The scrub brush of the Los Angeles Griffith Park cast a fractured shadow from the blazing sun on the Observatory Trail, closest to a vista view. In the largest municipal park in the U.S, sunlight and dryness contrasted deeply in my soul, far from the fresh, green lawns of White Bear Lake. Age twenty-seven, a Midwest transplant, I grasped the vastness on that hill, the low lying Santa Monica mountains that did not tower like the majestic San Gabriel range ten miles east. Rising geographical terrain gives one a viewpoint but not a reason for transplanting to a 25 million populated metropolis. I put into effect my past skills. Clinging to a past identity as a long distance running star would get me through the next four years. Finding a parking spot in Los Feliz where I lived was often a twenty minute ordeal. The pink mansion one block away across Franklin gave me a hint of income lines. Mary Wilson, a former Supreme, lived there and one day, I may cross the line from Harvard to Franklin into Brad & Angelina Jolie-Pitt’s future neighborhood.
I joined a Baptist church where my sister worshipped. A Southern Baptist church in West Hollywood was a contrast in itself. It was the largest concentration of the gay population in the U.S. and my pastor was a conservative, believing being gay was a sinful choice. However, the church was a celebrity magnet. My pastor’s wife was a distant cousin of Alice Cooper, Sally Struthers had visited, Faith Ford attended my church as well as Richard Karn. Sugar Ray Leonard saw my Easter play I mounted for the pastor. The church was a spiritual nucleus that strangely enough gave me comfort and would launch my playwriting career. Larry Welch, a go-getter in the church with an MFA in theatre decided to open a theatre company. I had coincidentally written a play, in the same year Dances with Wolves would create a big hit. I had no idea my Native American play would co-opt the success of Kevin Costner’s movie. I later saw Kevin Costner in the El Adobe restaurant across from Paramount Studies. I told him in the middle of his dinner, “Your choice in subject matter led me to success.” He asked me the name of the play and I told him I would send the script. Larry produced my play “Father, Save Your Skin” for a ten week run. It went to the American Indian Film Festival in 1990 at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco then produced for cable television. Amidst this unintended success, I logged mentally the chronology of my Hollywood acquaintances.
My friend, De De West, was a longtime companion of Allan Nixon, who was a one hit wonder in the movie Prehistoric Women. He was married to Marie Wilson, another Hollywood starlit whose house burned in a fire and nearly her with it. Later, Marie died of cancer at age 56. Allan later became a great writer whose best novel was “The Last of Vicki.” I would sit with him in his garage and he would show me past manuscripts. One time, he tried to look younger. He died his hair blonde and it turned out green. He was recruited over the age of 70 by Mary Beal, a writing agent in Hollywood, after attending a screenwriting workshop in our church. The same night, Allan and Bill Dekle, another actor, were held at gunpoint outside the church, forced to empty their wallets. Errol Flynn’s wife would call the American Red Cross where I worked to talk to De De. Nellie Olson from Little House on the Prairie came to our church in 1988 to talk about HIV/Aids because her television husband died of the disease. I met Bruce Dern and Lauren Bacall at Spagos, one of the most famous West Hollywood venues. It wasn’t until I became a director of a play that I saw the underside of fame. My close friend and feature lead of my play, Joseph Runningfox, had starred as the lead role in two movies “Geronimo” and “Lakota Woman: Siege at Wounded Knee”” in which he played Leonard Crow Dog. He also appeared in Ishi: The Last of his Tribe in which has recruited off a baseball field at Brigham Young University for the role. He was a complicated person that spoke of the modern world and what he liked versus the natural world, the identity to which he clung coming from the Pueblo tribe of Santa Fe, New Mexico. He had a drinking problem. One night he fought with the theatrical director of our company and he left the show and drove forty miles north of the city the day before opening night. I had to chase him in the high hills of San Fernando and never did find him. Later, he was replaced by Darrell Redleaf (Fielder) who became a famous Hollywood hair stylist on the Style Channel. Joe and I stayed friends for over twenty years. At the height of his drug and alcohol abuse, I used to bring him Whoppers from Burger King to his cocaine haven, the La Pasada motel on Saticoy and Sepulveda in a seedy part of the San Fernando Valley. He once slept on the floor in my rented house. He made a slight comeback in some plays and movies. He played bit roles in tv shows like “A Thief of Time” and “Sons of Anarchy.” He later found sobriety but not until paranoia and fear almost took over. He feared the press even when he was not a target of the paparazzi. He thought his phone calls might be tapped and feared the press scanned his Facebook wall. I befriended the mother of his chld who was serious with Andrew Morton, the inflated biographer of famous people from England. I guess the strangest connection to my Hollywood exposure was with my Pastor, Milo Ken Anderson. He had officiated at my young daughter’s funeral in 1992 in Stoughton, Wisconsin. After relocating to California like me in about 1999, his son died suddenly from a heart attack at age 27. His daughter, Rachael Anderson, was only 18 when her brother died. Her brother, Kevin, had many friends attend his funeral. Since he was a flim editor, there were some Hollywood prototypes in the crowd. Strangely enough, Angelina Jolie’s brother, James Haven, fell in love with the 18 year old Rachael at that day of mourning. They tailspinned into a five year romance and he proposed to her at the five year mark. Then he got cold feet. I resented him distantly for building up and crumbling the world of a young girl. She was too young to be wielded into the world of fame only to be crushed by his indecision. He ended up trying to hang onto her after she dumped him. I had two degrees of separation from Angelina Jolie. My pastor got to go to her house for Thanksgving and meet Jon Voight for dinner a few times, counseling him on his relationship with Angelina Jolie. Beyond my up close experiences with celebrities, I realize success may bring them comfort but not peace of mind. I later had religious battles with Darrell Redleaf about Christianity. He insisted I watch Zeitgeist on Good Friday and I told him I refused to do so. I lost one of my Hollywood connections over religious conflict. No one was trying to save eachother but he was definitely anti-Christian. I wasn’t going to sacrifice my religious beliefs for a Hollywood contact. Now, I am away from the Hollywood scrubbrush, the Co2 toxic traffic, the perpetual sunlight and an occassional recognizable famous face. I am on the down low in the Midwest with no claims to fame. Just some gravitational memories. I drew the same conclusions of Hollywood my parents generation would have. De De West and Allan Nixon of Hollywood’s Golden Age were the real deal. She would wear classic red lipstick, pull her hair back, had penetrating eyes and smoked with a fancy extension on her cigarettes, drank cocktails at night and ate at the Silver Spoon on Santa Monica Boulevard every night. She knew her place in Hollywood and didn’t lose her sense of her earned right to be there, stemming back to the hey day of the Fomosa Café partying aura. They grasped their Hollywood legacy while still living it. The modern age actors got fame in the same back handed way as me but never found their direction.