1960s

APRIL IS A BLESSING

Of all the months in the calendar, April has the most beautiful name. It’s fun to say; it seems like a song. When I looked it up, I discovered the word was a short form of the Greek word for Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, also known as Venus. No wonder I love the name!

Who can argue with the beginning of marvelous Spring, at least in the Northern Hemisphere? Chaucer sang its praises in the prologue to his famous Canterbury Tales. I still remember the first four lines from my William and Mary college English course—we read Chaucer in 14th century Middle English and the first lines went like this:

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote

The droughte of Marche hath perced to the roote,

And bathed evry veyne in swich licour,

Of which vertu engendred is the flour…

Essentially, Chaucer is describing how April rains relieve March drought and soak the roots of plants to produce April flowers. I enjoyed the rhythms of the words and the challenge of deciphering what they meant. These words were already beginning to take on a more modern form and are recognizable.

As an English major, I also had a course in what was in the 1960s deemed Modern English Literature. Poet T.S. Eliot, an American who became an English citizen in the early 20th century and died in 1965, was considered a modernist and known for his famous  complex poem The Waste Land.

Eliot apparently wasn’t enthusiastic about April. Written in 1922, The Waste Land is a poem of disillusion and despair and is especially known for the lines:

April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land.

The month of April has been a good one for me. I was married twice in April to the same man! Since Hans was stationed with the US Army in Mannheim, Germany (my dad had been his commander), we got married there in 1965. German law required a civil ceremony, which was accomplished in Mannheim-Kafertal on April 7. A few days later on April 10, we had a church wedding in Frankfurt, where my parents were stationed.

Seven years and a baby daughter (Heidi) later, my son Hansi was born in Los Angeles. It was April 11, 1972. This year Hansi turns 40 and he is also getting married—a great source of celebration! Even though I am divorced, I can truly say April is a month of love.

As a reminder that life has its ups and downs – April 15 is usually tax filing day. And this year April 15 marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Oh well, nothing’s totally blissful!

 

Me & Baby Hansi -- His Christening

 

WAIT A SEC, I DON’T WANNA BE A SECRETARY! By Victoria Giraud

Los Angeles Times - built in 1935

 

The fascinating TV series “Mad Men” –the Madison Avenue advertising game in New York City in the 1960s—begins its new season tonight. It reminds me of women’s struggles to rise in the world of business.

When I graduated from college in those years, not many doors of opportunity were open for women. A woman’s choice, for the most part, included almost any job where you typed and/or answered the phone. We called it Secretary then, commonly expanded to: Administrative Assistant. Becoming a teacher was a popular choice and a female could always choose medicine—as a nurse or nurse’s assistant.

Evident in this TV show is the lack of female copywriters; at least Peggy breaks the mold. In real life, author Jane Maas was one of a very few copywriters on Madison Avenue and she loved her job. She’s written a book about it: Mad Women. She mentions that women wore gloves (I recall wearing them to church) at the agency and high heels, of course. Oddly, she said that once a woman became a copywriter, she would wear a hat in the office all day. Perhaps that was a modern way of crowning those with the talent and determination to secure such a position.  http://www.amazon.com/Mad-Women-Madison-Avenue-Beyond/dp/0312640234   If you follow this link, keep going and look up Victoria Giraud to find my books.

The first job I had in Los Angeles was with the Los Angeles Times in 1965. I had a degree in English and I’d worked on my college newspaper for four years. The LA Times was not about to offer me a job as a reporter; they stuck me into the typing pool, a large room full of typewriters and underused barely challenged women. The best promotion was to become a Private Secretary for some white male bigwig.

I was easily bored in the secretarial pool, even though we were utilized as substitute receptionists and secretaries and got to escape typing pool bondage for short periods of time. The highlight that summer, although it was a tragedy, was the Watts Riots, occurring just miles away. Our 5th floor office was full of windows and we could see the smoke from the Watts’ fires.

I didn’t know it at the time, but there was a woman who was breaking newsroom barriers during those days. Her name was Dorothy Townsend; her obituary was in a recent  LA Times. Dorothy started in the so-called “women’s pages” in 1954, but in 1964 her persistence won her a position of first female staff writer to cover local news.

A former senior editor at the Times, Noel Greenwood, commented in the article that Dorothy was promoted in an “era when women were thought to be such delicate creatures that they were not fit for the challenges of hard news reporting and were consigned to the features section. I always remembered Dorothy as a heroine.”

Dorothy proved her mettle when she insisted she be sent as part of the team of reporters covering the Watts riots. Her stories became part of the award-winning coverage, which netted the Times the 1966 Pulitzer Prize.

As women have worked their way up the ladder of business and professional success, the world is becoming more balanced. Don’t you guys need some of that indefatigable female energy in your work force as well as in your personal lives? Vive la femme!

 

 

 

 

I LEFT MY HEART IN HEIDELBERG

There’s a German song, “Ich hab’ mein herz in Heidelberg verloren,” which means:“I left my heart in Heidelberg.” Since I lived there for about eight months, I can vouch for those words. Heidelberg is a picturesque and ancient German university town on the Neckar River. On a hill above the town stands the ruin of an old castle from the 1600s, which overlooks the small river and a beautiful old bridge.

In the summer the town sponsors a special celebration, which was called the “Burning of the Castle” in the 1960s. The lights all over town were turned off and fireworks set off from the castle and the bridge. The effect was dazzling for the town’s residents and the tourists. The best place to see it is from the river, and I was privileged to view it once from a boat my brother’s Cub Scout troop had rented. The cobblestone streets are narrow and because the town is known for its famous University of Heidelberg, there are many small bars and restaurants frequented by students, like the celebrated Sepp’l and the Roten Ochsen (Red Ox). I still have a glass boot, a favorite and unusual drinking vessel for beer. Students would order a boot full of Germany’s renowned beverage and pass it around their table. The last one to drink from it pays the tab. Air gets caught in the toe of the boot and beer will often spray onto the face of the last drinkers, a good reason for hilarity.

Most Americans in Germany lived and worked in American facilities, built in a German style by Germans. When entering these American enclaves, it was always obvious it was a piece of Americana just by the name. In Heidelberg, I lived in Patrick Henry Village, a few miles away from the pretty German town. While in Mannheim, my folks had spacious officers’ quarters in Benjamin Franklin Village.

My first job after college was a brief but fascinating position as secretary to the manager of the Heidelberg Officers Club in the mid 1960s. I took dictation, wrote letters, and created the monthly newsletter that informed members of all the social activities of the club. During the Christmas holidays I got to sample the special punch for the New Year’s Day party, a unique and tasty recipe from the commanding general’s wife. It was appropriately named London Fog: equal parts coffee, vanilla ice cream, and brandy. It tasted so good it was easy to get fooled, and you’d be drunk before you knew what hit you. I discovered that fact years later when I imbibed too much at my own party! Since I worked with several German women, I got to polish up my German as well as learn something about their culture. They also advised me on romantic matters. One of the perks of working at the Club was the reduced price of food and all the free coffee you could drink. I was a novice coffee drinker, but it smelled good and I felt very grownup. Trouble was, I liked it with cream or milk and I overdid it. Didn’t take long before I was home in bed with a rumbling stomach or on the toilet.

I had my own mini-home just across the street from the Club: a bedroom and bathroom combo on the second floor of the BWQ (Bachelor Women’s Quarters). The BWQ was home for the most part to American secretaries, female Air Force personnel, and schoolteachers. Counting windows, I’m guessing it had rooms for about forty of us.  Although the facilities were far from luxurious, we could even make ourselves a meal in one of the kitchens on each of the floors.  From one of the teachers, I learned how to make a decent and easy-to-make meal—a small roast slathered with a can of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup combined with Lipton’s dried onion soup. On occasion, I still serve that cheap and tasty dish.

ROMANCE IN DEUTSCHLAND

When I met my future husband in Germany, I was first impressed with his self-confidence.  It was an official going-away party at the Mannheim Officers Club for my dad, Col. A.D. Willams, and there was a band. Hans asked me, his former commander’s daughter, to dance and there was no one else on the dance floor. I had been introduced, just moments before, by a lieutenant I had met previously.

Mannheim Officers Club

The tall handsome blond with German heritage was light on his feet, polite and interesting. That dance led to a serious flirtation that kindled almost immediately. It had happened just in time because my family was moving north to Frankfurt, about an hour’s drive, and I was moving with them. A recent college graduate, I had only been in Germany a few days. I could enjoy a vacation for a short while, but I knew I would need a job soon.

Within a couple of weeks I was in Frankfurt wondering what I’d do for work and where I’d find it. In the meantime, I was looking forward to a planned rendezvous with Hans, who was driving up to our new home and taking me out to explore Frankfurt, which had been his birthplace and where he’d lived until his mother married an American soldier after WWII. My mother, an accomplished seamstress who enjoyed and approved of Hans, had made me a stylish wrap-around silk dress for the occasion. I was looking forward to the historic sights and visiting a well-known restaurant Hans had mentioned, which was noted for its music and food.

The Sunday date arrived without a word from Hans, but I assumed he’d make it. We had already gone out a few times, and he’d never given the impression he wouldn’t keep his promises. Alas, he never called and he never showed up. No cell phones in those days and besides the fact it wasn’t proper to call the guy and ask him where the hell he was, I didn’t have his number. My parents were very supportive as I moped around and kept looking at my lovely but unworn dress.

Although I was very disappointed, I tried to forget being stood up and concentrated on what I could do to make money, especially since my dad kept reminding me I had an education and now I had to find a job. Not long after, Dad informed me he had a driver going down to Heidelberg for the day and that’s where a central personnel office was located for those looking for a job working for the American Army in Mannheim/Heidelberg.

The trip to Heidelberg was a successful one—I met and became friendly with a young American woman looking for a job, and lined up an interview with the manager of the Heidelberg Officers Club, who was looking for a secretary. I was feeling positive about the job, but most important to me at the time, I also finagled a way to connect with the errant Hans.

What happens when I see Hans again? Look for my the next blog.

 

EBooks to be released this year on Amazon

 

Melaynie’s Masquerade

16th century historical fiction – Disguised as a cabin

boy, Melaynie Morgan ships off with Francis Drake

to the Caribbean in search of Spanish treasure

 

Mama Liked Army Men

A Tale of Two Fathers

The perils of military life

 

An Army Brat in Libya

Tripoli in the 1950s

Personal history

 

Weird Dates & Strange Mates

Non-fiction with names changed to

Protect the innocent or not…

 

 

AFTER COLLEGE, WHAT NEXT?

Watching the new TV series “Pan Am” about Pan American Airways stewardesses in the early 1960s brought back many memories.  One of the main characters in the series walks out of her own wedding to seek a more exciting adventurous life traveling the world as a stewardess. A few of my friends chose the “MRS” degree the summer after college graduation, but I was looking for excitement.

There were big changes underway in the 1960s. We’d elected our youngest US president ever, John F. Kennedy, and the atmosphere was inspiring initially. “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” said JFK as he was sworn into office in 1961. I was at William and Mary in Virginia during those years of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the founding of the Peace Corps, the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement and Kennedy’s assassination.

In Cap & Gown and ready to venture forth.

Although I thought briefly about joining the Peace Corps or becoming an airline stewardess, I was more motivated by the idea of writing for the Paris Herald-Tribune newspaper. There weren’t as many options for women in those years. Even with a college education, the typical choice was teaching or secretarial work. I knew how to type, a skill my dad required me to learn in high school. Who knew about computers then! Dad thought I should take a civil service exam and make a career that way, an option I considered if it involved travel. Since I’d grown up as an Army brat, I knew I was a gypsy and ready for more adventure. Right before I graduated, I even checked out the possibilities of working for the CIA. Their employment office then was in an unmarked and unassuming building in Washington, D.C. I wonder if I saw any spies!

I hadn’t made a firm decision about my future when a classmate, also an Army brat whose family, like mine, was stationed in Germany, reminded me I was due one more free trip as a dependent. I latched onto the suggestion—I could get to Paris easily from Mannheim, where my family lived. I romantically pictured myself writing my stories while living in a Paris apartment and dating sexy Frenchmen. Perhaps I’d have a few affairs before I settled down…

 

After participating in two weddings the summer after graduation, I got my travel orders and flew on TWA (luxurious compared to the typical Air Force planes) from Maguire Air Force Base in New Jersey to Frankfurt, Germany. Fate had something else in store for me than Paris. Three days after I arrived, my dad was feted with a going-away party; he was leaving his current Army command and was moving the family from Mannheim to Frankfurt, where he was to take up another position. Dad would be working in the IG Fahrben building, one of the largest office buildings in Europe and now in American hands.

I attended the evening party, thoroughly enjoying the attention of a number of eligible and attractive Army lieutenants. Among them was my future husband. Wasn’t it John Lennon who said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans?”

What happens next? See my Sunday blog.

 

Soon to be published on Amazon Kindle:

Melaynie’s Masquerade

16th century historical fiction – Disguised as a cabin

boy, Melaynie Morgan ships off with Francis Drake

to the Caribbean in search of Spanish treasure

 

Mama Liked Army Men

A Tale of Two Fathers

The perils of military life

 

An Army Brat in Libya

Tripoli in the 1950s

Personal history

 

Weird Dates & Strange Mates

Non-fiction with names changed to

Protect the innocent or not…

Cars – My First Experiences

College senior me in MGB

In the US, most of us can trace our histories by the cars we owned, used, or learned to drive in. Not to mention the cars that provided room for early sexual  exploration. Whether you “made out” or “went all the way,” who doesn’t remember a few cars that were special?

My first driving lessons were in my dad’s  1953 white Ford convertible. My mother was my first instructor, but she was so nervous in the passenger seat she was already slamming on the imaginary brakes a half block from a stop sign in a residential area. The top was down so visibility was great, but my mom was a worrier. My dad didn’t fare much better, although he stayed calm during the lesson. “I need a beer,” he exclaimed to Mom when we got home safely. I got my learner’s permit but no car or permission to drive the family Ford.  I’ve recently used a photo of me sitting on that Ford’s hood in Tripoli.

Driving lessons in an old Nash Rambler were the perfect excuse for a boyfriend to get a few kisses and a little “petting,” as we called it then. After a little night driving practice and warnings about oncoming headlights, we found a likely spot for some action.  A few kisses later, we were in the sights of a large flashlight brandished by a policeman. It was just a warning that where we had parked was inappropriate (the grounds of an Episcopal seminary), but embarrassing nonetheless.

When the boyfriend took me home that night, he walked me to the door in his socks. The cops pulled up and, suspicious about the socks, questioned him, he told me later. When they got a close-up view and interviewed him, they realized he was quite reputable and not a potential burglar.

In college, one of my favorite memories was the white Corvette driven by the charming Army lieutenant who squired me about. He was stationed nearby and had more money to spend than the typical underclassman. Making out by a Virginia lake in spring, however, wasn’t a good choice. The next day I was taking semester exams and could barely restrain from scratching the hell out of the 40 mosquito bites on my legs. The car pictured here is similar to the lieutenant’s car, but he had the  US version with left-hand drive.

In my senior year I was trusted with my graduate student boyfriend’s MGB. He let me drive it by myself from time to time. I think he was serious about me, but I wasn’t ready to settle down, despite the nice car.

Years later, at the end of my marriage and the beginning of single life, my most vivid memories concern an aging Oldsmobile ’98, a Datsun, a near decrepit Ford LTD (retread tires and a trunk that didn’t open), a borrowed Porsche 944, a Yugo, a used BMW that was in great shape except for the broken AC,  and finally a brand new Mustang! Such is the brief version of my single life with cars.

I remember them all quite fondly, even when these cars were giving me grief. In Los Angeles, the best advice is to find a good and trustworthy mechanic.


Soon to be released on Amazon Kindle:

Melaynie’s Masquerade

16th century historical fiction – Disguised as a cabin

boy, Melaynie Morgan ships off with Francis Drake

to the Caribbean in search of Spanish treasure

 

Mama Liked Army Men

A Tale of Two Fathers

The perils of military life

 

 An Army Brat in Libya

Tripoli in the 1950s

Personal history

 

Weird Dates & Strange Mates

Non-fiction with names changed to

Protect the innocent or not…

 

MARCH ON WASHINGTON – Part Two

Charlton Heston, James Baldwin, Marlon Brando -- in D.C. March

 

 

Martin Luther King’s March on Washington was scheduled for Saturday, August 28, 1963, and several of my bosses from Washington National Airport’s Operations department would be on duty. I jumped at the chance they offered me to blend in with the celebrities, and I invited my good friend Harriet to go along. In the early ’60s, especially around Washington, women got dressed up for events and even shopping; it was a more formal time and T-shirts and jeans were not appropriate attire. Harriet and I knew exactly what to wear—high heels, stockings, and a dress. I don’t recall if we wore hats; usually hats were for church.

California, where most of the famous folks were coming from, had been declared the home of “fruits and nuts.” As an Easterner, I was ignorant about almost everything but the term “Hollywood” and knowing somewhere out there was the magical Disneyland.  Harriet and I probably took along our white gloves, which were the ultimate extra touch when dressed up. I recall my three-inch-high beige heels, but I don’t remember the dress I wore. It was probably a sheath of some kind that looked business-like.

Harriet and I were very excited about the day, but had no idea what to expect as we climbed the stairs to the second floor lounge at the Butler Aviation terminal. It was full of people milling around, most of them casually dressed. I gawked as I saw a fully bearded Paul Newman, fresh from filming the comedy, What a Way to Go; he played an obsessed painter married to Shirley MacLaine. In the middle of the room was the handsome Sidney Poitier talking to Dianne Carroll.

One wall of the lounge was almost entirely glass and looked out upon the airfield. I walked toward the window to see if any planes with more stars would be landing.  I felt tall and imposing as I stood there in my heels—I was about 5’10” in my “spikes.”  Two diminutive black men came and stood on either side of me, neither of them taller than my breasts. On one side was the multi-talented actor-singer Sammy Davis, Jr.: on the other was renowned author James Baldwin. I tried to act nonchalant as they talked. I was probably too nervous to eavesdrop. In any case, I have no idea what they said.

Not long afterward, someone announced a private plane from Southern California was landing and would soon be taxiing to the Butler Aviation gate. All of us were encouraged to go downstairs and outside to greet them. Harriet and I followed along and wondered who the new arrivals would be. While we were waiting, I overheard some cynic say, “Here come more of the fruits and nuts of Hollywood.”

Within minutes a small passenger plane taxied toward us, engine still roaring. I put my hands over my ears and looked up into the smiling face of Moses himself—Charlton Heston. “Loud, isn’t it?” he intoned with that unmistakable, powerful voice. I beamed at him and nodded my head.

As he turned away, Harriet leaned in. “Can you believe that was Charlton Heston?” She was grinning with excitement.

The plane’s engines quit and the door opened. Men and women began to descend the stairs and I noticed how differently they were dressed—tanned women were wearing loose clothing with flashy jewelry; men were in white shoes and colorful shirts. Out the airplane door sauntered someone I knew from television: handsome James Garner. Photographers and reporters were there to cover the story and the dark-haired Garner didn’t disappoint. Right away he waved and played to the crowd, starting some fascinating repartee I no longer remember. But I couldn’t forget his charming easy smile.

Some years later when I had moved to California and became part of that laid-back lifestyle and sunny climate, I would remember my historical hint of things to come, courtesy of Dr. Martin Luther King.  I saw an older James Garner in person at a shopping center: he was asleep in an overstuffed chair, probably waiting for his wife. I told a Californian friend, who knew Charlton Heston, about my minor encounter, and he was always intending to tell “Moses” about my thrill, but he never did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Victoria Giraud

Author — Melaynie’s Masquerade

historical fiction adventure listed on Amazon Books

Book of short stories in progress

Editor  —   85 books in all genres

Blogger —  Words on My Mind

 

CUSTOMER SERVICE HOLLYWOOD STYLE

AT&T gave its service reps six weeks of extensive training—excellent customer service was a requirement. I think our customers may have sensed we were also sympathetic and willing to listen. Tiny Tim, the singing ukulele player who had been on “Laugh In” and on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show,” singing “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” in his falsetto voice, loved to call us. One day he reached me and kept repeating, “Hello, Mrs. Operator there…hello, Mrs. Operator there.” I gave my name and asked what I could help with several times, to no avail; he finally hung up and ended up calling someone else soon after. I felt he was probably lonely (it was before his marriage to Miss Vicki) and plagued with obsessive compulsive disorder. He would call with questions about phone service and ask for callbacks at specific times because he scheduled frequent showers and tooth brushings for himself.

Before comedian Marty Ingels married singer/actress Shirley Jones, he went through a depression and found solace by talking to Ruth, one of our reps, who would definitely qualify as a compassionate  “Jewish mother” type. He sometimes called several times a day. One night he took her to a Hollywood party where she met the indomitable film and Broadway actress Hermione Gingold, who had a distinctive low voice and was admired for her wonderful performance in “Gigi” with Leslie Caron. Ruth loved to fill us in on her adventures and conversations with Marty.

Phyllis, a financially secure woman working at AT&T for fun, shattered one of my illusions when she revealed that Bob Hope wasn’t as perfect as I’d believed. She had a friend who lived in a swanky apartment building in Hollywood, and Phyllis had seen Bob Hope in the building or in the elevator several times. Apparently, he kept a special lady there. To me it was like finding out there was no Santa Claus. In some respects I was so naïve in those days!

The office atmosphere was friendly and supportive, even though section supervisors listened into our calls and gave us critiques. Many of us, including supervisors, got together to socialize during lunch or after work. There was a great bar/restaurant called Room at the Top on Sunset and Vine with a Happy Hour that served so much food, dinner wasn’t necessary.  On Halloween, the whole office dressed up with each section picking a certain costume for the entire section of six women.  My section must have been inspired by The Flintstones, considering the photo below.

I'm the Cavewoman who's third from the left.

 

Hollywood was a motley collection of businesses in the ‘60s, from the famous to the infamous, much like today, but a great deal of it was rundown. The well-known corner of Hollywood and Vine was not glamorous, but it did feature the somewhat upscale Broadway Department Store. Sunset Boulevard had the Palladium ballroom, home to Lawrence Welk for a number of years, and the Aquarius Theater where the musical “Hair” played for two years in the late ‘60s.  Frederick’s, a store for sexy women’s attire including underwear (before Victoria’s Secret appeared on the scene) was on Hollywood Boulevard, along with the aging Pantages Theatre, which had once been a gold-trimmed and very swanky movie theater. The Pantages has since returned to its former glory and is continually used for the road companies of Broadway productions.

My AT&T adventures ended when I got pregnant. I had worked for about four years since getting married, and my husband and I thought it was the ideal time to start a family. After I stopped taking the “pill,” it didn’t take long for Nature to take its course.

When I had to throw up in the trashcan at work, I had my first inkling that daughter Heidi was on her way. She made her appearance about two months before the decade of the momentous 1960s was over.

 

TO HOLLLYWOOD & MA BELL IN THE ‘60s

When the Los Angeles Times job failed to lead to something more demanding and interesting than typing for the secretarial pool, I began looking for another job.

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.”

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 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 us all to a few operatic bars of a song. 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 mentioned my first personal “concert.”

At Knight’s, a local coffee shop, 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. 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 (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!

 

 

LA TIMES SECRETARIAL POOL – 1960s

Los Angeles Times - built in 1935

 

 

In the mid 60s, there weren’t a wide variety of interesting and well-paid jobs for women, even if you did have a college degree. My bachelor’s degree was in English and I loved writing. I didn’t want to be a teacher but I could type. Secretarial jobs, though not always interesting, could lead up the corporate ladder to something better.

I was hired by the Los Angeles Times shortly after I arrived in California in 1965 with my husband, who was a civil engineer and worked for the LA County Sanitation Department. It was convenient for me to work at the Times. It was only two blocks from my husband’s job; we could ride to work together and save money by not needing a second car. We didn’t even consider public transportation. Southern California was the land of cars, lots of freeways, and an inefficient bus system.

Though I’d been a reporter and editorial assistant for my college newspaper, that didn’t qualify me for the same job, even at entry level, for the LA Times. Educated women could aspire to a career as a teacher, a nurse, or a secretary. A popular joke related that women went to college to get their MRS degree. I was hired for the secretarial pool to type envelopes or letters from the Dictaphone machine. We were also used as substitute receptionists or secretaries.

Los Angeles wasn’t the city of high-rise buildings it is now. City Hall, at 32 stories, was the tallest building in town. The impressive Music Center was under construction until 1967 and the fabulously modern Disney Hall designed by Frank Gehry wasn’t even a dream in those days.  My desk in the secretarial office was on the fifth floor of the LA Times building. I worked there less than six months, but 1965 was a memorable summer.

From the many windows, we could see the smoke and fires from Watts, a few miles south of us, now infamous as the Watts Riots. It was a frightening situation, especially to relatives of mine who lived in the East and just assumed everything was close-by in Los Angeles.

Several reporters for the LA Times were honored by the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the bloody and destructive Watts Riots and its aftermath. One of them, Jack Jones, just died (as reported in the May 15 paper). I’ve been an avid reader of the Times for over 40 years.

One positive highlight of my short stay there was the week I worked as a receptionist in the LA Times executive offices, occupied by the Chandlers, Norman and Buffy, the owners of the newspaper. Dorothy “Buffy” Chandler was enjoying her success as the primary fundraiser for the new Music Center that was being built nearby.

Their spacious offices, which included a bathroom and shower, were paneled in oak and the windows overlooked downtown Los Angeles.   Although impressive to work there, it was very boring–not many visitors or many phone calls. To look busy, I read all the material on the wealthy and enterprising Chandler family and all their business ventures. I used the typewriter for personal letters and even had the time to type all the addresses in my new address book. I once noticed the handsome silver-haired Norman Chandler, who was very conscious of his weight, downing the diet drink of the day—Metrecal—for lunch. Dorothy Chandler was in and out of the office. Since she had issued an edict that female employees of the Times must not wear sleeveless clothing and definitely not utter the word “OK” while on the premises, I avoided her.

Funny how the 1960s were both rebellious and repressive at the same time. Life is always full of contradictions.

 

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