Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Nick & Nora go suburban

Here's another installment from my memoirs of growing up in Woodland Hills, California in the 60s. The full explanation of this folly is here. More as I write them.
I know this is a very un-60s thing to say but I never rebelled against my parents.

Yes, there was the issue of smoking and drinking but they were the ones who smoked and drank. I was never embarrassed by my folks, appalled by their value system, or at odds with their religious beliefs. I hated that my father made me mow the lawn and pull weeds with him every Saturday morning but that’s not like being forced to practice Scientology.

Cliff & Marilyn Levine were in their mid 30s in 1964. But they could have been in their 40s or 80s, it made no difference. They were “adults”. And as a teenager you swing back and forth between thinking they know everything and nothing. Generally I gave them the benefit of the doubt. They were hands-on parents who clearly loved us, cared about our wellbeing, and in my case, tolerated a weird kid who wanted to be a baseball announcer, screaming disc jockey, NY Times theatre caricaturist, Rob Petrie, TONIGHT SHOW host, Broadway playwright, or Looney Tunes animator.

My brother Corey is four years younger. He was 10 in 1964 and much more your regular kid. He wanted to be a ballplayer, not the guy describing his at-bat and reminding you that “an ice cold glass of Blatz beer sure would go good right about now.” We fought as most brothers did, usually over vital issues like who had to sit in the back of the Impala. But neither of us ever sent the other to the Emergency Room so I guess we really did love each other. Blood is thicker than blood.

My parents socialized with other couples, went out Saturday nights, played weekly card games (she was heavily into something called “pan”) and in general were far more youthful and active than parents I saw on TV. My dad never wore a tie around the house, my mother never put on a dress to bake a meat loaf. Every night my father would come home from work and they’d have a cocktail together at the kitchen table. Nick & Nora Charles go suburban. We always ate dinner together as a family. We never said grace but every meal did end with mom saying, “So what crap is on tonight?”

Our parents had us early. Prior to me, my mother was one of the first TV models. They’d break away from Ben Hunter’s “Mid-day Movie” on Channel 11 and there was my mom pointing out fine china settings, which you could order by calling the number on your screen. I like to think my mother blazed the trail for Vanna White.

My father was a radio station time salesman. He sold air. More specially, air time. He worked for KRKD, a station that played Sinatra during the day, followed by horse racing results, religion in the evening, and Polynesian music all night.

It was owned by the Angelus Temple, founded by flamboyant preacher Aimee Semple McPherson in the 1920’s. L.A. just seems to attract these nut cases. As proof of her healing abilities she had a wheel chair and crutches museum in her church. Ms. McPherson is best known for faking her own abduction in 1926, banging some married employee in some motel while her loyal parishioners kept day-night vigils. She finally stumbled out of the desert a few months later saying she was kidnapped, whisked off to Mexico to be tortured and held for ransom. Only problem was she was last seen at Venice Beach wearing just a bathing suit and she emerged fully dressed, even wearing a wrist watch given to her by her mother. At least Frank Sinatra Jr. really was abducted.

When the station wasn’t praising Jesus Christ or Sea biscuit it billed itself as “the Album Station”, playing middle-of-the-road artists like Frank, Tony, Sammy, Steve & Eydie, and of course Pat Suzuki. As a result, when the station received promo copies of 45 r.p.m. singles they would just toss them into a box and dad would bring them home for me. It was great. In only two years I had amassed the largest collection of stiffs in the entire world!! Friends would come over after school and we would listen to them in horror and amusement. One of these friends was Mike Monarch. He went on a few years later to record some songs himself. But they weren’t stiffs. Mike Monarch became the lead guitarist of Steppenwolf. I’d like to think that sitting in my room, absorbing Neil Sedaka singing “Alice in Wonderland” inspired him to go off and do “Goddamn the Pusher Man”.

I look back at my relationship with my parents with great fondness. I can honestly say I’m in therapy for other reasons. Key parental memories of 1964: Coming home from school and playing gin rummy with my mom. Going to Dodger games with my dad.

Getting to those games was an adventure. Since dad worked in town and I didn’t drive, I would just take a city bus from Ventura Blvd. all the way through the valley to the corner of Hollywood & Vine. It took about 90 minutes. There I would wait for fifteen minutes or so until dad drove up and off we’d go. The amazing thing was – you could do that in 1964. It was actually safe. A 14 year boy could stand at Hollywood & Vine without being mugged by a crack head, checked out by two drag queens, flashed by some pervert, peed on, propositioned by a 50 year old hooker, or asked directions to the Frederick’s of Hollywood Museum of Bras by some tourist.

My favorite photo of my parents was taken in 1964. It was my dad’s 20th high school reunion. They look so vibrant, so happy, so clearly in love with each other. It’s hard to rebel against people you hope to become.


Anonymous said...


You meant to say, "Mike Monarch became the lead GUITARIST of Steppenwolf", didn't you?


By Ken Levine said...

Yeah. Exactly. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Ken, your parents were weirdly non-weird, except for your mom baking meat loaves in the nude. Now my Mother DID belong to a freak religion which she forced on us, Christian Science, but she always baked dressed. How does one become a successful writer coming from such abnormally normal people? What do you write about?

I was always amused by the TV show title "The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet," since their "Adventures" seemed to consist of Ozzie breaking in a new sweater before David got home with all the gang from the malt shop to hear Ricky sing his new single in the family living room. (Never anything as daring as Neal Sedaka singing ALICE IN WONDERLAND though.) But next to The Levines, Ozzie & Harriet were the Indiana Joneses.

Between a Chrstian Science mother and a Mormon-raised dad, my parents didn't smoke, drink, nor use "colorful" language. I had to have vices for three. (Fortunately, I was up to that challenge.) Nick & Nora my folks weren't. More like Mary Baker Eddy & Brigham Young, only without polygamy or health care. They gave me lots of lovely emotional scars to write about.

Now Aimee Semple McPherson, there's a true freak. When I met Milton Berle years ago, he told me (And it's in his memoirs as well) about having an affair with Sister Aimee when he was still a teenage boy. She must have liked that now-famously huge endowment. She'd send a limo to pick hom up. He told of how odd it was to be nailing Sister Aimee, while Jesus on a LARGE crucifix watched him from the wall above the head of the bed, even as Sister Aimee saw God.

Ben Hunter's mid-day movies. The name Ben Hunter hasn't crossed my mind in 30 years. Was he a different person from Tom Frandsen? They all bleed together in my head after all these years.

Anonymous said...


I love every bit and all the little bits.

d. mcewan,

Milton Berle did WHAT?! I can't stop laughing. Also, "only without polygamy and healthcare"...classic!

Anonymous said...


When I was up to bat, all I cared about was hitting the damn ball -which for me was almost impossible- and if I wanted a nice cold glass of beer...it would have been Hamm's. That's what dad drank!

We were a "functional family"...


Anonymous said...

Ken...It's scary how much your growing up in the S.F. Valley was exactly parallel to mine. You in Woodland Hills, and me in Reseda. We are the same age. Also, my mother had to have her "Pan" game every week just like your mom did. I never rebelled against my parents either. They were fair, and didn't have a lot of rules other than to be respectful. My parents are both gone now, but I will NEVER forget the great memories I had with them. I am reliving a LOT of my life reading your stories. It is a delight to have your blog to read every day. THANK YOU!
Jeffrey Leonard

Anonymous said...

Nice. What were your caricatures like?

Dave said...

Oh, jeebus; Tom Frandsen? Haven't thought of him in 40 years. I remember all those afternoon shows on KNBC -- including the "Hennessey" reruns, which I really liked -- before the news with Jack Latham -- who I would have gone another 40 years without thinking of had I not written this.

Tracy Helgeson said...

What a sweet story.

I hope our kids will feel the same way about their childhood, but I am already feeling rumblings of rebellion in our 13 year old. Guess living next door to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and having an artist mom with a nose ring and a deadhead father with a fossil quarry just isn't cool enough anymore....

JAC said...

Hardly any of the details are the same, but I too was (except for being slightly embarrassed by my father for one year while in college) a non-rebelling teenager in the 1960s. Maybe we weren't as rare as popular history would have it.

One result was sitting in a just-off-campus movie theater full of my peers, watching The Graduate when it was new, and finding (although I enjoyed the dry humor of some of the early scenes) that the overall plot had no point or resonance for me. I didn't have anything against the older generation and I didn't see it as a virtue (or my own situation) not to know what I wanted to do. Everyone else cheered at the end, and I was just... "Huh?"

D. McEwen, my grandmother was a Christian Scientist too (it wasn't all that rare, at least around Chicago), but it didn't seem to affect my father or the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

This nom-de-post isn’t just a device to assure even greater anonymity than I’ve already been allotted in the real world, it’s an alter ego – A. Buck Short, last living Jewish cowboy poet. Picture: Hassidic brimmed had, vest with 6-pointed marshal’s badge, prayer shawl consisting of 4 Texas flags sewn together, holsters (one holding Colt 45 revolver, other stuffed with rubber chicken. Correct. I am going straight to hell.

In that capacity at a Marina del Rey reception where the Berles were also in attendance, I found occasion to get up in front of about 300 people and perform an original piece -- The Day They Hung Henny Youngman: “Out in the West Texas town of Odessa, He looked like a gambler; He was such a snappy dresser. He played his fiddle fickley, it wasn’t western swing. He played from Maine to Mecccchico where cccchomedy is cccching....”

Milton sent his wife Lorna over to tell me, “Milton wants the poem.” Apparently it wasn’t just the Texaco Star Theater “Maine to Mexico” reference; he planned on some sort of Vegas appearance with Mr. Youngman. I told her I’d be honored, and then queried as an afterthought, “Is this the first piece of material Milton ever asked if he could borrow?”

I then went over to Milton’s table where he was engaged in conversation with a friend. Because he was by then in his 80’s and there was a slight draft in the room, the hotel had, apparently on request, provided Milton with a quartz space heater approximately 3 feet away – lending literal meaning to the noun “roast.” As a joke I asked, “Milton, you want we should get you a hair dryer and an extension cord so you can work the room?” He got up, grabble the mic and did at least 15 or 20 minutes. Explained pretty much that he still needed the eggs whether he got paid or not. Incidentally, the was good, and some of the stuff was pretty fresh. Do people still employ writers in retirement?

Anonymous said...

Times changed fast. In the early seventies, my older brother had these loser friends, one guy was the total Eddie Haskell, with his "Good Evening, Mrs. B" crap. Even as a kid I remember thinking : "These guys are all frying on acid!"

HEATHER said...

Beautiful tribute to your parents.

Anonymous said...

"D. McEwen, my grandmother was a Christian Scientist too (it wasn't all that rare, at least around Chicago), but it didn't seem to affect my father or the rest of us."

It wasn't nearly rare enough in my family. My grandmother was a Christian Science practitioner. She made money giving sick people fake help while discouraging them from getting real help. I loved her, but she was basically a religious quack, conning money from the sick and stupid. My other grandmother had been a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but when Grandpa declared his agnosticism, she chose her husband over her church. Woe unto my other grandfather had he dared to say such a thing to Granny Puett. (He didn't, and I think he kept smoking his cigars just to get under her skin.)

Mom forced all of us into Sunday School and her evil church, (My dad was a major pussy-whipped wuss, and eventually joined Mother's church just to get her off his back.) and we were not allowed ANY healthcare whatever, not even an asperin for a headache. You were sick or injured? You prayed. PERIOD! In pain? Tough. Ride it out.

There's a legal term for a Christian Science upbringing: "Felony Child Neglect." But it sure gave me something to rebel against big time, right up to the day my mother's death proved me right and her wrong.

And they made me weed also, the bastards!

About Milton Berle: Before meeting him I'd been warned and warned that he was a mean son-of-a-bitch. Then I meet him, and he treated with more respect and kindness than anyone else I'd dealt with that whole year. (I was booking talk show guests for a radio show at the time.) I was just a 24 year old nobody at the time. He could have treated me as a lackey or a go-fer. Instead, he walked with his arm around my shoulders, and talked to me as an equal, and taught me the meaning of "class," even as he told me his ribald stories about Sister Aimee. I will always respect him.

Anonymous said...

Sorry that rumor of Mary Baker Eddy having been entombed with a telephone in her crypt at Mt. Auburn Cemmetery(apparently having greater faith in Ma Bell than in the Lord to insure she hadn't been buried alive) turned out to be apocryphal. If only that you might have taken comfort in the woman being harrassed by telemarketers at dinnertime throughout eternity.

Incidentally, should you have occasion, tours of the Mother Church in Boston are free and include a walk through the famous "Mapparium" which is essentially a catwalk you cross looking at a huge globe of the world from the inside out. Those CS imagineers really had it down, although they appear to have fallen behind on the updates. Do we still maintain diplomatic relations with Terra Incognita?

And they do have a pretty damned good newspaper.

Anonymous said...

Ken: I'm from the Valley too, North Hollywood to be exact! My parents were some what like your's but my dad ruled with an iron fist, (ex NAVY! If I got out of line with my mom I got a taste of it out in the garage with the 16 oz boxing glove that belonged to Rudolph Valentino! ( my dad was with Valention till Rudy died in 1926)I learned respect at a very early age! My mom was a very quiet person till you got her English up, then Katy Bar the Door! Till I figured out how to keep from getting a Fuller Brush broom broken over my back as I headed out the back door for talking back I paid for one of those broom handles at least once a month! What I did to stop it was bite my lower lip, that hurt but not as bad as the broom handle! The last time I got the broom over the back was in 1948, I was scrubbing (yes down on my knees with a scrub brush)the kitchen floor and mom kept pointing out places I'd mised that I hadn't even gotten to and like a stupid dummy I stood up and threw the scrub brush in the bucket of soapy water and said, if you think you can do it better have at it and turned away and headed for the back door! Now, I hadn't seen the broom anywhere in the dinning room where she was standing but by the time I got to the door she had broken the handle over my back! a week later I enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve and when they offered me a cruise for two weeks on the USS Badoing Straights, CVE 116 a "JEEP" Escort Carrier I grabbed it! No more broom handles for me but, today 60 years later what I wouldn't give to hear my mom yell at me and swing the broom over my back! I loved them both very much even though I had a respectful fear of my father! Hey Ken, maybe you know a very good friend of mine, Lou Watt, he's a retired screen writer and A.D.!

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nocturnation said...

"...checked out by two drag queens, flashed by some pervert, peed on..."

you say this like it's a bad thing.

great post ken, as usual.

Anonymous said...

>>notanonymous said...
Nice. What were your caricatures like?<<

Ken. I still have the caricature drawings you did for me of the MASH cast when the movie first came out. Talk about prophetic!

I'll have to see if I can dig it out from where ever it is at the moment. I haven't looked at it in a long time.


Anonymous said...

"Sorry that rumor of Mary Baker Eddy having been entombed with a telephone in her crypt at Mt. Auburn Cemmetery(apparently having greater faith in Ma Bell than in the Lord to insure she hadn't been buried alive) turned out to be apocryphal. If only that you might have taken comfort in the woman being harrassed by telemarketers at dinnertime throughout eternity.

Incidentally, should you have occasion, tours of the Mother Church in Boston are free and include a walk through the famous "Mapparium" which is essentially a catwalk you cross looking at a huge globe of the world from the inside out. Those CS imagineers really had it down, although they appear to have fallen behind on the updates. Do we still maintain diplomatic relations with Terra Incognita?

And they do have a pretty damned good newspaper."

Looked at The Christian Science Monitor recently? Or ever? It's a shell of it's former self, barely 16 pages per issue anymore, as the religion slowly dies off and monetary reality, excuse me, I meant "belief in money," sets in. Remember I grew up in a house where it was delivered to us daily. It's coverage never included much real science news, medical news was non-existant, the word AIDS was hard to find in The Monitor even in the 1980s, and the political coverage had a subtle Republican bent. Good film critic.

Actually Mary WAS entombed above ground WITH the telephone at first. However it was eventually removed, when it became painfully clear that despite her endless claims that there is no death, she was dead. The phone (Which was there not because they feared burial alive, but because she was expected to rise again, and demonstrate the falsity of Death. Oops.)is not apocryphal. The church officials will deny it now, but then lying about Mrs. Eddy's life has gone on since she began her own lying in 1866, such as her claims to have invented for herself a lot of blather she had actually been taught by Dr. P.P. Quimby. Once he was dead, excuse me, manifesting a belief in Death, Mrs. Eddy plagiarized his writings as her own, and downplayed his contributions, eventually libelling the man in print to discredit him, as she made herself rich on his loony theories.

Thanks, I've taken, or rather was dragged on, the Mother Church tour, have seen and heard the huge pipe organ, and been on that walkway through the giant reverse globe. I also endured a service there. It was Mother's Holy Pilgrimage in 1965, and when we got back to our hotel, we were phoned from Los Angeles to be told that Dad's father had died, even as Mother prayed in her personal version of The Vatican.

If you want some Truth about the Evil Mary Baker Eddy, read the article at this link:


Anonymous said...

Aside from that Mrs. Lincoln, isn't it fun to so hijack Levine's blog like this! Providing OT ops like this one: I don't know if it was national or at different times in different markets, but a PBS program/panel on Alzheimers called "The Forgetting" was moderated by David Hyde Pierce tonight -- and he was phenomenally good. I kind of said to myself, "like the Alan Alda of his generation." And then I realized I'm a fan of a guy who worked with and probably thinks just as highly of both. Feels cool.

Anonymous said...

Doug, Buck...there WAS a phone at the site of Eddy's tomb, but only during construction, for the contractors and architects to keep in touch.

The Milner Coupe said...

In reference to the Friday question, the last sentence of this tribute to your parents may be the the best line you ever wrote.

Very touching.

Broshow said...

Your last line is a thing of rare beauty. Pure, true and lovely.

My 17 year old son is a simply wonderful, accomplished and compassionate human being and I never understood until now why he might not have seen a need to rebel Thanks for that.
You've written much funnier lines than 'Everybody have fun tonite...'