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Matt Weinstock -- January 9, 1959

January 9, 2009 |  4:00 pm

Rugged Fisherman

Matt_weinstockd_2 The telephone rang at 3 a.m. Wednesday in the Venice home of Bill O'Connor. It was Pat Lister, Santa Monica harbor master, informing him that gale winds were whipping the bay and his boat was dragging its mooring.

O'Connor, 47, a former champion swimmer and lifeguard, is now a fisherman. He owns the 30-foot El Salvador.

He dressed and rushed out in the rain to his car only to find his headlights wouldn't work. He grabbed his little girl's bicycle and was off, aided by a strong tailwind. Within minutes he was at the end of the groaning pier.

Still clothed, without hesitation, he jumped into Santa Monica Bay and headed for his boat, pitching in heavy seas 200 yards away. The next time Lister saw him was in the eerie glow of a flashlight on deck.

1959_0109_hostage O'CONNOR SET a stern anchor, reinforcing his mooring lines, put stronger lashings on the deck gear, then too another header into the bay.

As he climbed up the ladder to the dock, a $10,000 catamaran broke loose from its mooring and swept toward the beach. O'Connor and Chad Merrill, assistant harbor master, jumped onto its deck, threw lines to the dock, and swam back to the pier.

After a look around to see that everything else was secure, O'Connor got back on the bike and headed home. Wonder how things are these days with Ernest Hemingway?

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THE STRONG WINDS also awakened an advertising executive who suddenly remembered a newly planted 8-foot tree and rushed outside to the rescue.

On reaching up to brace the tree against the wind his pajama pants dropped around his ankles. When he reached down to retrieve them the tree swayed dangerously in the gale. This happened over and over, like in an old Laurel and Hardy movie, and his wife, who watched through the living room window, is still laughing.

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Never a letter from a friend or foe,
They're either ads or bills I owe.

* *

REMEMBERED quotes from the lavish Sports Illustrated dinner acclaiming UCLA's Rafer Johnson:

Art Linkletter introduced a celebrity as having "a greater rating than if Brigitte Bardot played 'Lolita' on TV." He also referred to Henry Luce as "the Vic Tanny of the publishing world."

An apt line by Luce: "The test of a high civilization is the pursuit of excellence -- that's why we honor Rafer."

Romain Gary: "I saw Mr. Luce play golf a few days ago in Phoenix. If I were the owner of Time, Life, Fortune and Sports Illustrated I'd hire someone to play for me."

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1959_0109_hostage_runover NEW YEARS 33 years ago -- Jan. 1, 1929 -- a young ensign named Edward V. Dockweiler drew the midwatch (midnight to 4 a.m.) aboard the USS Idaho, anchored off San Pedro. This was before the present nine-mile breakwater was completed.

An unwritten rule required that midwatch entries in the log be in rhyme and Dockweiler wrote, "We are anchored in Pedro Harbor, though there isn't much of a fee, and why they call it a harbor, is something I never could see."

Imagine the surprise of Bernard J. Caughlin, general manager of L.A. Harbor, to read this in the January 1959 issue of U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, which reprinted it. Dockweiler, a retired admiral, is the Harbor's chief engineer. Caughlin is his boss. 

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MISCELLANY -- Conductor Fritz Reiner's appearance with the Philharmonic orchestra reminded Orlando Northcutt of the time Reiner conducted at Hollywood Bowl. During rehearsal, the orchestra had difficulty mastering tricky passages of a new symphony and after a hectic session Reiner invited them to a beer bust, and unheard of gesture. But it relaxed everyone . . . A group of La Mirada residents have hastily joined forces to oppose incorporation of their community to be voted on Tuesday. They claim Gardena gambling interests are behind the proposal . . . Sign on a market in the 8300 block of Wes 3rd Street: "Tomorrow's fish today."