Sunday afternoon, at one thirty-five, on April 18, 1937 I was born and named Jess Waid Escobar in the Orthopaedic Hospital in East Los Angeles to Gladys Ruth Waid and Jess Quintero Escobar. As is a Mexican custom, Mother’s maiden name became my middle name.
Gladys Ruth Escobar (nee Waid) born on July 22, 1913 in Lewistown, Montana to Gladys Ruth and Prentiss Waid, was the second oldest of five children. She was named after her mother. Mom had two brothers: George Malcolm, the oldest child, and Kenneth her younger brother. Doris and Dorothy, her twin sisters, followed. The youngest sibling was Prentiss, Jr or “Bill.” Mom passed away on June 3, 2012, three days after suffering compound fractures of several ribs from a fall when she rose from a recliner chair. She’d been in excellent health, otherwise. Her ashes were spread off the northern California coast (Crescent City) near where we lived. Angus Fergus, her grandfather, owned a sheep farm (50,000 ewes) in the late 1800’s in the Judith Valley, Montana. He was an early settler in the area. Fergus County was named after him, along with Fergus Avenue and Fergus High School. Fergus was the largest county in the state until years later when it was reduced its size for political reasons.
Jesus “Jess” Quintero Escobar, was born on August 17, 1907 in Concordia (near Mazatlan), Mexico. Dad Jess settled in Hollywood and played an instrumental part in the social times there as well as in motion pictures. Casting agents called Jess for Latin dancers to appear in the movies. He danced in the movie Flying Down to Rio, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. He also danced in Rumba, starring George Raft. Jess had placed second in a national Tango contest. After that, he was a sought after Tango dancer/teacher. He taught Gower Champion at the Palomar Ballroom on Vermont Avenue. Later, Champion won first place in the popular National Veloz and Yolanda Tango Contest held at the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles. Laure Haile, Jess’ teacher and occasional dance partner, came in second in that contest. Haile went on to become the National Dance Director of the Arthur Murray Dance Studio chain. Jess and Doris Lynn, his main dance partner, participated in dance exhibitions at the Palomar when the venue was called the Rainbow Gardens, a place where seeing stars was the norm. Jess married four times resulting in two sons and two daughters, all of them half-siblings: Robert “Bob”, Patricia, Jess Waid, and Teresita Herlinda Quintero Escobar. “Bob,” the first born, was a police officer in Tucson, Arizona, then at age 20, a jet pilot in the USAF. Later, he was an Alaskan state legislator. Dad Jess did not marry Doris Lynn (her choice); however, her parents adopted Bob; thus explaining his Lynn surname.
Dad Jess passed away in 1992 from dementia, likely brought on by prior years of alcoholism. In his mid-sixties is when I got to know him. I was a police patrol sergeant assigned to Hollywood Division. One day I spotted his name on the arrest blotter. He’d been booked for plain drunk. Noting his home address was on my beat, I made it a point to go to the location hoping to see him without him knowing. When I first saw him he was playing with a German Shepard bitch. He had the dog going through some drills. In time, I let him know I was his son. I believe he already had known that. In Dad’s early 80s, he lost the use of his legs due to poor circulation. He refused to let the surgeon remove his “dancing legs.” His last several years were spent bedridden in an Orange County elderly care facility. He still acted the “ladies’ man,” continuing to flirt during his lucid moments with the female housemates. Dad’s “cremains” are “interred” next to his mother’s, Rafaela Quintero’s, in Hollywood Forever Mortuary on Santa Monica Boulevard across from Paramount Studios.
I don’t know exactly how Mom met my dad, Jess, but likely it was at a ballroom. I believe she loved him very much as she told me he had literally swept her off her feet. She became his dance partner and soon they married. Mom told me that while dancing the tango with Dad in a parade during a festival in Santa Barbara, she sprained her ankle on the cobblestones; and, that he forced her to keep dancing to the end of the parade route. I’m uncertain as to why she told me that. In any event, she soon found it quite a strain to work all day and then to dance every night. Mom said that she needed to keep her job (she was working in the Los Angeles mayor’s office) as Jess made little money as a dancer. Soon, Mom became pregnant with me. At that time, (1930s) it was not considered “proper” for an obviously pregnant woman to continue working, and so her supervisor informed her that she would have to leave the job; however, staff liked Mom so much that her supervisor told that she could come back after her baby was born. Since her previous position will have been filled, they would find another place for her in the City Hall.
Mom, had told me she’d had it in her mind that I would be born on a Sunday. How she controlled my being born on a Sabbath day is subject to conjecture. At the time of my birth Mom was estranged from Jess. She claimed he only wanted to dance and left her when she refused to go dancing with him “every night.” Mom told me that Jess came to the hospital soon after my birth, tossed seven dollars onto her bed and said, “Here, is this enough to raise the kid?” He then left and proceeded to inform the desk clerk in charge of birth information what my name was to be. On my birth certificate it shows his occupation as “truck driver” and his birthplace as Arizona, not Mexico. I assume he didn’t care to be known as a Mexican.
His mother, Rafaela, was born twenty kilometers east of Mazatlan in Concordia, a hill town in Sonora. The community, noted for furniture making, has many residents of French heritage. It is possible that Jess had French blood in him. Apparently, Rafaela came across the border in Nogales, Arizona, with three-year-old Jess and another male sibling who died abruptly around that time. Rafaela married a total of five times, giving birth to four children, one from each of her first four husbands: Jess, Alicia, Carolina, and Concepcion. Her fifth husband’s surname was McReynolds. When Jess passed, Carolina’s daughter, Carol, for many years a movie stuntwoman in Hollywood, made the funeral arrangements. Thus, the misspelling of his name as “Jesse.” Although, I later heard from one of his sisters, Alicia, that he liked that spelling.
From the time I was two weeks old, caretakers tended to me, as Mom returned to work for the City of Los Angeles in a newly created office: Department of Fire and Police Pensions. Of note is that she promoted to become General Manager of the department. Only the second female to attain such a position. Muriel Morse, Personnel Department, was the first. Politics at the time were against a female holding an executive position. Apparently, Morse in Personnel was excused as it was deemed that running the Personnel Department was considered to be a woman’s job. In any event, Mom “taught” her replacement, Tommy Thompson, how to manage the department. Thompson, being the gentleman he was, insisted that the City Council create a new position of Executive Assistant Manager for Mom to fill. That occurred thanks to him.
My earliest recollection is being in a crib next to a baby boy in an adjacent crib with both of us having a toy plastic horn to play with. Based on family photos, I believe the nursery home was on the north side of Sunset Boulevard in east Hollywood. When I turned three, I was taken to a nursery-kindergarten school/home for boarding. It was on South Kenmore one block north of Wilshire Boulevard. I spent weekdays there. On Saturday mid to late mornings, Mom took me (via the “yellow” trolley) to her rented duplex located on the northwest corner of Lockwood Avenue and Virgil Street (now on the entire block is an elementary school). On late Sunday afternoons I was returned to the nursery/boarding school. I hated Sundays for many years.
One Saturday evening, soon after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Mom took me next door to her landlord, Mrs. Mitchell’s, duplex. Mom said that my dad would be arriving. Having no real memory of him, I was quite excited. The reason for the get-together was because Dad was joining the Army. Obviously, now divorced, she didn’t want to be alone with him in her home. In any event, he mentioned having a female fox terrier with a litter of puppies at his apartment. Mom, to my pleasant surprise, let me ride with Dad when he drove to his place to retrieve them. When we returned, I remember him mentioning that if one got lost in the dark it would cry. Moments later, we heard a puppy yipping. I found it in the hallway adjacent to the common wall separating the duplex units. A hurtful memory: Dad promised he’d write to me but he never did. However, he did send a large black-and-white photograph of him in his army uniform strolling along a sidewalk in Honolulu. That was the only time I saw my dad during my childhood.
The Kenmore School’s classroom was a converted two-car garage. The large doors had been replaced by a windowed wall. Each row of desks designated whether the pupil was in pre-school, or kindergarten, and even 1st grade. For whatever reason, I ended up on the last desk of the “last” row, in the 1st grade spot, placing me at a level one year ahead of where I should have been. I left the school in mid-1943 at age six, the oldest age that a child was allowed to attend the school. Being advanced that one year adversely affected my entire school-time life, as I always had to compete with kids a year older. Later, my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Dysart, whom I liked, considered m a slow learner because I wasn’t reading at the level of my classmates. Physically, however, I held my own until I attended high school; then, competing and matching the athletic abilities of older boys more physically developed was most challenging.
While at the Kenmore school, I recall an air raid occurring one winter night (3:16 a.m.). Immediately roused from bed by the siren, we kids were marched while in our PJs a half block south to the Gaylord Hotel on the northwest corner of Wilshire and Kenmore. A total blackout had been ordered; thousands of helmeted air raid wardens with special vests were summoned to their various positions. In the night sky, searchlights homed in on a single-engine aircraft flying in a southwesterly direction. I could see bursts of smoke fired from an artillery gun exploding in the penumbra of bright beams of several searchlights. The airplane was not struck! Eventually, at 7:21 a.m. an “all clear” was sounded and the blackout order lifted.
I later learned that the 37th Coast Artillery Brigade futilely had fired .50 caliber machine guns and 12.8-pound anti-aircraft shells at the small plane. Over 1,400 shells were fired until 4:14 a.m. Several buildings and vehicles were damaged by shell fragments, and five civilian died as an indirect result of the anti-aircraft fire; three of them killed in car accidents in the ensuing chaos; and, two heart attacks were attributed to the stress of the hour-long action. Years later, I read about the incident known as the Battle of Los Angeles, also known as The Great Los Angeles Air Raid. It took place from late February 24 to early February 25, 1942, less than three months after the United States had entered World War II as a result of the Japanese Imperial Navy’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The incident was front-page news along the U.S. Pacific coast, and earned mass media coverage throughout the nation. Within hours of the end of the air raid, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox held a press conference, saying the entire incident was a false alarm due to anxiety and “war nerves.”
One evening, a Christmas party was held for us Nursery school kids in a basement room at the aforementioned Gaylord Hotel. On another occasion parents came to see their kids performing in a “play” in the backyard of the school. I had the small part of a “flying elf.” For the role, I learned to walk on stilts. I was most proud of myself for not falling. Later, on an unforgettable night, I recall the staff had us kids watch them placing obstacles along the hardwood floor in the large main room. One of the items was a lighted candle atop a cardboard box. We kids were then taken into the adjacent dining room, and one by one blindfolded and led out to the where the row of obstacles had been set up. The connecting door was closed so the rest of us couldn’t see the spectacle occurring in the next room. Being afraid of the burning candle, and not wanting to participate, I crouched in a corner; and so. was the last to go through the “ordeal.” Being held by my upper arms, I was told to proceed over the obstacles. I hung on and raised my legs as high as I could, especially when I got to the last item where I just knew the candle’s flame would burn my butt. Meanwhile, I couldn’t understand why the other kids were shrieking with laughter. Finally, when the blindfold was removed I looked behind me and saw that the floor was totally clear of all obstacles. I had been “leaping” over nothing. That lesson taught me to face difficult situations and not hide from them—a valuable life’s lesson.
While at the boarding school I suffered through the measles and chickenpox. I remember standing naked on my bed while the nurse dabbed purple stuff (potassium permanganate) on all the pockmarks. When she was done I looked like a Purple People Eater. Another lasting impression was of the nanny/cook who quite easily could’ve provided the Aunt Jemima image on the popular syrup bottle. One Sunday morning I was in the kitchen (Mom hadn’t picked me up on that weekend) and I touched “Auntie’s” bare arm. She chuckled deeply and said, “That’s me, Sweetie. I’m a big chocolate bunny.” I liked the big woman. She was the first black person in my life. Later that year, I also experienced the removal of my tonsils and adenoids. I clearly remember Mom sitting in an armchair across the room and spending the night with a blanket over her.
In the early fall of 1942, a friend of Mom’s, Joe Whitehead, a sergeant on the LAPD, drove us to up Lake Hughes where Mom rented a cabin. We stayed for two weeks. It was my introduction to daddy long-legs, stinkbugs, and pollywogs. Aunt Alicia came and stayed for a couple of days. She and Mom were quite close. On the drive home, sleet and snow covered the road. I recall a car speed by us and then spin out of control ahead of us; the passenger door flew open and a man fell out and spinning and sliding about on the ice. It was my first experience seeing a violent tragedy.
In September 1943, at age six, I departed the Kenmore school. Mom searching newspaper ads for a place I could be boarded, had “found” Gilbert and Rhoda Bixler. They took me in as a weekday family member. They resided in a quaint house on Landale Street in North Hollywood just west of Vineland Avenue. I attended Rio Vista Elementary School. I still remember we kids walking through a grove of eucalyptus trees, down to the “wash” to enjoy a picnic. Actually, it was the L.A. River; now a wide concrete-banked channel. The grade school has since been replaced by the North Weddington Recreation Center. These days, the neighborhood children attend Oakwood Elementary School, located between Vineland and Tujunga Avenue on Moorpark Street, just west of the Hollywood Freeway.
The morning after Christmas 1943, Rhoda passed away. Her brother, Cliff Lehman, an automobile-route mailman (he drove a dark blue Ford Model A sedan), and his wife, Inez, agreed to care for me provided I was a “good boy.” I resided with the strict Christian family for eight years, until the summer of 1951 when I turned fourteen. Their small house was at 5534 Case Avenue, a dirt road—it was paved several years later. Inez—she wanted me to call her “Aunt Iny”—drove me to the Rio Vista grade school for the next month until the semester ended. In February I was transferred to Lankershim Elementary School, as it was closer. She walked me to it, a little over a half-mile, the first couple of days; the next day I was on my own. Yep, I missed turning east onto Cumpston Street and ended up at the intersection of Lankershim and Burbank Boulevards. Knowing I was lost and a bit unnerved, I stepped over to the Cupid’s Hot Dogs stand on the northeast corner and told the owner my plight. Fortunately, I had the Lehman’s home phone number pinned to my shirt. The vendor called the number and soon Aunt Iny arrived in their green Chevy sedan and retrieved me. It only took one more foot-trip to school with her at my side and I had the route down pat.
Across the street from the Lehman’s house was a large horse-plowed field. One day I walked out onto the gravel driveway and stood next to a white picket fence covered with Talisman rose vines. Suddenly, I got bombarded with dirt clods. Two boys were dug in like commandoes in the field and were “greeting” me to the neighborhood. I stooped and grabbed rocks from the rose bed and threw them at the boys. My aggressiveness convinced the two to quit. During the next eight years we three kids pretty much palled around after school. Skinny eight-year-old Bobby Hahn was very laid back, but seven-year-old Dickey Nunnally was a troublemaker and a bully—still, I needed pals to play ball with.
Occasionally, on summer mornings I rode with Uncle Cliff in the Model A Ford on his “early afternoon shift” mail route. Every morning, except on Sundays, he rose at three-thirty to go to the post office on Chandler Boulevard and sort mail (first shift). Midday, he came home for a hot Ovaltine break before heading to his delivery route. He returned home from the route around three o’clock, took a nap on the sofa followed by another cup of hot Ovaltine. Then he’d go outdoors and tend to the flocks of chickens, ducks, turkeys, and several hutches of rabbits. I had a pair of beige colored Bantams with baby chicks as pets. I witnessed the slaughter of many farm fowl. One of my jobs was to soak the dead pullets in boiling water and then pluck their feathers. Cliff sold the fryers and marketed eggs. Another vivid memory was watching him fatally club rabbits; often they squealed. He then would pull off their hides and tug them onto wire stretchers to cure. My simple job was to hang them on a high bar in a shed. Cliff sold the meat to neighbors and people on his mail route. I often rode with him to the PCA (Poultry Company of America) in Van Nuys to buy chicken mash and rabbit pellets. Eventually, he had over 500 egg-layers. He penned them in rows of small wire cages with automatic water “dew drop” feeders. Afternoons, I helped in pouring out the mash in the long metal troughs. I smoothed it out as I poured to even the distribution in front of each pen. I had to be quick or the chickens’ beaks would bloody the back of my right hand while getting to the mash. Cliff finally bought a “beak burner” box to blunt their beaks. He would press the beak against a hot circle on the metal box until its point “melted” flat. It seemed cruel but the pullet’s had no choice, and it saved the skin on the back of my hand.
In the adjacent lot to the north, Cliff planted a huge vegetable garden along with a large patch of strawberries and several rows of Boysenberry vines. Walter Knott, whose wife made Boysenberry preserves, made the new variety of succulent berry popular. Ultimately the jams made Knott’s Berry Farm famous. Obviously, my weekdays in the Valley were the opposite of my “too short” weekends at “home” with Mom in the “concrete jungle” of east Hollywood. I called it that because the “city” kids were more aggressive than my playmates in the Valley.
The Lehmans’ home was a block west of Vineland, east of Cleon Avenue, a Mexican barrio. Because of school I got friendly with two of the barrio kids: Mike Coronado and Henry Duran. Mike and I vied for the title of fastest runner in the school. I barely edged him out for the blue ribbon (actually was made of thin cardboard with our names printed on the backside). One day, a Mexican kid I didn’t care for, Abel Cortezar, was picking on a smaller boy during the noon recess. I took offense and said something to Abel. He made the mistake of taking me on and I popped him a fast one in the nose. Abel ran to his bigger pal, a bully named Burmundi (he’d been held back two years for bad grades), and told him what I’d done while pointing at his nosebleed. Burmundi immediately stomped toward me. I stood my ground. That’s when I learned there were no Marques of Queensbury rules on the school grounds. He slugged me so fast with a right hook that I had no time to duck. My first and only black eye. A teacher ran up to see what the commotion was all about. Somehow I was the only one disciplined. I learned that life’s not always fair.
On occasion, my next door pal, Dickey, walked to school with me. On the southeast corner of Weddington Street and Lankershim was a Rexall drugstore. It didn’t open until nine. Every morning we’d see a stack of daily newspapers with coins on top. Obviously, it was money left by people purchasing the morning paper before the store opened. Anyway, Dickey convinced me to share in the wealth, saying the coins would enable us to buy hot cinnamon toothpicks. So I did. Well, half way down the block a little man came running after us yelling. Busted. That resulted in a visit to the local police station around the corner on Chandler, followed by a spanking and afternoon room isolation—no playing with the kids. During my eighth summer, I was allowed to go to the public plunge in North Hollywood Park. Just my luck, while watching Dickey swimming in the deep end, some kid pushed me into the pool. I had yet to learn how to swim, I vividly recall going down for the third time and watching air bubbles floating to the surface in the diffused sunlight; actually, eyes wide-open, I saw my short life flashing brightly by. Then, a strong arm encircled my waist and took me to the surface. Dickey saved my life. That summer I learned how to swim. That was my first near-death encounter.
One afternoon Bobby Hahn, Dickey, and I were kicking my new football (a Christmas present from Mom) out on the dirt road, and the ball landed on the roof of the tall Helms Bakery brick building on the corner of Case Avenue and Burbank Boulevard. Since the ball was mine, I had to retrieve it even though Dickey had kicked it up there. He went home and collected a lean-to ladder from his garage. I then climbed up to the roof. I retrieved the football and came back to the roof’s edge and found no ladder, no Dickey and no Bobby. It was dinnertime. I had no choice but to jump off the building. The twelve-foot drop hurt my feet. I was pissed and experiencing sharp pain to my feet. The next afternoon, Dickey stood in the yard by our homemade concrete ping pong table waiting for me to come out to play. I was in the mood to settle matters. I strolled up to him and before he knew what I intended I had him in a headlock and began banging his head into the game table. I didn’t let go until Dickey cried “Uncle.” He didn’t mess with me after that.
Another time, Bobby, Dickey, and I along with two other kids, Robert Lee Johnson and his younger tomboy sister, Maryanne, were playing “follow the leader” on roller skates. This was after Case Avenue had been paved. Anyway, we went far afield from our home turf and ended up over by Fair Avenue and Chandler Boulevard alongside the railroad tracks that skirted Blanchard Lumber Company (Today, it’s a huge parking lot for passengers using the Metro Redline). Foolishly challenging each other, and still wearing our skates, we climbed the lumber stacks and even crawled under stationary boxcars. When I heard the sequential clanging sounds of connected train cars responding to the pull of a locomotive. It turned out to be coming from the string of boxcars under which the three of us were crawling. In panic mode, we scurried out from under a boxcar just as it began moving. Then Dickey got the hairy idea of jumping into an open boxcar and riding it for a short distance west. I gave him the middle finger, a newfound “tough guy” gesture, and immediately skated back to Case Avenue with the others. Reluctantly, he followed. Later, like his dad, he became an L.A. city fireman. Eventually, he was stationed in Hollywood across the street on the eastside of the police station where I had been assigned after promoting to sergeant. One day, as a friendly gesture, I joined him for lunch in their kitchen. Many firemen were accomplished cooks. The last I heard, Dickey had retired and was residing in Palm Desert.
On New Years’ Day, 1948, I was excited when the Lehmans took me to the Rose Parade in Pasadena. On our return to the Valley they let me go around the corner to the Anawalt Lumber & Materials Company on the northwest corner of Burbank and Vineland to watch the Rose Bowl game. The business owner had set up several benches in front of a small-screened black-and-white TV. It was the first year the bowl game was televised in the Greater Los Angeles area. The game stunk; the Michigan Wolverines kicked the USC Trojans’ butt 49 zip. Michigan’s lopsided victory resulted in them edging out Notre Dame for the number one spot as 1947 national champion in the AP poll. I later learned it also was the first time that a U.S. motion picture newsreel of a football game was filmed in color.
Upon finishing the sixth grade at Lankershim Elementary School, I attended North Hollywood Junior High on Colfax (the school name and location have since been changed to Walter Reed Middle School; it is still on Colfax but farther south and on the east side of the street intersecting Landale Street, only a few blocks west of where I’d resided with the Bixler family). Actor/dancer Russ Tamblyn, (West Side Story) was a classmate. Another classmate, Josie Powell, whom years later told me she’d had a crush on me, became the star dancer with Tito Puente’s Cuban group. Josie was known as the “Mambo Queen.” Currently, she resides in her large apartment building on Crescent Heights Boulevard in West Hollywood; we stay in touch online.
In February 1949, snow fell in Los Angeles and in the San Fernando Valley! Aside from the sleet on the Lake Hughes road cited above, it was my first experience with the fluffy white stuff. That morning I shoved my new Schwinn bike through it, believing I would use it to ride home from school after the snow had melted. And I did. There were only a few inches on the ground to begin with and little or none by mid-afternoon. The snowball fights at school were tough as the snowballs actually were chunks of ice. Later that year, Mom agreed to let me ride the red car (trolley) home to Hollywood from North Hollywood on Friday evenings instead of Saturday mornings so that I could ride with the California Rangers, a pre-teen horse-riding group. It was comprised of two platoons of four squads. We rode around a large ring at the stable on the southwest corner off Los Feliz and Riverside Drive. On the program’s final day there was a gymkhana riding competition. I won the second place ribbon for horsemanship and received a two-week vacation at actor Rory Calhoun’s ranch in the Sespe Valley in the hills north of Ojai, California. It was a great time. I swam, hiked, rode horses bareback, stream fished, and learned to load and fire a .22 caliber rifle at tin can targets. Rory and his pretty wife, actress Lita Baron, came to the ranch one Sunday. The other kids tried to “welcome” him by throwing him into the pool. When I saw the gold watch on his left wrist, I worried it would get ruined, so I tried unfastening the band. Rory, apparently thinking I was trying to steal it, threw me into the pool so roughly that I got a bloody nose. Later, he apologized. That’s when he learned my birth last name (Escobar) and asked if my dad was Jess. It turned out that Dad was a friend of Rory’s half brother, Frank, who was foreman on Rory’s horse ranch in Ojai. One day, I got to go there and ride “Duchess,” one of their quarter horses. When I was in the saddle I made a simple “clucking” sound. Mistake! The mare took off in a full gallop heading for the barn. I barely held on when the big sorrel made the sharp left turn at the row of stables heading for her stall. In all of the horseback riding I’ve done over the years, (more about this later) I’ve yet to fall off a steed. I rarely ride these days.
On the road to the Sespe Valley ranch paralleling the Matilija Creek is a place called Wheelers Hot Springs. Across the street Bessie Wilcox, (Sister of Mom’s second husband, Woody) and her husband Webb owned a small B & B. Webb was the local postmaster and worked out of the “World’s Smallest Post Office.” Webb was a rotund man and barely fit inside the 4’ by 4’ by 7’ tall structure. It was there that I met pretty Diana Dunn and experienced my first crush. It was 1950. We sat one evening on a sofa-swing facing the mountain. I wanted so badly to kiss her, but the closest I got was to drape my left arm over her cashmere sweater covered shoulders. Her home was in Fresno. I subsequently wrote letters to her. She wrote back. Silly me, I even taped sticks of Wrigley’s gum to the letter wanting to “share” something with her. Corny. Eventually, she ended the correspondence. I never saw her again. So much for my first “love.”
The summer of ’47 I had my first sexual experience with a girl. The Lehman’s thirteen-year-old niece, MC, will remain unnamed, was visiting. She’d led me to the vacant lot next door where she instructed me to help her pick leaves from an apricot tree. “We’ll make a little bed here,” she’d said. Not knowing her intentions, I pulled handfuls of leaves from the tree. I then watched as she placed them side-by-side in a rectangular pattern covering a dirt patch below the tree. Saying there were enough, she lay back on them, and pulled up her dress. I was shocked when I saw the small tuft of black hair. She wore no panties. Then she spread her legs and told me to pull out my “thing” and put it against her “slit.” Just then, Aunt Iny called out from the yard on the other side of the tall hedge, “Come in kids, it’s dinnertime.”
Christmas of ’48, Mom gave me a speed-bag to punch. I installed it to a low tree branch at the Lehman’s, and for several years worked out on it regularly. I’d also filled coffee cans with concrete and joined them with a one-inch pipe creating a barbell. That was the beginning of a lifelong program of lifting weights and staying physically fit.
The year I became a teenager, was a big one for me. I finally was allowed to wear Levi’s instead of corduroy trousers. Luckily, I had also convinced Mom that, to go with my jeans, it was absolutely necessary that I wear black “cycle” boots with horseshoe taps and a rabbit’s foot fob on one boot. The change of attire built my confidence. Bobby and Dickey even treated me differently. That summer the two decided I could help them build a tree house high in a large walnut tree in the vacant lot on Cumpston at the south end of Case Avenue. After it was built from scrounged wood we used it for viewing “girlie” magazines, and to learn about our sexual urges. When teenaged sexy Patsy Gooch walked by below with her Doberman pinscher on a leash, we lured her up to our small abode; obviously without the dog. I was convinced she’d sat in a warm water-filled bathtub wearing her brand new Levi’s, and then let them dry forming tightly to her long legs and neat ass. My buddies and I badly wanted to see if her bare skin had been dyed blue….
That summer, fulfilling my wish, Mom gave me a wooden Wilson tennis racket. Weekdays, I rode my Schwinn bike to North Hollywood Park to practice against the concrete backboard. Soon, I collected a large carton of used tennis balls and whenever a court was free I used them to practice my services over the net. I developed a decent overhand serve using what was called a “Western grip.” Eventually, I played against anyone willing to put up with my novice game. Over time, I learned to play well enough to be on the Hollywood High tennis team (see later commentary).
That year on Friday evening of the Thanksgiving weekend, Mom and I took the “red car” up to Hollywood Boulevard to watch the Santa Claus Lane Parade. In those years the lampposts were covered by lighted metal Christmas trees. Streetcar tracks ran down the middle of the famous Boulevard. After the parade ended, Mom and I walked home; the distance, about three miles. A block from home while arm-in-arm and crossing Ardmore Avenue, an eastbound dark car careened left around the corner from Santa Monica Boulevard coming right at us. Mom, on my right side, seeing it first, jerked me forward. Instantly, I saw the sedan and jumped forward pulling Mom with me. It was a narrow escape or it would’ve been a truly black Christmas. That was my second near-death encounter.
When I “graduated” from junior high school in 1951, Mom finally felt I was old enough to care for myself while she worked at the Fire and Police Pensions Department in the City Hall. So, that summer I left the Lehman’s home (the whole block is now East Valley High School, including the large field where our tree house had been) and moved in with Mom. Since the two-bedroom house on Normandie was on the west side of the street, I was deemed to be in the Hollywood High School “zone.” Across the street would have meant my attending John Marshall High School in the north Silver Lake district.
The wood-sided house was situated 3.5 miles south of the upper tennis courts in Griffith Park; not too far, so I rode my bike up the hill every day to play six sets of tennis. One day I heard a loud squealing in the brush. I spied a king snake coiling about a young rabbit. I left the court and went over to save the bunny armed with my racket. The snake chose to let the bunny go and slither away, but not fast enough, because I grabbed it. I carried it to the tennis shop and was given a large cardboard carton. The snake was heavy and when it hung loose I could hear its ribs separating. It was about five feet long and docile. When Mom discovered what I had stored in the garage, my having a reptile for a pet quickly ended. The next morning, unhappy, I returned the snake to its familiar habitat by the tennis courts.
One day while sitting on the porcelain throne in the bathroom with the door open into my bedroom, through the west window I spied a green parakeet perched on the white picket fence. Long story short, I hurried outside to look for it. I spotted it when it landed on a hedge branch separating the vacant lot behind our place and the next house south. I cautiously approached the bird; it remained where it was while watching me. I put my right index finger up to its belly and to my delight it stepped onto it. I clamped my thumb over its feet and had myself a new pet. I named him “Keeta.” I knew it was a male because of the blue cere over its bill. Keeta flew freely about the house and often landed on Mom’s shoulders while she washed dishes. Soon, I decided I wanted more parakeets. In the corner of the back yard behind the garage was an area perfect for an aviary. As luck would have it, an apartment building was being erected down the next street near the corner. The “midnight merchandise” provided the scrap lumber necessary to erect a walk-in aviary. I then bought several wooden nest boxes from the local pet store and soon was in the parakeet raising business (I sold the birds to the pet shop). Keeta was the “master” of his new domain, obviously in “seventh heaven” with all of the female birds. Once in a while, he’d jump on my finger and do the “rolling walk.” That’s stepping from finger to finger, one in front of the other. The other parakeets ignored him.
That summer of ’51, in preparation for high school sports, I felt a need to further develop my body. So, I decided to become a member of Bert Goodrich’s Gym on Hollywood Boulevard. Needing money, I got a job setting bowling pins at the Cinema Lanes located directly below the popular gym. Sometimes, jerk bowlers wouldn’t wait for me to get out of the alley after setting the wooden pins and would roll a ball down the alley. I quickly learned to be quick once the pins were in their slots. Still, the flying pins on several occasions slammed into my ankles. My hands also suffered from the splintery wood surfaces. Anyway, now a member of the upstairs gym, I worked-out alongside several popular actors: big Steve Reeves (Hercules), rugged looking Charles Bronson, and blond Richard Jaeckel, while adding a few pounds of muscle and a bit of decent definition to my young body. I also continued my morning routine of doing twenty pushups.
When I entered the tenth grade, to my dismay, I still was skinny and too small, even with the working out, to make the varsity football team, so I reluctantly signed up for the ROTC. But a year later I figured I’d built up my body sufficiently enough to play on the “B” team. A classmate, David Nelson of the Ozzie and Harriet Show fame, was the quarterback. Ozzie and Ricky often came to our after-class practices. Since I wore braces on my teeth, every day, the inside of my mouth got shredded and bloody. We didn’t have faceguards in those days; only a single bar across the mouth was available. Even so, one was considered a “sissy” if they affixed the bar to their helmet. Needless to say, I had none. When the season ended, I’d had enough of football. The main reason I quit was because Coach Warner had cut my playing time in deference to another kid, the son of a well-known actor. The coach apparently liked rubbing elbows with popular theater personalities. Anyway, Mason Alan Dinehart, III. “Mase,” 12-days shy of being one year older than me, and a friend, also was vying for “my” position at left end. FYI, Mase was the first actor to play Bat Masterson on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, a TV series (ABC/Desilu – 1955-1959) starring Hugh O’Brien as the frontier peace officer, Wyatt Earp. In a separate series, on a different network, actor Gene Barry was cast as a 40-something Masterson. Interestingly, in the year 1958-59 both Mase and Barry were featured in the role of BT Masterson. Side note: Mase had three appearances on the CBS series, The Texan, starring Rory Calhoun.
While in the eleventh grade, as mentioned earlier, I played tennis alongside the older, by three years, and more talented Vincent Bugliosi; he later attended the University of Miami on a tennis scholarship; and subsequently was the L.A. District Attorney who successfully prosecuted Charles Manson and several other members of the “family” for the 1969 murders of Sharon Tate and six others. The late Vince Bugliosi co-authored Helter Skelter. The book became the biggest selling true crime book in publishing history with over seven million copies sold. He also was an outspoken critic of the media and lawyers and judges in major trials. He wrote a bestselling book, Outrage, about the acquittal of O.J. Simpson for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman, in which Bugliosi asserts Simpson’s guilt and is critical of the trial.
Besides tennis, I ran track and cross-country, lettering in both. One regrettable memory was when I competed in the 1320 yard run in the City Finals in the L.A. Coliseum. The race started in the tunnel and I’d drawn the pole position. There were so many entrants that two runners shared each lane; one behind the other. The gun went off and the first thing I knew, the guy in front of me spiked my ankle. Needless to say, I was the last runner out of the tunnel. Still, by the third and final lap I was able to run through the pain and move toward the lead. On the final straightaway I spied several white chalk lines crossing the track. I had advanced to third position by then but was spent, so I dived for the first chalk stripe thinking it was the finish line. It wasn’t. So I failed to place, barely missing a qualifying spot. That afternoon, I learned to always continue through the finish line in all future running competitions. It also taught me to go a step beyond in whatever I strove for in life.
Other HHS classmates who became notables were Nino Tempo (he sang Deep Purple with his sister April Stevens) and the late Syd Field a well-known screenwriter. Syd taught screenwriting at the Master of Professional Writing Program, University of Southern California. His most notable contribution is his articulation of the ideal Paradigm “three act structure.” In this structure, a film’s plot is set up within the first twenty to thirty minutes. Then the main character protagonist experiences a “plot point” that provides a goal to achieve. About half the movie’s running time focuses on the character’s struggle to achieve this goal. This second act is the “confrontation” period. Syd Field also refers to the “midpoint,” a subtler turning point in the plot that happens at approximately page 60 (of a 120-page screenplay). This turning point is often an apparently devastating reversal of the main character’s fortune. The final third (the third act) of the film depicts a climactic struggle by the protagonist to finally achieve (or not achieve) his or her goal and the aftermath of this struggle. He died a month before his 78th birthday from hemolytic anemia. Syd Field, ”… the first prophet of writing for the screen” – Los Angeles Times Magazine.
Soon after entering HHS, I struck up a friendship with Anthony “Tony” Kasday. He sat behind me in our French class. Tony and I made soon made a bet, I don’t recall for what amount, but we bet that in our three years at HHS we would never miss a day of school. Neither one of us did. Tony also played on the tennis team. His younger brother, David, an actor, had a small part in a movie doing a dance sequence with Gene Kelly; I believe the movie was Singing in the Rain. Just before our two-week Christmas break, I was one of several students attired in a blue artist’s smock and a black beret and sent to numerous classrooms to verbally greet students with: “La classe de français vous souhaite un Joyeux Noël et une Bonne Année!” or “The French class wishes you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.” A side note: in the late ’90s I observed Tony being interviewed on TV for some alleged pyramid-type scam. I later contacted him. He was living in a beautiful oceanfront house in Brookings, Oregon. I visited him there. He had made millions running a crossword puzzle contest out of Las Vegas. His problem was he didn’t account for his earnings and the IRS got on his tail. He moved to Costa Rica for a year until he got his “books” in order. In 2010, he moved back to Vegas and shortly after, had a fatal heart attack while sitting in a doctor’s waiting room. I do miss the guy.
Saturday mornings during the winter of 1953, I often took the “red” streetcar west to Van Ness Avenue to go to the nearby Polar Palace. I went to ice skate and to meet girls. I wasn’t good at either, but it was fun to do. One Saturday, actress Vera-Ellen was there practicing skating. She had just finished filming Call Me Madam with Ethel Merman, George Sanders and Donald O’Connor. I learned that she was at the rink preparing for her role in White Christmas starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney. It came out in October 1954 and turned out to be a blockbuster hit. The Polar Palace no longer exists. It burned down.
Now, way back to 1943 when I was a six-year-old; and Byard “Bydie” Stephen “Woody” Woodruff (mentioned earlier), a retired L.A. fire captain, then a Special Investigator for the State Board of Medical Examiners, entered my life. One Saturday, Mom told me that he’d asked her to marry him. She’d told him she first wanted to get my approval. Of course I said, “Yes.” (I’d always wanted a dad.) However, he continued dating her but never again made a marriage proposal. After a while, Mom tried to see other men who were interested in her. One gentleman was Milburn Stone, the actor best known for his role as “Doc” on “Gunsmoke.” That’s when jealous Woody began stalking Mom, showing up when she was being returned home by her date. Woody effectively kept other men from dating her.
Woody’s stalking continued for eight years! During which time, I knew little to nothing about their relationship. Often on Saturdays, I went with him to the horse races at Hollywood Park, Santa Anita, and even down to Del Mar. I enjoyed watching the horses run. Woody, a movie buff, saw all the films as soon as they were released. Which meant, he took us to a theater every Saturday night following a dinner out, either at Thrifty’s drug store on the southeast corner of Western and Santa Monica, Ontra’s Cafeteria in Hollywood, or to the College Grill near the L.A.C.C. campus. The movies usually were double-headers. On most Saturday mornings, I walked to the Campus Theater on Vermont to view cartoons and cowboy serials followed by a motion picture. So, I saw lots of movies. Woody also took us to different places on Sundays before dropping me off at the Lehman’s Valley home. We drove to Lake Sherwood where he rented a rowboat. Another time we went to Knott’s Berry Farm, then another to Lake Arrowhead where he also rented a rowboat. That particular afternoon was fun until a strong wind came up. Woody got blisters on his hands rowing us back to the pier. Most Sundays, however, we looked at newly constructed houses; new subdivisions were popping up all over L.A. and Orange counties. I’d kept my hopes up that Mom and Woody would marry and buy a new house so that I could live with them. It never happened, at least not like that.
One April evening in 1953, only days after my sixteenth birthday, I observed Mom sitting on her bed in the dark, weeping. I learned that Woody had just called and, as usual, was “checking up” on her. When I asked what her feelings toward him were, she told me that she loved him, but that she couldn’t continue “just dating.” She wanted marriage, or for him to leave her alone so she could date other men. When she said he was coming over that evening. Being pissed, I confronted him at the front stoop about his intentions, telling him either to marry her or leave her alone. He looked like he might challenge me, but he didn’t. The result was they married weeks later, on Memorial Day. I was their sole witness. Regretfully, I agreed to have my name changed to Waid Stephen Woodruff, as having a “Mexican” surname in those days, particularly at HHS, was a bummer. I say “regretfully” because Woody turned out to be even a bigger jerk; in his later years he became suspicious and then most mistrustful of Mom, convinced she was stealing “house goods” and giving them to her “boyfriend,” all of it totally untrue. I don’t believe Mom was truly happy with the big guy—but she’d never let anyone, including me, know her true feelings. At least, she and Woody did lots of traveling around the world; that was something good for her. The man was nine years older than Mom. He died at age 97. Mom remained in the Laguna Woods home for one year before moving to Brookings, Oregon to live with Barbara, my wife, and I in our new oceanfront home. Mom had her own ground-floor suite and a Papillon pup, Beau, to cuddle on her lap while she watched old movies on TV.
When I turned sixteen, I got a job as a box-boy at Ralph’s Grocery store on Santa Monica and Vermont. I got lots of tips for carrying bags out to ladies’ cars. When I had saved enough shekels I bought a 1950 powder-blue Ford convertible, thanks to Mom who signed the ownership papers. The first thing I did was to lower the car and install dual headers, chrome exhaust pipes with loud “Glaspac” mufflers. I no longer wore braces on my teeth. I was “coming of age.” Another box-boy, Dante Orgolini, who attended Marshall High, and I hit it off. His dad, Dante Sr., was in the movie business, involved in importing/exporting. Up the hill from their home, on DeMille Drive, resided Cecil B. DeMille’s relatives, last name Papke. One daughter, Missy, was a friend of Dante’s. It was a new “crowd” for me. Dante drove a forest-green Jaguar XK120 convertible, also a ’49 green Cadillac. We cruised The Boulevard every weekend in the Jag. A few times we went into the crowded bar featuring a music combo on the northeast corner of Hilldale Avenue and Sunset Boulevard (I believe it’s an exotic car show room today). One night, Dante and I stood at the bar beside the actor Walter Slezak who was enjoying a highball. I’d seen him in the film noir Born to Kill. He was the cheerfully corrupt and philosophical private detective. I was only ten when the movie came out. Remember, I saw many flicks when I was a kid. Anyway, Slezak appeared in over 100 films including Call Me Madam, a movie Vera-Ellen also had acted in. Growing up in Hollywood it wasn’t unusual to see popular actors strolling or driving about the town. Years later, when I was a cop investigating a traffic accident on Sunset Boulevard, Johnny Mathis walked by and cheerily said “Hi”. It was at this time when I got into a self-employment job as a result of working at Ralph’s. I had met several older women (shoppers) whose husbands had passed, and who had never learned to drive the family car. I taught each of them to drive and to park their personal cars. More shekels for gasoline.
That ’53 summertime found me driving daily north to Zuma Beach to hang out with a small group of guys and gals my age. One day we half buried a huge watermelon on a bed of ice, then sliced a hole in the top and filled it with some ice cubes and vodka a guy had purloined from his parents’ liquor cabinet. After poking holes around the rim with an ice pick we stuck paper straws into the melon. Laying on our bellies in a circle around the melon, we sucked up the sweet and potent liquid. That, combined with the sun soaking rays into our backsides, got us baked and pretty much wasted. It was tough working my shift that evening at Ralph’s.
During the Easter break, Dante and I drove his green Caddy convert to The Pike in Long Beach and rode the infamous “Cyclone Racer” roller coaster; and then we continued south to Balboa Island where many high school gals had gone. We entered one “open” house late at night and found the floor covered with sleeping bags and some gabby teenaged girls among sleeping ones. After striking out, we headed back home at dawn. On the highway driving north, Dante suddenly froze on the steering wheel cramping it hard left. The Caddy veered toward the ocean below. His right foot had jammed onto the accelerator. Frantically, I yanked his foot off the pedal and then pulled and pounded on his stiff right arm. I was barely able to keep the car going straight as I slammed my foot onto the brake pedal. We skidded to the brink of going over the steep embankment. He was still out when I shoved him over onto the passenger’s seat and climbed behind the wheel. All the partying and not eating properly had lowered his blood glucose level too far; he’d suffered an insulin shock (a diabetic coma). He finally awoke about the time I pulled up to my home on Normandie. Dante was able to convince me that he could drive home, a mile and a half or so away on N. Berendo Street; and he did. My third near-death encounter.
One spring afternoon during my senior year in high school (1954), while practicing high jumping with Hal Spencer, the son of Tim Spencer of the American Cowboy singing group the Sons of the Pioneers, I spied a pretty brunette walking up the sidewalk on N. Orange Drive whom I recognized as having graduated from HHS the semester before. When she stopped to watch us and smiled, I stepped over to the chain link fence separating us. Sherry Steadman told me she was studying acting at Los Angeles City College. I told her I planned to enroll at L.A.C.C. that September. Before moving along, she gave me a smile that suggested fun things in the future.
That year, Mom, Woody and I moved into a new apartment on Sierra Vista Avenue just west of Western Avenue. There I met Lee Miller. He played the role of Sergeant Brice on the Perry Mason TV series. Lee also was the lead character, Raymond Burr’s, stand-in and dialogue coach. Lee told me that Burr could memorize many pages of script. Lee took me to Twentieth Century Fox studios on North Western Avenue where they filmed much of the show. There, I met the beautiful Barbara Hale, the tall William Hopper and the District Attorney character, William Talman. I later sat with Lee and Raymond inside his trailer; I learned that Burr, a gourmand, was a proficient chef in his own kitchen. I recall he resided in Malibu at the time. Lee Miller had been married to a pretty brunette, my mother’s friend (I no longer recall her name); however, they divorced soon after I met them. I’ve often wondered if it was because of Raymond Burr. Lee, for no apparent reason, had mentioned to me that the actor was gay. I didn’t know and never asked about the closeness of Lee’s friendship with the popular Burr.
Across the second-floor landing from our apartment on Sierra Vista and living alone was Gracie Sprague, a costume designer for Edith Head; and, most likely responsible for at least several of the eight Oscars that she received. Head was a favorite designer to many leading female stars. Also in the apartment building resided a well-known character actor frequently cast as a brutish bad guy: Leo Gordon. One morning, I saw him out on the street washing his new candy apple red Caddy convertible. We got to talking and I asked him how he’d received the nasty scars on his belly (his shirt was off). He claimed they were shrapnel wounds he’d sustained during the Second World War. Weeks later I learned he’d received an undesirable discharge from the service because he and a cohort had attempted to rob a southern California bar and its patrons with a pistol. Apparently, he was shot in the stomach by one of the patrons resulting in his arrest for armed robbery and incarceration for five years in San Quentin Prison. To his credit, while there, he studiously furthered his education by reading nearly every book in the library. Then, taking advantage of the G.I. Bill, he took acting lessons at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. His cremains are interred where the ashes of my dad and Grandma Rafaela are located at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
I graduated HHS on June 18, 1954 alongside several classmates who became prominent personalities: Sally Kellerman, Ruta Lee, and David Nelson. The sunny Friday afternoon ceremony took place in the Hollywood Bowl. That same year saw the marriage of Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio; the first color TV set being manufactured; the first publication of Sports Illustrated; the beginning of the Korean Cold War; and, the opening of the first Burger King,
Summertime found me driving to Zuma Beach every day before going to work at Ralph’s at three. That fall, I quit the job and attended L.A.C.C. fulltime. One afternoon I finally “bumped” into Sherry Steadman on campus. She told me the Math Department had just proclaimed her “Miss Slide Rule,” and that the ceremony and Math Department dance was being held that Friday night. We made a date. I would meet her at the location where the ceremony was being held. Meanwhile, I had been rushed by the Sigma Beta Chi fraternity and was expected to attend the party for “rushees” also happening that same night. So, after the brief ceremony crowning Sherry, we split for the fraternity house, where the beer and booze flowed. In the back yard there was a one room “Hawaiian shack” with a short sofa inside. Sherry and I took advantage of it. She was lying on her back with her head in my lap; her legs bent upwards, her skirt sliding down to mid thigh. She then surprised me by saying, “I’m not wearing any panties.” I got the hint. Since Mom and Woody were out of town, I drove us to the house where I opened up the sofa bed in the living room. When Sherry sat on the side and pulled off her lacy bra I observed her perfect breasts. I was more than ready. During the next several hours there were four groaning “releases” on my part. I was no longer a virgin. Around five in the morning, I drove Sherry to her abode, a two-story “home for starlets.” One of the residents was Kim Novak. I never heard from Sherry after that. For sure, she never achieved the blonde Novak’s fame. Later, as a patrol cop on duty during a major fire in Bel Air, I spotted Kim Novak on her roof hosing it down. I’ll say more about that below.
When “Hell Night” at the fraternity arrived we rushees were driven out of town to Bouquet Canyon, stripped bare except for our footwear and subjected to various humilities. One example: After being lined up and facing each other we were blindfolded and told to urinate. Soon, I felt a warm fluid splashing my leg. Thankfully, it turned out to be warm wine being squirted at us by our “big brothers.” Then they split, leaving us in the “woods.” Standing naked in the dark we searched the nearby area. Eventually, we found some nasty old and tattered clothes left by hobos (possibly planted by our “big brothers.” Shabbily attired, we traipsed out to the highway. Having anticipated being marooned somewhere in “nowheresville,” I’d previously pulled the plastic aglet off a shoelace in my black high-top basketball shoes and had rolled a ten-dollar bill into the lace. I’d trimmed the end of the lace and applied clear nail polish to give it a hard tip like an aglet. Thankfully, my secret was not discovered. Anyway, when we located a roadside eatery we had enough money to phone home and have a buddy retrieve us. We ate breakfast on my dime while waiting for our transportation. The rapid return to the fraternity house amazed our new fraternity brothers.
As a side note, one of my fraternity brothers, Michael Hannon, later became an LAPD officer. Michael had very liberal ideas and wasn’t averse to telling fellow cops. Eventually, my blond friend pronounced his political ideas publicly which got the full attention of Chief William H. Parker. Hannon was orally reprimanded, but it didn’t stop him; so Parker permanently assigned him the guard position at the City Council chambers in the City Hall. Michael spend his entire watch sitting in a tiny glassed-in cubicle where he studied law on the City’s time. When he passed the State Bar, he quit the LAPD, letting his light blond hair grow long, and practiced criminal law as a defense attorney.
After acceptance to the fraternity, I moved out of the Sierra Vista apartment and into the frat house located next door to the college campus. That’s when Dante told me he was quitting his swing shift job as a masking artist (using opaque ink to create half-tones on newspaper ads) with Mitchell & Herb photoengravers downtown on South Olive Street. So, I applied and took over his old job. While there, I “doctored” a California Driver’s License using a fraternity brother’s name: Emilio “Mike” Giuseppe Gino Boitano, Jr. It indicated my age as twenty-three (I was only eighteen!). Apparently, I looked more mature than my actual age because on Friday nights I used the ID to enter jazz joints. Soon, I was a “pro” at passing for a young adult. One favorite place was the “If Club” on the east side of Western Avenue located just below Beverly Boulevard. Also, on Sunday afternoons, I liked to go to the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach to listen to live jazz.
In February of 1955, I wanted to join the Navy. I’d heard that G.I. benefits soon were going to end and I wanted to take advantage of them so I could attend university on the government’s dollar. However, not being eighteen until April, I needed Mom’s permission. She decided to check with her close police friend, Sgt. Joe Whitehead, who asked around and then advised her that he believed it was too late for me to qualify for full benefits. He and is so-called advisors were wrong! So, I didn’t become a sailor.
That June, I convinced several of my frat brothers to drive north to South Lake Tahoe and seek jobs parking cars at one of the casinos. My phony ID got me hired by Russ Byrd (he had emceed one of Ike Eisenhower’s inaugural balls), after I BS’d him that I had a musical background (I’d played trombone in the North Hollywood Junior High marching band). The nightclub job paid $75 a week cash, no deductions. Decent money for an eighteen-year-old. So, I spent every night that summer at Harrah’s South Shore Room (In those day, it was on the lake side of Highway 50 next to Harvey’s Wagon Wheel). My assignment was operating the spot and stage lights during the dinner show (5 p.m.) and the late show (10 p.m.). I went by the name “Mike.” I worked with some popular acts: Peggy Lee, Alvino Rey and the King Sisters (he was married to one); the late Bob Florence (who wrote many charts for big bands) was his pianist; Keely Smith (Husband Louie Prima wasn’t with her at the time); and, popular lesser known acts such as Billy Ward and the Dominoes (Two years earlier, Jackie Wilson had replaced the popular Clyde McPhatter); and, The Goofers, four talented guys who were quite entertaining.
Due to Wilson’s fervor when performing, with his dynamic dance moves, singing and impeccable dress, he was soon christened “Mr. Excitement,” a title he would keep for the remainder of his career. His stagecraft in his live shows inspired James Brown, Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley, among a host of other artists. Presley was so impressed by Wilson that he made it a point to meet him, and the two instantly became good friends. In a photo of the two posing together, Presley’s caption in the autograph reads “You got you a friend for life.” Jackie Wilson was sometimes called “The Black Elvis.” Reportedly, when asked about this Presley said, “I guess that makes me the white Jackie Wilson.”
When club owner Bill Harrah decided he wanted an early morning show (3 a.m. to 5 a.m.), he hired Ziggy Elman, Mickey Katz, the Three Suns, and Cal Tjader on vibes to entertain. As a result, I spent entire nights and early mornings at the night club; that meant I got about two hour’s sleep before taking out water skiers (only girls!) at eight. I lost 26 pounds that summer! I must explain. A block from Harrah’s Club, I rented an upstairs room over a public restroom with a couple of other guys. One owned two speedboats, a 12’ Chris Craft and a rare 14’ Garwood. So, as mentioned, every morning at eight o’clock, for a fee, we’d cruise “girls” out to Emerald Bay for a light breakfast and then tow them on skis behind the boats around the small island for a couple of hours. The water in the bay was always smooth, so the girls seldom fell. I usually skied back to Bijou beach for the fun of it. My afternoons were spent crashing on the sand until time to shower and head for the casino. One afternoon while at the beach I spotted an unattended female toddler fall off the pier and into the lake. I immediately raced across the sand, dived into the water and swam to where I’d last seen her, about thirty yards off shore. Spying her just yards ahead floating face up just below the surface I stroked hard, dove and swooped her into my arms. She coughed up a mouthful of water and began crying. I got her to shore where the so-called babysitter started screaming at me like it was my fault the infant was upset. Still breathing hard, I handed over the child, and said nothing to the woman. Obviously the sitter was quite unnerved. I went back to my towel and crashed. Later, a guy summoned me to the distant food stand. There I met the baby’s father. After the man determined I was the person who had just saved his baby girl he handed me twenty bucks!
Days later, while lying on the sand, I got an instant crush on a pretty brunette. I soon learned that she, Judy Johnson, resided in Sacramento and was on vacation with her parents. My future soon took a different path. That fall, back at L.AC.C. I changed my pre-med curriculum (I’d intended to be a veterinarian) to liberal arts having decided I wanted to get into the entertainment business; perhaps to be a cinematographer. Yep, my time in Tahoe and meeting Judy had changed my what I wanted for the future. So that fall, every weekend I hopped into my powder blue Ford convertible and drove to Sacramento arriving at dawn. I spent the weekends with her, not departing until late Sundays. I arrived back at the frat house in time for my Monday morning class. On Friday night, September 30th, while at work, I heard the radio broadcasting that James Dean had been killed in a car crash while driving his Porsche 550 Spyder en route to Salinas. It greatly affected me. It also influenced my decision to move to Sacramento to be close to Judy.
I soon got a job with the State as a Junior Clerk Typist (I had learned to type at HHS). For several months in early 1956 I stayed with Woody’s older brother, Earl, in his two-story house at 1212 D Street, and close enough to downtown that I walked to work. Earl was seldom at home; he had a girlfriend whom he spent most nights with. Within a month, I decided to move out. I found a room in a boarding house that I could share with another guy, Thad Shelnutt. It was located in Oak Park. Thad, 6’3” only weighed 130 pounds. He told me when he was a kid that his appendix busted while he was working in the field on his parents’ farm in southern Idaho. By the time he arrived at the hospital, his system had been poisoned. The result: he was unable to gain weight. Thad’s chain-smoking of Camel cigarettes got me to “chippying.” One night we drove up the highway to a truck stop in Auburn and consumed a “gallon” of black coffee and smoke while being entertained by truck drivers embellishing their “road-war stories.”
One Saturday morning, we drove south about five miles to hunt pheasant. My first and only time bird hunting I bagged a cock rising from the brush from a fence line. As a kid I had gone out to the Mojave a couple of times to rabbit hunt. Never got one, however, even though I was a decent shooter, at least on a stationary target, thanks to having learned the sport while at Rory’s Sespe ranch.
My relationship with Judy Johnson lasted about one week after my move north. I had been played. Anyway, being young, foot loose, and fancy-free I soon found another girl, Roxanne Exner, a buxomly blonde who called herself “Rockie.” Another mistake. Blame it on her big boobs. Meanwhile, I began palling around with Max Baer Junior, the one-time boxing heavyweight champion’s son. Max Jr. liked to emphasize that he was ¼ inch taller than his popular dad. I recall when Max, Sr. let me try on his brown suede jacket; its shoulder pads touched my elbows. At their home, I viewed a movie of his championship fight with Max Schmeling, the first German to hold the heavyweight title (back when Hitler was on the rise in Germany). Max won the title on a foul from Jack Sharkey. The Schmeling/Baer fight was a huge draw as Max Baer wore the Star of David embroidered on his silk shorts. His father was Jewish; however, Max didn’t practice the faith. Anyway, while in the den to view the black-and-white flick, he froze the film in the projector just when an uppercut punch of his landed on Schmeling’s chin. The frame showed Schmeling’s feet lifted several inches off the canvas. I must say, the senior Max was quite the gentleman, even if in his fights he liked to throw in a few backhand punches and rabbit punches. During his fights, he often flirted with the pretty gals sitting at ringside. He admitted that it had cost him a few fights because he failed to see a punch coming. Sadly, the big jovial man known as “Madcap Maxie” passed away four years after our meeting.
One night at Rockie Exner’s home while her parents were away, she threw an impromptu party. Max Jr. and I were there. When I spied several guys pilfering money from the gals’ purses stashed on the dining room table, I got pissed. I turned to Max and told him what I’d seen. Then I went over and challenged the three punks. They looked like they would take me on but then they backed off for whatever reason and left. When I looked about I saw that Max already had gone outside. He hadn’t been there to back my play! In fact, I saw him out on the street talking to the trio at their car! I called him to the side. That’s when he said he couldn’t risk getting his face scarred as he soon would be acting in the movies. That was the end of my friendship with the 6’4-1/4” guy. The last I heard regarding Max, Jr., was from one of my neighbors, Jesse Pagliosotti, in the late ’sixties. Jesse had been a studio grip and worked on The Beverly Hillbillies set. He claimed that Max was quite difficult to work with and that he had a nasty disposition—a true prima donna jerk to be more accurate. As to Rockie, it wasn’t much more than a month later that I heard she’d married a slim guy who owned a diner in downtown Sacramento and was working as a waitress. I dropped by to say “Hi and good-bye.”
On Sundays, while living in Sacramento, I liked to drive the hundred miles to San Francisco to the cozy Blackhawk in the tenderloin district to listen to jazz (One lazy afternoon at the frat house listening to Johnny Hodges on the radio had turned me into an avid jazz fan). One Friday night in San Francisco, I dropped in at Bimbo’s 365 Club to see a “show girl” and to take her to breakfast after the show. Besides, Judy Johnson, I had met Joyce, a pretty petite blonde, that previous summer at Lake Tahoe. However, nothing came of the “breakfast” date with Joyce as she totally was into her future career.
The big thing for teenagers in Sacramento was going to the “beach,” actually to the American River to swim and party. After the episode at Rockie’s, and my falling out with Max, I became a social outcast. One night at the river I returned to my Ford and found the spark plug wires had been pulled loose. Fortunately, even in the darkness, I re-plugged them in sufficient sequential order to get my car running. Once under the street lights I corrected the wiring. I then headed with two friends to Joe’s Drive-in, the local teenagers’ hangout. I parked several car spaces to the right of the group of guys I suspected were responsible. While eyeing me, they jeered, convincing me they were the culprits. It was the first time I felt “hot” adrenaline rushing through my blood vessels. It had me literally shaking beyond control. I wanted so badly to go over and kick the shit out of every one of them, but my two buddies weren’t as keen; and common sense prevailed. But I knew my time in Sacramento had come to a close.
At the end of the year I requested and got my State job transferred to L.A. By then I’d promoted to Intermediate Clerk Typist and was working for the Department of Veterans Affairs (Cal Vet). Even though I was a lowly clerk, my boss, Paul Severn, the department’s credit manager, employed me as his assistant. For six months, I enjoyed helping veterans applying for 3% home and farm loans.
On July 16, 1957, I enlisted in the Regular Army for a three-year stint. I spent my boot camp period in Fort Ord, California. I enjoyed the disciplined training and also being on the drill team. While there I worked hard at being a good soldier. I scored tops in physical fitness, basically tying with a friendly black guy, Tommy Sands. I remember the black sergeant monitoring me while I was doing pushups and missing the count; I believe deliberately. A perfect score was 50 pushups. I ended up doing 75 plus. Anyway, after boot camp I had a three-day pass, so I flew to Hollywood and home. An army buddy joined me. We wore the “brand new” green dress uniform. Other services didn’t recognize it as an enlisted man’s uniform and believing we were officers, would salute us as we walked past them on Hollywood Boulevard. We got a big kick out of returning their salutes. Anyway, although underage we entered Zardis’ nightclub convinced the dark-green double-breasted uniforms made us look older. Ella Fitzgerald sang on a low platform stage. The blonde cocktail waitress continued to serve people in the front tables to the obvious annoyance of “Lady Jane.”
At the break, as Ella passed our table on the back aisle, I commented about the rudeness of the waitress. Ella paused, smiled and then joined us at our table where she spent her entire break. A year earlier, Verve Records had released Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook. Ella was a most pleasant lady. As it turned out, she was at the peak of her vocal powers at that time.
When my buddy and I left Zardis we met two young French Canadian gals. I ended up taking Eva Millar, the prettier one, to the Sierra Vista apartment to watch TV. When Mom and Woody left for the back bedroom and bed, Eva and I made it on the plush green carpet. Voices from the nearby television muffled our urgent sounds.
One reason I had enlisted in the army was the guarantee that I would be sent to the Army Information School located at Fort Slocum in New York. The base, situated on tiny Davids’ Island in Long Island Sound offshore of New Rochelle was also the Army Chaplain School. Interestingly, those students attending were South Vietnamese. This was years before the U.S. “officially” got involved in that country’s battle. What I heard there affected a decision I made three years later.
Anyway, at the Information School I learned about radio broadcasting, producing propaganda, and photojournalism. I also learned to develop pictures taken with a Speed Graphic 4.25-inch camera. The Speed Graphic was a slow camera. Each exposure required the photographer to change the film sheet, focus the camera, cock the shutter, and press the shutter. One had to be conservative and anticipate when the action was about to take place to take the best picture. Point of interest: The 1942-1954 Pulitzer Prizes for photography were taken with Speed Graphic cameras, including AP photographer Joe Rosenthal’s image of Marines raising the American flag on Iwo Jima in 1945.
The three fall months I spent in New York, saw me often taking the Long Island train into the big city where I went to many of the Broadway plays (free admittance whenever I wore my uniform); and, I also saw many of the sights such as: Grand Central Station, Yankee Stadium, Roseland Ballroom, top of the Empire State Building, Central Park, Times Square, Rockefeller Center and watching the famous and leggy Rockettes. I missed going out to the Statue of Liberty. On Thanksgiving Day, I climbed aboard a passenger train at Penn Station and rode south to Washington D.C. where I toured the many sights.
Fort Slocum was deactivated on November 30, 1965. During the decades that followed, the facilities of the former army post were neglected and deteriorated severely and continued to occupy the island into the beginning of the 21st century. The ruins were among the factors complicating redevelopment of the island. Beginning in 2004, however, Congress appropriated funds to remove the ruins through a Defense Department program that assists communities in reusing former defense facilities. During the summer of 2008, the city of New Rochelle demolished all remaining structures on the island, including the iconic water tower on the northern end of the island, with plans to turn the island into a park.
While on leave after finishing the Army school, I flew back to L.A. It was Christmastime. I said my farewells to Mom and Woody and returned to New York City. There I was put aboard the USS Burgundy, a merchant marine vessel, and shipped across the Atlantic to Bremerhaven, West Germany. The sea at times was so heavy that vomit from seasick troops caught the stiff wind and sailed across the deck missing the 50-gallon garbage cans sliding about. They had been placed on deck for the specific purpose of collecting ejected stomach contents. One night while on guard duty (to ensure that GI’s didn’t sneak up to see women in the dependents’ quarters on the bridge) there was a nasty storm. A rope line had been strung about the deck for guards like me to hold on to. The wild wind nearly ripped off my fatigue jacket. Enormous waves were crashing over the top of the bridge. Scary. Eventually, it dawned on a sergeant below that no trooper should be out on deck. Eventually, a three striper appeared at the hatch and yelled, “Get below!” In any event, it was a miserable ten-day cruise to Europe. I did, however, while in the English Channel, see the white cliffs of Dover in the hazy distance.
On the long train ride south through the center of West Germany, I studied my small Teutonic language dictionary, practicing words on a conductor who politely listened to me. Being a troop train, it seemed like we were backing up onto sidings to let the express trains pass by more often than we were moving forward. We were going to Mannheim where I had been assigned to the 63rd AAA Battalion. On my first visit to the base PX (post exchange) to buy toiletries, I bumped into a Hollywood High school classmate! Small world. My Military Occupation Specialty as an Information Specialist mostly kept me indoors. It also turned out to be a do nothing job. I searched for articles of interest in the Stars and Stripes military newspaper to clip and pin onto our divisional bulletin board. The job did, however, allow me plenty of time to spit and polish my brass and leather. That helped me get selected as the Colonel’s orderly whenever it was my time to stand for guard duty. Being the orderly meant getting a good night’s sleep and then sitting outside the Colonel’s office for half a day (So called guard duty, but actually merely being a “show piece”).
When our battalion went “into the field,” along the west Baltic seashore in Kiel, in northern W. Germany, I got to fire at RCATs (Radio Controlled Aerial Targets) flying high overhead. The sergeant selected me to be a gunner on one of the half-tracks (twin 40mms were mounted on an open top turret). Our half-track happened to be second in line. Using the metal speed-ring sight that allowed for wider peripheral vision rather than the mounted narrow monocular lens, I knocked down quite a few RCATs as they passed overhead. It got to the point that the Colonel ordered aircraft-pulled aerial target sleeves to be used. Too many RCATS were being shot down. One night on a four-hour pass, a bunch of us went to the local gasthaus to “suds it up.” Uniformed British troops were already inside pounding down the brewskis. It was a grand old night of camaraderie.
Field training over, and back at home, on our weekend passes several of us would catch the passenger train that passed by the Mannheim base. We usually rode it to the the edge of town to the closest gasthaus. A pretty brunette cocktail waitress, Gerta, treated me special. My buddies graciously stayed when I lingered longer than we normally did in any one place. We preferred to see all of the sights. On occasion, I would take the short train ride solo to see Gerta. She often sat beside me, and, using an active hand with a napkin under the table made drinking the German lager most enjoyable.
Friday, April 18, 1958 my buddies made sure I celebrated my 21st birthday properly by having me downing nearly all of the lager in Mannheim. The next morning, I barely crawled from the sack to prepare for barracks inspection. My eyelids literally were sealed shut from vomit after having puked while lying face up and then falling asleep. Aargh! After inspection, a couple of buddies and I played a prank on a guy named Bob Ford. He had just bought a two-door, two-cylinder Goggomobile, a microcar made by BMW that two grownups barely fit into. We went out to the parking area and literally lifted ithe car and carried it up to the second floor of our two-story barracks. We “parked” it in the hallway. When Ford returned from noon mess and found his “toy car” outside his room, he panicked. “How the hell am I going to get it down stairs?” We would’ve carried it back down, but we were laughing so hard that we didn’t notice him jumping onto the driver’s seat. He actually drove it down the stairs! Still amazed, we chased after him to open the doublewide doors leading to the parade ground so he could exit the building lest he crash through them and cause our weekend passes to be revoked. I recall Ford and I “hitting the town” that afternoon and getting very inebriated.
That night, Ford wanted to go to Heidelberg; so off we went. He was more “snockered” than I, so I drove. Top speed on the little vehicle, was about 47 mph. When we abruptly came upon a dense fog bank I didn’t notice the road curving around a low concrete divider. Our left front wheel struck it sending the car into a couple rolls. We ended up looking at each other while upside down. “You okay?” I asked him. “Yeah,” he replied. “Well,” I said, “let’s get out and roll this puppy back over before some car comes along and clobbers us from behind.” We did just that. The auto’s body was a crumpled mess; all the windows were spider-webbed. We were greatly relieved to see that the car still rolled freely on its 10-inch wheels. I keyed the motor alive with great relief, and we headed back to the barracks. When blue lights flashed behind us, I immediately pulled over. The polizei had seen the obvious damage to the car. I told them in broken German what had happened. They had us follow them to the station house where we sat for an hour or so while they drove back up the highway to ascertain if I had spoken the truth, or if we had collided and possibly killed a few people on the road. They eventually found the “flip over” site, the broken glass, scrape marks; and, being satisfied that we hadn’t killed anyone they let us go. My fourth near-death encounter.
The World’s Fair was in Brussels that summer. I requested and got a week’s leave, so I hopped onto a train and went to Belgium. That evening, I took in a new movie: The Young Lions. The cast had many notable actors: Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Dean Martin, Hope Lange, Barbara Rush, May Britt, Maxmilian Schell, Lee Van Cleef, Parley Baer. The downside for me was that it was subtitled. Still, I enjoyed viewing the first American movie since being in Europe.
The next morning, I toured the fairgrounds and saw the 335-foot tall Atomium with its tubes that connected to large spheres. I also saw a replica of Sputnik 1, the 23-inch diameter sphere satellite sent into orbit on October 4, 1957 by the Soviet Union. The original Sputnik burned up on January 4, 1958 as it fell from orbit upon reentering Earth’s atmosphere. It had travelling about 43.5 million miles while spending three months in orbit. The surprise success precipitated the American Sputnik crisis and triggered the Space Race, a part of the larger Cold War.
Following my leave, I got orders assigning me at the end of the month to attend the 7th Army NCO Academy in Munich. One evening, I took a taxi into town, to the gasthaus where Gerta worked. When I told her, she took it badly. Several days later a buddy told me that she was in hospital after having taken an overdose of sleeping pills. Feeling guilty, I got a three-hour pass and went to see her. I tried to assuage her, but not being in love with the woman I told her goodbye. I never heard how she did as the next day I left for Munich and three months of training in anticipation of promoting to sergeant.
While stationed in Munich, the city with the Rathaus-Glockenspiel at Marienplatz was celebrating its 800th year of incorporation. The Glockenspiel was part of the second construction phase of the New Town Hall; it dates from 1908. Daily at 11 a.m. (and at 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. in summer) it chimes and re-enacts two stories from the 16th century to the amusement of mass crowds of tourists and locals. It consists of 43 bells and 32 life-sized figures. The top half of the Glockenspiel tells the story of the marriage of the local Duke Wilhelm V (who also founded the famous Hofbräuhaus) to Renata of Lorraine. In honor of the happy couple there is a joust with life-sized knights on horseback representing Bavaria (dressed in white and blue) and Lothringen (dressed in red and white). The Bavarian knight wins every time, of course. This is then followed by the bottom half and second story: Schäfflertanz (the Coopers’ dance).
According to myth, 1517 was a year of plague in Munich. The Coopers (wooden, staved vessel makers) are said to have danced through the streets to “bring fresh vitality to fearful dispositions.” The Coopers remained loyal to the duke, and their dance came to symbolize perseverance and loyalty to authority through difficult times. By tradition, the dance is performed in Munich every seven years. This was described in 1700 as “an age-old custom,” but the current dance was defined only in 1871. The dance can be seen during Fasching (German Carnival before Lent): the next one is in 2019. The whole show lasts somewhere between 12 and 15 minutes depending on which tune it plays that day. At the very end of the show, a very small golden rooster at the top of the Glockenspiel chirps quietly three times, marking the end of the spectacle.
On my first three-day pass during the Academy stay, I hooked up with a tall pricey blonde prostitute, Doris Ratzinger, at the Dolly Bar. I refused to spend the 100 Deutsche marks she wanted. Still, I paid for a room and spent the weekend with her in nearby Schwabing. She was a true professional and taught me things I’d only dreamed of. As it turned out, she simply wanted us to marry so she could get a Green Card, her ticket to the U.S. Jumping ahead to the fall of 1960 and me back in Hollywood shopping at Alexander’s market on North Vermont, whom do I see pushing a cart my way, but Doris Ratzinger, only she had a different last name. She’d found and married a GI. A month later, while waiting for my entry date into the Los Angeles Police Academy, I worked as a women’s shoe salesman on Hollywood Boulevard at Chandler’s Originals. Again, whom do I see but the blonde Doris wearing short shorts and riding a bicycle eastbound (perhaps advertising her wares?). About a half dozen years later, while working plainclothes in Hollywood Division, my partner and I take a late Code 7 (dinner) at the Brown Derby Coffee Shop on Vine Street. Charlton Heston was also at the counter eating; by his snobbish attitude he obviously didn’t want to be disturbed. Meanwhile, who walks in dressed to the nines, and sporting a grey fur stole: Doris Ratzinger! She was in the arm of a rather short, well-dressed silver-haired man. She simply winked at me. Some months later, while looking through a Playboy magazine, I quickly recognized Doris’ very familiar derriere. She was standing in a line of nude women discreetly facing away from the camera. The article described a nude beauty contest that had recently been held at a private club in Topanga Canyon. Liberace’s brother, George, was a judge. Again, small world.
When I graduated from the NCO Academy I was told the “colors” of the 63rd AAA Battalion, my previous outfit, had been shipped back to Fort Benning, Georgia, in the States. Interestingly, during WWII the 63rd had been an all-black battalion. Anyway, I was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 18th Howitzer Division, in Darmstadt some miles to the north. The two-hectare Ludwig kaserne (barracks) was known as “Little Alcatraz” because concertina wire covered the tops of the perimeter walls. Another outfit, I don’t recall its designation, but a crew of seven operated the 280 mm caliber M65 Atomic Cannon. It weighed 83.3 tons (gun and carriage), and was 84 feet long, 16.1 feet wide, and 12.2 feet tall.
The cannon, nicknamed “Atomic Annie,” was transported by two specially designed tractors, both capable of independent steering in the manner of some extra-long fire engines. Each of the tractors was rated at 375hp, and the somewhat awkward combination could achieve speeds of 35 mph and negotiate right angle turns on 28-foot wide, paved or packed roads. The large artillery piece could be unlimbered in 15 minutes, then returned to traveling configuration in another 15 minutes. Its range was seven miles. I read that 20 had been manufactured at a cost of $800,000 each (at that time); also, that the prestige weapon became obsolete because of the development of rocket and missile-based nuclear artillery and was retired in 1963.
My new assignment was as a Courts-and-Boards Clerk recording (in long hand) courts-martial cases. By then I was speaking fairly passable German. I developed a shorthand style of writing by using just the first three letters of a word and omitting conjunctives, et cetera, and so was able to keep up with the testimony of German witnesses accusing our soldiers of misconduct.
My first Friday night in the “new” outfit, I joined other GI’s and headed for the Darmstader Hof, the most popular place in town. While enjoying a lager, I spotted a platinum blonde with an interesting face sitting with another soldier. I was told he drove a fancy red sports car. Unusual for a G.I., I thought, and figured he had money. When he left for the john, I went over and spoke to his date. She hardly spoke English. That didn’t stop me from setting up a date with her for the following evening at that very same place. The next night I sat waiting and wondering if Lutzie “Lucie” Beerstecher would show. She did. It was the beginning of a dating period that resulted in our marriage on July 10, 1959.
One day I was called before the Brass for promotion consideration and asked if I intended to re-enlist, I said “No sir.” Apparently, saying, “Yes sir” was the criterion for getting my sergeant stripes. I never got them. It bothered me. So, I decided I’d had enough of the “soft” life as a Courts and Boards clerk and asked for reassignment. I was transferred to the survey squad in Company C where I operated a tripod mounted 20-second transit. Our task was to survey “alert” positions for our battalion that we relocated every six weeks. In other words, if bombs ever dropped, our outfit would immediately head to the latest geographic position surveyed. The job put our four-man team (Computation man, two tape-men, and me, the transit operator) in the field every several weeks surveying new positions. Needless, to say, we often frequented the out-of-the-way gasthauses in the evening and met numerous frauleins. Being able to speak passable German helped. We soon got used to seeing girls with unshaved legs and armpits. My lady, Lucie, however, was the exception. She worked at a drugstore and was keen on all the beauty stuff. It explained her platinum hair color. She was, however, a natural blonde, as Mickey Spillane wrote in his thriller, “I The Jury.”
A member of the survey team, Art Gallmeyer, from Santa Rosa, California, got a bit miffed when I came aboard and took over as team leader; it had been his job. While preparing for a “GI party” (general inspection) we got to sparring with bare fists. He was a lefty. Our knuckles collided on one hard punch. It dislocated his right thumb and broke the middle metacarpal in my left hand. We couldn’t report our injuries or we would’ve been disciplined. It was quite painful but eventually the bone healed with a resultant mild bump above the break.
Now that I had a girlfriend, I bought a 1950 black Pontiac four-door from another G.I. who was rotating back to the States. I needed to more easily visit Lucie who resided in Eberstadt, a small town to the south. Her mom, Gertrud, was a neat lady reminding me of my own mom. They would’ve been good friends. Gertrud’s husband, Franz Fertig, was not Lucie’s father. In fact, she never got along with him. She said one evening after washing her hair, that he got upset and grabbed her and poured wine over her head. He then shoved her head into a heated oven yelling at her about only caring about herself. That was my first portentous revelation about Lucie. I got along well with Franz and Gertrud. Franz and I would go “kegling,” (nine-pin bowling with a small wooden ball) at a local alley while Gertrud and Lucie sat in a raised separate room drinking beer and watching the play through a large window.
Lucie and I married in a civil ceremony in Darmstadt. A couple of weeks later, we were re-married in the Felsenkirche (“Crag Church”) in Idar-Oberstein, near the Luxemburg border. The town is known as the gemstone center. It was where Gertrud had lived with her first husband, a diamond cutter. The unique church, built into the side of a rocky mountain, attracts tourists. Lucie and I honeymooned while on the road looping through Trier, Luxemburg City, into France and to Reims, Verdun, Metz, Nancy, Strasbourg, and then up the Rhein River and back to Eberstadt, and our new rented home on the second floor. The owners were a pleasant couple. Being married, I was now allowed to live off base. Eberstadt is about nine kilometers south of the Ludwig kaserne, a fifteen-minute drive north on the Heidelberger Strasse.
Life with Lucie wasn’t what I’d expected. I soon found out that she was extremely jealous and untrusting of me. If I even glanced at another woman she’d yell at me. Several months later, her cousin, Renata, from Idar-Oberstein came to visit. Several days later, Lucie told me she was going back with Renata for a weeklong visit to see her old friends. A month or so later, upon her return, I arrived home earlier than usual and found her in the bathtub self-aborting, using a metal coat hanger. It was bloody awful. She shouted that she had to do it. “I don’t want a baby!” While writing this autobiography it dawned on me that she might have gotten pregnant by another man while cavorting with Renata.
In April 1960, we took the train to Paris for a three-day holiday. It was a fun trip. We took in the Folies Bergère, and the La Rive Gauche, the Left Bank of the river Seine in the Latin Quarter, so named because originally Latin was widely spoken by students in the vicinity of the University of Paris. We also went to a small café to watch La Danse Apache, a highly dramatic dance associated in popular culture with Parisian street culture at the beginning of the 20th century. The name of the dance is pronounced with a soft sound unlike the uh-Patch-ee of the Native American tribe. We sat next to the small dance floor. The dance is sometimes said to reenact a violent “discussion” between a pimp and a prostitute. It includes mock slaps and punches, the man picking up and throwing the woman to the floor, or lifting and carrying her while she struggles or feigns unconsciousness. Thus, the dance shares many features with the theatrical discipline of stage combat. In some examples, the woman may fight back. Anyway, the female dancer selected me to join her and gestured for me to unbutton her blouse. I remember the look on Lucie’s face when I glanced at her; she appeared jealous. It was all in fun of course and the onlookers in the small café seemed to enjoy the show.
That night when we got back to the Hotel Burgundy near the Opera House, we discovered the wine-red carpeted floor in our second-floor room to be soaked. I had never seen a bidet before and prior to leaving for the show had used it to void my bladder. After turning on the water valve (handle) I walked away, not realizing I needed to manually crank it back to turn it off. In the room were two queen-sized beds aligned side-by-side. Lucie got into bed and crawled to the farthest one. I, meanwhile stepped into the bathroom and turned off the valve. Stripping, I then took one big leap and landed with one bare foot on the red carpet before jumping into the closest bed and then onto the next to join Lucie. The next morning, I spotted a red footprint on the bedcover of the other bed. As it turned out, we’re certain she got pregnant that night. Therefore, depicted on the front of our birth announcements is the image of a baby’s pink footprint. Lucie had no problem keeping this one. In fact, she faithfully performed stomach exercises to stay trim. Our daughter Debra-Dawn conceived in Paris was born in Hollywood late at night on Christmas Day 1960.
In May, 1960, our outfit traveled east three hundred kilometers to the Grafenwöhr Training Area for target-firing exercises. The effective range of the big gun was 18,373 yards (10.44 miles). Our squad was responsible for surveying the miles between the emplacements of our tow-pull 8-inch howitzer and an old armored tank situated in the target area; then camp in the forward observation post on a high ridge to observe the hits and report back the coordinates. We actually could see the missiles as they flew overhead toward the target. At the time, morale in Company C was at its nadir. I’d heard that the gun crews didn’t like the firing line officer, a rather ridged acting lieutenant, who oversaw the calling out of how many bagged charge ammunition to be used; there were five incremental propelling charges, from 1 (the smallest) to 5 (the largest) depending on how far the projectile needed to go to reach the target. I told Art Gallmeyer that if morale continued to remain low, that the Eighteenth, our outfit, was liable to make a gross “mistake” one day. A portentous statement as it turned out. Not long after that, in September, after returning Stateside as a civilian, I read in the L.A. Times about the deaths of seventeen soldiers caused by a mishap of an 8-inch howitzer at Grafenwöhr.
Worse, the troops involved belonged to my old outfit! Apparently, they were lined up outside a tented camp in formation prior to going to the mess hall, when a 200-pound round landed amidst them. A crewmember, called a “powder cutter” apparently had failed to remove two “green bags,” each containing 13 pound 14 ounces of propelling charge with a resultant overshoot of the target by 4,000 yards. Mistake, or on purpose by malcontents? Who knows. One G.I., however, Pfc. Raymond R. Riggs, the powder cutter, was taken into custody. He was court-martialed, and on December 27th, found not guilty of negligent homicide. The New York Times (Reuters) article published on Wednesday, December 28, 1960 was not clear (to me) as to the disposition of one of the officers involved. The Times article read: “the trial was the third in connection with the accident. The battery’s safety officer, Second Lieut. Mark Kempf of its executive officer, First Lieut. San Antonio, Tex., was convicted of negligent homicide and George Ogrady of Arlington Va., was acquitted on the same charge.” The above is not a typo but taken verbatim from Page 54 of the article. I’ve been unable to ascertain exactly what the trial results were regarding Second Lieutenant Kempf and the unnamed First Lieutenant, nor have I been able to identity the “convicted” First Lieutenant.
One weekend in June we drove to Lucie’s relatives home in Erbach on the Rhein River to attend the Erdbeere Fest (Strawberry Festival). In one drinking establishment, a converted barn owned by a baron, Lucie and I sat at the makeshift bar. I made the mistake of calling the barmaid “sweetheart,” something I was wont to do with gals but with no suggestive intent. Well, Lucie instantly slapped me hard. Without thinking and in a natural reaction, I swung my right arm back sending her sprawling across the room. Needless to say, all the men in the room jumped on me with bare fists. I fought them off until a barstool wielded by the owner, a baron, coming up behind me, cracked the top of my skull. I have the scar. I sank to my knees, but was able to rise and hit my behind-the-back assailant in the chops, knocking him backwards. I happened to be wearing a short-sleeved bright red shirt. Even in my dazed condition, I couldn’t tell where the sleeves ended for the blood pouring from my head had totally reddened my arms. I reeled out of the barn and staggered back to Lucie’s relatives’ house in tremendous pain. Long story short, a relative of Lucie’s drove me back home. I received no stitches as I didn’t want my sergeant to know what had happened, else the colonel would find out and I’d be subject to discipline. Another reason: I was due to rotate home within the month. Anyway, the baron, through Lucie’s relatives, located me and demanded money for his denture repair. As I recall it was several hundred dollars. I paid the baron off, and soon was driven to Frankfurt railroad station where I hopped a train north to Bremerhaven. I departed West Germany leaving Lucie to follow once I was situated in Hollywood in an apartment. My fifth near-death encounter.
Coincidentally, I sailed back to New York on the same merchant ship that had taken me to Europe! This time, however, I volunteered for kitchen patrol duty, KP. The kitchen was located in the center of the ship, so less rolling and yawing. I’d had enough of flying “omelet’s” on deck thirty months earlier. Besides, after the dinner mess, I could remain in the area with the other KP guys and play double-deck pinochle late into the night. I became friends with Bob Neal, actress Patricia Neal’s younger brother. In fact, we were on the same flight from New York to L.A. On it, we both got so drunk, that our khaki trousers were soaked from spilled beer caused by our plane hitting air pockets and making sudden drops. When we arrived at Fort Ord, no one seemed to notice or care. One day later, I was on a four-engine TWA plane flying south to L.A. and home. I never saw Bob Neal again. Three years later, I was pleased to see that his sister had won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Hud, co-starring Paul Newman, Brandon de Wilde and Melvyn Douglas. The cinematographer, James Wong Howe, won his second Academy Award for the movie. Howe’s reputation had me re-considering cinematography. He was a master at the use of shadow and was one of the first to use deep-focus cinematography, in which both foreground and distant planes remain in focus. Gregg Toland was the first. During Howe’s career he earned ten Oscar nominations. His two Academy Awards both came during the period when Best Cinematography Oscars were awarded separately for color and black-and-white films. However, Howe successfully made the transition to color films and earned his first Academy Award nomination for a color film in 1958 for The Old Man and the Sea.
And, as I have written above, James Wong Howe won his second Academy Award for 1963’s Hud. His cinematography remained inventive during his later career. For instance, his use of fish-eye and wide-angle lenses in Seconds (1966) helped give an eerie tension to director John Frankenheimer’s science fiction movie. Howe’s earliest discovery was his use of black velvet to make blue eyes show up better on the orthochromatic film stock in use until the early 1920s. Finally, his technique of using of dramatic lighting and deep shadows later became associated with film noir. His best-known work was almost entirely in black and white.
Upon my return to Hollywood, the apartment I found was a relatively new two-story apartment building. It was located at 1117 North Kingsley Drive, (Now and elementary school) two blocks west of where I had once resided on North Normandie. Much to my surprise, the manager was an old friend from my valley church days, Al Imbach. He now was a professional trombonist playing nightly with Rosy McHargue’s Dixieland jazz band in Pasadena. Before Lucie arrived in L.A., I drove to Pasadena to listen to the band. I am still in touch with Al. He later moved to Las Vegas and “blew as a sideman” in several different bands. He had stories to tell me about his life in Las Vegas, including his memories of the famous “Rat pack.” He no longer “blows the bone,” but currently writes big band charts (and in long hand no less) for an album he plans to release one day. He’s already given me a disc containing several arrangements.
I soon rehired as an Intermediate Clerk Typist for the State of California, this time with the Board of Accountancy located in downtown L.A. One afternoon President Kennedy, being heralded on Broadway passed standing in a Cadillac convertible. I went out to see him and was impressed by his tan. He looked much better than photographs portraying him. Hearing of his escapades with Marilyn Monroe, apparently set up by Peter Lawford, and knowing Tinsel Town as well as I did, the rumor didn’t surprise me.
A week later, Lucie arrived at LAX. Woody and Mom were with me to greet her as she deplaned. Woody abruptly commented, “Uh oh, here comes trouble.” In retrospect, his comment was the second portentous comment I’d heard. Apparently, Lucie, an attractive woman with her platinum colored hair piled high, and a curvaceous figure that stood out in her fitted gray suit striding toward us across the tarmac like a model, was a bit too much for the older guy (And at the time, Lucie was four months pregnant!). But, it didn’t show. She did look striking in her tight skirt hemmed at knee level. I took a snapshot capturing her as she approached us.
Having a pregnant wife, I knew I couldn’t live on a clerk typist’s low salary. I had no real qualifications for another type of job, therefore I applied for the Los Angeles Police Department. There was a written test and an oral exam. I’d heard that only one in a 100 were accepted into the Academy, so I didn’t get my hopes up. During the period that the background investigator did his job, I make sure to stay in the top physical shape I had achieved while overseas.
At Christmastime, and as though Santa Claus knew what I wanted, I got the notice that I would be accepted into the February 6, 1961 class at the Police Academy above Chavez Ravine (pre-Dodger Stadium) in Elysian Park. I had another most wonderful present. As mentioned above, our eight-pound daughter, Debra-Dawn “popped” into the world about a half hour before midnight on Christmas Day. Disturbingly, however, she had jaundice, (excessive bile in the bloodstream) so we had to wait three days before bringing her home. When Debra finally came home, she was a good baby and soon was sleeping through the entire night.
The three months of police training was intensive, but I enjoyed every minute. As I said, I was in good shape and the physical fitness side was not a problem; and, running the infamous “Cardiac Hill” behind the Academy was a breeze. In fact, I set a new scoring record on the Physical Fitness Qualification test. Academically, I didn’t do as well, but still placed third out of the 63 graduating recruits in class. We’d started out with 75, but a dozen washed out, two were black. So none were in our graduating class, a time when black officers were needed on the department. Our number one student, I won’t name him, had been a former NYPD cop, so he had a head start on the rest of us. Number two, William “Bill” Shearer, held his own in PT, but he had the gray matter and it came through in spades for him in the final score. Decades later, Bill was appointed Chief of Police of Montrose, Colorado. At the time of our graduation, I was pleasantly surprised when my classmates honored me to be their valedictorian. I gave a short speech at our ceremonies held in the academy gymnasium. A blemish on our class was when the ex-NY cop got fired for thievery.
Having a better income, we could afford a small house in a new subdivision in Granada Hills on Sunderland Drive. It was high enough up a hill to provide a decent view of the San Fernando Valley. The purchase price was $18,250 and $250 was all that we had to put down. The monthly payment was $125. At the time, I was making $535 or so a month. To celebrate, I bought yards of fine dress fabric and hired a seamstress to make half a dozen outfits for Lucie. We then sent her to one of the John Robert Powers Modeling Schools. All the school accomplished, however, was to give her a bit more poise. Now she wanted to to get a job to make her own money. Her first employment was with Avon Cosmetics. She soon tired of going door-to-door and decided to be a waitress. She got her training working days at Bob’s Big Boy on Van Nuys Boulevard. Months later, without telling me, she quit Bob’s and began working at another restaurant nearby that had a liquor bar. She had hired on as a cocktail waitress. When I called her on it, she said she was making more tips and liked it. What Lucie liked, was working nights in a crowded bar. Her next job was as a night barmaid at the Drysdale’s Dugout, owned by Don Drysdale, the Dodger’s baseball pitcher. That year, 1962, he won the Cy Young Award. The next year he struck out 251 batters and won World Series Game 3 at Los Angeles’ new Stadium over the Yankees, 1-0. He had a 200 mph fastball. The Van Nuys High graduate was to become the Dodgers’ only .300-hitter; he tied his own National League record for pitchers with seven home runs. In 1984, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He passed away at age 56 on July 3, 1993. Among the personal belongings found in Drysdale’s hotel room was a cassette tape of Robert F. Kennedy’s victory speech after the 1968 California Democratic presidential primary; a speech given only moments before Senator Kennedy’s assassination. In the speech, Jack Kennedy had noted, to the cheers of the crowd, and that Drysdale had pitched his sixth straight shutout on that evening. Drysdale had apparently carried the tape with him wherever he went since Kennedy’s murder.
Hollywood Division patrol was my first LAPD assignment. Knowing the streets of “Tinsel Town” as well as I did, helped me get to “hot” calls more quickly. It resulted, on occasion, in solid arrests that gave me “numbers” that were among the highest on the watch. My first training partner, Bobby Sargent, rode Brahma bulls when he’d attended Pierce College in Woodland Hills, a section of the southwestern part of the San Fernando Valley. He and I got along well. Bobby had secretly told me what he’d had to do to physically qualify for the job. He said he’d had to hang upside down for an hour to stretch out his back, and then he “bopped” the top of his head creating a lump before he subjected himself to the physical examination for the job; otherwise he wouldn’t have passed the height requirement of 5’7”.
On Sundays we cops found ourselves assigned to the Griffith Park Task Force formed by Chief William Parker to quell the frequent disturbances caused by blacks around the Merry-go-Round area. President Kennedy, by Executive Order, had opened the nation’s parks to blacks. Soon, busloads poured into Griffith Park on weekends. Some misbehaved and took over the Merry-go-Round. When the seventy-five-year-old owner tried to evict them, all hell broke loose. Prior to this time, no black officer had been assigned to Hollywood Division. They were assigned to the south side of the city. As a result of this riotous situation, two blacks were sent to the 6th Division. Coincidentally, both officers had the same surnames: Franklin. One of them, Peyton, became my partner. He was an excellent cop, very friendly and outgoing.
One night, while I was on probation, both Bobby and Alan Dunn, my other training officer (three officers are assigned to a unit), had the night off. So, I teamed with red-haired Max K. Hurlbut who only had six months more on the job than I did, and he still was on probation! The watch commander, big Sergeant Willie Gough, didn’t realize the match up until too late, so Max and I went out on patrol. Obviously, that night was the only time we were partnered. Max went on to enjoy an illustrious law enforcement career, including being the chief of police of Kodiak, Alaska and later the Marshal of Tombstone, Arizona. The red head’s wide-ranging curiosity lead him to an adventurous life, such as testing experimental parachutes, hunting in the Congo, then being hunted in Sudan, and arrested in Egypt. Added to that, he saw action on the Thai-Cambodian border. Eventually, he married the Thai Colonel’s daughter while Advisor to the Special Warfare Command of the Republic of China. He’s now retired and living in a shoreline home overlooking Bellingham Bay in Washington. There’s more in Max’ autobiographical book: Vagabond Policeman. A worthwhile read.
Then there was the night my driving partner, Al Dunn, and I were cruising east on Sunset Boulevard and I spied a lone male dressed all in black walking east along the south sidewalk. Something about him didn’t seem right. I don’t know if he spotted our black-and-white patrol car, but when he suddenly turned south onto Formosa Avenue, my niggling suspicion prompted me to tell Al to turn right at the next corner and circle the block. Turning north onto Formosa with our headlights off, I could see no one on the east sidewalk. Long story short, near the end of the block my cord-attached spotlight illuminated the guy with one leg over the windowsill of a lower apartment. He hauled ass, and I took out after him, while my partner drove around the block, in the hope to intersect the guy’s path. I ran with, my five-cell flashlight in my left hand and my Colt revolver in my right between the buildings. The guy was already over the back wall and atop the intersecting wall on the left—the other side was a large vacant parking lot facing Sunset. When he realized he had no cover, he jumped back into the yard on the other side of the first wall. I heard a slight sharp noise as I banged my “weapon/flashlight filled” hands on the top of the wall. Somehow, I scrambled over and landed in the neighboring yard, just as the suspect rose to his feet. However, in his haste, he stumbled over a kid’s tricycle and fallen. It allowed me to shout “Freeze,” which he did. I held him at gunpoint until my partner arrived to cuff him. The lesson learned was never draw my weapon unless absolutely needed. My knuckles were skinned from scraping the top of the wall as I climbed over. The “burglar” turned out to be an assistant professor of physics at USC.
On November 5, 1961 a brush fire erupted in the Bel Air community. Eventually 484 homes were destroyed and 16,090 acres burned. The fire was fueled by a strong Santa Ana wind condition. Given the exclusive neighborhood’s location, there were multiple celebrities directly affected. Actors Burt Lancaster, Zsa Zsa Gabor, comedian Joe E. Brown, Nobel laureate chemist Willard Libby and composer Lukas Foss all lost their homes from the fire. Others that fought flames before they evacuated were then-former Vice President Richard Nixon, actor Robert Taylor, Kim Novak, film producer Keith Daniels and singer Billy Vaughn. As a direct result of the Bel Air Fire, the banning of wood shingle roofs in new home construction was enacted.
At the time, I was a rookie cop assigned with two others to work fire patrol at the intersection of Sunset and Beverly Glen Boulevards in the Holmby Hills. We only let proven residence drive into the smoky hills, and then only when the Fire Department captain said it was safe to allow entry. One day, a popular Oscar-winning actress with a “moon face,” her initials SM, gave me a lot of static for no reason. I guess she simply didn’t like cops. Another, much prettier actress, Ursula Andress, actually a true Hollywood sex symbol, acted just the opposite . . . and she was only a year older than I!
I have an indelible picture of the flowery green button-front blouse she wore. But actor John Derek had her tied up. Such luck. She had just filmed the first James Bond movie. In it, when she rose out of the Caribbean Sea in a white bikini sporting a large diving knife it was an iconic moment in cinematic and fashion history. That one scene made Ursula Andress the “quintessential” Bond girl. The film also “made” her a super star. Of note, the white bikini sold in 2001 for £41,125. While I worked the fire scene, another actress, Zsa Zsa Gabor, wanted to drive up to her place to retrieve jewelry from her floor safe. So, I escorted her and her two male friends to her “burned-to-the-ground” house. We cleared away the burnt rubble allowing her to access the safe. She retrieved a black velvet box containing jewelry.
After completing my yearlong probationary period, I requested and was transferred to Accident Investigation Division (AID). The assignment gave me exposure to the rest of the metropolitan area of Los Angeles. On the night of March 9, 1963 I was working traffic in Hollenbeck Division when a broadcast came over the police radio that shocked me. Two Hollywood Division officers, Ian Campbell and Karl Hettinger, had disappeared. There unmarked police car was found parked at Gower and Carlos. Empty. Joseph Wambaugh’s nonfiction book The Onion Field tells the complete story of their kidnapping by Gregory Ulas Powell and Jimmy Lee Smith (a.k.a. Jimmy Youngblood), so I won’t say more about it except to mention one personal episode. At the time, I was residing in my valley-view home in Granada Hills just west of the Knollwood Country Club, approximately 30 miles from downtown L.A. At this point, let me say that Ian and I were personal friends, both of us interested in plants and landscaping. He, his wife and their baby daughter resided not far from Lucie and I.
Here’s my point. That night, when I stepped into the locker room downtown in the eight-story Police Administration Building (PAB), I realized to my chagrin that I had left my service revolver at home! I only had my two-inch Colt snub-nose. Hurriedly donning my uniform, I raced into the watch commander’s office and told the A.M. WC of my plight. He directed me and my partner to “—sign out a black-and-white (patrol unit) and get the hell to my home, retrieve my damn service piece and then get onto my beat.” The point of this tale is that my partner and I were on our way back downtown and stopped eastbound on Rinaldi Street at Sepulveda Boulevard (this was months before the San Diego Freeway opened) waiting for a red tri-light. Sepulveda was the main road north out of Los Angeles. I later learned, from Karl Hettinger’s account of what occurred that night, that the bad guy in the passenger seat got the drop on Ian, forcing Karl, who already had his service revolver trained on the driver, to give up his piece. Once in charge, the suspects forced the officers into their automobile, with Ian told to drive.
Later, Karl reported that they were driving north on Sepulveda passing the Rinaldi intersection at around 11:00 p.m. That put them within a minute of my partner and I waiting in our unit for the red light to change to green! Had I spotted Ian driving north (assuming our headlights would have illuminated him). I definitely would have recognized him; and especially were he to have provided some type of facial distress signal upon seeing our black-and-white. I knew Ian was working a Felony Unit, a plainclothes patrol assignment, in Hollywood, as the night before I’d seen him as he turned left to go southbound onto Wilcox Avenue from Sunset Boulevard heading for the Hollywood station. I was northbound on Wilcox turning east onto Sunset. We did nod to each other.
It wasn’t made public until the next day as to what had happened to Ian and Karl; but I learned there had been a lengthy delay ordered by a police inspector in putting out a broadcast regarding the two officers’ disappearances; finally, when it did come out, it was too late to do any good, at least from my perspective. Had a timelier broadcast been put out over the police frequencies, I would have been on alert and with luck might have spied Ian behind the wheel driving north in a strange vehicle. Had that been the case, there might have been an entirely different ending to the tragic event and resultant horrifying death of my friend. The distance between the location where the officers were abducted, Carlos Avenue and the Rinaldi Street/Sepulveda Boulevard intersection, where my partner and I waited for the green light to flash on, is approximately 18 miles; and between 33- and 44-minutes of travel time depending on traffic. Based on the hour Hettinger said they were abducted, that would’ve put them passing before our unit at 11 p.m. Again, a timelier broadcast of their disappearance would have put me on high alert. Might I then have spotted Ian behind the wheel driving northbound in one of only a very few vehicles that had passed through the intersection at that time….? Assuming I had, what action would I and my partner have done? Who knows? It still haunts me that I had been so close to possibly seeing Ian, and then changing the awful situation that occurred that night when I lost a friend. I still question the Inspector’s reason for delaying the broadcast of their disappearance.
A few months later, I was assigned to work the freeways; this was years before the California Highway Patrol took over the duty. Our Department possessed several high-powered interceptors that were used to patrol the freeways. One night, the Pontiac Bonneville that Jerry “Jake” Jollota and I were riding in, he was driving, gave us quite a thrill. It happened on the transition road from southbound Harbor Freeway to westbound San Diego Freeway: “Hey Jake,” I casually commented. “What’s that flying by your window?” He looked over and muttered, “Our left rear wheel.” After that incident, the steel wheels on the interceptors were made double thickness and the lug bolts strengthened. By the way, my late partner, Jake, had no problem keeping the vehicle on track and safely steering it to the shoulder.
Not long after that, my first patrol partner, Bobby Sargent, challenged me to try out for “Motors” (Traffic Enforcement Division). After a hiatus of a couple of years, a new training class of two dozen had been scheduled. Although I had never ridden a motorcycle in my life, I reluctantly accepted my partner’s challenge. The riding class was held in east Griffith Park and along the concrete bank of the L.A. River. The older training bikes were the big Harley-Davidsons but without the radio equipment or windshields. Training consisted of us doing figure eights at idle speed on the sloped concrete river bank. Bobby failed to qualify, surprising me. While attending Pierce College in the San Fernando Valley, Bobby had ridden Brahma bulls in the school’s rodeos. He was a tough man. Admittedly, the rigorous driving routines were most challenging, at least for me. And with Bobby gone, my mind was not fully into be a motor cop; still I passed and became a motor cop. After retirement from the LAPD, in the mid-80s, Bobby Sargent, still a bachelor, moved to Hamilton, Montana. I visited with him and noted he was drinking heavily. Not long after, he passed away. Sad. I miss him.
Department procedure allowed motor officers to ride their city-issued bikes home. The reasoning was for them to be available for immediate call-out whenever a situation called for an immediate show of force by the police. Note: with all the radio equipment, two saddlebags, flares, and a windshield, et cetera, the motorcycle weighed something over a thousand pounds. Anyway, two weeks into my new assignment I took my assigned bike into the Motor Transport Division garage on San Pedro Street for routine maintenance. “Big Wes,” the head mechanic straddled the seat and proceeded to show off by speeding the bike up the short east side concrete ramp behind the shop. At the top the bike cleared air and then landed with a thump. His horsing around cracked the windshield at the mounting bolts. So, the bike had to stay overnight for repair. I was provided an older spare bike. As soon as I mounted it I had misgivings.
Riding the bike home to Granada Hills on the recently opened San Diego Freeway heading northbound at 65 mph, the speed limit, I experienced a mild wobble. I slowed and was able to get the bike to track properly. It was early August and the weather quite warm. I had yet to buy a leather jacket; but I had purchased Danner boots which depleted my budget for the month. Early the next morning, wearing a long-sleeved navy blue wool uniform shirt, motorcycle breeches, boots and a Bell-Toptex helmet, I headed to work. Cresting the rise on the Hollywood Freeway southbound in the Cahuenga Pass at Barham Boulevard, I experienced another wobble, again at 65 mph. I was riding in the number one lane next to the center divider; in those days a chain link fence. Continuing down the grade, I slowed, but the front-wheel wobble worsened so badly that the handlebars were nearly slapping the sides of the gas tank, and about to throw me off the bike!
Immediately I accelerated—a technique taught at the riding school to stop wobbling. I took the bike up to max speed, 100 mph, before finally getting it stabilized as I approached the right curve near the Hollywood Bowl. That’s when it happened! Suddenly, the rear wheel began fishtailing—the wobble had simply transferred from the front wheel to the back wheel. I had absolutely no steering control. And at the speed I was traveling, I would hit the center divider within seconds. Autos were in adjacent lanes and also behind me. During the training school, we’d been taught to step on the brake pedal and lay the bike down on its left side while riding atop it; that was on soft dirt. The freeway surface was asphaltic concrete. And, doing as taught, meant likely being shredded by the chain link fence! Having to make an instant choice, I stood on the brake pedal, cranked the handlebar to the right, and laid the bike on that side. I intended to ride the bike’s topside; however, the violent maneuver and wobbling caused my right foot to slide off and hit the pavement. It forced me to release my hold on the handlebars. The bike toppled. I flew forward. The bike landed on top of my legs, and shoved me forward through the accumulated gravel along the center divider. Later, it was determined by the scrape marks that I was only a yard shy of making a touchdown. My sixth near-death encounter.
Although almost knocked unconscious, I immediately attempted to lift the heavy bike off of my legs hoping to crawl out. I was on the left edge of the number one lane, but due to a vertical break of my right scapula I was unable to lift the bike. Soon, a man was looking down at me. He tried to un-strap my helmet, but was unable. He later told me the strap was buried in a deep avulsion below my chin and he couldn’t release it. A tan rescue ambulance arrived within minutes and transported me to Central Receiving Hospital on Loma Drive. (The hospital no longer exists). Angry at my situation, I refused to let the excruciating pain put me out. Later, Doctor Bob Morgan, who operated on me, told me that patients in my condition either cried like babies or were profane as hell. I was the latter. I was on the operating table for six-and-a-half hours, with most of the time being spent by medical staff just cleaning the debris from my swollen right arm. “Dr. Bob” using skin “peeled” from my right thigh applied paper thin strips of it to several avulsed areas: my right knee, my right elbow and my right mandible. Eighty percent of the ulnar nerve in my right arm had been damaged. The ulnar is the largest unprotected nerve in the human body (meaning unprotected by muscle or bone). It is directly connected to the little finger, supplying the palmar side of these fingers, including both front and back of the tips, perhaps as far back as the fingernail beds.
The following day, Dr. Bob came to my room and told me he’d give me 24 hours, to work the fingers of my right hand. If I couldn’t it meant amputation of my right arm. He was concerned about gangrene. Because of the numerous skin abrasions that I’d sustained, my body oozed a bloody fluid. So, I lay propped up on pillows to prevent my skin from adhering to the bed sheets. Since my scapula could not be casted, any movement by my upper torso was a killer. Anyway, after a night of deep concentration on moving my fingers to save my arm, Dr. Bob arrived at my bedside. When I was able to barely move two fingers, the doc said, “Jess, you just saved your arm.”
Months later, I went to the home of a fellow motor officer, Jack Lawler; he’d been in my motorcycle riding class. I decided to straddle his police Harley to see how comfortable I felt on it. Doing so, gave me an eerie feeling. I realized I likely could never ride a motorcycle again. About a year later, Jack was sitting astride his bike on a Santa Ana Freeway onramp observing traffic watching for speeders when a motorist ran into Jack’s bike from behind, killing him.
Okay, back to my physical recovery. Once back home in Granada Hills I spent as much time outdoors to suck in the September air and exercising a lot to regain my strength. During the next two years I would undergo several plastic surgeries to the avulsed area under my jaw. Meanwhile, I became interested in landscaping our property. Next door, a big blond fellow with a stout helper was doing just that to the grounds. I got to talking to him. Turned out he was also an LAPD cop, George Stephenson, as was his helper, John Jurgensen. Both worked Van Nuys Division. I was favorably impressed with George’s design of the back yard around the newly installed swimming pool. As my strength returned to my right arm, I began helping George with lightweight stuff. That almost came to an end, however, when one day while bent over tending to the narrow planter alongside the driveway of our house, a gunshot sounded. Hearing a loud whap, I quickly stood and raced into the house. In the small den, on the opposite side of the wall where I’d been kneeling, three-year-old daughter Debra stood, wide-eyed, and frozen, and still holding my service revolver in her outstretched arms. I learned then to place the firearm on a top shelf with a pawl of my Peerless handcuffs looped through the trigger frame prohibiting any discharge. I then went back outside and found the spent .38 slug embedded in a 4×4 post across the driveway. The bullet’s trajectory through the house wall revealed that I had narrowly missed having been gut shot. My seventh near-death encounter.
As the month of November ’63 came to a close, I contacted Mom’s friend, Sergeant Joe Whitehead, now the LAPD’s Medical Liaison Officer. I convinced him that I was ready to return to work on a light-duty basis. He said he would arrange it. He also told me that the T.E.D. captain, on the advice of motor lieutenant, Barney Hroza, would be removing me from his command, having deemed me to be an unsafe operator of a motorcycle. Secretly, I was relieved, though I felt a bit raw about the decision. In December I was assigned to the Valley Communications Unit where I worked the complaint board located in Van Nuys Division. At the time, and nearby, a new police administration building was under construction. Before donning my uniform to accept that assignment, however, the shocking news flashed over the nation’s airwaves. President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas, at 12:30 p.m. Central Standard Time.
For the month of December, I worked the complaint board handling incoming calls for police service. Then, in January, 1964, I was assigned to guard the still-being-constructed Valley Services Building during the morning watch hours. I remember seeing “plugs” lying about in the hallway floors. They came from small holes that had been drilled into the walls. I later learned that various electronic bugs had been installed. That was my first introduction to Internal Affairs Division. Finally, I was returned to full duty and worked a radio car.
My probationary partner James D. Weaver, who towered over me, and I worked well together in unit 9A81. He particularly enjoyed working traffic. During my three years on the job I had learned how to “tease” drivers to “rabbit.” In other words, rather than close in on the rear of a violator’s vehicle, I would hang back and then flip on the “reds.” Doing so, gave the violator the option of pulling over or trying to evade being stopped. Big Jim and I had a pursuit practically every night! It was fun duty. None escaped our clutches except for a motorcycle rider who out-maneuvered me with his lights off and got away in the dark.
During our months as partners, Jim and I became close friends. We both had German shepherd puppies from the same litter. He named his dog Justice. I named mine Bullet after Roy Rogers’ movie-famous canine. We enjoyed taking them out to the desert not far from Jim’s house in Santa Clarita where we would target practice using our service revolvers. Jim and his then wife Janet named their next baby, a son, Jerome Waid Weaver, honoring me. Interestingly, when Jim retired as a basic-rank officer, he took a job as the bodyguard for Christopher Reeves (Superman) and also comedian/ actor Robin Williams. Following that stint Jim moved to Jerome, Idaho where he was elected Sheriff for two four-year terms. I never asked him why Jerome, Idaho. Perhaps, it had something to do with his son’s name. Now, Big Jim is fully retired and living a leisurely life with his lovely wife, Karen. He told me he enjoys playing golf in The Woodlands, Texas and attending LAPD reunions.
One unforgettable late night, later that year, my wife, Lucie, was at work, and I was home with daughter Debra. Jim arrived and told me he had something he wanted me to see. I hesitated leaving my daughter alone, but Jim convinced me I had to go with him. So, after checking to make sure Debra was sleeping soundly, I went next door and asked a neighbor lady to watch Debra for an hour or so while I was away. Jim drove us into Van Nuys and parked where we could watch the street outside the bar where my Lucie worked. It was closing time. We watched her leave the bar and walk past our ’63 Chevrolet Bel Air and get into a vehicle parked behind it. A lone male sat behind the wheel. They embraced. When I recently asked Jim what my reaction was, he said I reached for my back-up gun and that he had to use “all my power to disarm you.” To continue, Lucie exited the guy’s car and then followed him east in our Chevy to an apartment building on Vineland Avenue. I later learned the guy’s last name was Valerio. After they disappeared into the building I told Jim. “Take me home.” I realized that a confrontation served no useful purpose and likely would cause problems for me on the job; besides, I had a babysitter who likely wanted to get some sleep. Around five o’clock and before sunup, Lucie arrived home, her blonde hair hanging over her shoulders. When she’d left the bar, her hair was stacked high as she liked to wear it. Anyway, I queried her and got the usual story that after closing the bar she and “girlfriends” had gone to a coffee shop on Ventura Boulevard for breakfast. I didn’t mention what I had observed, and told her I wanted her to come straight home from then on and if she didn’t abide with my request that she would see me walking out the door. Nothing changed. So, I moved into an apartment on Central Avenue in Glendale.
After several months, I decided to give Lucie another chance and moved back into the Sunderland house. I quickly learned that she hadn’t changed her pattern of coming home at sunrise. I then left for good and rented an apartment with a community pool on Calle Vaquero next to Glendale Community College’s Sartoris Field.
At that time, Captain Earle Sansing, the commander of LAPD’s Personnel Division, perusing my file, decided I didn’t have sufficient job seniority to work in a “sought after” Valley division, so he transferred me to Hollywood Division. I didn’t mind, although I did miss working with Big Jim. I soon was assigned to work the Felony Car, a divisional plainclothes assignment that my friend Ian Campbell and his partner, Karl Hettinger, had worked. The Felony Car usually didn’t get assigned radio calls as their primary focus was on felonious situations and to take appropriate action when seeing a felonious crime. In other words, bust “bad guys.” One night, my partner, Maurice “Mo” Moore, and I made 23 felony arrests, mostly breaking up pot parties. Likely, still the record for arrests in a single watch by a two-man team. Moore went on to promote to Deputy Chief, being one of the first black officers to achieve that rank. Our other partner, Neal Spotts, upon his retirement from the LAPD, went to work for Hugh Hefner as Chief of Security for Playboy Enterprises. After Neal’s second retirement from there he moved to Wisconsin where. I was saddened to hear that a couple of years later he passed away.
My divorce from Lucie resulted in her retaining our Valley house, the Chevrolet Bel Air, and our savings account; plus, the court ordered me to pay $100 of my $585 monthly salary to her for child support. Anyway, I had enough “pocket” cash to buy a green-and-crème ’56 Mercury two-door that literally was on its last “wheels.” It got me to work and back for several months which allowed me to pick up daughter Debra every other weekend from her school. Weekdays she boarded at the Villa Cabrini Academy in San Fernando. During her junior high years, she attended Mount St. Mary’s in Beverly Hills. Anyway, she enjoyed the pool at my Glendale apartment. By the time the Mercury “died,” I had saved enough money to buy a 1963 Austin-Healey Mk II 3000. One Sunday evening in the spring of 1965 while driving Debra to the Cabrini academy, it started to rain causing the oily freeway surface to slicken. Traffic continued to move at 65 mph. Suddenly, I felt the Healey’s rear wheels lose traction; then the rear end shifted to the left and the sports car began sliding sideways. I held the steering wheel steady, lifted my foot off the gas pedal, and restrained the urge to apply the brakes to avoid worsening the slide. We were in the center lane. Frantically, I eyed the vehicles closest to me and made slight adjustments to the steering wheel to keep the slide under control as much as possible. In moments, we were going backwards into the rightmost lane. Headlights now were directed at us and closing. We were slowing and thankfully steering had become more effective. I successfully guided the Healey onto the shoulder. Cars still sped by as if we weren’t even on the road. Crazy. Once out of the traffic lane I braked. During the slide I had glanced at my wide-eyed but silent daughter. Once stopped, I faked not being nervous, and smiling, said, “Wow, wasn’t that fun.” She was still wide-eyed and staring at me. My forced casual tone and distracting words seemed to work as she relaxed and eventually smiled back. That was my eighth near-death experience; Debra’s first. Debra later became a fire fighter in San Diego, one of the first females to join the city department. No telling how many life-threatening events she’s since experienced. She promoted to Engineer prior to retiring and now lives on a hilltop home in Jamul, south of San Diego with her paramour, Jim, and their two dogs. They are planning to move to the Reno, Nevada area.
In late 1964, my days as a felony car officer came to an end, and my LAPD career took a path I had not planned when I joined on February 6, 1961. What I soon learned: The City of Los Angeles was in the process of selling its correctional facility in Saugus to the County Sheriff’s office. That meant that about forty Correctional Officers would lose their jobs. Chief Parker convinced Civil Service that said personnel would be valuable to the City as Station Officers (essentially jailers) if they could be properly trained to handle the booking procedures and the requisite paperwork, including using a typewriter to type out booking forms. That’s when I got a phone call from Lieutenant Robert J. Miller, adjutant to Deputy Chief Noel A. McQuown, commander of the Personnel and Training Bureau. Miller told me to report to his office on the fifth floor in the PAB for a job interview. He had previously searched through the Department’s personnel files seeking an officer who had teaching experience and who also was a typist. While I was at the NCO Academy in Munich in ’58, part of the curriculum included classes on “How to teach.” That trivial fact was in my file. And since I’d also been a clerk typist as an employee of the State of California (also in my file), I got the call. It resulted in my being transferred to the Main Jail where space had been provided for a classroom. I then taught the potential Station Officers how to type. It was successfully accomplished within two months, and the City hired all the men.
Chief McQuown, greatly pleased with the program’s success, decided I would be his Analytical Officer. Again, not my plan. I wanted to be a detective. Anyway, that became my next assignment. A basic rank officer had little choice as to where he would be assigned. Among other things, I was responsible for writing the Medal of Valor certificates which were permanently mounted on “Perma Plaques.” and then presented to the recipient officers at an annual dinner. I enjoyed the challenge of reiterating the hero officers’ exploits succinctly yet effectively, but I’d have much preferred being out in the field chasing bad guys. I also was responsible for keeping the Uniform and Personal Equipment and Specifications Manual up to date; it delineated the Department’s requirements for uniforms, batons and revolvers. My job was to meet with the suppliers to ensure they abided by our regulations. I soon realized the whole program was slipshod and open to graft. Therefore, I wrote a new manual that provided the Department with quality control of all uniforms (officers and command staff) and personal equipment. That’s when the chief authorized me to travel to the mills to meet with the factory executives and thus established a closer working relationship with them. I flew east and was on the road for three weeks, traveling from New York in the north to Miami in the south, and several states in between. One weekend toward the end of my tour, and during my personal time, I spent enjoying in Nassau, Bahamas. It was nothing like the place is today, having only one beachside hotel with a pool. It was my first exposure to the unique steel drum music that the islanders had taught themselves. They made the drums from discarded 55-gallon steel barrels left behind by the U.S. military during the Second World War.
In July 1965, I flew to Honolulu for a vacation. Small world, Woody’s niece, Loralee, was also vacationing there with her husband, a dentist. I found them on Waikiki beach. Loralee and I knew each other since childhood having met in Fresno at her parents’ house during the annual Christmastime Woodruff family reunion.
That mid-August, the Watts Riots erupted. I was at Chief McQuown’s side for 37 straight hours, including driving him into the “war” zone where looters were running wild; autos and buildings were afire. When a bullet passed through our car from wind-wing to wind-wing, the chief decided we should return to the command post in the PAB. Definitely, a memorable experience. That afternoon, while driving in the east valley heading home to “crash” for several hours, a bullet stuck the windshield in line with my throat but glanced off leaving a pock mark! My ninth near-death experience. The next day I returned to the PAB and found Chief McQuown still working. He was still on duty and had been for 48 hours. There’s more to tell about the Watts rioting incident, but I will not include it in this writing.
On July 16, 1966, Chief William H. Parker abruptly passed away. The funeral procession followed a seven-mile route from downtown Los Angeles and out to the San Fernando Valley Mission cemetery. I drove Chief McQuown’s police vehicle; the second one behind the hearse. His status as head of the Personnel and Training Bureau put him in charge of the whole affair. Thousands of people attended the chief’s funeral. The American Legion Police Post 381 Band played “Hail to the Chief” as his casket was lowered to rest. Taps sounded, followed by a multi-rifle-firing salute. The sense of an era lost definitely was in the air. Thad Brown, Chief of Detectives, acted as interim chief of the Department. After a rather lengthy period of time involving written and oral exams before the Los Angeles Police Commission, Deputy Chief Thomas Reddin who had been in charge of the Technical Services Bureau, became the chief of police. Reddin remained the chief until May 6, 1969 when he accepted a TV news commentator job. Meanwhile, he also owned a private security company: Tom Reddin Security.
I was working the “back room” at the P&T Bureau when Chief Reddin decided he wanted the LAPD uniform updated. He claimed to be tired of wearing the heavy woolen staff officers’ uniform he called a “horse blanket.” As a result, McQuown had me coordinate the new uniform with Johnny Golden, head of Western Costumes, Inc. Golden’s business was on Valentino Place adjacent to Paramount Studios main gate on Melrose Avenue. The result for the LAPD troops was the end of the eight-point hat; replaced by a heavier saucer-shaped hat (Not really conducive to patrol work). The gold-toned “P” button were replaced with pewter-toned “LAPD” embossed buttons, a positive change. A burnished metal nameplate with black lettering was affixed to the right pocket flap for easy on-and-off placement. Wearing nameplates by police departments patrol officers was a relatively new idea; part of Chief Reddin’s “relating with the community.” The cotton Melton jacket was replaced with a laminated navy blue wool “Ike” style jacket (it didn’t go over well and was soon discarded). A new equipment belt to replace the “Sam Browne,” was designed by Neil Perkins of Safariland Leather Products. It featured all Velcro closures for the belt-mounted ammunition and handcuff cases as well as the belt itself, thus eliminating the large chrome buckle which Perkins claimed made an easy target for the bad guys to shoot at, not to mention the chrome snaps on the detachable four belt loops. (It, too, didn’t please the troops and eventually was replaced with the traditional belt with buckle). Sergeants’ stripes and five-year tenure hash marks stitched onto the uniforms were changed from white to a silver tone; also, for the traffic officers’ divisional shoulder patch and motorcycle “wings” insignia. The metallic silver metal band on the sergeants, lieutenants and captains’ caps was added. The staff uniform was trimmer and of a lighter weight wool fabric. Rank was displayed on silver-rimmed epaulets (a la the Union Army) for captains (silver bars) and the higher ranks (silver stars). A narrow silver stripe ran down the outside of the trousers legs. The “scrambled eggs” on staff officers’ vinyl cap visors was changed from gold to silver. The only “gold” on the uniform was the Expert Medal, won for target shooting. The Sharpshooter medal was silver. I took a lot of flack for the new uniform, as if the changes to the uniform were my doing. The troops tagged the Safariland buckle-less belt the “Bruce Brown belt.” Perkins’ idea behind the removal of the large chrome buckle and the chrome snaps on the service belt’s accoutrements (bullet and handcuff cases), including the four narrow wrapping straps that held the equipment belt to the trousers’ under-belt that fed through the trousers’ belt loops, was officer safety. As mentioned above, Perkins had convinced Chief Reddin that the chrome belt made it easier for a shooter to target an officer’s midsection in the dark. (Notice the Sam “Bruce” Browne buckle-less belt in the above photos)
The Beat, a quarterly magazine published by the LAPD, featured the new uniforms for male and female officers, including a cover photo. Officer Barbara Guarino and I were the models. I regret not keeping a copy so am unable to place a photo of it here.
While Reddin was chief of police he helped modernize the Department; introducing the community-policing concept that “perceives the community as an agent and partner in promoting security rather than as a passive audience.”
During Tom Reddin’s tenure as COP, he allowed his name and office to be use in the first three seasons of the revived version of the Jack Webb-created detective drama Dragnet; Reddin’s name also was used as technical advisor in the first season (1968-1969) of the police drama, Adam-12. One day, because of my experience with the development of the new uniform, Chief Reddin sent me to the KNBC TV studio in Burbank to advise Webb on the proper wearing of the uniforms worn by the actors Martin Milner (Pete Malloy) and Kent McCord (Jim Reed). In other words: placement of the nameplate, tie bar, and items on the equipment belt. Talking to Milner I learned that he was a 1949 graduate of North Hollywood High School. I knew that Don Drysdale and Robert Redford, also NHHS students, had graduated six years after Milner. His older age surprised me as he was quite young looking. While at the studio, I also met Pat Sajak, host of Wheel of Fortune. At that time, he was a weatherman. Also being filmed at the studio was The Virginian. While there, I met various actors, including the late Doug McClure, who played “Trampas.”
In 1968 (prior to the finalization of the new uniforms) Chief McQuown retired and the Deputy Chief of Corrections, Robert Houghton, took over the P&T Bureau; by then it had been renamed the Administrative Services Bureau (ASB).
I must note that it was highly unusual for an officer to remain in a bureau assignment for as long as I had been in (P&T/ASB). When Deputy Chief Houghton retired, Deputy Chief Daryl F. Gates took over. His adjutant was Lieutenant Marvin D. Iannone whose older brother, Nathan, had been an LAPD staff officer. He had retired to teach at a university. Marvin Iannone, upon his later retirement from the LAPD, became the chief of the Beverly Hills Police Department. Daryl Gates later promoted to chief of police. The troops loved him. He often participated in various police running contests and relays in the Southern California area, often sponsored by the Department and always orchestrated by Officer Chuck Foote. On several occasions, Gates participated; including a Laguna Beach relay where he ran the final leg. There’s much to say about my relationship with the man, but the bottom line was he didn’t care for me; probably because we had dated the same two women, one of whom he met through me. One afternoon he phoned and told me to bring the lady I was seeing up to the eighth floor dining room that afternoon during my coffee break time, so that he could meet her. Anyway, when I subsequently passed the Captain’s written exam with a score that likely guaranteed promotion, I ended up at the bottom of the list (I was given a very low oral grade). Having earned decent oral scores when testing for both sergeant and lieutenant ranks, I knew I had handled the oral reasonably well. Simply put, my low oral score was unfair. It became apparent to me that “another” phone call had been made, this time to the sitting oral board members. That’s when I realized my future on the LAPD meant no more promotions. I have little doubt that Daryl Gates had influenced the board. It is one of two reasons why I left the LAPD after nearly 22 years; the other reason was the job offer I couldn’t refuse (see below).
While working at ASB, I promoted to sergeant, yet rather than being transferred as is usual, I was kept there for another several months. When Gates came in, he expanded the “back room” where I as analytical officer had my desk. He also brought in Bernard Parks, a bright and rather personable guy. He would later become the Chief of Police (August 12, 1997) taking over for the “imported” Willie L. Williams, the first black L.A. chief of police who was brought in after Daryl F. Gates long reign as COP ended. Chief Gates pretty much was forced to resign due to pressure from the City Council. Chief Williams, who came from the Philadelphia Police Department, served from 1992 to 1997. During his term, he tried to create a positive image of the Department and close the rift created between the police and black neighborhoods caused by the violent 1991 arrest of Rodney King (during Gates’ period). Chief Williams never took the Peace Officers Standards and Training, POST, exams required to become a peace officer in California. Therefore, not being POST certified, he could not make legal felony arrests; and so, due to lack of certification, Williams provisional membership in the California Police Chiefs Association was terminated early in his tenure. The California legislature subsequently passed special legislation defining Chiefs of Police as peace officers regardless of POST certification, thus enabling Chief William to legally carry a firearm. However, the Los Angeles Police Commission declined to renew his contract, citing his failure to fulfill his mandate to create meaningful change in the Department in the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Willie Williams is now deceased. As mentioned above, Bernard Parks then became chief of police. When Parks retired from the Department, he went on to become an L.A. City Councilman.
Back to 1969. It was the year I finally left ASP and transferred to Hollywood Patrol Division, my old “stomping grounds.” I enjoyed my time there as a field supervisor (sergeant). I had good cops as my “charges.” Several incidents are worth mentioning. One took place on the west side of the division. I responded to a “supervisor request” call. Upon arrival I learned from a mother and the first arriving officer, Tony Diaz, that the woman’s twenty-year-old son had stabbed himself with a butcher knife. I entered the apartment and observed the shirtless guy sitting on a chair pushing and then pulling the long blade in and out just below his left pectoral muscle. I realized his lung had been penetrated as bloody froth bubbled out the blade’s entry. A rescue ambulance unit was called to the scene, however the crew had no choice but to stand by until the subject was in custody. It became a “stand off.” The reason: whenever Diaz would approach, the young man would shove the knife in further. Eventually, being a bit desperate, I tried a psychological trick: convince him that he needed to take a “leak.” That I actually coaxed him out of the chair surprised me. When he rose to head for the bathroom he pulled out the knife. As he turned away I signaled Diaz and we grabbed the guy’s arms and Diaz disarmed him. Amazingly, guy survived the gruesome ordeal. I visited with his mother weeks later and confirmed her son’s now healthy condition. She informed me that he was a savant and was a virtuoso on the classical piano. Sadly, in 2015 Officer Tony Diaz passed away.
While I was a patrol sergeant, another rather unusual incident occurred. It happened on a “slow” Sunday afternoon. Again, I responded to a “Request for a supervisor” call. At the scene the responding officer introduced me to the woman who had notified the police. She told me her husband had assaulted her and now was inside their ground-floor apartment ranting and raving and waving about a loaded revolver. There was no talking the man out of the apartment, so I had an officer use a telephone in an adjacent apartment to call the suspect’s phone. While the officer kept the man verbally occupied on the line, I had another officer try the apartment’s front door knob. Finding the door would open, I had the officer slowly push it wide, just enough to get a view. Spying the man still on the phone with his back to us, we rushed in; I grabbed the suspect and my backup officer cuffed him. The man, who had been drinking, was transported to the station and taken upstairs to the detectives’ squad room. Being a Sunday, the area was vacant. While we waited for the on-duty detective who would give the officer booking approval to arrive, the suspect had a heart attack and keeled over! I immediately sent the officer downstairs and across the patio to the small receiving hospital to get a doctor, but the latter’s arrival was too late. The man died while I was attempting to resuscitate him.
One day, while cruising along Sunset Plaza Drive in the Hollywood Hills, I had occasion to meet David Hartman, the popular TV personality. He invited me inside for morning coffee. We hit it off, and so it became a routine stop during my “supervisory” patrol. Out in the yard, we often tossed a baseball back and forth. Hartman loved baseball. He was geared toward professional baseball in high school. However, he told me he turned down a baseball scholarship to attend Duke University. I recall he was planning a trip to Japan to spend time playing with a local baseball team. Hartman was one of the first co-hosts of ABC’s new show Good Morning America (1975-1987). During his 11 years as host, GMA became the highest rated morning news program. He conducted more than 12,000 interviews. Hartman usually closed each broadcast with the same benediction: “Make it a good day today.” David Hartman, a very pleasant gentleman, since has won several Emmy and journalist awards.
I should say here, that I had married Constance Ann Warner on June 29, 1969 in Grand Junction, Tennessee where her folks resided. I met Connie while I was residing in an apartment on Calle Vaquero in Glendale with a roommate who later joined the LAPD: Donald Zerillo. Interestingly, when Don retired, he moved to Tennessee. I have not heard from him since, except for one letter I received from his wife. She wrote that Don had turned into “A good ol’ boy.” Another fellow, John Meyers, a lieutenant in the LASO (L.A. Sheriffs Office) also resided in the apartment building. He was enrolled at Southwestern Law School. I was attending Cal State L.A. taking criminology classes. Anyway, John and I were lounging poolside when “Connie” walked past with an older man (her father, Harold). They were checking out a vacant apartment. Long story short, John and I vied for her attention after she moved into the complex. It seemed like a good omen when I discovered that she also drove an Austin-Healey, a white one. Connie’s was a ’59 model. It didn’t have the roll-up windows like my ’63 model. I’d had one occasion during our dating period that should have warned me about her. We went to a party on Chevy Chase in Glendale where she behaved like a “different woman.” After talking to guys in another room, I went to join Connie and found her sitting on the floor surrounded by other partygoers with her knees up and her skirt up so high that her panties showed. It shocked me. Later, I caught her in the kitchen kissing a guy whom I knew to be an L.A. police captain and won’t name. Whether or not he was single, I didn’t care. I was pissed and split the scene, leaving her there with the captain. He later drove her to her apartment. Still ignorant regarding the female of our species, I married the woman. Big mistake.
Connie with her teaching credential had landed a job at La Crescenta High School. Shortly after our marriage we rented a house on North Fairview Street, near the Burbank airport. That was when I began a daily jogging routine running the local streets, even though I continued to smoke cigarettes. I was not a heavy tobacco user. We next moved to a house on Maynard Avenue in Canoga Park. Since we were a two-income family we soon had the resources to buy a house at 8378 Fallbrook Avenue. I thoroughly enjoyed refurbishing it inside and out and installing a swimming pool.
Soon after moving in, Marla Tarée was born (December 26, 1969) with severe physical and mental problems. She had abnormal hands and feet, a cleft palate, double eyelashes, and gross scoliosis. As Marla slowly grew, to keep her spinal column straight, she had to wear a removable plastic jacket. It kept the severe curvature of her spine from increasing. The lovely child had no guile. She either loved you or hated you, depending on her mood. Her life expectancy at best was twenty years. The doctor told us, erroneously, that she had the DeLange-Rubenstein Syndrome. Although I’m not certain, I believe her symptoms better fit the Rubenstein-Taybi Syndrome, but not precisely. The doctor advised us that she should be institutionalized. As the reader will note, Marla was born six months after our marriage. It turned out that Connie had been taking birth control pills after she was pregnant! Why? I have reason to believe it was because she suffered from Dissociative Identity Disorder (a split personality). Eventually, I detected three distinct personalities. I term them: homemaker, trollop, and child. To re-enforce my DID thinking, were the occasions when she behaved like two different women. For example, one day, she’d be in the sewing room cutting out a dress pattern, or in the kitchen making a gingerbread house; the next day, I’d find her sitting on the kitchen counter with her knees raised, skirt high on her bare legs, smoking and drinking wine while talking loudly to a girlfriend on the telephone; and always totally ignoring me. Her changing behaviors eventually led to our divorce in 1976.
On February 6th at 6:10 a.m., while the interior doors were off their hinges for painting, a violent earthquake struck. Doors fell and startled the hell out of us. Our infant daughter, Marla, lie in a crib across the hall, and I wanted to get to her, but due to the earth movement being so great, I couldn’t stay sufficiently balanced. When the tremors stopped I was able to see that she was okay. On a table in the garage we had a 50-gallon aquarium with numerous fish waiting to be situated in the house once the interior work was completed. Half of the tank’s water had spilled onto the floor; thankfully, no fish were lost. Recently, in checking Google Maps I saw that the front yard with its several boulders is still the way I designed it. I installed the concrete driveway and pathway using railroad ties inlaid as separators, and coated the surfaces with a beige Kool Deck finish.
On January 26, 1972, I quit the cigarettes “cold turkey.” Long distance running replaced the nicotine urge. Two weeks later, I ran the L.A. Marathon. It started and ended at the Police Academy in Elysian Park. I wasn’t in as good of shape as I thought. It took me 4 hours and 27 minutes to get up the steep hill to the finish line. Determined, I maintained my running routine and less than two months later, in March, I ran the San Diego Marathon, just missing breaking the three-hour mark by 26 seconds.
During my marriage to Connie I continued to attend night school three times a week until I earned my Bachelor of Science degree from CSULA and my Masters in Public Administration degree from USC. My thesis was a prelude to what I would have pursued had I stayed at USC and entered the doctoral program. It had to do with whether or not a police officer developed an aggressive personality at the time of joining the force, or if it developed from training in law enforcement and subsequent exposure to the “mean streets.” At the time, however, I was interested in general law, so I enrolled in the Glendale School of Law. In 1976 I received my JD degree. Being in the midst of the stressful divorce from Connie, I failed the Bar, although I was in “reread.” That’s where one is close to passing. So, a proctor checked to see if perhaps I’d been graded wrong. I didn’t pass. Although excelling in criminal law and torts, my weakness was constitutional law. I didn’t retake the Bar Exam as my subsequent experience as Department Advocate (see below), disenchanted me with the courtroom scene.
After my divorce from Connie, I moved to Studio City and rented a house on Bloomfield Street owned by an RHD detective who also resided there. Numerous residents involved in the motion picture business had homes on the block. Martin E. Brooks, who played Dr. Rudy Wells on Six Million Dollar Man was my neighbor next door to the west; and in the adjacent house to the east, Jamie Lee Curtis resided. Several doors farther west and across the street, Deidre Hall of Days of Our Lives TV show resided. She played Dr. Marlena Evans for 32 years on the show. For a short time, I dated her twin sister, Andrea. She played Samantha Evans, the sister of Marlena Evans, on the show from 1977 to 1982. After a long hiatus, Andrea returned to the show in 2001-01, playing Marlena-lookalike, Hattie Adams. One afternoon a group of us went to the Vargas Bros. Circus in Glendale. Because of Deidre’s celebrity status, we each had our pictures taken sitting atop an elephant.
Later, at a party Deidre threw, I talked with a high school classmate, Bruce Belland, a member of The Four Preps, a popular male quartet. In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, they amassed eight gold singles and three gold albums. Its million-selling signature tunes included “26 Miles,” “Big Man,” “Lazy Summer Night,” and “Down by the Station.” The Four Preps’ numerous television and motion picture appearances included four years on Ozzie and Harriet backing heartthrob Ricky Nelson, and with Sandra Dee in the Gidget movie. The current incarnation of The Four Preps features the original lead singer, Bruce Belland, Bob Duncan (formerly with the Diamonds and The Crew Cuts), Joe Dickey (The Crew Cuts), and Skip Taylor. Their shows are currently an amalgamation of singing everything from doo-wop to Tin Pan Alley standards and comedy. Glen A. Larson, an original Preps member, and also a Hollywood High classmate, went on to become a television producer and writer best know as the creator of the television series Battlestar Galactica, Quincy, M.E., B.J. and the Bear, The Fall Guy, Magnum, P.I. and Knight Rider. As a side note, in late July 1960, I was at Wallach’s Music City on the northwest corner of Sunset and Vine when I saw Glenn. He and I had become friendly when we were on the Hollywood High track team. He ran the 660-yard dash and set the City record running in the Coliseum. Coach Bailey wanted Glenn to develop “better wind,” so he had him run in a cross-country race against San Fernando High. I also was on the team. I stayed with Glenn at the back of the pack until I realized he wasn’t about to pass any of the runners ahead of us. I then raced to the front of the pack. I believe I mentioned this earlier. Anyway, Glenn, who since has passed, had been nominated for an Emmy, a Grammy and won two Edgar Awards for McCloud and Magnum, P.I. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to the television industry.
Okay, to stay as close as possible on a chronological track I will return to the late ’60s and early ’70s, my field sergeant days in Hollywood. As a patrol supervisor, part of my responsibilities was disciplining wayward officers in my charge. One day I received a citizen’s complaint alleging that one of “my” uniformed officers had been molesting “old ladies.” My investigation got intensive and even included a brief interview with actress Katherine Hepburn. She’d recently had a situation that called for the police and the responding officer turned out to be the one I was investigating. I wanted to know if she’d had any further contact with him. She hadn’t. When I turned in my report, the skipper (Don Wesley) said to bring in the accused. The captain’s intent was to let the young officer know what I had learned about his wayward actions and then to get him to resign as opposed to sending him to a Board of Rights for adjudication of the specific charges. Wesley explained the severity of the charges hoping to get the tall officer to resign, but the young man played dumb. When I caught the boss’s eye I realized he wanted me to jump in. So, I turned to the blond cop and explained the facts and how they would embarrass him to his peers. He signed off. Relieved, I returned to supervisory patrol; that only lasted a week, as I got transferred to Internal Affairs Division. At that time, the elite division was expanding its number of personnel investigators (sergeants) by seven. Inspector Tom McTighe, commander of IAD, apparently had been impressed my recent investigative report.
From January 1972 until I promoted to lieutenant in 1974 I was a “head hunter.” The new rank meant an automatic transfer out of IAD. I went to the A.M. watch (midnight to eight) downstairs in the PAB to Communications Division located on the main floor. My one year’s probationary period was spent there. From my glassed-in front office, I could observe the Complaint Board where officers sat receiving calls for service from the public; and beyond it, glimpse the Dispatcher on the other side of another glass wall and numerous Radio Telephone Operators (RTOs). They sat in cubicles arranged in a horseshoe configuration around the Dispatcher’s position. The RTO’s, usually one for each division, handled the radio calls from the field. The horseshoe shape made it convenient for the Dispatcher to pass color-coded paper forms through a slot to each RTO. The different colors signified the seriousness of the call. As a rookie cop, I’d had occasion to spend a couple of hours in the Sixth Division’s (Hollywood’s) cubicle with a pretty RTO. It definitely gave me an appreciation for the difficulties they experience. A patrol cop radioing “wants and warrants” checks on a subject usually is unaware of whom he’s dealing with. The possibility that the person the officer stopped is a dangerous criminal who might attack the officer while waiting for an RTO to return with information as to whether or not there are any outstanding wants/warrants for the subject. It is always possible that the person standing near the officer is a Code Six Charlie (dangerous felon). Cops, trying to be polite, (not being fully alert) have been seriously hurt in such situations. Another issue, officers can become irritated when they feel it is taking too long for the RTO to radio back results. Okay, the sergeant’s purpose for me spending time in the RTO’s cubicle purportedly was to temper my attitude in the future when the results of a wants and warrants request over the air might seem way too slow in returning. As it so happened, that particular three-striper was forced to resign several months later for allegedly having lascivious contact (oral sex) with another man in a Griffith Park restroom. I still recall that at the time of my Communications visit, how leery I’d felt about the supervisor’s intentions. Hey, I grew up in Hollywood!
The Officer-in-charge of IAD, white-haired, slim and tall, Commander Thomas McTighe, called me into his office the first day my probation period as a lieutenant ended and offered me the job of Department Advocate. It meant a raise in pay. He knew I had a law degree. So, from 1975 until 1979, I was the Department’s prosecutor. During that time, I put on approximately 100 Boards of Rights cases before a tribunal of three command or staff officers (Captain and above). One case where the officer was found guilty, Lybarger vs City of Los Angeles, went to the State Supreme Court and the conviction was overturned. Interestingly, I never wanted to prosecute it as I thought the charge was bogus. Anyway, after the guilty verdict, I told Officer Lybarger that he should appeal. The man wasn’t happy with me, but he must have listened, or his lawyer had. I didn’t tell Lybarger that I deliberately hadn’t done my aggressive best during the hearing. He’s now happily retired and sporting a lengthy gray beard.
Robbery-Homicide Division, the “dream” job for most detectives, apparently was having a problem, at least in the “eyes” of then Police Chief Ed Davis. So, it was determined that I, being the Advocate in IA for four years, was the right person for the job, whatever the hell that meant. I was never told. Obviously, being a headhunter and walking into the elite RHD squad room was a “wonderful” experience. The first time I opened my desk drawer, some kind of rubber-banded gizmo sent confetti flying into my face. Rather than getting pissed, I laughed, the best reaction. Wanting to get into the good graces of the seasoned dicks, I closely observed the physical plant and the inconvenient ingress/egress in and out of the squad room. Simply to go to the john, detectives had to walk across the large room and pass through the captain’s secretary’s front office to reach the main hallway. Maybe the skipper wanted it that way so he could observe who was coming and going, but I decided requiring the detectives to take the circuitous route simply to take a break was a time-waster. Having worked in the PAB for about seven years, I knew whom to contact. Within a day, a panel in the wall adjacent to the main corridor was removed and a door installed. It allowed direct access to the hallway and was much closer to the john. It both impressed and greatly pleased the men, and they began to look at me as maybe not being an “asshole.” (A cop’s favorite term)
My title, Watch Commander, meant nothing in this specialized division; actually, I was the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of the Sex Crimes/Domestic Violence Unit. When I delved into the assignment, I rapidly gained an appreciation for the seriousness of DV, especially the crimes against children. Overwhelmed by the influx of said crime reports, I felt a need for greater public awareness. So, I gathered my squad of four, two women and two men, and discussed the possibility of creating a statewide organization that would be solely concerned with the subject of sexual assault, and even seek specific legislation to combat it. We contacted personnel working sex crimes at the L.A. Sheriff’s Office, the Culver City Police Department, and the Manhattan Beach Police Department. The result was the formation of a board of directors and subsequently, the California Sexual Assault Investigators’ Association (CSAIA). Membership was and is open to police personnel involved in investigating sexual crimes and domestic violence (as sexual abuse often is involved in DV cases). Additionally, we included professionals in the field of child sexual abuse and domestic violence. Membership includes psychiatrists, psychologists, medical doctors, registered nurses and counselors. Check out csaia.org online. I then wrote the charter and bylaws. The stated purpose of the organization: … to promote and increase constructive relationships between investigators throughout the state and nation in order to aid in the rapid dissemination of information, as well as to form contacts and liaisons to further assist in the apprehension of offenders. This is done through effective investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases in order to ensure that victims receive the highest level of service and sensitivity and that offenders procure the maximum measure of the law. Also, the Association encourages and actively supports legislative changes, which promote the mission of CSAIA.
In 1979, CSAIA was chartered by the State. I also created a design (logo) for the organization. I was greatly pleased when the “team” chose me to be the charter president. I was re-elected for a second one-year term. Our first annual conference took place in the large banquet room of the “old” Pacifica Hotel. A representative from the state governor’s office briefly spoke at the opening session congratulating our achievement. Also, several Los Angeles City dignitaries attended and gave us verbal support.
Admittedly, I am proud of what I had a hand in developing. As of this writing, CSAIA is in its 38th year of existence.
While sitting at my corner desk in RHD an unexpected situation occurred, a homicide detective who shall remain unnamed approached me to defend him at his upcoming Board of Rights. Let me back up here. What I learned as the Department Advocate, and why, in my opinion, my previous prosecutions had been successful, was that I basically re-investigated cases that didn’t “smell” right. Occasionally, I approached the briar-pipe smoking Commander McTighe and told him when a case needed more investigating to be ready for prosecution. My late boss was strict. When I’d first been assigned to IAD as an investigator, his pen would “leak” red ink all over my reports. In time, however, I was one of very few to get an investigative report past his desk without “blood” on it. McTighe also listened to me; besides, we got along quite well. On occasion, when he needed a ride home, I chauffeured him. He resided about a mile from my home in the Valley. Anyway, I defended the RHD detective and “won” the case. (A not guilty verdict.) Likely, he was “dirty”, but the personnel investigation had been lacking somewhat. The new Department Advocate was relying totally on investigative reports provided by IA investigators. He simply accepted them; he hadn’t learned to question the reports, and so, for the next several years I successfully defended a hundred officers accused of misconduct. I “won” every case, highly unusual; however, I believe it was because I re-investigated each one. I must say, though, that my experience as a defense representative, tainted my interest in pursuing the private practice of law. I couldn’t stomach listening to the rationalizing (usually lies) from my “clients.” I decided not to take another Bar Examination.
During this period, I was an active member of the Department’s running team. Prior to my joining, the LAPD team had made a name for itself by running lengthy relays. For example, from L.A. to San Francisco. In 1976 the men ran from Los Angeles to Montreal to celebrate the Summer Olympics, the first to be held in Canada. I participated in one relay that went from L.A. to San Diego and back. That’s when LAPD’s Metropolitan Division started the Death Valley Relay, starting at midnight at Scotty’s Castle on top of a hill and ending at Furnace Creek, 55 miles away at the east end of the valley. I ran the initial leg for our team from the castle down the steep hill carrying a flashlight. The relay race became so popular that the National Park Service in 1985 after a seven-year stint shut down the route through the valley claiming that the heavy vehicular traffic caused by support crews and onlookers was damaging the natural habitat. Officer Chuck Foote, previously mentioned, was the General Manager of the Los Angeles Police Revolver and Athletic Club, Inc. (LAPRAAC), I also had been on the Board of Directors. Foote devised a new route outside Death Valley. The starting point being the high school in Baker on California State Highway 127. The route then went to Shoshone. From there it followed Highway 178, skirting the west side of the South Nopah Range Wilderness Area, and across the California/Nevada state line continuing through Pahrump, the half-way point, then east along Nevada Highway 160 at the intersection of Blue Diamond, 119 miles away and just 13-miles shy of Las Vegas. The race route terminated at the Holiday Inn. The hotel was razed in 1996. Today, the long race is called the Challenge Cup/Baker to Vegas Relay. The current course begins 25 miles north of Baker, California on Highway 127, then goes to Shoshone, California before it turns northeast onto Highway 178. When it crosses the state line into Nevada road becomes Highway 372. From there it continues to Pahrump, Nevada; then southeast on Highway 160 to the finish line inside the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel Convention Room. Teams are scheduled to run in eleven flights, depending upon their recorded ability, with flights starting hourly from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 pm. It has become a major annual race event for law enforcement agencies.
I was retired from the LAPD when the route was changed, and only participated in the new one a couple of times. In my first relay, I ran the uphill leg leading into Pahrump, Nevada; and, the second, the uphill grade on the north side of Potosi Mountain. In the years that I was a “road runner,” I participated in numerous ten-kilometer races, a number of half-marathons, 26 marathons, a half-dozen 50-milers, a couple of 100-kilometer contests, and the Western States 100 miler from Squaw Valley (Lake Tahoe) to Auburn. Because of a logistics problem (I missed retrieving a flashlight at a water station) I was unable to continue in the dark, collapsing at the 75-mile mark on the banks of the American River where there was a medical station. My pulse had dropped to 55 over 10. I lay on a provided webbed-lounge chair with a space blanket wrapped around and an oversized IV needle stuck into me until daybreak when a helicopter was able to land at river’s edge. It flew me to a hospital in Auburn. That was my ninth near-death experience. An hour later, after having fluids injected into my body, I was up and able to walk out! An amazingly fast recovery.
Also, while in my “running days” I participated in half a dozen Ride-and-Tie contests (two runners and one horse). A race in Eureka, California was a bust as my Arabian horse “Fil” freaked out so badly from all the excitement of being around runners and other horses that I feared she’d collapse on the trail. I sold her upon my return to L.A. The last two R&T contests in which I competed were in 1987. Following that, I ran the Portland Marathon (Finished in 2:56.21, medaling in the 50+ age group. I was 50), and the Le Grizz 50-miler, a route alongside the Hungry Horse Dam in western Montana. I won the senior age group with a time of 6:47. Elite marathoner, Don Kardong, won the event way faster. Shortly afterwards, I quit running as I had ruined my left knee joint when I tried to control a runaway filly (more about that below).
Back to my biography and to the job offer I couldn’t refuse. As previously mentioned, in 1980 I’d passed the Captain’s written exam with a competitive score; but the Oral Board gave me a very low score which, obviously, I didn’t believe was fair. Anyway, seeing my name at the bottom, the obvious message was that Chief Daryl F. Gates had blackballed me (again, a personal thing). Because my LAPD future looked bleak, I grabbed the “offer I couldn’t refuse” and went to work for Peter Ueberroth, organizer of the LAOOC (Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee), in July, while my accumulated LAPD sick and vacation times were running. My actual retirement date was September 6, 1982.
At this point, let me back up a bit and explain my situation. I was residing on Ocean Drive in Manhattan Beach, a block off the beach. Dale Rottinghaus, my roommate, had been living with Harry “Hank” Norton in Van Nuys. I’d met him at the end of a 10k run when he approached me at the winner’s stand. I’d won a medal. It so happened that we both were wearing the same brand of orange shorts and for some reason he had to let me know it. Anyway, we went to a coffee shop on Ventura Boulevard for brunch and became friendly. That’s when I learned his daughter, Judy, played Gidget on The Walton’s TV show. A side note: In an effort to shake her “family” image she posed nude for Playboy in 1985 when she was 27. While at the coffee shop, who should walk in but Ralph Waite who played John Walton, Sr. on the Virginia family drama The Waltons, which he occasionally directed. Waite passed away at age 85 from age-related illnesses on February 13, 2014.
Anyway, Hank invited me to dinner to be held days later at his apartment on Fulton Avenue across the street from Valley College. I arrived before Hank got home from work and so had time to get to know his lady roommate, Dale. It turned out she wasn’t happy living with him. Days later, I got a phone call from her. She was upset because Hank had literally taken all of her belongings and dumped them on the driveway outside the apartment. Long story short, Dale moved in with me in a newly built apartment down the road on Bloomfield. Several months after that, we moved to Manhattan Beach.
Knowing that I’d be retiring from the LAPD with nearly 22 years on the job, and being quite happy living with Dale, I told her about my future plans. I wasn’t in love with her, but then I hadn’t “really” been in love with either Lucie or Connie, but still I suggested marriage because I did care for Dale. To have her covered on my pension plan we had to be married for one year prior to my retirement date. So, we drove to Las Vegas and got married on September 5, 1981. As mentioned above, because of my accrued overtime and vacation time, I was able to leave the LAPD the following July, even though my actual date of retirement was two months’ later. Back to my tale: several months had passed when I came home to find Dale teary-eyed. Bottom line: she claimed when she married me she also had been in “love” with another guy, Bill Thom, an ex-professional baseball pitcher. He was all-American at USC and played professional from 1959 to 1962, but never reaching the big league. He’d gone 32-19 in his professional career; and, in 2001, was inducted into the USC Sports Hall of Fame. His son (not Dale’s) Bill Thom, Jr., played for USC in 1992 and 1993. Anyway, I suggested strongly that Dale live with him. She did. We divorced amicably. She and Thom reside in Reno, Nevada. My daughter, Debra, remains a good friend of Dale’s.
I enjoyed a retirement party held at the Police Academy in the same room that had been my classroom as a recruit. At each table setting, I placed an Olympic pin depicting the L.A. Olympic mascot. The next morning, suffering from a mild hangover, I joined six other guys (runners) and we cruised on a chartered boat to Santa Cruz Island. The organizer of the five-day island excursion, Hans Albrecht, also was the organizer of the Catalina Marathon and the Redondo Beach 10k New Years Day race. Events that I had participated in. That’s where I had met Hans. That early morning, we drove to Oxnard, purchased about ten cases of Budweiser beer and loaded them onto the big boat. I was woozy on the cruise to the island so didn’t enjoy the voyage; however, once I was on dry land I felt better. We loaded the cartons of beer into a pickup truck and drove to the west end of the island where several buildings were located. One being our bunkhouse. In another building, adjacent to a kitchen, was the dining hall. The small complex was about a half mile from the ocean in an area called Cañada Cervada. The only items the guys had brought with them were their running togs and toiletry items. We dedicated long distance runners ran twice a day mostly over the west end of the island, averaging about 20 miles a day. One morning, we ran to Laguna Canyon. It led us to the north shore. A Jeep followed us to bring sandwiches and beer. After we’d eaten lunch, it departed for “base camp.” Off shore about 100 yards, we observed a 50-foot ketch take anchor (at the Malva Real Anchorage). Moments later, we spy several naked females waving at us. I didn’t hesitate. Dropping my running shorts onto the sand, and kicking out of my running shoes, I dived into the bay. When I reached the ketch I spotted a rope ladder hanging over the side; the gals were there to greet me! I was no sooner on board than a look back at the shore showed five guys swimming out to the boat. Only one of them, Tate Miller, remained clothed and on the beach with a camera taking snapshots. Hans, Rich Dinges, Gary Goettelman, (I no longer recall the other two guys’ names) all stripped bare, and joined the gals and I on the boat. We had a grand time drinking the provided beers and foolishly diving off the mast into the water. Everyone got plastered. During our short time on the island, we had given ourselves nicknames. I was “Stroke,” thanks to that little excursion and a bit of “boob petting.” Rich was “Surge” because whenever one ran up alongside him he would surge ahead. I no longer remember Gary’s nickname; another guy nicknamed “Rock” got his tag because he’d found a Native American mortar (but no pestle). Hans was “Hammer.” He later went to Ferrier school in Bakersfield then he moved to Lexington, Kentucky where he set up shop specializing in shoeing racehorses. He has since retired and still resides in Lexington.
My job with the LAOOC (I was one of the first twelve members) was as the Torch Relay Administrator. The head of the Committee, Peter Ueberroth, had heard of my relay running experience through a vice president of Interstate Bank, my morning running friend, Richard Decker. Richard and I met every weekday morning at the Police Academy at 5 a.m. to jog between six to a dozen miles north on Riverside Drive toward Griffith Park. We also partnered on a Ride-and-Tie in northern California. Richard knew Peter because Interstate Bank was one of the sponsors for the ’84 Summer Games. Peter and his number two man, Harry Usher, in 1979, had made a deal. If the Summer Games saw any profits, it would give 60 percent back to the U.S. Olympic Committee and keep 40 percent for Southern California’s coffers. At the end of the Games, the total expenditures came in at a respectable $546 million, but more impressive was the profit: A surplus of $232.5 million, meaning $93 million would stay in the region. This was huge. The only other Games at the time that could claim to be financially successful at all were the other L.A. Olympics: The one held in the city in 1932. Some of the profits from the ’84 Games went to endowing the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, (now known as the LA84 Foundation) to promote youth sports in Southern California, educate coaches, and to maintain a sports library. It is a viable program to this date.
Representatives of AT&T, the financial sponsor of the Torch Relay, thought they were “running” the event. To my chagrin, Joel Rubenstein, my boss, had led me to believe that I was the one in charge, not AT&T. When I flew back to Parsippany-Troy, New Jersey to AT&T’s headquarters, to meet with the sponsor’s coordinator, I learned their thinking in regard to how the relay would operate. They intended to have members of the Telephone Pioneers of America be the sole torchbearers. That flew in the face of what I had envisioned. I saw runners as monetary investors in the Games, meaning “pay to play.” Ultimately, for a $1,000 bucks one could buy a torch, receive running togs, and jog with their torch for one kilometer, then using their torch, ignite the next runner’s torch. That “event” did occur and it brought in $23 million. A rift between the sponsors agents and me, however, resulted in my being fired from the administrator’s job after 15 months (see below). During that period, I had flown to Conway, Arkansas and met with a representative of American Transportation Corporation. In 1980 they had taken over Ward Industries when they filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. “AmTran” Corporation manufactured school buses. My purpose for meeting with them was to design the interior of several buses to fit the needs of a mobile cadre of runners. That meant sleeping quarters, a dining area, and an equipment/communications bus to transport a stock of torches. The meeting was quite successful. Also, I often met with Turner Industries in Fontana and asked them to create a torch that would be safe and easily carried by amateur joggers. Getting a design that pleased Peter U., however, was the big challenge. Ultimately he made the decision to have the “bowl” done in antiqued brass and to resemble the L.A. Coliseum, with a flame flowing out the top. Henry Thoreau was in charge of the Opening and Closing ceremonies. Henry mentioned to me that he was struggling to come up with an idea as to how to light the cauldron atop the peristyle end of the Coliseum. I didn’t get credit for this idea, but I suggested he mount a colorful tubular Olympic rings design that would allow a gas-fed flame to pass through it and up into the cauldron igniting it. Not to brag, but that is exactly what occurred. Rafer Johnson, winner of the decathlon at the 1960 Summer Games, ultimately ignited the five rings sending the flame spiraling up to the torch where it burned throughout the Games.
On the LAOOC office wall behind my desk I hung a huge vinyl map of the U.S. (Note: facility locations moved several times as the number of personnel staff grew.) On the map I drew the planned relay running route. It passed through each of the lower 48 states including a flight from Seattle to Alaska, on to Hawaii, then back to Seattle, finally ending in Los Angeles. The cadre would keep the flame moving nonstop 24/7 just like LAPD’s relay team had done when they carried a baton to the Montreal Games. Not to be. The final route, decided after I was out of the picture, however, did begin in New York. What happened was that Dick Sargent, an LAOOC vice president, had “spirited” the flame out of Athens, Greece in a small brass lantern. (The Greek officials felt that selling kilometers to carry the “sacred” fire was sacrilegious, and opposed letting us have it. I still have the actual brass kerosene lantern that carried the flame across the Atlantic.) Anyway, the final route traversed 33 states and the District of Columbia. Runners, as I had planned, continuously carried the flame passing it from torchbearer to torchbearer. The difference being, the relay paused at night while the flame stayed secured in the lantern. I had planned for a permanent cadre to be on the bus and to run as backups, when there were no “buy in” runners. Anyway, the Olympic running route in 1984 covered more than 9,320 miles and involved 3,636 torchbearers, including 200 of AT&T’s “Telephone Pioneers.” I don’t know whether they paid the $1000 fee or not, but doubt it. In any event, as I mentioned above, the relay brought in $23 million, all of which was donated to American youth sports, including the YMCA and YWCA and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
Okay, as I mentioned above, after fifteen months of planning the Torch Relay route and transportation, I was called before Dick Sargent and told I was being let go because I wasn’t getting along with the AT&T relay coordinator. Again, that was because there was disagreement regarding who was in charge of the relay. As it turned out, Charlie Brown, AT&T’s top man, also replaced their torch relay representative with another person. When Pete Norregard, a retired FBI agent, who’d honchoed the federal investigative agency in the Southern California area, and now was responsible for the security of the Athletes’ Village at UCLA heard of my situation, he stepped forward. Let me briefly state that during the previous fifteen months, we had become good friends. I would arrive at the LAOOC offices early each weekday morning, but never earlier than Pete, and we would chat over coffee before others arrived. Pete N. spoke to Peter U., whom I later learned was six months my junior, and convinced the big boss that he needed help writing the Security Manual. So, thanks to Pete N. I remained with the committee as an Area Security Manager for the UCLA Village; it included the Gymnastics and Tennis venues and a training site up at Mount Saint Mary’s College on the hill. As it turned out, I ended up writing most of the operations manual; much of what was pertinent also was used for the USC Olympic Village where the track and field, and swimming venues were located. Lou Sporrer, retired LAPD deputy chief, was in charge of the USC venue which included the Coliseum. Both Sporrer and I hired numerous retired LAPD officers as security managers for the Village sites. Following the Summer Games, Pete and I remained good friends. I visited him often until his passing in Sandy, Utah several years ago.
My 30-month tenure with the ’84 Summer Games was memorable. I attended the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Daughter Debra and Tate Miller, my new friend I’d met on Santa Cruz Island, sat with me at the Coliseum’s peristyle end for the closing ceremonies. After the Games, Peter Ueberroth presented me with an Olympic torch that Debra now has. Other interesting tidbits having to do with the LAPD occurred while working in the UCLA Village, but they shall remain with me.
After the Games ended I spent a week “cleaning up” the UCLA Village. Being a bachelor, I then moved aboard a 32-foot trimaran, a Piver kit boat (fiberglass over marine plywood). Arthur Piver was a World War II pilot. The boat was moored at Channel Islands Marina, in Oxnard, California. It belonged to the late Dave Larsen whom I’d gotten close to while living in Manhattan Beach. Dave owned Larsen’s Hole in the Wall bar. I frequented it often, especially on Sunday afternoons to enjoy the live jazz. (I recall David Sanborn playing there.) I lived aboard Dave’s boat for nine months while refurbishing it and gathering my thoughts about my future. The following March, Dave and I sailed it to Catalina Island where I ran the marathon for the seventh consecutive year and my last time. On the “sail” over to the island the sea becalmed. To keep going, we each sat on an ama (hull) and rowed for hours. Tate Miller already was on the island with his blonde girlfriend, Sue. She ran the marathon alongside me until we reached the final hilltop. She was the better runner, and much younger, so I told her to go for it. She did so and won the 1985 female division. Afterwards, Dave and I sailed back to Redondo Beach. It was near midnight Sunday—we were slowed by the lack of wind—when we finally drifted into the harbor. We spent the dark hours tied up at the “gasoline pump” pier. Early the next morning before the pump station opened, we sailed out. Hours later, while rounding Point Dume, we encountered strong head winds and a steep sea, at times six feet high. We dismasted! The boom struck the top of my head, nearly knocking me out. I remained woozy and in much pain while Dave tried to salvage the new Genoa sail. He finally had to cut it loose lest it capsize us. All the while, I imagined Mako sharks were circling just below the surface waiting for us to join them. In addition to dismasting, our small outboard engine had spun a prop from cavitation (catching air), so we were at the mercy of the turbulent sea. I truly felt that the end was coming soon. I consider this my tenth near-death experience.
It was in the middle of the night before the tide, fortunately, swept our boat into Marina del Rey harbor. We had to row our way to a visitor’s boat slip. I stayed several days with Dave while we replaced the mast and sail, then I bid Dave farewell. I’d had enough of the nautical life. I next contacted Nick Bakay, a retired LAPD cop whom I had dealt with while at the LAOOC. He had assisted Bill Rathburn, the LAPD Olympic Games Coordinator. Nick had recently retired and along with his son operated a small business; they contracted digging and dirt hauling. Nick purchased an older 530C Case backhoe and a bobtail Ford dump truck with trailer. They hired me to drive the truck. The job got me interested in construction. I worked with Nick’s son for a few months before deciding I wanted a different exposure to the building business. Nick, sadly, has passed. I next contacted Tate Miller owner of Cathedralite Homes, Inc. out of White City, Oregon. It built geodesic houses. Tate put me in touch with his construction foreman, Rick Miller (no relation). I worked with Rick while we completed the roofs on a double-domed house on the mountainside above Malibu. The unique aspect of the building was the roofs were clad in stainless steel. After that job, Rick and I traveled south to Fallbrook to build a single-domed house on a hillside amongst an avocado grove. I stayed until the split-level foundation was poured. It was a challenging job and I’d had enough. I was tired of living out of my brown Plymouth sedan and sleeping in a bag on the ground. Interestingly, while in Fallbrook, I spotted, on two occasions, “coyotes” guiding a line of Illegals (Mexicans workers) through the thick groves.
My next move was 90 miles north to Santa Barbara into an apartment complex on Barranca Avenue and Luneta Plaza. It faced Shoreline Drive that paralleled the beach. The location was within walking distance to Santa Barbara City College, and their public cafeteria. I ate dinners there regularly. Within a week or so, after running a half-marathon that ended on the college’s athletic field, I met another runner, Wayne R. Nelson. Wayne, a retired court reporter, also was a professional masseur. We became running partners and fast friends; we continue to communicate via e-mail.
Let me go back in time here. While residing on Calle Vaquero in Glendale, I became friends with Jesse Pagliosotti. The slim blond guy rented an apartment below mine. Jesse worked as a grip at the CBS studios on The Beverly Hillbillies. Interestingly, he thought Max Baer, Jr. was a “jerk.” One night we drove to Palm Springs in my Austin-Healey. We’d been drinking and I shouldn’t have been behind the wheel. We were cruising just outside of our destination when Jesse tossed a beer bottle out the side window. “Oh shit,” he exclaimed. “A cop.” The bottle broke into smithereens sending shards toward the sitting motor cop’s boots. When the reds soon flashed behind us, I pulled over. I told Jesse to remain seated and to say nothing. I quickly exited and open-handedly approached the dismounting officer. Long story short, I flashed my oval badge, and then fed him a line about having just made a big narcotics bust after a long investigation, and that I was taking our key informant to the “Springs” to show my personal appreciation. I then, to make my story sound more real, convinced the officer to approach Jesse and read him the riot act for being so stupid. The officer agreed and went to the sports car and laid into Jesse. Mistake. Jesse pushed open the door and tried to jump out. I quickly shoved him down. Then I cast a shoulder shrug to the officer, and simply said, “Jesse’s a hothead.” Fortunately, the bike officer remained cool and so we continued on our way. Days later, I went along with Jesse when he suggested we rent a plane and fly to Catalina for lunch. He’d just gotten his pilot’s license. We flew a single engine Cessna to the island and dined. On the flight back, I spied another single engine plane at or altitude flying directly at us. I yelled, pointing. Okay, I know nothing about flying protocol, but I later was told that in such situations, the pilots automatically are supposed to bank to their left (or maybe it was right, I don’t recall). Whatever the direction, Jesse banked the wrong way! I could tell his maneuver had confused the other pilot as that plane’s wings dipped right and then immediately left. We barely missed colliding. My eleventh near-death experience.
Okay, back to Santa Barbara. I knew that Jesse and his German-born bride operated the Town and Country Liquor Store in Carpinteria; Jesse’s mother owned it. Her residence was on the second floor of the building. Part of the lower floor was a wine room. Jesse hired me as a cashier and sandwich maker (he had a small delicatessen counter in the rear). He wanted me to become familiar with the wines he sold, so I attended wine tastings at local vintners. One morning while I’m cleaning the meat cutter in preparation for the lunch hour a guy approaches the counter and orders a ham sandwich. I informed him that it would be a few minutes, as I wasn’t prepared to serve him. The guy went up front and spoke to Jesse. Bottom line, Jesse came back and jumped all over me! He wouldn’t listen to my explanation and fired me on the spot. Jesse’s hot temper exhibited itself once again. That was the end of our friendship.
Just before Christmas 1986, I decided to drive north to Lewistown, Montana, the town where Mom was born. I had always been curious about the place and figured I could get a job in construction if I decided to stay. As I drove on the long bridge crossing Lake Pend Oreille into Sandpoint, Idaho, I was so impressed by the scenery that I decided to drive no farther. I found an affordable log house for rent in upper Gold Creek and moved in. What I failed to mention earlier, is that wife Dale, and I had purchased 20 acres on a mountainside in Gold Creek, short miles from Sandpoint. Anyway finding a good job wasn’t to be, so I lived meagerly on my pension and selling birch firewood I cut from my property up the road from where I was staying. I needed a paying job and found one at Dennis Lange’s Caribou Creek Morgan Horse Ranch north of town. Lange owned three-dozen horses and hired me to manage the place. In other words, do it all: feed, clean, groom, and exercise the steeds. Also, I stacked hay bales in the barn loft when needed. A Mennonite farmer delivered eight tons of bales at a time. Each one weighed ninety pounds. Additionally, whenever it snowed, I plowed the road with the ranch’s Kubota tractor. Lange, an airline pilot with Northwest Airlines, seldom was home. His route flew from Minneapolis to Anchorage and then on to Seoul. My quarters were an old travel trailer with poor insulation. I was constantly cold. Some evenings after the feeding was completed, I’d walk the 100 yards or so over the creek to the Upper Pack River Road and have a few beers at a restaurant/bar with a few other crusty guys. Every Thursday evening the owner showed movies rented from a video store in Sandpoint. My agreement for working for Lange was that it would be cash under the table. Well, at the end of the year, his new bride, Carol, handed me a tax form. She had listed me as an “employee” on their Income Tax form. Upset, I quit—and yeah, I paid my income tax. Another reason for leaving was that I had blown out my left knee stopping a runaway filly. It happened when Lange, who was worming the horses, lost his hold on the rope tied to the filly. Stupid me jumped off the fence railing where I’d been sitting and grabbed the rope. The filly shied, leaping away from me as I grasped the rope. I held on and was carried through the air about ten feet. I landed hard at a bad angle on my left foot and tore out the meniscus cartilage. Excruciating pain! I suffered as a cripple for a week while still doing the chores until Lange could hire my replacement.
Luckily, I found a job with Biotone, a small company that manufactured electronic facial toners. It eventually sold out to Encoder Products, a much larger outfit. Fortunately for me, in the transfer I kept my production-line job for a long enough period to have money to put a down payment on a parcel of land with an old house trailer on it. The property, in an area called Hidden Harbor is located on a finger inlet to Kootenai Bay on Lake Pend Oreille. It gave me boat access to the big lake in the summertime when the water level was raised; however, all I could afford was a seven-ribbed aluminum Grumman canoe. When the lake was drawn down in the winter months it left my small pier high and dry. But it didn’t bother the wild geese. Every spring two pairs used my nesting boxes mounted on poles driven into the muck. The nesting boxes were about six feet above the water that came in just days before the goslings were ready to leave their nests. At that point, they simply dived into the water and swam away. I also had sufficient income to join the recently built Sandpoint West Athletic Club. One early evening while working out, I “hit” on a pretty brunette named Pam. It turned out she was married to Rick Swarm (she’d worn no ring). She smiled at my offer then told me she had an older single sister (Barbara) she would contact if I wished. The understanding was: 1) It would be Barbara’s option to provide me her mailing address (Her home was in Batesville, Arkansas!). 2) Barbara was not obligated to respond to my letter. But, in fact, she did respond to my nine-page “autobiography” scribbled in ink on a letter-sized lined yellow paper; of course with embellishments to make me seem like a great guy, including several snapshots of me, some with my shirt off. (smile) This occurred in early fall, 1989, and eventually ended with us marrying on November 27th, about seven weeks later. Obviously, there were beaucoup missives (mostly cards sent on my part) passing back and forth, including lengthy nightly telephone conversations, one of which included my “qualified” marriage proposal (We first had to see each other to make certain we were “meant” for each other). So, I flew to Arkansas to confirm our future relationship. Getting there didn’t go smoothly. A flight delay caused a missing connection. Rather than flying directly into Little Rock from Dallas, I had to fly to Memphis, and then take a short hop west across the Mississippi River to Little Rock. Barbara admittedly had a concern that I wasn’t coming. But I finally arrived. When I debarked the plane and reached the top of the ramp leading down into the terminal, my first time seeing her in person, I had my camera ready. I took several snapshots as I strolled toward her. I quickly realized that I was definitely overdressed, as the weather was probably twenty degrees warmer than northern Idaho. In the airport’s parking lot, off came my layered garments (above my waist), down to my bare chest. As I pulled out a lighter shirt from my suitcase, a lady flight attendant walked by and whistled. I don’t think Barbara minded. En route to her home in the hills northwest of Batesville, we stopped at a diner to get a bite to eat, while surreptitiously checking out each other. When we arrived at her hilltop home, I met Gretchen, her old Schnauzer, and a litter of six Rottweiler puppies and their momma, Brie. I ended up bringing the biggest boy pup—I named him Baron—home with me. The airline staff told me the crate I had him in was not large enough. I had to purchase a bigger one. My short time in Batesville meeting southern folk was interesting, and traipsing around Barbara’s 40-acre property was pleasant.
Once back home, I prepared for my return trip to Arkansas. I no longer recall the exact date I left Sandpoint, but it was after work during the third week of November. I towed a two-horse trailer so I could bring Barbara’s Morgan mare, Lady, back with us. I drove east to Billings, spent the night, and then continued on to the rural home of my divorced half-sister (Teresita Glaze) just southwest of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I spent the second night there. She had two pre-teenaged sons. Jess and Wyatt whom she home schooled. Both grew to be well over six feet tall and good looking. Years later, I heard that Wyatt had been in a fatal traffic accident. Jess moved to Arizona. His mom, Teresita remained in South Dakota. Early the next morning I was on the road. That night I drove over the Ozarks arriving at Barbara’s ranch home around midnight. The following day I took the red cargo trailer she’d had built into a welding shop for some modifications. The next afternoon we loaded her belongings into the trailer and after a night’s rest headed out for Idaho. She had recently sold her sports car and purchased an ‘89 red Dodge pickup. Brie and Gretchen rode in the cab with her. We crated the Rottweiler puppies in the truck bed. Lady rode in the horse trailer I pulled behind my green Jeep J20 pickup. Lady was unhappy. About half way down the road from the house I noted in the rearview mirror that she had “dropped.” I pulled over, opened the trailer and climbed in. The mare had panicked. Thankfully, I had left her halter on and affixed a short rope that I had attached to an overhead metal hook. It held her head up. I had learned a trick while working on Lange’s ranch and used it to get her to stand. What I did was hold my hand over her nostrils and clamp both shut so she couldn’t breathe. After a few seconds, I shouted “Up!” and immediately released my hand. She responded and stood. This happened two more times before we reached the Oklahoma state line. After that, Lady, apparently resigned to her fate, behaved and stayed standing. Throughout the trip west, Barbara tailed me. We used walkie-talkies to stay verbally in touch.
Our first night, a Wednesday, was spent at a motel in the Wichita area of Kansas. The next night, we had Thanksgiving dinner at a café in Buffalo Wyoming north of Yellowstone before we continued on to Billings to another motel. Both nights we tied the dogs along a chain-link fence and fed them. Fortunately, there were chain-link fences at each motel. As a routine, after letting the dogs play for awhile, we kenneled the puppies. Brie and Gretchen stayed with us in the room. I didn’t trust being able to “reload” Lady, so she remained in the trailer for the entire trip. We did, however, stop every two hours for about twenty minutes to give her legs a rest from the road vibrations. The mare came through the trip fine. Friday night we stayed near Missoula. Saturday night, around ten p.m., we arrived at Rick and Pam’s house in Sagle, Idaho. We unloaded Lady and put her in a stall, then we crashed. Sunday we spent the day relaxing. Monday evening, Barbara and I were married at Christ Our Redeemer Lutheran church by a young pastor named Steve. Rick and Pam were our witnesses. Sadly, Rick died several years later from pleural mesothelioma cancer, an asbestos-related disease with no known cure. He had told me that twenty or so years earlier he’d been on a demolition crew tearing down a building with asbestos in the walls. A year or so later, Pam married Norbert Deem. They currently reside in Hayden, Idaho. Norbert works part time for an outfit that sells and repairs boats. Pam has two sons from her first marriage prior to Rick.
Barbara, in a previous life, had been involved in the food services business. It prompted me to convince her to open a restaurant which we did in March: The Fabulous 50’s Fountain in downtown Sandpoint. We specialized in hamburgers and malts. We also had a coffee espresso machine, a new idea for the area. Our opening was in time to take advantage of the crowds coming to Sandpoint for the annual “Lost in the Fifties” vintage car-show and dance at the fairgrounds. We did well until fall arrived, and then the short daylight hours killed the business. It turned dark at three-thirty p.m. which usually meant no one on the sidewalks. We closed at five p.m. with few to no sales in the dark hours. We sold the business to a young couple with the belief the wife knew the restaurant business; we took back paper on the purchase price. They didn’t succeed and closed the restaurant soon after; and, threatened to file bankruptcy if we tried to force payment from them—that risked us losing our investment. No choice, we had to buy them out. That’s when Chet French moved to town. He’d operated a Mexican restaurant in Poway, southern California. He bought our business at a price that cut our losses in half. Chet redesigned the interior to provide a Mexican look and named the place Jalapeno’s. Eventually, he relocated the restaurant to a recently constructed building just around the corner. The “old” restaurant is now part of a large store called Cabin Fever that sells sundry items, including clothing.
Desiring more income, Barbara, having been a grant writer with White River Planning in Batesville, Arkansas, used her talent to get a federal grant for a shelter called the Homeless Task Force. Eventually, she became its administrator. Soon after, the board of directors opened a day care facility; in addition to providing shelter in a separate facility for female victims of domestic violence. Barbara continued to expand HTF services, and a couple of years later oversaw the building of several living facilities in an area east of Sandpoint called Trestle Creek. Another of her grants for the Bonner County Sheriff’s Department resulted in my being contracted to develop a domestic violence training program for the deputies. The one-year job took me back to my years in RHD with the LAPD when I was the officer in charge of the Sex Crimes and Domestic Violence Unit. I should note that in August of the prior year, the famous Ruby Ridge Standoff occurred on a hillside next to Ruby Creek opposite Caribou Ridge near Naples, Idaho, Boundary County (the adjacent county north of Bonner County).
At this time, I became interested in novel writing. I attended numerous writing seminars and workshops, the best were the two back-to-back years I attended the weeklong Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference. It was put on by author, Barnaby Conrad. His best known work is Matador. John Steinbeck chose it as his favorite book of the year. Royalties from the novel, translated into 28 languages, provided Conrad with the requisite capital to open El Matador nightclub in San Francisco in 1953. Conrad operated it for about ten years. Also, he’d studied bullfighting in Spain alongside the famous Juan Belmonte, Manolete and Carlos Arruza. In 1945, Conrad appeared on the same program with Belmonte and was awarded the ears of the bull. He is the only American male to have fought in Spain, Mexico and Peru. In 1958, he was nearly fatally injured when gored in the ring. In 2004 Conrad sold the writers’ conference that he and his wife, Mary, had started in 1973. It should be noted that Conrad’s charcoal portraits of Truman Capote and James Michener hang in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Conrad died in 2013 at age 90. Somewhere in my belongings I have his signed written comment about a novel piece I wrote during my second Santa Barbara conference.
In 1996, Barbara and I designed and built a two-story wood-sided house on a lot we’d purchased adjacent to the house trailer. Our contractor was Bob Story. Interestingly, when I was a patrol cop in Van Nuys Division I had heard of the infamous Story brothers, twins. Both were bouncers at The Palomino Club, a famous nightclub on Lankershim Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley. Originally (around 1949-50) a “rather tough beer bar,” the “Palomino” was founded by Western swing bandleader Hank Penny and his business partner Armand Gautier. By August 1956 it had become one of the Valley’s largest Western night clubs, with an area of 8,100 feet of which 1,400 square feet were for dancing. The club featured top-notch talent and lead billing both on radio and television. Linda Ronstadt’s Palomino date was her first important country club appearance (she set a new attendance record for girl singers). The Palomino Club in addition to being the San Fernando Valley’s premiere nightclub, was a neighborhood working-class bar (opening at 6 a.m. with a “Happy hour” from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.!) In the early 1970s, the club sat 400 patrons.
Okay, back to February 1962. After finishing my one-year LAPD probation I was transferred from Hollywood Division to North Hollywood Division. One night, our unit was assigned a radio call, a disturbance at The Palomino Club. My senior partner, having no desire to get involved in a brawl, took his time responding. When we arrived, Dave Story told us he’d already handled it. I had no doubt he had. I recall the relief on my partner’s face. The Palomino closed in 1995. Anyway, the Story twins were not men to mess with; they enjoyed banging the heads of boisterous drunks. Bob and Dave later got “religion” and straightened out their lives. Anyway, I had learned that Bob resided in Sandpoint and was a building contractor so I hired him to construct our house. He used my plans, with one change to the stairwell. I assisted in the construction. Barbara and I moved into the house in 1996. Soon, I applied my landscaping experience. Taking numerous trips to the Clark Fork River I collected boulders and river rock by the pickup load. I used them to build a three-stage koi pond with a waterfall and recycling stream. The heavy lifting caused an inguinal hernia on my left side. When the pond was completed, a local building materials business that sold pond plants, patio stone and pavers, featured our place on a “pond tour.”
Around this time, I learned from cousin, Sylvia, my Aunt Alicia’s daughter, about my one-year older half-sister, Patricia. Sylvia, Barbara and I met Patricia and her family at the Olive Garden near Sylvia’s home in Santee, California where we got to know each other briefly. Patricia was divorced but kept her ex-husband’s surname, Shick; we’ve since lost contact.
In 1998, my right submandibular (salivary) gland swelled, like it had when I was seven years old. I still recall the excruciating pain back then of a hypodermic needle being poked into my neck to check for white blood cells indicating an infection. Believe me, I wasn’t about to go through such pain again. I chose to be “put under” and have a parotid gland removed.
In 2001, we sold our Hidden Harbor house and moved to warmer climes, Brookings, Oregon, the last town on the coast before crossing the state line south into California. Barbara, born and raised in Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River, had wanted to return to Oregon. I wasn’t keen on it because of the rainy weather. About then, my high school buddy, Tony Kasday, and I made contact. He told me about Brookings; so, we drove down and stayed at his oceanfront house for several days. As one might expect, the weather was pure Southern California. 100 degrees! I was hooked. Barbara went along with my desire to reside in the beachfront community. Soon, we purchased a recently constructed home with a beachfront. We added a second floor; a sunroom downstairs, and an exercise room. In the upstairs addition, Barbara had her own private office and a studio where she practiced her arts and crafts. On a lower level of the property nearer the ocean and about 30 feet from the rear of the house, we built a 12’ x 14’ office; my hide out in while I concentrated on writing novels.
In 2006, we were interested in a small rundown Mexican eatery (Rubio’s) on the coast highway that was for sale. The food was excellent. We purchased building and land, then shut the doors for six months while we had it completely remodeled and enlarged. We were able to purchase an adjacent parcel behind the restaurant, which we also paved. It provided more parking spaces. We rehired the old kitchen and wait staff, then opened the doors on June 21st of that year. Pancho’s Restaurante y Cantina (Check out Panchosalsa.com) can seat 92 counting the 12 stools at the full bar, and the ten in the covered and heated outdoor patio. It has been a highly successful venture since opening day. Eventually, we intend to sell it, but until we unload our various vacant lots from our building contractor days that ended when the real estate market crashed, we will keep it. Barbara travels to Brookings and checks on the operation about six times a year. Our manager and kitchen staff are mostly related, many having migrated from Jalisco, Mexico, the El Tule area. We tout our food style as Comida de Puerto Vallarta, although that’s not entirely accurate. The secret recipe of our popular Rubio’s salsa is very tasty. We sell it online, at the restaurant, and at the local grocery stores.
As if we didn’t have enough to do, Barbara studied and obtained an Oregon building contractor’s license; and I put my architectural design abilities to work. In 2008 we purchased eight lots near our home with the intent to build “spec houses.” I found a local builder and we proceeded with construction. A total disaster! Our partner-builder was more interested in playing golf and let his “bossy” wife run his crew. The first house was constructed of foam/concrete block, however, completion was six months behind schedule. Needless to say, we decided to get out of the building business. We were fortunate to unload four lots before the real estate market collapsed. We still have four vacant lots on the market. The newly constructed house, finally sold, but at a loss.
In mid to late November of that year, I went down to my office on the lower patio feeling a bit woozy. The feeling got worse and by late afternoon I barely was able to climb the two dozen stairs back up to the house. The pain in my abdomen was brutal. I did not realize it was my appendix. Barbara drove me north to the hospital in Gold Beach. They did several tests and then had me ambulanced 75 miles farther north to Coos Bay where I went into atrial fibrillation. The next morning my “leaking” appendix was removed. I was in the hospital for ten days (through Thanksgiving Day). My twelfth near-death experience.
I returned home for a week, still not feeling well. I had a high fever. Again, I was ambulanced north to Coos Bay where I stayed in hospital for another week. It turned out I was supposed to have been taking antibiotics, but the doctor had failed to advise or to provide us with a prescription. Barbara drove us home. It was Christmastime and I still felt lousy and was putting up with severe abdominal pain. Late, on New Years Day, Barbara drove me south to the emergency hospital in Crescent City. A doctor told us my right ureter was blocked. He gave me morphine and some pills then sent me home with directions to see a urologist he named in two days. A few hours later, the pain in my abdomen was so sharp that Barbara drove me back to the hospital. An x-ray showed that my ureter had collapsed; a stent was then installed. The doctor seemed most concerned that my right kidney had been damaged. It turned out not to have been. After that, my health improved quickly.
At this same time, Barbara and I were considering moving south to a warmer climate. I next discovered online, a site called Focus on Mexico that advertised eight-day seminars in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico, a place National Geographic Society. claimed to have the “second best climate in the world.” The eight-day program would provide all the information that an “ex-pat” would need to feel comfortable about residing in Mexico. So, in February 2009 we flew to Guadalajara. We very much liked what we saw, especially the huge, but rather shallow lake. And, we had learned much about the area, So, we returned to Ajijic several more times in the following three years. We wanted to verify that we truly wanted to live south of the border. Finally, deciding we did, we started the immigration process. On December (2014) we got our permanent residency certificates (cards).
The town of Ajijic is 5,046 feet above sea level in the vast central Mexican plateau, home to the Sierra Madre mountain range. The Chapala Lake basin has a year-round average daytime temperature of about 72˚F; in May it rises to 80˚F – 90˚F. Due to Ajijic’s tropical latitude, it is warm year round; and due to its relatively high elevation, rarely unpleasantly hot or humid. The rainy season begins in early June and lasts until October with an average rainfall of approximately 34 inches. Even during the rainy season, precipitation generally occurs in the late evening or at night. December and January are the coolest months. May is the hottest; just before the onset of the rainy season, portended by “rain birds,” insects that seemed to arrive overnight. Overall, there is very little temperature variation year round; daytime highs in January are around 75˚F; daytime highs in May, as I’ve noted, are around 80˚F to 90˚F. National Geographic claims Ajijic to be the second best climate in the world; Nairobi, Kenya being number one.
Until the arrival of the Spanish, nomadic Indian tribes occupied the region, probably the Cocas tribe that settled the northern shore. There seems to be numerous explanations, and meanings for the names Chapala and Ajijic, all of which are Indian place names, probably derived from Nahuatl, the native language of the area.
Ajijic’s population of 10,509 (2010 census) excludes the hundreds of visitors from Guadalajara (35 miles north) who spend weekends and vacations there. Many retirees, Americans and Canadians, reside in Ajijic. I’ve heard that about 1,000 live here full-time and another roughly 700 during the winter months. As a result of the “foreign invasion,” Ajijic has numerous art galleries and curio shops, as well as restaurants and bed and breakfasts. The Lake Chapala Society in central Ajijic has about 3,000 members, mainly foreign. It serves as a focus of ex-pat activities for the nearly 5,000 who reside around Lake Chapala. There is a little theatre group that puts on several performances in the high season. Also, the town has an auditorium that seats around 400, and a small mall with a movie theater.
American writer Dane Chandos settled in Ajijic before World War II and wrote two books about his life there: Village in the Sun (1945, G.P. Putnam’s Sons), which elaborates on his efforts to build a house on the edge of the lake, and House in the Sun (1949), which concerns his operation of a small inn inside the house. They were written when the main road was unpaved (not the currently paved main east/west road); ice was delivered by bus from Guadalajara, and electricity was just being installed.
In April 2010, during my annual physical, the doctor advised me that I had atrial fibrillation, AF. The doc wanted to ambulance me to the Crescent City hospital. I told him that Barbara would drive me. I’d had enough of ambulances. The young emergency room doctor gave me an injection that put me to sleep. As I was waking I felt a tremendous jolt to my chest that literally raised me off the table I’d been lying on. It turned out that the doctor had already applied the “shock” paddles three times, each time with a more potent electrical current but with no success. I learned that he had been on the telephone and was being advised by a heart specialist who recommended the fourth blast of current.
Two months later, I took a plane back to Pinehurst, North Carolina where I had heart ablation surgery to correct the atrial fibrillation. The surgeon, Dr. Andy Kiser, had developed a new non-invasive technique that he performed on me. He has since moved his practice north to Raleigh. I only have one small vertical scar below my “breast bone” as a result of the operation.
After another two months, however, I had a recurrence of AF (I counted 200 beats per minute). So, Barbara drove me to Medford, Oregon where a second ablation-type surgery seemed to take care of the problem. I’ve felt fine ever since, although I still have occasions of rapid heart beating. Alas.
In September 2011, I returned to Medford where I had my left knee joint (the one injured trying to contain the filly on the north Idaho ranch) replaced. Several weeks later we flew south to Mexico and spent a couple of weeks in Ajijic. One night while leaving a restaurant, I stepped off the curb onto the cobblestones and twisted my left knee. I was assisting a visiting lady friend along the uneven walkway. Although my left knee joint now works fine, I can hear a “crunchy” sound in the soft tissue whenever I bend my knee.
In December, three months later, I returned to Medford and had my right knee joint replaced. It has given me no problems. I will not tempt fate, so I no longer jog, but I do take daily morning walks with my Doberman pinscher, Thor, and small gray “Schnoodle,” Chico.
In early September 2012, we packed as much as we could into our 2001 Chevrolet Silverado extended cab pickup, including our two Papillons (Beau and Teri) and Chico, and drove south to Ajijic. We stopped in Santa Rosa our first night, and in Hollywood the second. I drove around my hometown showing Barbara the various sites. We stayed that night in an apartment at Josie Powell’s place. Josie was a high school classmate. She owns a large apartment building on Crescent Heights Boulevard in West Hollywood. Known as the “Mambo Queen,” Jose was a longtime dance partner of Tito Puente.
The next several days we spent with daughter Debra at her hilltop home in Jamul, southeast of San Diego. During that time, we left the “unpacked” pickup with an outfit in Riverside while they took care of getting it “legalized” for Mexico. Debra and I waited well into the night until the truck was brought back from the border where it had been inspected. The next day at Debra’s we repacked the newly Mexican licensed pickup for an early exit the following morning. We drove to Val Verde, Arizona and bought a Doberman pinscher. We named him Thor. He was seven weeks old. The following night we spent at a motel in Rio Rico; and, the next morning crossed the border at nearby Nogales. We were surprised to be waved through without any inspection. The second night we stayed in Los Mochis, and the third in Mazatlan. The following morning, we came to a road under construction. At one juncture, because of heavy dust raised by the truck I was following, I failed to see the turn off to the highway. We ended up in Concordia, a small mountain village. I didn’t mind as I knew it was the birthplace of Grandma Rafaela and my father, Jess. Anyway, Barbara, I and our pups arrived in Guadalajara at exactly five o’clock that afternoon; that meant putting up with horrendous traffic. We finally arrived at our rental home on Zaragoza several blocks from the central plaza in Ajijic. Numerous fireworks almost every night convinced us to find a new place to reside. We did. A lovely hillside rental on Rio Condor overlooking the huge lake. Three years later, to save money, we moved down the mountain to the older Villa Nova neighborhood. We’d purchased a mountainside lake-view parcel in a new gated community farther west where we will build. We expect to be in our new home by fall, 2018.