October 15th, 2014:

FAMOUS FOLKS PART 2

In Southern California you never know whom you might see or even chat with. In the past few years I’ve seen Diane Keaton at the Getty Museum and had a long chat at a local Trader Joe’s with the original Hot Lips Houlihan from the MASH film—Sally Kellerman.

In early 1980, when I was the editor of the Acorn newspaper in Agoura, I met actor Strother Martin, who, with his wife Helen, was active in the community and a member of the Agoura-Las Virgenes Chamber of Commerce. He didn’t come to our weekly meetings since he had a busy film career, but he did share his talent with us at our Christmas party at the Calabasas Inn. I took this photo of Strother reading part of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. He had a beautiful voice, far from the “prairie scum” accent he used for roles such as the prison warden in “Cool Hand Luke” where he so famously said, “What we have here is failure to communicate.”

 

Strother Martin

Strother Martin reading “A Christmas Carol”

I got to know him a little when I did an interview with him at his home in Thousand Oaks. He was getting ready to fly to New York to host the “Saturday Night Live” TV program. He gave me a photo from a recent film he’d done with John Wayne and Katherine Hepburn, “Rooster Cogburn.” I still have it. Within a few months, however, Strother died of a heart attack. Many members of the Chamber of Commerce attended his August funeral at Forest Lawn, including me. I was invited back to the Martin home after the funeral. Jimmy Carter was President then and he called Helen Martin personally to convey his sympathies. I’m currently editing Madelyn Roberts’ biography of the actor: Strother Martin, A Hero’s Journey Fulfilled.

 I met champion heavyweight boxer Jerry Quarry in a local restaurant bar, at that time called New Orleans West. The bar/lounge was a gathering place for many singles in Westlake Village. Since the place bordered Westlake Lake, some residents of the nearby Island (Mickey Rooney had once lived there) would travel via electric party boats and dock them below the restaurant.

 

Boxer Jerry Quarry

Boxer Jerry Quarry

In the 1980s when I met Jerry, his boxing career was over but people in the bar remembered him and enjoyed his company. I got to know him and eventually interviewed him for a local publication. Nicknamed the Bellflower Bomber during his career, he had been successful, winning 53 fights out of 66. He was a California boy from Bakersfield and had been the most popular fighter in “Ring” magazine from 1968-71. He had even fought the famous Mohammed Ali and Joe Frazier.

Quarry, a local resident, was past his prime when I knew him, but he was friendly and liked to have a good time. Not long after he began to suffer from the effects of dementia caused by getting hit in the head too often during his boxing career. He was only 53 when he died in 1999. He’s included with other famous boxers in the World Boxing Hall of Fame in New York.

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