In Their Off Hours
Growing up in Solvang, was a unique, if not downright weird, experience. One of the fun things, however—and there were many—was seeing film stars in their every day lives.
The Valley was home to a number of famous people, not the least of whom was Ronald Reagan, but I never saw him. Who I did see was Jimmy Stewart. Always dressed in denim bib overalls and a western-style shirt and cowboy hat, Stewart looked every bit the rancher as he walked down the cobbled sidewalks. No one bothered him. The tourists didn't even recognize him, but we knew who he was and we just said hi. Another was comedian Louis Nye, who you might remember from the old Steve Allen Show . "Steverino" being one of my all-time favorite people, I knew who Nye was, but I was too shy even to say hi to him. I made eye contact once though. My mom's personal favorite famous neighbor was Irish tenor Kenny Baker, who was at the time the featured singer on the Jack Benny Program. Most people today don't know who he was, but my mom absolutely loved him...
Dad had a special tie with these people because he was the only TV tech in a town with only one appliance store where my dad worked. Every time someone's signal went out, or a TV tube blew, it was my dad who made the service call. Remember, this was in a time when people didn't just go out and buy a new appliance when one broke down. There was no Walmart, no Circuit City, no Target. If an expensive appliance broke down your only alternatives were to either take it to the shop, or, if you had a bit more money, call the repairman. My dad met a lot of people due to his job and he saw them from the unique perspective of being in their own surroundings. And who really pays attention to the TV repairman? He heard a lot of private conversations, witnessed a lot of family brawls and saw a lot of celebrity skin.
Dad said that Stewart, who lived on Little Wine Cup Ranch, wasn't the regular guy he appeared to be. He was driven and opinionated, but pretty nice and always friendly. I don't remember him saying anything about Nye, except that he smiled a lot. And the only thing I remember hearing in connection with Baker was my mom joking with dad that he could leave her at his house if he wanted to.
One of the other noted valley denizens was a man my dad referred to only as "Sedgwick". More than two decades later I learned that man was Francis Sedgwick, the father of Edie, of Andy Warhol fame. My dad hated going to Rancho La Laguna, because Sedgwick was, he said, "a blowhard" who followed him around telling how to fix whatever he was called up to fix and that he ran around in too-tight swimming trunks. Speedos. Edie is buried in the little cemetery in Ballard, a town that was, back then, about the size of an interstate truck stop, although much prettier.
Ballard is also noted for its quaint chapel, where Mickey Rooney and Ava Gardner were married in 1942. Many of my friends were married there as well. Also, this very school yard is where this picture of JP Deni and me was taken back in 1969. Back then, it was no big deal, just a nice place to hang out.
Today the valley is more famous for Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch, but back when I was a kid, the celebrities who lived there kept a lower profile, preferring to be "just folks".