The Daily Mirror

Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

Category: March 8, 2009 - March 14, 2009

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Matt Weinstock -- March 11, 1959

Ready for Jet Age?

Matt_weinstockdAlmost everyone who travels east and back by air these days wants to fly in the jet transports. As a result, reservations are not always easy to get.

Furthermore, there are frequent delays due to minor adjustments. For instance, a man I know had a reservation on the noon plane out of L.A. and didn't take off until 10:50 a.m. the next day.

While waiting he got into a conversation with a stewardess and she told him of a maddening two-hour delay on a recent flight.

The passengers were told the delay was due to a routine mechanical checkup. Actually, a mechanic got locked in the men's room and the door had to be removed to get him out.

The jet age is here. The question is, are we ready for it?

* *

1959_0311_ramadan LAST SUNDAY at 7 a.m. as Darr Smith went to the store at Highland and Franklin Avenues for some cigarettes he came upon a cluster of sports-car addicts holding a rendezvous preparatory to roaring off to the Pomona road race.

He found a place to park his oversize car near a Volkswagen around which two young men were strangely busy. He was intrigued because they were doing something under the raised hood in front. The VW engine is in the rear.

He came closer and got the picture. A couple dozen cans of beer had been dumped into the space and the two young men were covering them with loads of ice cubes.

That, Darr submits, is Southern California living.

* *

You lied to me, Metro, you won't go to heaven,
Your 6:49 came at 7:11.

* *

1959_0311_los_felizA NEWCOMER recently bought a home in a thickly settled section of the Hollywood Hills and, to insure privacy, put up a board fence.

His neighbor complained that it cut off his view and asked him to remove it. He refused but the neighbor protested so persistently it was finally agreed the neighbor would pay its cost and take it down.

This he did -- and promptly put it up on the other side of his house, blocking that neighbor's view.

* *

IF THERE IS still official wonderment as well as consternation whence came the large rat which ran loose in the new $24 million Courthouse Monday before being killed in a phone booth, a cabby has a clue. He was there when the Vanderbilt Hotel was pulled down a few days before and what impressed him most was not the spectacular collapse but the hundreds of rats which ran out. Maybe this one was a fugitive.

* *

1959_0311_abby QUOTE & UNQUOTE -- Harry Laugharn, APCD photog, described a friend thusly, "He has brown hair with a firebreak" . . . James V. Ryan spotted this notice in an auto supply store on Sunset Boulevard near Echo Park: "50% deposit required to anyone we do not know. 100% deposit required from some people we do know."

* *

AROUND TOWN -- A graying gent was attracted by a sharp-looking young lady walking ahead of him on S Broadway -- until he caught up with her at the next corner. As they waited for the signal he saw that she was smoking a cigar. End of dream . . . An employee of a plant which moved recently to knew quarters on Boyle Avenue met some old cronies, one of whom asked where he'd been lately. "Out on Boyle," he said, pronouncing it "bail" . . . No truth to the rumor the men of Good Humor will change their tune. At least so advises O'Hara MacPherson, who describes himself as a bad humor man.

Paul Coates -- Confidential File, March 11, 1959


Man Dead 100 Years Presents Problem

Paul_coatesThe phone rang the other day and a voice with a hint of Piccadilly in it said hello.

"Brian Kirkwood here," it announced. "I own a small bar in Venice, at 4089 Lincoln Boulevard. I have a bit of a problem."

"I'll listen," I answered.

"Thank you," Mr. Kirkwood replied. "I feel foolish even bothering you with it, but I just know how much good you do. I just thought-"

"I'm listening," I repeated evenly.

"Th thing of it is," he continued, "I have this human body here in my bar. And I'm having great difficulty disposing of it."

This kind of calls I get all the time. And I know how to handle them.

"Of course, Mr. Kirkwood," I agreed. "Everybody does."

1959_0311_red_streak "I don't think you understand me," the man went on. "A customer of mine- Jim . . . Jim something-or-other- dropped it by here seven weeks ago. On consignment, so to speak. He wanted me to sell it.

"But I can't. It's against the law here to sell a human body," he explained.

"Well," I said, "we're pretty puritanical in the states."

"Frightfully. They won't even let me bury him without a death certificate. And I'm not sure that's what this Jim chap would want me to do. He hasn't been back, but after all, it is his body.

"I mean," he caught himself quickly, "it belongs to him."

"Mr. Kirkwood," I probed. "About this body. Who the hell is he? Or, if you will, it?"

"Most interesting," he replied. "Been dead over 100 years. A remarkable specimen. We had an anthropologist from UCLA over here the other day. He was quite impressed. He said the fellow was a Scandinavian. About 30-35 when he died.

"The studious type," Kirkwood added.

1959_0311_duncan_ro "What?" I demanded.

"I mean," he explained, "the UCLA professor was the studious type. Just by looking at this cadaver, he deduced that the man met his end on the desert. Died in peace, he said. Under perfect climatic conditions. That's why he's so well preserved."

Kirkwood cleared his throat. "Did I tell you about his ears?" he inquired.

"Now don't," I cried.

"They stick out. He's no mummy, that body. Mummy's ears don't stick out. That's what the professor said."

"All right," I pleaded quietly. "Let's get back to the subject. You want to get rid of him, right?"

"I can't put him up at home," he answered. "My wife has taken a violent dislike to him."

Unclothed Passenger

1959_0311_plot "Some of the boys around here suggested that I just get on a bus with him, prop him up, and then get off without him.

"I'd have to put a suit of clothes on him to do that, I suppose," Kirkwood added sadly. "All he's got now is a loincloth."

"Mr. Brianwood," I said.

"Brian Kirkwood, sir," he corrected.

"Mr. Kirkwood," I stated, "what is it exactly that you want?"

"Mr. Coates," he said correctly. "I'm trying to tell you that I have a real dead corpse, 100-odd years old. The law says I can't bury him and I can't sell him. And, under the circumstances, he's now mine to give away.

"So I ask you, sir, what shall I do with him?"

"Eighty-six him," I replied, hanging up quickly.

And if any of the rest of you folks have a problem, don't call me. Call Dear Abby.  

Coming Attractions -- John Fante Centennial

A Zocalo lecture marking the centennial of John Fante's birth will be held April 7, 2009, at the Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd. Make reservations to the free event here. >>>

In the Theaters -- March 11, 1931


Trouble Was His Business -- Raymond Chandler


"Lady in the Lake" opens Feb. 14, 1947.

As with "Farewell, My Lovely" and "High Window," The Times failed to review Raymond Chandler's "The Lady in the Lake."  For those who have never seen this film, actors play to the camera, which takes the role of Philip Marlowe in most sequences. Many early film writers dismissed this as an interesting--but failed--experiment and the technique evidently puzzled 1947 audiences expecting a more conventional picture.

James Earl Ray Gets 99 Years for Killing King; Angels Want Ex-Dodger, March 11, 1969

Black militants shut down two schools in protests over police brutality ... and gold is selling for $48.41 an ounce or $270.94 USD 2007.
"It was the first time I ever killed a man in hand-to-hand combat," Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sgt. Joe Hooper says.

Sirhan B. Sirhan deteriorates under stress, psychologist testifies.
Photograph by Larry Sharkey / Los Angeles Times

Frank Howard, Oct. 19. 1963

1969_0311_frank_howard_2 The Angels tried to pull off a blockbuster trade for a big hitter. A very big hitter.

Former Dodger Frank Howard was holding out for a new deal after leading the American League in home runs. So new Angels general manager Dick Walsh, also a former Dodger, put together a package of players for the Washington Senators to consider. He even added $100,000 to his offer of catcher Tom Satriano, outfielder Vic Davalillo, pitcher Clyde Wright and a choice of Roger Repoz, Chuck Hinton or Chuck Cottier.

Howard, who was listed at 6-7, obviously was a towering presence at the plate. He came up with the Dodgers at the start of their Los Angeles years and was the National League's rookie of the year in 1960, but was traded to Washington in 1964. Pitcher Claude Osteen was the key player sent to the Dodgers.

What kind of deal was Howard looking for after hitting 44 home runs in 1968? According to The Times, Howard wanted a three-year contract for $100,000 a year but would settle for one year at $125,000.

There was speculation that new Washington Manager Ted Williams would want Howard to change his batting stance despite leading the league in home runs. Asked what he would do with Howard on the Angels, Manager Bill Rigney told The Times' Ross Newhan, "If I were to say anything now it would be construed as tampering. No, indeed, there is no reason ever, anywhere, to tamper with Howard."

The trade to the Angels never happened -- Howard hit 48 home runs for the Senators in 1969 and 44 in 1970. Walsh eventually acquired another former Dodger from the Senators, Ken McMullen, who had been one of the Dodgers traded with Howard to Washington in 1964.

Howard might not have been a big difference -- pun intended -- for the Angels and he might not have hit as many home runs in Anaheim. But he certainly would have brought some excitement to Angels teams that were pretty miserable in the pre-Nolan Ryan years. Just ask the few of us who regularly attended Anaheim Stadium in the late 1960s.

-- Keith Thursby

1 Killed, 6 Hurt in Crash With Fire Engine

Photograph by George T. Fry / Los Angeles Times

Sepulveda Boulevard near Ohio Avenue, May 3, 1961.

View Larger Map

Sepulveda and Ohio via Google maps' street view.

1961_0504_crashOn a morning in May 1961, two 16-year-olds, Judith and Susan, were on their way to University High School. They were apparently juniors as The Times noted that they were wearing their 1962 class sweaters. According to The Times, the Oldsmobile belonged to Susan's father, Roy, but the story implies that Judith was driving.

About 8:27 a.m., the car made a left turn from northbound Sepulveda Boulevard onto westbound Ohio Avenue, where it was struck by an oncoming fire engine speeding to a rubbish fire on Santa Monica Boulevard. The fire engine pushed the crumpled car 145 feet before crashing into two parked vehicles.

Judith was thrown from the car and died before ambulances arrived. Firefighters Philip Toppenberg, Ferdinand Tichenor and Ben Berk tumbled from the back of the fire engine. Driver Frank E. Miller, who was strapped into his seat, was cut on the face and body and William S. Brown, who was riding next to him, suffered a broken leg and internal injuries.

1966_0410_olander_2 And although it took rescuers half an hour to remove her from the wreckage, Susan survived, The Times said.

I found the picture of the crash while going through historic Fire Department photos last weekend. At first it seemed like one of those horrible car wreck pictures that were a staple of driver's ed when I was in high school. Even today, it is a ghastly crash, espcially given the tender ages of the two young women.

But I kept wondering if there was more. The Times never reported anything further about the injured firefighters. A little research shows that Judith Ann Egelhoff, 16, was given a memorial service at Westood Presbyterian Church and her father, John, established a memorial fund in her name at West Los Angeles WYCA. (The Times story noted that Judith's mother had been killed in a crash crash five years earlier). 

In what looks like a miracle, Susan recovered and returned to school, according to The Times. A year later, she was vice president of the senior class. She attended UCLA, was a member of Delta Delta Delta sorority, and in 1966 married a law student named Robert W. Thomas. 

Nuestro Pueblo


Barbie Turns 50!


Note: In honor of Barbie's 50th birthday, here's Elaine Woo's obituary on Ruth Handler, the doll's creator, from 2002.

Ruth Handler, Inventor of Barbie Doll, Dies at 85

Sunday April 28, 2002


Ruth Handler, the entrepreneur and marketing genius who co-founded Mattel and created the Barbie doll, one of the world's most enduring and popular toys, died Saturday.

Handler, 85, died at Century City Hospital in Los Angeles of complications following colon surgery about three months ago, said her husband, Elliot.

The longtime Southern California resident defied prevailing trends in the toy industry of the late 1950s when she proposed an alternative to the flat-chested baby dolls then marketed to girls.

Barbie, a teenage doll with a tiny waist, slender hips and impressive bust, became not only a best-selling toy with more than 1 billion sold in 150 countries, but a cultural icon analyzed by scholars, attacked by feminists and showcased in the Smithsonian Institution.

Although best known for her pivotal role as Barbie's inventor, Handler devoted her later years to a second, trailblazing career: manufacturing and marketing artificial breasts for women who had undergone mastectomies.

Herself a breast cancer survivor, she personally sold and fitted the prosthesis and crisscrossed the country as a spokeswoman for early detection of the disease in the 1970s, when it was still a taboo subject.

Recognizing the continuity in her evolution from "Barbie's mom" to prosthesis pioneer, Handler sometimes quipped, "I've lived my life from breast to breast."

Born Ruth Mosko, she was the youngest of 10 children of Polish immigrants who settled in Denver. Her father was a blacksmith who deserted the Russian army. Her mother, who was illiterate, arrived in the United States in the steerage section of a steamship. Her mother's health was so frail that Handler was raised by an older sister.

When she was 19, she left Denver for a vacation in Hollywood and wound up staying. Her high school boyfriend, Elliot Handler, followed her west and married her in 1938. She worked as a secretary at Paramount Studios while he studied industrial design at the Art Center School of Design in Los Angeles (now Art Center College of Design in Pasadena).

When Elliot made some simple housewares to furnish their apartment, Ruth persuaded him to produce more for sale. They bought some workshop equipment from Sears and launched a giftware business in their garage, making items such as bowls, mirrors and clocks out of plastic. With Ruth showing the product line to local stores, sales reached $2 million within a few years.

In 1942 they teamed up with another industrial designer, Harold "Matt" Mattson, to launch a business manufacturing picture frames. Using leftover wood and plastic scrap, they later launched a sideline making dollhouse furniture. Within a few years, the company turned profitable and began to specialize in toys. It was called Mattel, a name fashioned from the "Matt" in Mattson and the "El" in Elliot.

Early successes were musical toys, such as the Uke-A-Doodle, a child-size ukulele, and a cap gun called the Burp gun, which the Handlers advertised on the new medium of television. It was the first time a toy had been sold on national television year-round.

In the late 1950s, Elliot was so preoccupied with the development of a talking doll--eventually marketed as Chatty Cathy--that he was of little help to Ruth when she came up with an idea of her own.

Noting their daughter Barbara's fascination with paper dolls of teenagers or career women, she realized there was a void in the market. She began to wonder if a three-dimensional version of the adult paper figures would have appeal. Why not sell a doll that allowed girls, as she would later say, to "dream dreams of the future"? This doll, she mused, would have to be lifelike. In other words, Handler believed, it would have to have breasts.

When she took the idea to Mattel's executives, who were men, they sneered that no mother would buy her daughter a grown-up doll with a bosom. "Our guys all said, 'Naw, no good,' " she recalled. "I tried more than once and nobody was interested, and I gave up."

Inspired by German Doll

She let the project idle until 1956 when, during a European vacation, she spied a German doll called Lilli in a display case. It had a voluptuous figure, reminiscent of the poster pinups that entertained soldiers during World War II. Handler brought the doll home to Mattel's designers and ordered them to draw up plans and find a manufacturer in Japan who could produce it.

Handler's dream made its debut at the 1959 American Toy Fair in New York City. Named for her daughter, "Barbie Teen-Age Fashion Model" had a girl-next-door ponytail, black-and-white striped bathing suit and teeny feet that fit into open-toed heels. Mattel sold more than 350,000 the first year, and orders soon backed up for the doll, which retailed for $3. "The minute that doll hit the counter, she walked right off," Handler said.

By the early 1960s, Mattel had annual sales of $100 million, due largely to Barbie. The company, then based in Hawthorne, annually turned out new versions of Barbie as well as an ever-expanding wardrobe of outfits and accessories befitting the new princess of toydom. Soon enough Barbie sprouted a coterie of friends and family. Ken, named for the Handlers' son, appeared in 1961; Midge in 1963; Skipper in 1965; and African American doll Christie, Barbie's first ethnic friend, in 1969. The first black Barbie came much later, in 1981.

Other dolls were named for Handler's grandchildren, including Stacie, Todd and Cheryl.

Under pressure from feminists, Barbie evolved from fashion model to career woman, including doctor, astronaut, police officer, paramedic, athlete, veterinarian and teacher.

Over the years, the toy inspired Barbie clubs, conventions, magazines and Web sites. Barbie was immortalized by Andy Warhol, preserved in time capsules and inspired conceptual artists who spiked the doll's hair or posed it in pickle jars to make statements.

M.G. Lord, author of "Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Living Doll," called Barbie the most potent icon of American culture of the late 20th century.

"She's an archetypal female figure, she's something upon which little girls project their idealized selves," she said. "For most baby boomers, she has the same iconic resonance as any female saints, although without the same religious significance."

The National Organization for Women and other feminists targeted Barbie in the 1970s, arguing that the doll promoted unattainable expectations for young girls. If Barbie was 5 foot 6 instead of 11 1/2 inches tall, her measurements, would be 39-21-33. An academic expert once calculated that a woman's likelihood of being shaped like Barbie was less than 1 in 100,000.

(Ken was shaped somewhat more realistically: The chances of a boy developing his measurements were said to be 1 in 50.)

Handler said she did not take offense at the feminist broadsides and often noted that successful women had played with Barbie and told her the doll helped them enact their aspirations. Even artists' tortured interpretations of Barbie didn't bother her. "More power to them," said Handler, who kept a gold-plated Barbie in her Century City high-rise.

"My whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be," Handler wrote in her 1994 autobiography. "Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices."

Rare Achievement for Woman of Her Era

Handler herself must have bedeviled feminists. Although Barbie was mocked as a bimbo, her creator was ahead of most women of her generation, juggling career and children in the 1950s when the ideal woman was someone more like the cheerful and industrious television housewife Donna Reed.

By 1966, Handler was 50 and Mattel ruled the highly competitive toy world: It controlled 12% of the $2-billion toy market in the United States. "I had my career, my husband, my children, Barbie and Ken, and I was on top of the world," Handler recalled.

By 1970, however, her world began to unravel. Handler was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy. New corporate managers began to diversify Mattel away from toys, and their machinations ultimately resulted in the Handlers' ouster from the company they had founded.

To make matters worse, in 1978 Handler was indicted by a grand jury on charges of fraud and false reporting to the Securities and Exchange Commission. She pleaded no contest and was fined $57,000 and sentenced to 2,500 hours of community service.

She later attributed her downfall to her illness, which she said caused her to be "unfocused" about a massive corporate reorganization she had begun. When she returned to work after her mastectomy, no one mentioned the reason she had been gone but many gave her sorrowful looks, which reduced her to tears.

"I'd been opinionated and outspoken. I had strong leadership skills. I had been running a company making hundreds of millions of dollars a year. We had 15,000 employees. I had a big job. But suddenly," she said, "I was supposed to whisper about what I'd been through."

The experience was so unnerving, she told USA Today in 1994, that "I was never able to get back in and grab hold of things as I should have."

In 1975, she and her husband were forced out of Mattel. The following year she founded a new company, but not to make toys.

Ruthton Corp. in Inglewood was the result of the humiliation Handler experienced when she sought to restore her appearance to its pre-mastectomy state. Her doctor told her to stuff the empty side of her bra with a pair of rolled-up stockings. The effect was so awful that Handler went to a Beverly Hills department store and asked a saleslady for an artificial breast. She was taken to a dressing room and with no explanation was handed a surgical bra and a couple of gloves. She eventually figured out that she was supposed to stuff the bra with the gloves.

A New Concept for Artificial Breasts

She finally found someone who made prosthetic breasts, but they were little better. "I looked at the shapeless glob that lay in the bottom of my brassiere and thought, 'My god, the people in this business are men who don't have to wear these.' " She decided she should manufacture one herself.

The Nearly Me prosthetic breast was made of liquid silicone enclosed in polyurethane and had a rigid foam backing. Handler sold it in lefts and rights according to bra size. Her goal was to make an artificial breast so real that "a woman could wear a regular brassiere and blouse, stick her chest out and be proud."

She led a sales team of eight middle-aged women, most breast cancer survivors, into department stores where they fitted women and trained the sales staffs. She fit former First Lady Betty Ford after her mastectomy. Her aggressive tactics included talk-show appearances and handwritten invitations to breast cancer patients. She also had what she called her "strip act": She would remove her blouse to demonstrate that no one could feel or see the difference between her real and prosthetic breast. She was pictured in People magazine yanking open her blouse to flaunt her bosom.

By 1980, sales of the Nearly Me artificial breast had surpassed $1 million. In 1991, Handler sold the company to a division of Kimberly-Clark.

She went on the lecture circuit to promote her product and tell women about the importance of early detection and regular mammograms.

"I didn't make a lot of money in it," she said of the prosthetics business. "It sure rebuilt my self-esteem, and I think I rebuilt the self-esteem of others."

Her son Ken died of a brain tumor in 1994. She is survived by her husband of 63 years; her daughter, Barbara Segal; one brother, Aaron Mosko of Denver; five grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

Found on EBay -- Bullock's Wilshire

Bullocks_wilshire_hat This rather amazing hat by Sally Victor, from Bullock's Wilshire, has been posted on EBay. It's listed under Buy It Now at $48

Matt Weinstock -- March 10, 1959

In Sharese-Goofs

Matt_weinstockdFellow humans, we've had it. The machines apparently have taken over. A librarian at UCLA was baffled by an incoming booklet titled "Proceedings of SHARE," written in a strange mumbo jumbo. 

Example: "Ramshaw (UA) revealed that they were making excellent progress with their cross-bar switching arrangement for use of the periquip."

Another: "Borricius stated that an accurate record of the difficulties had failed to reveal any failure in core storage that were not explained by goofs in maintenance."

The librarian called the engineering department and learned that SHARE, the Society to Help Alleviate Redundant Effort, is a co-operative of firms using the IBM-704 machine.

Get the picture? The computing machines now have their own languages, SHAREse. And they're calling us goofs.

* *

1959_0310_weinstock HOWEVER, there's evidence that humans have a fighting chance for survival. In fact, an incident the other day indicates the machine may become so ensnarled in its own nuts and bolts it may destroy itself. 

Noel Pugh, a student at ELAJC, phoned his girl. Shirley Winstead -- object, a date. Their phones are in the PArkview exchange.

Unaccountably, business people kept cutting in on the line with irrelevant conversations. Noel and Shirley repeatedly hung up so they could dial again, but the intruders were still on the line.

In the hour they tried to communicate, Noel and Shirley were interrupting at least 25 times by, among others, people from the Startler and Rosslyn Hotels, Barker Bros., Armour & Co., U.S. Steel, Standard Oil in Taft, Westinghouse, American Airlines, a beer company either in San Diego or Tijuana, and a lawyer in the Hall of Justice. After a while everyone was hoarsely shouting "Hello!"

But persistence paid off. Noel made the date.

* *

I'm a slave to television:
My defenses are all gone.
I doze each night while watching it,
And sometimes it's not on.

* *

1959_0310_ricky_nelson LAST WEEK after wreckers pulled the props out from under the Vanderbilt Hotel on S Figueroa Street and it collapsed in a cloud of dust, a wizened old guy came up to a TV cameraman and asked where his pictures would be shown. The photog named the channel. 

"I don't care about the channel," the oldster said irascibly, "I just want to know if it's going to be shown in the newsreel theater."

You could have heard a camera click.

* *

TODAY'S LESSON in parental ethics concerns a man who on a recent Saturday took his daughter Dorsev, 9, to the races.

She toyed successfully with show bets in the early races. Came the fifth and she instructed pater to bet the Aliwar entry on the nose, against his sage advice. It won for $10.50.

Next she wanted to bet $10 on Tall Chief II, a grey ridden by Longden, with whom she happens to be in love. Dad lectured her sternly on the evils of parlays, but as an indulgent parent he put a fin on it for her. He put the other fin on New Shift, which, according to reliable information, couldn't lose. Longden won by three lengths. 

He changed the $27 from her $5 ticket into ones and she was delighted. She is also slow in arithmetic. The problem is how to give her the other $27, when he gets it, without arousing her suspicion that the old man is full of chicanery.

* *

MISCELLANY -- The posters on the sides of busses showing a batch of rabbits aren't a reminder of Easter. The idea is that such bus ads multiply sales . . . The girls who takes dictation in offices have a gripe. They wish their bosses would refer to them as "my secretary," not "my girl."

Note: Here's a SHARE reference manual in case you have an IBM-704 taking up your garage.  >>> (Ramshaw was Walter A. Ramshaw of United Aircraft Corp.) 

And here's the text of UCLA Librarian, with what appears to be the original article.

Paul Coates -- Confidential File, March 10, 1959


Some Sons Fail to Take After Father

Paul_coatesThere is, within the tight little confines of my ancestral Burbank home, a full-fledged Boy Scout of America.

And frankly, the kid bugs me.

At the outset, let me go on record that I'm not opposed to the idea and the ideals of scouting. In fact, even though I don't look the type today, I used to be a Boy Scout back in the dim, dead past when it was still vogue for us to wear campaign hats and steer unwilling old ladies across streets.

Like every other kid on my block, I joined promptly when I turned 12. But, unlike the rest, I never got past being a Tenderfoot.

By the time I could master the devilish intricacies of the square knot and was ready for promotion, I was approaching 16, considering my first shave, dating a sophisticated girl three years my senior, and absolutely unable to fit into my khaki scouting knickers.

1959_0310_red_streak So I quit and joined with a group of neighborhood ruffians who got their kicks throwing rocks at windows, pushing over garbage cans and heisting mother-of-pearl combs from the Five & Ten.

It was, therefore, with some relief that I saw my son not following in his father's footsteps.

Kevin breezed through Tenderfoot knotsmanship faster than you could say Robert Baden-Powell. The boy was a whiz at woodsmanship and a veritable Arrowsmith in first aidsmanship, tying tourniquets on the veins of my forearm, which more often than not made me feel I was going to spin into a faint.

But I didn't object. It was worth it if -- as the Scout manual so aptly puts the phrase -- I was helping build a sound mind in a sound body.

My son is developing into a striking specimen of physical and mental agility. I, however, am cracking up.

Last week he came home rather late. "Where've you been?" I demanded.

"Over at the fire house," he replied.

"Why you hanging out at the fire house?" I shouted. "Civilians who hang out at fire houses grow up to be nothing but pinochle players."

"I was there," he said primly, "because I'm trying to get my merit badge in preventive firemanship. We're studying household fire hazards."

That was the start of a reign of terror from which I still haven't recovered.

1959_0310_runoverIt seems like just yesterday (actually, it was just the day before yesterday) that Kevin was igniting whole packages of matches and tossing them as incendiary bombs at imaginary Russians encamped on my patio.

But the course in preventive firemanship changed all that.

Now he has the same contempt for flame that a reformed drunk has for a shot-glass of bourbon. He sees a potential holocaust every time we light the stove for dinner. He watches us with unnerving suspicion when we put a match to a cigarette.

The other day I was entertaining Mortimer Hall, who is the proprietor of Radio Station KLAC and of a very pretty wife named Diana Lynn. I wanted to make a decent impression on him because, as he says, "Radio is the coming thing." And you never know when I may need him.

We were all nibbling a few fairly expensive hors d'oeuvres and making clever talk when Kevin walked into the living room and announced:

"Our garage is a mess."

I smiled uneasily at my guests, who live in Beverly Hills and don't understand about such things.

Rags, Clothes, Cans

"Oily rags," he went on. "Boxes of old clothes, stacks of newspapers, open cans of paint thinner."

He stormed out of the room. I tried to pick up the conversation again, but it wasn't easy. Mrs. Hall kept glancing furtively in the direction of our garage.

Suddenly, Kevin came back. He was hunched over and sniffing dramatically. We all watched as he smelled his way to the gas heater. Then he got down on all fours and inspected it.

"You know what I think," he said frankly, looking at us. "We've got a leaky gas pipe. The whole place could blow up."

1959_0310_abby Mrs. Hall put down the fairly expensive hors d'oeuvre she was nibbling and looked at Mr. Hall.

"It's getting," she said, "rather late. We should be going."

"Ummm," he agreed. They left.

In the silence of my lonely room, I lit a cigarette. The heir to the mortgage on my spontaneously combustible house watched me closely.

"Why don't you be more careful," he warned, "that you really put that match out?"

"Why don't you," I warned him back, "go out and throw rocks at people's windows?"

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