A Baseball Bat for a Guitar

A Baseball Bat for a Guitar

One of the shortcomings of my childhood was the fact that neither my father Blackie nor my mother Beth took an active interest in the education my siblings and I were receiving at school.  There were reasons why this was the case.  My father’s blacklisting on the east coast was why he drove the family across the country in the hope of working on the San Francisco waterfront through the longshore union, the ILWU.  We arrived in Mill Valley in late 1952 and the priority of both my parents was seeing that their four children had food on the table. 

   Good friends had rallied around the Myers family on our arrival in town.  Babbie Dreyfus found us our first house up on Madera Way which is the reason my sisters Nell and Kate went to Old Mill School.  Babbie, in an act of generous friendship, then bought us our house down on Seymour Avenue.  This was why my brother Jim and I went to Homestead School.

   Nell and Kate seemed to take to school work without any parental oversight and my brother Jim muddled along but I was a daydreamer who found school boring, hard work and sometimes scary.  I did receive the basics of an education in that I learned to read, write and do simple arithmetic but Homestead School was never a place I wanted to be and I certainly received no idea of how exciting and interesting the educational process can be.  When the darkness of Sunday evenings closed in a feeling of dread would descend on my soul knowing it was school again in the morning.  

   All my female teachers, for the first four years, were ardent practitioners of corporal punishment and would regularly give angry spankings with rulers to those poor souls whose parents had ticked the box allowing them to to be punished in this way.  The fact that most of the parents, including my own, gave no such permission, did nothing to minimise the atmosphere of terror which filled the classroom whenever the teacher lost her temper and took it out on some poor kid.  So any excuse to stay off school I would seize with great enthusiasm.

   The things which did grab my attention were comic books, movies and pop music.  The comic books came from the Bus Depot, the movies were witnessed at the Sequoia Theatre and the pop records were to be found at Village Music.  It was during my time in Mrs Lewis’s third grade class that Glen Pritzker and I began regularly haunting the record shop where Sara Wilcox would play us any single we wanted to hear.  Discs like Sixteen Tons, The Man With the Golden Arm and Mister Sandman were big hits with me.  

   The very first time I became enamoured of rock ’n roll was when my family went to see Blackboard Jungle at the Sequoia and I heard Bill Haley singing Rock Around The Clock.  It wasn’t too much longer before Elvis Presley came to my attention.  The first Elvis disc I heard at the record shop was Heartbreak Hotel which didn’t impress me very much but when I heard his first LP with Blue Suede Shoes on it, his singing and musical accompaniment appealed greatly to my nine year old sensibility.  Somewhere along the way my parents made me a present of that first LP which was simply titled Elvis Presley.  

   I would listen to it over and over dancing around the room to the infectious rhythms and singing full throated imitations of the words.  Of course I was a young boy and relatively innocent about the lyrics I was mouthing though I could see that songs like I Got A Woman and One-Sided Love Affair were clearly about adult sexual relations, something I had seen a lot of at the Sequoia but really knew nothing about.

   The album cover had a black and white picture of Elvis with his name printed in what I later learned were his favourite colours: pink and green.  He was playing his guitar, which had his name on it, and singing with wild abandon.  On the back cover there were four photos of him, all taken at the same session.  He had his guitar strapped on and seemed to be talking to someone in the top two pictures and performing with the guitar in the bottom two.  These four photos were the only visual clues I had about Elvis as a performer.  Listening to the songs was so up close and personal that I came to think the music belonged to me.  I presumed that Presley always played the guitar on stage.  

Elvis at the Louisiana Hayride. From left: Scotty Moore, Elvis Presley, Bill Black.

   The lead guitar on this album was provided by Scotty Moore and maybe I thought that was Elvis playing all those fabulous licks.  The reality was that he strummed rhythm guitar while Scotty filled the air with his fabulous finger pickin’.  Another rhythmic element which made these recordings so terrific was the slap bass of Bill Black and most of these tracks were recorded at Sam Phillips’ studio at Sun Records in Memphis.

At the Sun Records studio. From left: Elvis Presley, Bill Black, Scotty Moore, Sam Phillips.

   When Colonel Tom Parker bought Elvis’s contract from Phillips and took the singer to RCA the rhythm section Presley had been touring the south with came with him to New York where a few additional songs were cut.  Needless to say I knew none of this as I jigged around my parents’ bedroom imitating the extremely athletic vocals on One Sided Love Affair which also had a great boogie piano.

   As my totally committed imitations persisted I began to wonder what I could use as a guitar.  Blackie had got Jim and I two fielder’s mitts, a hard ball and a baseball bat and my brother and I regularly played catch up on the road above our house.  So I picked up the baseball bat and began using it as a guitar.

   All of this performance art occurred without witnesses when nobody else was around.  Our house at 10 Seymour was always full of music mostly from the record player.  Both my parents were musical in the sense that they could carry a tune but neither of them was a musician.  As a family, we were people who listened to rather than made music.  My older sisters sang at school and even did harmony parts but my brother Jim and I never received such training at Homestead.  We did have a woman who came to instruct us in group singing but it was all unison with no harmonic division.

   A song which I remember my mother Beth singing a lot was Alive, Alive-O all about Molly Malone selling her cockles and mussels in streets wide and narrow.  She also used to sing a song from the 1920s about Barney Google with the Goo-Goo-Googley Eyes.  Blackie also had a very good singing voice and though he had known Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger he didn’t think much of folk music.  Broadway musicals were more his style.  Our record player was always in use and shows like The King and I and Oklahoma were often played.

   So when my fascination with the records of Elvis Presley motivated me to pick up that baseball bat, pretending it was a guitar and to do energetic imitations of him singing such songs as Money Honey and Tryin’ To Get To You, it didn’t go unnoticed.  In fact I even did my Elvis routine in the playground at Homestead School and my baseball bat guitar along with my vocals were engaging enough for my friend Glen Pritzker to pronounce that, when we were grown up, he was going to be my manager.

   But the political world my parents came from was nothing to do with the playground at Homestead.  Beth and Blackie never joined the PTA or engaged in anything social at our our school, though they would put in an appearance on parents night.  My mother was a highly intelligent woman, a published author and a total bookworm.  One time she joined other mothers to prepare the hot dogs which were our special school treat on Thursdays, but that was an isolated incident not to be repeated.  Like my mother, Black was a very intelligent guy but again he took no interest in what we were doing at school. 

   So because of my passion for Elvis it was decided I should have a guitar for Christmas.  Blackie even had a plan for me to learn to play it.  The son of our good friend, Mike Gold, played guitar and he would give me lessons.  The fact that this very plausible scheme had serious flaws in it was invisible to all.

   Mike Gold and his family had recently moved out to San Francisco from New York.  Mike was a well known writer on the political left and had published a best seller in the 1930s entitled Jews Without Money and was also a founding editor of The New Masses.  Both Mike’s sons, Carl and Nick played guitar and as their father was good friends with Pete Seeger they had performed at many a hoe-down with the famous folk singer.

   Mike’s son Nick was in his early twenties and was working as a longshoreman on the San Francisco waterfront.  I visited him at his apartment in North Beach with my guitar.  He was very nice and patient with me and started me off with the fingering for a few chords like C, A and F.  His musical passion, besides the folk music he’d grown up with, was a form of jazz called be-bop.  Rock and roll was not even on his radar.  Nick did not ask me about my musical interests.  He simply told me what I should do and lent me some records to practice to.  The records were of no interest to me at all and, like many a homework assignment, I would begin with the best of intentions, get bored and do something else.  I never learned to play any of the Elvis songs I loved so much.

   Music appreciation can be highly tribal.  People tend to treat the type of music they like with an almost religious reverence and often dismiss other genres out of hand.  There are sub-divisions in every type of music: classical, jazz, folk and of course rock.  Blackie’s idea of getting Nick to teach me was, on the surface, a good idea but it hadn’t been thought through from an educational standpoint.  Nick Gold was simply not the right fit for me musically.

   Many months later while clearing out a room with my brother Jim and I, Blackie came across the guitar, covered with dust.  “Well that was a good investment,” he snarled sarcastically.  His words stabbed me and I immediately felt tremendous shame.

   Had my parents been educationally oriented I might have made better use of the opportunities that were all around me while I was at school.  I would have loved to study music with Mr Greenwood like my friend Mark Symmes and learned to play an instrument but that was not the path I was on.  I was a seeker of experience and that road would take me many places.  I knew as a teenager that I wasn’t qualified to sing the blues because I hadn’t lived enough.  I had to know what I was singing about for real.

Three books have been helpful in writing this piece: Elvis: The Biography by Jerry Hopkins, Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick, Michael Gold: The People’s Writer by Patrick Chura

For anyone doing research on Mill Valley history Natalie Snoyman can be reached at: nsnoyman@cityofmillvalley.org

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Fishing in Sausalito

Fishing in Sausalito…

My father Blackie was someone who followed his own compass in life.  At no point during my childhood in Mill Valley was he ever distracted by trends or social norms.  I can remember being with him in some remote location and seeing a ‘No Trespassing’ sign which would always worry me but not Blackie.  He didn’t acknowledge those kinds of barriers.  He had no regard for social status and our home at 10 Seymour Avenue was far from the images you’d see in magazines of American life in the fifties.    He came of age in the late 1920s, 30s and 40s and his style was definitely from those eras rather than the 1950s that my siblings and I were growing up in.

   The status symbols of that time in American life, like fancy cars, television sets and dishwashing machines were so far off his radar that he probably didn’t even know they existed.  My siblings and I knew because of our exposure to the high powered advertising we’d see on our friends’ television sets.  Blackie would not let us have a TV so we relied on the kindness of neighbours to see programmes like Disneyland, The Steve Allen Show or Ozzie and Harriet.  

   Black told me that he never finished high school and went to sea at the age of 14.  Born into a Brooklyn family of seven children, Frederick Nelson Myers got his nickname early because of his coal black hair.  By the time he was twenty years old he’d already seen more of the world than most people do in a lifetime.

   The way he spoke was always entertaining to us kids.  He never used ordinary descriptions of things and his use of profanity had a lyrical, humorous quality to it.  Raised in a religious house where his mother was Catholic and his father Protestant, Blackie began to question his faith early on.  He told me it was his father who, upon hearing him recite: “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth,” challenged him to explain what that meant.  When the young boy couldn’t, the seeds of doubt set in.  Blackie’s nickname for Jesus Christ was ‘Jerusalem Slim’ and when he expressed mild surprise he’d say: “Jesus, Mary and bald headed Joseph.” 

   My father seemed to have a natural patience about life unlike me.  Patience was not a huge feature of my childhood.  As a young person I was someone with little patience.  The idea of waiting for things to happen did not come naturally.  And I’m afraid that neither of my parents were particularly helpful with this deficiency in my character.

   Like many kids I was constantly running and tripping in the playground and this meant I regularly had scabs on my knees.  A scab really should be left alone so that the congealed blood can dry out and fall off naturally but I would always pick at them.  I also noticed on long walks home after school that, as my finger nails grew in length there were new layers arriving in waves on the top of each nail.  Using the thumbnail on my opposite hand I would intercept these new layers, driving the thumbnail underneath them which would shave back the new layer.  I was somehow not content to just let my body get on with the business of replenishing itself.  No.  I had to interfere with it.  

   The few times I engaged in gardening on our land at 10 Seymour I would have to exercise patience and it would be rewarded several days later when the corn I’d planted would come shooting out of the ground which I would find thrilling.  Working in the garden, however, was not a way of life for me unlike Blackie who found it to be a relaxing therapeutic activity.  But I think that Black enjoyed the solitude of such endeavours and never felt the need to introduce us to it.  We had a sizeable patch of land below our house on a hill which was covered with blackberry bushes.  Saturday and Sunday afternoons he would spend doing battle with the blackberry bushes and it sometimes looked like he would never win.  But he did make considerable headway and eventually terraced the earth below our house with wooden planks creating beds of soil which looked like giant steps in which he’d plant lettuce, carrots, string beans and corn.

   Blackie at this time was working as a ship’s clerk on the San Francisco waterfront through the ILWU, the Longshore union.  Occasionally he’d return with bits of treasure from that world and one time a huge bunch of bananas came home with him to hang from a hook on our front porch.  My sister Nell thinks this explained the occasional appearance of tarantula spiders at 10 Seymour Avenue.

   One sunny afternoon Nell, Kate, Jim and I were all reading on the front porch when I noticed something moving on the path in my peripheral vision.  A closer look revealed it to be a tarantula spider, something none of us had ever seen in the real.  It was about the size of a jam jar top with light brown hair all over its legs.  It was ambling slowly across our yard.  Mythology about these creatures was all we knew.  Harry Belafonte singing the line A beautiful bunch of ripe bananas, hides the deadly black tarantula was not lost on us and our father Blackie did tell us that he once saw a man die of a tarantula bite on a dock in Jamaica.  There was a brick wall which stood between the spider and my father’s tool shed.  My siblings and I assembled above this wall and as it moved slowly across the yard we began dropping rocks, bricks and other heavy items but to no avail.  Nothing we dropped even came close to hitting it and eventually the tarantula simply walked away.

   I do remember finding the dead carcasses of the big spiders in jam jars in Blackie’s tool shed and did also have another startling encounter one day when I was helping Blackie dig the earth down among his terraced vegetable patch.  When I lifted a shovelful of earth I noticed a small hole with what looked like something moving inside it.  I peered closer and taking the edge of my shovel, I prised back a big chunk of solid earth.  In a flash this large tarantula spider came running at me.  Just as instantly my father stabbed his shovel down cutting the arachnid in half and killing it.  I was more than a bit traumatised by this incident but like so many occurrences in our family, it was never discussed.

   I already had a dread of tarantula spiders because of seeing Walt Disney’s The Living Desert up at the Lark and to see one charging towards me was the stuff of nightmares.  But Blackie dealt with it and that was that.  When I told Jared Dreyfus about the big spiders on our property he simply didn’t believe me.  “Tarantulas in Mill Valley?  Not on your life.  Scorpions, yes but never tarantulas!”

   The wildlife around our house on Seymour Avenue was pretty diverse.  Deer were regular visitors and, as we had a few apricot trees they would regularly suck the fruit off leaving the pits hanging from the branches.  There was a hill above our house with horses and whenever we had corn on the cob we’d take the corn husks and silk up to feed to them.  I can remember there was a snake season when, out on the Pixie Trail you would stand very still for a few moments until becoming aware of slithering all around you as snakes of different colours moved through the grass.  Also we would occasionally stalk deer.  This required a pair of binoculars and a great deal of patience as it was important to be absolutely still.

   There were times when patience was kind of imposed upon me like when my brother Jim and I would go fishing with Blackie.  It was usually on a Sunday that we would get in his Plymouth station wagon and drive to Sausalito.  We would park somewhere on the north side of town then, with our rods and fishing box, we would walk down the Bridgeway to the Ondine restaurant and find ourselves a spot to sit on the big pier which sat next to it.  There was a guy with a booth on the pier who sold bait which was shrimp.  We’d buy a bag for 10¢ then each of us would bait our hooks.  A piece of shrimp was usually good for about four hooks.  We would peel the thin layer of shell off the shrimp, cut a piece off and dig the hook into it.  When it was firmly connected we would drop our lines into the water.  There was a metal weight on the end of the line to make it sink.

   We would sit there all afternoon with no conversation as Blackie told us that noise would keep the fish away.  So we would occupy ourselves by gently pulling and releasing the line which could get pretty tedious but the tedium was worth it once you got a nibble.  The nibble was such an exciting experience and it’s difficult to compare it to anything else.  The feel of a fish nibbling on your bait is a totally unique sensation and there was no other way to experience it except to sit there for as long as it took.  The nibble was the signal to stand up and pull your rod back and begin reeling the line in.  A fish on your line made the rod bend forward.  Naturally a catch quickly became the object of attention from the other fishermen on the pier and as you turned the handle of the reel you felt the resistance of the fish right up until it broke through the surface of the water.  It was an exciting release.  

   A decision now had to be made as to whether or not it was big enough to keep.  If not, you would  remove the hook from its mouth and throw it back in the drink.  If it was big enough you’d have to kill it by banging its head with the handle of your knife. 

   The fish we caught in Sausalito were rubber lipped perch and I remember one time I caught a particularly huge one.  The irony for me and my brother Jim was that we didn’t eat fish at all but this didn’t stop us from being involved in the preparation.  I don’t believe we ever came home without a catch of at least four or five fish.  The first job was de-scaling them with a knife which was done over a newspaper spread out on the kitchen table.  

   I recall having goldfish from time to time and on one occasion we found one floating at the top of the bowl.  Blackie took the fish in the palm of one hand and massaged it with his finger and it sprang back to life.  Once we bought four little turtles from the pet shop.  Sadly they fell victim to visiting racoons who devoured them all and left only their shells floating in the bowl.  

   Another adventure in pet keeping was when a friend gave us a male and female rabbit.  Blackie constructed a big pen lined with chicken wire next to his tool shed and a smaller one over by the house.  Our friend informed us that once the mother had babies we had to separate her from the father as he would be a danger to the young ones.  She gave berth to a litter of eight little souls.  The pigment of their skins seemed to correspond to the colour of the fur they would grow, so four were pink which grew white fur and the others were darker skinned.  Three were brown and one was black.  The fur grew quickly and before long Jim and I had named each one of them.  There was one we called Policeman as it seemed to be more authoritarian than the others.  Jimmy and I would go out first thing every morning with carrots and green trimmings for them all and would spend the longest time observing them until one morning when tragedy struck.  We went out and found all the babies dead.  The mother had killed each of them.  My brother and I wept uncontrollably as Beth helped us put their little bodies into a brown paper bag and dig a hole down in the garden to bury them.  

   We had a neighbour down on Janes Street named Johnny O’Connor who was a friend of Blackie’s and he had these grey Weimaraner dogs who occasionally would break out and our property was one place they would visit and it seems that Mother Rabbit, alarmed by the aggressive canines, killed her babies.

   This was, I believe, what we considered to be our first serious brush with mortality.  Perhaps the deaths of the four turtles and the killing of the tarantula didn’t quite have the impact of the eight dead bunnies.

For anyone doing research on Mill Valley history Natalie Snoyman can be reached at: nsnoyman@cityofmillvalley.org

Amazon USA
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Amazon UK
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Oh, To Cycle and Swim…

Oh, To Cycle and Swim…

My mother Beth was a wonderful person in so many ways and she was the one I regularly turned to in moments of childhood crisis.  When we were sick she’d nurse us to health and her chocolate chip cookies made my packed school lunch special indeed.  But when it came to anything physically robust involving my brother Jim and I, she was over protective.

   When Jimmy and I began riding bikes she made us promise we would never cycle down the big hill on Molino which took us to Montford below.  To be fair it is a very steep hill but the fact that my brother and I never cycled down it was noticed often by our friends Jimmy Brown and Johnny Lem who would regularly race down that hill on their bikes.  

   “What’s the matter Myers?  Are you chicken?”

   Jim and I just had to accept these carping comments.  The trouble was that Beth had made such a heartfelt case about not cycling down that hill and, having promised we wouldn’t, we didn’t.  This meant we took the less vertiginous Janes Street whenever we rode our bikes down into Homestead Valley.

   For a brief period of time Jim and I were in the Boy Scouts.  Mister Collett was our scoutmaster and we used to attend weekly sessions at the scout hall on East Blithedale.  He taught us to march in a military style and we worked for the various merit badges and I think I even earned my first class badge.  We bought our uniforms from Men’s Mayers which was exciting.  There was a winter trip planned to the snowy Sierras which I was particularly keen on as I had such vivid childhood memories of snow in New York, Connecticut and Minnesota and longed to experience it again.  I was so very excited about this trip.  All the arrangements had been made and my parents had paid for it.  But at the eleventh hour Beth became worried that something might happen to me and I didn’t get to go.  I was terribly disappointed.

   Before Vin Hallinan went off to prison in 1954,  he taught my sisters Nell and Kate to swim.  The Hallinans had a big pool up at their mansion in Ross and Vin regularly gave swimming lessons.  Their pool was a terrific place to learn how to be comfortable in the water.  But when it came time for Jim and I to learn to swim, Beth wouldn’t allow us to have lessons with Vin.  It was probably the aggressively athletic environment the Hallinan boys grew up in which made her mind up.  There were six sons: Butch, Kayo, Tuffy, Dynamite, Ringo and Danny.  They all swam beautifully and were highly athletic.  Football and boxing were the main sports indulged in though they also did gymnastics.

   I think Beth wanted to protect her little boys from what she perceived as Vin’s ‘bullying’ ways.  Vin was a highly educated and well read person who also happened to swear like a longshoreman.  The Hallinan boys were all tough and the rapport Vin had with them was verbally aggressive.  They in turn were aggressive back and I think this reinforced Beth’s opinion that Jim and I shouldn’t learn to swim with him.  But he was, according to Danny, a highly sensitive teacher.  It seems he didn’t learn to swim until he was in the navy and he was well aware of how very frightening the water could be for a beginner.  Danny has always been pretty critical of his dynamic father but when it came to swimming lessons he had nothing but admiration for Vin.  So Beth was totally wrong not to let Jimmy and I learn up at the pool in Ross.  Instead we went for swimming lessons at Tam High during the summer vacation. 

   My memory of these lessons is that we were a group of about fifteen boys and girls all roughly the same age.  The instructor was a young woman who was very gruff and not at all friendly.  There was a good deal of shouting and absolutely no fun.  A sense of unease would come over me as Jim and I entered the boys’ changing room with the smell of chlorine heavy in the air.  I never felt good about going through to the pool.  Once we were in the water my dread left me.  The first thing Madam Shouty had us do was to hold on to the edge and kick.  This got us used to floating on the surface, the position we would find ourselves in while doing the front crawl. 

   There is a strange transitional zone which exists between being incapable of doing something through to the beginnings of some kind of ability.  I remember the day I mastered riding my bike down in the playground at Molino and Janes.  Once I realised that it was actually a balancing act and got comfortable with shifting my weight from side to side I then found that I could make it all the way around the playground albeit a bit wobbly.  Eventually, with practice, the wobbling diminished and by the time that happened I could no longer recall not being able to ride a bike.  It was the same with swimming.  Once I was able to do it a bit I totally forgot about the inability which preceded it.  And we did learn to swim after a fashion.  In fact I even learned to dive into the pool and we basically were equipped to spend summer days in the pool with friends.

   However I still wish that I had learned to swim up at the Hallinans’ as my front crawl was never strong.  My stroke was sloppy and my kicking uneven.  One day out at Stinson Beach I was body surfing.  You would stand out in the water and when a wave swelled behind, you’d start swimming and as the wave caught you, you’d tuck your arms in and ride it.  Jar Dreyfus saw me doing this and commented negatively on the way I was using my arms when swimming to catch the wave.  Jar of course had to learned to swim with Vin.  I was doing a kind of windmill stroke rather than bringing my elbow up out of the water then extending it through and Jared was very critical.  So I was aware that my swimming wasn’t that good but had no help in putting it right.

   My very first experience of a swimming pool occurred at Fred Field’s estate in Connecticut when I was three years old.  My father Blackie and I were sitting by Fred’s pool on a beautiful sunny day.  I stood and looked down into the shimmering blue water which looked absolutely beautiful to my young eyes.  On an impulse I simply jumped in.  Suddenly I was in a different reality down at the bottom of the pool.  There was an explosion of bubbles and I saw the strong eyebrows of my father Blackie as his face came straight at me and the next thing I knew we were back up on the surface.  There was no trauma or upset.  I didn’t cry as there was no time for panic to set in.

   I have always been beguiled by the sight of a blue swimming pool.  There was one behind a wooden fence on Ethel Avenue which we’d always walk past on our way to downtown Mill Valley.  The shimmering reflections off the water played on the wooden fence and I longed to be familiar with what was on the other side of it.  One of our neighbours down by the playground, Kelly Giles, had a swimming pool but nobody’s pool came close to the Hallinans’.  It was about the same size as the one at Tam High and sat behind a big hedge at the end of Lagunitas Road in Ross.  Right next to it was a big gym and from the pool you’d look across a massive expanse of lawn to the mansion at the other end with pillars on the porch. 

   But I never felt confident enough about my swimming to enjoy a day in the Ross pool so most of my swimming happened at Tam.  Such days were terrific fun.  Jim and I would spend all day in the pool horsing around.  It was always too full of screaming kids to ever swim a length as you would constantly bump into others.  After such exertions we’d come out of the changing room with an extra special kind of hunger in our tummies.  We’d walk across the front parking lot and up Miller Avenue to C’s Drive-In.  As we never had that much money on us the most we could afford at C’s was a bag of fries with sauce for fifteen cents.  The sauce came in a little paper tub and consisted of ketchup mixed with French’s mustard.  Not exactly Hollandaise but that special kind of hunger we came out of the pool with made dipping those fries into the magic sauce the greatest delicacy on earth.  If we didn’t have the fifteen cents for this treat we would have to continue on to the Miller Avenue Shopping Centre where we’d buy a 3 Musketeers bar, a Milky Way or a Snickers for a nickel.

   One summer’s day we were in the pool with our friend Henry Serra who lived just around the corner from Homestead School.  I’m not sure exactly what happened.  Maybe Henry was under the water when someone dived in just above him but the result was that suddenly he was seriously unwell and we had to take him home.  It transpired that Henry had concussion.

   Another time after a swimming session at Tam my right ear began to hurt.  It was mildly irritating throughout the day and just got steadily worse.  The optimist in me kept thinking it would get better but it became terribly painful and I finally went to Beth about it.  I remember that she was distracted by something else and didn’t take what I was saying seriously.  This was not her usual way.  She was usually over indulgent but she brusquely said: “All right.  Let’s look at it.”  She grabbed my ear clumsily which sent a searing pain through my head and brought instant tears to my eyes.  Poor Beth suddenly realised that it was serious and felt terrible about her cavalier attitude.  We went to see Doctor Moore who said my inner ear had become infected as a result of water getting in.  He prescribed me some drops which cleared the infection up over a few days.

   The liberation of learning to ride a bike meant that I could now occasionally cycle to Homestead which had its good and bad points.  Both Jim and I were in the habit of running to school as our route was all downhill but the negative aspect of this was having to climb hills on the way home and if you had a bike it was worse.  Our home at 10 Seymour Avenue was on the lower slopes of Mount Tamalpais and the town actually consisted of valleys:  Old Mill, Homestead Valley and Tam Valley.  There were steps up from downtown at several locations including one connecting with our road which began down on Miller Avenue at Una Way.

   So riding a bike in Mill Valley was a mixed experience but it was the way most kids got around.  I never did a paper route but had friends who did.  The paper was the Independent Journal, an afternoon daily which covered mostly Marin County news.  The man in charge of the paper routes was Jack Benjamin.  There was a big tree surrounded by a circular wooden casing you could sit on in the middle of Miller just opposite the 2am Club and this was one of the many drop-off points for the I-J delivery boys.  About six guys would arrive after school on their bikes with a big cloth bag sporting an I-J logo.  Once Jack delivered the stacks of newspapers, their first job was to roll each one up into a baton shape and put a rubber band around it.  If it was raining they had to wrap a sheet of waxed paper around it. 

   David Gilliam, an actor colleague of mine in London who also grew up in Mill Valley remembers: “We always used rubber bands but the order of business was to break open the wrapped stacks of papers and then do the insert, which was like the lifestyle section going into the main news section.  We then rolled, banded and placed them in our bag.  We’d sign for the number of papers we had, which we paid for once a month.  Tossing them was an art because you had to figure out the right position for it to land on the doorstep of some funky wooden house on struts below the street.  They were never above you in the canyons.  Either level or below.  When funds got low, you would spend an evening going around collecting subscription money and marking it down in your book.  Not spending before you had to pay Jack was tough.  He carried quite a few of us as we’d skid into arrears, settling the bill with the IJ himself as he would have had to do.  For me, the highlight was gathering all together at that spot opposite the 2am club where we ribbed each other, planned some mischief and bonded as mates. Great fun at fourteen.”

   I would have found a paper route an awful burdon.  Pushing my bike up the hills was not something I ever enjoyed.  There were yellow school buses which we only took to Homestead when it was raining but when I began sixth grade at Alto it was either taking the bus or riding my bike.  

   The fact that Jim and I each had a bike was due to the benevolence of our rich friends back east.  The money for these came from Fred Field and Ruth and Luke Wilson.  Jim recalls a visit we made to pick up my three speed bike from the Montgomery Ward outlet in Mill Valley just on the other side of Miller from Brown’s.  The clerk brought out a big cardboard box saying it “was all ready to assemble.”  Blackie however was having none of that and told the clerk in no uncertain terms that we’d be back in awhile to pick up the bike after he’d assembled it, which he then did.  

   Summer days were a lot of fun in the Mill Valley of my youth.  Swimming, cycling and riding cardboard boxes down the big hill on the Pixie Trail made me and my friends forget our agonies for a brief moment and enjoy the thrill of being alive in a beautiful place.

For anyone doing research on Mill Valley history Natalie Snoyman can be reached at: nsnoyman@cityofmillvalley.org

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On the Hill That is Throckmorton…

On The Hill That Is Throckmorton…

In March of 1958 I was in fifth grade at Homestead School and had my eleventh birthday.  I was still hopelessly in love with Lily Burris who didn’t seem to even know I existed.  Mrs Guichard who taught us was probably the prettiest teacher I’d ever had.  Unlike the other women teachers at Homestead she didn’t practice corporal punishment so there were no ritual spankings in her class.  I wasn’t any better as a student but at least I didn’t dread going to school.

   This was the year that Elvis Presley went into the US Army and I read all about his induction down in Memphis, Tennessee in the Chronicle.  I would skim the news and read it when it interested me.  Then I would turn to the funnies and end up gazing at the pages with the movie ads.  On the day Elvis went into the army the big opening at the United Artists was Run Silent, Run Deep which wouldn’t get to the Sequoia for some time.

   Although I did occasionally go into the city to see monster movies that I felt sure would never play at our local picture house, most of my movie going was done at the Sequoia.  The Sequoia Theatre sat at a level angle on the side of the hill which goes up Throckmorton to Blithedale.  There was an alley way on either side of the building and two small shops which nestled within it.  When I was a kid in the 1950s the one on the upper side nearest Bennett’s Variety Store was Village Music, our local record shop, which was one of my regular hangouts.

   I did an awful lot of hanging out as a child.  I’d spend time at the Bus Depot as well as the library up on Lovell.  The Sequoia was not a place you could hang out but I went there on Friday nights, Saturday afternoons for the matinee and again on Sundays when the movie changed.  At the beginning of March I saw Old Yeller, a Walt Disney film.  Disney was always good at bringing your emotions to the forefront and Old Yeller was no exception to that rule.  This film reminded me of Elvis Presley’s record Old Shep.  The emotional manipulation happened mostly in the editing suite where the shots of bears, raccoons, hogs, cows and canines were all stitched together to help tell the story and evoke a sentimental response from the audience.  

   The Sequoia was a wonderful cinema and I loved going there.  If I hung around any part of it while downtown it would be in the tiled alcove behind the box-office where I would study the posters of  the coming attractions.  Many of the films we watched were rubbish but the ritual of going to the pictures was wonderful.  I loved the red carpet as you entered, the candy counter on the right side of the lobby, the steps up into the auditorium, the previews, the cartoons…the works.

   I wouldn’t begin to know how many westerns I saw there and I recall being particularly fascinated by quicksand in cowboy movies.  Of course I never encountered quicksand in real life and its representation in westerns was often different.  In some films it was a boggy swamp and in others it was actual sand that looked like you could walk on it until it started sucking some poor person under its surface.

   The main excitement of a western was seeing the good guys shoot the bad guys for, in the 1950s, bad guys rarely won.  The films which came out of Hollywood in that era all had to adhere to strong censorship.  Swearing was limited to Damn and Hell and only in pictures intended for adults.  Nothing stronger was ever uttered on screen.  That’s not to say that westerns were tame or timid.  The bad guys who rode into town to challenge Kirk Douglas’s Doc Holliday in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral were downright ornery and we felt no pity for Lee Van Cleef when Douglas hurled a knife through his heart.  Kirk’s character got dragged into an alliance with Burt Lancaster’s virtuous Wyatt Earp and the good guys won again.  I actually felt like I knew these movie stars personally as I saw them in so many different films.  I also felt like I knew Elvis Presley as I had such an intimate relationship with his records.  There was an Elvis record called One Sided Love Affair and its lyrics describe perfectly the relationship I had with actors on the big screen and performers on record.  Idolatry was nothing new and human beings had been worshipping the famous forever so my illusion of friendship with the likes of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly was part of a well established pattern of mass marketing.

   At the time of his induction, Elvis held the number one spot in the hit parade with Don’t/I Beg Of You.  I hadn’t yet lost my fascination for Presley but I certainly didn’t buy this single.  In fact this was the year that I stopped buying and collecting singles.  There were reasons why I stopped though I wasn’t conscious of them at the time.  My ex-best friend Glen Pritzker had skipped a grade and was no longer in my class.  Glen and I had always gone to Village Music once a week to pick up a copy of Radio KOBY’s Top 40 sheet from the stack on the counter at the record shop.  Sara Wilcox who ran the shop always welcomed the two of us like valued customers.  There was a sound proof booth where we’d go to listen to the many records Sara played for us.  I don’t remember her ever being too busy to play whatever we wanted to hear. 

   Glen and I both followed the charts as a hobby and noted the weekly fluctuations up or down of records we liked.  The cost of a single was about 75¢ which was a lot of money.  The reality was that I could only buy a single when my mother gave me enough for one which wasn’t often.  Sara’s indulgence of Glen and I was key to my passion for collecting singles.  Most of the stores in Mill Valley at that time regarded unaccompanied children with suspicion and contempt.  Both the five and dime stores which I regularly frequented, Ben Franklin and Bennett’s, were staffed by adults who clearly didn’t like children which is odd considering that most of their stock was candy, bubble gum, toys, trading cards and games. They were always so hostile to kids.  They’d keep a beady eye on you while you browsed in case you stole anything.  At the Bus Depot both Margo and Brun would regularly tell boys reading the comic books to put them down.  So it was a blessing that Sara wasn’t like that at all. 

   Though Glen and I were there once a week, it was maybe once every five or six weeks that we’d actually buy a single.  Many of the records I had to wait for or just hear on the radio.  Once I had a single I would play it at home over and over and sing along with it.  Playing a 45 took me into a special world each time I’d drop the needle down onto the groove of the spinning disk.  But all that activity had occurred when Glen was around and he was no longer here.  I remember buying Tequila by The Champs.  I loved this record and played it over and over but the rest of the hit records I simply heard on Radio KOBY.  Sweet Little Sixteen by Chuck Berry, Get A Job by the Silhouettes, Sugartime by the McGuire Sisters and At The Hop by Danny & The Juniors.  These and countless other tunes I heard enough times on the radio to remember them to this day.

   Rock and roll was not the only music I liked.  I enjoyed all the musicals my parents played like Oklahoma, Porgy and Bess and Finian’s Rainbow.  I also loved Beth’s classical recordings like Scheherezade, Beethoven’s 5th and Schubert’s The Trout.  The attitude of most adults towards rock and roll was pretty snooty and I remember never playing my Elvis records when Blackie or Beth was around.  

   I was by now a committed reader and collector of MAD Magazine and those guys were constantly making fun of Elvis so I kind of took those attitudes in my stride and accepted them as the norm.  I first discovered MAD when I was eight and it was still a comic book.  It’s transition to a black and white magazine mystified me at first and I went a whole year without buying it but then in 1957 I started again and became addicted to its humour and art work.  Though I would never sit down and read a book I would devour each new MAD from cover to cover.  My favourite artist was Wally Wood and I became a lifetime fan of his work.  He illustrated a take-off of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not which Ernie Kovacs wrote called Strangely Believe It! and I loved it.  Wood’s animals were adorable, his women were gorgeous and the details of his military hardware was breathtaking.  His style in the monochrome magazine had evolved in a more photographic way.  Humorist Henry Morgan wrote a piece called 12 Bottles which Wood illustrated brilliantly.  “I had twelve bottles of whiskey in my cellar,” wrote Morgan.  “And my wife told me to empty the contents of each and every bottle down the sink – or else!”  Wood’s black and white pictures of Morgan as he begins emptying the first bottle down the drain with the exception of one glass “Which I drank!”  By the fourth bottle he is so inebriated that Wood shows his face as a blur of two images.  His hallucinations in the background include a tiny spider who grows in size, a bottle with arms and legs and an army of tiny one eyed space people.

   Wallace Wood clearly loved horror movies as much as I did and MAD ran a piece on how horror movies had changed since I Was a Teenage Werewolf had become such a sensation.  It was called ECHH, Teen-Age Son of Thing with a preposterous story but Wood drew all this amazing detail in the background of each box like a child taking a tarantula spider for a walk on a leash and a vulture who kept appearing in different panels.  This was part of the fun of reading MAD, to examine all the little details in the background.

   The other magazine I would be collecting as soon as the second edition was published was Famous Monsters of Filmland which I absolutely loved.  No other magazine gave the time of day to scary movies so to finally have one devoted to them was a rare treat.  My parents had a subscription to The New Yorker which arrived in the post every week and though I never read the text I would go through each issue examining all of the many cartoons.  My favourite cartoonist was Charles Addams who always told a weird or sometimes grisly story in his beautifully illustrated pictures.  My sister Nell always got Screen Stories Magazine which I also enjoyed looking at though, again, never reading the text and one of the films featured turned up soon enough at the Sequoia which was Peyton Place.  When I saw it at the Sequoia it connected with my childhood memories of New England with its distinctive seasons.  The sight of stone pathways surrounded by grass made a particularly strong impression on me when I was about four in Connecticut.  Of course the main subject of Peyton Place was sex, a subject I was slowly coming to terms with.  

   I loved my parents very much but when it came to sex education they short changed me.  I remember talking to my mother while she was in the bathtub one day and she told me things about her naked body.  “This is where the seed goes in,” she said pointing to her vaginal area, “And here is where the baby grows,” indicating her tummy.  She also told me about how her breasts grew and filled with milk when she was pregnant.  Now all of what she told me was true and I’m sure she felt she was explaining the facts of life to me but the bit she left out was the sexual act.  That was something I didn’t get briefed on until I was in the third grade and walking home from school with my neighbour Peter Cowger.  He told me in great detail about copulation between men and women and seemed kind of surprised that I didn’t know about it.  I was silently shocked.  “Beth and Blackie did that?”  I was horrified.  Perhaps if I had gone to Beth there and then she might have soothed me through this trauma but like so many other inner events in my life I said nothing.

   I guess as time passed and I grew older I got more comfortable with the concept of sexual intercourse but that initial explanation was a terrible thunderbolt.  So at least I was able to understand the soap opera that Peyton Place was.  And what a soap opera.  It starred Lana Turner and a host of other famous actors and she actually got nominated for an Oscar for her role but the week after I saw the film at the Sequoia my attention was grabbed by a front page headline in the Chronicle:  Lana’s Daughter Kills Gangster.  Girl Tells Cops Hood Threatened Actress.  Cheryl Crane, Lana’s daughter was booked for the murder of Johnny Stompanato, a well known hoodlum who, it transpired, was Lana Turner’s sometimes violent boyfriend.  The Chronicle was full of gruesome details for days after this and the memory of Peyton Place faded.

   Another film involving sex came next to the Sequoia The Long, Hot Summer starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.  This was a southern drama involving a ‘Big Daddy’ type character played in larger than life style by Orson Welles.  My next viewing was Billy Wilder’s Witness For The Prosecution with Charles Laughton as an English barrister defending Tyrone Power on a murder charge.  Seeing movies like this was engaging and in a peculiar way kind of educational.  The ways of life portrayed were nothing like the town I was growing up in.  All the drama was robust with people confronting each other in ways I was not at all used to.  But then that’s what the Sequoia was there for, to take me to far off places and worlds I had never seen.  I guess I just wasn’t content with Mount Tamalpais, Old Mill Park and life in general in such a beautiful place as Mill Valley.

For anyone doing research on Mill Valley history Natalie Snoyman can be reached at: nsnoyman@cityofmillvalley.org

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Back To Mill Valley

Back To Mill Valley

It was an early summer evening as my family and I arrived at the Secret Cinema showing of Back To The Future at the Olympic Park here in London.  Our daughter and son were teenagers and were, like my wife, very keen on this movie.  As we entered the compound for the sold out event, we were greeted by an army of young people putting on the most dreadful American accents I had ever heard. 

   “Welcome to Hill Valley,” they said with an exuberance which seemed to have been painted on with a brush. These weren’t just British kids.  They were Polish, Dutch, Latvian, Brazilian and goodness knows how many other nationalities.  My English daughter, Billie, turned to me and said: “Now you know how we feel when we hear Dick Van Dyke doing a cockney accent.”

   Once inside the gates, where we had to prove that we had no food, drink or cameras on our persons, we were able to wander into little houses, supposed to be the homes of the characters in the movie.  The beds inside these houses all had duvets rather than sheets and blankets.  The mock 1955 telephones had buttons rather than dials.

   Walking past a billboard which had featured in the film we got closer to the town square.  It was surrounded by shops to look like the 1955 Hill Valley of the movie.  There was a travel agent, a newspaper office, a barber shop as well as a movie theatre showing Cattle Queen Of Montana with Barbara Stanwyck and Ronald Reagan, 

   All these attempts at recreation were interesting to me as someone who had experienced the real thing growing up in Mill Valley in the 1950s and in practically every instance they got the little details wrong.  But then that was also true of the film Back To The Future, however enjoyable it was.  The people who paid good money for this shindig and had dressed up for the occasion were not interested in small town America of 1955.  They were only interested in the movie Back To The Future.

   So this was a re-creation of a re-creation and it sparked off certain memories which I conveyed to my daughter, like the fact that in high school, students were encouraged to make book jackets out of brown paper for each of their textbooks.  We also had a binder with lined paper for doing homework and tabs separating the subjects.  As you set off for school each morning you’d invariably be carrying a book or two as well as the binder but the boys would bear this burden differently from the girls.  They would hook their right or left hand over the books and binder which lent against their hip as they walked to school while the girls would cling the binder and books to their breast.  Of course this detail was overlooked in this European re-creation of a vanished American era. 

   I remember trying to surrender to the movie Grease when I took my English niece to see it in the 1970s but I couldn’t get past the slightly flawed approximation of what high school life was like before the heady clouds of psychedelia changed things forever.  All I could think of was that Ed Byrnes was being Dick Clark and that Summer Nights had the same bassline as Hang On Sloopy and You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.

   The only film which, in my opinion, succeeded in recreating that era was American Graffiti, directed by George Lucas.  Every character in that lovingly realised movie was almost exactly like someone I knew from my days at Tam High, including myself.  George Lucas was older than me and knew that way of life whereas Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis who wrote Back To The Future were three and two years old during 1955 so they really had no actual experience of teenage life at that time.

   Of course Hollywood movies have always taken huge liberties with history, particularly when it interferes with a good story.  The idea of Biff, the movie’s villain, storming into the soda fountain to loudly demand that McFly should do his homework for him was patently ridiculous but it served the story.  The sight of a young man in Biff’s entourage wearing 3-D comic book glasses was equally ridiculous as that particular craze had vanished by 1955.  Those glasses were only utilised for reading the comics and never as sartorial accessories.  But that’s a historical detail.  The glasses looked good on Biff’s colleague though it should be remembered that they were capable of giving people terrible headaches.

On the left how the 3-D glasses were portrayed in BTTF-on the right kids reading 3-D comics.

   I particularly liked Christopher Lloyd being puzzled by Michael J. Fox’s use of the word ‘heavy.’ 

   “Sounds pretty heavy,” says Marty.

   “Weight has nothing to do with it,” replies the Doc.

   With American Graffitti I do believe that Lucas, whose idea it was, set out to recreate a small town high school reality before the sociological changes which occurred in the middle 1960s.  The most significant of these changes was the emergence of marijuana.

   Early in my senior year at Tam I accidentally stumbled onto the fact that a few of my friends had become heads and were smoking weed.  I was immediately terrified by this new reality but was drawn towards it nonetheless.  Phrases like turning on, paranoid, matchbox and getting stoned danced through their conversations punctuated by a tedious repetition of the word man.

   “Oh man, I went to Sausalito to score a matchbox, man, and wound up getting really stoned.”

   The interesting thing about this discreet underground phenomenon was that it straddled the social classes.  Well heeled white kids from Mill Valley wanting to score their dope were mixing with hard guys who hung out at C’s Drive-In, black kids from Marin City and beatnik types from Sausalito. 

   It didn’t take long for this activity to cross the radar of the Federal Narcotics Bureau and an undercover agent, who drove a flashy red GTO, began hanging out at C’s and befriending the relevant people. 

   Only weeks before my graduation in 1965 a huge raid was carried out in Marin County on a Saturday night and I remember being shocked to see a photo of a kid we all knew from Sausalito on the front page of the Sunday Chronicle as he was being arrested at the Fireside Motel.  The raid was almost certainly meant to deter people from smoking weed but this well publicised roundup had the exact opposite effect.

The front page of the Chronicle just before my graduation in 1965.

   Two days after I graduated from Tam High I was on a Norwegian tanker sailing across the Pacific, working as a mess boy.  I didn’t return to Mill Valley until the following September and the high school I had only recently graduated from was totally unrecognisable.

   What had been a secret subterranean scene had erupted into a way of life and it looked like practically all the students at Tam were smoking weed.  All the young men had long hair and the young women wore serapes and beads.  This seemed to change forever the way of life I had grown up in….all of it kind of melted away like ice cream and it would never be the same again.

   American Graffitti was set in 1962 and it captured in look, dialogue and style a pretty solid approximation of teenage high school life as we had known it.  Something good was bitchin’ and the ridiculous ritual of cruising on 4th Street in San Rafael was, for many of us, a regular weekend activity.

Cruising 4th Street in American Graffiti.

   Lucas in his first draft script seems to have invented the main four male characters but it was the writing team of Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz who made them and their female counterparts flesh and blood. 

   George Lucas and his new bride Marcia had  moved into a rented house in Mill Valley in 1969, the same year I left for England.  It was here that he did all the work on his first feature film THX 1138, which I saw in London.  In fact I went to all the movies which came out of Hollywood in the early 1970s in London.  I was living in a completely different culture but I maintained my connection to things American by reading Rolling Stone magazine and going to the movies.

   Lucas’s producer on American Graffitti was Francis Ford Coppola who soon bought a house in Mill Valley, compounding a series of events which changed the sleepy little town we grew up in to become the place satirised by Cyra McFadden in her hilarious 1977 book The Serial.

   Watching the film at the ABC Holloway Road, I immediately recognised 4th Street.  The sign for JC Penny and the unmistakable shape of the Rafael Theatre in the distance was too familiar for me to miss.  I learned later that my old classmate Tad Alvord had sold the production the police vehicle which had its rear axle ripped out.  Tad had been running his successful towing business in San Rafael for some time.  “We always had a dozen or so vehicles for sale, these being unclaimed impounded cars,” he told me.  “One day Bob Hamilton, an auto mechanic from Ignacio, walked in and said he wanted to buy a black 1961 Ford Galaxie four door sedan.”  Tad tried to offer him other cars but he was adamant and agreed to pay the asking price.  When he told Tad what it was for he wound up hiring my classmate to do all the towing of the various classic vehicles on the night shoots and to help engineer the shot with the cop car which happily they got in one take.

The famous scene with the cop car engineered by my classmate Tad Alvord. Note the film title on the marquee: Dementia 13, the first movie directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

   All the characters in this movie seemed so familiar to me.  The hard guy played by Paul Le Mat was a synthesis of so many who had hung out at C’s. Bob Tomei, Bunky Robertson, Bob Compagna and many more could easily have been this guy with his greased back hair, white T-shirt and a pack of camels rolled up in one sleeve. 

   Ron Howard played what we would have described as a rah rah.  He was going steady with Cindy Williams’ Laurie, the sister of Curt who was Richard Dreyfuss.  The dance they attended was shot in the girls’ gym at Tam High School. Another important character was the ‘dork’ Terry played by Charles Martin Smith.  I never visited Mel’s Drive-In in the city so I don’t know if the car hops really delivered the burgers on roller skates but I certainly never saw any at the A&W in San Rafael.

   The actress Kathleen Quinlan was a student of our English and drama teacher Dan Caldwell who strongly recommended her to Fred Roos, the casting director for American Graffiti. 

   Movies are a contrivance but this one appealed to me because it rang so true in the small particulars and the cherry on top was the appearance of Wolfman Jack as the disk jockey heard throughout and finally seen at the end.  The advertising art was by Mort Drucker, a favourite artist of mine from MAD Magazine.

   Of course I was in London when American Graffiti came out but back in the bay area I had always read the reviews by Paine Knickerbocker and John Wasserman in the Chronicle.  For some reason neither of these two reviewed Graffiti.  Instead it was left to Anitra Earle who panned it, describing it as: “The most tedious film I have ever seen.”

   But for me this movie will stand for years to come as an accurate picture of small town teenage life before Kennedy was assassinated, the Beatles invaded the American charts, the Vietnam War divided the nation and drugs ravaged the youth of America. 

   It was also very funny, touching and seemed to be the launching pad for several lasting movie careers.  I wonder what my daughter would make of it.

I must thank Tad Alvord for sharing his story of working on American Graffiti.  I must also thank Laurent Bouzereau who directed the film The Making of American Graffiti which was a very helpful source. Other books were also useful: Skywalking; The Life and Films of Geoge Lucas by Dale Pollock; George Lucas-A Biography by John Baxter: George Lucas-The Creative Impulse by Charles Champlin.

For anyone doing research on Mill Valley history Natalie Snoyman can be reached at: nsnoyman@cityofmillvalley.org

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Bond At The Bus Depot

Photo of Jared Dreyfus from Pai 1963. Photo of Bus Depot courtesy of the Lucretia Little History Room, Mill Valley Public Library

Bond At The Bus Depot

When Jared Dreyfus and I were both at Tam High and he was aware of my professed desire to stop smoking cigarettes, he decided to assist me.  This assistance manifested itself during a morning break. 

   In order to smoke at Tam, you had to walk just outside the gate of the back parking lot opposite The Canteen.  As I passed through that gate I took the pack of Chesterfields out of my shirt pocket and gently tapped it, causing a few cigarettes to protrude.  Pulling one out, I then proceeded to gently hammer the end of it on my other hand to concentrate the tobacco so it wouldn’t come apart in my mouth.  I then put that end between my lips, pulled out a book of matches and lit it. 

   “Myers!” a shrill male voice shouted from a short distance away. “What are you doing?”  It was Jared and he approached me in a relentless manner.

   “Put that cigarette out,” he commanded. 

   I dropped the cigarette onto the ground and rubbed it out with my shoe.

   “Now give me the pack.”

   I gave him the Chesterfields.  He pulled a cigarette out of the pack and handed it to me.

   “Eat it,” he said.

   I don’t remember arguing with him.  I put the cigarette into my mouth and bit into it.  The appalling sensation was immediate.  My mouth burned as I chewed on the tobacco leaves wrapped inside the paper. 

   “All of it,” said Jared. 

   Into my mouth went the other half of the cigarette.  By now Jar had an audience of two or three of his classmates watching this spectacle and laughing heartily but he managed to remain poker faced.  After what was probably less than a minute he said I could spit it out.

   “From now on,” he pronounced, “Whenever I see you smoking a cigarette, you’re going to have to eat it.”

   Interestingly I have no further memories along this line.  I did smoke, on and off throughout high school and no repetition of this incident ever occurred nor was it ever mentioned, except by me.  Jared was someone I looked up to and the thought of telling him to stick it up his backside never even occurred to me. Something I didn’t know in my teenage years was that Jar, being the youngest of three boys, was bullied by his brother Tim and that I, without knowing it, was playing the role of surrogate younger brother for him.  That was a detail he didn’t mention until many years later.

   Unlike the Myers family the Dreyfus family had money.  Barney Dreyfus was a prominent civil rights lawyer whose clients included Martin Luther King and his wife Babbie was someone who played the stock market successfully.  So when Jar passed his driving test at sixteen he was given a car and it was a silver Austin Healey convertible, a highly exotic vehicle for an American teenager to own.

   Jared was two years older than me and within the age related social hierarchy of Mill Valley, at this time, it was only our family connection which made us friends.  There was the shared experience of political persecution which plagued all my family’s friends so it could be said that our bonds were deep.  These bonds, however, did not stop Jar treating me like a second class citizen when it suited him.  Going for a ride in his Austin Healey was always a fabulous experience.  The smell of the leather seats, the very British dashboard and the wind in your hair as it raced around Mill Valley with the top down made every ride fantastic.   But fantastic as every ride was it always ended with him screeching to a halt at some pre-determined spot and saying: “Okay Myers.  Out!”  He always had someplace better to go.  As his silver Austin Healey sped off down East Blithedale, I’d be left standing on the sidewalk feeling unimportant.

   It’s probably the case that I didn’t know how to use my time properly as boredom was a regular phenomenon in my life.  Perhaps if I’d been a book reader this might not have been the case.  The aversion I had to reading books as a kid was pretty comprehensive but there were a few exceptions along the way which mostly occurred while I was in high school.

   In the early 1960s Jared had the job at the Bus Depot which I would later inherit from him.  It involved working behind the counter selling bus tickets, books, magazines, cigarettes and candy bars as well as stocking the shelves, sweeping up and keeping the place in order.  Whenever you sold a Greyhound bus ticket you had to put it between the jaws of this large stamping device which you’d then bang on the top with your fist, thus validating it. 

   When Jar first worked there it gave me another excuse to hang around the place.  I had, after all, been hanging around the Bus Depot ever since I was old enough to go downtown by myself.  It was where I bought all my comic books and read the ones I didn’t buy.

   Jar, like my sister Nell, was an avid reader of books unlike me who wouldn’t read anything without pictures attached.  He read culturally highbrow material with the same enthusiasm that he devoured pulp fiction and his current passion at this time were the James Bond books by Ian Fleming. 

   Bond was, in Jar’s opinion, the epitome of cool.  He told me in great detail about the guy: the handmade cigarettes he smoked with three golden rings on the paper, the vodka martini shaken not stirred, the double-O prefix which meant he was licenced to kill.  Jared had read all the Bond books which had been published.   At this time author Ian Fleming was still churning them out annually and his output had become a worldwide publishing sensation.  President Kennedy was one of his biggest fans.  Signet had published all the books with a uniform design for the covers.  In the Bus Depot stood a specially designed display case for all the Bond paperbacks. 

   At this stage Jar did not know of my aversion to book reading and it was not something I was proud of.  I would love to have been thought of as well read but I simply wasn’t.  I was, however, fairly intelligent, articulate and more than capable of debating things political and artistic so my guess is that he mistook me for well read and insisted I read a Bond book.  As Jar was a hero figure in my life, I was not about to disappoint him so I purchased a copy of Dr. No, the title he suggested to start me off.

   It certainly was not dull though I couldn’t help but notice Ian Fleming’s tendency towards subtle racism and misogyny.  He seemed to delight in designing elaborate torture sequences and giving the reader a physically realistic account of his hero’s survival of these scenarios.    

   How exactly Bond knew it was a centipede crawling up his naked body in the Jamaican hotel room in the dead of night was a mystery to me.  It was an evaluation he made entirely from the physical sensation of the creature’s many legs as it moved slowly up onto his thigh.  Once he’d decided that was what it was, he ran through the risks based on information he had, at some point taken into his consciousness.  It was details like this which Fleming excelled at.  There was a particularly gruesome encounter which Bond had later in the book with a giant squid and again the hero summoned up vital information about the beast in an almost academic way which was a pretty neat trick considering the squid was about to devour him.  As the massive tentacles weaved their way out of the swirling depths, he clung to a meshed fence and ran what he knew about the giant squid through his fevered mind.  A fifty foot monster with two long seizing tentacles and ten holding ones.  It had a huge blunt beak beneath eyes that worked on the camera principle, like a human’s.  Their brains were efficient and they could shoot backwards through the water at thirty knots, by jet-propulsion.  Naturally Mister Bond defeated the giant squid but not before Fleming took us to the precipice of his demise.  One could almost feel the pain of each of the tentacle’s suckers as they slapped onto his exposed flesh and exerted a super human strength around his limbs.  The suspense was killing and the author spared us no detail of the battle which was literally life or death.

    Dreyfus had dictated a reading list and I went on to From Russia With Love next and again found the same dynamic in his fight with Nash, the blonde haired agent of SMERSH.  Nash told Bond he was going to shoot him through the heart as the train entered the tunnel, but our hero managed to sandwich his cigarette case and a book between his heart and the gun at the moment of impact.  Then, playing dead on the floor, Bond desperately tried to remember simple anatomy.  Where did the main artery run in the lower body of a man?  The Femoral.  Down the inside of the thigh.  His next challenge was to release the flat-bladed throwing knife from his attaché case which was only millimetres from his right hand.  The first violent stab of the knife had to be decisive.  And decisive it was but not before Fleming had taken us through every tiny detail of Bond’s lethal ordeal right up to Nash’s body finally relaxing once the ten pints of blood had drained from his body.

   Goldfinger was the third book I read and interestingly these were the first three Bond films in that order.  I saw the film Dr. No at the Sequoia and loved it.  The actor Sean Connery was so cool that he immediately became the character of Bond in my mind.  I found myself imitating the way Connery held his upper lip and came away from the Sequoia quoting lines like:  “That’s a Smith & Wesson Mister Dent.  You’ve had your six.”

   I never read another Fleming book until years later and when I finally told Jared about my childhood book phobia he was amazed.  It was after I’d read John Steinbeck’s East Of Eden on a long holiday and Jared told me how he envied me the joy of discovering all the great books in the world.  But a childhood full of comic books had made me a painfully slow reader.

   So it was watching Sean Connery’s Bond on the silver screen for me and I loved those first three Bond movies.  The music was wonderful.  Monty Norman scored Dr No and wrote the famous electric guitar Bond theme but was replaced by composer John Barry for the subsequent films.  The fourth movie, Thunderball, got on my nerves as it seemed to be all gadgets and wise cracks so I lost interest in Bond movies.  I missed out on Roger Moore and all those other guys.  When Sean Connery came back in Diamonds Are Forever I went and enjoyed it.

   Jared is no longer with us.  He died suddenly of a heart attack in 2011 and I never did get around to discussing James Bond with him again.  I would always see him on my occasional visits back to Marin and we corresponded regularly by email.  His death left a big hole in my life as it did for so many others who knew and loved him.  It was a very packed church in Sebastapol that saw him off.  Many tears were shed as sons Adam and Christian made moving tributes to their ‘Pop’.  My brother Jim was there and I saw people I hadn’t laid eyes on since my time at Tam High like Renato Sottile, Jon Diederich and Rodney Krieger.

   Jar had been married three times and his wives, Val, Prudence and Genie were all in attendance.  When his ashes were interred at the Dreyfus family plot in San Rafael a few days later I joined daughter Kate, son Christian and wife Genie as we all shed more tears for someone we still miss. 

I must also thank Natalie Snoyman at the Mill Valley Library for research details.  For anyone doing research on Mill Valley history she can be reached at: nsnoyman@cityofmillvalley.org

Amazon USA
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B085QN73VQ


Amazon UK
https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B085QN73VQ

I Was A Teenage Hippy Poster Artist part 3

THE SOUND poster by Wes Wilson, Butterfield badge by JH Myers, photos: Mike Bloomfield and Frank Zappa. Yardbirds & Love posters by JH Myers

I Was A Teenage Hippy Poster Artist part 3

Once I had done an actual Fillmore poster my relationship with Bill Graham changed.  It was like a graduation of sorts.  My next job for him was not a poster but a button…a badge for the return to San Francisco of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band.  I had only heard of the band from the posters Wes did for their previous appearances.  Whenever Bill uttered the name “Butterfield” it was with a quiet reverence.  An air of sanctity descended when he said the name.

   When Bill Graham first began promoting shows at the Fillmore, which he had a lease on, he didn’t actually know much about the local rock scene so he made a partnership with Chet Helms and John Carpenter of the Family Dog to present shows on alternate weekends.  Their first big show was Butterfield and The Quicksilver Messenger Service.  Helms and Carpenter worked extremely hard promoting this and got Wes Wilson to design an excellent poster.  The result was a packed Fillmore for the entire weekend.    

Two early posters by Wes Wilson for Family Dog at the Fillmore Auditorium.

   After counting the mountain of money these three made from this show and dividing it up between them, Bill then got up early the next morning and phoned Albert Grossman in New York and secured all Butterfield dates in the bay area for the next two years for himself.  When Chet and John learned what their partner had done they were furious, dissolved their partnership with Graham and went off to find the Avalon Ballroom where the Family Dog would put on shows to compete with the Fillmore.

   I knew none of this recent history as I sat down in Bill’s little office to take the brief for designing this badge.  It had to have a mountain of information on it as it was a total of six shows over two weekends: four nights at Winterland and two afternoons at the Fillmore.  As well as Butterfield he booked the Airplane and legendary bluesman Muddy Waters.

   The artwork didn’t take me long to complete and I brought it in to show Bill who approved it.  We sent it off to have the badges produced on a yellow background.  They arrived in a brown cardboard box on a Friday afternoon.  Bill and I examined them and had to admit they looked pretty good.  I guess there were about a thousand badges in the box.  Suddenly Bill became pensive.  “We must be careful who we give these to,” he said.  So he picked a few folks who wore them at the gig and by the end of the evening people were asking him for them.  They quickly became a hot collector’s item and were an adjunct to the poster which Wes Wilson did. 

The badge I designed for the Butterfield shows and the poster by Wes Wilson.

   Though I was out working in an adult world, I was still really a kid.  I lived at home with my parents in North Beach and spent my leisure time crashing at friends’ houses in Mill Valley where I smoked an awful lot of weed.  The people I’d hang out with at the Fillmore were all older than me and living out in the adult world.  Their jargon was hip and men referred to their female partners as “their old lady.” 

   Bill Graham rarely used any hip jargon.  At this time he was not a participant in the hippy lifestyle.  In fact he had a pretty severe moral code.  He had actual contempt for the drug scene in the Haight and would often argue with San Francisco Chronicle jazz columnist Ralph J Gleason saying he should call it out in his column.  In the column Gleason would marvel at the fact there was no alcohol at the Fillmore or Avalon but sidestepped the issue of drug use altogether.  The Haight Ashbury district had by this time become a Mecca for runaway kids from all over the country and it wasn’t long before the Chronicle was reporting daily of yet another youthful death by overdose on Haight Street.  

   Bill seemed to steer clear of politics but on the subject of pornography he would start ranting.  Anybody connected with porn would be described by Bill as a slimeball.  There was also a guy named Owsley Stanley who had been written about in front page stories in the Chronicle as a prolific producer of LSD.  It wasn’t until Bill pointed it out to me that the rather loud mouthed guy who hung out with the Grateful Dead was, in fact, Owsley himself.

   One peculiar event Bill staged at the Fillmore was the play The Beard by Michael McClure.  Wes did a poster for this and I went along to the sparsely attended event but found it to be a bit dull.  The high point was the male actor performing oral sex on the female actor.

   One person I was very impressed by when he and his band turned up for the gig I’d done the poster for was Frank Zappa.  With long hair and an interestingly shaped beard he and all the Mothers looked like scary hippies but Frank spoke like someone who was totally straight.  I went over to the motel he was staying at on Lombard to talk to him about possible record sleeve design.  It came to nothing but I really liked him and bought their first album which was very funny indeed and musically interesting.

   When the Butterfield dates arrived I didn’t go over to Winterland but did attend the gig on Sunday afternoon at the Fillmore.  How I got talking to Mike Bloomfield I don’t remember but I did.  I think, in hindsight, I was someone who would listen to him.  Also in hindsight the other band members didn’t seem eager to engage him in conversation.  Mike was a motor mouth but was far from dull.  One topic I do recall him telling me all about was William Gaines the legendary publisher of MAD Magazine and how he spent so much time eating in expensive restaurants.  Mike clearly knew Gaines which impressed me greatly.  My memory is that we began our conversation down in the foyer and then moved up into the band room where he pulled out a joint and lit it.  I knew this guy was the lead guitarist with Butterfield but not that he had played lead on Bob Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone and been part of the band at the famous Newport Folk Festival where Dylan went electric.  Had I known these facts I would have been full of questions for him.  But as I said he was not dull and sharing a joint or two with him up in the band room was good fun.  While I was taking a toke, Bill Graham appeared, doing his rounds.  His eyes landed squarely on the joint in my hand.  He then looked me in the eye and walked off.  Had I been sharing a joint with anyone other than Mike Bloomfield I suspect that Bill would have fired me on the spot.  But maybe I’m wrong about that.  I do remember one morning when he told Bonnie and I that Jim Haynie had been busted and I believe he went down to the police station to help him out.  

   One contact that Bill made in LA was with Shelly Davis at the Whiskey A Go Go and I remember hearing him talking me up to her on the phone saying what a good poster artist I was.  Such talk got me a job.  They were featuring the Hollywood group Love for nine days.  I had seen them at the Fillmore and been very impressed.  They had a hit single with Little Red Book and I remember Alvin Lee coming out on the stage wearing these tiny little dark glasses and just staring around at the light show like he was in a state of intoxication.  Whether this was him being loaded or just show business I didn’t know but when the band was ready he extended a tambourine high above his head and started banging out the rhythm to their hit song and it was a highly effective way of kicking off their set.  One thing I liked about Love was their logo which had a kind of cartoon lettering and the letter O had a male and female symbol extending from it.  Their support band down in LA was The Sons of Adam but they also had one night with a band I hadn’t heard of, Buffalo Springfield.  I mistakenly wrote an ’S’ on the end of their name.

   I decided to draw a logo for the club featuring Carrie Nation, whose long campaign against alcohol had helped bring on prohibition in the United States.  However I needed a photo of her.  Bill was friends with John Wasserman on the San Francisco Chronicle and phoned him up, arranging for me to go see him.

   I had met Wasserman a few times when I was younger over in Mill Valley but when I visited him at the Chronicle he didn’t remember me.  He did however comment that after talking to me on the phone he was expecting someone older.  The photo was exactly what I wanted.  Carrie Nation carrying her hatchet.  Apparently she would turn up at bars and start smashing bottles.  My idea was very derivative of Wes’s logo for The Family Dog and I don’t believe the Whiskey ever used it again but on the poster it had the desired impact.

The poster I did for the Whiskey A Go Go in LA. Note my mis-spelling of Buffalo Springfield.

   Wes’s heavy schedule provided me with yet another poster for Bill.  He booked British band The Yardbirds who had a few top 40 hits for one Sunday afternoon at the Fillmore.  Again there was a photo of the band and I worked through the night, starting about eight.  I walked up to the Chinese grocery at the top of Russian Hill and bought myself a pack of cigarettes and a Cadbury’s chocolate bar and with KFRC in the background I crafted my poster art at the kitchen table in my parents’ flat.  As the sun came up I was pleased with the results and took the art work to the printer.

My poster for the Yardbirds gig

   At the actual Yardbirds gig on the Sunday afternoon something happened which Bill enjoyed telling the story about and I must have heard it at least a few times.  The support band that day was Country Joe and the Fish who were very popular with their anti-war song Fixin’ To Die Rag.  The English road manager for The Yardbirds approached Bill and said: “Jeff is tired.  He doesn’t want to play yet.”  The ‘Jeff’ he was talking about was lead guitarist Jeff Beck.  Bill said that was fine and put Country Joe on.  During their set the roadie came up to him again saying:  “Jeff wants to play now.”  Bill explained that The Fish were only half way through their set.  “Yes,” said the roadie.  “But Jeff wants to play now.”  Bill said nothing more and marched off to the band room upstairs.  He went to each long haired man in the room saying: “Are you Jeff Beck?”  “Are you Jeff Beck?”  Finally he arrived at the person who answered yes and Bill put him up against the wall and explained very forcefully that he would play his sets when he, Bill Graham, told him to.  Apparently no further problems were had.

   In total I only did four of the Fillmore posters unlike Wes and later Bonnie MacLean who did most of them.  However these posters still sell to this day but sadly I earn nothing from them.  It was sadder still for poor Wes and Bonnie as Bill, at some point in the late 1960s took over the copyright on them.  I remember John Goddard who ran Village Music in Mill Valley telling me in 1979 that the posters “sell much more than you would think.”

   But that is another story.

I must thank a few people in researching this piece: The late Wes Wilson, the late Bonnie MacLean and Natalie Snoyman of the Mill Valley Library. Two books have also been helpful: Rage & Roll – Bill Graham and the Selling of Rock by John Glatt and Bill Graham Presents by Bill Graham and Robert Greenfield.

For those researching Mill Valley history you can contact Natalie Snoyman: nsnoyman@cityofmillvalley.org

Amazon USA
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B085QN73VQ


Amazon UK
https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B085QN73VQ

I Was A Teenage Hippy Poster Artist part 2

Photo: Bill Graham at the Fillmore. Poster art by John H. Myers

I Was A Teenage Hippy Poster Artist part 2

My time at the Fillmore Auditorium throughout 1966 was exciting.  I enjoyed designing and painting the boards at the top of the stairs and hanging around the place was so interesting.  Bill Graham alone was a fascinating guy and listening to him wheel and deal on the phone was mesmerising.  

   Also I became part of the furniture there.  When I’d stay for an evening show I would hang out with Rock Scully’s brother Dicken whose job was guarding the door to the band room and making sure that only certain people entered.  Bill had a lot of people working for him and though he wasn’t making any of them rich he was very honourable about paying them on time.  This fact alone put him ahead of Chet Helms over at the Avalon Ballroom.

   A night at the Fillmore finished about two in the morning and Bill would be there sweeping up as the last patrons left.  He would be back at his desk early that same morning to get the New York agents on the phone.  This was what he meant when he criticised Chet Helms for not getting up in the morning.  He worked a punishing schedule and there were few jobs he’d delegate to others.  Of course the posters were designed by Wes Wilson and, at this time, that was one area where Bill didn’t interfere.  Wes would show up on Friday afternoons with that week’s posters wrapped in brown paper and Bill would put them up and look at them.  On Saturday mornings he’d put them in a special knapsack and drive his Vespa over to North Beach where he’d put them up in City Lights bookshop and other places then he’d cross the Bay Bridge to Berkeley where he’d put them up all over the place.

   While painting the boards I got to know a lot of the musicians as they’d lug their equipment up the stairs.  One fellow who had looked very different when he was in my sister Katie’s class at Old Mill School was John Cipollina, the lead guitarist for the Quicksilver Messenger Service.  He had seriously long straight dark hair, a thin handsome face and usually wore a black cowboy hat.  

John Cipollina at Old Mill School (in front of Daphne Strawbridge and Katie Myers) and on the right as lead guitarist in Quicksilver Messenger Service.

   Quicksilver was managed by Ron Polte, a guy about Bill’s age who didn’t look at all like a hippy.  He had short hair and wore horn rimmed glasses.  All of these bands were constantly looking for graphic design ideas so one night I went over to the house in the Haight where Quicksilver was living.  Polte may not have looked like a hippy but as I walked in the door he handed me an enormously fat joint and within moments I was seriously stoned.  I doodled some ideas on the pad I’d brought with me and one by one the various band members came over to see what I was doing.  Cipollina was particularly friendly and took more of an interest than the other guys.

   Now the Grateful Dead were managed by two guys who definitely looked like hippies:  Rock Scully and Danny Rifkin.  Rock’s dark hair was straight and Danny’s was curly and they both looked very out there.  I remember one day at the Fillmore when they turned up to see Bill.  They both had expressions of glee on their faces and all I could hear as they sat down in Bill’s tiny office was: “We’ve got fifty grand, man.”  Bill closed the door so I heard no more but presumably they wanted advice as to what they should do with this money.  

The Managers of The Grateful Dead: Danny Rifkin and Rock Scully

   I did lots of work on spec for all these groups in the hope that a commission would come my way but there were aways obstacles.  Marty Balin nixed most of my efforts because I kept including vintage prop planes in my designs.  “We’re not an airplane, man,” he complained.  And with the Grateful Dead it was Bob Weir who moaned about designs using skulls and bones.  Mind you this didn’t stop me trying.

   The situation with the Airplane’s management was changing by the day.  The first time I met Bill Graham he told me about their manager Matthew Katz, a man he had an almost irrational hatred for.  Bill Thompson, who he had known from when he was a copy boy at the Chronicle, was now the Airplane’s road manager and Graham was angling for him to take over the band’s management from Katz.  Thompson was constantly on the phone asking Graham for advice and I once heard Bill say: “I don’t want to take them away from you but if I have to, I will.”  I repeated this to Wes Wilson one day and Wes said: “That means he’s going to.”  It was a prophecy which came true.

   Bill Graham was a very complicated person.  Born Wolf Wolodia Grajonca into a Jewish family in Berlin in 1931, he had five sisters and as his father died just after his birth, his mother put him and one sister into an orphanage which then sent the children to France to escape the Nazis.  Soon after their arrival, the second world war began and when the Nazis invaded France in 1940, Wolf and his sister were herded south with the other Jewish children towards the Spanish border.  Tragically his sister died of pneumonia so it was only young Wolf who arrived in Manhattan on his own where he was put in a foster home in the Bronx.  The kids at school made fun of his German accent and called him a Nazi spy.  Bill and his step brother worked hard on his accent and ultimately he became someone who spoke like he was from the Bronx.  He also was drafted into the US Army and served as a soldier in the Korean War.

   So there was a complicated set of experiences behind the decisions this man, now called Bill Graham, would make as he made his way through the emerging rock music scene in San Francisco.  At each evening show at the Fillmore Bill would march from station to station checking every detail: the boxoffice, the bar, the light show, the musicians.  He was a formidable character who faced every challenge head on.  He seemed to have no fear at all and I saw him confront some very scary guys.  He was tough and direct and his ability to make split second decisions was impressive.    

   The music he was selling was not something he was familiar with.  He was of the generation that idolised Frank Sinatra and Eddie Fisher and a few of the bookings he made through the New York agents were not as well judged as they might have been.  He presented Sam The Sham and the Pharaohs for a weekend and this group which had hit records like Wooly Bully and Little Red Riding Hood were just not as hip as the Airplane or the Dead, but Bill never made the same mistake twice.  Other hitmakers he booked were The Association, The Turtles, The Young Rascals and a return gig for the Irish band Them. Their support act was The Sons of Champlin run by Bill Champlin from my year at Tam High. 

   Graham was constantly innovating and turned the big space on the top floor into a dining area serving food.  It seemed to be popular with the crowds.  They served hamburgers.  

   By now I had taken LSD a few times but my experiences had been very mild.  One of the young women behind the bar asked me if I wanted to buy some acid so I decided to have a go and paid her five dollars for a tab which she assured me was “very good.”  I dropped it just as the crowds were coming in.  I walked over to have a chat with Dicken Scully as he guarded the door to the musicians’ room then had a wander around and bumped into someone I knew from Tam High.  It was Nina Wachs who was two years older than me and lived up on Molino in Mill Valley above our old house on Seymour.  It was unusual to have somebody familiar to talk to at the Fillmore so we went upstairs for a bite to eat in Bill’s new dining experience.

   It was pretty clear that Nina was not a hippy.  She was dressed very smartly and had a clear eyed intensity about her but she was interested in the scene and that was why she’d come to the Fillmore.  As the Chronicle was featuring daily stories on its front page about the Haight Ashbury and LSD, it was the current subject of interest and Nina was intrigued by it all.  So as we munched our hamburgers I told her that I had dropped acid not long ago and would be coming on sometime soon.  This fascinated her and she was curious to observe any change in my behaviour.  

   I must have finished my meal before the effects began to take hold and the first change I noticed was that my vision became compartmentalised.  Every object in front of me, the plate, the glass, the fork, each shape became a separate swirling entity with a life of its own.  Soon the room was a cascade of shapes which all had the texture of a giant fingerprint which was constantly moving.  The sensation I then experienced was that my identity was dripping away from me and I felt the need to hold onto it.  I told Nina all of this and she became a bit alarmed for me.  I could hear Van Morrison’s rabid vocals from the dance floor below as he seemed to be improvising like a wild animal and it made my sense of panic increase.  

   I kept saying: “I must hold on!  I mustn’t let go!”  Nina asked if I wanted to leave and I said yes.  She’d come by car.  We got up from the table and I found myself clinging to her and repeating my mantra: “I must hold on!  I mustn’t let go!”  We walked down the steps towards the foyer.  The wild screaming of Van Morrison continued from the dance floor.  I saw Bill Graham march towards his office, taking his keys out of his pocket to unlock the door and the expression on his face was that of an angry monster.  This was nothing new but in my current condition he was just another horror to avoid.  

   Nina walked me down the steps to the foyer and then down again and out onto Geary where her car was parked.  She asked where I would like to go.  I was able to think clearly enough.  I considered going back to my parents’ flat in North Beach but quickly came to the conclusion that it would be a nightmare.  If I were to tell them what I was going through it would throw them into a panic.  A mutual friend lived near to Nina’s house in Mill Valley and we decided that was my destination as this guy had a small house out in their garden where he slept.

   Nina’s presence at the Fillmore that night was a godsend.  As I hadn’t known anything about the experience I was to have until I was having it, she looked after me and was a good friend.  She dropped me at my pal’s place where I sat up hallucinating into the early hours.  I guess this was what my friends described as a bad trip. When I woke in the morning all the swirling fingerprint shapes were gone and I was back in control of myself.  As I walked down Molino to put my thumb out, I knew I’d take it again.  Having a ‘good trip’ became an aspiration.

   Back at the Fillmore an opportunity came my way.  Due to his workload Wes Wilson was unable to do a poster for the dance/concert featuring The Mothers and Bill agreed that I could have a go at it.  I had to go out to the apartment in the Haight district where he and his wife Eva lived.  Wes gave me the copy which had to be on the poster and an 8×10 photo of Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention.  As I got up to leave Eva, who was many months pregnant, asked me if I was any relation to Nell Myers.  I said she was my sister.  It turned out that Eva’s maiden name was Bessie and she was the daughter of my parents’ good friend Alvah Bessie.  “You’d better sit down again, John,” said Wes.

   Being a copy cat I used the colour combination that Wes had utilised on his Lenny Bruce poster.  I sat down at my parents’ kitchen table about 8pm and worked through the night.  As dawn broke I had the artwork complete and took it to the printer.  Wes had briefed me on the process.  They would shoot a negative and positive film of the artwork and use them to do the colour separation.  The result was good and I was very pleased with my first effort.  Wes was paid $150 per poster and said I should get the same and that I must write the year and a © symbol next to my name as this would ensure that the copyright was mine.  So I wrote ©1966 John H. Myers.

My very first Fillmore poster…

   Bill Graham, however, was not of the opinion that I should be paid as much as Wes for my poster.  This guy who worked every hour he could around the clock took a big chunk out of his working day to negotiate with me.  One thing I learned as I sat in Bill’s little office that day was that any chance to negotiate was, for Bill, like catnip to a kitten.  He simply could not resist.  He explained that he was giving me an opportunity that was worth much more than the fee I was asking for.  His theory was not unlike that of low budget Hollywood director Roger Corman who paid actors and technicians rock bottom wages but gave them all a chance to prove themselves.  I honestly don’t remember the outcome of this talk and how much I was paid but I never had to go through it again.  This was my first professional job for Bill and I was determined that it wouldn’t be my last.

To be continued…

I must thank a few people in researching this piece: Deborah Wachs, the late Wes Wilson, the late Bonnie MacLean and Natalie Snoyman of the Mill Valley Library. Two books have also been helpful: Rage & Roll – Bill Graham and the Selling of Rock by John Glatt and Bill Graham Presents by Bill Graham and Robert Greenfield.

For those researching Mill Valley history you can contact Natalie Snoyman: nsnoyman@cityofmillvalley.org

Amazon USA
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B085QN73VQ


Amazon UK
https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B085QN73VQ

I Was A Teenage Hippy Poster Artist…

Pictured: Bill Grahamat the Fillmore. The 3 posters in this graphic are by Wes Wilson

I Was A Teenage Hippy Poster Artist…

In the summer of 1966 I was 19 years old and living at my parents’ apartment on Russian Hill in North Beach.  I was working for Bill Graham at the Fillmore Auditorium painting the two signs that people saw as they entered up the stairs into the dance hall.  One would be advertising next week’s show and the other the week after that.  

   One perk of the job was getting to see the shows for free.  The first band I was actually excited about seeing was the Irish group Them.  During my senior year at Tam High their single Baby Please Don’t Go was one of my favourite records.  For some reason it always made me think of walking down Catalpa Street in Mill Valley.

The Irish band THEM.

   Bill Graham had booked the band to play one night on a Thursday in June so I was in that afternoon to finish off my board before the crowds came in at eight.  Bill was rushing around checking on every little detail of a night at the Fillmore.  He was like a man possessed at such times.  He dressed casually with a dark sweater over a white shirt and black trousers.  He had a face like thunder and a hairdo like Frankie Avalon.  He moved with great intensity and purpose from one station to the next: the box-office, the bar, the guy doing the sound, the light show. 

   The light shows, which were primitive at the early Trips Festival, had now become sophisticated operations.  There were a couple of opaque projectors covering all the walls with coloured liquid images.  Each operator would use two transparent plates with coloured water in between which they’d jiggle as the blobby image was projected onto the wall giving a psychedelic effect as it throbbed to the beat of the band onstage.  In addition there were old black and white movies projected silently along with slides so that if you weren’t interested in the music there was always some element of the light show to grab your attention.  It may have been the beginning of multi-media.

   Bill always put out a big box of apples at the top of the stairs for people to take as they came in the door at 8pm.  He also had to check that those behind the bar selling soft drinks had everything they needed.  There was no booze at the Fillmore but as hippies from the Haight district made up a large proportion of the crowd the smell of marijuana was ever present.

   After I finished painting my board and cleaning it up, I walked over to the stage and sat down on the floor at the front.  As the doors opened at eight I suddenly found myself surrounded by people.  There was always a crowd of people sitting at the front.  The Fillmore was an old fashioned dance hall and was just one of several venues in that neighbourhood which, in earlier times had featured black jazz and blues musicians. 

   I remember nothing about the support act but when Them walked onto the stage Bill was with them.  They were dressed eccentrically and the lead guitarist had dark glasses on.  Bill was the master of ceremonies at every one of his Dance/Concerts and his announcements were always dramatic.  As soon as the band was ready he made a brief speech climaxing with the name of the band.  Immediately the lead guitarist played the opening riff to Baby Please Don’t Go and I was dazzled.  Their set was excellent and Van Morrison’s vocals were every bit as good as on the records.

   Other bands I got used to hearing were the Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Grateful Dead.  One band that Bill would never book at this time was Big Brother and the Holding Company.  Their bass guitarist, Peter Albin, used to come see Bill in his little office about once a month presumably to ask if he would hire them.  He never would.  There was a benefit gig at the Fillmore one night which was the only time I saw them play there and before the doors opened they were having a sound check for their new vocalist Janis Joplin.  She began shrieking into the microphone like a banshee and it was so loud that Jerry Garcia, Pig Pen and Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead all ran out into the foyer holding their ears.  Though Janis would, in time, become a huge star, this first exposure gave me a pretty permanent prejudice against her vocal style.  For me it was just too shrill.  I only ever heard her sing nicely once over at the Avalon one night when she delivered a lovely, quiet rendition of Gershwin’s Summertime.

   During the early summer of 1966 Friday mornings were important to me.  It took me two buses to get to the Fillmore by 11am so I could finish off next week’s sign.   It had to be polished and eye catching before the evening crowds came in the door.  This meant putting the final touches on with acrylic paint then wiping it down with a damp cloth to take away the chalk marks.

   Bill was always there and busy.  I don’t recall him ever being casual.  He was all business.  Bonnie MacLean, his girlfriend, was often there too.  I was by now good friends with Bonnie who always took photos of each of my boards.  She was older than me by a few years and in a way reminded me of my sister Nell.  She was always curious about different aspects of the now blossoming hippy phenomenon which San Francisco seemed to be the centre of.  She and Bill were not hippies and I don’t think at this time they ever turned on.

Bonnie MacLean and John Myers at the Fillmore 1966.

   Of course Bill was making his money out of that very phenomenon but he himself was pretty clean living.  He didn’t smoke or drink and was also athletic.  On weekday afternoons he and Jim Haynie would organise touch football matches on the dance floor at the Fillmore and his determination to win was ever present.  Jim Haynie was Bill’s handy man and a very nice guy.  He was a bit of a hippy and seemed constantly amused by Bill who he called ‘Willy.’  Jim was an actor in the San Francisco Mime Troupe which Bill managed before running dance concerts at the Fillmore.

   Every Friday afternoon Wes Wilson would arrive with a big brown paper package containing that week’s batch of posters fresh from the printer.  Without saying a word to anyone Bill would immediately get his ladder out and perch it on the staircase up against the wall above.  Using his staple gun he would put about eight of the posters up in a row.  Standing back he would stare at them in silence.  Then he would extend his right arm towards one of the posters with his thumb straight up in the air.  Slowly he would he would tilt his thumb down from 12 o’clock to 9.  What this exercise achieved was a total mystery to me but I think Bill was trying to find some way of evaluating how good the poster was.

   Wes was a very cheery fellow and I always enjoyed his company.  I naturally was full of questions about how he did his work.  I was amazed to learn that his artwork was smaller than the finished poster.  I had always been of the opinion that it was best to work big and then reduce but Wes did artwork not much larger than a 10×8 photo.  His colour combinations were always a source of interest to me as he’d do the artwork in black ink on line board and then give explicit directions to the printer about colour separation. 

   Wes had designed the logo for The Family Dog and being a big fan of good logos I absolutely loved it.  He had drawn the word “The” in long skinny cartoon letters that had the quality of bone about them.  On top of this he superimposed an egg shaped badge with the name Family Dog on it around a vintage photo of a native American smoking a pipe and wearing a top hat.  Across the bottom was a banner with the words: ‘Presents’.  It was beautiful.

The Family Dog logo designed by Wes Wilson.

   One thing that Wes was always talking about was the purchase he was going to make of an airbrush which somehow was going to make his work easier.  I didn’t really know what you did with an airbrush but I soon learned that it’s main job was touching up photos.  I soon saw the airbrush at Flax, the art shop downtown, and found them very sleek and swish.  It was a metallic pen with a tube that connected to an air compressor and on the top of the pen above the front tip was a small cup where you would put your wet paint in using a brush.  You’d then turn on the compressor and gently spray the area you wanted to touch up.  It could dilate from a thin line to a wide area.  I don’t remember its price tag but it was a very expensive item.

   I didn’t always like Wes’s designs but the ones I did like far outweighed his duds.  Grinding out a Fillmore poster every week was a pressure and some weeks he was more inventive than others.  But then my opinion was often at odds with other people.  Bonnie wasn’t keen on his Andy Warhol poster but I loved it and Marty Balin, the lead singer of the Airplane was quite scathing about Wes’s posters, describing his lettering as ‘blobby’.  One thing I liked about Wes’s work was how he’d often draw three dimensional shapes and then mould the lettering around the shapes.  I was very influenced by him in this regard.

   At this time most of my social life was back across the bridge in Mill Valley.  I would hitch hike over to Marin and crash at friends’ houses.  My main activity was getting stoned, listening to music and talking with my friends.  The Top 40 on KFRC was still a pretty broad church bringing a mix of different styles but they played singles and by now most people who were smoking weed were listening to albums rather than singles.  A few particular albums started this shift in listening habits for me.  Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, the first LP by The Lovin’ Spoonful and the Beatles’ Rubber Soul.

   Previous singles by the Beatles were always packaged on long players, but Rubber Soul was different to its predecessors.  It was a concept album.  Even the photo on the cover was weird as it had been distorted visually.  The songs hung together as a whole so that you got used to the order in which the tracks played.  Anyone who ever entertained the notion that The Beatles were a flash in the pan now realised they were wrong.

   A regular hangout for me was a friend’s house up on Molino which was very modern.  His parents were away a lot.  Somebody would produce a lid, the plastic bag containing an ounce of grass, and pour it into a sieve taking out the seeds.  Using Rizlas, we would roll these skinny little joints.  When I had first tried pot in my senior year at Tam it took me a bit of time to get used to the experience, but after I returned from my trip to sea I began getting loaded with a vengeance. 

   Unlike smoking a cigarette you would take the lit joint and suck the smoke deep into your lungs, holding your breath.  Sometimes you would speak while still holding your breath then with a big exhalation the slightly confused state of being stoned would settle over you.  Things you normally never thought about suddenly became objects of great interest and very funny.  The consumption of food also became very exciting.

   One friend named Matt was stoned as many hours of every day as was possible.  He was a very interesting guy but way out there.  In fact Matt was unable to function in straight society.  He had pretty long hair and looked like every white middle class parent’s nightmare.  Once he spent the night at my parents’ apartment on Russian Hill and his behaviour completely upset my mother Beth.  “I’m sorry I freaked your mother out,” he said in his quiet engaging manner.  He seemed to have no control over the effect he had on others.

   Most of my friends had dropped LSD and it wasn’t long before I tried that too but my first experience was so mild  that I couldn’t notice anything different, a bit like my early outings with weed.  A new piece of jargon had entered the hip lexicon and that was the word ‘trip,’ used to describe an LSD experience.  My friends told stories about good and bad acid trips and the implication that one’s ego could cause a bad one.  Letting yourself go seemed to be an essential element of having a good trip.

To be continued…

While preparing this piece I learned the very sad news that Jim Haynie had passed away. This means very few of the people I knew at the Fillmore are still with us as both Wes Wilson and Bonnie MacLean died last year. Rest in peace all of you.

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The Cultural Life of Mill Valley

The Cultural Life of Mill Valley

We Myers kids were all very different personalities.  I collected comic books and pop records and could fly into a furious rage at the drop of a pin.  My brother Jim collected baseball cards and rarely lost his temper.  My sister Kate collected trading cards and was also mild mannered.  My oldest sister Nell and I were the temperamental two of the four Myers kids.  Katie and Jimmy were much more level headed and less prone to displays of anger.

   Nell was a passionate reader.  Most days she could be found with a book in one hand and an apple in the other.  Her book collection included Nancy Drew mysteries, the OZ books, Mary Poppins and many more titles she regularly worked her way through. 

Nellie was always reading a book…

   When my family was on the last leg of our journey across the United States in 1952, we made a stop at the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  I think it was the first time I had ever heard my mother Beth get cross.  While we all walked to the edge of the parking lot to gaze down at the spectacular canyon below, my sister Nell stayed in the car with her nose in a book.  Beth blew her top.  “Nellie Myers you get out of that car right now and come look at this!”  Holding the open book in one hand, Nellie walked obediently over to the edge of the car park and gazed down at the wonder below.  She looked to the left and then to the right.  She nodded her head as if to say: “is that enough?”   She then walked back to the car and continued reading.

    Because Nell was so good at occupying herself with reading it was a great temptation for me to sneak up behind and give her a fright which would scare the daylights out of her.  It was the repetition of such activities which caused her to angrily describe me as “Napoleon, Hitler and Mussolini rolled up into one.”

   Because Nellie and Katie were older than Jimmy and I they were able to take trips into the city to see shows like Porgy And Bess or South Pacific at the Curran and Geary Theatres.  Both these theatres put on touring productions of Broadway shows.  On one such outing they went to see the MGM movie of Julius Caesar at the Stage Door.   Directed by Joseph Mankiewicz it featured a glittering combination of British and American actors.  Marlon Brando, James Mason and John Gielgud were just three of the big names in this film and Louis Calhearn played Caesar.        

   Taking a trip into the city to see a show or a movie was always an exciting event for those of us who grew up north of the Golden Gate Bridge.  First there was the journey by Greyhound bus out of Mill Valley.  Nell and Kate would have caught it at the Una Way stop on Miller and once on the other side of the Golden Gate the bus would make its way to the Greyhound Depot at Market and 7th pulling into the Mill Valley bay.

   Market Street itself had all the glamour bestowed upon it by the presence of the big movie theatres like the Fox and the Paramount.  But beneath this glossy veneer lay a slightly grubby reality.  Exhaust fumes mingled with the smell of hot dogs and candy apples and the traffic was thick with vehicles and pedestrians.  It was seedy.  I didn’t really discover the dark thrill of taking the bus to Market Street until 1957 when I was ten, but Nell and Kate had made several of these trips by then. 

   Seeing this movie inspired Nell to read Shakespeare’s play which she really enjoyed.  The first person Nellie talked to about how the film had impressed her was her classmate Shelly Bode whose father taught English and literature at Tam High.  Between the two of them they thought of getting together a group of other girls at Old Mill School and doing a production of their own.

   In the film Nell was fascinated by the interplay between Brutus and Cassius.  She found James Mason’s Brutus to be a deeply troubled character and discussed him at length with our mother Beth.  Our mom pointed out that Brutus became embroiled in the assassination plot because he wanted to preserve Rome as a republic in the face of Caesar’s ambition to become emperor and dictator. 

   Nellie was a sixth grader at Old Mill and Katie was in the fourth grade.  Nellie’s memory is that she was determined from the start that Katie should play Brutus.  Katie, however, is of the opinion that she was cast only out of sisterly loyalty.   

   At this time Katie was good friends with Daphne Strawbridge, also in the fourth grade, and both became involved in the plans.  Daphne’s parents, Gordon and Nancy ran the stationery shop Strawbridge’s on Litton Square in downtown Mill Valley.  Nellie is pretty sure that there were one or two fifth graders but the bulk of the cast were in the sixth grade.

   Shelly Bode’s father provided them with the script, an abridged-for-schools-and-young-actors text which is what they used.  Before going any further they spoke to their teacher, Mrs Tresnon, and to the other sixth-grade teacher Mrs Hildebrand.  Discussions were had with Shelly’s parents as well as Blackie and Beth and ultimately the school authorities agreed that the girls could proceed with the play.  They considered their cultural and historic interest to be a ‘good thing’ and wanted to channel their enthusiasm to best effect.  Permission was granted for rehearsal space and time was allocated.

   The character Nell wanted to play was Cassius.  John Gielgud’s performance in the movie had made a strong impression on her.  Shelly Bode went for Marc Antony so the two friends took opposite sides in this great drama.  Most of the after school rehearsals happened in the Old Mill auditorium though it was never clear where the ultimate performance would occur.  Nellie thinks it was someone at the school who invited Irene Pritzker to come in and cast her semi-professional eye over the proceedings.

   Quite a few people in Mill Valley were active in the amateur dramatic scene but Mrs Pritzker was definitely a leading light.  Her son Glen was to become one of my best friends at Homestead School and he had a younger sister, Robin.

   Another active participant in this scene was Alex Call’s father Hughes, a guiding star in the Mill Valley Light Opera Company which specialised in productions of Gilbert & Sullivan among other musical delights.

   Alex was in my brother Jim’s class at Homestead and their house overlooked the school playground.  Both his parents, Hughes and Volinda had developed a passion for G&S back east while studying at Harvard and Vasser.

   Alex describes their home at 315 Montford as the company’s club house: “where stage props were built and painted, costumes created by the famous ‘seamstresses’ who met over sherry every Monday noon.  Lots of rehearsing around the two grand pianos that fitted back to back in the living room.  Plenty of highballs and other cocktails as well.  It was a lively crew.”

   I went with my parents to their production of Trial By Jury at Brown’s Hall but found it not to my taste.  It did not connect with my sensibilities in the slightest and I have spent the majority of my lifetime harbouring a prejudice against the music of G&S.  It’s only during the past few years that my wife Clare has helped break down that barrier by exposing me to their work in a British historical context.  She directed a production of Pirates of Penzance which began my change of opinion.  Once I actually listened to their words and music I became enamoured.  They were sophisticated and witty and at the time the shows were conceived, they were highly political.

   So here in Mill Valley was an enthusiastic and talented group putting on these very British shows from the turn of the century.  Hughes Call ran the business side of the company as well as playing leading roles and singing baritone.

   “Their cast parties at our house were legendary,” says Alex Call.  “Well over a hundred revellers poured themselves through a long night, dressed to the nines.  Men in suits and women in cocktail dresses.  In the morning there would be all-nighters crashed on the various couches, glasses everywhere, many with cigarette butts in them.  We kids had to go to bed by eight or nine, but I heard them laughing and singing into the wee hours.  No one threw a party like Hughes Call!”

   And somewhere within this group of hard drinking performers was Irene Pritzker who now was invited by somebody to step in to help my sister Nell with her production of Julius Caesar.

   Up until the involvement of Mrs Pritzker the direction was handled by Nellie and Shelly Bode and my sister recalls that it all went pretty smoothly.  But once Irene came in she took control of the rehearsals and Nellie found this to be challenging.  Irene was a very forthright person and could be more than a bit bossy.  I found this when I was in one of Mrs Pritzker’s productions a few years later.  For several years she ran a highly successful Junior Theatre in Mill Valley and always got the very best out of her young thespians.

   In addition Mrs Pritzker was a skilled publicist and the girls wound up with their photos in the Mill Valley Record and the Independent Journal for the two sold out performances at the Outdoor Art Club which raised money for Guide Dogs For The Blind.  

   Though she wasn’t entirely happy with Irene Pritzker’s involvement Nellie was also a bit intimidated by her and so just kept her head down and got on with it.  One thing did however become a bone of contention.  Irene felt that Brutus was the villain of the piece and this ran contrary to Nell’s opinion.  This upset my sister greatly and she complained to Beth about it.  She remembers our mother having a long telephone conversation with Irene on the subject.

   Katie, however, who was playing Brutus, doesn’t recall any controversy and considered her sister to be still running the show.  Both performances were packed and received critical acclaim.  There was only one boy in the cast: Roger Strawbridge, Daphne’s brother.  It was a highly original theatrical experience which pleased the participants and audiences equally.  I went as a seven year old with my parents and brother Jim but the only thing I remember about it is how impressive the costumes were.  The Roman robes had been made from sheets and they looked fantastic.

   It would have made sense for a follow-up production to be mounted but the fact that Nell and Shelly Bode were going off to junior high at Alto the following year meant they would no longer be at Old Mill. 

   Mrs Pritzker’s daughter Robin remembers: “My mom ran a pretty darn good junior theatre program every summer.  Somehow she re-wrote Gilbert and Sullivan for kids and pulled it off.  She coordinated it all.  Scripts, costumes, music and publicity.  I think almost every kid in Mill Valley was in a production.”

   The cultural life of Mill Valley in the 1950s and 60s was enriched by these amateur dramatic productions, be it my sister Nell’s staging of events in ancient Rome or the Mill Valley Light Opera Company’s production of Iolanthe in Mead Theatre.  They brought the community together.  Nancy Strawbridge organised ticket sales, Mitch Howie’s mother Bettie helped with publicity and played flute in the orchestra.  Everybody pitched in and the likes of Irene Pritzker and Hughes Call were the ones who organised it all.  Perhaps a statue or two is in order?

I must thank those people who kindly helped with information: Alex Call, Robin Pritzker, Nell Myers,  Kate Thornton, Ernie Bergman, Hollis Hite Bewley, Mitch Howie, Steve Tollestrup, Roger Strawbridge.

I must also thank Natalie Snoyman at the Mill Valley Library for research details.  For anyone doing research on Mill Valley history she can be reached at: nsnoyman@cityofmillvalley.org

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