be elected Prom Queen (Anne Kurrasch and Bill Connell)
Some girls campaigned shamelessly to be elected Prom Queen (Anne Kurrasch and Bill Connell)
Don't judge Mr. Hulstrom too harshly. You'd be drinking too if you had to chaperone this thing. The photographer gets frisky with Joyce Salter and Denise Gail Williams.
Don’t judge Mr. Hulstrom too harshly. You’d be drinking too if you had to chaperone this thing. The photographer gets frisky with Joyce Salter and Denise Gail Williams.
You didn't hear it from me, but something's fishy with the Queen of the Prom ballots! (Diane Larson, Joyce Salter, Steffani Graham)
You didn’t hear it from me, but something’s fishy with the Queen of the Prom ballots! (Diane Larson, Joyce Salter, Steffani Graham)
Somebody dropped something! (Kathy Williamson, Kirk Hulstrom, Sharon and Russ Carpenter )
Somebody dropped something! (Kathy Williamson, Kirk Hulstrom, Sharon and Russ Carpenter )
Karen Hermann, Russ Carpenter, ??, Vicki Hill - Waiting to learn who will be crowned Prom Queen (me, Michael Wasserman, Melanie Sayler, Diane Larson plus people I can't identify)
Karen Hermann, Russ Carpenter, ??, Vicki Hill – Waiting to learn who will be crowned Prom Queen (me, Michael Wasserman, Melanie Sayler, Diane Larson plus people I can’t identify)
I was as surprised as everyone else when Mr. Hulstrom announced I was Prom Queen.
I was as surprised as everyone else when Mr. Hulstrom announced I was Prom Queen.
When you're a winner, you have to deal with the envy of others. (Sharon Grish, Father Dan) - Denise Trette, Gail Williams - a good time was had by all Joyce Salter, Michael Wasserman
When you’re a winner, you have to deal with the envy of others. (Sharon Grish, Father Dan) – Denise Trette, Gail Williams – a good time was had by all Joyce Salter, Michael Wasserman
Goodnight, John. Goodnight, Kathleen.
Goodnight, John. Goodnight, Kathleen.
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