Tuesday, April 29, 2008

pizza to go

Life with Mother was never ordinary. She had a genuine enthusiasm for life, and a unique flair that expressed itself in every living day. She believed in having fun, and in making a statement.

Even a mundane task such as being dropped off at school would reflect her art of living. Imagine an elementary school in the late 1960's. A line of avocado green and harvest gold station wagons with wood grain siding are lined up to discharge America's youth for a day of learning.

Alongside pulls a midnight blue Camaro SS convertible with a red leatherette interior and white bumblebee stripes. The top is down. The non-matronly driver is my Mother. She is wearing hip-huggers, a white leather belt, and a knit tank top blouse. She has a Marlboro in one hand and her beehive hairdo is lacquered to the point of hurricane preparedness. She has more than a passing resemblance to Cousin Serena. And so begins another day of school.

Fast forward to the mid- seventies. The Camaro has been replaced by a little five-speed Porsche with a removable top. It's a spring day and we are headed into town to pick up a pizza. She's having fun putting the little car though its paces- the strong clutch and racing style gearbox. She's not being reckless, but is holding the gears and driving spiritedly- like putting a thoroughbred horse through its paces.

About a mile from the pizza joint, we spy a police helicopter overhead. "They're not interested in us" she says. We gaze overhead and they do indeed seem to be following us. "Here's where we lose them" she says as she downshifts to second and executes a power turn into the parking lot.

The helicopter lands.

Mom looks a bit white faced at this point. I turn to her and ask, "Can I have the money now?" I begin to wonder if I'll be baking her a cake with a file in it. Now that I think of it, she does look good in stripes.

One of the Officers approaches. "Nice car" he says with a wink, then turns and walks to the door.

They had ordered a pizza too.

Monday, April 28, 2008

misty miss

My father was in the Marine Corps, stationed in San Diego, in the early 1950's. My Mother, his High School steady, flew out to California on a Lockheed Constellation four-propeller airplane after he proposed (by letter) in 1954. Her scrapbook contains her plane ticket, in flight menu, and even her American Airlines cocktail napkin. It had to have been paradise, to be in uncrowded and unspoiled San Diego in the mid-fifties.

One of the perks at the time was an outdoor theatre called the Starlight Bowl, in Balboa Park. In Mother's scrapbook are several programs from performances they attended there- mostly musicals but some orchestras as well. One of the programs was for a concert by the Stan Kenton Orchestra featuring vocals by June Christy. From that night, June Christy would be my father's favorite singer, and later on one of mine as well.

Born Shirley Luster, she auditioned for and joined Kenton in 1945. They immediately had a hit record with a slightly satirical novelty song called "Tampico", which would become Kenton's best selling recording of all time. It was in the band that she met saxophonist and sports car racer Bob Cooper, whom she married shortly thereafter. Tanned, blond, and casual, the personified the Southern California lifestyle. They were known to their friends as Christy and Coop.

Christy recorded a tune which became her signature piece, "Something Cool", in 1950. It's a slow paced jazz piece where her voice is as much of an instrument as anything in Kenton's band. It is credited with starting what was called the "vocal cool" movement of the mid 50's. She released several albums for Capitol in the 1950's which did well in the jazz world, and achieved some crossover success in the mainstream as well.

Not one for the spotlight, Christy's last major album was released in 1960, with a new stereo recording of "Something Cool", this time as the title piece of an album. She went into semi-retirement, gardening and raising their daughter, Shay. She appeared occasionally at Jazz festivals and nightclubs. She was most usually spotted in Sherman Oaks, driving her beloved white 1964 Thunderbird convertible.

Her most successful album, 1956's top 20 charting "The Misty Miss Christy" was Dad's favorite. He literally listened to it hundreds of times in my youth. I have it now, along with all his old Christy LP's. I gave him the CD versions so he is not deprived.

Here's Christy at her peak- recorded in 1958, she puts her inimitable mark on "I Want to Be Happy":

And for your misty cool listening pleasure, here is a 1965 appearance of the Misty Miss Christy, backed by Stan Kenton singing "A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening":

More Christy? Click Here

Sunday, April 27, 2008

sunday drive: neon by night

I had to go in to the store yesterday, which precluded my regularly scheduled Sunday drive. But I got out relatively early, and met my friend Will (aka Trixie) on the Third Street Promenade for a bite. I brought camera along to capture nightime views of a few of the signs I've shown you on previous drives. So take a look at some Santa Monica Neon by Night:

The restored Criterion Theater, on the Promenade:

Stop off for a quick drink at Joe's?

The very end of Route 66, at the Santa Monica Pier:

Neon and incandescent, the Ferris Wheel on the Pier:

Impervious to time, the Pacific Sands on Ocean:

My beloved Aero Theatre, on Montana:

Saturday, April 26, 2008

mambo mania

Perez Prado was the King of the Mambo, although he didn't invent it. Technically, the Mambo appeared on the scene in 1938, as a danzón written by Orestes and Cachao López. Orestes López is considered to be the father of the Mambo.

But Perez Prado brought it to the world. Mambo, which means "conversation with the gods", is the name of a Haitian Voodoo Princess. The López brothers introduced rhythms derived from African folk music into the traditional Cuban danzón.

Perez Prado spread the Mambo to the world. He was the first to call his music Mambo, and he introduced a dance to his nightclub act in 1943. When he left Cuba for Mexico in 1948, he took the Mambo with him. He had a band and a contract and recorded Mambo for RCA Victor. These recordings were broadcast on Spanish radio in New York and LA. Others heard the mambo and recorded versions for mainstream release. Prado caught on and began recording for and touring in the American Market.

The Mambo swept the country in the early fifties. New York called it "Mambomania". There were hugely popular Mambo nights at the Park Plaza Ballroom in Manhattan and the Palladium. Katherine Dubham hosted Prado and his orchestra at her dance studio on 43rd and Broadway. The cultural elite of New York came to Mambo.

Prado had huge hits with "Mambo Number 5", "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White", and "Patricia", among others. Other mainstream artists wanted into the act. Eartha Kitt recorded "Mambo de Paris". Rosemary Clooney recorded "Mambo Italiano", which Dean Martin picked up on. Even crooner Perry Como joined the fun, with a novelty song called "Papa Loves Mambo".

Mambo enjoyed a resurgence in 1999, when German born Lou Bega recorded a remake of Mambo No. 5, adding his own lyrics along with a bevy of lovely Mambo dancers. The result was a monster hit that hit #1 on most European charts, spent 20 weeks at number 1 in France and hit #3 in the US. The song also spent 50 weeks on the chart in England.

For a fun look back at Mambomania, here are some clips. First up, Mexican film star Lilia Prado dances to Mambo No. 5 in the 1950 film "Pobre Corazón"

Rosemary Clooney shows her Italian heritage (huh?) with "Mambo Italiano":

Dean Martin gives his try at the same:

And my personal favorite, crooner (and all around nice guy) Perry Como with "Papa Loves Mambo:

A look at the recent past, with Lou Bega's very catchy 1999 version:

Now try and get that rhythm out of your head.

Friday, April 25, 2008

all things end

Last summer, when Mike's Dad was nearing his final days, I bought a dark suit against the hour of inevitable need. I was at a weight where my own suits did not look right, so I figured this one modest purchase would get me through this one event and then hopefully be relegated to the back closet.

Sadly, in the first week of December, the suit was used a second time to deliver the eulogy for my Mother. I was less than thrilled to find a repeat use for the somber garment.

Last night's call caught me off guard. I've known Dyna for nearly twenty years. We were all very active in the gay car club way back when. I've been much less actively lately owing to work, but still have a lot of old friends from that clan.

Dyna and Fred. Cybill and Mary Ann. Mame and Vera. Siegfried and Roy. You get the idea. Inseparable friends. Dyna was Lucy reincarnated in the body of a tall Swedish boy. Fred was bearded and bearish, but in a Cyd Charisse way. Very funny and outspoken, a natural emcee. The first time I met him was at a slumber party in Las Vegas in 1994. He was wearing thick black plastic framed glasses a'la 1960, a full beard, and a chartreuse baby doll nightie. It requires conscious thought to picture him any other way.

The conversation I recall most with Fred was not the last one by any means. It was 2002, shortly after a painful breakup of a five year relationship. He came up to me and gave me an understanding look and a big hug. "All things end", he said. The implied words were as loud as the spoken ones.

And sadly, all things do end. Fred was at work on Saturday when he began having difficulty breathing. A coworker called 911. By the time the ambulance arrived, he had suffered a severe heart attack right on the floor of Barney's New York. "At least it wasn't Target", Dyna reassured me.

He passed away in the ambulance en route to the hospital. He would have turned 50 in May. I'm in sort of a double shock- besides it being so sudden and shocking, it's also the first friend to die of a typical middle age male malady- a heart attack. Now that's a strange realization. I lost many people to the plague, back in my 30's. But such a sadly ordinary downfall is a shock to my system.

The suit will be used one more time, but that will not be the end. The 50th birthday party will go on as planned, albeit as a tribute. The ONLY way to honor Fred is with a party.

If you have room in your prayers, please remember Fred, his Mother and brother David, and Dyna. And all of us who will miss him so sadly and remember him so fondly.

A toast to you, Fred. I know you'll make a fashion statement in Heaven.

Here's a tribute for you from the fabulous Eva Cassidy. I hope you like it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

ten days

Ten days into the pretty-gosh-darn-low-carbo diet and I'm doing okay. I get sometimes hungry at mealtimes, but not ravenous. Other times I seem to forget to eat at all and have to stop and remind myself. I'm not at all tempted by by former arch enemy, the Satanic Vending Machine.

I'm getting used to the overcrowded parking lot at Trader Joe's. I leave the little Foreman grill on the counter even tho it clashes with my mid-century decor- anyone have a Gingham grill cozy?

I'm trying to get used to water. Lots of water. Yesterday, I seemed to have drank a swimming pool by mid day. I've even forsaken vodka for the time being. (Was that an earthquake.....?)

But there are effects. Clothes are more loose- one notch in the belt so far. I like that. And my energy level is better. Not as tired at the end of the day, and mornings are much easier. I feel like I'm off the sugar roller coaster. And I managed just in time for the global rice shortage. Whee.

Seriously, y'all, doing just fine with it and I'll keep you posted. Rice cake, anyone?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

sunday drive: harvey's broiler, downey ca

It's not a secret that I am simply mad about mid century architecture- a total post and beam devotee. The soaring rooflines, the use of lava rock and wild color and amazing lighting- I guess Jeff is just a fool for Googie. And Googie translates well into coffee shops- roadside, iconic, building as sign structures designed to both attract the automobile and compliment it as well. Somewhat like a patio garage with curb service.

Today's drive is a story that almost ended in tragedy. Downey, California, suburban Southern California home to the Carpenters, the second-oldest surviving Mc Donald's and the much loved and tragically maligned Harvey's Broiler.

Harvey Ortner and his wife Minnie hired local architect Paul B. Clayton to design a distinctive coffee shop. Opened in 1958, Harvey's Broiler was an instant hit and became a local landmark on Firestone Boulevard where it operated for over forty three years. The locals loved the broiler, as did the movies who used it for many, many locations including "What's Love Got to Do With It" and "Short Cuts".

I must interject here that I simply LOVED the Broiler. I would stand out front and look up at the massive neon and incandescent sign and listen to the mechanical switches that flashed the white bulbs on and off- click, click, click. It was such a wonderful place.

Time passed and Harvey and Minnie sold the diner to Johnnie Symantis who changed the name to Johnie's Broiler. It continued to operate until New Year's Eve, 2001 when it suddenly closed. It reopened in 2002 as a used car lot, but the building was intact. It received a unanimous endorsement from the Downey City Council in 2002 as a California Historic Landmark. It should have been safe.

Fast forward to January 7, 2007. The tenant, without permits, without even turning off the gas and electric, hired bulldozers and began to demolish the property at 3pm. One of the local preservationists saw and called police. The illegal demolition was halted and this began a year of waiting. A local preservation group, Save Harvey's Broiler, pressured the city to force the owner to restore the property. The tenant pled no contest to three criminal charges. The property owner was suddenly very cooperative with the city.

And then a miracle happened. Just two weeks ago, the property owner signed a long term lease with Big Boy restaurant operator Jim Louder. The Broiler will be restored as a Big Boy restaurant, in as authentic of a fashion as is possible.

Harvey and Minnie's pride and joy will rise again. It's almost beyond belief. Many thanks to the Los Angeles Conservancy and the tireless Adrienne Biondo, and the Save Harvey's Broiler Foundation.

I took these photos myself at the site the following day, January 8, 2007. I spoke to many locals that day who were in shock. A bus driver stopped to talk to me, weeping openly. The locals love this building as much as I do.

Harvey's Broiler, on the eve of resurrection. Notice how the dining room and the iconic signage are still intact, as are the carports:

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

winter weight

Spring has arrived in Santa Monica and I'm a bit frustrated. The winter weight, which carried with it the angst from a terrible loss and an intense moving adventure, seems to like it here and has been resisting the notion of leaving anytime soon. I've been trying to find a sensible diet to click with, but its been a challenge this year. I'm trying to resist totally drastic measures like the Master Cleanse because my health insurance is only mediocre.

I did stumble upon this charming commercial for weight loss product from 1957 called Tafon. Check it out. Notice the kind tone of language used throughout. Oh, and try spelling it backwards...

Enter my longtime friend Janine from San Francisco. A good friend and professional writer, we met online in the classic Cadillac enthusiast community back in the 90's. She sent me an email last weekend announcing that she has started her own blog, called the low carb evangelist, dedicated to healthy eating. It's a combination of outreach and reinforcement by accountability for herself. And because she's a very talented storyteller, it's a fun read. And its great for me, because I have a blogbuddy to reinforce my desire to drop the winter pounds. I'm doing her triad- no sugar, no wheat, no flour. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

Welcome to the World O'Jeff Blogroll, Janine. Check her out here

Sunday, April 13, 2008

sunday drive: cottages of venice

Venice is one of the oldest areas on the West side, it was incorporated in 1905. Its main street was named for its founder, Abbot Kinney. His boulevard has lived through many incarnations, boom and bust, neglect and rebirth today becoming Venice's answer to Melrose- fashion and food.

The cottage is the iconic structure of Venice, even as the street becomes populated with sleek modern multistory structures, the little cottages flourish. Juxtaposition is the story of Venice, and nothing speaks more eloquently than the cottages.

Abbot-Kinney Boulevard, cottages and signage old and new for your amusement.

More photos here

Monday, April 7, 2008

whales and foxes

Last night was the closing night for the Bette Davis Centennial Tribute. It has been great fun to see four nights worth of her important films on a big screen. There were a handful of us that I recognized from all four nights but all in all it was a smallish crowd last night.

We were treated to The Whales of August, featuring a seventy-nine year old Davis paired with Lillian Gish as widowed sisters facing their mortality at the end of a long life together. It was a remarkably sweet and pleasing film, and Bette was clearly herself even in this, the last picture she would complete. Yup, still a handful at nearly eighty. Definitely worth viewing for Davis fans.

The tribute closed with The Little Foxes, the story of a scheming and materialistic woman who blackmails her way into control of the family business. Think of her not as a fox, but a barracuda in Orry-Kelly. Possibly her strongest role, and out and out fun. A great way to commemorate the birth of one of the strongest actors ever to appear on film. Happy birthday, Bette.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

sunday drive: malibu

Although the entire stretch of California Highway 1 between Dana Point and Oxnard is designated Pacific Coast Highway, it does not run its entire length along the ocean.

Specifically, it turns inward at Long Beach and does not return to the oceans edge until Santa Monica, where it runs along the coast through Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades, Castellmare, and Malibu on the way to Oxnard. This section is quite old, dating to 1929. For today's sunday drive we are going to Malibu- dazzling movie star hideout but also quaint and old. Some parts are untouched from the 20's with lots of 40's, 50's and 60's. Of course, vintage signage and old architecture along with some natural beauty for your enjoyment. I'll let the photos speak for themselves, but included is a Quonset hut market in Topanga Canyon, the building in castellmare that housed Thelma Todd's Cafe in the 30's and the Malibu Pier. Twenty seven miles of scenic beauty. Enjoy.

More photos here