Surf Shop Repurposes a Piece of Steinbeck History

Image of Martijn Stiphout finishing surf board in Aptos, California

According to a February 1, 2017 Santa Cruz Sentinel article entitled “Surfboards with a literary connection” Martijn Stiphout, a John Steinbeck fan who builds surfboards at an “eco-friendly surf shop” in Aptos, California, is making a surfboard using Douglas fir salvaged from The Western Flyer, the sardine boat Steinbeck rented 77 years ago to explore marine and human culture along the coast of the Sea of Cortez. The boat’s new owner is Peter Gregg, a 32-year-old businessman and surfing enthusiast who is renovating the vessel in dry dock at Port Townsend, Washington for use as a floating ecology classroom. According to the Santa Cruz Sentinel feature, Gregg met David Dennis, co-owner of the Aptos, California surf shop, at the 2016 Steinbeck Festival in Salinas, where Dennis gave a talk about recycling wood from the Steinbeck family cottage in Pacific Grove for a novel purpose that would probably please Steinbeck, who enjoyed tinkering and respected age.

Photo of Martijn Stiphout by Vern Fisher, Monterey Herald, courtesy Santa Cruz Sentinel.

 

Remembering Carol Robles, “Great Heart,” 1937-2016

Image of Peter Hoss and Carol Robles at Steinbeck House

Carol Robles died at the Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital just before 7:00 AM on October 28, 2016. Her great heart failed.

Carol called herself “just an Idaho farm girl,” and that’s what she was.

Carol Joyce Hansen was born in Emmett, Idaho on December 24, 1937. She attended Boise State University for a year, married, and then moved to San Jose. In 1978, she moved to Salinas and worked at the Sears store on South Main and served as Human Resources manager until 1992. After leaving Sears, she decided to complete her B.A. degree, and went to Hartnell College and then to Golden Gate University, graduating in 1994 summa cum laude with a degree in human relations. She later helped set up the Golden Gate University extension in Monterey.

She spent the past two decades traveling the world. And she also devoted herself to the Salinas community, particularly John Steinbeck’s legacy. She was deeply involved in the National Steinbeck Center from its inception, really “part of the heart and soul of the Center,” as her friend and traveling companion, Peter Hoss, noted. “She was the world’s expert on John Steinbeck’s life,” he continued. And that was so. Carol spent hours tracing details of the Steinbeck and Hamilton family history, and many consulted her about his life. She also trained NSC docents and volunteers and gave many, many tours of Steinbeck County-land that she loved. Carol’s bus tours were unforgettable; she sat in the front and regaled people with in-depth stories about Steinbeck’s life and career. Her tours of the Steinbeck House in Salinas were equally detailed and lively. Those who were fortunate enough to hear Carol talk about Steinbeck will never forget her passion.

Carol was also active in the Salinas Chamber of Commerce, Dixieland Monterey, and Mensa.

She is survived by her stepson, Robert Robles and wife Bertha, as well as six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

A memorial will be held at the National Steinbeck Center, Sunday, November 13 at 1:00 pm.

Donations can be made in Carol’s name to the National Steinbeck Center (1 Main Street, Salinas, 93901) or to the Valley Guild for the Steinbeck House (132 Central Ave. Salinas, California 93901).

Peter Hoss contributed to this post. Photograph of Peter Hoss and Carol Robles at the Steinbeck House by Susan Shillinglaw.

Paul Newman’s Of Mice and Men: Steve Hauk’s True Story

Image of Paul Newman

Now and then I wonder what Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men would have looked like staged by Paul Newman, how it would have felt. Would George have taken on a swagger? Would Curley’s wife have been even sexier? Newman after all had a way with exotic characters, whether Ben Quick or Brick or Cool Hand Luke or Fast Eddie Felson.

Paul Newman had a way with exotic characters, whether Ben Quick or Brick or Cool Hand Luke or Fast Eddie Felson.

Before assuming Newman might have exaggerated or distorted Steinbeck’s earthier Lennie or Slim, it’s good to remember the Westport Country Playhouse production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Newman’s folksy Stage Manager couldn’t have been more sagely understated. That was in 2003.

Image of Westport Country Playhouse

By 2007 Newman was dying and knew he didn’t have much work left in him. The fact that he chose to direct Of Mice and Men at Westport–in what would have been his theater directing debut at age 81–was certainly a deep bow to Steinbeck. The play was to open in mid-2008, but Newman’s health worsened precipitously. He stepped down from the production on May 23.

The fact that he chose to direct ‘Of Mice and Men’ at Westport–in what would have been his theater directing debut at age 81–was certainly a deep bow to Steinbeck.

I was disappointed–I wanted to see what he would have done with it. While I knew I couldn’t make it to Westport to see the production, I figured it would be filmed, as Our Town had been for public television showing. Newman died several months later, in September 2008.

Newman’s Challenge: “Where ya’ gonna send the dime?”

I’d met Paul Newman two decades earlier. It was 1987. I was writing sports for the Monterey Herald, and he had come to Monterey to race at the Laguna Seca racetrack. We talked cars and speed, then the conversation turned to theater and film. He mentioned he would soon be editing a film version of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie starring his wife, Joanne Woodward.

I’d met Newman two decades earlier. I was writing for the Monterey Herald, and he had come to Monterey to race at the Laguna Seca racetrack.

I have no idea why, but I said, ”Well, it’s a great play but don’t you think it’s been done too often?’’

He stared at me and said slowly and clearly, as if I was standing there talking to Chance Wayne throwing back another shot of bourbon, “It’ll knock your socks off–and I’ll bet ya’ a dime.’’

About then other reporters moved in and I said goodbye. I’d only gone a short way when Newman called after: “Where ya’ gonna send the dime?’’

I’d only gone a short way when Newman called after: ‘Where ya’ gonna send the dime?’

The reporters stepped aside as he jotted his address on a scrap of paper. My wife Nancy and I saw the film several months later. Knocked our socks off. I wanted to send him the dime but couldn’t find the scrap of paper with his address–and have not come across it to this day.

The reporters stepped aside as he jotted his address on a scrap of paper.

I’ve never felt so guilty over nonpayment of anything. I knew he expected some kind of reply and just about the worse kind of reply to anything is silence. Years later I got an address for him and mailed him a dollar. I didn’t receive an answer but by then he was fighting the cancer and I didn’t expect one. Still, I hoped he’d read my apologetic letter and smile as he pocketed the dollar.

Paul Newman and Steinbeck: A Marriage Made in Heaven?

paul-newman-racingOf Mice and Men would to my knowledge have been Newman’s first artistic encounter with Steinbeck. But that day in 1987 at the racetrack in Monterey, when the conversation turned to literature, he acknowledged he was in Steinbeck country in classic Newman style. His blue eyes scanning the surrounding hills close by Steinbeck’s Pastures of Heaven, he said, “No wonder Steinbeck loved it here–sure is pretty.’’

Paul Newman was famous for the way he could throw a line. But the one that will always haunt me is “Where ya’ gonna send the dime?’’ 

Another true story by Steve Hauk will appear next week, the 300th blog post published since SteinbeckNow.com launched three years ago. Meanwhile, here is a sample of Paul Newman’s “folksy Stage Manager” in the 2003 Westport Country Playhouse production of Our Town.–Ed.

Literary Heritage Festival Honors John Steinbeck, Irish-American

Image of Ballykelly, Northern Ireland

Like Ed Ricketts, the friend John Steinbeck mythicized in Cannery Row, Sam Hamilton—the Irish-American grandfather similarly mythologized in East of Eden—is increasingly recognized as a real-life pioneer independently of Steinbeck’s fiction. The father of Steinbeck’s imaginative mother Olive immigrated from Northern Ireland at the age of 17 and settled with his Irish-American wife in San Jose, California, before moving the family to the Salinas Valley, the semi-mythic setting for The Pastures of Heaven, The Long Valley, and most of East of Eden. Hamilton hailed from tiny Ballykelly in County Derry, a place so small that Steinbeck almost missed it when searching for his Irish roots after writing East of Eden. Now the people of Derry are celebrating their favorite grandson in a first-time literary heritage festival devoted to Steinbeck’s life and work. From October 7 to October 19 the Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre in Limavady will present “The Human Heart and the Land”—a festival title that fits the author of East of Eden to a tee. A high point for Irish-American fans is the October 13 talk on Derry influences in Steinbeck’s writing by historian Allister McReynolds, the author of Legacy: The Scots Irish in America. Sam Hamilton—the subject of an upcoming BBC segment on the contribution made to American culture by immigrants from Northern Ireland—would be proud.

Cannery Row Foundation Celebrates Frank Wright Day

Image of Frank Wright at Doc Ricketts lab on Cannery Row

The Cannery Row Foundation in Monterey, California will honor Frank Wright, a friend of Ed Ricketts and a member of the group that purchased the legendary “Doc” Ricketts lab, with a day devoted to lab tours open by reservation on October 22. Wright, a retired businessman in Carmel, California, was one of seven people who pooled their resources to buy the property—immortalized in John Steinbeck’s 1945 novel Cannery Row—from the private owner who purchased it after Ricketts was killed in a train accident nearby. Two members of the original group died recently, making Frank Wright, age 97, the sole survivor and witness to a major event in Cannery Row chronology. Having a chance to meet Wright and tour Doc Ricketts’s lab—now owned by the city of Monterey, California—is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for fans of Cannery Row, the novel and the place, and Doc Ricketts, Steinbeck’s friend and hero. According to Cannery Row Foundation President Michael Hemp, tours will begin each hour starting at 9:00 a.m. and are limited to groups of 15. Email tours@canneryrow.org stating your preferred tour time (9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, or 4:00) and the number of persons in your party. A donation of $15 per person is requested by the foundation, a nonprofit educational organization devoted to the preservation of Cannery Row history.

Photo of Frank Wright at Cannery Row lab by Kelli Uldall courtesy Carmel Magazine.

Angling Days: My Love Affair With American Literature, John Steinbeck & Fly Fishing

Cover of Robert DeMott's book on fly fishing

A book on fly fishing by a scholar of American literature is great news for fans of John Steinbeck, especially when the scholar is Bob DeMott. The author of Angling Days: A Fly Fisher’s Journals talks about his lifelong love affair with John Steinbeck and fly fishing in this interview for Armstrong Television, serving Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia.—Ed.

Muhammad Ali and John Steinbeck, Together, in This Week’s Hollywood Reporter

Image of Muhammad Ali: "I am the Greatest"

John Steinbeck boxed when he was in college, but he disagreed with Muhammad Ali, the greatest boxer of a later time, about America’s intervention in Vietnam when that war became controversial. At their peak the two figures were alike, however. As fans will be reminded when they read this week’s Hollywood Reporter, each man was the greatest in his field, and both displayed courage under fire for convictions that made others angry. The online edition of the magazine leads with an item about John Legend and Andra Day’s new arrangement of “The Greatest Love of All,” a song originally written for The Greatest, the 1977 movie about Muhammad Ali. The next piece on the page looks back even further, to the heyday of the Garden of Allah, the Hollywood hotel with the famous pool where actors, writers, and musicians went to hook up and get wet in the 1930s and 40s: “George S. Kaufman, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and Dorothy Parker all flocked to the Garden for its permissive (read: alcohol-soaked) atmosphere and smart, starry clientele.” This association of Muhammad Ali and John Steinbeck may be accidental, but Steve Hauk, the writer of fiction based on John Steinbeck’s life, recalls meeting Ali for real in a telling true-life story—“The Day I Met Muhammad Ali”—published here for the first time.

The Day I Met Muhammad Ali: A Surreal Experience

Photo of Muhammad Ali by Ralph Starkweather

Photo and copyright by Ralph Elliott Starkweather

In the fall of 1962 I was at Los Angeles City College writing for the school newspaper. In an article I predicted that a young boxer named Cassius Clay, eventually to be known as Muhammad Ali, would lose his upcoming fight to the crafty Archie Moore. I said the brash, youthful Clay would hobble across the ring at the end of the fight to congratulate the grandfatherly Moore. That led to a surreal encounter with Ali, the three-time heavyweight champion who died on June 3 after battling Parkinson Disease for three decades.

I predicted that a young boxer named Cassius Clay, eventually to be known as Muhammad Ali, would lose his upcoming fight to the crafty Archie Moore.

Los Angeles was a hotbed of prize fighting in the 1960s. The heavyweight division in particular was crowded with talented fighters, many of whose lives would end prematurely. Though Parkinson Disease had a name, chronic traumatic encephalopathy was unfamiliar. Fighters ended up suffering from CTE anyway, and Ali eventually contracted Parkinson Disease, a degenerative condition with multiple causes and no cure.

Los Angeles was a hotbed of prize fighting in the 1960s. The heavyweight division in particular was crowded with talented fighters, many of whose lives would end prematurely.

Few fighters were able to hit Ali in 1962, but head trauma was already, or was becoming, an issue for boxers such as Joey Orbillo, Jerry Quarry, and Eddie Machen. Quarry, saddled with the Great White Hope label, would eventually die of what was described at the time as dementia pugilistica. He became helpless and required round-the-clock care. Machen, a fighter of ballet-like grace, took terrible beatings toward the end of his career, spent time in a psychiatric ward, and fell to his death from an apartment window at age 40.

Few fighters were able to hit Ali in 1962, but head trauma was already, or was becoming, an issue for boxers such as Joey Orbillo, Jerry Quarry, and Eddie Machen.

Orbillo, who fought Quarry while on leave from service in Vietnam, courageously walked point during combat missions–an extremely dangerous duty which he volunteered for because, he reasoned, he was single and his comrades had families. He took such a severe beating from Quarry that he was held back from combat, and another soldier was killed taking the point in his place. Mourning the loss, Orbillo credited Quarry with saving his life.

Life at Los Angeles City College in 1962

These tragic stories–and there were many in the heavyweight division–had yet to be told when I wrote about the Ali-Moore fight for the Los Angeles City College paper. Thinking back, I have no idea why I even wrote the column. Ali was of course famous, but there were few signs of his future greatness. And Los Angeles was full of celebrities, some of whom—David Jansen and James Coburn, for instance—could be seen walking across campus or sitting in coffee houses along Vermont Avenue.

These tragic stories had yet to be told when I wrote about the Ali-Moore fight for the Los Angeles City College paper.

Clint Eastwood, Donna Reed, Paul Winfield–a superb Othello–and Morgan Freeman had taken classes at Los Angeles City College. So had the poet Charles Bukowski, as well as musicians Charles Mingus, John Williams, and Leonard Slatkin. While working at the newspaper I covered a lecture given in the stadium by writer Aldous Huxley. It was one of his last. During my interview with Huxley I realized how terribly ill he was.

The Day Muhammad Ali Walked through the Door

Many of the buildings at Los Angeles City College were relatively new at the time, but the newspaper office was located in a long, narrow prefab with tiny windows. The day my piece on the Ali-Moore fight appeared, I was working on another story when I heard someone chanting “I want Hauk! I want Hauk!” in the distance. The voice was familiar. I stepped outside and saw Ali approaching the building, surrounded by excited students and waving a copy of the paper.

The newspaper office was located in a long, narrow prefab with tiny windows. I heard someone chanting ‘I want Hauk!’ in the distance. The voice was familiar.

“Are you Hauk?” Ali said. “Now don’t lie to me–I can see you are! How could you write this–me lose to Archie Moore? Don’t you know I’m the greatest? Can’t you see I’m pretty? Don’t you know I’m going to give that old man Archie Moore the spanking of his life?”

‘Are you Hauk?’ Ali said. ‘Now don’t lie to me. I can see that you are!’

I replied that it was a columnist’s job to have an opinion. Ali laughed and said that was fine, but he’d prove me wrong. Then he led the students back across the campus. Later he returned to the newsroom alone, sat down, and introduced himself. He was soft-spoken, a bit shy, and quick to smile.

I replied that it was a columnist’s job to have an opinion. Ali laughed and said that was fine, but he’d prove me wrong.

He went on to beat Archie Moore in four rounds, just as he had promised. At the end of the fight I was happy to hear he walked–not hobbled–across the ring to embrace the older man. It bothered me that he shrugged off the win by saying he had beaten “an old man.” Moore deserved better. Ali in those days could be a touch cruel, a quality he wrung from himself and turned into amazing compassion.

Parkinson Disease, Gentleness, and Death

As the years passed Ali began to take the kind of punches that so damaged other fighters, some of them heavyweight champions. Those magnificent heavyweights were killing each other. Then Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson Disease, and one can’t help from feeling it had been hurried along by all of those punches.

As the years passed Ali began to take the kind of punches that had so damaged the other heavyweights, some of them champions.

That he held on for three decades was a testament to Muhammad Ali’s will and resolve, which he called on for causes far beyond the parameters of boxing–and an instinctive gentleness, humor, and kindness, which I had been fortunate enough to experience.

Photo of Muhammad Ali by Ralph Elliott Starkweather

Photo and copyright by Ralph Elliott Starkweather

The Photography of Ralph Elliott Starkweather

In a distinguished career ranging the world, Ralph Elliott Starkweather has taken photographs for Life, National Geographic, Gourmet, Smithsonian, and many other magazines. He also had a close relationship with Muhammad Ali, traveling with the late fighter and even recording him moving into a new home.

Ralph explains how the lead photo, published here for the first time, was taken: “I went to his home to document his moving into a place called Rossmore in Los Angeles. It was exclusive at the time–guard-gated. My favorite photo because for 10 minutes he was on his own left to his thoughts. In a way like a Black Buddha deep in meditation.”

The other photo is of Ali hoisting Starkweather’s nephew, Chris English, 37 years ago at Los Angeles International Airport. Ali would have been about 37 or 38 at the time, halfway through his life.

Discovering Unexpected Connections to East of Eden During a Family Trip to Northern California

Cover image from a British edition of East of Eden

John Steinbeck’s Depression-era novel The Grapes of Wrath made a deep and lasting impression on me when I read it as a school-curriculum book whilst a young teenager in the UK. I consequently became a lover of Steinbeck’s writing, reading many of his other books over the years that followed. After moving to Southern California for work a few decades later, I visited the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas with my family en route to San Francisco and our holiday home rental farther up the Northern California coast, in the picturesque village of Mendocino (pop. c. 1,200). The towns of Salinas and Mendocino have appeal for fans of Steinbeck like me, and I recommend stopping at both when you visit Northern California.

Image of Levin family visit, National Steinbeck CenterAs a chemist I found the National Steinbeck Center engaging for the insights it offered into Steinbeck’s life and career as a journalist, novelist, and (briefly) “bench chemist” for the Spreckels Sugar Company. But there was more. An exhibit depicting Steinbeck’s epic biographical novel East of Eden caught my attention because of the biblical and philosophical commentary concerning man’s responses to evil influences that it revealed. This prompted me to purchase a copy of East of Eden in the bookstore as we were leaving. I read it during our stay at the idyllic sea-view house we rented in Mendocino overlooking rugged coastal cliffs and resident sea lions, a dramatic setting in which to experience Steinbeck’s multi-generational saga.

Steinbeck’s discussion of the Hebrew word “timshel” in East of Eden fascinated me as a metaphor for our choice in how and whether to response to evil, and I was moved to look up the passage in the Hebrew Bible that contained the word—from the story of Cain and Abel—that Steinbeck quotes. When I discovered that Steinbeck had incorrectly transliterated the Hebrew word timshol, I consulted Hebrew and other sources about its meaning and Steinbeck’s use. My research was eventually published in an article by Steinbeck Review, as reported in a post at SteinbeckNow.com.

Image of the Ford House Museum and Visitor CenterWhilst staying in Mendocino and reading East of Eden, I encountered unexpected connections to Steinbeck and his novel during a visit made by our family to the Ford House Museum and Visitor Center to learn about the history and culture of the area. The story of the Ford House began in 1851 with Henry Meiggs, the Gold Rush sawmill owner who built Fisherman’s Wharf on San Francisco’s famous Embarcadero. Learning that a ship with cargo from China had sunk off the Mendocino coast, Meiggs sent an employee named Jerome Ford to the wreck site to search for salvage. Ford failed to find the ship, but he discovered something of even greater value to his employer: a magnificent forest of redwoods stretching many miles inland from the rocky Northern California shore.

Following Ford’s advice, Meiggs arranged for sawmill equipment to be shipped around the Horn from the East Coast to Mendocino, where the first sawmill opened in 1852, with Ford as superintendent. The second house constructed in Mendocino from lumber cut by Meiggs’s mill was built for Ford and the woman he married in 1854 in Connecticut, the time and setting chosen by Steinbeck for the opening section of East of Eden. Readers will recall that 10 years after publishing East of Eden Steinbeck wrote in Travels with Charley about seeing the redwoods in and around Mendocino while driving down the Northern California coast with his wife Elaine—a century after the Fords settled into their redwood home.

Image of John SteinbeckI discovered one more connection between East of Eden and Mendocino during my family visit to the Ford House: Mendocino was a shooting location for the 1955 movie adaptation of East of Eden that starred James Dean. Scenes were also shot in Spreckels, the sugar company town outside Salinas where Steinbeck worked while a student in high school and at Stanford. Years ago I was introduced to Steinbeck in school in the United Kingdom, so it was a delight for me to discover unanticipated connections between his life and writing in Northern California as an adult.

Many thanks to Jenny Heckeroth of the Ford House Visitor Center and Museum and to Lisa Josephs at the National Steinbeck Center for their help.

John Steinbeck’s Monterey, California: The Way It Was

Image of John Steinbeck and Monterey, California

I was surprised when my friends Matt and Vivian told me about a silk opera cape that John Steinbeck wore long ago to a posh cocktail party in Pebble Beach. I didn’t doubt them (I knew them too well for that), but really—an opera cape with a red lining? It happened when they were visiting me at home during the time I lived in Monterey, California. Vivian noticed a book by Steinbeck on my writing table.

“Oh, we know him,” Vivian said, explaining how she and her husband Matt had catered the Pebble Beach affair, and how John sat alone in the corner at the party wearing a cape. “Anyone who wanted his attention had to go to him,” she added. “I thought he was being a snob. But when the party wound down he got up and spoke.”

Steinbeck said, “I’ve seen your side of the hill,” recalled Vivian. “Now who wants to see how the rest of the world lives?”

“And so off we went to Steinbeck’s house in Pacific Grove,” Vivian added, “where he showed us how to drink wine out of a gallon jug you propped on your shoulder.”

Listening to the story, I felt sure Steinbeck was giving the Pebble Beach crowd a two-fingered salute that night long ago. But I was left wondering about the cape, which seemed out of character for the writer. Years later I read a letter from Steinbeck to his soon-to-be second wife, Gwendolyn Conger, describing how a group of kids in Pacific Grove appeared at a neighborhood party dressed in capes. He said he thought it might be amusing if he were to venture out wearing one, too. Eventually he did. Mystery solved.

Image of George Harrison

Celebrities Pass Through and Come Calling in Monterey

The more I think about my life surrounded by artists on Huckleberry Hill—a hill overlooking Pacific Grove and Monterey, California—the more I regret not asking more questions and listening to more stories about John Steinbeck during the 1930s and 40s. Years later, during my time there, celebrities who today would be followed by a gaggle of fans and reporters managed to live, work, and visit in peace. Famous writers in the region’s rich history included John Steinbeck, Robinson Jeffers, Dennis Murphy (the son of a childhood friend of Steinbeck’s), Eric Barker, and Hunter S. Thompson.

Image of Steve McQueen

Among the motion picture stars who came to town were Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen, Shirley Temple Black, Doris Day, Bing Crosby, Joan Fontaine, Clark Gable, Kim Novak, and Frank Sinatra. Singers, too: Bobby Dylan and Joan Baez. Artists galore: Bruce and Jean Ariss, Ephraim Doner, Liza Wurtzman, John Steinbeck’s portraitist Barbara Stevenson Graham, who painted under the nom de plume Judith Deim. The art collector Bill Pearson, who owned a gallery in New Monterey, plus a flock of colorful cartoonists: Eldon Dedini, Hank Ketcham, and Gus Arriola. Photographers, some famous—Ansel Adams Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham—and others less well known: Morley Baer, John Livingston, Al Weber, Brett Cole, and Ruth Bernhard. Lesser literary lights called Monterey or Pacific Grove home as well: Ward Moore and Milton Mayer and Winston Elstob and Martin Flavin and Bob Bradford and Lester Gorn, to name a few.

Image of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor

For the most part, prominent residents and visiting celebrities alike were treated by the denizens of Pacific Grove and Monterey, California, as friends or neighbors or passers-by who deserved privacy, like everyone else. Alcohol was often in evidence, and it was tolerated, even in formerly-dry Pacific Grove. Before my time the poet Dylan Thomas had passed through, driven by a wealthy woman from Berkeley in a yellow convertible. I was there when Liz Taylor and Richard Burton drank and argued and threw martini glasses at one other in a local bar. The racing driver Augie Pabst drove a car into a downtown motel swimming pool. Harold Maine, the author, visited a friend and drank all the aftershave in the bathroom. At the pub I owned in Monterey, Kenneth Rexroth leaned over and whispered, for my ears only: “I write poetry to fuck girls.” During the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival virtually every important rock musician in America paraded through my doors. The great jazz monologist Lord Buckley (“The Naz”) crashed one of my parties and gave a fireside performance that lasted well past dawn.

Image of Janis Joplin and the Holding Company

When a very young Diana Ross came to my bar, the Bull’s Eye Tavern, with the Supremes, a pub patron helpfully pointed out that they might not be of drinking age. I just shrugged. I figured that if I got tagged for serving these minors, the publicity would be worth a fortune. When Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company hit town, they parked their canary-yellow Ford Anglia outside the Bull’s Eye and came in to drink, play darts, and play music. (Better music than darts, as I recall.) To me, it was clear from the size and condition of the car they left at the curb why Janis sang “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?”

Image of Bing Crosy

Singers, Gangsters, and Royalty—All in Town for Fun

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor once stood six feet from me, gazing down at a flower garden I was constructing at a home in Pebble Beach. We exchanged smiles, as I was to do on a different occasion looking into the face of an aged and wrinkled Clark Gable. Bing Crosby saw me one afternoon and mistook me for his son. “Gary! What in the hell are you doing there?” he shouted in my direction. At the time I thought he had a vision problem, though it seems the problem may have had more to do with drink, as the man was rarely sober. He owned a house in the area that served as a party retreat for his boys. One day a young soldier from Fort Ord appeared at the Polygon Bookshop on Cannery Row. Leafing through a book of photos by Ansel Adams, he said wanted to be a photographer and would give his right arm to meet Adams. Winston Elstob, the writer who co-owned the Polygon with Jim Campbell, picked up the phone and dialed Ansel’s number. Within 30 minutes Adams arrived at the bookshop in his old blue Cadillac and spent an hour or more talking with the lad.

Image of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan

Cannery Row was a Monterey magnet, then as now. One evening I dropped into a coffeehouse bar where Bobby Dylan and Joan Baez, along with Richard Farina and Joan’s sisters Pauline and Mimi, sat in a corner singing quietly, playing guitars, and plucking a dulcimer. Los Angeles, a day’s drive, was a draw for locals like me—and vice versa. While visiting friends there, I met a screenwriter named Lionel Oley. Liking what I had to say about life in Monterey, he immediately moved north to join the Monterey-Pacific Grove fun. I located a rental house for him around the corner from mine on Huckleberry Hill, and his boyhood friend Rod Steiger often visited. After returning to Los Angeles from one trip to Monterey, Steiger observed that it never rained in LA, then took off his trench coat and handed it to me.

Image of Rod Steiger

Lionel’s girlfriend moved up to Monterey as well, bringing with her a friend who was the mistress of the gangster Mickey Cohen. Mickey became a frequent caller, driving up from Los Angeles in his big bullet-proof car. The attractive business card he handed me identified him as the proprietor of a Los Angeles ice cream parlor. It was difficult going anywhere with Mickey because he would spend half an hour or more obsessively washing his hands, then go back inside to the bathroom to wash them again. Knowing his violent past, I was sure he was scrubbing away imaginary blood. One time, sitting in the back of Mickey’s car, the girlfriend rubbed her palm across the thick glass window and said, “I wish someone would start shooting so we could see if this damned stuff works.” Mickey shuddered visibly.

Image of Mickey Cohen

When Living in Monterey Was Like a Motion Picture

John Steinbeck’s Big Sur, down the coast from Pacific Grove and Monterey, California, was a powerful lure for writers and artists. The author Henry Miller, Big Sur’s genius loci, would sit on his sofa opening a large mailbag delivered to his mailbox at the foot of Partington, his wife Eve at his side, putting the letters with money into one pile and those without cash in another. The wonderful English poet Eric Barker lived nearby in a house on a cliff overlooking the ocean.

Image of Henry Miller and Eve
I was writing, too. One day a man named Roland—a friend of my friends, the artists Bruce and Jean Ariss—approached me at Big Sur’s legendary Deetjen’s inn holding a photograph album. Years earlier he had lived in Taos, New Mexico, near D.H. Lawrence and Lawrence’s wife Frieda. He asked if I would I help him write a book about the experience, showing me photos taken in the late 1920s that included one of Frieda mounted on a horse, looking quite large. I said yes, and we agreed to meet at my house on Huckleberry Hill the next day to get started.  Alas, poor Roland never arrived: he died of a heart attack that night.

Image of D.H. Lawrence wife wife Frieda

Motion picture people were attracted to the Monterey area for obvious reasons. During my time, a would-be actor named Ron Joy lived next door to my neighbor Lionel. Bucking the northbound trend, Ron headed south to Hollywood, where he failed as an actor but eventually achieved success as a movie magazine photographer. After getting engaged to Nancy Sinatra, he drove her up to Monterey in his little red MG roadster. If you’ve ever ridden 400 miles up and 400 miles down Highway 1 in the bucket seat of an MG, you, too, will understand why she stutters and looks so jumpy in her movies. I had a house party one night, and somehow Ingrid Bergman’s daughter Pia Lindstrom and a girlfriend from Sweden heard about it. They were staying at a Monterey motel and took a cab to my home, where they arrived unannounced and ended up spending the entire weekend. The Bull’s Eye Tavern prospered.

Image of Bull's Eye Tavern ad

After Playboy magazine published an item about the Bull’s Eye that said my pub was the only place to go in Monterey, George Harrison and Ringo Starr appeared one evening with an entourage that included Neil Aspinall, Mal Evans, and Derek Taylor. After I closed, I invited them all to my house, where George told me that the Beatles were history. “Listen again to ‘Here Comes the Sun,’” he confided. After returning to London, he made me an honorary member of the Apple Corps, and I still have the ceramic green apple broach George sent me to prove it.

Image of Clint Eastwood

Carmel, south of Pacific Grove, has had its share of celebrities, too. The same week the Beatles came to my bar, Clint Eastwood—later the mayor of Carmel—walked into the Bull’s Eye with his friend, the golfer Ken Green. Even then, long before Dirty Harry, Clint was known to throw a punch at people with beards and long hair. “John,” he assured me, “I wouldn’t bust up your place. You’re a writer, and I respect that.” (Lucky me.) At a garden party in Carmel Highlands, the actor-screenwriter-producer John Nesbitt invited me to move to Los Angeles to work on his film series, The Passing Parade. Laughing, I said I wouldn’t give up a day in Monterey for a year in LA, even to work for him.

Image of Marilyn Monroe on location in Monterey, Calfornia

Because of its beauty and location, the Monterey-Pacific Grove-Carmel coast drew motion picture directors and stars almost from the beginning. When work was over, actors and writers sometimes stayed behind to live and play. During my years on Huckleberry Hill, it seemed that a picture was being shot every month somewhere between Monterey and Big Sur. If you were in the right place at the right time, there was a good chance of getting work as an extra, though a common complaint was that filming was one of the most boring jobs in the world. Shooting sometimes began before dawn and extended through the night. The tedious part for an extra was standing by as the director shot and re-shot the same scene—a little like Mickey Cohen, my gangster acquaintance, washing his hands while the rest of us waited.

Image of Frank Sinatra
Inadvertently, I almost appeared in a scene from a motion picture called Kings Go Forth when I happened to be in Martin’s Fruit Stand on the Carmel Valley Highway as the crew was shooting in an orchard behind the store. Frank Sinatra sauntered over, dressed in an army uniform for the scene, to buy an apple. Thinking back recently to my encounter with Ol’ Blue Eyes, I found a website that lists hundreds of films made around Monterey, California. My memory was further refreshed by the Monterey County Film Commisssion’s map showing where specific scenes were shot.

Image of William Saroyan

John Steinbeck, Bill Saroyan, and the Company They Kept

Like John Steinbeck, a handful of major writers, artists and actors of note lived in Monterey before they became famous. In Steinbeck’s era (and mine), the community offered kinship, support, and a quality of privacy that, for celebrities today, would require a wall and bodyguards to achieve. My home in Steinbeck’s old neighborhood and my pub downtown attracted an assortment of characters—famous, infamous, and struggling—not unlike Doc’s lab in Steinbeck’s day. We were all of us, in our own way, aiming for the top. Some succeeded and moved on, like Steinbeck. Others failed. I was among those who eventually left; though success spoiled Monterey for Steinbeck, my memories are mostly happy ones. If my friends Bruce and Jean Ariss were still alive, I’d talk with them about their friends Carol and John Steinbeck: about Ed Ricketts; about Steinbeck’s fellow California writer William Saroyan; about Burgess Meredith, Charlie Chaplin, and the composer John Cage, all friends of Steinbeck at one time or another. If I were rewriting the past and directing this particular picture, I’d get poor Roland to the Monterey hospital in time, and I’d add a scene for Roland to share his stories about D.H. and Frieda Lawrence in Taos—a place, like Monterey, where the stars shone brightly in a bygone era.