MY LOS ANGELES 1963-64 — David Zarkin biographical
Leaving Spokane in 1963 in my 1953 Ford I arrived in Los Angeles in August’s incredible heat where I immediately called Uncle Gordon who suggested I stay at the YMCA in downtown. While I was trying to sleep in the creepy Y, a thief broke into my Ford and stole my Coast Guard uniforms, but the police recovered them. Meanwhile, I moved into a motel on Figueroa which was also very grim and I imagined it was the same place where pop idol Sam Cooke was murdered in 1964.
I was scheduled to start work almost immediately at United Press International in the Mirror Building on Spring Street. (This was a job I lined up while in the Coast Guard in the Bay Area with John Madigan at UPI where I had good references from my boss Bobbi Ulrich at UPI Spokane.)
My Coast Guard buddy, John Miller of Ontario and I found a one-bedroom apartment without air conditioning in South Pasadena so I was driving the flat as a pancake Pasadena Freeway to work every morning. John’s family was transplanted from the Midwest to work in Southland industrial jobs.
With John, I went to an organ concert at the Rialto Theater, South Pasadena, which is featured in “LaLa Land” and “The Player.” The auction of props and sets at the closing of the Hal Roach Studios in Culver City was memorable one Saturday where Roach music director Charles Roger’s widow sat on a camp stool and showed a scrap book of Rogers career at the studio.
UPI Summer Relief Reporter
I was summer “relief” staff at UPI in the mirror building, mostly rewriting news releases, but I also covered Clifford Odett’s funeral at Forest Lawn where Danny Kaye gave the eulogy and Zsa Zsa Gabor attended among others. (Without the internet or a clip file, I went to the funeral totally unprepared to write anything relevant about Odett’s career.)
The UPI Hollywood International Bureau needed help writing filler features for newspapers so I succeeded writer Tom Mankiewicz, son of the movie director-writer Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
I was working under the direction of a student intern who assigned me to fabricate a piece on Ricky Nelson who was recently married to Mark Harmon’s sister and they were expecting their first child. Since the Nelsons did not allow interviews, I needed to make up froth about Rick and the wife shopping for strollers and diapers. I did a quick count from the marriage date to when the little cherub was due and said to my coworker, “there’s our story.” She was not amused, but she referred me to one of her instructors at USC, John Thompson, who also was the news director at NBC in Burbank, and he was hiring.
After, interviewing with Thompson, a tall man with a gray crew cut, I got a job as one of two “editorial assistants.” I should have asked more questions about opportunities to write news for KNBC. The other assistant was Ken, an African American announcer from PBS Channel 28 who has a bit part in the movie “Wild in the Streets,” a cult classic. Swept up in the “glamour” of working at NBC-TV, I thought this was a step up from UPI and two of my former classmates from the University of Washington worked in the huge building. Carol Anderson was an assistant on the Monte Hall game show, “Let’s Make a Deal,” and Skip was a page. (Skip later got a real estate job but Carol was on track for success in TV.)
NBC/KNBC News was in a window-less warehouse where most everyone smoked. Jack Latham was the anchor and later did cameos in some movies including “Willie Wonka.” Some of the KNBC regulars included Elmer Peterson, Cecil Brown and Chick Hearne. The later marinated himself in after shave and moved about briskly so he could read the sports on the air and get to his primary job, Lakers’ basketball play by play on RKO’s KHJ-TV. I was “clerical” at NBC where I answered phones, ripped copy off the wire service machines and ran errands to LAX and Republic Pictures for CFI lab film processing. I got my haircuts at a shop across from Warner Brothers where John Wayne was their other famous customer. One of my best lines at NBC is that I “wanted a job where I raised and lowered the flag for news anchor George Putnam at KTTV.”
A few months after I started work at NBC, Thompson was fired by the New York suits for “financial improprieties” and a bespectacled accountant-type took charge. A small town Spokane kid, I found Los Angeles populated by transient residents like myself where it never felt like “home.” I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted. I burned out the engine on the Ford driving the freeways in summer for NBC so I made a fruitless attempt to buy a Falcon at a shady Hollywood dealer.
The Van Nuys singles group I joined was my social life which meant more travel on the Ventura Freeway. With the NBC job in the valley, we moved to a singles apartment building with a pool in Glendale on a major roadway across from a Ralph’s store. My roommate John was rarely around and I was lonely. By 1965, I landed a job at the Idaho Statesman, Boise, where I finally became a journalist, winning an award for a series of articles on pollution.
Events You May Know in 1963-64
Madame Nu of South Vietnam gave an angry press conference in Los Angeles after the CIA assassinated the SVN president, her brother in law.
Mayor Sam Yorty, a nominal Democrat, loose cannon and pompous ass, began every interview by stating, “As I have said repeatedly” which made his quotes irrelevant. KNBC’s Bill Brown, a former Chrysler PR writer, covered City Hall and amused us with his cynical observations.
The Baldwin Hills Dam burst and flooded the area and Glendale hills floods sent homes sliding down the hills.
Before “Hogan’s Heroes,” Bob Crane was a morning announcer on CBS’ KNX where he interviewed show biz personalities who might get him a movie or TV gig. He also appeared as the neighbor on the Donna Reed Show and boasted that he was the only radio personality who wore pancake makeup on the air. Bronislav Caper, the movie music composer, was a frequent guest.
Steve Allen”s syndicated late night TV show, taped at an old movie house near Hollywood and Vine, was the hottest ticket in town. A secretary at NBC knew one of the writers and got us tickets. We attended the night when Allen attempted an unrehearsed rendering of “Romeo and Juliet” with a confused middle age audience member. Allen lost his temper when Juliet didn’t respond to his cues and the bit was scrapped.
Peter Lorre died and KNBC needed footage from one of his films. I knew about “The Raven” and lugged the entire 35mm movie from AIP to NBC.
Roy Neal covered NASA for NBC and was reminiscent of the Duke character in Doonesbury with a cigarette holder clenched between his teeth. He was a nice guy but a bit pompous because he was in tight with the space gurus. I used to pick him up at the Burbank airport when he returned to LA.
Clete Roberts covered breaking news for RKO’s KHJ-TV in a trench coat, reminiscent of a Hollywood stereotype from the 1940s.
I got a press pass from NBC for a preview in the basement of a valley bank building of the Sam Fuller film noir “Shock Corridor” and it is a low budget gem from Allied Artists.