Ted Bennett – February 20th, 2009

GEDC0118I met with Navarro Vineyards founder and owner Ted Bennett last Friday morning at the winery’s beautiful setting alongside Highway 128, north of Philo.
Ted was born in 1937 in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, to parents Edward Bennett and Mildred Davies. His forebears were from England/Wales and his father, who had little formal education, was a butcher at an uncle’s shop whilst Ted’s mother, who had run away from home and a “cruel” father at sixteen, first found work at a wool mill as an ‘invisible re-weaver’ in southern England before being sent to Canada as the business expanded. She soon moved up. They had met at a dance, were soon married, and lived in a house on Rideau Street alongside the famous Rideau Canal where Ted was born. “My mother had a good job – she was now a manager, and so when she was at work I was raised by a nanny, Beatrice Hughes and her daughter Evelyn. They helped educate me as a young child and I was reading at an early age. I had chemistry set at the age of six and went from kindergarten to 2nd grade. My brother Richard didn’t come along until I was ten and so I was an only child growing up – I don’t play well in groups!”…It was around this time that Ted developed a stutter, something he has dealt with throughout his life. “I did well at school but I was not very social – the stuttering made it difficult. The diagnosis at the time was simply that my brain was too fast for my mouth.”
When Ted was nine the family moved to Toronto, where Ted’s father opened his own grocery store. “He was very personable, a good salesman – the business did well for a time before he came down with severe rheumatoid arthritis. He lay flat on his back all day in bed – he was so bad that when I would pull a sheet over him the weight of that sheet would be so painful he would sometimes cry. I got a paper route to help financially, soon I had three, and my mother took on extra garment repair jobs from work – she was an expert ‘invisible re-weaver… It was not enough and the store went bust and the family was bankrupt.”
Eventually Ted’s father recovered but no sooner had this happened than his mother, exhausted and distressed by all that had occurred, had a nervous breakdown and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. “We had moved to the Italian section of town – it was rough and I was the only Anglo Saxon wimp at a high school full of tough Italian kids. My Dad found work at a butcher’s shop and I worked there sometimes to get a little extra money. Eventually my mother got better and we moved to the thirteen islands off the shoreline of Toronto. I loved it there – no cars, catching a ferry to school every day – I learned to sail at that time. Then when my mother became ill again my Dad decided our future was elsewhere and so we sold everything and left in a used Chevy and headed for California – my parents, who had had little education, wanted to provide it for their kids and my Dad thought California was the best place to get that.”
Following a two-month drive they arrived in Los Angeles but had little money left and Ted’s father found work on the coast in Pismo Beach. “My mother loved the ocean and so we settled there to help with her recovery and then we moved on to Santa Maria. I attended Arroyo Grande High School near to Pismo Beach and commuted with the Chemistry teacher. We got on very well and he let me play in the lab during breaks. I graduated in 1954 and went to Cal Berkeley to study Chemistry that fall.”
At the end of his sophomore year of college his mother relapsed and he left college to work as a stock clerk and cashier to support the family. He had a couple of years doing this during which time he joined the A.F.L.- C.I.O. union and formulated some of the ideas about workers’ rights that he holds to this day. “The money I earned helped to pay mother’s hospital bills and the rest of my degree. I lived in the heart of Berkeley, at a house run by a Japanese family who felt sorry for me, I think. They were lovely people and it was a lovely place.”
“Berkeley was a whole new colorful world to me and broadened my horizons so much. There were different cultures, different foods, different ideas. I had a great time there. I worked in various grocery stores in the area finally settling at the Seven Palms Market where I became a sort of night manager with a schedule that worked around my lectures and studying and, after some negotiating, I received a union wage.”
On his return to collegeTed had changed his major to Forestry and then to Business with emphasis on marketing and accounting. He graduated in 1960 and began to look for work. Initially he started in an office at Montgomery Ward in Oakland but he soon knew this world was not for him. “I just could not exist in an office/corporate environment. It was not a place that could make me happy.”
He settled at a small wholesale electronics firm called Pacific Radio Supply owned by two partners. ‘The younger of the two, Tom Andersen, was my mentor in the business world at that time. He forced me to become an outside salesman. I had headaches every day for six months as I found it very hard to talk and sell. However, I learned to somewhat control my stuttering during this time and with age it’s effects have become less and less.” The business was not doing well and losing money so Ted suggested that the partners give him some shelves where he could put in a stereo department. “My love for chemistry had shifted to the science of audio – it was a success!”
Within a couple of years half the store was parts and half stereo. “I came up with the idea of selling a complete music system rather than individual components – receivers, speakers, etc. The business took off. We changed the name to Pacific Stereo and opened a store on Market Street in San Francisco. I became a partner and followed my philosophy of ‘good vibes marketing’ wherein we gave good warranties, were very customer friendly, paid the highest wages, and even moved the small print at the bottom of our invoices to the top and in bold so nothing was hidden from the customer. This was accompanied by the words, ‘we hereby give our word of honor’…Our research found that most of our customers were highly educated but with low incomes. The first three things they wanted were a bed, a fridge, and a stereo. This was Berkeley in the sixties and we adapted to our environment.”
Over the next few years the business expanded into southern California, growing at 50% a year. Then C.B.S. made an offer to buy them out. The partners accepted this and signed a deal which enabled them to remain as managers on a five-year contract. “This worked well for a time with Clive Davies as President of Columbia. He didn’t mind that I wore Levi’s and a t-shirt and we got on very well. I even felt that perhaps I was in line for the next head of Columbia Records. Then one day two F.B.I. agents came to the office and arrested Clive on charges of being connected with some drug sales to various musicians. Clive was fired and over the next year or so he was replaced by a series of M.B.A.’s who made one bad business decision after another. After salaries were cut and many people fired I’d had enough. You cannot just say ‘fire 10% of the staff’. I was completely disillusioned by what had happened and I left in 1974.”
Towards the end of 1971 Ted had met Deborah Cahn who was in the graduate English department at Berkeley. She came to work for the company during the summer but once their relationship became significant she left. “Our relationship was more important than work. We moved in together in 1972…It was a tumultuous time in Berkeley that also saw the food ‘revolution’ getting underway. We were very close to Chez Panisse, the heart of the ‘revolution’ and ate there regularly. Deborah was the first women’s libber I had known and part of our deal was that I had to make half the meals – I just took her to Chez Panisse instead.”
Following Ted’s departure from the corporate world they decided that they wanted to be doing something ‘honest’ and farming seemed to fit their ideal way of making a living. Ted had been into wine since first moving to Berkeley, particularly the Alsace wines such as Gewürztraminer. They had initially visited the area in 1972 and fell in love with the Valley. “We began to look for property and one day in 1973 we were in an old Mustang, as usual I had on my ‘uniform’ – Levi’s and t-shirt, and we met with realtors Nick Anderson and Kathy Bailey. Nick jokingly said, ‘twenty acres and a teepee in the hills, right’. By the end of that afternoon I had made a payment on this nine hundred acre sheep ranch and after being here part-time in 1974 we moved full-time in 1975. In a separate deal, with Johnny and Adele Williams, a further four acres were purchased for the house and winery. He was protective of all the trees and plants on this acreage. In preparation for the vineyard we cut down an oak tree and he has never forgiven me – rightly so. The trees do no harm and we now work around them. Johnny and I discussed all the plants on their 4-acre homestead for one year and then the price only in the last couple of weeks. It was a lovely experience to negotiate with someone who valued his plants more than money.”
“We planted vines in 1975 – ¾ Gewürztraminer and ¼ Pinot Noir – “ which was far less popular then than now”…Over the ensuing years Ted and Deborah hired several consultants. “We knew nothing really. Jed Steele, Robert Stemler, Tex Sawyer, John Montero, Tom Lane – they all knew more than me. We finally started to make money in 1985 and since 1991 Jim Klein has been our wine maker – that has worked out really well. I love doing this as much as ever. I still love crush more than anything else – the joke around here is that they will have to dig up the concrete crush pad and put my crypt under there when I go. Harvest is a magical time – having spent so much time growing something and then seeing it harvested – wonderful.”
They spend most of their time these days being involved with the marketing and general management of the business. Their two children, Aaron (born in 1978) and Sarah (1980) are both heavily involved with the family business. Ted still has a big part to play in the final say on things and attends the tastings every morning. He believes the making of great wine is the main point of it all. “I dislike wine scores. The problem is that there are several hundred thousand new wines available in the US every year and lots of young people are enthusiastic about wine. Wine scoring on a 100-point scale seems like an easy way for the consumer to make a decision. But that score is (a) an oversimplification of a very complex and unique food, (b) is based on someone else’s taste, and (c) big scores most frequently go to big wines which creates the incentive for the winemaker to produce big wines. Big wines I suspect are frequently negatively correlated with their ability to properly accompany a meal, which I think is the purpose of wine.
“Wine writers are concerned with terroir/soil and seeing what the wine tastes like from a particular site, either over a period of years or to see how different winemakers treat the fruit from the same vineyard. My goal is to produce the most balanced, pleasing wine I can. In all our years of blending trials, we have never found a wine from an individual vineyard site that couldn’t be improved, certainly made more complex, by blending in the same variety of wine from another site.”
“My goal as a winemaker may be different than those of a wine writer or magazine. I believe that winemakers are coerced financially into making wines that pay homage to the numbers rather than wines that go well with a meal.”
I now turned to some questions about Ted’s Valley experiences. Firstly his favorite spots in the Valley? “Deborah and I do have a couple here on the land. One is on a ridge-top, surrounded by virgin forest…I do like to eat at The Apple Farm – great place, wonderful food…I enjoy being a farmer up here, feeling part of nature. I feel connected in ways that I had never felt before – a part of the big picture in terms of its eco-system. The sense of community here is very special. Its diversity is amazing – just look at the last few interviews you have done, Steve – all vastly different people and backgrounds and yet all here in this small community. It is a powerful thing – perhaps that comes with being amongst people who have different ideas and philosophies.”
Ted went on to say that there is nothing he doesn’t like about life here and although he does occasionally miss the variety of ethnic restaurants or the diversity of live music to listen to, he can always commute to the Bay Area which he’d rather do than have more people come here “where it always smells nice and people don’t honk me off the road.”…And as for a Mayor of the Valley if such a position existed – for whom would he vote? – “Jerry Cox – a very nice and good human being, and he talks to absolutely everyone. You’d have no doubt he was trying to do good things if he was in office.”
It was time to ask Ted about his thoughts on a ‘hot topic’ that is often under discussion in the Valley. The wineries and their impact? – “Having the wineries here is a great benefit to the Valley’s economy. They more often than not provide good jobs and wine is a commodity that touches a lot of money. It is important to keep that money here and we try to do that. We believe it is a better situation for the fruit to be grown here, the wine to be made here, and finally the sale of that wine also to be here. Our wine is sold here and at restaurants – not at stores. Safeway offered us shelf placements at every one of their stores in the country – we decided against it. Now that wasn’t just a moral decision – it was a business decision too and I like to think we can make decisions that combine both morals and business. We are fortunate to be able to do this and I believe many of our business decisions are good moral decisions too.”
“When we started we must have been out of our mind. Deborah and I knew so little. The hardest grape to deal with is the Gewürztraminer. We had no experience – I believe that was a good thing. Deborah called restaurants and arranged tastings; I worked on developing a tasting room. We soon created a loyal customer base and this provided continuity. Our workers are full-time and have health insurance, which is good for the business and this community. We broke out of the usual business model and had a little more margin built in. Our profits were passed on not just to our investment, but also our customers, and of course our employees. I wouldn’t want to sit around sipping wine whilst a worker may not have pre-natal care. I understand that not everyone can do this but I can and so I do. I feel I must.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Ted 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 or phrase? – “Yes”

What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “No”

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “ Music certainly – all kinds…And I do enjoy being a part of what we have here and thinking about and recognizing my existence in the big scheme of things. Being aware of all the other living creatures that live on this land. They are all fascinating and fit together in a unique way. I am a non-believer really, not just an agnostic, but the complexity and beauty of nature is special and inspiring.”

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Hate; intolerance; the defense budget – standard things I suppose but I try to work out what makes me happy and work back from there. I don’t like power – it corrupts, and I am sometimes uncomfortable with certain aspects of being the ‘boss’. I am very happy with what we have created – we make good wine, we have good employee relations – it is a very symbiotic relationship. Those few years in the corporate world taught me a lot. I did love the business I was involved in developing but found out that that world was not for me.”

What sound or noise do you love? – “The sounds of the seasons – at this time of year it’s the frogs…I also like, err, how can I put it, the sounds of being with my wife.”

What sound or noise do you hate? – “The chattering or ‘machine-gun’ noise of Jake brakes on big trucks.”

What is your favorite curse word? – “Begins with an ‘f’, has four letters, and rhymes with ‘luck’…”

What is your favorite hobby? – “Playing chess on the computer with the headphones on.”

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “A record producer.”

What profession would you not like to do? – “Collecting money and making change in a toll booth.”

What was the happiest or most gratifying day or event in your life? – “Two days come immediately to mind – the births of my children. With Aaron it was a difficult birth and driving home from the hospital I burst into songs that my father had sung to me decades earlier. I didn’t think I even knew them.”

What was the saddest or most disappointing? – “The saddest day was my mother’s passing. Despite all her problems in the first half of her life she lived until 2003, when she was ninety-three, and I know she was very content for many years; being a grandmother here with the kids gave her great pleasure.”

What is your favorite thing about yourself – “Well, I do try to be honest. I try to be direct. I know that my decisions are my decisions and I take responsibility for them. I do believe in karma and try to live accordingly. Farming obviously emphasizes this – what you put in will be reflected in what you get out.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Welcome Ted, let’s have a banquet!”

Published in: on February 25, 2009 at 7:26 pm  Comments (2)  

Danny Kuny – February 13th, 2009

GEDC0119I met with Danny Kuny at The Boonville Lodge in the heart of Anderson Valley last Friday morning. It was a cold day and Danny had on his Anderson Valley Football Cubs hooded sweatshirt, in the traditional school colors of brown and yellow. He accompanied his firm handshake with a wide smile and we sat down in the restaurant area to chat.
Danny was born in Ft. Bragg, California, in February 1955, the second of four children to Fritz and Wanda Kuny, his father being of German-Irish descent and his Mother a full-blooded Cherokee Indian. His paternal grandfather had come over to the States in 1912 from Germany and after a spell as a cowboy in Montana and a time in Washington State, he moved to Comptche in 1940 where he opened a bar, ‘Kuny’s Cozy Corner’, serving beer and sandwiches to the thriving logging community of those days. Danny’s parents had met at Mendocino High and his father became a logger immediately after leaving school and Danny was to follow in his footsteps. “I knew I would be a logger all my life”. His mother died of cancer aged 53 in the early nineties but Fritz, now in his late seventies, continues to live in Boonville.
The family moved from Comptche to Anderson Valley in 1967, living in Navarro at the recently torn down red/pink house beside Hwy 128 on the Horse Haven Ranch property. Danny attended the elementary school and his friends included Tony Pardini, Teddy Waggoner, and Mike Brendlen – “the first hippy kid in the Valley. One day we grabbed him and took him to the bathroom where we were going to cut his long hair off. Just as we were going to start he offered us his knife – he said it was very sharp and would do a good job. This impressed us so we decided he was o.k. and let him go!”
Football was by far Danny’s favorite sport once he was at A.V. High School although he did give both basketball and baseball a go. “I kept getting fouled out at basketball where my physical style was not suited and Coach Irvine kicked me off the baseball team when I was messing about and hit a ball at Gary Johnson and then called his name and when he turned around the ball smashed him in the face and broke his nose. I guess I was meant to concentrate on football.” He was a starter as a freshman and over the next four seasons, in the early seventies, he was on “probably the best team to ever to represent the school. We won our first league title for fifteen years in my senior year with my good friend Tony Pardini at quarterback, calling nearly every play himself and throwing for over 1500 yards and running for 900 more. We even beat Geyserville 103-0 with every offensive lineman scoring a touchdown. Many years before, when Harold Hulbert was playing, they had a good team but maybe ours was the best. I was a guard on offense and the middle linebacker on defense. Jim Miller was head coach in the senior year with Keith Squires, yes the sheriff, as his assistant. Those were some of the best days of my life.”
As soon as football was over in his senior year Danny left to work in the woods with his father. He was on a school program that allowed this to happen whilst still accruing school credits and he graduated in 1974. Danny was a timber feller and used a Homelite 650 chainsaw with a six-foot blade to take down trees with seventeen to eighteen feet stumps. “I loved going to work, I still do. Being a logger is very special – there is a very unique bond between us. There’s no doubt it’s dangerous – when you leave in the morning there is a chance you will not return. I have lost a few good friends in the woods. I’m not afraid of dying; I’m afraid of what I’m going to miss if I do die, but logging is something that I have loved being a part of for all my life.”
At the age of eighteen, whilst still at school, he married local girl Judy Waggoner. “We were so young – too young. I wasn’t ready for it really and would never recommend that kids so young get married. Life is too short to settle down with a wife and have two kids before you are twenty-one. Nine times out of ten it doesn’t work – it didn’t for us and we were divorced when I was twenty three.” Judy and Danny had two children, Lisa, born in 1974, and Bobby, born1976, who was tragically drowned when just three years old. “That will be with me forever. He lived for fourteen hours in a coma and the doctors said his life would be severely impaired if he survived. They offered to unplug him from the life support system. I unplugged him myself”…
“It will always hurt that I did not get that time with him; never got to watch him grow up, to coach him, to see him develop into a man. It’s been a big lesson for me to not take anyone in your family or amongst your friends for granted – you never know…It’s also a big reason why I do what I do with my youth football program for the kids – the A.V. Cubs…. Kids shouldn’t take their parents for granted – we know that, but parents should never take their kids for granted either – they should support them at school and in sports and go to watch them play. Every time I played I would look into the stands before a game and see my Mum and Dad there. It inspired me and made me the player I was. Parents need to play a part in their kid’s lives not just as disciplinarians but as fans too. We have had some great parents involved with the program this past couple of years – Judy Hayward, Cindy Hollinger, and Jennifer Espinoza come to mind immediately. Many of the Hispanic parents have also played a bigger part than in the past, bringing big pots of tomales to some games and everyone has had a good old time – yes, it’s been really great.”
Danny admits to being a “wreck” for five years following the loss of Bobby. “I didn’t give a damn about myself or anyone else. I would take risks every day and was always in fights. I met Sue (Peterson) and we got married – she was a great help in my recovery, as was Tony Pardini who really kept me going when I was at my lowest. He was like a brother to me.”
Unfortunately, even though Danny calmed down in some ways, he turned his attention to rodeo and playing semi-pro football for the Nor Call Loggers. He says, “Sue was twenty and I was twenty-six and still not ready for marriage. We split up after less than two years with rodeo, football, and The Lodge being pretty much my life when I wasn’t in the woods.”
During this time he worked for many different logging companies including Charlie Hiatt (for nine years), Manchard Pardini, Willis Tucker, Schuster Logging – always in northern California apart from a brief spell in the Sierra’s where some cousins live and work. When not at work or in The Lodge – “those were the days when it was called the Bucket of Blood for good reason”, he began to coach the Junior Varsity Football team which included such players as current coaches/teachers Ben Anderson and Jason Paige. Then, when he returned from the Sierra’s, he was offered and accepted the head-coaching job for the High School team. “It was very hard because we had no youth program and I was having to spend all my time coaching the fundamentals to juniors and some seniors. Other teams were far ahead of us. I quit as coach in 1993 and started a program for the younger kids. It worked well for a few years before the number of kids playing fell and I returned to the High School team in 1996. We then had a very good team for the next four years, reaching the play-offs in 2000 before losing to Calistoga, the eventual winners. In 1998 I invited Jack Graves to join the coaching staff as he had several of his group-home boys at the school and playing football. It was not a good decision as it turned out and within a couple of years I had been ‘let go’ shall we say?”…
Before talking to Danny at greater length about the school and in particular its football program, I wanted to first touch on a few other topics. I asked him if he had a favorite place to hang out in the Valley and what he liked about the Valley. “I love to go to the Redwood Drive-in and sit and talk to old friends, often guys who I worked for or alongside or was at school with – people who have all played a part in my life…This Valley is a great place to live or be from, people here will help you if you are in need. When Bobby died the reaction of friends was amazing. I will never forget it…Sure you can disagree with other people in the Valley – it’s a small place so that’s going to happen. We’d have disagreements and often fights but it was nothing and we’d be back at work together the next day. Growing up here in the late sixties and seventies was great. It still is, I think, and the kids should appreciate that and know how lucky they are to live here…No matter where I live, this Valley gave me some of the best parts of my life and you couldn’t find better people anywhere.”
What about your memories about growing up in the Valley and attending the High School in the early seventies?…”Well, my Elementary School teacher was the famous Jim Jones, who ended up with his People’s Temple and killing hundreds of his followers. He was a real nut but I could see why people would follow him. He was very well dressed and a very slick talker – even parents were taken in by him. He had a way of talking and convincing you he was right. He tried to convince me and some other kids that he could walk through walls – we almost believed him!…One day he caught me and some others pee-ing up the wall in the bathroom to see who could go the highest – he beat the hell out of us all with a paddle…Another strange guy who I met in those days was the one who gave me my first ever beer – Charles Manson. He lived on Gschwend Road with all kinds of people including college girls who walked around with their tops off. We were in 7th grade and he gave us a can of ‘Lucky Logger’ beer and we went back four days in a row until someone told our parents and we got a real ass-whipping. It was awesome while it lasted – drinking beer around pretty topless girls. Thanks to Charlie Manson we were in heaven – I’d much prefer to be around him than Jim Jones for sure.”
“Of course lots of our nights at the bar would end up in fights in those days. No weapons of course, just good fist fights. There were so many nights of craziness – one time a bunch of us just decided to get naked and we all sat in the bar in nothing except our boots and hats before going to the Mexican bar down the street, ‘Mary Jane’s’, and all the Hispanic guys ran out. We walked back down the street where Sheriff Squires met us and said, ‘I got out of bed for this – go back to The Lodge where you belong’…Tony Pardini and me were tough guy, bad-asses in our early twenties, although neither of us was much more than 140 pounds. I remember one Friday night at the County Fair some guys were in the Lodge dressed like Billy Jack – you know, not real cowboys but in the black cowboy hats. There were four or five of them – they were carnies – and for some reason we just said. ‘Let’s kick the hell out of them.’ Tony’s idea was for me to throw him on to their table and go from there. I did. We got the hell beaten out of us…Talking of Tony, I remember that during a football game against Emeryville he got hit so hard that when he returned to our huddle he didn’t know where he was. I told him he was in the wrong huddle and he walked over to the other team’s huddle where he said, ‘that son of a bitch black kid really hit me hard’ – he then realized he was in a huddle that was all black kids!”…
As I often do, I now turned to asking Danny about a few topics that are frequently discussed in the Valley…The Wineries? – “Well they have definitely bought a lot of work to the Valley but I believe they should be more involved in the community and, from my point of view, in the sports programs. A small community like this needs financial help – please don’t give wine, we need money – and I feel they should play a bigger part. They are in this Valley, in the community, making lots of money out of being here, and they should help out.”….The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I have known Bruce Anderson since 1969 or ’70, when I was in 9th grade. In that time I have done a lot of crazy shit, been involved in many fights, and maybe have caused more trouble than anyone around here. Not serious stuff, not bad crimes or stealing, not harmful really, but still…and yet Bruce has never said a bad word about me. I have a lot of respect for Bruce. He once wrote that I was ‘the toughest guy in Mendocino County’. I got so many calls after that – guys questioning it, guys challenging it, friends kidding me. I still get that! The next time he saw me he said, ‘Do you want to hit me now or later?’…He has also always supported the high school football program and has been interested in the welfare and education of the kids in this Valley. He tells it like he sees it and that is something I respect.”…Law and order in the Valley? – “Keith Squires and I have often butted heads but as Sheriff I think he has done a great job here. He has made many good decisions and given many young kids a break for doing stuff all young kids do. He’d often let them go if nothing serious was being done. We also helped to break Dennis Miller in when he was first here many years ago. I remember we had ‘borrowed’ a mannequin from outside a store in Ukiah and put red paint on it and laid it in the road in the middle of Boonville. Traffic was stopped back up to Hwy 253 and we spread the rumor that a woman hadn’t paid her bill at The Lodge and had been shot and dumped in the road. Miller turned up and dragged her off to the shock of many motorists backed up who thought it was a real person and couldn’t believe how badly he was treating the body.”
In 1987 Danny met a very attractive woman in Ukiah. Her name was Tammy and she didn’t really want to know him at first – “I was just being an idiot in a bar”. He did manage to find out that she worked in a bank and went to see her there to ask her out. Despite being warned off by friends to not go out with him and being from southern California and not really knowing the rodeo/football world that was such a big part of Danny’s life, she agreed to go to a rodeo with him on a date.” It worked out great. She is a very classy lady and we’ve been together for the last twenty-one years, apart from a little blip that was my fault. She is very special. My lifestyle was not easy for someone like her to understand but we have adapted to each other’s ways. Tammy already had a son Brendan and then we had a beautiful daughter, Brittany. I am very lucky and love my life with her and our family.”
As for whom Danny would vote for Mayor if such a position existed in the Valley, he hesitated briefly before saying, “I might just have to say Manchard (Robert) Pardini. He has lived here longer than most and has seen many changes – good and bad. He will say what needs to be said and not necessarily what people want to hear. He tells you how he thinks it is and if you don’t like it that’s too bad – he’s a good man.”
We now turned to a topic that is very near and dear to Danny’s heart – the High School and it’s football program. “People in power at the school need to step up and do what’s right for the school. If they do not the current problems that exist will continue. When changes next occur, the new leaders should probably be from outside the Valley. The new people should be very honest and have strong convictions and a mind of their own and no pre-conceived ideas about the Valley…Teachers should also play a bigger part in the after-school activities and sports programs. The kids would perhaps have greater respect for them and everyone would benefit. All these teacher’s aides? In my day we had the seniors as teacher’s aides and so much got done during the day that homework did not take up too much time and so the kids had time after school to do other things such as sports etc.”
“It seems to me that the leaders and teachers at the school should have more respect from the kids than they do. And the dress code is not enforced – it’s ridiculous. Kids have lots of fun there, which is good, but there should be more discipline. They should not be allowed to walk round talking on cell phones in school or at practices for sports teams. They should be concentrating on their studies or on improving their game.”
“Meanwhile, the School Board needs to check things out at the school on a regular basis – to be at the school, in the classrooms, at games. Not just attending meetings and voting on stuff they have not seen for themselves. If they cannot do that then they should not be on the Board. The current head of the Board needs to take a break. People like Ed Slotte and Tony Sanchez would do a great job on that Board. They would be fresh voices with new ideas. They love the school and have its best interests at heart…As far as the football program is concerned, the School Board needs to step up and encourage the whole community to get involved with the program and this would be helped by having Board members who went to school here and have lived here a long time”
“Athletic Director Robert Pinoli also has my backing although I sometimes feel he has his hands tied. Maybe he’s between a rock and a hard place, as they say, and I question if he has the full support of the decision-makers.”
“As for the involvement of Jack Graves in the workings of the football program, this is wrong. He should not be as powerful as he is. As owner of the Group Home he is a ‘parent’ and should act and be treated like one – parents belong in the stands not on the sidelines. He pulls too many strings. He wasn’t supposed to coach again after certain things happened a few years ago when he ran things yet he still has his hands all over the program and threatens to pull his kids off the program if he doesn’t get his way. Many referees think he hurts the team when he is on the sidelines berating the officials and they have told me they are shocked by his attitude. Maybe the people in charge are afraid of what card Jack might play if they censure him in some way. It’s wrong and ultimately the kids are the ones suffering as a result of all the politics that surround the program.”
“I suggested to the Principal, J.R. Collins, that he should stand up to him and let Graves know that it’s the community’s school and his input should only be as a ‘parent’. I said things to J.R. that were my honest opinions and were man-to-man, with the best interests of the football program my only concern. They were not to be taken personally and certainly did not affect my ability to coach. He told me I’d never coach at the school again while he was there and apparently the School Board think the same.”
“It’s too bad. I believe I know what coaching should be about. It is not just coaching the game. You are the kid’s parent, their counselor, and their guide. Kids shared stuff with me that they felt they could not with their parents and I’d get everyone together and sort it out. Teachers should also do this and have this role –somebody there for the kids. At the same time my coaching philosophy is all about discipline and respect – for your teammates, your coach, the opposition, the officials, and the game. If you don’t have that on a sports program you are in trouble.”
“I would dearly love to coach the High School football team again. It’s my school; it’s my passion. There are many people like me in the community who are tired of what’s going on there; people who would help out if things were different. Having said that, I think the two young guys, Logo Tevasu and John Toohey, who did most of the coaching this past season, know the game well. I wish them well.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Danny 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 or phrase? – “ ‘Respect and discipline’ – each has been a big part of my life.“
What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “I don’t like to hear people say ‘I can’t do that’ – especially kids.”
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Seeing a parent enjoying a loving relationship with their kid; being there for the kid no matter what.”
What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – ”Parents screaming and yelling at kids – you don’t do that, especially in public.”
What sound or noise do you love? – “The sound of my chainsaw…And my daughters calling me to say they love me…And my wife phoning me and saying, ‘where are you?’ “
What sound or noise do you hate? – “Any kind of emergency vehicle’s siren because you know it’s not good – someone is in trouble and it may be a family member or friend…Also a phone call at 3am is never a good thing.”
What is your favorite curse word or phrase? – “Son of a bitch.”
What is your favorite hobby? – “My family is my hobby.”
What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted? – “I would love to have been a pro football player…Or maybe a U.S. Marshall.”
What profession would you not like to do? – “Working on a County Road crew. I did it for nine months and it was nine months too long.”
Do you have any words to live by? – “Good friends and good family – it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Welcome Danny – you know your son Bobby and your Mum have been waiting for you…And we do need a good football coach.”

Published in: on February 18, 2009 at 8:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

Alicia Perez – February 6th, 2009

GEDC0019I drove down to The Floodgate Store last Friday morning to meet with Alicia Perez (now Parra) the storeowner and also the proprietor of Alicia’s Restaurant in Boonville. We sat down at the back of the cozy little restaurant area and were joined by her two-year old son, Gregorio…
Alicia was born in the mid-seventies in the small rural town of Tumbiscatio in the Mexican State of Michoacan, the seventh of eleven children (five girls, six boys). “My mother’s side had some money, I suppose – middle class perhaps, but it was in the countryside so it wasn’t much. My father was a carpenter who made fine furniture – he was regarded as the best carpenter anywhere around and my brothers all followed in his footsteps in woodworking. We had cattle and like most other people in the area grew corn, beans, etc. It was a farming community, the town was may be slightly bigger than Boonville and the nearest city, Apatzingan, was about three hours away…When I was a young girl my father bought a store and we sold our meats from there – it was a general store that bought in extra money on top of my father’s wages as a carpenter.”
Alicia attended elementary school in the town but at the age of eight her parents divorced and her schooling suffered, although her father did give money to the family. “Divorce was very unusual in Mexico, particularly in the rural areas. People all around said ‘Wow!’ when they heard my parents had split up…My mother struggled with so many of us and in 1986 when my older brother Jesus Jr. said I could come for a vacation to see him in the San Fernando Valley in California I jumped at the chance. I caught a bus and all alone went up through Mexico and across the border. I was twelve years old and ended up not going back. Jesus is the best brother in the world and I stayed there for four years with his wife and kids. After just two months at junior high school I quit to baby-sit and clean for him and his wife in Arleta, a tough district outside L.A. I never did return to school”…
In the early eighties her brother had worked in Anderson Valley at the apple ranch facing the Elementary School on the opposite side of Highway 128. So in 1990, at the age of sixteen, Alicia came to The Valley for the first time when Jesus and his family returned here. “When I arrived I was immediately struck by this Valley’s beauty and the friendly people. Grapes weren’t everywhere as they are now and the rivers had more water in them and fewer pumps taking the water out.” She worked on the ranch and in the fields with her brother, tending and milking cows, making cheese, and raising goats, chickens, and pigs. “I then got my first real paying job, as babysitter for Candy and Ed Slotte, looking after their boys, Jesse and Ryan – that Jesse was something else, I can tell you”, she says of the boy who was to become a local hero for his efforts in the war in Iraq.
At the age of eighteen she met Salvador Garcia here in the Valley and after a very brief relationship they got married in the early spring of 1991. “He was my first boyfriend and it all happened very quickly. He was eight years older than me and I suppose he was a good guy at that time. We soon had two kids, Maribel and Salvador Jr., and after a few years our problems had become very bad but we stayed together for the sake of the kids. Salvador’s parents had also divorced like mine so we both knew how hard it was for kids without a dad. We were together for almost fifteen years and I tried and tried to make it work but it was impossible.”
After a couple of years Salvador decided that the family was going to move back to Mexico and they moved to his home town in Michoacan, about eight hours from where Alicia’s family lived. “After a short time he returned to America and didn’t come back. He left me there for two years with his family, who didn’t like me. I raised the kids but was an outsider in the family. Then Salvador came back for a month and I got pregnant again – only for him to leave again.”
When Salvador Jr. was six months old his father returned to get the family and they returned to the Valley, arriving for good on June 6th, 1995 and moving into a small cabin on Rancho Navarro where they were to stay for seven years. “When the kids got a little older I wanted to get some work so I could buy things for the kids and help to pay the bills etc but my husband didn’t want this. I had no car so I would walk the kids from our place on Sea Biscuit Road to the school bus stop at Demonstration Forest every morning to get Maribel to school. I would walk back home and clean and prepare dinner for later then I’d go out and clean other people’s houses in the Rancho Navarro area. My husband did not know about this…I also borrowed a weed-eater and would cut the grass at many people’s homes, driving round on a golf cart that one of my employees loaned me. I could not tell my husband – he would have been furious. He was very macho in his thinking – the wife must be at home, cleaning and cooking. That macho mentality is a very big part of the Mexican culture but it is getting better.”
However, one day one of her customers called the house to ask her to work and he picked up the phone and realized what was going on. “We had a big fight and in the end I told him I needed a car. He was against it but finally agreed to drive me to Santa Rosa to look at one – the only time he ever took me anywhere! It was a small white two-door 1996 Honda in good condition with only 5000 miles. I asked the old man who was selling it how much he wanted. He told me $5000 but I only had $2800 so I turned to walk away when he changed his mind and said he’d take it. I took out my cash from all my hard work – over $1000 was in $1 bills, and gave it to him. It felt wonderful!”
Not long after this the school bus route was shortened so that Maribel, and now Salvador Jr. also, had to be dropped off at The Floodgate Store, owned and operated at the time by Buffy and Butch Paula. She had always loved cooking and thought one day she might work in a restaurant – even own one! “One day a “For Sale’ sign went up and we decided to borrow money from friends and my husband’s family and on May 20th, 2001 I opened my restaurant. Salvador never came to help me. April Gonzales, who had worked for the Paula’s, stayed on and I also had help from Frankie Avilla and Lee Montana. We served authentic Mexican food at affordable prices. It worked very well and I gradually built it up. Then my husband quit his job and stopped working. It was just me for nearly two years, supporting my husband and the family, working seven days a week from 7am to 7pm, with a little help on Tuesdays so I could drive to Ukiah or Santa Rosa and buy supplies.”
“I loved my work but it was tough. I would go home and cook dinner, clean and do the laundry. My husband had stopped caring about us. It was too much and I couldn’t take it anymore. I said, ‘I’m done’ but he laughed and didn’t believe me. He went to Mexico on one of his trips – he was always traveling around – and I served divorce papers. He didn’t protest or even show up in court and the judge granted a divorce in 2004…Not long afterwards he called from Mexico asking for money. He had met another woman and wanted to get married – he has had several kids with other women. I said I didn’t have any money for him. Next thing I knew he was here and he came round and beat me up – I went to the hospital and he went to jail, before being bailed out by his brother. I’ve only heard from him twice since, when he met with the kids briefly.”
When her husband sold The Floodgate Store to Jerry DiFalco – he refused to sell it to Alicia – she did manage to get the proviso that if Jerry ever wanted to sell she would have the opportunity to buy it. From the proceeds of the Floodgate sale Alicia received some money by court order and bought Lola’s in Boonville, opening Alicia’s Restaurant there in March of 2007. “We have been there nearly two years and it’s going really well. In late 2008, Jerry wanted to get out and so I bought Floodgate and returned there, to where I feel very comfortable and have many good memories and although it’s a lot of work with two places we’ll give it a go.”
Whilst at the Floodgate Store, one of her customers had begun to pay her special attention. His name was Fernando Parra and he’d come in for coffee most mornings with co-worker Raffa Delgado when they both worked for Don Shanley at Pro-Seed. Most days the two guys would also stop for a beer on the way home from work. “I liked Fernando but we were friends for quite a long time before anything romantic developed. Besides, Raffa was always with him! We started to see each other and one day he asked me to marry him. I thought about it for a few days and then said yes. He is a great guy. I am very lucky. He loves my kids and my son calls him ‘Dad’. Both of my kids think a lot of him and Maribel seems to really respect him. Then in September 2006 along came my second son, Gregorio. Fernando and I have a really nice relationship and he has helped me a lot. We own the two businesses and he doesn’t act macho at all – we are equals and we always talk about stuff together.”
I asked Alicia what she liked and didn’t like about the Valley, “I like almost everything about life in the Valley. I love my work and have little time to socialize but I don’t mind. Fernando and I will go to Cloverdale for dinner sometimes. I like La Hacienda Restaurant there – fancy Mexican food, I guess you’d say…We also go to the coast if we get a chance and like to walk on the headlands and the beach. I also like to watch Maribel play volleyball but because of work don’t get to see her very often…The only thing that concerns me is the drug situation around here – it is definitely getting worse. It was always here but not like this with kids standing around on street corners doing nothing with their lives – they don’t want to work. It is very sad.”
Like many others, Alicia has mixed feelings about the wineries in the Valley. “They are good for the Valley’s business but not necessarily for the people who work for them – not all the wineries treat their workers well.”…As for the A.V.A., she says, “I only read it to see who is in the Sheriff’s Log –I’ll probably know them!”…And the changes she has seen in the Valley over the past twenty years? – “Jobs for Mexican women have improved with the restaurants and small businesses giving them opportunities. Working in the fields is very tough although of course the money a second income brings helps with raising families. The changes are o.k. but I hope Anderson Valley does not become like Napa.”
What about our school? “Well they do a great job with the kids who are there – but I often see kids walking around town when they should be in class. I am lucky – my kids like school. Salvador Jr. is doing o.k. – he’s a young teenage boy so that has it’s difficulties some times but he’s a good boy. Maribel has never had less than a 3.9 and is never a problem. She is now a junior at the A.V High School and plays on the volleyball team – they just had a great season…I have always encouraged her to be strong young woman. Not to be downtrodden like so many Mexican women have been. I trust her completely and we talk a lot. I hope she will go to college and I will do whatever it takes to support her there. I don’t want to see her working like me – twelve/fourteen hours a day…One day I’d like to go back to school – it is a dream I have. I’ve never lost that dream but for now we are busy working and raising the family. I wouldn’t change our life for anything but one day may be I will be able to live half my life here and half in Mexico – that would be my ultimate dream come true”…
And next I asked Alicia about her thoughts on how the Mexican community has mixed in with Valley life. “Well it is strange. We are very mixed in when we are at school and in many work places but when it comes to socializing there is not much mixing. Yes it’s weird. Our culture likes to be at home with family and friends. Perhaps it’s because many of the Mexicans in this community are from country towns in Mexico and that is what’s done there. The Valley events I have been to have few Mexican people there. I still hear racial slurs about Mexicans. I don’t get it. I do think it is changing though. The language is a barrier for many Mexicans of my generation and older but this next generation are all fluent in English, they are already dating and starting to marry amongst the different communities, so I think the mixing will gradually increase on every level – I hope it does”…
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Alicia 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 or phrase? – “I like to hear others say, ‘good job, Alicia’.”
What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “Racist comments still hurt after all this time. For me, people have come from everywhere to this country to improve their lives over what they had before. We are all in it together – it doesn’t matter what color you are or what culture you are from.”
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “My work and people enjoying my cooking. That makes me feel really good.”
What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – ”Rude people.”
What sound or noise do you love? – “Kids laughing”
What sound or noise do you hate? – “That loud thumping music on car stereos. I can understand young boys playing it at times but how they can sit in their cars and listen to that noise right next to them is crazy.”
What is your favorite curse word or phrase? – “I suppose it would be ‘Pinche madre’ – there isn’t a real English equivalent I can think of. It is quite soft – there are far worse ones”
What is your favorite hobby? – She laughed out loud and said, “Cooking!…And I love to read – books that I can learn from. I like spiritual books and books about medicinal herbs.”
What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted? – “I like animals so I always thought I’d like to have owned a farm and raise animals for their milk, eggs, etc – not for slaughter!”…
What profession would you not like to do? – “Working in the fields in the summer or during harvest. I really wouldn’t want to do that now.”
Do you have any words to live by? – “I like to treat people fairly. To not be mean and to treat others as I would want them to treat me.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “I’m not sure I’ll be going to heaven, But if I do then ‘Welcome, Alicia’ would be nice, but I’m not sure it would be like that!”…

Published in: on February 11, 2009 at 7:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Joyce Murray – January 30th, 2009

GEDC0016Last Friday morning, I drove a couple of miles out of Boonville up Mountain View Road and then along a dirt road a further mile before arriving at the home of Joyce and Ross Murray deep in the redwoods on forty heavily wooded acres. Joyce immediately offered me coffee and we sat down to chat at a lovely old dining table…
She was born, Joyce DeYoung, in 1926 in Beaver, Pennsylvania to a mother of German descent and a father who had come to the United States as a small boy from the Netherlands. Her parents both worked for the Kohler Company (of bathroom fittings fame) and her father’s skills as a factory manager were in great demand so as a small child the family moved a couple of times before settling in Baltimore, Maryland by which time two younger brothers had arrived – Jim and David. She attended Eastern High School in the Baltimore suburbs, an all-girls public school that had been founded in 1844. “In those days even in public schools the boys and girls were often educated separately as they might do who knows what! I received a good education and enjoyed school – there were no boys there to distract you or to throw spitballs etc at you. I am still in touch with some of the girls from those days.”
From an early age music played a big part in Joyce’s life. Not only was she in the school Glee Club but her family was very musical too. Her Father sang and directed choirs whilst her Mother “played the piano beautifully”, often being asked to accompany the talented singers in town. “There was always music and singing in our house. As a teenager, music, and particularly that by Frank Sinatra, was all I was interested in. It was the days of the Big Bands and Frank sang with the Tommy Dorsey Band – they were my favorites…On one occasion they played in Baltimore and I waited at the stage door with many other teenage girls when Frank and Buddy Rich the drummer appeared at a window above us. They came out and talked to us and I asked him if the rumors were true about him leaving the orchestra – I don’t know how I had the nerve! He smiled and said, ‘Well you never know – maybe I should try it out on my own.’ I wonder what ever happened to him!?!”…
“The war was going on, money was short, and my parents couldn’t afford to send me to college so when I graduated high school in 1944 I used the skills I had learnt in typing and shorthand classes and went to work as a secretary for the Gates Rubber Company that made hoses etc. Meanwhile, in my leisure time I joined an all-female concert group – The Phoenix Choir. The Director was Marie Meurer who became my friend and gave me voice lessons. A couple of years later when she went on a week’s course at the Fred Waring Music Workshop at a retreat in the Pocono Mountains she asked me to go with her.”
In the early fifties Fred Waring had a live television show on C.B.S. every Sunday night at 9pm that featured a Glee Club and Orchestra and at the end of the week of classes and tuition he asked Joyce to come to New York for an audition. “I didn’t think he was serious and returned to Baltimore. Then a week or so later my mother called me at work and said that the Fred Waring Show had phoned and wanted me to go to New York and audition. I caught a train, had a great audition and got a job with Fred’s Glee Club. I was twenty-four years old, obsessed with singing and a deep love of music, and so this was a miracle to me. I was very, very lucky”…Joyce appeared on the show virtually every week for the next four years, accompanying many television stars of the day.
“Fred was very particular, everything had to be very precise. The Glee Club had a beautiful sound and as Fred Waring and The Pennsylvanians we made many albums and toured all over the country in between seasons on television. Mostly we were on a bus but to get to California we had a private plane and we performed in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.”
The show was cancelled in 1954 but not before they had performed at the Presidential Inauguration Ball for President Eisenhower in 1952, an act they were to repeat at the beginning of the President’s second term in 1956, when she was called back to rejoin the group specially for the event (she had left the Club when the show had been cancelled). “Once the show was taken off the air – as all shows are eventually – I realized that staying with Fred would mean endless tours and I didn’t want to be on a bus for the rest of my singing career. It could be very tiring and so I left.”
She spent a year or so appearing in choruses on various live T.V. shows produced by Max Liebman and then joined a female singing group called the De Marco Sisters – “three very highly strung Italian sisters and me with a dark rinse in my hair – a Dutch girl trying to look Italian.” The sisters were constantly bickering so Joyce moved on after about twelve months.
In early 1957, she joined the Ray Charles Singers (“not that Ray Charles – he came later”) and they were signed to be the regular singing group on the Perry Como Show. It was a very popular show and she appeared live on Saturday night television for three years. “He was a very nice man and had such a beautiful voice. I’d admired him for so long, even though Frank was my favorite, and there I was standing right next to him!”…The show was of the variety-type very popular at that time with singers, dancers, comedians, jugglers, acrobats, opera singers, all kinds of entertainers, but when new sponsors took over in late 1959 they wanted a new look and all the singers were let go. “It was all about ratings. If the heads of the studio saw the numbers going down they would insist on drastic changes or simply cancel the show.”
As happens so often in the entertainment business apparently, job opportunity rumors were constantly making the rounds and Joyce heard through the grapevine that The Garry Moore Show was looking for singers. She made a phone call and got a job. She was to appear on that program from 1959 to 1964 and sang with many stars of the period such as Nat King Cole, Rosemary Clooney, Ella Fitzgerald, and Robert Goulet, and appeared in musical sketches with the likes of the legendary Jack Benny and a young Bob Newhart. “What a marvelous time we had – it was a very sad day when the show was cancelled.”
During Joyce’s fifteen years in New York City she had a wonderful time. “I loved New York at that time – everything was there.” She had many suitors and had boyfriends but singing remained her first love and she remained the single career girl. “When not at work on the weekly show, as a freelance singer I would often receive calls from various artist’s agents to ask if I could be at such-and-such a studio, say Colombia Records, from 7pm to 10pm to record a record. That is how I am on the Ray Charles recording of “Georgia on my mind”, Frankie Avalon’s “Venus”, and many of Perry Como’s recordings of the sixties.
“In show business so often it’s all about timing. I had been out of work, sort of, for nearly a year when a friend told me that singers were needed for The Danny Kaye Show that was based in Los Angeles. Television was moving its business out west and there was not much work in New York so I thought it over for a few days before packing my bags, including sheets and silverware for some reason, and off I went to California. It was 1965 and I’ve been here ever since.”
She toured with Danny Kaye and over the next few years appeared in the singing and dancing choruses on several television programs such as The Dinah Shore Show, The Jim Neighbors Show, The Henry Mancini Show, The Dean Martin Show, The Joey Bishop Show, and in the singing group, The Skylarks, on The Jerry Lewis Show – “talk about a crazy guy!”…
Then came another call. Wally Weschler, husband of Patty Andrews, youngest of The Andrews Sisters, wondered if she could come to their house and sing with Patty and sister Maxine. Joyce had met the sisters in Tahoe when she had been on tour with Jim Neighbors and also once when they had appeared on the Perry Como Show. “Apparently I sounded like the other sister, Laverne, who wasn’t there. It was strange. Nothing was said about her absence. Nobody knew she was ill at the time with cancer. They wanted it to be kept quiet. Shortly after we went to Laverne’s house and she appeared as we sat in the living room. I knew she was dying as soon as I saw her – my father died of cancer and I just knew. I was confused. Real fans of the Andrews Sisters would know I wasn’t Laverne but I went along with it and for the next couple of years I made appearances at many clubs and venues as the third member of the group. I just did my job, sang their songs, although I never recorded any records with them. I was in the group for two years and the highlight was probably when we appeared in Copenhagen, Denmark at the famous Tivoli Gardens – a beautiful place.”
By 1968 rock and roll was clearly here to stay and the style of music Joyce was interested in singing was no longer popular. She had remained friends with one of the singers from the Glee Club, Bob Wright, from her days on the Fred Waring Show in the early fifties and he was now the Associate Producer of the Carol Burnett Show. He needed an assistant and so she accepted his offer of work at C.B.S. “Nothing was happening in my singing world. I had to pay the rent and I wasn’t going to sing rock and roll, although even then I occasionally was asked to sing in the chorus on the show for any of its pre-recorded parts… I knew many of the people on that show from our days together on The Garry Moore Show and we all got along very well – Carol, the shows producer Joe Hamilton who was Carol’s husband, Harvey Korman, Vicky Lawrence, and of course. Tim Conway. Those were wonderful times.”
On October 3rd, 1971, while she was in her office in Studio 33 at C.B.S. Television City in Hollywood, a dashing and handsome man introduced himself. He was doing the sound on the show, as he did on many C.B.S. shows of the time, and she was quite taken by him. He was equally as taken with her, so much so that in 1973, in Van Nuys, California they were married – the fellow’s name was Ross Murray and they’ve been happily together ever since…Certainly unusual at the time was the fact that she did not want to move in with him. She wanted to stay at the house she had bought in Sherman Oaks and asked Ross to leave his place in Marina Del Ray and move into her house. “I told him I’d never been married before and would feel far more comfortable if he came to my house. He agreed and it worked out very well.”
They worked on the Burnett show for a few years until the late seventies but knew they didn’t want to live in the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles when they retired. They both wanted to live in the countryside somewhere. A friend of Ross had bought property in Elk and invited them up to look at the area. “When we had time off from the show we came up here and fell in love with the area. We were just gaga with the area’s beauty. Mike Shapiro showed us four or five properties including this one. In 1979 we bought this forty acres, although we only really wanted a couple, and moved up in 1980, living in the garage as the house that Ross had designed was being built. Bill and Nancy Charles were our neighbors and they were very welcoming; very kind and helpful.”
Over the next few years they got to know many Valley people, thanks in part to Joyce joining the Independent Career Women (I.C.W.) and Ross becoming a member of the Chamber of Commerce. “I love the calmness and scenery of the Valley. The people are so nice too. There’s nothing I don’t like about our life here…We go to many of the Valley’s community events and particularly like the Variety Show – as you might expect.”
I then asked Joyce for her responses to various key topics of conversation in the Valley…The Wineries? – “ Well, we love having them here and we take our friends out on wine tours when they visit. To have Diane Feinstein mention Anderson Valley wines at the Inauguration the other day was quite something”…The local public radio station, KZYX & Z? – “I’m all for it as my husband has his five minute show on the air every Wednesday. I think the station does a good job.”…The A.V.A.? – “It’s difficult to comment as we no longer subscribe to it and haven’t done so for years. We used to always get it but it became meaner and meaner. I hear that it’s changed for the better so perhaps we’ll start getting it once again.”…The modernization of the Valley? – “I don’t think it’s bad at this point but I hope it doesn’t change too much. I want it to stay as rural as possible”…
I then asked Joyce whom she would vote for as Mayor of the Valley if such a position were to exist. “Well, perhaps Kirk Wilder would be a good choice. He’s smart and knows his way around.”…And if you were Mayor, Joyce? – “I wouldn’t want to have such a position; too much responsibility at my time of life.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Joyce 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 or phrase? – “Be happy.”
What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “Drop dead.”
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Beautiful music – anything from Sinatra to Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto – all kinds of music inspire me.”
What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – ”Nasty people speaking ill of others.”
What sound or noise do you love? – “Choral singing.”
What sound or noise do you hate? – “A jackhammer pounding – something we heard a lot in Los Angeles it seemed.”
What is your favorite curse word or phrase? – “I don’t curse”
What is your favorite hobby? – “ I love to read all sorts of things. Read, read, read. It’s strange perhaps but one thing I love to read are cookery books and to study recipes.”
What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted? – “To work at an art gallery. To be the person that displays the art and tells people about it.”
What profession would you not like to do? – “Accountant.”
Do you have any words to live by? – “I suppose it would be to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Hello, Joyce – welcome.”

Published in: on February 4, 2009 at 6:27 pm  Comments (1)