When I least expect it a guy or gal comes in for an audition and without warning brings with them a slice of life I wasn’t at all planning on. Sure I conduct my auditions on schedule; the show must go on and all that sort of thing applies, but somewhere along the way a word or a gesture allows for something special to occur; humanness finds its way between the cracks of our commercial world of puff. There, in an instant or two, I am permitted the pleasure of another man, or woman’s sentiments as they regale over a truth; nothing by design; merely stemming from a mutual need I would guess. No hand signals are given; to the casual observer, what appears in our scene is a “busy as usual” director, trying to stay within his allotted time frame.
On this particular day the guy who stood there before me required, during the “then happening” event, a listener, in this case Harvey Kalmenson, to capture the meaning of every word he spoke. I never felt the pressure of a comprehension test to follow. It was the sheer importance of the man himself, which dictated the importance of my attention to what he was willing to share.
I rarely break for lunch, and almost never have a lunch companion. On this day, lunchtime had long since come and gone. In fact I was more or less on my own for the rest of the afternoon. Man or woman, an experience being honestly shared with an individual in their tenth decade of life is a titled happening to be treasured by the listener; in this case Harvey Kalmenson.
Oftentimes people of a rare vintage offer openings, seemingly without direction. They might name an event, like an occurrence, which took place many years ago in a foreign land:
”I remember how she trembled when finally it was over; Florence was the first lady to swim the English Channel.”
Summer in a very hot San Fernando Valley venue, and without warning a conversation begins on a fog-ridden day across the pond; swimming history occurred on August 8, 1950, when Flo swam the English Channel in 13 hours and 20 minutes, breaking the then-current world record held by American swimmer Gertrude Ederle. Before I could ask the guy what a sixty two year old happening had to do with today’s, he was away and running. This was going to take awhile…
“If ever you’d like to hear about 1932, I think there could be some substance to what I have to say.”
Now that caught my attention. As a matter of fact, it demanded it. I treasure books; films; magazines; presenting documentation of those who came before me. Having a man, who for many years has been a respected community leader, willing to personally take me to an era by way of his first hand living experiences, is, and was of unrivaled magnitude!
In 1932 our Old Guy (or Gal) was age nineteen.
“I’d like for you to try to assimilate the era, Harv. By that I mean…think about all the things we didn’t have, you and yours take for granted today. Few had phones; many dreamed about having a radio for the family’s entertainment; my source for assimilation was verbal communication, newspapers, magazines, books, and the rarity of an occasional movie.”
I settled in and prepared to participate in the afternoon as a listener. While I’m a devout lover of the abstract, I couldn’t quite get a handle on what his reference to assimilate meant for me as an individual who was not yet an inhabitant of the days the Old Guy had lived in; especially as a thirteen year old.
The 1932 Olympics took place in Los Angeles, California. The Coliseum held fourth as a magnificent mainstay of the games. History documents this as possibly the worst worldwide economy ever. Can you imagine the desperation? The USA was the only country in the world to bid for the 1932 Olympic games. Talk about a bleak outlook; six months before the Games were to begin, not a single country had responded to the official invitations. The world was mired in the Great Depression which made the expense of traveling to California seem nearly as insurmountable as the distance. Many of the spectator tickets had not been sold and it seemed that the Memorial Coliseum, which had been expanded to 105,000 seats for the occasion, would be relatively empty. Then, a few Hollywood stars (including Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich, and Mary Pickford) offered to entertain the crowd and ticket sales picked up.
Only 1,300 athletes participated, representing 37 countries. And if you think times sounded bad…try this on for size: The United States presidential election of 1932 was taking place as the effects of the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and the Great Depression were being felt across the country.
In 1932 President Herbert Hoover’s popularity was falling as demonstratively as our current president’s. The voters felt he was worsening the depression through his excessive spending and protectionism. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
But just when you think things can’t get any worse, even the emotions of a thirteen year old boy can be shaken to their core. Poverty hit our household, along with the calamity of what being forced into adult realizations can do to a very young man.
The Olympic games seemed of little importance to me. It was a first time, first hand experience. I had never seen my Mom ill before. Who cared who the President of The United States was? My Dad struggled to bring home enough money to feed the family. No longer dressed in his banker’s garb, he had become a common picker; leaving in the wee hours of the morning at the beginning of each new week, and returning when there was enough money to help support us. I sold newspapers, and delivered prescriptions for the local pharmacy. The friends I had in those days were all in the same boat. Survival was the name of the game. Financially, nothing seemed to get better. The next seven years allowed me to reach manhood. At age nineteen I was completing my second year of study at Los Angeles City College. We were all studying diligently. There was togetherness about LACC. None were on a free ride. Even our conversations were a conscious learning experience. It was a twenty-four hour a day, around the clock effort. Not what most would think? We were dedicated to not falling short. The talk was of events; of the world; of our campus colleagues; some who preached of the most unholy doctrines. One day we had a guy who spoke of a new group called “The Aryan Nation”. He claimed to be its founder. It was the first I’d heard of “Adolph Hitler”. It turned nasty that day. There he stood in the center of our new campus. Until that very moment I had never heard his form of venom. He singled out some of my friends, not aware we were part of the fledgling drama department. It was far too much to take. We took a stand and moved him bodily from the campus, to the cheers of the lunchtime student body. I can remember feeling good about the stand we took and how together we became proud of being young actors. Unfortunately it wasn’t the last we saw of the imbecile. He went on to become a well-known hater. The rest of us completed our two years at the school, and moving forward into what was then still a rather sleepy Los Angeles society.
September 4, 1929, Los Angeles Junior College opened its doors for the first time with over 1,300 students and 54 teachers. It later changed its name to Los Angeles City College.
Notable alumni, many cut from our cloth.
Entertainment Industry Performance:
Bob Arbogast, radio broadcaster and voice actor
Pete Arbogast, radio announcer
Alan Arkin, actor, Academy Award® recipient
Billy Barty, actor and founder, Little People of America
Brenda Benet, actor
Tommy “Butch” Bond, actor
Albert Brooks, actor, comedian and director
Diana Canova, actor
James Coburn, actor, Academy Award® recipient
Clint Eastwood, actor; producer, Academy Award® recipient; director, Acad
emy Award® recipient
Mike Evans, actor
Al Freeman, Jr., actor, Emmy® Award recipient; educator
Morgan Freeman, actor, Academy Award® recipient; producer
Debbie Shapiro Gravitte, actor, Tony Award® recipient
Deidre Hall, actor
Mark Hamill, actor
Michael Harris, actor
Allen “Farina” Hoskins, actor
Jackie Joseph, actor
Margaret Kerry, actor
Wallace Langham, actor
Ruta Lee, actor
Tony Maggio, actor
Whitman Mayo, actor
James Mitchell, actor and dancer
Dickie Moore, actor
Wayne Morris, actor, WWII ace
Shelley Morrison, actor
Stephen Nichols, actor
Jeannette Nolan, actor
Hugh O’Brian, actor, Golden Globe Award® recipient
Rosie Perez, actor and choreographer
Donna Reed, actor, Academy Award® recipient
Maggie Roswell, actor
Alexis Smith, actor, Tony Award® recipient
Louise Sorel, actor
Robert Vaughn, actor, Emmy® Award recipient
Stuart Whitman, actor
Cindy Williams, actor and producer
Esther Williams, actor, Golden Globe Award® recipient
Paul Winfield, actor, Emmy® Award recipient
Jo Anne Worley, actor
Aron Kader, comedian
Production_Nick Grippo, caterer and author
Gary Stockdale, composer for television shows
Ray Aghayan, costume designer, Emmy® Award recipient
Rudy Behlmer, director and author
Charles Burnett, director and writer
F. Gary Gray, director and producer
Michael Lembeck, director, Emmy® Award recipient; actor
Karen Moncrieff, director
Albert and Allen Hughes, directors
José Quintero, directo
Ray Harryhausen, producer, director and special effects artist; special Academy Award® recipient
Bruce Kimmel, director, producer, writer, actor and composer
Mimi Leder, director, Emmy® Award recipient
Gene Roddenberry, producer and screenwriter
True Boardman, screenwriter and actor
John Milius, screenwriter, producer and director
Pat Duke says
One of your best! Everyone should read this. Thank you for sharing. -Pat Duke