Steve Lopez: So long, neighbor, 102-year-old starlet Mae Laborde
In 1998, I moved into a little rental on Navy Street in Santa Monica and saw a giant yellow Oldsmobile cruise down the street with no apparent sign of a driver. On closer inspection, I realized a tiny woman was behind the wheel, barely able to see over the dash.
It was my new neighbor, Mae Laborde. She was almost 90, had worked as a clerk at Henshey's department store and as a bookkeeper for the "Lawrence Welk Show," and had married a conductor she met on the Red Line. When I got to know her, I learned she grew tomatoes in her backyard for Michael's restaurant, went dancing with her neighbor Judy at Pepperdine soirees, traveled the city reading tea leaves for friends and had attended the Pageant of the Masters in Laguna every year but one for 50 years.
Every time I saw Mae, she had a new story, including the one about how a giant picture of her ended up in the L.A. Times food section with a story about her tamale pie. When she read tea leaves for me and my wife in her living room on Ozone, across our back alley, she told us something big was in our future involving the No. 3. A few years later, our daughter was born. In 2003.
Mae was old-fashioned, didn't drink and spoke softly, calling friends "honey," but she wasn't shy. Once, when she needed a ride to an appearance on a radio show, she called the Santa Monica police department to ask for a lift, and the chief himself obliged, curious as to who would ask such a thing. I couldn't say I was surprised when, at age 93, Mae took up acting. She was in commercials and on TV shows for several years, and she'd call me to go with her to auditions or to let me know when to see her on TV.
A Funny or Die video showing her struggling with digital television conversion became an Internet sensation -- and Hulu's most watched video of all time.
Mae died in her sleep Monday at Sunrise Assisted Living in Santa Monica.
She was 102.
So long, Mae. And thanks for the memories, as well as the inspiration.
-- Steve Lopez
Photo: Mae Laborde, in 2006, before taping a commercial for a TV show in Hollywood. Credit: Stefano Paltera / For The Times