Even following my years-long run at KFRC/San Francisco - an incredible radio station in what is still my favorite city - those Hollywood Hills packed a lot of “Wow!” They were impressive; particularly the hills overlooking West Hollywood and the world-famous Sunset Strip. The houses, the gardener-installed greenery, the cars, the glitter of the Strip all spoke to me. It all said, “Fabulous!” Show biz, when it was going reasonably well, is its own reward in any city or town, but being here was a killer bonus.
It had actually begun for me when I was five-years-old. Daddy was, and still is, a professional musician. So, I knew local jazz musicians and heard the music live. Mama had gotten me enrolled in Childrens’ Theater at Cleveland’s Karamu House shortly before my fifth birthday. There, I was surrounded by actors, directors, singers, dancers, lighting people, sound people, the occasional playwright and on and on. I was show biz-aware at an early age.
One afternoon, Walt Disney bent the format of the daily “Mickey Mouse Club” to show footage of the new amusement park he was completing in Southern California. It was to be named “Disneyland.” Both the amusement park and this place called Southern California appealed to me. I decided, “One day I’m gonna live in Southern California.” Nineteen years later, I beheld the Hollywood Hills as a resident.
I was in what, for me, was the center of the entertainment universe. I was working on-air at another dream job; 1580 KDAY/Los Angeles. And, I was back with a number of my friends from the old neighborhood in Cleveland; Stevie Wright, my cousin Marsha Bailey, Bobby Beverly, my best friend Billy Graham and others. It was the summer of 1974.
After spending a month or so sleeping on the couch at the apartment of Billy and his room-mate Ernest, I found a place of my own in Hollywood Hills. Yes, I could have moved into the ‘hood. Leimert Park, after all, was and is a fine, predominantly Black neighborhood. There were other such areas in L.A. But, Hollywood carried the cache of a lifetime for a non-native resident just moving in and working in the entertainment business. Naturally, that’s where I headed.
I had turned twenty-four shortly after arrival, was making great bucks, driving my little red 1965 Porsche 356C, enjoying an exceptional nightlife several times per week, hanging with the stars, and now settling into my hip little Bohemian apartment in the lower portion of a house, halfway up a hillside, overlooking the Strip with a view of downtown L.A. My workday was all of five hours, six days per week. It was my kind of fabulous!
As it turned out, many of my friends and associates in the business had lived, were living or would live in fairly close proximity to my new residence.
As with all things fun, this life was a group experience. There were record promotion parties wherein the major labels would go to considerable lengths to impress. We were invited to shows in West Hollywood at the Troubador, the Whiskey, the Roxy and, in Leimert Park, at the Total Experience.
We ate well (and, drank too much) at Martoni’s, Roy’s, Carlos & Charlie’s, the Palm and other great places. Occasionally, I’d be invited to lunch at the Polo Lounge of the now-100-year-old Beverly Hills Hotel, where the four-foot-tall bellboy depicted on the cover of the Phillip Morris Cigarettes pack actually worked.
Of course, we had to dress well, though I tended toward jeans, t-shirts and sneaks (except, of course, where inappropriate) topped with a hip jacket. We looked good.
There was work of a sort which one doesn’t get in most other places; ADR jobs for TV and movies, announcer gigs on network TV, syndicated radio shows that would be hard to pull off in most other places. I studied acting with guys who had taught Jack Nicholson and Jack Lemmon.
I had loved working on-air in Cleveland, Houston, Chicago and San Francisco. But, Hollywood - and, I use the term in a general sense as it is an idea as well as a place - was its own thing. It was as I had imagined it would be, only better.
Life has its ups and downs. It has its serious side; its obligations to self and others. But, for me, if you can’t be fabulous along the way, what’s the point?
(Follow me on Twitter @jjsradioblog.)