ucla

September 12, 2012

September 12, 2012

Sick on Vacation 2

The view from my hotel window.
The view from my hotel window.

 My youngest son, Alex, was working at Disney when they offered their employees a great deal on a fall visit to their Aulani family resort in Hawaii. The whole family went – me, J, Chris, Serena, Sam and Alex. I was the only one who spent 90% of it in bed (which also explains the dearth of good photos – I’m usually the family photographer and I didn’t leave our room until the last two days).

Disney Kleenex

The family in hotel corridor.
The family in hotel corridor.

Those final days were great. I braved the water slides and the whole family went to a luau. I took romantic couples pictures of Chris and Serena on the beach – they were getting into heavy wedding planning.

Chris and Serena
Chris and Serena

I wish I’d been able to take better advantage of our surroundings but in a way it’s good we went when we did. It’s easy to travel as a family when the kids are little and have no lives of their own. Traveling as a family with adult children, all of whom actually do have busy lives packed with commitments that can’t be rescheduled as easily as a play date, presents some logistical challenges.

At the luau
At the luau

Chris was thinking through his Thesis film for UCLA. John never travels without frequent calls from the office. Sam was embarking on her MLA in Library Science from Drexel. Somehow, we made it work – five of them did, anyway. I spent six full days hacking away in bed.

John and Alex check cell phones to take care of business (at Luau).
John and Alex check cell phones to take care of business (at Luau).

 

September 1, 1970

September 1, 1970

When I started at UCLA literally days after graduating from high school (see 6/22/69 blog), I felt so overwhelmed – so displaced – I couldn’t conceive of feeling comfortable there. The smaller summer student body was a plus I didn’t fully appreciate until fall when the sheer size of the institution sunk in.

Sproul Hall

I got lucky and met two people that mattered in my life – Luke and my second roommate, Mary. I felt like I “knew” Luke and Mary even before we met – like it was destined. For those of you who believe in past lives, we’d met before. Even a fellow Sproul summer resident that I didn’t meet until later had an impact (Suzanne Finney, I’m looking at you)

Mary and Luke on the Santa Monica beach, 1969
Mary and Luke on the Santa Monica beach, 1969

It was a sweltering summer and the dorms weren’t air-conditioned. “Hot Fun in the Summertime” played constantly on the dorm’s PA as did the first Quicksilver Messenger album. In those days, there was a boy’s wing and a girl’s wing and – aside from visiting hours, roughly from 7 – 9 PM –  girls were forbidden in the boy’s wing and vice versa.

Luke and I, Santa Monica Beach,1969
Luke and I, Santa Monica Beach,1969

There was one television in the lounge area, not a problem since no one watched much television. Beta, VCR, DVDs and CDs had yet to be invented – and forget DVR or streaming. If you wanted to watch a certain show, you planted your butt in front of the tube at the designated time or prayed for a rerun. If a Bergman movie screened in Bakersfield (I know, unlikely), it just might be worth the drive because otherwise you might not see it for years. Dorm rooms featured two single beds, at most four feet apart, each with a gold bolster in which to store one’s belongings. A desk completed the ambiance. We shared a huge communal bathroom. It says something about the times that none of us considered this barbaric deprivation.

Sproul Hall stock photo made to look like the rooms were spacious. Not.
Sproul Hall stock photo made to look like the rooms were spacious. Not.
Mary leans against bolster on her dorm bed in our room.
Mary leans against bolster on her dorm bed in our room.

Scary things happened late in August (the Manson murders – see blog about the aftermath, 9/27/70) that turned sunny LA’s mood dark. Even so, looking back, the summer is a beautiful blur – one of my happiest quarters at UCLA.

“Hot fun in the summertime” indeed.

 

August 27, 1970

August 27, 1970

DEBBIE CALLAN circa 1970
DEBBIE CALLAN circa 1970

The highlight of every summer in the early seventies was my trip to Santa Clara to see my old friends again. Since my parents moved to San Diego in early September of 69, I never had the opportunity to go “home” for a summer after college. I visited a week or two by myself, sleeping on my high school friend’s couches. It was never enough time to catch up – which, I guess, explains why – although we remained friends – we gradually drifted further apart.

SANDRA WALKER (HEGWOOD) 1970s
SANDRA WALKER (HEGWOOD) 1970s

If I’d stayed in Santa Clara, the changes might not have been as apparent as they were when I visited annually. When my family and I moved to California in the fifties, the Lawrence Expressway was Lawrence Station Road – two lanes bordered by a row of walnut trees, then a path, then the backyard fences of our housing tract. Simply by crossing Lawrence Station Road, I went from Santa Clara to Sunnyvale.

VANIA BROWN, 1970s
VANIA BROWN, 1970s

At some point, a fence went up, separating our house from what was becoming Lawrence Expressway. Before long, I was lost in the city I once knew like the back of my hand. Major landmarks like Jefferson Junior High disappeared, replaced (I think) by some business facility. I grew up believing institutions like public schools would be around forever.

Me, 1970
Me, 1970

We used to walk to Lawrence Square. Macdonald’s Department Store sold high-end clothing. There was a Safeway and a laundromat. Compare Lawrence Square now to what it looked like then. Does it tell the story of our city?

Lawrence Square today - Not my Lawrence Square of memories gone by
Lawrence Square today – Not my Lawrence Square of memories gone by.
Lawrence Station Road 1961
Lawrence Station Road 1961
Lawrence Expressway today. Much change? I'd say so!
Lawrence Expressway today. Much change? I’d say so!

 

 

April 30, 2005

April 30, 2005

Jack and Mary deNove, my sister Janet, me and John
Jack and Mary Denove, my sister Janet, me and John

I met Mary Bennett my first quarter at UCLA, when we both snuck into an encounter group for depressed Sproul Hall residents. (Neither of us were depressed enough, according to their survey – we must have hidden it well.)

Mary Bennett, Cowgirl. in the Sand, circa 1969
Mary Bennett, Cowgirl. in the Sand, circa 1969

Ten minutes into group, we cured our depression by deciding to be roommates. I did take the precaution of checking out her LP collection first. When I discovered that – like me – she owned Mason Williams’ obscure first album, it was a done deal. I’ve never regretted it.

Mary (bridesmaid) and Jack at my wedding in 1975
Mary (bridesmaid) and Jack at my wedding in 1975

Mary met future husband Jack Denove before I met John but they married five years later. Apparently they weren’t quite as impulsive. Since Mary and Jack went to Loyola Law School and J was in law school at USC, they were one of the first couples we socialized with. Mary and I served as bridesmaids in each other’s weddings and John eventually joined their law firm – now Bennett, Cheong, Denove and Rowell.

Jack & Mary

I didn’t know Karen Stuart well but I liked her. John worked for her husband, Tony Stuart, before joining Mary and Jack. In this instance, my first instinct was correct. I shouldn’t have let Karen read my book without doing a rewrite. Since writers generally get only one shot – one read – I should have made sure it was as good as it could be. This is Not My Beautiful Wife, the novel in question (title taken from the Talking Heads song Once in a Lifetime)  wasn’t ready.  Karen was kind and gave me  useful notes, but this once in a lifetime opportunity was over.

John, Jack, Mary, Becky Miller Cheong (Wilkie Cheong's wife - Wilkie must be behind the camera - me)
John, Jack, Mary, Becky Miller Cheong (Wilkie Cheong’s wife – Wilkie must be behind the camera – me)

Maybe one of these days I’ll pick it up and try again.

March 25, 1970

March 25, 1970

Janet and I in our Santa Clara neighborhood shortly after we moved there.
Janet and I in our Santa Clara neighborhood shortly after we moved there.

It’s not terribly surprising I was adamant about Santa Clara being my home considering my family left Santa Clara for San Diego a mere six months before I wrote this entry. In contrast, it astonishes me that 47 years later, I still regard Santa Clara as my home – despite the fact I never lived there again. Realistically, hasn’t LA – where I’ve lived the last 47 years – earned the right to be called home?

Yeah, objectively, no doubt about it. Emotionally, not so fast. I grew up in Santa Clara, it will forever be where I spent my childhood, it’s the backdrop for all my highly formative memories and experiences.

My sisters and I in front of our Santa Clara parsonage - the girl on the far right in the bathing suit is Alana (Lennie), a neighbor and early friend.
My sisters and I in front of our Santa Clara parsonage – the girl on the far right in the bathing suit is Alana (Lennie), a neighbor and early friend.
The three Knutsen sisters in August of 1957
The three Knutsen sisters in August of 1957

Unfortunately, the Santa Clara I regard as home ceased to exist shortly after I left. I’ve covered this in other blogs (July 18, 1969, August 26, 1969) and I’m loathe to repeat myself. Still, Santa Clara’s metamorphoses into Silicon Valley fascinates me.

Janet, Joyce and I in front of Santa Clara parsonage a little later.
Janet, Joyce and I in front of Santa Clara parsonage a little later.

Someday I’d love to write a historical novel about Santa Clara. I’d approach it as a multi-generational saga about a family who own an apricot orchard, tracing family members and the city itself as it evolves to Silicon Valley.  I’ve been warned family sagas are out of fashion but by the time I finish, they might be all the rage again.

March 14, 1970

March 14, 1970

 When I read entries like this, I regret writing some incidents down in such detail. Without a diary, my little hissy fit during an otherwise fine evening would be long forgotten. What set me off that night?

Anderson’s ribbing – which I heard as ridicule – probably felt like an assault given how thin-skinned I was. I hadn’t learned the best way to handle teasing is by mocking myself first. Most people respond better to self-deprecating humor than temper tantrums or prolonged pouts.

I'm hiding. Notice me!
I’m hiding. Notice me!

My deeper motivation for disappearing was to punish my friends for ignoring me, something friends shouldn’t do to friends. Leave it to a narcissist to grossly over-estimate the pain my absence inflicts on everyone in my orbit (because the world revolves around me). Would it make you more sympathetic to know my need to be treated like I’m special arises from low self-esteem? I’m no one until I’m reflected in someone’s admiring eyes.

"I'm just a soul whose intentions are good - Oh, Lord - please don't let me be misunderstood"
“I’m just a soul whose intentions are good – Oh, Lord – please don’t let me be misunderstood”

Eventually I outgrew this self-defeating behavior. I saw the light when I dated a histrionic guy whose need for attention drained every last drop of my respect and affection. I saw how toxic I could become, if I didn’t shape up. I never wanted to affect someone else so negatively. Unfortunately, by the time I wised up, most likely I already had – for which I’m truly sorry, if that helps.

March 7, 1980


March 7, 1980

My favorite bridesmaid dress - for the Mary Bennett/Jack de Nove nuptials in 1980
My favorite bridesmaid dress – for the Mary Bennett/Jack Denove nuptials in 1980

I served as a bridesmaid six times – all after being a bride myself – and this was by far the best dress. I was far crueler to the five women who participated in my wedding (below). The lace overlay, garden party hats, puffed sleeves – any one of these might be an unpardonable fashion sin – put them all together and this is what you get.

The dresses I forced my bridesmaids to wear (l to r - Joyce Knutsen Salter, Sandy Walker Hegwood, Janet Knusten McCann, Mary Bennett deNove, Denise Gail Williams) Picture on the left
The dresses I forced my bridesmaids to wear (l to r – Joyce Knutsen Salter, Sandy Walker Hegwood, Janet Knusten McCann, Mary Bennett Denove, Denise Gail Williams) Picture on the left

In my defense, the year was 1975 and I’d go with five different colors again today. I doubt my bridesmaids wore their dresses again aside from the occasional costume party.

Me as bridesmaid, Sam as flower girl, in emerald-green themed dresses.
Me as bridesmaid, Sam as flower girl, in themed dresses.

While it’s an honor to be asked to serve as a bridesmaid – and I don’t mind admitting I was miffed on a few occasions when I thought I’d be an integral part of the wedding party only to find myself seated on the brides’s side with the rest of her friends who didn’t rate – it’s not all fun and games.

Wedding

Engaging with the bride
Engaging with the bride
My sister Joyce put me in this dress for her 1980 wedding (with Denise Gail Williams)
My sister Joyce put me in this dress for her 1980 wedding (with Denise Gail Williams)

Standing up for your friend as she/he exchanges vows with the person they plan to spend their lives with becomes uncomfortable when you’ve got a strong intuition this union won’t survive the sniffles, forget until death do us part. I’ve been there and I’m usually right.

Other pictures of me in Mary Bennett's bridesmaid dress
Other pictures of me in Mary Bennett’s bridesmaid dress

Not always, though. No outsider can fully grasp another couple’s relationship because we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. One of my cynical writing professors told me not to bother justifying why two mismatched people stay together in misery all their lives. “The same reason most relationships stick together. Inertia and fear of change.” Dramatically, he’s probably right. Realistically, he’s probably right about a lot of couples – but not all. I’ll never give up on the romantic ideal of people who promise “till death do us part” and mean it with their whole heart.

March 5, 1980

March 5, 1980

My sister, Janet, on set for the movie, 9 to 5
My sister, Janet, on set for the movie, 9 to 5 in front of Dolly Parton’s motorhome
A couple other pictures taken of Janet on movie sets, perhaps Rhinestone and Rocky IV
A couple other pictures taken of Janet on movie sets, perhaps Rhinestone and Rocky IV

 My sister Janet worked as an Assistant Director trainee on the movie 9 to 5. When they needed children – extras – for the day care scene near the end of the movie, she thought of her nephew CD. I suggested Marjorie’s daughter Jenny, about the same age. I’m guessing Marjorie’s sister Christine acted as guardian because Marjorie and I had both been around enough sets to know how dull they can be – especially if you’re there to chaperone a lowly extra. In retrospect, I wish I’d seized the chance to see iconic actresses like Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin at work even if it meant hours standing around.

9 to 5 Daycare Scene - Jenny being held, CD to the far left
9 to 5 daycare scene – Jenny being held, CD to the far left

Marjorie Arnold and I shared an apartment for a couple years while we were both at UCLA. She was an aspiring actress who landed commercials as well as parts on shows like “Room 222” and “Marcus Welby”. She was (and still is) a beautiful woman; some people described her as a “young Natalie Wood”. She was talented, too, and took her career very seriously.

Marjorie Arnold, 1972, when we were roommates
Marjorie Arnold, 1972, when we were roommates
Marjorie - The Actress
Marjorie – The Actress

Living with Marjorie, I grew grateful I wasn’t an actress. If you’ve seen La La Land, you’ve got some idea how brutal and demeaning auditions can be and how rarely people realize their dreams and become big stars.

Marjorie with her little dog Pepe
Marjorie with her little dog Pepe
Marjorie with a possible look of rejection
Marjorie with a possible look of rejection

While rejection is equally pervasive for fledging writers, it seems to me – and I could be wrong about this – rejection is less personal for writers. A producer says no to my script, not to me as a person – or so I tell myself.  I’ve never auditioned as an actress, but I suspect rejection in that capacity would feel more personal – as if they rejected me – even though, in reality, it’s probably not personal. They’re just looking for a different type.

February 4, 1972

February 4, 1972

There were no smart phones or Sony PlayStations - We played board games.
There were no smart phones or Sony PlayStations – We played board games.

I had no idea my guilt about dropping Kessler’s class would far outlast the relief. While I’ve got bigger regrets in my life, this one stays with me. Here’s why.

Kessler taught Poetry Writing, a small exclusive class for juniors and seniors. He only accepted ten students per quarter and you had to audition – present a piece of writing – to be considered. I gave him the play Luke helped me write – “The Lowlands” – and won a place.  Even though it wasn’t a poem like most applicants submitted, he thought I had a “voice” and gave me a chance. I was thrilled.

Happy to get this great opportunity.
Happy to get this great opportunity.

Then I found out the class functioned like a writing work shop – I was unfamiliar with them then. Students were required to read their poems out loud to the class and then listen to everyone’s feedback. The prospect of reading one of my poems out loud petrified me. I knew from past experience that when I read out loud for others, a fight or flight response takes over and it turns into a race to the finish.  My speech pattern is fast under the best of circumstances. I’m all but unintelligible if asked to read for an audience.

The trouble with talking too fast is

But that wasn’t the only thing that terrified me. Our first class made it obvious my fellow students knew a lot more about poetry – both reading and writing it – than I did. Consequently, I feared writing a bad poem as well as making stupid comments about other people’s poetry.  I was so scared I dropped the class.

Afraid of looking and sounding stupid.
Afraid of looking and sounding stupid.

If I had it to do over again, I’d face my fear. Even if I’d been the weakest in the class, I would have learned something – maybe even made a few strides toward learning to read my work in public. Chickening out made me feel more like a failure than actually failing the class.

My regrets about this flooded back when I came across Kessler’s obituary in the LA Times, several years later.  Some doors and windows open only once. I wish I’d summoned the courage to go through all of them. This wasn’t the only one I missed.

Missed Opportunity

January 24, 1980


january-24-1980

It was totally in character for the late Bill Bowers to treat fledging writers to lunch – he was legendary for his warmth and generosity. In his drinking days, he churned out three or four scripts a year. Sober, he slowed but not much. He wrote a whopping 39 movies including “The Gunfighter,” for which he received an Oscar nomination. On the Zoetrope lot in 1980, Bowers occupied one of two offices upstairs from where I wrote a Cindy Williams MOW project.

Bill Bowers, playing the part of a senator interrogating Michael Corleone in "Godfather 2"
Bill Bowers, playing the part of a senator interrogating Michael Corleone in “Godfather 2”

My UCLA screenwriting professor Bill Froug interviewed Bowers for his first book – the Screenwriter looks at the Screenwriter – so I understood what a privilege it was to spend time with Bowers. He regaled us with stories about old Hollywood, each one better than the last. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to write them all down.

Martha Coolidge at early Halloween party
Martha Coolidge at early Halloween party

The other upstairs office belonged to Martha Coolidge, a rising young director. We formed a friendship that outlasted Zoetrope.

Martha and me at a Halloween party
Martha and me at a Halloween party

One of my most satisfying moments as a writer occurred when Martha and I shared a room at the Oaks, a health spa in Ojai.

Martha and me at the Oaks
Martha and me at the Oaks

She’d read and liked my spec script “At 17” but re-read it at the Oaks. From across the room, I scrutinized her face for clues – did she like it as much on her second read? What was she laughing at? Was it meant to be funny? It was hopeless, I couldn’t gauge her reaction — until she turned the last page, tears streaming down her face. Genuine tears! Does it get any better than that? I’ve never felt so validated. (I cried my eyes out when I saw “Rambling Rose”. A true karmic partnership.)

Eating very very little at the Oaks
Eating very very little at the Oaks

Recently, Martha suffered a serious fall from a horse that left her hospitalized for weeks. In true Martha fashion, she amazed doctors by her incredibly rapid recovery. It was less surprising to friends like me because I’m well aware Martha was born to break down barriers, exceed expectations and amaze the experts.

Martha also at the Oaks in Ojai
Martha, also at the Oaks in Ojai

Imagine that. My first paid writing job, and I got Bill Bowers and Martha Coolidge as office-mates – how lucky can one girl get?

 

 


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