By Gordon Hughes
In my very first article for WestView News (which has now become a monthly column) I explained my journey from Hollywood to the West Village. George Capsis, with his wit and charm, had convinced me to write an article about that journey, and I have been writing for him ever since.
Well, with the leveling off of the perils of Covid, my wife and I decided to venture back from whence we came, Southern California—the Golden State, the Bear Republic, the land of milk and honey, and, of course, the epicenter of show biz. So, this is a report of my birthplace, where I grew up and started my show biz career, and is a bittersweet tale.
We landed in Palm Springs, where my dad had produced and directed The Charles Farrell Show back in the 1950s. You might remember Charlie Farrell from the movie Seventh Heaven or his TV and radio show My Little Margie. Dad had directed My Little Margie and was now directing and producing the Charlie Farrell Show which was filmed at Charlie’s club in Palm Springs. My family had spent months on location, staying at the Racquet Club, while Dad and Charlie would work. Mom would lounge by the pool with Jane Russell and Gail Storm while I attended the local grammar school.
I grew up in Toluca Lake on Sancola Avenue, the same street where Sammy Kay, Gordon MacRae and Doris Day lived. Doris’s son Terry was one of my best pals back then. William Holden and Dana Andrews lived on Sancola right up the block. These people were a part of my growing up and it was all normal to me. I paid more attention to the kids than the grown-ups. At about the age of 12 I started delivering newspapers, and at 16, groceries to our neighbors, who were Bob Hope, Walt Disney, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and other stars.
All that said, I had several goals on my recent exploratory trip to California. (I was thinking about moving back home.) Tom Wolfe said something about that but I wanted to see for myself. I wanted to see old high school and college friends as well as relativ es and people I had worked with at CBS. I wanted to have lunch at the Musso and Frank Grill. I wanted to see what had happened to Columbia Square, the old home of CBS and later of KNXT. I wanted to have a drink in the Polo Lounge and Hotel Bel-Air. I wanted to go to Malibu to visit friends. I wanted to pack all that into two weeks. Following are my observations.
First, the Golden State is tarnished. The weather cannot be beaten; probably no place on the planet can remain unaffected by climate change. That said, that is the high point.
The next problem I must mention is homelessness. We know homeless people are everywhere, but Southern California is rife with the problem. When these folks go off their meds and get on drugs of their own choosing, it is a very dangerous circumstance—both for them and anyone around them. There is a wash just south of Palm Springs where we can no longer horseback ride due to the homeless camps. They charge the horses, causing accidents. Then there are the cities…as you get into the cities it is unbelievable. Sad, yes, absolutely, yet there is no governance addressing it—from the governor down to local mayors. It just seems to be overwhelming the state.
There are serious issues with the diminishing water supply and the lack of forest management. And there is no strategy to resolve these issues. My friends who live in Bel Air, Pacific Palisades, Malibu, and Santa Barbara all have “go bags” in the trunks of their cars due to the fear of fire. There have always been fires but they are now literally out of control. These old established neighborhoods are now in constant danger. This is no way to live (and yet people do). Then there are rolling blackouts. Can you imagine 120 degrees in Palm Springs, or anywhere in Southern California for that matter, with no AC? That has happened during the past two years. Living in California is like a lobster living in a pot. Before he knows it, as the temperature rises, he is Thermidor.
Then there is the auto traffic. Six lanes in each direction traveling at six miles per hour with constant stops. Again, just no way to live. So, with no forward-thinking governance to manage any of these major issues—no water, mud slides, fires, homelessness, out of control traffic—how can people live with all this? How will the state pay for solutions? How will these conditions affect insurance and tax rates?
I have great friends in California, old friends. I am able to talk to those pals about the entertainment industry, have great parties to attend, and play golf and tennis all year round. You can even play pickleball outdoors all year. And don’t forget it is the weather, yes, the weather that has drawn people to California. Nevertheless, all I can say, sadly, is: it’s a great place to visit but I sure would not want to live there.