ucla

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?

 

 

January 22, 1971


January 22, 1971

 

I could count on Sandy to help me search for the past.
I could count on Sandy to help me search for the past.
Vania Brown could travel back in time too.
Vania Brown could travel back in time too.

January 22, 1971, is practically a template for every return trip to Santa Clara after my parents moved to San Diego. Invariably, these visits were poorly planned and rushed, always too much to do in too little time. My neurosis compelled me to forage in vain for a piece of my past (in the case above, the Grapes of Wrath gig).  My futile search for Luke was eerily similar to my  recurring “missed connections” dream.

Where'd you go, Luke?
Where’d you go, Luke?


A classic recurring dream involves taking an exam you’re unprepared for. There are infinite variations. In my typical version, I forgot/neglected to drop a UCLA class and the deadline passed. I must take the final but I never attended the class and know nothing.  In my father’s version, he stands before a congregation without his hymnal or Bible – lost. I suspect every occupation dreams its own variant on this theme. No matter how often I dream it, it shoots my stress level sky-high.

 

Consequences can be dire if you forget to drop a class -- in a dream - within a dream.
Consequences can be dire if you forget to drop a class — in a dream – within a dream.

 

My “missed connections” recurring dream induces frustration rather than anxiety. These dreams always take place in Santa Clara.  I’m home (I can’t believe I still call Santa Clara home when I haven’t lived there for almost 50 years but some places leave a deep imprint) and I want to get in touch with somebody but I left their phone number and/or address in LA. Sometimes, I can’t figure out how to dial the phone or intercom – or the person I’m searching for moved and left no forwarding address. I’m always thisclose but I can never get there. To this day, I dream alterations of this theme over and over.

 

SANTA CLARA

 

No doubt it’s obvious to amateur shrinks what these dreams mean. All I know for certain is they’re not going away. Santa Clara, here I come…. over and over again. As Bono famously sings, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

 

December 31, 2012

december-31-2012

Bill Connell directing traffic (center) before the wedding - Carly Salter Govind in purple to his right.
Bill Connell directing traffic (center) before the wedding – Carly Salter Govind in purple to his right.
The Bride and Groom
The Bride and Groom
Another romantic and very happily married - for 66 years! - couple, my parents.
Another romantic and very happily married – for 66 years! – couple, my parents.

The day was almost perfect, aside from the fact my sisters and I knew our father wasn’t feeling well. (I’m not sure anyone else noticed – being Norwegian, he did a masterful job of putting everyone else at ease by pretending he was fine.

It was the following day – January 1, 2013 – all hell broke loose.

Gil Gundersen provided magical music.
Gil Gundersen provided magical music.
Geo Ackles kills with a poignant and hilarious toast/speech
Geo Ackles kills with a poignant and hilarious toast/speech
All eyes and ears were on Geo Ackles as he took us through years of his friendship with CDR
All eyes and ears were on Geo Ackles as he took us through years of his friendship with CDR
Alex and Chris
Alex and Chris
Chris and Sam
Chris and Sam
CDR with Yolanda
CDR with Yolanda

My father was hospitalized and diagnosed with prostate cancer after a trip to the ER. Bill Connell, who helped set up for the ceremony, was hospitalized with heart problems. Yolanda Hernandez, virtually a member of the family for 30 years, discovered she had an aneurism and was hospitalized to await brain surgery. What are the odds? Three people, all essential to mounting the wedding, immobilized 24 hours later.

Rowells came from far and wide....
Rowells came from far and wide….
Tables full of Rowells
Tables full of Rowells

Aside from the collective health crisis, everything went as well as it possibly could.  It was a pleasure to get to know Jerry and April Ekins, Serena’s father and stepmother, as well as her brother and adorable niece and nephew. A large contingent of CD’s aunts and uncles – the geographically extended Rowell side – showed up to lend their support. CD was thrilled his oldest friend Geo Ackles and newer friends from UCLA’s film school were there to celebrate with him and his beautiful bride.

Chris Varaste gets in front of the camera
Chris Varaste gets in front of the camera

On a purely selfish note, it was a great opportunity for me to catch up with some of my dearest friends who moved out of state (or at least out of my zip code). Weddings have a way of bringing people together. Christmas and the holiday season don’t hurt.

The Ekins family
The Ekins family

After one of the longest courtships on record – 21 years, I kid you not – it was clear to one and all that Chris and Serena are as romantic and madly in love today as they were when they met. So, here’s to love and the future!

Parents of the groom
Parents of the groom
The Happy Newlyweds
The Happy Newlyweds

 

December 15, 1971

december-15-1971

Michael Wasserman, fellow winner of the first Jim Morrison Memorial grant for his Film Project 1.
Michael Wasserman, fellow winner of the first Jim Morrison Memorial grant for his Film Project 1.

kathy-1971

This was so unexpected it was hard to believe. The debacle of my last film (at UCSB – see diary blog May 28 1971 link) seared itself on my psyche and lowered my expectations to the point where merely passing would’ve felt like a triumph.

At my screening, when the first ripple of laughter landed it was the sweetest sound I’d ever heard. I loved it. To my surprise, what I considered huge success was just as disorienting as massive failure. For the first time, I leaned toward taking film production instead of film writing.

In other words, I forgot who I was – again. What saved me was enrolling in a camera class with Michael. One session of brain-numbing technical talk restored me to sanity. Production people rise at the crack of dawn and work long days – 16 hours isn’t unusual – all of it on site (as opposed to at home, where I can write in my pj’s.) Production people are surrounded by other people and forced to endure production meetings.

kathy-with-award-winning-film

I couldn’t design a worse job for me if I tried (except maybe military service). I was constitutionally incapable of surviving a week, much less making it my career. To clarify, production is fantastic for people like my sister Janet. She thrives on it. She’d probably be miserable in the solitary confinement film writing requires. No value judgment is implied, neither one is “better” than the other. It depends on who you are.

Janet with Ben Vereen on the set of one of the early shows she worked on, "VEGAS".
Janet with Greg Morris on the set of one of the early shows she worked on, “VEGAS”.

Free-lance film writing is not unlike eternal college. The typical time period allotted to write a script roughly corresponds to quarters and the reaction of buyers/producers is like getting a grade. Ninety-five percent of the work is done in solitude, on my own hours, at home.

At UCLA, I discovered a genuine talent for college (this assertion based on graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa). Clearly, film writing was my ticket and I lived happily ever after.

You didn’t buy that, did you? I’m kidding. That would make for a truly boring story. Escalating conflict, big problems and hard decisions keep things interesting – and I was blessed with an endless supply, enough to fill many years of diary blogs.


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