Carroll Pratt – December 12th, 2008

GEDC0087Last Friday morning, I drove up into the hills above Indian Creek in Philo to meet with eighty-seven year old Carroll Pratt. We sat down to talk in the lodge behind the family home, surrounded by several statuettes and plaques awarded to Carroll for his work over many years in the film and television industry…
Carroll was born in Hollywood, California in 1921 to a Canadian mother and a father from Seattle, who worked on the sound for many of the movies being made at M.G.M. Studios during those early days of cinema. This line of work eventually led to the family moving to Australia for three years in 1930 where Carroll’s father worked on the first ever sound movies to be made ’down under’. They returned to southern California in 1933 and Carroll attended Santa Monica High School, graduating in 1939 with the goal of one day working in the Forestry Department, “I thought that it was time to control the deforestation that was occurring at an alarming rate”.
He attended Santa Monica Junior College for two years and intended to go to Oregon State to pursue his forestry studies when, following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and the resulting U.S. embroilment in World War Two, the Air Force dropped its age requirements and he signed up for flight school. Within six months, by the summer of 1942, he was a 2nd Lieutenant and the co-pilot of a B24 Bomber, and following his marriage to Mary Ellen, off he went to war…
Initially stationed in England he spent the next year flying missions over Italy, Romania, and southern Germany from bases in North Africa. “I flew with some wonderful young men and an excellent lead pilot – much better than me!” Then in October 1943, with his plane and its crew now at the lead of the 44th Air Force Division, they were shot down over Austria, just outside Vienna. “I had never seen a barrage like it. We had no chance and, with the plane on fire and so much fuel on board about to blow up, we parachuted out. One of our guys was petrified and couldn’t jump. His parachute was open and wrapped around him as he sat semi-conscious with fear at the door. I grabbed him and held on to him as we jumped out. When the jet stream hit us he was ferociously pulled from my arms and I was helpless as he fell to earth – his parachute never did open.”
Not long after landing Carroll was captured by the local militia and, following several days of interrogation in solitary confinement, he was loaded into a box car with many other prisoners and transferred to Stalag Luft III prisoner-of-war camp in Poland. “Whilst in the camp I learnt that my daughter, Mary Katherine, had been born”. He was there for over a year until the winter of 1944/45 when he was moved to Stalag VIII Camp near to Frankfurt in Germany following a terrible five-day forced march.” It was very hard that winter in the camp – supplies were getting very low. By early 1945 the Russians were approaching and the Germans were sending many of the younger, trigger-happy prison guards to the Eastern Front to hold them off. As a result, the camp was left in the hands of elderly soldiers in far fewer numbers, so five of us were able to break out through a part of the fence where there were no guards and we headed for a nearby town.”
“There was complete chaos everywhere. At one point we met up with some fellow American soldiers. One was a tank commander who, in exchange for my leather-flying jacket, gave me a handgun without a hammer or bullets and an old car! We remembered the guys back in the camp who were starving and so we went around to various farms in the car and, using my useless gun as a threatening weapon, took potatoes and chickens, which we killed in a bloody mess. One farmhouse belonged to the Mayor and when he saw me covered in the blood (from the chickens), and with my gun in hand, he went down on his knees and begged for his life – I just took his chickens. Another family cooked them for us before we returned to the camp at night and passed the food through the fence for the starving prisoners.”
Carroll and the others then headed for France in the car and, after a brief delay following their discovery of a transport plane full of brandy which they drank too much of and were all violently ill, they were amongst the first escaped P.O.W.’s to arrive in Paris. “I weighed about 100 pounds and could hardly walk due to lice bites so I was in hospital for a time before eventually being put on a liberty ship heading back to the States. During that trip to New York we were told that the war in Europe had come to an end.”
He returned to Santa Monica and began working at M.G.M studios where his father now worked as a supervisor in the sound department. Shortly thereafter he and his wife split up and, due to her health problems, he was given custody of his young daughter, whom his parents helped to raise…In the following years he fine tuned his skills in audio as a recording engineer, play-back editor, and eventually a production mixer. He then began to work with Charlie Douglass, the inventor of the ‘audience reaction machine’ – “Not the ‘laugh machine’ – that’s a no-no. And I did not invent it. That myth drives me crazy. Charlie invented it and we worked on it together”…
Over the next few years Carroll was completely immersed in his work, performing ninety-hour weeks in the film and television world. He was involved in many, many films made in the fifties and when he set up his own company, Sound One, with his brother, they went freelance and worked for other studios such as Fox and Paramount, as well as M.G.M. He received special recognition for his work on the Oscar-winning musical ‘Oklahoma’ along with several Emmys during this period and then when his brother emigrated to Australia, Carroll took over the running of the company and staff by himself. In 1957 he was married again, to Jean, and son Scott was born a few years later but he and Jean eventually split up in 1965.
“My work took over my life at that time. I went all over the world working on films and television” and more honors followed – his work on the classic television show, ‘M.A.S.H.’, earning him a further Emmy in 1971. During one of his few vacations, in the summer of 1976, Carroll and new companion, Carole, were heading for the Trinity Alps when they passed through Anderson Valley. ‘We loved everything we saw and I thought what a wonderful place to retire”. He bought property in the Valley in 1979 and married Carole in 1982. They made numerous visits to the Valley over the next few years before moving here permanently in 1989 to what had previously been the Golden Fleece Ranch, where he has lived ever since.
Carroll immediately threw himself into various Valley causes and was to join the boards of several organizations over the ensuing years. His main focus was on the local public radio station, started in 1988 by Sean Donovan, to whom he donated money to get the project off the ground. Carroll had two studios from Sound One and gave then to the station and in the early days had his own show, ‘T.G.I.F.’, but these days, whilst he continues to give support, he is far more in the background. Whilst continuing to be on many boards/committees he is now also the co-owner of the Boonville Lodge Bar & Grill, but again he leaves most of the hands-on work to others.
When I asked where he liked to hang out in the Valley he answered, “I love to be here at my property. It is my favorite place. I used to love flying in the Valley and had two planes at the airport but not anymore. My physical disabilities have curtailed many of my activities. I have spinal stenosis – the calcification of every vertebrae in my back – and the curvature of my spine will continue to get worse and worse, along with the pain”.
“I love the Valley and the way in which the people here support each other. So many hands come out to help. Where I come from, next-door neighbors don’t know each other. It amazes me, such a close community – ex-hippies, rednecks, loggers, city-folk – all coming together. The factional problems between the various communities have improved immensely, the quality of eating venues has greatly changed for the better, and the Health Center changes have been great. There’s nothing I don’t really like about the Valley. I suppose law and order could be more of a presence sometimes but overall, really, what’s not to like?”
I wondered if Carroll had ever thought of moving away, and if so where to? “I have thought at times that I could live back in Australia. My brother is still there, in Tasmania actually. As for vacations, Maui would be nice, or perhaps Mexico. I speak quite fluent Spanish so that would be somewhere I’d like to go again. Now my physical limitations will probably prevent me from going anywhere but that’s fine, I’ve been to so many places around the world and had wonderful times everywhere”…
I then asked Carroll for his responses to various entities in the Valley…The wineries? – “They are a big part of our economy. They contribute to the community in one-way or another. I have no problem with them as long as they operate within acceptable guidelines of decorum. They must contribute to the welfare and education of the families of their workers”…KZYX & Z? – It is certainly an attribute to the Valley. It is well handled and is much needed in a rural community such as ours. Some of the on-air volunteers are not the greatest but they are faithful to the cause and I applaud them.”…The A.V.A.? – “Since Bruce Anderson returned it is 100% improved. The community spirit he now displays shows to me that he is more conscious of his readers. In the past it seemed he was out to give everyone a hard time but that seems to have changed”…The High School? – “I am amazed at the achievements of our High School. I am very proud of it. Having said that I was disappointed in recent times to discover that some students were not advised thoroughly as to the scholarships available to them and the teachers and counselors should be more on top of this”…
The next poser for Carroll to think about was his choice for Mayor of Anderson Valley, if there were to be such a position – “Well, I think that there are two positions to consider here. For a functioning Mayor, someone making decisions on the Valley, I would choose Kirk Wilder from the Airport. As for a position of Honorary Mayor, I believe that Eva Johnson or Jerry Cox would be excellent choices”…
This led me to ask what he would do if he was Mayor and could make improvements to Valley life – “Well, I’d love to see a bank in town once again. This would be useful for the whole community…And perhaps a taxi company of some sorts, although this might be difficult of course. A parking set-up in downtown Boonville would be beneficial also; instead of the current ‘Chinese fire-drill’ we have where people do not respect others with their parking habits”…
To end the interview, I posed a few questions from a list originally devised by French Interviewer and Culture “Expert”, Bernard Pivot, and featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton”…
What is your favorite word pr phrase? – “Contentment”.
What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “Factionalism – strife between groups”.
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Forgiveness and compassion”.
What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Those with quick-tempers and who negatively categorize people”.
What sound or noise do you love? – “Orchestral music”.
What sound or noise do you hate? – “Screams of pain by humans or animals”.
What is your favorite curse word or phrase? – “Shit!!!”
What is your favorite hobby? – “Gardening”
What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted? – “A novelist – writing was my favorite subject at school…Or perhaps even a vet”.
What profession would you not like to do? – “I would not like to be in a job dealing with people’s physical pain and suffering…Nor a psychologist, or worse yet, a psychiatrist”.
Do you have any words to live by? – “The phrase ‘do unto others as you would have others do unto you’ is a doctrine I have tried to follow”.
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?  – “You did what you could”.

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Published in: on December 17, 2008 at 5:03 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. Carroll Pratt passed away on 11-11-2010. In spite of everything else he accomplished and/or was involved with in his extradinary life, he always had time for AVAnimal Rescue, located here in the Anderson Valley.

    Since the inception of our nonprofit organization in 2000, until his passing, Carroll Pratt was a member of our Board of Directors – thank you Carroll. His surviving wife Carol was also a board member for most of those years.

    All involved with Animal Rescue of Anderson Valley feel Carrolls loss and extend our sympathies to the Pratt family and thank them all for their generous support over the years.

    More information on Carroll will soon be available on our website at http://www.avanimalrescue.org

    Thank you Steve Sparks for this article on Carroll which was also featured on http://www.theava.com


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