Two little books my mom gave to me in 1956 when I was 3 1/2 years old, for our road trip with my grandfather and grandmother back to Chicago (where my mom was born).
Check the inscription in my mom’s handwriting in one of the pictures…
My grandfather used up all his vacation time every year to go back and help his mom – making repairs around the house, doing yardwork, etc.
My great-grandfather had built the house with his own hands, and out of all the brothers and sisters (some of whom came back to visit their mom) only my grandfather helped fix up the place and used his entire vacation to do it until she died in the mid-1960s. That has always inspired me.
This is the only trip we all made together. I have just one memory of the trip out by car – I moment, more like a photograph of me in the back seat playing with a toy telephone truck that had a remote control on a wire attached to a hand-flashlight sized metal cylinder with a forward button and a reverse button.
This was one of the first plastic toys available. Most everything was either die cast or stamped sheet metal in those days. And remote controlled toys in 1956 were virtually unheard of. So, I don’t know who loved me that much to get such a toy, but I do recall playing with it all the way there, though I only have one memory where I actually see it and the back seat.
I only have blurs of memories of the actual time in Chicago, but I know my mom and I flew back to Burbank, with my grandmother I think, and my grandfather drove back when he had finished helping his mom.
I also don’t recall the plane flight itself, though I almost do – there’s something blurry around the edges of my mind – more like half a feelings of waking up briefly, hearing the sound, my mom telling me it’s okay and go back to sleep, but it is so faint, perhaps that just my imagination filling in gaps.
What I do recall with certainty is that my Aunt Toots met us at the airport. In those days, you just walked down the stairs from the propeller plane and people met you at the bottom out on the tarmac.
We took a short trip to my aunt’s rather than to our house, and she made breakfast for us. I know this from a flash of memory at her house, in my mom’s arms, with the smell of bacon in the air and the sizzling in the background. Perhaps we took a red-eye? Don’t know, but in my memory it seems like it was dark at some point in all this.
Anyway, for me, having these books with my mom’s inscription is an amazing thing. I had completely forgotten about them until they turned up in one of the boxes I’m sorting this very morning.
I had a dream about my dad just a few minutes ago. I was out with Teresa and my sisters and one of their husbands and their mom. We were in Redmond, where my dad lived, and we were all out in the late afternoon for dinner. In the dream, my dad was back home still fighting his cancer. Apparently, we had just left there after a visit.
I suddenly realized there was a voice saying, “hello?” from my pocket. I reached in and found an old cradle-phone hand set that had apparently been bumped and accidentally dialed my dad back at the house.
I picked it up and talked to him, but he was so very groggy and incoherent I had clearly waken him up. The more we talked, however, the more cogent he became until he was back to his normal, very intelligent and charming self.
And then we were both there in the mall where the family was going to have dinner. They were going into the restaurant, and I as with him at a round concrete table along the walk. He was sitting on the concrete bench and I was standing and kneeling down to hear him.
We had a conversation about his medication. He was saying, “You know, the medication is the reason I get so tired, not the disease.” I asked, “Which one?” He said, “No, the other one…”
And then I was waken up by Clarice, one of our cats, who vomited three times in three different place on the bedroom carpet. I leapt out of bed and cleaned each spot.
When I came back, Oak, another of our cats, had taken my place, and I started playing the Simon & Garfunkel song, Cecelia, in my head, “I got up to wash my face; when I came back to bed, someone’s taken my place.”
Since it was already daybreak, I got up. Few minutes later Teresa got up. I told her of the dream. I said, “I’m actually glad Clarice woke me up. I’m sad the dream was interrupted, but if it hadn’t been, I might not have remembered it.”
And as I spoke, I began to sob. I finally told her, “I felt close to him again… It was good to spend a little more time with him…. I miss my dad…. “
Here’s a personal memory for me about Bob Clampett, the creator of the animated “children’s” show, Beany and Cecil, in which they also included adult jokes such as an island called No Bikini Atoll.
Back in the late 70’s, in my first job in the film biz after film school, I had to deliver some materials from my boss to a company in an office building in downtown Hollywood.
As I went in looking for the location, I passed by an office that said “Bob Clampett” on the door. Being a fan, I decided to drop in unannounced.
I entered the outer office where you would expect to find a secretary/receptionist, but there was no one at the desk. But I could see the inner office door was slightly ajar.
So, I poked my head in, and there was Mr. Clampett, sitting behind his desk. He was pretty old looking – wrinkly face, pale skin, but what set it all off was his dark black pompadour hair that looked as if it was shiny black plastic that had been vacu-formed to his head!
To my knowledge, he hadn’t produced anything in years, and I got the impression that perhaps there was no secretary at all, though I don’t know that for a fact.
I introduced myself, told him I was a fan and that it was a pleasure to meet him. He was very gracious, so I asked if he had any advice for a young filmmaker just starting out.
He said there was just one thing – don’t give up, just keep trying. He said it was a tough business to get into, but once you break down the door your career can start.
I thanked him and departed, not wanting to over-stay my welcome, but as I returned to my car I was both elated at having me him and a bit disappointed by his hair, obviously not natural, which spoke to me of vanity, though I had no proof of that.
Inspired by this memory, I decided to look up Mr. Clampett on Wikipedia, and learned a bit about him, and about why he might have done that to his hair. A good read if you are interested in cinema trivia. Either way, Beany and Cecil is a good watch, so you may want to check out the old episodes.
This hand print was made is some kind of molding or sculpting material – seems rather sand-like, though could be flour paste that has crystallized. Since the inscription on the back says Sunday – perhaps it was made in Sunday School.
I actually don’t remember ever going to Sunday School, though my mom did want me to have exposure to religion. Later in my elementary school years, I got off from class once a week for “religious release.” Those whose parents signed the form would be led about two blocks from our school by a teacher – little ducklings in a row – to the Little White Chapel in Burbank – a non-denominational Christian house of worship that remains today – open to everyone, excluding no one. Perhaps I’ll venture back after the pandemic to see if I can recapture some of the mood.
We would make things – lots of craft projects like disciples with moving arms using “brads” – those little brass fasteners that went through holes in paper. Loved the paper punch, but what kids doesn’t…
Sometimes we’d make pop-up books or build little paper arks, replete with Noah and fauna crew. We learned a moral code told in parables and set in place by physical representation and the motion of the hands.
All of which brings us back to the hand that made the print in this picture. My mom saved and dated everything – a habit I picked up and still use to this day. Facebook makes that pretty easy now. It is good to look back and be able to place the most memorable and personally significant events placed in the timeline of our lives. Like this impression of a young impressionable hand.
This one has been battered just a bit. It is in three pieces now, and I have reassembled it here for the pictures. The edges are getting a bit warn and crumbly as well, after 62 years, but who isn’t?
I also have hand prints of both my kids, and I’ve seen that my kids also have hand prints of their kids as well. Wouldn’t it be nice to create a multi-generational family plaque with all the hand prints and room for more from the next generation?
But then, which of my kids would get it? Hmmmm…. Perhaps with today’s technology it would be possible to scan and 3D print all of them so that everyone can have a copy to carry forward the family history. Perhaps the originals should be placed in a designated safe space that all family members have access to, should anyone want to touch the fragile originals from time to time, and hold hands across the ages with their ancestors.
These two 16 x 20 posters from the mid-1950s mean an awful lot to me. They are from my dad when he was a project engineer on the Polaris missile project – the first missile that could be fired underwater from a submarine.
After my mom and dad got divorced when I was just one year old, he was as good a father as he could be to me. He’d come to see me every Saturday, almost without fail, unless he was back in DC on business.
When he was away, he’d always send a note or a postcard or a picture of some place he was or something he was working on, as in this case.
Now I don’t recall if he sent these by mail when he was away or gave them to me in person during one of his visits, but I had them on the wall next to my bed for many years. I was so very proud of my daddy!
The poster on the left is glossy and the one on the right is matte finish. I liked the glossy one best because of the shine, but like the picture on the matte one better.
My dad inscribed the lower right corner of the glossy one:
“To my son, David. With love, Daddy”
Made me feel so special. Years later when I had my own kids and had be away on business, sometimes across the country, I tried to always send them notes, postcards, and little gifts just as my dad had done.
In fact, a few months ago I found one of the notes I sent to Keith, along with package of balloons, and a message saying I missed him and looked forward to seeing him soon.
My mom also wrote on the glossy photo at the top saying, “Daddy was project engineer on this missile.
My dad continued to come to see me every Saturday until I was 12. Then he came every two weeks until I was sixteen. And then he said I was old enough we ought to exchange visits.
Until I was 12 I didn’t know he had remarried and that I had half-brothers and sisters. He kept the families separate until I was 16 and then I came to visit him at his home and meet my siblings and his wife for the first time.
We all struck it off so well. Instantly I felt like part of a larger family after having grown up as an only child. And his wife – my step-mom sorta, I guess, was so good to me, and we enjoyed a good friendship every time I visited throughout the years, first by myself, then with Mary and the kids, and eventually with Teresa and combinations of the others too. We were all welcomed as family.
After he died in 2014, my sisters told me that they had always wondered where dad went on Saturdays. All that time when I cried sometimes because I only had a daddy one day a week for a few hours, there were four of them, trying to get time with him on the weekend, and the one of me got him all to myself each week, and with travel time to and from, he must’ve been gone for half a day at least. It was a lot to parse.
Our families don’t get together often, but if any of us travel into the others area, we always catch dinner and have some good times. In fact, the summer before the pandemic, Mindi and Ed and their kids and I all got together with my sister Becky and her husband Bret at the beach.
Now you might wonder how my mom felt about all this, in those days so long ago, and how it worked when she remarried and my dad would pick me up from our home with my step-dad there. Well, it’s complicated. But everyone was nice to each other and I never felt torn – there was no pressure ever on me to be pulled one way or the other.
I’ve had a most fortunately life – feel guilty sometimes about how good my childhood was compared to tales I’ve heard from others. But in the end, I was loved, and I was given a chance to be myself, to find myself, and to share love with others, from my kids to those closest to me and extending to all of my friends.
It’s been a blessed live so far for a kid who was named David (which means “beloved”)
There’s a whole web of stores of my family in those early days, and I hope to have time to share the best of them before I’m done.
Perhaps the never to be made movie of my life will start like Citizen Kane: “What were his last words?” “Rosebud” Only for me it might be “Polaris” (or “Lamby” or “Orchid Bear.”)
I love this photograph, and the frame especially. I think the design of the frame really captures the artistic sense of the early fifties. My mom used to keep it on her dresser when I was a child. Her dresser was always bathed in bright indirect light from a window to the side, so it was a very cheery place to be.
This picture, then, became wrapped up in the warm sunny memory of freshness, nice and clean, all laid out in a pretty orderly fashion, and the baby blue color and the silver foil shine of the circles still bring me back to that day when we lived with my grandmother and grandfather, after my mom got divorced when I was but a year old, and remained there until I was seven when she remarried.
Obviously, the photograph was taken before the divorce. But that mood in that sunny room at my grandparent’s place – so fresh, bright, and clean – I feel refreshed just to think of it, and this picture always brings me there.
My mom still had hope in those days of a shining future in which her dreams might all come true. And though many of them did not, she and I were always very close and shared a special non-verbal connection both then, and later when my stepfather completed our little family of three – a family that was always tight. We had a mood that felt like “us” – something that was larger than ourselves and our own individual personalities – something of which we were all apart, exclusively of anyone else on the planet.
I’m really kind of surprised that the frame survived all these years through so many moves to so many different cities. And more often than not, it has been plopped in a box with a number of other memory-items without any wrapping or packing material – just almost tossed in there.
I just re-discovered it last week in such a box, and have now placed it in a drawer in my dresser. Though I’d love to put it on my dresser and re-create that moment (since I am back to living in that very same house yet again), I’d be afraid of cats and earthquakes, and think I’ll just pull it out of the drawer from time to time when the sunshine is just right, and place it on my dresser and reminisce until I am drawn for a few precious moments back to those days in the mid-fifties when the world was new and the future was all ahead of us.
In the 1980s I had my first office in the first brick building in Burbank, built at San Fernando Road and Olive in 1888, pictured here. In fact, I was there for the building’s centennial (which no one celebrated because no one know about it then).
By the time I was installed, it had changed quite a bit. The parapet was gone in an earthquake many decades ago, and the bottom part was now a series of independent businesses, food establishments and the sort.
The upper offices were really cool. Heavy oak doors with transoms and patterned plate glass in them. Much like the feel of a seedy private detective in the 1940s or a railroad office in the old west.
I had found the office because my college friends from film school, Chris Huntley and Stephen M Greenfield had set up their new company there, Screenplay Systems, where they developed and marketed the world’s first screenplay formatting software called Scriptor (for which they both later won a Technical Achievement Award from the Academy (you know, the Oscars).
I recall driving by the building several times on my way home from an editing job in Hollywood and seeing the light on in their office, with Steve visible in the window, cranking out the code for Scriptor on the Z-80 computer he had built himself from a Heathkit.
Steve had previously been the director of photography on the first feature length film I directed called The Strangeness, which you can see even today on Amazon Prime – though none of us get any residuals from it.
Chris was my co-producer and co-writer (along with Mark Sawicki, the first friend I made at USC). Chris, Steve, and Mark were roommates at the time we made The Strangeness, I believe, though I don’t remember if Chris had moved out yet.
I do know that we shot a few of the special effects shots for The Strangeness there at the house in Burbank they were renting together.
One shot was designed to look like a horizontal mine tunnel and a huge ball of fire was supposed to rush down it toward our heroes. Mark and Chris did this by creating a miniature of the tunnel about 2 x 2 feet and ten feet long, and placed it vertically.
At the bottom, they placed a film can filled with hot melted paraffin, then lit the fumes above it on fire, like a flambe. Mark had a camera secured at the top behind a sheet of plexiglass. He’d climb up a ladder, start the camera to shoot extra fast to create slow motion when played at normal speed.
As soon as the camera started, Chris would throw a glass of water on the flaming paraffin and it would explode in a fireball when the steam vaporized and would shoot twenty feet into the air, right past the camera.
We did several takes, at night of course (for best effect) and late so no one would be watching, since we were pretty sure it was illegal. Sure enough, after every explosion, we’d hear the beating of a police helicopter which would fly nearby looking for whoever was creating these fireballs.
But the flash only lasted a couple seconds so we’d just freeze in place with the lights off until it flew away and then set off the next one. Two minutes later they’d be back again, and we played cat and mouse like this for about an hour until we got all the shots we needed. Fortunately, they never got a fix on us.
The shot turned out great in the movie, by the way, though if you look closely you can see the “rock” walls shudder a bit because they were actually made of industrial thickness aluminum fail, crinkled to look like rock, then spray painted appropriately with dirt thrown on the wet paint to complete the look.
Another effects shot we did there was of a second miniature tunnel where we did stop motion photography of our tentacled monster in the mine.
All the tentacles had to be slightly moved and then one frame shot then moved again, then another frame, and so on. At 24 frames per second, it not only took a lot of time, it was also very complex to keep each of the many tentacles twisting and curling in the right directions. And on top of this, Mark added an animated camera movement down the tunnel during the stop-motion by repositioning the camera slightly after each adjustment to the miniature monster!
I even animated one of the monster shots myself just for the fun of it.
Anyway, Mark and I were the only crew on this, though I think a shot or two was done by Mark’s semi-famous animator friend, Ernie Farino at another time.
This day, we needed to create some fog on the miniature set, but couldn’t use a fog machine because the animation would make the swirls of fog jumpy and ruin the effect.
After much discussion, Mark remembered he had an orange rescue flare from his uncle’s boat. So, just before we started animating, he set it off in the closed garage where we had our miniature.
In short order, the place was filled with an acrid, lung-burning, orange smoke, but it did create the effect we were looking for – a nice even fog.
So, for an hour or thereabouts we hung out in that space, shooting animation frame by frame, then darting out the side door for a quick breath of fresh air before diving in once again.
In the end, we got the shot and it was really good! But, when I got home, I discovered my white underwear had turned orange. Mark told me later that week he had sneezed up orange snot for three days.
I wondered what that might do to my health. Now, forty year later, so far so good. But, to quote John Milius (director of the original Conan The Barbarian film), “Pain in temporary; film is forever.”
That’s a pretty good place to end this memory thread. Later, I’ll start from that same office building and tell you tales of creating my first album of original music there, bringing my kids there after school so I could continue working while I watched them (and the adventures we had), the true to life Mystery of Geppetto The Mole, and many more stories from the building officially known (when it was built) as The Burbank Block.
“Until next time, this is Gary Owens and Morgul, the Friendly Drelb.”
I’ve decided to document my family mementos and personal memorabelia on video before posting pictures with written descriptions because there is so much (about 50 moving boxes full) that I don’t have enough years left to write about all of it as individual posts with still pictures and texts.
I’ll still do that for really special items, but for the sake of at least getting it all documented, it is video for now. My plan is to post it here, also on Facebook, and finally put a flash drive in each box with the videos describing each of the items therein. That way, family stories will not easily fade away, and those who deal with the boxes after I’m gone will know if something is good to keep, distribute in the family, give to Goodwill, or just toss in the can. Eye of the beholder and all that.So, here is the first in a long (and probably boring) string of remembrances.Oh, and just for the record, I say the video was taken on September 4, 2020 – had the date wrong: it was today, September 5 – must be precise…