The day after my high school reunion in late October, we zipped to my old digs in Tarzana (San Fernando Valley).
My father had followed his father in business, opening as garment factory in downtown Los Angeles on Santee Street, the heart of the garment district. His factory was called Doriann, a combination of my mother’s first name (Doris) and my middle name (Ann). Five days a week, he left early in the morning to miss the traffic and oversee the operation of his factory, which made dresses for Fred Rothchild, a designer and manufacturer of high-end women’s dresses and suits.
It was the era of polyester. Amazingly, you can occasionally find Fred Rothchild dresses for sale online, such as the dress to the right. My father contracted to make a similar dress. The top half of the sleeveless dress was white with a lime green, orange or pink drop waist skirt. The large sailor collar matched the color of the skirt and was finished with a patterned tie in a range of psychedelic patterns and collars. I still have several dozen scarves and ties from my father’s factory.
When I was eight and my brother ten, my parents purchased a quarter-acre lot in Tarzana on Shenango Drive (four miles south of Venture Boulevard, off Vanalden Drive) with a view of the Braemer golf course (below). At the time, there weren’t many houses in the area and at night you could hear the coyotes howling in the hills. Being Southern California, my neighborhood was also the home of rattle and garter snakes, horny toads, rabbits, gophers, roadrunners, and an occasional deer or bobcat.
My parents built a sprawling four bedroom, four bathroom ranch house (below) with the latest gizmos and amenities, including an indoor char broiler, built in osterizer, huge walk-in closets, wood paneling, and 100% wool, live green shag carpeting.
They hired a Japanese gardener to landscape, using mature bonsai bushes and trees along with attractive foliage that needed little water. My parents were big on conservation and gardening. On both sides of the house were areas to plant vegetables and herbs.
A year after the house was finished, my father died of a heart attack. He was fifty.
Following my father’s death, my mother reached a new level of paranoia and not only put bars on the windows, but installed a home-made burglar alarm that worked sporadically. She also had heavy metal posts cemented into the ground from which were stretched heavy chains to prevent drivers from turning around in our circular driveway. Adding to the glory was my mother’s sharp tongue and intolerance for most people and tasks – from carpooling kids to school once a week to cleaning and cooking.
Nevertheless, the location of our house presented many opportunities to find and sell golf balls to good-natured golfers, race across the golf course on our bikes (infuriating the golfers), buy junk food at the course’s food shacks, and hike in the surrounding hills (and get poison oak).
It also exposed me to people in the movie industry. The Moders lived towards the top of Shenango Drive. Mike Moder was the director or production manager of dozens of movies and TV series, such as Little Big Man, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Matlock and Perry Mason. He and his wife, Patty, had five kids.
Jane Moder was the same age as me. Her older sister, Debbie, married Steve Stone (or was it Jeff) who lived at the very top of the street. John was a few years younger than Jane. He gashed open his face when he attempted to ride his bicycle down one of the drainage culverts cut in the hill opposite the golf course. Jyl was the youngest girl. Like Jane, she was a bit of a tomboy, slender with light blonde hair and freckles. Danny, who married Julie Roberts, was the youngest. My first recollection of Danny was him running down the street in his diapers.
Next door to us lived DeeDee Copeland who was the sister of actor, Bill Barty. DeeDee was a stewardess (before the advent of “flight attendants”) with two rambunctious Labrador Retrievers who I used to pet-sit. I also helped serve food at several of her parties. At one of these gatherings, a famous astronaut attended. I have his autograph… somewhere.
Across the street (below) were the Rices’ – Joey, Wayne, Darrell, Babe, and Denice. Wayne, who was a year older than me, hung out with several Taft High School football players. Scott Blakeley was one of them; he drove a very cool, custom-painted blue Corvette. I was enthralled with the car and spent many hours staring out it from my barred window. Actually, I was hoping that Vince Pone, another football player, would grace the street.
All of the Rice “boys” were popular, personable, tanned, and primed for success. Joey Rice supposedly grew up to be the agent for Robert Englund (a.k.a. Freddie Krueger). Wayne is the producer of “Dude, Where’s my Car?, Chasing Liberty, and other flicks. Denise writes screenplays. And their father, Alan, is also a producer.
My mother was good friends with the Vlahos who lived a few houses away on Vanalden Drive. Petro and his son, Paul won an Oscar for Blue Screen Compositing Technology. Prior to their invention it was challenging to blend together an image shot on a blue screen with a stationary or moving background, such as people in a moving car or flowing hair.
Down the street from the Vlahos was the Manner family. Several times, Kim Manners, who was in his late teens, early twenties at the time, would drive me to my ballet lessons when my mother was out-of-town. He had a cool Mustang. Kim grew up to produce and direct the X-Files. His father, Sam, was also a director for TV shows like The Wild Wild West and Route 66.
I just read that Kim died in January from lung cancer. Hard to believe. In a sense, my childhood of growing up around movie people is also hard to believe. My “Valley Girl” accent has long faded away. I prefer the cloudy Pacific Northwest to sunny Southern California. Instead of longing for the latest fashion I prefer “gently reused” clothes from the Bellevue Goodwill. As Thomas Wolfe wrote, "you can’t go home again."