The troubled film producer Harvey Weinstein has pushed millions of women to react and respond to the recent accusations by women in the entertainment field, who have not fared well whatsoever in his presence. It prompted me, in lieu of me too in social media, to say something about coming to Southern California 5 decades past…when I was an ingenue in most senses of that word, and found myself in the midst of the movie industry’s world capital both then and now; good old Hollywood. No matter when that was, there’s a price to pay for being female..and here’s one tepid account. (a fire-y account would be one in which I did not escape unscathed; and those women know who they are, and what I mean)
Go to California I did, and alone. When you arrive in Los Angeles with a small suitcase in your hand, a tiny velvet bow in the center of your teased hair-do, in an outfit similar to Patty Boyd’s in “A Hard Day’s Night”, and though movies was not my goal…..even so, you can find yourself in a situation without even doing anything but stand in one public place.
My introduction to California was in a setting which replicated a movie set; (and movies have been made there) it was the Fred Harvey Restaurant, inside Union Station in Los Angeles. It has recently been restored in May, 2017. In 1967 the restaurant was finally closed, just 3 years after I walked through it for the first time, it’s now been brought back to the public to everyone’s cultural satisfaction.
By 1964 I was 16 and had lived in 5 states, and I’d seen 7 schools. Heading West is something young women have done before, including Harvey Girls. They have their own book; and it’s without too many tawdry tales citing their own harassment. As for getting successfully into California, I was not a genius, but I’d learned to read into situations for myself heading West. This mattered more than anything on one particular day in California when I stepped off the Greyhound.
In September of that same year I arrived from Indiana alone and into the center of Los Angeles, off a Greyhound bus at Union Station. I carried a suitcase about the size of the one Cherry carries in the film ‘Bus Stop’. The suitcase wasn’t heavy, I carried it around with me and discovered as I walked, the magnificent Fred Harvey Restaurant inside Union Station.
Were any further clues required saying I was a new kid in town?
In 1964 the 1930’s Art-Deco Fred Harvey Restaurant was tired and smoke-stained. It had been used up by thousands of travelers…I saw a patina of time and people on it. I kept moving through the restaurant because I wanted a telephone and didn’t know what Los Angeles phone booths might look like. At the same time, I had little money with me and apprehensive about that; my instructions from my engineering-vagabond-new-to-California-father was to “Call this number when you get in town”.
It’s late afternoon, and I’m wandering around Union Station; it’s bigger than any building I’ve ever been inside that I could remember, it was huge and beautiful. I’m in California, though I hardly feel it. I am a born a red-head, and though looking like a young Sally Field, I’m already meaner than spit. My mother had decided to move on from her 5 kids, so I found ways to deal with that by being as observant as the highest-paid technician watching a spacecraft land on Mars from NASA.
I find a telephone, and that important paper with the number to call.
“Uh-huh, ok, sure, ok”…I say to my father’s new wife on the other end of that phone. I’m told it won’t be for two hours toward eternity, in the middle of California where the hell am I ? until I will be picked up. (Whittier is 18.9 miles away from Alameda Street, home of Union Station, what’s their problem?)
I give an ok as a response.
Union Station— I sit, then I stand, then I walk, I fiddle with my suitcase, then I sit. I walk back through Fred Harvey Restaurant, and I suddenly realize a man is standing on this winding Nora Desmond-Cher staircase exuding more Hollywood; and he’s eyeing me. This man is straight out of casting for To Kill A Mockingbird ; no, not Atticus, but Harper’s antagonist that damned Bob Ewell. He is creepy, a drifter maybe. He’s on that stairs, so I move…but he’s following me yards behind; stopping along the way so as to not to be creepy-suspicious. Though that’s exactly what he looked like in reality.
At first I think, this creep, he’s not much; but then I see he follows me every single place I go, even to the women’s restroom. He’s standing right outside, and I swear to heaven, he’s leering at me. When I walk away, I look right at him. I don’t have a plan, that’s for certain…but I don’t shy away, because, what the hell, he’s a creep. I gave him, what I thought at the time was, a What are you looking at? kind of glare. The place was loaded with witnesses, what could go wrong? I had no idea men would go to this much trouble to bother the living hell (but he was in for more, I hadn’t known that) out of a 16-year-old female clearly not with this guy on her teen-radar mind in any way. I had mine on The Beatles, that worked just fine, thanks.
I walk around some more and eventually I begin to realize,”‘Oh my god, this man is following me, and he can see I have no place to go because I’m just here, and not leaving.” Well hell, I say to myself, I have to switch my situation…Now, I’m on the teeter-totter of afraid and/or cautious. I saunter back to that cool Hollywood-ish Fred Harvey Restaurant where people who work there will talk back to you (when you’re 16 and don’t have big bucks, places like this are a bit off limits, you all know that)…but there’s soda-fountain service in the Fred Harvey, I could do that.
I walk across the room to the counter to a chrome-backed stool and sit down, suitcase in my lap.
As if on cue, my shoulders drop a little.
A waitress (and she’s a friendly one, she’s Marge, with black sewing-machine embroidery on her pocket sort of waitress) comes up to me while at the same time wiping the counter and says, “Honey, what’ll you have, you here on your own”?
(In retrospect, I believe good old Marge knew things were getting uncomfortable with me and Mr. Bob Ewell).
I said, “Yes, I am. here by myself”
Marge handed me a menu, I said, “Oh, no thanks, I don’t have a lot of cash on me right now.”
Marge tells me, “Well, honey, we have free cokes on Thursday’s and you’re just in time.” (really, Marge?)
Marge sits a Coke down right in front of me, in a Coke-shaped fountain drinks glass.
(I’m that close to Hollywood!)
Marge then hands me a folded up L.A. Times saying, “Here’s all the latest…want to read?”
Um, thanks much, Marge, I’ve been wondering the latest, I have…
Marge eventually pulls enough info from me to glean I’m waiting for a late-arrival dad to come get me.
Marge tells me, “Don’t worry, honey, no matter how late people get picked up here at Union, we never close, nice…huh?”
Yes, Marge, very very nice.
I look over my shoulder; that damned Bob Ewell is just outside the entry to Fred Harvey. I am definitely now bonded with Marge, the fountain-service counter and Fred Harvey. That Bob Ewell creep, was he banned from this place for some lurid act before I even bought the Greyhound ticket?
Seeming out of nowhere, a bright-faced uniformed bellhop walks in and sits right alongside me at the counter saying, “Hey Marge, how you doing today, how about a coffee?” He gives me a big brother smile, and it’s the real deal; he grabs for the sugar on the counter, the only kind he’d grab and you could tell.
At the fountain-service counter of the Fred Harvey Restaurant good forces that will do no harm have gathered round me, and I feel empowered. Marge is checking on my ice for the Coke, the bellhop is nonchalant, but an overseer of the whole place. (And that’s the gist of this story; that people would do that for someone else. They can sense what someone might need at just the right time. It’s grand when things work like that).
At the counter I’m drinking Coke, and the L.A. Times is unfolded enough to just read the headline… President Johnson…blah, blah, blah. I want to peer over Marge with her perky waitress crown-hat, to the restaurant entrance, just to give a confident sneer to the creepiest man I’d ever seen in my life, leaning against the doorway, but I pass on that, I’m 16 for god’s sake, I want to survive this arrival so I can go to my new high school, simple as that. That Bob Ewell standing over there could see these Union Station-Fred Harvey employees in the heart of Los Angeles in the middle of this massive train and bus station, were not going to let a California fledgling like me get lured off by him.
I can bet 50 years later now, Marge and the bellhop knew this ;lurking Union Station fly’s routine. If not for the people who kept their eyes open, I may have had a very different encounter in Union Station coming through Los Angeles’ portal that September day. Lots of young women and girls have stories they can’t even tell, that mimic mine but with a very bad outcome. It’s on this I think as I write.
The bell-hop drank all his coffee, sunny and upbeat while sitting with me, and when he got up, he held out his hand and said, “Well, welcome to California, kid”.
I said, “Thanks a lot”…feeling reinforced enough so that I could sincerely mean it.
Fred Harvey, Marge and the bell-hop had let me in California’s door that day in 1964 with nothing more than an afternoon at the Counter of My Belonging.