If I Knew Then

April 14, 1978

April 14, 1978

The house today - it didn't look like this when we lived there.
The house today – it didn’t look like this when we lived there.
Our front yard - it didn't usually look like this, it's decorated for a Halloween party.
Our front yard – it didn’t usually look like this, it’s decorated for a Halloween party.

J and I bought our first house on impulse. I’d seen and rejected thirty houses before we walked into this one and fell in love. The fact it was a little eclectic – or, to put it another way, weird – made it irresistible. It never occurred to us that such an unconventional floor plan, not to mention the fact it was on a flag lot, might make it hard to sell. Of course, we didn’t intend to sell it, ever. Why part with perfect?

Our faux-wood paneled family room, decked out for a prom party.
Our faux-wood paneled family room, decked out for a prom party.

The money part terrified us. Millennials, avert your eyes. These numbers might make you weep. Instead of paying $225 per month for our two-bedroom apartment, we were on the hook for $596 and change in monthly mortgage payments (for a slightly odd but large three-bedroom, two-bath house, half in Glendale, half in La Crescenta.)

Our living room - note adobe walls and weird cabinet built into wall on the left.
Our living room – note adobe walls and weird cabinet built into wall on the left.

Had we gone too far, were we in over our heads? The sum sounded insurmountable when we bought it, but every one of the mostly happy ten years we lived there, our house payments seemed less daunting. Knowing what I know now, if a time machine took me back to 1978, fear wouldn’t slow me down. I’d spend every last cent and then some to snap up real estate at those prices.

Another shot of the family room, like it usually looked. Built-in bar in rear.
Another shot of the family room, like it usually looked. Built-in bar in rear.

 

 

 

April 8, 1967

April 8, 1967

Villa Montalvo is a historical landmark built in 1912 by James Duval Phelan. Phelan, was a three-term mayor of San Francisco, and went on to become California's first popularly-elected U.S. Senator. The estate was his beloved country home until his death in 1930.
Villa Montalvo is a historical landmark built in 1912 by James Duval Phelan. Phelan, was a three-term mayor of San Francisco, and went on to become California’s first popularly-elected U.S. Senator. The estate was his beloved country home until his death in 1930.

When I was sixteen, I rarely conversed with “old” people, aside from my grandparents. I didn’t have anything against them, we just didn’t move in the same circles. I suspect most millennials don’t spend a lot of time with people in their seventies, either. That’s why this encounter rated space in my diary. Seventy-five probably sounded prehistoric. Clearly, I assumed she was moments away from death.

Me at Villa Montalvo, around this time.
Me at Villa Montalvo, around this time.

When I was sixteen, “don’t trust anyone over thirty” was a popular sentiment. I couldn’t imagine myself so ancient. Like Simon and Garfunkel famously sang, “How terribly strange to be seventy” – forget seventy-five.

The grounds of the villa now encompass 175 acres, more than the original 160 acres purchased by Phelan. The estate boasts several large structures as well as gardens and untouched natural areas. Montalvo includes two theaters, an art gallery, the historic Villa Montalvo, an artist residency complex, hiking trails and gardens in Saratoga, CA.
The grounds of the villa now encompass 175 acres, more than the original 160 acres purchased by Phelan. The estate boasts several large structures as well as gardens and untouched natural areas. Montalvo includes two theaters, an art gallery, the historic Villa Montalvo, an artist residency complex, hiking trails and gardens in Saratoga, CA.

Yet, here I am – closer to seventy-five than seventeen but I don’t feel elderly. Aside from the creak in my joints after too many hours hunched over my laptop, I picture myself as a fit early forties. Okay, fifties. For sure, it’ll feel terribly strange to be seventy.

Old Friends

 

April 1, 1966

April 1, 1966

Believe it or not - there is a Snow Cone Emoji - so I guess people are still craving them.
Believe it or not – there is a Snow Cone Emoji – so I guess people are still craving them.

Funny, how the only test I identified – mechanical reasoning – was the one I tanked. It’s a safe bet my high scores were in English or another humanities/social science subject where vocabulary and reading skills can conceal a vast lack of knowledge. On the other hand, since mechanical reasoning didn’t appear in Santa Clara Unified’s 6th grade curriculum, perhaps they were testing something other than what we learned in school. Who knows what areas they were testing and why?  And – half a century later – does it really matter?

My family circa 1966
My family circa 1966

The phrasing in this entry – “I remember back in the fifth grade” – makes it sound as if this happened eons ago, not a year and a half.  Eighteen months was a lifetime, then. A moment, now. I haven’t been to Santa Clara – or driven down the El Camino Real – in at least a decade. Is it still a street or is it an expressway? Is the Moonlite Center still there?

The Moonlight Center as I remember it with the big iconic "M" sign.
The Moonlight Center as I remember it with the big iconic “M” sign.

Is April Fool’s Day still a big deal?

All dressed up - but not going to the Jr. Prom
All dressed up – but not going to the Jr. Prom

 

March 23, 1973

March 23, 1973 Plan B

Leaving Melnitz Hall
Leaving Melnitz Hall

I knew what I did not want to do – don a cap and gown and endure an excruciating graduation ceremony. My own Jr. High and high school extravaganzas were torture. What about those magical moments, watching my own children graduate? Don’t you just want to smile all over? Uh, no.

S's High School Graduation
S’s High School Graduation

Slow-roasting in bleachers without shade, surrounded by delirious parents straining to spot their spawn in a sea of black-robes several zip codes to the south – made home schooling appear an attractive option. For the record, the only things I dread more than rituals like graduation are parades and colonoscopies.

A at his graduation
A at his college graduation

Flash forward to my son CD, valedictorian for his UCLA film and television class. Two surprises awaited me, one pleasant and one not so much. The good news was, only film and TV students participated, making it more like a party than spectacle. Lulled into a false sense of security, I thought, “this is almost a perfect day.”

CD's graduation UCLA
CD’s graduation UCLA

CD took the microphone. He singled out his wife and his father – 100% USC Trojan, undergrad and law school. He thanked them for their inspiration. No mention of his mother and fellow UCLA film and TV alum. You know, the one who introduced him to Melnitz hall and UCLA’s campus.

CD and classmates at UCLA graduation

Amazingly, I recovered from this ego-shattering blow as well as a carrot that caused me to barf at the reception. Something deep and primal superseded my lifelong distaste for graduations, parades and vomit.  So what if CD forgot to thank me? I could not have been any prouder of him. I still am.

March 8, 1973

March 8, 1973

All my dreams...What looked like my lucky break was actually a crash course in how quickly “All my dreams are coming true!” can dissolve into no one’s returning my phone calls. Sadly, this was far from my last experience with emotional whiplash, careers version.

My teacher and mentor, Bill Froug
My teacher and mentor, Bill Froug

Still, Froug was right when he advised me to celebrate. Why not bask in the potential something amazing just might happen? So what if it doesn’t, this time?  The near-miss zone is nothing to be ashamed of. Most people never get that close. Nobody gets there by accident. Somebody noticed you and said, “the kid’s got talent.” If they didn’t believe it, they wouldn’t waste their time. The least you can do is believe in yourself.

The least you can do is believe in yourself

Legend has it, the average overnight success endures twenty to fifty rejections before they’re rewarded with that first life-changing YES. What are you waiting for? The faster you rack up the no’s, the sooner your dreams come true.

What are you waiting for?

The script that earned me this near-miss – “Intimate Changes,” not the greatest title – never got produced, but it won me introductions to agents, producers and network execs, all pivotal in my later career.  What felt like loss was only life unfolding more slowly than I preferred.

 

RIP Judith Russell

Judith at an Oscar party
Judith at an Oscar party

Some of you may remember Judith Russell, a guest at some of our outrageous 80s and Oscar parties. I’m sad to report she died earlier this week, alone, in her apartment; her body wasn’t discovered for two or three days.  When I knew her, Judith was pretty, vibrant and funny.  Two industry heavyweights – Terry Semel and Sherry Lansing – hired her to be their personal secretary – she had the perfect voice, face and sassy attitude to charm the public.

Judith with writer Art Everett and Oscar-winning cinematographer Russ Carpenter
Judith with writer Art Everett and Oscar-winning cinematographer Russ Carpenter

Judith’s life was anything but enchanted, though. In the 80s, a fall on the Warner’s lot dislodged a brain tumor that could not be 100% removed – sooner or later, it would grow back, and she’d face surgery again. Hospitalized at UCLA, she was inundated with flowers and get-well wishes from almost every A-list celebrity.  Her hair grew back and she recovered.

Judith an Once at another Oscar party
Judith an Once at another Oscar party

She couldn’t recover from alcoholism, though. Employers paid for pricey inpatient rehabs because they wanted her sober. Judith had no interest whatsoever in life without alcohol. After one Oscar party, I took her car keys because she was far too drunk to drive home. In the morning, she was gone. Turns out she traveled with a second set in her purse, “just in case” something like that happened. That’s alcoholic thinking in action.

Judith in Edwardian costume with Kirk Hulstrom
Judith in Edwardian costume with Kirk Hulstrom

She lost the high-profile jobs and lacked the high-tech skills required to land an equally impressive gig. She withdrew from her friends. My sister Joyce hung in there the longest. She and Judith went to Saturday matinees in Burbank for years until it interrupted Judith’s drinking so she declined.

Judith and Joyce - yet another Oscars night
Judith and Joyce – yet another Oscars night

For the last ten years, Judith woke up and went straight to her local bar, where she spent the day and part of evening, until she staggered home or close to it – sometimes, she passed out in the parking garage or vestibule.  Her landlady was concerned. We all were, but she no longer talked to people that knew her before.

Judith playing bridge with me, J and Gail. I grieve for the Judith I knew in the past. I think she had a lot to give, but we’ll never know. I wish she’d let someone help her but she was adamant – to Judith, life without booze looked worse than death. So, of course, it had to end like this.
Judith playing bridge with me, J and Gail. I grieve for the Judith I knew in the past. I think she had a lot to give, but we’ll never know. I wish she’d let someone help her but she was adamant – to Judith, life without booze looked worse than death. So, of course, it had to end like this.

I grieve for the Judith I knew in the past. I think she had a lot to give, but we’ll never know. I wish she’d let someone help her but she was adamant – to Judith, life without booze looked worse than death. So, of course, it had to end like this.

RIP old friend

Rest in peace, old friend. I pray you’re in a better place.

Judith with Bill Connell and Joyce
Judith with Bill Connell and Joyce

January 27, 1968

January 27, 1968

JoAnn Hill 1In high school, JoAnn was beautiful, vibrant and sunny. She was taller than I was – such a treat to feel short for a change! She was a fearless tomboy, endlessly curious, generous and optimistic. I could’ve learned a lot from her, if I’d paid more attention.

JoAnn Hill 2JoAnn moved to Los Angeles shortly after I did and we stayed close friends for at least twenty years. At some point, for no particular reason, our paths diverged and we lost touch. After google became a thing, I tried to find her. While I could track down a great many people from my past, JoAnn’s last name was one of the most popular surnames in the USA. Knowing where she graduated from high school as well as her birthday didn’t help.

JoAnn Hill 3Then, out of the blue, earlier this year, my landline rang and caller ID displayed an unfamiliar number. Usually, I let it go to voice mail, but for some reason I picked up – and heard JoAnn’s voice. Incredibly, I still have the same home phone number I had forty years ago. Even more incredibly, JoAnn had that phone number written down somewhere and dialed it.

JoAnn Hill 4A lot changed for both of us in the intervening years. We both lost our parents and she lost one of her brothers.  My children turned into adults. She moved back to San Jose and began raising borzoi dogs. As usual, our lives didn’t unfold exactly as we expected but our lives are good. We haven’t met in person again, yet, but I know we will. I can’t wait.

JoAnn and her smiling Borzoi (also called the Russian wolfhound)
JoAnn and her smiling Borzoi (also called the Russian wolfhound)

January 15, 1965

January 15, 1965

I don’t have any photos from Sandy’s slumber birthday (if digital film had been a thing, we’d have billions) so I’m running one of my own birthday party photos from around the same era.

Top row from right to left Natalie Nilsen, Susan Tanaka, Donna Duncan, Moi, Loretta Dirks, Julie Farnham, Sandy Walker
Top row from right to left Natalie Nilsen, Susan Tanaka, Donna Duncan, Moi, Loretta Dirks, Julie Farnham, Sandy Walker

I was a textbook “dork” (spazz, feeb, or brain.) For a female in 1965, “brain” was a major cut (chop, put down, shut down, slam.) I have no recollection about the game “Starlight, Starbright.”  I suspect it was something Sandy and I invented.

"Dork"
“Dork”
Sandy
Sandy

I wish I’d recorded the revelations that emerged from our game of “Truth.” I’m pretty sure they were silly and tame. As close as we were, it’s unlikely we shared deeper secrets; it never occurred to me anybody carried any.

Photo booth - a year or two later
Photo booth – a year or two later

I was naïve. The older I get, the more certain I am that everyone has a secret life, to a greater or lesser degree. Chekhov said it best.

 

He had two lives...

 

January 7, 1984

January 7, 1984

Dad, Mom, Dolly and Jani - I must have taken the picture
Dad, Mom, Dolly and Jani – I must have taken the picture
Mom, Dolly & Dad
Mom, Dolly & Dad

Looking back, our end-of-the-evening ennui seems inexplicable – it sounds like a pretty darn good day – but in 1984, J and I tended to focus on what we didn’t have– rather than what we did.  Now that we’re older and wiser, we’re more inclined to gratitude. The days we took for granted look golden in the rear-view mirror.

Irene Miracle
Irene Miracle

I’d give anything to see my parents off on another cruise. After retirement, my father served as chaplain for many voyages. J and I took a few ourselves – one of them with my parents and extended family to celebrate their 66thwedding anniversary.

On voyage with grandparents
On voyage with grandparents

In 1984, CD had just turned seven and S wasn’t even a year old. I’d just begun to make it as a film and TV writer and we didn’t have household help. Sometimes, the pressure felt overwhelming. Today, the difficulties of raising small children and juggling a career seem insignificant. I’d welcome the chance to savor those moments of their childhood again.

J and I with CD, S and my parents around this time.
J and I with CD, S and my parents around this time.

I can’t justify the angst, today. We had it good. I need to remember this when I’m tempted to dwell on my daily disappointments. We’re alive and well. We still have it good.

 

November 22, 1970

November 22, 1970

Sharon A

The one-bedroom Sharon and I shared near the VA cemetery was my first apartment but I had years of practice co-existing in small spaces with others. Growing up in a Santa Clara parsonage, then sharing UCLA dorm rooms, taught me a little about compromise but apparently not enough.  Things had been testy between Sharon and me from the start, but it was still devastating when she wanted me gone.


After that, I avoided her on campus. We lost touch after graduation. Decades passed and I still felt badly about how our friendship imploded. I wondered what she did with her life. When the internet arrived, I googled her but “Sharon Richards” produced so many hits it was hopeless– until UCLA published a student directory.

Sharon B

Imagine my surprise to discover Sharon lived less than five miles away – we actually shopped at the same Ralph’s market. It took courage to call her. I’m not sure if I was scared she wouldn’t remember me or that she would. We met for lunch and I apologized for being the roommate from Hell.

She explained that regardless of what she might’ve said (I wrote it down, so I knew), she was in the throes of her own anxieties – what I read as brutal rejection wasn’t much about me at all. As it turns out, very few things actually are “all about me.” This insight was healing and, as a bonus, Sharon and I became better friends than we were before we became roommates.

Sharon C_edited-1

 

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