"From the Desert to the Sea, to All of Southern California." - Jerry Dunphy

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Monday, March 31, 2008

Vaudeville Meets Star Trek

Herbert Wiere was the last surviving member of the Vaudeville act The Wiere Brothers, and for a few years in the mid-nineties he was my neighbor. In 1994 we moved into a quiet apartment building on Magnolia Blvd. in Valley Village. "Herbie" lived upstairs from us but parked his Karman Ghia next to us. I regret I never made the effort to sit down and talk to Herbie about his long career in Vaudeville, movies and Television. Herbie seemed like a nice, slightly eccentric and active gentleman in his mid-eighties.

Herbie and his brothers Harry and Sylvester came to America from Austria in the 1930's before Hitler began his march of evil through Europe. The Wiere Brothers worked as a live act on the vaudeville and nightclub circuits until 1970. They also appeared in the movies with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby as well as Elvis. They were also regulars on television including the Merv Griffin Show. Curiously Merv Griffin once owned the house 2 doors west our Herbie's apartment.

While I never did sit down with Herbie, I did talk to the apartment building owner about Herbie and he told me Burt Lancaster used to regularly visit Herbie in his apartment. The owner also informed me that before we moved into our apartment it had been inhabited by a man who played a Ferengi On Star Trek the Next Generation. Vaudeville meets Star Trek in a quiet little apartment building in the San Fernando Valley.

Friday, March 28, 2008

California 500 at Onatrio Motor Speedway

Turn four of the inaugural California 500 at Ontario Motor Speedway is where A. J. Foyt hit the wall. I took this photo from the infield after his car was rolled off the track onto the grass. The date was September 6, 1970, Labor Day weekend, and this was my first car race. The summer of 1970 was a memorable one for me. I had traveled across country with my Grandfather to Dayton Ohio and had flown home on a Flying Tiger plane without my parents. When I got home I found an electric guitar waiting on my bed. And now an Indy car race to finish off this wonderful summer.

We made a last minute decision to go to the race and had to buy infield passes which were $5 each. We brought a cooler, sat on the grass eating drinking and listening to the awesome roar of these exotic race cars.

Every Memorial day I would sit at the radio with my dad listening to the Indianapolis 500. He would cut out the driver rooster from the paper and we would scratch them off as they dropped out of the race. Perhaps two weeks later we would see the race on ABC's Wide World of Sports. In those days they did not broadcast the race live. Nor did they broadcast Championship boxing matches live. I remember listening to Floyd Patterson fight Muhammad Ali. I rooted for Patterson as I held my little transistor radio to my ear. Anyway I digress. All this was wonderful theater for the mind but nothing compares to being front row center at a sporting event such as this.

My dad always rooted for Dan Gurney. For some reason he did not like A. J. Foyt. Being his kid I agreed with him and also rooted for Dan Gurney. Gurney was a fine multi-talented racer who carried himself with the quiet dignity of Gary Cooper on the silver screen. However the race was won by an older journeyman racer named Jim McElreath. Even I, a seasoned racing expert of 15 years said "Who?"

The next year we bought seats up in the stands but nothing compared to that first race. The popularity of the race quickly dropped off until it was torn down in 1981, the year my dad passed away. In March of 1971 the Formula One Grand Prix cars came to Ontario to race on the interior road track in the Questor Grand Prix. This time I could not get to the race and had to listen, again, on my trusty transistor radio. My all time favorite driver, Scotland's Jackie Stewart came in second behind Mario Andretti. Turns out there was a problem with Stewart's Driving suit and he was slowly being boiled in it. That he managed to finish second was a testament to his determination.

The last time I visited the track was for the California Jam Rock Festival on April 6, 1974. I went with my girlfriend Patty and it was so crowded that we had to sit on the race track. Over 200,000 people had come to hear a variety of groups including The Eagles, Deep Purple and Emerson Lake and Palmer. The last of the original rock festivals was probably the last hurrah for the Ontario Motor Speedway. The music has faded but I bet you can still hear the distant echo of a Ford or Offy engine racing through a hot Ontario Labor Day.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Karl Inman Guitar Player

About 3 days ago we heard from another old friend, Karl Inman. Karl was the lead guitar player in our band. Karl was a natural who just blew us away with his skill. Once I heard him play the intro to The Hollies "Long Cool Woman" I knew we had found our guy. Unfortunately Karl's family moved away so he was only with us for a short time, but it was memorable time. I wish I had a picture of Karl with the band but I don't So I posted one of Tom Hart and myself from 1973. This is just before Karl came to play with us.

Karl is still active in music as a guitar player and producer. He works out of the Orange County area just south of Los Angeles. If you are looking for a band for your event or need a first rate guitarist who can play anything from rock to Flamenco, please check out Karl's website.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Van Nuys Blvd. Crusing Music

Creating a list of music can sometimes lead to heated discussions more intense than Politics or religion. So here goes, I have put together my list of the music we used to play while cruising the boulevard. It's not a best of list more than a list of what tapes, cassettes and 8 tracks we had in whatever car was available. Since I could not find a suitable cruising picture I posted a picture of my stereo system when Desert Radio Rat and I lived in Newbury Park. Here goes:

Highway Star - Deep Purple
Smoke on the Water - Deep Purple
Woman from Tokyo - Deep Purple

Lest you sense theme here we did play other music:

Karn Evil 9 - Emerson Lake and Palmer
Rock 'n Roll Hootchie Koo - Rick Derringer
Every Picture Tells a Story - Rod Stewart
Midnight Rambler - The Rolling Stones
Crossroads - Cream
Walk on the Wild Side - Lou Reed
All the Young Dudes - Mott the Hoople
Roll Away the Stone - Leon Russell
Whipping Post - The Allman Brothers
Wild Night - Van Morrison
Stay with Me - Faces
I'm on Fire - Dwight Twilly
Sweet Jane - Lou Reed

This is just a taste. So after an unsuccessful night of cruising we usually ended up at Bob's Restaurant at Roscoe Blvd. and Van Nuys Blvd. If that was too crowded we would go a little up the road to Mike's Pizza or back down the road to Lido Pizza on Victory Blvd. I believe Lido Pizza is still at the same location.

Has anyone ever heard the song Van Nuys Blvd. by The Drivers? A curiosity I have but would never be caught playing.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Mom & Hollywood

When you're a young child it is great to have a young good looking mom. When you become a teenager it becomes a bit more, involved. The picture to the left was taken at Universal Studios in Universal City CA in July 1969. Back in those days it was common for stars to hang around at various times for publicity shots with the visitors. I'm sure you will recognize Bob Hastings from the popular T.V. show McHale's Navy in this photo.

A few months after this picture was taken I started my first year at Birmingham High School. During that first semester I had a health education class. At one point parents were invited to the class to learn about the sex education aspects of the class. If the class wasn't wasn't shock enough to a 14 year old in 1969 it got even worse when your mom was invited to come to school to hear about sex. I had already read all the articles and interviews in my dad's Playboy magazines so I knew all about sex...right. But my newly liberated mind could not wrap itself around the concept of school, sex and mom. Well the day came and mom showed up in a nice blouse and what I considered to be way too tight slacks. It went downhill from there. I now look back and smile with a sense of pride at my classmates spending an inordinate amount of time talking to my mom. I made it through the experience and the rest of the week with the constant remarks about mom's marital status without prematurely ending the career of a letch in training.

Over the years mom had other brief encounters with Hollywood. During another visit to Universal Studios she had her picture take with the actor Clu Gulagar. In Las Vegas Bob Cummings made a pass at her during an elevator ride while my dad stood next to her smiling like the proverbial Cheshire cat. However her closest encounter with Hollywood was at our doctors office when Chad Everett the actor asked her out on a date. By this time mom was in her 60's and my dad had passed away years earlier. Mom still being the faithful loving wife turned him down. When I asked why she said no she told me, "because I didn't want to". Still a mid-western girl at heart in love with a guy from Springfield Illinois.

GM Futurliner in Van Nuys

In 1994 my Friend Grant and I spotted this unusual vehicle on a side street off of Vanowen St. between Havenhurst and Balboa Blvd. Grant told me he had previously seen the vehicle on Ventura Blvd. He knew it was from a world's fair but was not sure which one. That night I did some research and discovered it was from the 1939 New York World's Fair. It struck a chord with me because my dad had gone to that fair and had occasionally talked about it. He might had seen this actual bus.

I eventually put the photographs away and forgot about them until last week when I rediscovered the pictures and scanned them. This time I charged into the internet to look for more information. I found that GM made 12 of these traveling display buses for the 1939 World's Fair. I found many websites with information. Some spoke of two era's of buses, one from 1940 to 1952 and another era from 1953 to 1956. It was not clear if the same buses were used or if there was a second generation of buses. One website mentioned that 9 of the buses remain in various states of recondition. I believe the bus in our picture does belong to a gentleman from Los Angeles. Two buses were credited to California. According to the article the other bus did not arrive in California until about 1999. One other website had a picture of this same bus and the writer mentioned he too had seen the bus on Ventura Blvd.

My Flickr page has one additional picture of the front of this Futurliner. If anyone has any additional information I would love to hear from you.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Twister & Family Embarassments

Imagine you are 21 years old and have just arrived home from a night of partying with your friends. You walk in your front door and you see a house full of middle aged people laughing, drinking and standing over a plastic rug full of colorful dots with two of your parents best friends contorted in positions more acceptable at your party than theirs. Traumas such as this remain powerful until you find yourself at that age wondering why you don't have that kind of fun anymore.

Now I cannot take credit for taking this picture. I was probably up in my room by then plugged into my stereo trying to burn holes in my brain to forget this surrealistic embarrassment.

The gentleman in the picture, Mr. Don Bacon, worked with my dad at Flying Tiger Lines at LAX. He was a wonderful family friend who actually hired my dad to FTL in 1950. When the 1971 Sylmar quake struck we had to evacuate our apartment on Haskell Ave. due to the danger posed by the Van Norman Dam. We stayed with the Bacon family in their home near Louise Park at Sherman Way and Louie Avenue. He taught me how to throw a spiral with a football. A skill that has diminished over the years if one could have ever called it a skill to start with.

So here is to a good man who is forgiven for causing me a slight embarrassment in my 21st year.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Rat Pack, Foxy's and Boob's

Geographically this is not a Van Nuys or Los Angeles Story. But if one adopts the larger sense of Hollywood then this is an appropriate tale. Las Vegas in the early 1960's was already a sister city of sorts to L.A. as its weekend adult playground. One of the first trips my family made after we moved to Van Nuys was to Las Vegas. My earliest recollection of being in Vegas was late 1963 or early 1964. I remember buying a special issue magazine on recently assassinated President John F. Kennedy in a market across the street from the Sahara Hotel. We all needed a diversion from the harsh reality of our fallen leader and Las Vegas provided that, even for a small child.

It was a time when Frank, Dean and Sammy, the 3 kings of the new age made their pilgrimage to the desert. My parents came to gamble a bit, relax and see a show or two. I tagged along and spent my hours hanging around the lobbies of all the hotels watching stars and common folks walk on by. At night the street was alive with people and lights. For a child of 9 it was like being inside a pinball machine.

One of my favorite places was Foxy's restaurant which was right next to the Sahara Hotel. Late at night my Dad would take me over there for a snack, or if I was really persuasive a hot turkey sandwich. It didn't matter if it was midnight and 100 degrees outside. it didn't matter if my bedtime was normally 9 o'clock. This was Vegas and we were two guys out on the town.

Foxy's also had a small gift shop attached to it where you could buy the usual Las Vegas souvenirs and gamble on the penny slots. My Mom would spend hours chipping away at her purse full of wrapped pennies. Being a liberated child of the 60's I also brought a little cash to pour into the one armed bandits. Usually I would give the change to my Mom or Dad and they would play it for me. However Foxy's was a small place with one person manning the front counter. It was not difficult for a child of 9 to sneak around and drop the occasional penny in the slot. The cute little Midwestern boy had become a Diamond Jim Brady wannabe under the hot desert sun.

Fast forward now into my teenage years and we find a young man who interest have expanded from money to women. This particular years I was about 15 and about to attend my first Las Vegas show. My parents were taking me to see Nancy Wilson and the Doodletown Pipers. Not the Beatles but it was Vegas so you went with it. I had never eaten dinner while watching a show. The show was good and I surprised my parents because I told them I liked the Doodletown Pipers more than Nancy Wilson. She is a fine singer but for a 15 year old that can't compete with young women in mini-skirts dancing on a nearby stage. So when the show was I walked out with my Dad with Mom tagging along behind. My dad and I had stopped to wait for the crowd to move on. Well fortunately for me we had stopped at the entrance to a lounge show. I being the curious sort tried to catch a glimpse of the show through the curtains. At that moment someone walked out of the show to reveal a chorus line of topless dancers on a small stage just as they were turning around toward the audience. I had never seen so many boobs in my young life. After the curtain closed I nudged my dad and said, "that's the show we should have seen". Apparently I was a little louder than I thought because a ripple of laughter moved through the surrounding crowd. We turned around and saw my poor mom standing there with the coolest look of horror and amusement.

The last time I was in Vegas was 1980. My girlfriend and I drove up in her 260Z to meet my parents for the day. Vegas was already beginning to take on the amusement park atmosphere that it has today. The Rat Pack has passed on, Foxy's is gone and the boob's are artificial.

The History Above Los Angeles

The picture to the left was taken from the Burbank hangar of Flying Tiger Line in 1964. My Dad had worked for Flying Tigers since 1950. He first worked out of Hopkins Airport in Cleveland and then at the Detroit Airport until 1960 when he transfered to Burbank.

I have covered some brief memories of my youth in previous posts but one name I forgot to mention was Pancho Barnes. She was a world class aviator during the 1920's and 1930's and one of the most colorful characters in aviation history. Her most colorful period very well may be her days as proprietor of "The Happy Bottom Riding Club". The club was a combination dude ranch and restaurant build adjacent to Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert. The club catered to the pilots at the nearby base. It was also legendary as party central in the desert.

Until 10 years ago I had never heard of Pancho Barnes. I was introduced to her by the representative of a saw service that was a vendor for the tool repair shop I was the office manager for. One day while finishing up our business, David and I go on the topic of aviation and he asked me if I had ever heard of Pancho Barnes. I told him no I had not and he began to tell me stories of his time at the ranch/club when he was a child. I went home and dug up all the information I could on Pancho Barnes. As I learned more I finally began to put together in my head a picture of the greater Los Angeles area and its wonderful history of aviation. Being a child of Hollywood as well I even tossed in some of my favorite childhood hero's such as Sky King. At night I imagined stories of clandestine flights from Mojave to Van Nuys. I got so far as to make notes for a mystery story connecting Fox Field to Van Nuys and the old Wilson Field in the San Fernando Valley to Santa Paula airport and Fillmore. One day I will have to write it.

The skies over Los Angeles are filled with the ghosts of Pancho Barnes, Amelia Erhart, Howard Hughes, Chuck Yeager and so many more. Follow this link to the Wikipedia page for Pancho Barnes for a brief overview of her life.