Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Paul Dandridge and John Gilmore: Two Conversations in the Valley

Ray & John: Two Noir Guys, Just Sittin' Around Talkin'
Yesterday, I made the trek from Venice out to the lovely, San Fernando Valley… I had a little business out there.  I had a lunch appointment with my pal and iconic L.A. writer John Gilmore. But before that, I had to get take my car to get a smog check at a place that I’ve been going to for that past few years (I’m a creature of habit and they had sent me a $10 off coupon… it worked for me.) This place (Eagle Smog Check @ 14855 Magnolia Blvd) is really fast, and usually there’s never long wait, well today there was one other person there before me, it turned out to be veteran L.A. TV reporter Paul Dandridge. I’m sure if you’re a native of this town, or have been here for any number of years you know his face, he was always the Johnny on the spot, man on the street with the kinda Bob Redford look about him.

Paul Dandridge's is a heck of a reporter and a great guy!
Eagles Smog Check in Van Nuys
Mister Dandridge did stints on all the major news teams in town. But, I remember him especially as part of the great; Eye Witness News Team on ABC channel 7 (or as I remember K-ABC TV.)  I mentioned to him, that I was working as a page on the same lot on Prospect Ave. in Hollywood during that time. That opened it up for a nice entertaining conversation that made the time waiting for our cars go by rather quick ( I always seem to bump into people from my past lives, my old girlfriend always used to say; "Can't you go anywhere without running into someone you know?")
Paul, told me that he too had started out as a page back in N.Y. at CBS. This made me wonder, why I never made it to the Eye Witness News Team? The closest I got to that, was filling in during the holidays, for the page that usually guarded the door, because of a stalker problem one of the anchors had at the time. But seriously, as a native Angeleno talking to someone like Paul Dandridge for a few, was a real kick! I had had to ask him about the weather detail… you know when it’s snowing, and they send a reporter out to someplace like Ridgecrest or the Grapevine, just to stand in the snow for two minutes, to let everyone know that it’s snowing! I always felt for the reporter that had pulled that detail, can you imagine the miserable drive back to L.A.? He actually said, that he didn’t mind that at the time (but he dosen't miss it.) He said what was worse was standing in front of a locked up empty courthouse at 11 PM after a big trials been over for hours. I happened to have my camera with me in my travels; he asked what kinda stuff that I liked to shoot? I said anything but paparazzi stuff. That lead to him telling me of when he was assigned to cover the death of movie star Rock Hudson in the 80’s and what a crazy frenzy he remembered as the paparazzo’s tried to get that last photo of his body being taken out of his house in Beverly Hills. 
Jerry Dumphy
Baxter Ward
We talked about some of the newscasters of L.A.’s past like Jerry Dumphy and George Putnam, and how there was a time when all the news anchors had to be of a certain older age, the opposite of the way TV news is now. He also talked about how TV news has changed since cable and now off course the smart phone phenomena. I remember the days when the opening music for Eye Witness News was Lalo Schifrin's music from the Paul Newman movie, Cool Hand Luke (from the road race taring scene.) I even threw out the name, Baxter Ward, the channel 7 anchor from the 1960's (hey, I've been around a while, baby!) who in the 1970’s became a L.A. County Supervisor; Dandridge remembers that Ward never shook hands, because he was wary of germs (which he thought was kinda hard for a politician?)  Dandridge also mentioned that the NBC studios in beautiful downtown Burbank was great because of it’s centralized location, and its top notch commissary.
The Gilmore Look
The Hero Shot!

I next paid a visit to my friend John Gilmore (often described as the “quintessential L.A. noir writer” and the only person that I know actually met, one Elizabeth Short a.k.a. the Black Dahlia.) As both native Angelinos, John and I are muy simpatico, so I like to check in with him every couple months for lunch and conversation; this afternoon headed to Corky’s, a coffee shop with pretty blond waitresses on Van Nuys Blvd. Like Paul Dandridge, L.A.’s been Gilmore’s beat longer than prop 13 has been on the books!

John's a friendly fella
Over potato leak soup and corned beef on rye, the topics of our visit ranged from John telling me about a current crop of interviews to promote some of his past books: LA Despair, Severed (the best book ever written about the Black Dahlia case), etc. all that are coming out in digital book form. The conversation then steered to Tony Curtis. John had been approached to participate in a French documentary on the late actor. Ten years John’s senior, he had met the 50’s matinee idol a few times, when he used to hang around at Universal.  As a young man, Curtis had made an impression on him. He said that he’d met him in the commissary shortly after Curtis had made the picture Criss Cross, where he had a famous dance scene with Yvonne De Carlo, John’s recalled that the young brash actor exclaimed to him, “I had three lines, and those *!#@$uckers cut them out of the picture!
Yvonne De Carlo & Tony Curtis: Criss Cross
John asked me, if I remember an actress named Faith Domergue? She was mostly remembered as one of Howard Hughes’s starlets. He recalled how she was working on a picture at Universal called, Cult of the Cobra, and he hung by the set to try and met her. I said I know that movie ... David Janssen and Richard Long were in that, right? John laughed, impressed that I would no such an obscure B horror movie (and, so was I actually.) 
Faith Domergue
We also talked about his favorite watering hole, Musso and Frank’s, which Gilmore’s been patronizing since the 50’s. Located on Hollywood Blvd., M & F has been the premier L.A. hangout of such classic writers as Fitzgerald, Hammett, Faulkner, Fante, Cain, Chandler and West (and the list goes on and on.)
I didn’t mention to John that my current "writers hang" when I can swing it, is Costo; with its hotdog and Coke, $1.50 combo. We also touched upon places that are now long gone, such as Oblatt’s  (John spoke of meeting Marilyn Monroe there for lunch while she was doing some looping for her final film The Misfits) and I brought up Nickodell, yet another classic watering hole nnow gone, it sat right next to Paramount (it had telephones in the booths that went directly to the studio operator. I got to enjoy a little time there before its last call in 1993.And ironically it was famous for being Jerry Dumphy's joint when he went to K Cal 9 to do the news, as it was located right next door... rumor has it that "Dumph" was a little more relaxed during the 10 PM news broadcast (FYI, I did not hear that from Paul Dandridge! That was just the town legend... from the desert to the sea...) I also remember some classic paintings of naked women that adorned the walls at Nickodell... they were very famous to the patrons of the place.
And John got to here me bitch over the really uninspired architectural design of the apartment complex that now sits on the site of the old Perino’s restaurant, which was located on the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Norton Avenue. It was were the Hollywood stars would rub elbows with the L.A. gangsters. It was used for years as a popular film location. John looked up and said, "I can see that classic Perino’s sign right now."
Always the writer, John always spoke of the epic novel that he’s doing battle to finish, with two more novels on deck after that. (John used a couple of my photos for the cover and the title page of his last book; Hollywood Blvd.)
I mentioned to him of the some one noir-ish one acts plays that I’ve just written, and how I hope to put up in some manner soon (hopefully this year.)  He liked that one of the characters in one of the pieces happened to be a carnival clown (in homage to the great silent film star Lon Chaney... and possibly the greatest actor who ever lived?) 
Lon Chaney don't play that!
I also, told him about this very blog (I guess, I had never mentioned it before?) together going on my second year.) After lunch we swung back to his home to wrap up our visit, until it was time for him to get back to his writing and me back on the 405 before rush hour, it was a good day hangin’ with two classic L.A. dudes; "three" if I count myself?

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