December, 2016:

SYNCHRONICITY & CHRISTMAS FILMS

I’ve always noticed the synchronicity in life. Perhaps it’s because I’m a writer. But I believe if you observe and have a good memory, you’ll notice how lives and incidents connect, especially because of the Internet. Isn’t that really what Life is all about?

I enjoy several sitcoms on TV, especially a fairly new one — “Fresh Off the Boat” about a Taiwanese family that relocates from Chinatown in Washington, D.C. to Orlando, FLA. in the mid 1990s.  A very recent episode was about the Huang family being excited about going to the Christmas movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger — JINGLE ALL THE WAY. It brought back memories of being behind the scenes while that movie was being filmed.

At that time I was writing a weekly column for the Los Angeles Daily News called “People and Places,” and I’d been asked to the 20th Century Fox set to interview Jake Lloyd, the then seven-year-old actor who was playing Schwarzenegger’s son in the movie.  Schwarzenegger was still an actor but was soon to become Governor of California. I was not introduced to Schwarzenegger but got to watch him filming the first scene of the movie. Ironically, that scene was filmed last.

Original movie poster

Jake Lloyd’s story is a mystical one of premonitions. He knew he wanted to make a movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was two years old and living in Colorado. Here’s what the precocious youngster told me about seeing a drive-in movie: “When I was two my parents went to see Terminator. I was asleep in the back seat so they decided to stay for Terminator II. All of a sudden they looked back, and my eyes were an inch wide.”

From then on, his mother Lisa related, Jake was entranced with Schwarzenegger. Although he couldn’t properly pronounce the superstar’s formidable surname, Jake would walk around their Colorado home declaring he would be in a movie with his hero. He would make up stories and try to imitate Schwarzenegger.

When the Lloyds planned to move to California so that Lisa could finish her college education, Jake asked his mother, “Isn’t Hollywood in California?”

Despite their skepticism, the Lloyds decided to give in to young Jake’s ambitions regarding moviemaking. They had photos taken and sent them to agents. An agent with her own talent agency near the Lloyd’s new home liked what she saw and took Jake on. In no time she’d booked him for three commercials.

It didn’t take long to acquire experience. Jake appeared in a Ford and a Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial and starred in Unhook The Stars, a movie with Marisa Tomei and Gena Rowlands; he also got a reoccurring role in TV’s E.R.

Jake Lloyd grown up

Jake’s dream became a reality in 1996 when he auditioned and won the part of Schwarzenegger’s son. Jake said that he was speechless when he first met his hero. He remembered Schwarzenegger asking, “How you doing, Jake?” After working with the star for three months, Jake said, “Now we’re really good friends.”

It’s been years since I did that interview but little Jake was hard to forget. He was an unspoiled kid interested in everything about the movie business. While I was there, he took me into the living room set and up some stairs to the catwalk to look down on the set. It was the last day of filming. Since movies are seldom put together sequentially, they were just then filming the very first scene.

After his first film, Jake went on to play the role of Anakin Skywalker in George Lucas’ famous film, The Phantom Menace. Apparently, Jake became discouraged with his film career (he’s now twenty-seven), and he’s since moved to the Midwest. I wonder if he had any visions about what career he would pursue when he got older. I followed up on his current career and found conflicting reports: he’d had trouble with drugs, and even one that claimed he’d died. He was a delightful little boy with great parents — that’s what I’ll always remember.

A HOLLYWOOD JOB

Back in the 1960s, my first job in LA was as a typist in the secretarial pool for the Los Angeles Times. When it failed to lead to something more demanding and interesting, I began looking for another job. I didn’t get a college degree to go nowhere in the working world. I was hired as a service representative for AT&T, known then as “Ma Bell.” Life goes in circles. AT&T was a very powerful company in the 1950s and 60s: it was THE phone company. To insure it wouldn’t become a monopoly with too much power, it was split up. Didn’t take many years before the company regained its strength. It’s probably stronger than ever now with the word monopoly being used again.

Service Reps, as we were called, were always female then because of the nature of the job. Women are still known as the gender more talented at multi-tasking, although the current reps are also men. It was fast-paced telephone work—taking orders for new telephones, transferring service, handling complaints about bills, and collecting bills. As we reps prepared for our Denial Prevention Calls, the DPC, we joked that we would inform the delinquent customer: “This is the last voice you will hear on your telephone.”

Capitol Records building on Hollywood Boulevard in the 1960s

Being located on Gower Street between Santa Monica and Sunset Boulevards in Hollywood was one of the best parts of the job. It was a different world, especially to me, the newbie. Although the area was primarily residential with small Spanish style homes and a few apartment buildings, the famous Studio Club, essentially a dormitory where aspiring actresses like Marilyn Monroe, Kim Novak, and Sharon Tate had stayed while looking for movie work, was a couple of blocks away. Up the street was Columbia Studios with its giant warehouse-size buildings. Most of us spotted various stars from time to time. I saw Dean Martin ride coolly down Gower on a motorcycle, and on another day I caught sight of the Monkees singing group coming out of an exclusive boutique.

Hollywood Studio Club for Women

When we weren’t brown-bagging it, we “girls” went to lunch at places where a star might eat. I liked French food and a few friends introduced me to Le Petit Café on Vine Street. It was a tiny hideaway run by a charming, handsome Frenchman, and the food was scrumptious. One day, Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle on the Andy Griffith Show), who was seated with his friend Carol Burnett, treated everyone in the restaurant to a few operatic bars of a song. He had a beautiful operatic voice. Years later, I was introduced to him at the Beverly Hills Country Club where I was the editor of their magazine. Nabors, a very congenial Southerner who’d suffered a bout of poor health at that time, was wearing a bright lemon-colored sports coat. I think I told him about my first personal “concert.”

At Knight’s, a local coffee shop on Vine Street, I spotted the handsome Latin actor, Fernando Lamas, husband of Esther Williams, surrounded by his entourage. Feeling flush financially, a few of us had lunch once at the famous Brown Derby Hollywood (not the LA original in the shape of a derby hat). We were seated in a booth next to Cornel Wilde and the effervescent Mitzi Gaynor.

The phone company business office was on the second floor of a large two-story building–I believe it’s now a film company. We serviced most of the residential and business phone service in Hollywood, including the Sunset Strip, homes in the Hollywood Hills, and renowned restaurants on La Cienega’s Restaurant Row. We also took care of Fairfax Avenue, home to lots of retired folks pinching their pennies. They had a reputation for calling to quibble over a few cents for the “message units” charged on their bills. We often heard, “It’s not the money, it’s the principle.” Most of the time, we just adjusted the bill, and the adjustment could be less than ten cents. We never knew who’d be on the phone when we picked up: the son of Peter Lorre (“The Maltese Falcon”) who sounded like his father, or Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., the dapper detective on TV’s “77 Sunset Strip.”

On the first floor was the public office, and the reps who worked downstairs always had amusing tales. People came in for phone service or to pay delinquent bills dressed in all sorts of outrageous outfits: men or women in trench coats, naked underneath; or women dressed in tight one-piece outfits that laced up the side, revealing bare skin from armpit to ankle. One of my friends came back from lunch one day to report she had seen an entire family (parents and two kids) walking down Hollywood Boulevard totally naked!

Hollywood (about 20 minutes from where I currently live) is still a zany town but more beautiful and expensive. Jimmy Kimmel does his night show on Hollywood Boulevard, not far from Capitol Records.

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