Behind the Sheik’s Beard

Reflections

In the early 1960s when I was a student at Hollywood High School, I wrote a column for the Hollywood High News called Behind the Sheik’s Beard. The name was a tip of the hat to Rudolph Valentino, the inspiration for our mascot, the Sheik.

Many celebrities and other famous people attended Hollywood High before my time, including film directors Edward Dmytryk and John Huston, actors Jason Robards, John Ritter, James Garner, Mitzy Gaynor, Gloria Grahame, Barbara Hershey, Alan Hale, Jr., Richard Jaeckel, Sally Kellerman, Carole Lombard, Joel McCrea, Ann Miller, Sarah Jessica Parker, Fay Wray, Alexis Smith, David and Rickey Nelson. And of course, Lana Turner, who discovered across the street at the Top Hat malt shop.

I am not so sure that all the claims are true. I once asked Mickey Rooney, who is widely believed to have attended Hollywood High, if it was true. He said, “No. I went to Fairfax.”

During my three years there, my fellow classmates included Johnny Crawford, his brother, Bobby and Mike Smith, all Mouseketeers from the original Mickey Mouse Club. Actresses Mimsy Farmer and Swoozy Kurtz and Yolanda Veloz were also students during my time. So was Catherine “Gypsy” Share of the Manson Family. Tuesday Weld is another student I question. Who could have missed her on campus? Or Stefanie Powers, Cher or Yvette Mimieux? I know I don’t remember them.

There were many others, long gone, some remembered, many forgotten.

Those were good times and make for good memories. I drove by the campus recently and it seems half the student body wears hoodies an grunge attire. I never wore jeans one day in three years. We were part of a generation that took grooming seriously.

Every Friday when there was a football game at home or across town, I wore my red sweater and white pegged pants, known as peggers.

The Santa Claus Lane Parade

It was traditional that the Hollywood High School Marching Band opened the Santa Claus Lane Parade each year on Hollywood Boulevard. The Hollywood High ROTC also was given the honor of operating as security between parade goers and the floats and celebrities riding down the Boulevard in automobiles.

On November 21, 1962, Danny Thomas was the Grand Marshal. I had a press pass from the school newspaper and I used it to to do brief interviews with Pat Boone, Danny Thomas, Sheb Wolly, Skipper Frank, Bob Clampet and a personal favorite, Soupy Sales. Soupy was the biggest star in the parade that year. I was walking along the Boulevard in front of the ropes as kids broke through to rush his car. I approached him for a few words of “advice to teenagers” as the car slowly made its way down the parade route. He yelled at me to jump up on the convertible and ride with him. Thrill of a life time!

Back then, there was TV coverage up and down the Boulevard from Highland to Vine, unlike more recent times where the only TV camera is stationary at Highland. The Academy Awards presentations were held at the Pantages Theatre then and the local TV stations mounted cameras high above the crowd as limousines discharged movie stars in front of the theater. I attended the ceremonies every year in the bleachers with all the other fans. One year, walking home from Le Conte Jr. High on the afternoon of the Oscars, I saw John Wayne standing on the sidewalk in sports clothes in front of the Pantages. I asked him for an autograph and he kindly signed his name on a piece of notebook paper.

Digging up the past is an exercise in looking through rose colored glasses, but those days were exciting. Almost every weekend, Klieg lights criss-crossed the night sky above Hollywood Boulevard as new movies were premiered at the Chinese, the Warner Brothers, Egyptian and the Pantages theaters. First run movies, such as Sparticus, Westside Story and Cleopatra seemed to play for months at the same theater. There were about a dozen first run theaters in those days and every Saturday I would walk down to the Boulevard and pick a movie.

But the Santa Claus Lane Parade was the big event of the year. It opened the season for shopping on the Boulevard. Grand Marshals included Bing Crosby and Groucho Marx and many others. All the stores stayed open until 9 pm and families strolled along, stopping at the Broadway Hollywood and others shops for Christmas presents. Mission Pak opened specialty stores every year. Families started Christmas savings accounts at local banks in January and cashed them in to buy presents in December. Every night following the parade, Santa Claus rode down the Boulevard in his float and “ho ho ho” filled the air.

“It’s Music City, Sunset & Vine”

Everyone who listened to KFWB (“Color Radio”) in the late 1950s and 1960s, will remember that jingle, sung by many of the famous recording artists of the day, including Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole.

When I was a student at Le Conte Junior High School I would often stop at Wallich’s Music City on my way home from school and play records in the listening booths. There were 21 booths, all facing Sunset Boulevard. Customers were allowed three albums and fifteen minutes to play them. The two regular employees that all the regulars knew were Paul and Jerry, two men with whom I would later become co-worker and friend.

Wallich’s was a unique music store. It covered the corner of Sunset and Vine and stretched to Morningside on the west. It had a huge parking lot and a large interior. The main entrance on Vine opened to the radio and television consoles department. The sheet music area was adjacent and an electronics department was just beyond. The main floor housed the demonstration records with a singles (45 rpm) counter on one side and the LP (long play records) counter on the other. There was also a large selection of single records, both new releases and oldies. Near the rear entrance was a ticket sales department. Talk about one stop shopping – with full service to boot.

I was working at the World Theater on Hollywood Boulevard after I graduated from high school. The night manager of Music City, Hugh McCurley, stopped by the theater late one night and offered me a job at the record store. I was making 1.50 an hour as an usher and he offered me 2.00 an hour, a big raise. I took the job and found myself working beside Paul and Jerry on the evening shift at the singles counter. I stood behind the counter and pressed a button to open the turnstile for customers to enter the listening booths.

Many famous people stopped by and many stayed and chatted at night. We stayed open until 2 am and over the years a number of celebrities would stop by when the store was quiet. One Saturday afternoon, comedian Red Skelton walked his wife up to the counter so she could listen to some records. There was room in each booth for two people, but Red stayed at the counter and asked if he could come around and help me out. He stayed for almost an hour, pressing the buzzer and acting like an employee while customers recognized him but hardly said a word.

Johnny Rivers was playing at the Whiskey a Go Go on the Strip and he would come by in the daytime and go through the singles section, picking out 45 rpms for his collection. Rickey Nelson stopped by and lost his keys one day. Someone turnd them in to me and, since it had his name of the key fob, I knew he would be back after he went to his car in the parking lot. Shen he reentered through the rear door, I held them up and he thanked me and headed out again.

Mickey Dolenz, of the Monkees worked at Wallich’s back then, but I remember Tommy Boyce, song writer for the group coming in the store on a break from his job as usher at ABC up the street. Johnny Mathis would hang around some nights as if he had nothing better to do. One day Shelley Winters and Stella Stevens came by to play records. I let them stay as long as they wanted.

Glen Wallich opened Music City in 1940 and in 1942, he, along with Johnny Mercer and Buddy DeSylva, founded Capitol Records. So, in 1964, when Meet the Beatles was released, I had to wear a Beatles wig as part of the promotion. The Beatles needed no promotion. Their records flew off the shelves and I tossed out the wig first chance. In 1966, I went to see the Rolling Stones at the Sports Arena on a Friday night. The next night, Saturday, they came into Wallich’s and bought stacks of records. The Byrds, the Mamas and Papas and many more would spend time. They were all friendly.

I talked with Sal Mineo for a long time one night at the LP counter, when I got a promotion and started selling on commission. Rock Hudson would come by and Burt Lancaster was a regular.

For many years, Wallich’s Music City thrived, selling records at list price, while discount stores popped up around town and eventually closed. There was nothing like Wallich’s. Every long play record on the large sales floor was a demonstration record, to be played in the booths. If someone wanted to buy a record, they went to the LP counter and were given a new, shrink wrapped copy. Wallich’s invented shrink wrap for records.

But then one day, Tower Records opened on the Sunset Strip. Discounted records with little service to go with them and no demo records to play, and the end was in sight. It reminds me of when “pump your own gas” first started. Customers were given a cheaper price if they pumped their own gas at filling stations. Then, when everyone got used to it, prices went up and service disappeared. And, in similar fashion, Wallich’s Music City disappeared as well.

Coffee Shops & Hangouts

Before Starbucks and the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf