Apparently, it escaped me that these were the golden years of UCLA basketball. I saw, maybe, two games during my four years there. I wouldn’t become a basketball fan for another 17 years, when I fell in love with the Lakers. ( They had a GREAT game last night!) I still don’t follow college basketball but the more I learn about John Wooden, the more I admire him. Three of his quotes – “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” – “Don’t mistake activity with achievement.” – “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”
Luke and I were in the midst of one of our many break-ups so I was dating. It was awkward and uncomfortable to talk to a new guy, especially compared to the rapport I enjoyed with Luke – even when we were fighting. I don’t remember anything about Bill at all; for me, he exists only in this diary entry.
That strikes me as sad, but he’s far from the only person I crossed paths with that I no longer recollect. I’m sure that’s true for everyone (I hope so or my memory is worse than I thought). We all meet so many people in the course of our lifetimes. Only a handful make a lasting impact. I like to fancy myself unforgettable, but no doubt Bill has forgotten me too.
This entry captures my skewed priorities during my senior year (aka known as my Great Depression). Getting accepted at UCLA was momentous (and kind of crucial, since I neglected to apply to any other institution of higher learning). It was truly life changing.
That said, my obsessive focus was on pinpointing where I stood in my relationship with X – talk about an absurd waste of time! A mollusk could’ve deduced I was nowhere – the same place I’d been for almost two years.
It’s a peculiar kind of hell, pretending to be satisfied being “just friends” with somebody you’re madly in love with. To level the “just friends” playing field, I invented a boyfriend to compete with his living girlfriend. When he tortured me by rhapsodizing about how much he loved her, I could retaliate with my make-believe relationship with the non-existent Pericles. (I gave him a more normal name which is not to imply he was one iota more believable.)
To render an already pitiful situation more pathetic, I repeatedly pulled my fictional punches. Instead of touting my relationship with Pericles as a love affair for the ages, at the slightest hint X might be interested in me again, I kicked poor Pericles to the curb. My brilliant reasoning went, “X secretly wants to come back to me but he’s afraid he’ll be rejected for Pericles! Play it smart. Tell him you dumped Pericles so you’re fully available to him.”
Yeah, that’ll work every time – somewhere other than the planet earth. Suffice to say, my Herculean efforts to recapture X’s heart failed miserably. When I left Santa Clara (as it turned out, for good – and in June, not September) I never expected to see or hear from X again – but at least I had UCLA in my future. And that’s what actually mattered.
As frightening as that 6.5-6.7 earthquake was, I don’t think I really did take the possibility that I might die soon seriously. I was still a teenager, I thought I’d live forever. And – although I’d lived in California for fifteen years, fourteen of them in Santa Clara, this was my very first earthquake (at least the first that I can remember). Luke was on a high floor in the boy’s wing of Sproul. Hall; I was on the 6th floor of the girl’s wing. I’m not sure if this is technically true, but it seemed like the higher you were, the wilder the ride.
In a weird coincidence, that week my Swedish class was translating a fictional article about an earthquake in the US. Since the Sylmar, I’ve experienced two more reasonably big ones – the Whittier (1987, 5.9) and the Northridge (1994, 6.7). As I write this, I can’t help but notice it’s been a long time – almost 28 years! – since the last big one hit LA – and, of course, we’ve been primed for “The Big One” as far back as I can remember. That said, personally I find earthquakes less threatening than other natural disasters California is spared – hurricane and tornados.
On a side note, that night there was a screening at Melnitz Hall – UCLA was great about inviting directors to talk about their latest movie before its release. That particular night, the guest director was Martin Ritt. In one of those 6-degrees-of-separation coincidences, I recently became FB friends with his daughter, Martina. LA can be a small, small world.
I’ve written elsewhere about how right UCLA was for me (link) but I knew little more than its four initials when I applied. For all I knew, it could’ve been located in the dregs of downtown LA. (Except then it would’ve been called USC. Whoops, my snark is showing.)
My parents were equally ill-informed – their now-void plan had been to send me to a Lutheran college where I’d meet and marry a guy at least half-Scandinavian. To their credit, they hid their disappointment well and didn’t try to change my mind.
Consequently, on Friday after Thanksgiving in 1968, my parents and I left my sisters in Santa Clara and drove to LA. It wasn’t often I spent significant time with them without my sisters as buffer. It was exhilarating to reclaim their undivided attention but also unnerving. Too much focus on me risked revealing defects I sought to hide, especially from them. Based on the most formative experience, which took place when I was two years and two days old, imperfections – the failure to entertain, for example – were cause for replacement. Either one of my younger sisters – both less flawed than me – could easily take my place.
It wouldn’t be the first time. They’d done it before and could do it again.
Click this link to view family photo albums illustrating the inner torment of a highly sensitive recently displaced first-born child. You’re not being disloyal to Janet or Joyce. They signed off on my weird obsession decades ago. I’ll add new photos and captions in the near future.
CD was four, going on five, at the time of this entry. I thought he’d be mesmerized by the dinosaur bones but his attention span splintered in a million different directions. In my efforts to be a perfect mother and raise a perfect child, I exposed CD to as many cultural experiences as I could find – and there’s a lot of them in LA. In addition to museums, I took him to profound films which we discussed on the drive home. I signed him up for sports and science classes at the local YMCA and sent him to Lutheran school to be grounded in religion.
Unlike me, J worked 40-60 hours per week, so he wasn’t available 24/7 for our cultural outings. In these cases, I recruited one of our friends – usually without children (because those with children couldn’t be suckered into this stuff) to stand in.
This was my one and only visit to the La Brea Tar Pits in my nearly 50 years in LA. I’m not a dinosaur afficianado – I think that tends to be a guy thing – but it was fascinating. Who would’ve guessed one of the world’s most famous fossil localities – displaying Ice Age fossils including saber-toothed cats, dire wolves and mammoths – can be found on Miracle Mile in Los Angeles? The Carnation restaurant (product placement, anyone?) used to be within walking distance but – like so many other LA institutions – it’s gone the way of the dinosaur, replaced by trendier restaurants and food trucks.
They’ve excavated significant new material since my visit 36 years ago. Maybe this time I’ll drag J along with me.
When this was written, J and I had been married four years and CD was two, going on three. Looking back, I can’t help wondering if my assessment of J’s restlessness wasn’t pure projection – I was just as edgy and impatient, I just didn’t cop to it. Our role models were better at this than we were. My parents routinely spent similar Sunday afternoons with me and my sisters and if they wanted to be somewhere else, they didn’t show it.
Why weren’t J and I better at this when it was our turn to parent? Arguably, we were too young to be married with a child. While that excuse only goes so far, maturity did play a part. I’d enjoy lazy afternoons like the one described above more today than I did then.
As proof, J and I have maintained a family membership at Descanso Gardens for at least fifteen years. Unlike the vanished LA landmarks I wrote about a few days ago (see September 24/73) Descano Gardens stands more or less intact since the late thirties although the camellia named for John’s grandmother has disappeared. The miniature banana-yellow Enchanted Railroad gives toddlers and their parents a tour of the 150 acre gardens. There’s an elegant Japanese Tea Garden and ducks! On some summer Sundays, you can enjoy live music in the ampitheater.
Admission is reasonable General $9; Seniors 65 and over/Students with ID $6; Children (5 to 12 years) $4; Descanso members and children under 5, free). Parking is free and the gardens are open from nine to five every day of the year except Christmas. If you’re looking for someplace to enjoy natural beauty in LA (especially in the Pasadena/Glendale/La Canada area), check it out. You won’t be disappointed.
I wish I’d known this was the one and only time I’d set foot in the historic Ambassador Hotel – let alone that the Ambassador would cease to exist in 2005. I’ve bemoaned the changes to the Santa Clara I used to know – what about my Los Angeles? Much like how it’s hard to observe my aging process when I look in the mirror, LA’s changes frequently slip under my radar because the landscape is so familiar.
Objectively, a lot has changed since I moved to LA in 1969. Almost all of the iconic clubs and restaurants of the 60s and 70s are gone. Chasen’s – once so trendy, their chili was flown to Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Cleopatra – closed in 1995. Today it’s a Bristol Farms. Scandia’s been gone since 1989. The Brown Derby that used to stand on Vine is now a parking lot. The Cock’nBull is now a Jaguar dealership and alas, the Formosa Café – down the street from one of my first apartments – recently closed although I’ve heard it’s been purchased by someone with plans to reopen it. Musso and Frank’s remains alive and well (I think).
Most rock’n’roll clubs from the sixties or seventies have disappeared or changed hands. It’s Boss became Kaleidoscope which became Acquarius (where I saw “Hair” in 1969) which became Art Laboe Oldies Goodies and later became a headquarters building for Nickelodeon. Ciro’s was a West Hollywood nightclub that opened in the 40’s and that location is now The Comedy Store.
Gazzarri’s was demolished in 1995. Two venues that stood the test of time are the Troubadour and the Whisky-A-Go-Go.
Schwab’s Pharmacy on Sunset – where legend has it Lana Turner was discovered – closed in 1983. Today it’s part of a shopping complex anchored by Virgin Records. Rexall Drugs at Beverly and La Cienega is now Beverly Connection. Bullocks Wilshire, built in 1929, once an iconic department store, declined as high-end retail trended west. Today, it houses Southwestern Law School but the original 1929 building has been restored. The famous Max Factor building, where I once bought fake blood for Roger Corman’s New World Films, is now the Hollywood Museum. Even Tower Records on Sunset went bust.
In the past few weeks, the Writer’s Store closed; I was especially sorry to see that one go. Because the changes have been gradual, though, it still feels like my city – at least for a little while longer.
If you are interested in the history of LA’s clubs and restaurants, please check out the research section of my website (Sixties Venues/Clubs). A lot of information is collected in one place!
This was an exciting, productive time in my writing career. Maybe a few lucky screen and television writers enjoy steady careers uninterrupted by unemployment; I suspect the majority, like myself, are either overbooked or out of work and terrified their career is over. My specialty, which kept me employed – mostly by NBC – during this period was my speed. I could deliver a Movie of the Week (MOW) ready for production in two weeks. It might not win any Emmys or Humanitas awards, but no one needed to use a pseudonym or hang their heads in shame.
I felt the pressure but didn’t mind it; I thrived on the crazy deadlines. I enjoyed and respected the creative people I worked with. I loved how MOWs (especially green-lit ones!) went into production minutes after I handed in a script. None of the months and years of development that went into film assignments only to wind up abandoned when the studio regime changed.
Another perk – television writers exert considerably more control over their work than feature writers; this is far truer for staff series writers than MOW writers. Either way, you are far less likely to be rewritten in television than features. That said, I did my fair share of MOW rewrites as well as originals; my name doesn’t appear on some of them because, unless it’s a page-one rewrite, it’s difficult for second or third writers to get credit and it always involves a WGA arbitration.
Kanan Road – which became Malibu Shores – has a special place in my heart because it was a backdoor pilot for a series which was ordered into production early in ’97. It turned out to be short-lived (being scheduled at 8 PM on Saturday nights – what some people called “the Tower of London” because that’s where NBC shows awaited execution – didn’t help. Especially since the target demographic was teens). That said, I learned a lot and appreciated every minute of it. I’m grateful to everyone who made it possible.
To this day, I think this is the only time John and I experienced Ren Faire so it’s kind of interesting (to me, anyway) how Ren Faire wove through my life anyway. Long after we broke up, my college boyfriend Luke became a weekend Ren Faire entrepreneur selling costumes and period weapons. I had no idea he was such a Renaissance buff.
It left a huge imprint on the four-year-old brain of our son, CD. For years, he and his girlfriend (and future wife) Serena spent every weekend with their network of friends at Ren Faire. (He’s a lot better at roughing it than I am.)
Later still, my screenwriter pal Art Everett and I collaborated on a spec script for the Practice (my sister Janet worked there at the time) which featured a comedic Ren Faire “B” story. Sadly, the Practice ended its run about the time we finished and our spec ended up in a desk drawer.
If I were going to do it again – and I’d like to, it’s only been 35 years since our last visit I’d spent a little more time and money (both of which I probably have more of now than we did then) and invest in an appropriate period costume, throw my inhibitions to the wind and enjoy a day of real-time role-play. Oddly enough, I think it’s also becoming easier to let loose and play as I get older.
If anyone’s up for an LA Ren Faire excursion soon, call me. Let’s meet up.
This day remains vivid in my memory even after all these years. I kept John company most of the evening. A Lakers play-off game aired on TV– I think it was versus Utah but I can’t guarantee it. I think they won because so far it was a quiet relatively benign evening. If the Lakers had lost a playoff game at least one of us would have been in a poisonous mood.
John’s mother called him shortly after 10 PM. (I called them in Fresno and alerted them he was staying overnight at the hospital during my mad dash home earlier.) Everything appeared under control. It had been a long day and both of us were tired. I left him chatting with Florence and headed home to relieve the babysitter.
Later I would learn that shortly after I left – still on the phone with his mother – John drifted out of consciousness and coded. His mother didn’t know what happened; he stopped talking is all. Doctors and nurses raced in with life-saving methods. John watched it happen from the ceiling and thought to himself, “That’s what I get for scheduling surgery on Friday the 13th.”
At home, I was probably in bed. That night, I let all three children sleep in my room with me. Meanwhile, my unconscious husband laid under a sheet on a gurney, being raced down hospital corridors to the Intensive Care Unit.
The first I knew about any of this was at approximately 4 AM when the telephone rang beside my bed. Groggy, I answered and John’s physician identified himself. I’ll never forget what he said next. “Your husband is going to live.”
Excuse me? I dropped him off the previous morning for a minor day surgery – now you’re calling me at 4 in the morning, breathlessly sharing the good news that he’s still alive? I wasn’t filled with confidence.
On the bright side, they got one thing right – John lived and continues to do so today. Generally, I’m not superstitious but after this I’d never schedule surgery on Friday the 13th.