Friday, April 16, 2021

STARSTRUCK

It's nearly impossible to be raised in Southern California and not - in at least some small way - be affected by the movie industry. I was profoundly affected.

The distance of years and a semblance of maturity have slightly diminished my youthful enthusiasm for Hollywood, yet it still lingers with enduring persistence.

I was six years old when my family moved to California. At that long-ago time, remnants of Hollywood's golden past still lingered. The original Brown Derby restaurant was doing a brisk business on Wilshire Boulevard. Ciro's and the Coconut Grove were still hot night spots.

Movie stars were often out and about and sometimes accessible. We saw Harpo Marx on Hollywood Boulevard and Debbie Reynolds at the (then famous) Farmer's Market. I met comedian Henny Youngman on Olvera Street (the famed touristy Mexican street) when I was a kid. In my sublime youthful ignorance I'd never heard of him - but got his autograph anyway.

 My father and I were stowaways in a wagon, on the set of Wagon Train somewhere in the Mojave Desert

As a child I had the privilege of seeing numerous TV shows being filmed on location (a friend of our family worked in the industry). Most notably I remember the movie ranch owned by stuntman/actor Ray "Crash" Corrigan, which was located in the Simi Valley, nestled in the scenic foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains.

Later known as Corriganville, it was in active use from the 1930's until around 1965. Hundreds of cowboy movies were filmed there and many TV shows including Gunsmoke, Rawhide, the Cisco Kid, Rin Tin Tin, the Lone Ranger, etc. 
Unfortunately, all the movie sets were destroyed by a series of fires in the 1970's.


Me, age six or seven, inspecting an ancient fire engine on a movie set

My father snapped this photo while a feisty actor from Gunsmoke drew his six-shooter on me (I don't remember the actor's name)

 That's me in front of the fort which was used in the 1948 movie Fort Apache (that was before my time...) and many other movies.

 Here's a photo of the fort taken while they were filming the movie

 
 I never had any aspirations to be an actor or to work in the film industry, but I was still intrigued with it.

When I was in my 20's (and early 30's) I spent a lot of time in Hollywood and had the opportunity to mingle with some of the bigwigs. I met many stars - including John Wayne, Groucho Marx, Shelley Winters, Sammy Davis Jr., Raquel Welch, Cher, Ann Miller, Patty Duke, George Burns, Zsa Zsa Gabor (to name only a few).

Just for the heck of it, I also did a few stints as a movie extra and worked on such enormously forgettable pictures as Malibu Beach and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

I probably shouldn't ruin my sterling reputation by mentioning this (big *smile* inserted here), but I knew a fairly well-known director of adult films and was on the sets of a few porn movies - including one on location near the old Spahn Ranch, where notorious Charles Manson and his murderous hippie gang used to live.
I even had an offer to be in a gay porn flick but declined. Despite ugly rumors to the contrary, I do have a small semblance of pride and dignity.....

My main interest, of course, was music and I exclusively concentrated on my work as a pianist. 
Yet, my fascination with the film industry later inspired me when I was a freelance writer. I published many articles about Hollywood history (with an emphasis on the silent era). My main objective for writing was to resurrect the memory of forgotten stars and films.

My present existence as a semi-hermit in the Tennessee wilderness is very far removed from my California youth. My Hollywood memories linger tauntingly like echoes of a faded dream.

I cherish them.




 

10 comments:

  1. As you should! Yours is certainly an extraordinary life, Jon, and it's not over by any means. In all seriousness, who knows what awaits?

    PS - Among those you mentioned, I would have loved to meet Sammy Davis, Jr. and George Burns. Patty Duke, too.

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    1. It's strange that I never considered my life to be extraordinary in any way - - until I got older and started looking back at all the things I experienced. That's when I astonished myself (!).

      Sammy Davis Jr. was one of the nicest people in Hollywood. I only met him once, but he was so kind, caring, and genuinely interested in others. Very down-to-earth.
      George Burns was a real character - - exactly like the characters he played in movies. He always had a cigar - - but I seldom actually saw him smoke. It was more like a prop.

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  2. What a fascinating life you lived, Jon! And your cherished photos are amazing! Mevely is right - you have lived an extraoridinary life. How many people can honestly say THAT? :)

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    1. My life is presently so VERY mundane and boring, that sometimes I enjoy sharing the treasured memories of my previous life. I've admittedly done many things that most people never had a chance to do.

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  3. Growing up and living in the shadow of Hollywood is very unique to all the rest of the world. You knew at a young age that the movies were pretend and you got to see where they made some of them. What an interesting life! :)

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    1. I'm really glad that I knew Hollywood when it was still a fairly unique and glamorous place. It has changed drastically in recent years and is absolutely nothing like it used to be. I'd never want to go back. It was fun to see those movie and TV sets when I was a kid.

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  4. As others have commented (and rightly so) Jon, you have had an interesting and diverse life. I've read about the Corringanville movie ranch and about the fire that destroyed it, what a loss, but then so many former sets are also gone. I totally agree with your comment above that Hollywood is nothing like back then and how exciting to have been there in its heyday. What a thrill to have been there to see movies and shows being filmed and I enjoyed your vintage photos in this post.

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    1. It's nearly impossible to describe how beautiful and exciting Southern California was when I was a child. Sadly, it's now a dangerous and largely unappealing place - with the crime and hoards of homeless people.
      All of the old well-known monuments of Hollywood's golden years have been demolished and replaced with condos and tacky tourist attractions.

      I could go on, but this will turn into a tedious rant. Anyway, I'm glad you enjoyed this post.

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  5. Jon, just wanted to let you know that I am mailing out your CD's this week for sure. Please check your e-mail so that I can double check that I have your correct mailing address. THANKS!! ;-)

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  6. I watched Ft Apache and laughed at John Wayne and his group... "disposing" of the alcohol so it would not fall into Apache hands. IF you ask me, Henry Fonda's character had no place in that movie. He was a JERK!
    That being said, I can only imagine you moved out of California for one of many reasons that many other folks have left that state. It is nothing like it was 30 years ago! ( maybe longer?) But hats off for the silent movie fetish. Every now and then A Buster Keaton movie will grace my YouTube play list and I will watch it and wonder why it is not being played in the present. Even with his skits being imitated years later, seeing them from the master still makes me laugh and laugh. Those silent movie guys had to rely on talent and skill instead of explosions and CGI. Ah, the good old days. ( Not all movies were good back then either, but we love to fill in the void with romance.) Honestly I missed this post the other day and am posting a comment now because of today's post comments are not allowed. Is that strange? ( Shrug.) Maybe. Enjoy your cold weather! Iowa is getting hit with snow as I write this. Maybe you guys will only get rain.

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I love comments. Go ahead and leave one - I won't bite. But make sure you have a rabies shot just in case.