Wednesday, July 03, 2019

4th of July Memories

Tomorrow is the 4th of July.  Since it's a day to celebrate Americana and (in my case) a chance to sell some books for your summer reading, here are two brief excerpts from THE ME GENERATION… BY ME (GROWING UP IN THE ‘60s), my humorous/nostalgic/Pulitzer Prize ignored memoir of growing up during the California myth. You can get the Kindle version here. The paperback here. And the audio version (voiced by yours truly) here. It’s the perfect way to support this blog and relive happier times.

July 4, 1964

Fortunately, we were back home from Hemet in time for Independence Day. They still had 4th of July parades in Woodland Hills. Not exactly lavish affairs -- a few Jaycee Booster Clubs, school marching bands (playing nothing but “Stars & Stripes Forever” and “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”), anyone who owned a horse, ice cream trucks, local dignitaries (“Hey, there’s Mr. Neider from Neider’s Auto Body!”), some elementary school classes, local politicians (“We have a councilman?”), and majorettes from as far away as Reseda. The twirling batons proved to be more dangerous to crowds than today’s maple bats.

But for me the REAL reason to stake out my spot on Ventura Blvd at Shoup Avenue was that the grand marshal was always Buster Keaton. Buster was probably 150 by then but still, there he was. Mostly forgotten today but Buster Keaton was a comic genius in the era of silent films and early talkies. His flair for physical comedy was so inspired that even today I don’t think there’s a single comic who can remotely touch him. If I couldn’t still see George Washington in person at least there was Buster Keaton.

I miss those parades. If you still have one where you live, go. Wave a flag. Cheer. Just duck when the baton twirlers go by.

July 4, 1967

We got a dog that summer. A poodle-terrier. My mother named her.


That name would not have been my choice. I don’t remember why we got a dog. We never had a pet before. But I was thrilled. And Babs turned out to be a fabulous dog and companion. If someone in the house were sick, she’d sit all day at the end of his bed. I worried that our family, unaccustomed to caring for pets might not take the best care of her – and my early fears were justified.

Our house was only two blocks from the Woodland Hills Park. On the 4th of July, they would shoot off fireworks. We always invited a few people over for a barbeque and fireworks show, comfortably viewed from our backyard. A neighbor was lying on a chaise lounge. He set his martini down on the ground. Babette approached and lapped up the entire contents in mere seconds. Ten minutes later she staggered out onto the lawn and passed out for twenty-four hours. We have a dog for one month and get her completely shit-faced. Nice.

Have a safe and sane 4th of July.


Anonymous said...

With the benefit of some historical perspective, Buster Keaton compares favorably to Charlie Chaplin as the greatest comedian the 20th century

Steve Bailey said...

My only quibble with your lovely memoirs is that I take umbrage at the comment that Buster Keaton is "mostly forgotten today." The International Buster Keaton Society (a/k/a The Damfinos), who hold an annual convention, would beg to differ. So would Peter Bogdanovich, who recently directed a documentary about Keaton. Many of those people (as well as myself) are probably envious that you got to see him in a parade.

Barry in Portland said...

Ken, my two sons are now in their early 30's (I'm 67), but when they were very little, I bombarded them with every Buster Keaton VHS I could locate. The other day, one son casually mentioned that he played 'The Cameraman' for his room-mate and (with the assistance of massive weed, I know) they just laughed and laughed.

Unkystan said...

Hey Ken. Happy 4th. We New York Yankee fans are getting a treat! John Sterling is taking a week off beginning tomorrow! I know your opinion of him, but many of us think he’s just annoying. His home run calls got old very fast (oh, isn’t he just so clever?) singing in the booth, sometimes he loses track of what’s going on, but I think my biggest gripe with him is that he does all the play by play. Does any other team have one person doing all the play by play? I would love for him to alternate and let Suzann take the mike. All she really does is color and the endless (endless) plugs. It would also be fun to have a former player in the booth with stories. When they played in London last week I listened to the espn radio broadcast. What a breath of fresh air!

Jahn Ghalt said...

I hate to admit that Buster Keaton is not on my radar, however the Brothers Marx are.

(and, of course, Groucho's favorite foil - Margaret Dumont)

One biography recounted lunches in Hollywood. Groucho, Jack Benny, George Burns, others, all insulting each other. Second best table in the house - next to theirs - try not to snort siup through your nose.

Why not review some of Keaton's best work? You did a fine job with Romantic Comedies on a podcast (Dr. Stranglove!).

Mike Bloodworth said...

My memories of the Forth of July in the 60's are mostly pleasant. Similar to Ken I grew up in "the valley." No school, DRY heat, swimming at my friend's house and legal, professional fireworks at the local park.
My family didn't venture out to Woodland Hills very often because back then there was nothing out there. In the early to mid-sixties the west valley was still mostly open space and horse properties.

I love Buster Keaton. I have several of his films on DVD. Chaplin was more artsy, but Buster was more, let's just be funny. One of the funniest things that I ever saw him do was a guest appearance on the original "Candid Camera." He was a guy in a diner that was having incredible trouble eating his meal. His bit was hilarious and the reactions were priceless.

Many of my neighbors complain that fireworks drive their dogs crazy. Maybe getting them drunk would solve their problems. Unless of course your Rottweiler is a mean drunk.

One unpleasant memory, however. Today is the 12th anniversary of my mother's death. So, the holiday will always remind me of her.

Mike Bloodworth said...

P.S. I don't do the "Kindle" thing, but I'm considering buying the paperback version of Ken's book just to kiss up to him.

Kosmo13 said...

Twilight Zone fans are aware of Buster Keaton.

DBenson said...

Morgan Hill, CA, was just a little south of San Jose but still heavily agricultural in those days. The annual parade was very big on horses, since a big gymkhana event followed. There was also a barbecue and food booths, run by local groups, in the park near the end of the parade route. There might be a stage with garage bands.

This was back when people on the various vehicles would throw handfuls of wrapped candy at the kids. One year a men's club -- Kiwanis, I think -- had a decorated trailer with a keg on board. They'd hand out little paper cups of beer to any adult willing to run out and get them.

The local sceptic tank service mounted a toilet on the front of their truck and a preteen boy rode on it. He was the envy of his peers.

The barbecues included those little plastic "sundae" cups with a tiny flat wooden spoon. The chocolate topping was only on the outside edge to be visible through the plastic, which I viewed as a ripoff.

Back when firework assortments were legal, a perennial was the cardboard log cabin with a smoke bomb chimney. It would send up a plume of white smoke. Every year we'd wait and watch a minute or more afterwards, refusing to believe that was all it did.

As an adult I went back one year. The middle of the parade consisted of what seemed to be the entire membership of a Corvette club. No eminent locals or beauty queens waving to their public; just smug yuppies slowly driving a dozen or more 'Vettes. It was a like stopping a concert so some guy could brag about his stuff.

Matthew O'Hara said...

Friday Question: There was a recent article in THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER that proposed "As the Lines Between Film and TV Blur, the Academies Should Merge."


Mike Doran said...

Joseph Frank "Buster" Keaton
(1895 - 1966)

So when you saw him in that parade, he would have been 69 years old.
Which is what I'm going to be later this year.
More to the point:
In the Sixties (and in his sixties), Buster Keaton was still active in movies and TV.
Still in demand (check his IMDb list).
No demographics to be found anywhere.
Had he lived into his seventies, he would doubtless have remained active (health permitting, of course).

But that was Then … and this, regrettably, is Now.

DrBOP said...

Girding the loins for Drumpf's "'It's All About Me' Military Complex 4th of July Extravaganza Forced-March Celebration" in DC tomorrow.

Can't get the image out of my head of one of the tanks stalling-out as it approaches the Royal Box.....errrr, I mean reviewing stand.

Also having great difficulty designing an accompanying drinking game where one doesn't end up doodie-faced 20 minutes in.

VP81955 said...

Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton were wonderful, but let's not forget the third male member of American silent comedy's "holy trinity": Harold Lloyd. Yeah, everyone remembers the skyscraper scene in 1923's "Safety Last!" (well, skyscrapers in those pre-LA City Hall days), but for me his masterpiece was made the following year, "Girl Shy." A clever comedy about a small-town man who tries to pass himself off as catnip to the ladies via a fabricated book, he has to rescue the woman he loves from marrying a bigamist. He does it via a multi-modal chase to the church where he uses everything from a motorcycle to a horse-drawn chariot to a Pacific Electric streetcar throughout the streets of 1924 Los Angeles. (The sequence inspired a chase in "The Graduate," and Lloyd served as a consultant.) Other gems of his included "The Freshman" and "Speedy," the latter filmed on location in New York.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Babette! You borrowed her name for Radar's guinea pig!

Happy Fourth, everyone.

Pat Reeder said...

A happy 4th of July to you, Ken, tempered by the tragic death of MAD magazine, which, more than anything else, helped warp me into the person I am today.

Put me down as another Keaton disciple, and I even used to get the Damfinos newsletter. If anything, I think his reputation is growing stronger. In the past year, we've attended showings with live music of "The General," "Our Hospitality" and "Steamboat Bill Jr." All were well attended, and I noticed a lot of young kids at "Steamboat Bill Jr." who seemed to love it.

I also like Harold Lloyd. In fact, my wife said one thing that attracted her to me is that she liked Harold Lloyd and thought I looked a little like him, which is a bizarre way to snag a hot chick these days, but I'll take whatever I can get.

Now, is anyone else out there a fan of Harry Langdon and Raymond Griffith, whom I think would be more highly regarded if so many of his films hadn't been lost?

MikeKPa. said...

Your mention of Buster Keaton - my all-time favorite comic actor - got me to watching documentaries and interviews with him. He was not only a great innovator, but very humble. He let people assume bits by the Marx Brothers (the overcrowded room) and Red Skelton were their own. Skelton, though, gave Buster his due when Ralph Edwards profiled Buster on an episode of This is Your Life. On the same show, character actor Donald Crisp said Buster was one of the kindest and humblest human beings on earth. Never a bad word was said about him, except by his ex-wife Natalie, who wouldn't allow his own sons to mention his name in the house BTW, Buster was an honorary mayor of Woodland Hills, which is why he rode in the parades. So glad he was able to experience the adulation of fans late in life and had a wife that adored him, helped him beat booze and depression, and kept his memory alive long after he passed.