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November 2008

There’s an old Chinese curse”: “May you live in interesting times.” If you live in L.A., you live in interesting times. Growing up in L.A. was paradise—now, it’s paradise lost. Take the L.A. freeway system—please! It’s the devil’s own contraption. It’s the “Ben Hur” chariot race. I have developed freeway phobia. My wife, Babs, does the driving—I’m the designated cringer. Where’s everyone going in such a huge ego rush? Nowhere. They’re all on a treadmill to oblivion—if God had intended us to drive cars He’d have given us bigger fingers.

Out among the Alabama Hills of Lone Pine, CA.When once we were kindly invited up to Lone Pine for their film festival, we shouted, “What Ho! for the open highway,” and away we went—have chaps, will travel. I slipped a bunch of cowboy songs into the tape deck and after a soothing three hour drive we arrived in beautiful downtown Lone Pine (pop. 2,000), Mt. Whitney to our left, the Dow Villa Motel to our right. We checked in—our room reminded me of Bogie’s hideout in “High Sierra”. I was Mad Dog Roy Earle, and Babs was Ida Lupino. “Look Pard,” I said, “A beautiful gift basket crammed with goodies.” “Pard was the dog,” said she. “Oh!—Er, do I look tough?” “You’re the closest thing to Humphrey Bogart.” “Really?” “Yes, you remind me of Lauren Bacall...”

Night fell—I peered through a crack in the blinds. The coast was clear. Hugging the walls, we furtively made our way to the motel lobby where the welcoming cocktail party was in high gear and we were two drinks behind. Later, Babs, Sue Ane Langdon, her husband Jack, and I moseyed on down to a local eatery. I learned to spell Sue Ane’s middle name from crosswords. She’s a hoot and a half, funnier than any sit-com.

Next morning we congregated at the nearby school for our panel discussion—the principal had given up her lucrative job in Palm Springs to move here. She loves the people, the beauty and the time to reflect—Amen. I told her young son that he’s lucky to live here. He knows.

The panel discussion reached new heights of fun and silly, mainly because the folks out front were one big smile like the Cheshire cat. Frank Coghlan Jr. said “Shazam!” one more time. (Say, Frank, did Tom Tyler say ‘MAZAHS?’) John Hart gave out with a hearty “Hi Yo Silver, Awayyy!” Denny Miller honored us with his rendition of the Tarzan yell, although without studio sound augmentation it reminded me of the last gasp of a wounded yak. Baddie par excellence Pierce Lyden, as usual, was warmly greeted by a chorus of boos. Loren Janes held us spellbound with stories of stunt doubling Steve McQueen and Debbie Reynolds—now, that’s versatility. Peggy Stewart recounted her famous tale of how she happened to christen Allan “Rocky” Lane ‘Bubble Butt.’ Jimmy Rogers worked up here with Noah Beery Jr. Jimmy sure inherited his dad’s genes along with his boots, hat, and a few lassos. That ornery Mitchum boy, John, showed a softer side to his nature by reciting one of his lovely poems singing the praises of America. He’s the poet laureate of westerns. There’s a wanted poster out for Sue Ane Langdon for stealing the show with her raucous ad libs.

Next morning, a ride into the Alabama Rocks, mecca for lovers of outdoor adventure movies. We breakfasted on caribooo (in honor of Pierce Lyden) at the Pheasant Club—smacka my lips. It stays with you all day—between your teeth! We posed for our official group photo near the elephant bridge location from my favorite flick, “Gunga Din”. In the P.M. we hopped aboard classic cars for the world’s shortest and most affable parade. I wore my fringe jacket—great for waving.

That evening we broke bread with John and Beryl Hart. What a soldier of fortune is John—I’ve long maintained that western actors are much more fascinating than the characters they portray.

Next morning, a Rabelaisian breakfast with John Mitchum, and then—farewell. Lone Pine plays a cruel hand. They invite us up to God’s country—to breathe, to see, to feel; then abruptly send us back to the L.A. basin, the land where the smoke does not rise. But our heart’s in the high lands. We are re-born. We’ll be baaack. Until that time, Lone Pine—Paradise Found—Adios!