Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Just hanging around

I'm still traveling, and my Internet access is limited. See you in a couple days.

This yellow-footed Snowy Egret is perched on a green canoe, tied up at someone's dock on a canal in Venice, CA.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Thematic Photographic - Drab

For the next week, Carmi's Thematic Photographic will be exploring the world of drab. If it's dimly lit, sad-looking, morose-feeling or poignantly-toned, he hopes you'll post it to your blog.

The Bamboo Inn. Drab. With egg-roll. On Eighth and Bonnie Brae, just off MacArthur Park, in Los Angeles. Not very appetizing, is it?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Pink Saturday - Good & Plenty Pink!

Pink Saturday - Beverly, at the blog "How Sweet the Sound" hosts Pink Saturday. Let the color pink inspire you!

Do you like licorice candy? Do you like Good & Plenty?

Good & Plenty candy was first produced by the Quaker City Confectionery Company in Philadelphia in 1893 and is the oldest branded candy in the United States. Choo Choo Charlie first appeared in TV ads in 1960.

Do you remember the words to the Good & Plenty candy theme song?
Once upon a time there was an engineer
Choo Choo Charlie was his name, we hear.
He had an engine and he sure had fun
He used GOOD & PLENTY candy to make his train run.
Charlie says "Love my GOOD & PLENTY!"
Charlie says "Really rings my bell!"
Charlie says "Love my GOOD & PLENTY!"
Don't know any other candy that I love so well!
Charlie rattled a box of Good & Plenty for the sound of the train, and blew through the box to make the whistle. Charlie's girlfriend sits in the back of the train with her dog, interjecting "Charlie says," as he sings.

Licorice bites are given a shell by a process called panning, where a sugar syrup is tumbled with the candy, then dried and colored. The pink color comes from the pigment carmine, or cochineal, which comes from the bodies of insects - so Good & Plenty candy isn't for vegans. But they are certified Kosher.

Crafters and decorators often call the color combination of pink, white, and black "Good and Plenty."

In 1973, the Warner-Lambert Company bought Good & Plenty, and made it until 1982, when Beatrice Foods bought it and moved to St. Louis. In 1983, Huhtamaki Oy of Helsinki, Finland purchased Leaf Brands, the confectionery division of Beatrice Foods. In 1996, Hershey Foods Corporation bought Leaf from Huhtamaki Oy.

If you like licorice, you're lucky. Licorice is just plain good for you. It's an expectorant, an antiviral/antifungal and it contains antioxidants. Studies show it effective in healing cold sores, peptic uclers, and easing the symptoms of PMS.

I like to eat Good & Plenty when I go to the movies - I guess it brings back memories of matinees when I was a kid. Mmmm!! Have some Good & Plenty!

Notice to all Pinkies - I will be traveling this weekend, and I may not have access to an internet connection. I'll try to visit you later in the week if I can.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Thematic Photographic - Drab

For the next week, Carmi's Thematic Photographic will be exploring the world of drab. If it's dimly lit, sad-looking, morose-feeling or poignantly-toned, he hopes you'll post it to your blog.

Not only drab. This is just....sad.

This West Los Angeles dog grooming shop's mascot has lost his head.

Dirt Mulholland

Mulholland Drive starts at the Cahuenga Pass and runs west along the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains. Along the road, you can find breathtaking views looking both south into the Los Angeles basin and north into the San Fernando Valley. Some of the most fantastic residential architecture, the most lavish celebrity hideaways are found along Mullholland Drive.

When Mullholland reaches the Sepulveda Pass, the pavement stops. The road continues westward as an unpaved fire road, beloved by mountain bikers and hikers and horseback riders. At Topanga Canyon Boulevard, it becomes a paved highway again, twisting through the foothills of Calabasas and then turning south through the mountains to Malibu.

The unpaved part of Mullholland Drive is universally known in Los Angeles by the unglamorous name of "Dirt Mullholland."

I drive past the west end of Dirt Mullholland almost every weekend. And over the years, I've observed an interesting development.

Someone has decided to beautify the bleak, broken terminus of Dirt Mullholland, planting cactus and laying pathways and siting objets d'art amidst beds of colored gravel.

It's a bit goofy. White plaster cherubs welcome you through a gateway to a forest of prickly pear cactus.

An old-fashioned Victorian park bench sits beside a Plains Indian teepee, beneath a wrought-iron reproduction streetlight.

A goblet-shaped fountain with nozzles shaped like golden lions' heads is painted the color of a swimming pool.

There are interesting quirky touches in the garden, like this fence, whose posts are all topped with teapots.

I don't have first-hand knowledge of this garden and why it has come to be, but I've been told it's the creation of the man who lives in the house behind this wall. Over the ten years I've been observing it, I've often seen him, supervising crews of workers raking beds of gravel, moving decorative boulders around, hauling pots of plants. The garden formed gradually, starting near the walls of the house, and then spreading out to the other side of the road.

He's even begun colonizing the roadway to the west and north of Dirt Mullholland, where contrasting beds of gravel decorated with old wagon wheels now grace the strip between the right turn lane and the main road of paved Mullholland Highway.

The gardener's house is large, lavish, and hidden from view by its tall surrounding walls, except for its roof of blue ceramic tiles. Behind the ornate gates that open onto his compound you can see a collection of classic American cars, like Cadillacs from the 1970s.

A pair of statues beckon from atop a rustic gateway adjoining the garden.

Folks say that he is a famous bodybuilder, or a wrestler; or that he's married to a famous female bodybuilder. I don't know.

All I know is that he's a man with an urge to put his creative stamp on the landscape - to literally shape the world around him. California was built by pioneers, and Los Angeles was shaped by a uniquely goofy version of this Pioneer Spirit. It's nice to see that it still endures today.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Thematic Photographic - Drab

For the next week, Carmi's Thematic Photographic will be exploring the world of drab. If it's dimly lit, sad-looking, morose-feeling or poignantly-toned, he hopes you'll post it to your blog.

Drab is in the eye of the beholder.

Some people would find this drab. A loading dock, with space for a garbage compactor, bays for trucks to pull in, and drains to pull away standing water. It's the Back-of-House. Drab. Boring.

Other people - people I know - look at this modern, well-equipped new loading dock, able to handle up to four semis for a load-in, with adjustable dock plates, and get really excited!

You should see the cool lighting fixtures it has!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Searching for ABW - Bill H.

Federal Theatre Project dance rehearsal, 1937

We've been on a tour of Los Angeles, following the trail of [The Man I Love]'s grandfather, ABW, who lived in this city from about 1918 until his death in 1946.

[The Man I Love] didn't know his grandfather. His grandparents' marriage had broken up in 1921. All we had to mark the trail were public records like census listings, city directories, and newspaper articles. Luckily, we found one essay that ABW wrote late in life, telling about his career as a newspaperman, printer, and linotype machine operator.

In 1930, at the age of 57, ABW moved into a small bungalow in the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles with a woman named Emma H. and her 23 year old son William.

It's funny how you can get off on some side trails. As we tried to find out what life was like for ABW in Silverlake, we found ourselves following William's story.

Belmont High School, 1927

William was born in 1907. In 1923, he was part of the starting class at the brand new Belmont High School in Los Angeles. Belmont was located a few blocks south of Echo Park Lake. Echo Park was the home of the early silent film industry. Mack Sennett, Tom Mix, and other famous stars and directors worked and lived here. Some of the funniest scenes in silent movies took place on the hilly streets of this neighborhood.

No wonder local kids were into show-biz. In 1924 William became the first Manager of Belmont High School's Stage Crew. A photo of the crew appears in the school yearbook.

He was also Treasurer of the Boys' Glee Club and performed in school productions of plays and operettas.

In the 1930 census, when he was 23 and living with his mother and her new husband ABW, William's occupation was listed as a dancer, in the theatrical industry.

Broadway at Ninth Street, Los Angeles 1929
There were lots of opportunities in show business. Vaudeville was still thriving, and so was the movie industry. The two art forms meshed perfectly. All over America - and especially in Los Angeles - huge and elaborate theatres were being built, so that people could come watch a vaudeville show followed by a movie. Broadway in downtown Los Angeles saw over a dozen movie palaces spring up during the 1920s.

William must have worked on the stage, in touring theatrical productions.

Photo from the New York Public Library of "Band Wagon" dancers, 1931

In 1931 William married 21-year-old Ellen Elizabeth Hegstrom, also a dancer, at the Claridge Hotel in New York City - the Claridge was located in the Theatre District.

"Band Wagon" scene, 1931, NewYork Public Library

One popular attraction on Broadway that year was the hit musical "Girl Crazy," starring a young singer Ginger Rogers. It ran seven months before closing in June. A new musical called "Band Wagon" opened a few days later at the New Amsterdam Theatre, featuring a skinny guy who was a helluva good dancer.

"Band Wagon", 1931

At the end of the '20s, the old Keith-Albee-Orpheum vaudeville company bought into the movie industry, and became the RKO Company. The industry was going through a cataclysmic change. No longer silent, movies included sound - talking, singing and music.

Drawing from their resources in vaudeville and musical theatre, RKO began producing elaborate movie musicals, capitalizing on the new technology and casting stars of Broadway and vaudeville.

In 1933, "Flying Down to Rio" was made, casting the same skinny guy from Broadway's "Band Wagon" dancing with a pretty newcomer, Ginger Rogers. Their onstage chemistry was so successful the studio went on to make more movies with the couple, with scores by composers Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin.

In 1935 they made "Top Hat." With music by Irving Berlin and dance routines by Astaire himself and a brilliant choreographer named Hermes Pan, it is considered the best of the Astaire and Rogers dance movies, and RKO's most profitable film of the decade.

Now back in Los Angeles, William is credited as Dance Director for "Top Hat." I'm not sure exactly what he did, with Astaire and Pan receiving much of the praise for the wonderful dance routines, but he was definitely back in Los Angeles, and working at RKO.

William and Ellen lived right around the corner from his mom and ABW, at 451 N. Occidental Avenue. They had a child, a girl named Loretta. His mom must have been delighted to be so close to her granddaughter.

By the time the movie wrapped, William was working as Ginger Rogers' personal secretary. In her autobiography, Ginger calls him Bill. Ginger Rogers was a young girl, younger than Bill by a few years. She was devoted to her mother, who toured with her. She was a teetotaller, and somewhat of a prude, despite the fact that she had married and quickly divorced at 17 to another vaudeville performer. In Hollywood she married a second time to actor Lew Ayers, but they separated in May 1936 - she couldn't take his partying, late nights and drinking.

Ginger was a devout Christian Scientist, and that may have been something that she and Bill had in common. ABW and his former wife Oro had been Christian Scientists, too, and it's likely that Emma had raised William in the same faith.

Christian Science is often wrongly depicted as forbidding its members from using conventional medicine, resorting to prayer for healing instead. That's not entirely true. That doctrine certainly wasn't followed in July of 1936 when William's family experienced a nasty scare.

A story in the L.A. Times recounts that their daughter Loretta, with a young playmate, ate some poison toadstools that were growing in the yard. Horrified, Ellen rushed the children to the emergency room where their stomachs were pumped and they were given a scolding.

Between 1935 when "Top Hat" was made and the end of 1937, Rogers made seven films for RKO. In March of 1938, she just completed a film called "Vivacious Lady," when the studios rushed her into making some retakes for the earlier "Having Wonderful Time."

She had planned a skiing vacation with her mother in Sun Valley, and was frustrated at the demands on her time.

On Sunday, April 10th, Bill was at a friend's house in Beverly Hills. It was a modest part of town, where even today the homes are small Spanish-style cottages and bungalows. He was suddenly stricken with severe abdominal pain, collapsed and died. He was thirty-one years old.

His funeral took place at Forest Lawn Memorial Park a few days later.

Wee Kirk o' the Heather, Forest Lawn Memorial Park

Why would a young man in his prime die so suddenly? There are three stories in the Los Angeles Times, and some of the details don't quite make sense. On April 11th, it reads:
Complaining of severe pains, William E. H_____, 30 years of age, of 451 N. Occidental Avenue, secretary to [Actress], motion picture actress, collapsed in the home of a friend yesterday and died before medical aid could be obtained. Deputy sheriffs said an autopsy will be performed to determine cause of death. H____, who, with his wife Ellen and 8-year-old daughter were visiting the home of Peter Williams at 8853 Ashcroft Ave in Beverly Hills, previously had eaten in a Wilshire Boulevard [drugstore.]

An article the following day reads:
Death of William Edward H_____, 30 year old personal secretary to Ginger Rogers, film actress, last Sunday was attributed to an acute abdominal ailment following an autopsy conducted yesterday. H_____ , who lived at 451 N. Occidental Avenue with his wife Ellen and 8-year-old daughter, was stricken after partaking of luncheon at a public eating place. He collapsed at the home of a friend, Peter Williams, of 8853 Ashcroft Avenue, Beverly Hills. He died at Beverly Hills Emergency Hospital shortly afterward.
The next day, this article appeared:
Christian Science funeral services will be read today at 10:30 at the Wee Kirk o' the Heather, Forest Lawn Memorial Park, for William Edward H____, for the last three years personal secretary for Ginger Rogers, actress.
Ginger Rogers' autobiography mentions Bill only twice. She writes of her frustration during March and April of 1938 at being kept in L.A. for retakes of "Having Wonderful Time," and her distress over muddled vacation plans. "Ordinarily, Bill made my travel arrangements. I could always count on Bill to make sure everything went smoothly," she writes. But this time someone else, her mother's friend, made arrangements, and things did not go so well - there were missed connections and mixups.

She returned from her vacation on May 9, and began shooting her next film, "Carefree." She doesn't mention Bill again.

William's death seems to have split the family asunder. By 1939, ABW and William's mother Emma split up - ABW moved to an apartment on Ardmore Avenue in Hollywood. William's widow Ellen moved to Atwater Village, north of downtown L.A. Emma remained in the house on Bellevue Avenue.

How could such a young man be so suddenly stricken down from a meal at a drugstore counter? Food poisoning is rarely this deadly, and so swift.

Were his family with him when he died? Did he die at Peter's home or at the hospital? Did he go to Peter's place when he felt sick, or had the visit been planned? And who grabs lunch at a drugstore while on a Sunday visit, anyway? Did he receive medical treatment, or not?

Why would his employer avoid mentioning his death - and yet in a round-about way hint that he was no longer available to help her? Why would his wife move away from her mother-in-law, instead of going to her for support? Why would his stepfather leave his grieving mother?

There's a mystery here.

It makes me sad to think of William's little girl Loretta - losing her Daddy so suddenly, and remembering her own near-fatal brush with a tummy-ache.

Because [The Man I Love]'s family had lost contact with ABW, we don't have family tales and anecdotes to weave a clear narrative around these happenings. All we know about William, his career in Hollywood and his untimely death we found from census reports, voter registration reports, City Directories, and newspaper articles we can dig up. And we follow the trail where it leads - to Ginger Rogers' biography, to the Movie Database.

A promising young man worked on the best movie of the decade, with top stars, and two geniuses of theatrical dance - his passion. And then he was suddenly, violently, gone. The story is incomplete. We'll keep looking, but we may never know more.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Searching for ABW - Silverlake adjacent

First and Vermont, 1930

In an essay written near the end of his life, [The Man I Love]'s grandfather ABW says that he worked in Santa Monica as a linotype machine operator until 1930. After that, he says, he returned to Los Angeles and began working for a community newspaper called the Southwest Wave.

The 1930 census shows ABW now living at 2904 Belleveue Street, in a neighborhood northwest of downtown Los Angeles. North of MacArthur Park and south of Sunset Boulevard, it's considered part of Silverlake today.

Today, shabby single-family homes, small commercial strips, stucco Spanish duplexes, and mid-century apartment houses run up and down the rolling foothills of the Santa Monica Range that begin the further north you go from MacArthur Park and Wilshire Boulevard.

In ABW's day, it was a suburb, former farmland being developed into residential streets. This 1930 photograph shows the intersection of Silverlake Blvd. and London Street - just a few blocks away from ABW's home at Bellevue and Occidental, looking southwest. The large building in the center of the photo is the 1928-built Pacific Telephone and Telegraph building on Beverly Boulevard at Temple Street. Today the building is a storage facility and U-Haul rental site.

The Sanborn Insurance Maps show a small structure, probably a bungalow, on ABW's property. Its value was $5,000.00, and ABW is listed as the owner of the property.

This house, located a few blocks away on Lafayette Park Avenue, was typical of the homes in the neighborhood.

Across the street from 2904 Belleveue, was this modest retail building. In 1930 it probably housed a neighborhood market, just like it does today.

These duplex houses, across the street, have been stucco-faced and remodeled over the years, but they probably date from the 1920s and 1930s when the neighborhood was developed.

ABW doesn't mention it in his essay, but the census shows is that ABW lived there with two other people - his wife, Emma P. and her son, William E.

According to the census, Emma P. was from Texas. She was 47 years old, and had been married before, at the age of 23. Her mother had been from Germany. Her son's father was from Indiana.

The Los Angeles City Directory show Emma and William living in the small house at 2904 Bellevue during the 1920s, before ABW joined the family. As a boy, William attended nearby Belmont High School.

At 23, William was seven years older than ABW's son Richard, living in Santa Barbara with his mother.

We don't know anything about how ABW and Emma met, the story of their relationship. We know from census records and other documentation that they lived together at 2904 Bellevue for about nine years. We know that they split up, sometime around 1939.

Just after ABW moved in with Emma, his son Richard came to Los Angeles from Santa Barbara, transferring from Santa Barbara Teacher's College to UCLA. He was young and precocious - seventeen, a few years younger than the young man sharing ABW's home. Did he come to Los Angeles to join his father? How did he feel about his father's new family?

What kind of relationship did ABW have with his wife's son? Were they friends or were they uneasy living in the same house?

We don't know.

But while trying to find out more about ABW, we discovered a fascinating story about his stepson, William.

Coming up next. Stay tuned.

Thematic Photographic - Drink

Every Wednesday, Carmi posts the week's theme for Thematic Photographic. For the next seven days, bloggers post photos that echo that theme. This week's theme is: Drink

Sometimes you just want a cocktail. This pretty drink is the Mother-in-Law cocktail, "discovered" by blogger Chuck Taggart, of The Gumbo Pages. The story behind it is great.

We make our Mother-in-Law cocktails with maraschino cherries from Oregon, and Peychaud's bitters from New Orleans.

Monday, March 23, 2009


This time of year, in Southern California, there's a tree you see around that suddenly bursts out with a golden yellow brilliance of bloom.

The genus Acacia has over 1300 species, and is native to Australian, Africa, Asia and the Americas. They have yellow or cream flowers, and - as fits member of the legume family - they produce pea-like pods of seeds. They don't have pea-like flowers, however, but fuzzy little yellow balls of fluff. They are related to mimosas. Acacia wood is quite hard, and prized by woodworkers for its beautiful grain and its strength. Many acacias have large and fierce thorns growing on their trunks or on the branches among the leaves.

You can roughly divide them into two groups - one with long, narrow individual leaves, and the other with ferny leaves divided into compound pinnates.

Just south of the traffic light in the middle of the Canyon, there's a huge tree growing that is in spectacular bloom right now. I pulled over in the morning fog Friday to take its picture. Its wide canopy arches over the small cottage behind the fence.

On my street there are several acacias - this Acacia longifolia grows in my neighbor's yard and arches over my driveway. This type of acacia grows fast and gets leggy, and when it blooms sometimes the blossoms hold the weight of dew and spring rains, and bend it so low it sweeps my windshield.

Down the road from my house, this Acacia tree is probably Acacia dealbata, also called the Silver wattle. It's native to Australia, like a similar tree, Acacia baileyana, called the cootamundra wattle.

If you like these cheerful blooms, and think you might want to plant one, you should think twice. Consult your local horticulturalist.

Here in Southern California, acacias are beautiful nuisances. The California Invasive Plant Council advises that certain acacias species, including dealbata and longifolia, are invasive, spreading by seed and by root suckers.

That's probably how this pretty specimen came to be found in the wild mountain parkland, on the boulevard's "S" curves.

There are some acacias species native to California and the Southwest. If you want a bit of spring gold, but don't want to bring invasive species into your garden, check out the Theodore Payne Foundation nursery for the Catclaw Acacia, a California native.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Thematic Photographic - Drink

Every Wednesday, Carmi posts the week's theme for Thematic Photographic. For the next seven days, bloggers post photos that echo that theme. This week's theme is: Drink

Nothing's better than a tall cool drink of water when you're really thirsty. Go read "The Search for Delicious" by Natalie Babbitt if you don't believe me.

Over the top of the world

The road not taken - not today.

Sometimes I just want to explore. Get in the car to run an errand and then say - oh, let's go down this street instead, this time. Turn here, go that way. I've never been down this road before.

Topanga's lifeline is California Route 27, a two-lane highway that runs from the San Fernando Valley to the sea. When there is an accident, or an obstacle; when the road is washed out, shut down for paving, a Haz-mat spill or blocked for miles with stopped cars, we've learned to find other ways to get in and out of the Canyon.

Years ago I found the way Up-and-Over from Calabasas to Entrado Drive, but I forgot it. Today on the way back home from the valley, I searched again, and this time found it.

It's a blustery day today - exactly what a March day should be. Bright and sunny, and gusting with sudden wind. The sky is brilliant, with white puffy clouds that scud across the horizon. I pointed the little Volkswagen up a suburban street, lined with Spanish-tile stucco houses, shiny SUV's in each driveway.

And the road climbed. And climbed some more.

There was a huge water tank. And the road still climbed.

I stopped and got out of the car and looked back where I'd come from. Here, the wind whipped the grass, and spun dust from the road's shoulder.

Then the road changed. It narrowed, still climbing. The asphalt was rough and potholed.

To one side was the Valley; Woodland Hills, Calabasas. Streets of orange-roofed house and swimming pools and grassy lawns and cars. To the other side was nothing but the hills and the chaparral and the oaks and the meadows.

The road grew rougher and more narrow. It clung to the edge of the hillside. I crept the little car along, feeling its wheels thud into the potholes.

And then the road came to a "T". Poised there on the crest of a narrow ridge, at the top of the world. A red-tailed hawk rode the currents of air.

Ahead, Henry Ridge Road. To the left, Alta Road. To the right, a dirt driveway climbing higher still, past a gate. Should I continue? No, it was private property.

I took the leftward turning. Up here, the road threads along the top of the ridge, and the land falls abruptly away from the edge of the pavement. The houses cling to the hills, their rooflines below the road; or poised on stilts that cantilever them over yawning precipices.

We Topangans are used to treacherous driveways and car-parks. Up here, that's all you get.

Then the road began to descend, curving and switchbacking onto itself down to the creekbed.

Folks get to know their neighbors up here. Encounter another driver and someone has to pull off to the shoulder.

The road twined down through the oaks and past the older houses that used to be country cabins for Los Angelenos escaping the city on weekends - or hippie hangouts in the '60s.

Now dropping swiftly into the woods, it dipped across the creekbed,

then climbed back up through the bungalows to join Route 27 again.

I waited at the stop sign for an Escalade to blow past, then accelerated back into the world.