Thursday, March 29, 2007


—For Deborah Garnett, 1944-2007

Dressed in a blue hospital gown,
she is luminous, radiant eyes and face.
It’s a brilliant photograph. She’s like a movie star in rehab,
reminding me of my best childhood friend, Stephanie,
had she lived until she was 63.
She is translucent, calm but nervous, smiling for the camera,
ready to go, ready to face what comes, what will come to pass.
The unknown is around every corner, 
but we always forget. It is a lesson we learn anew 
and fail to remember with each passing.

The shoulders of her gown, with its snaps are like a road
separating the front from the back, the past from the present.
There is no future, there is only the now tearing the fabric of space. 
Small blue stars on her gown form clusters at the edges of her eyes,
I imagine galaxies of blue stars receding from the light.

It’s funny how the corner of the room evenly dissects her body
into the cardinal directions. A compass or a cross.
She would have objected loudly to the idea of a cross,
being Jewish, and a New Yorker, 
she would complain in firm Manhattanese.
In the picture there is a hint of a door just to the right.
It leads to the unknown room, perhaps to the waiting room.
She is in transit. We are all in transit. No one knows
the timetable or the master schedule, 
or the fare—only the “all aboard.”
We stand on the platform for years, in limbo, waiting.

We stand there to wave her off, 
to wish her a bon voyage on her journey.
We give her a shekel or a drachma. 
Coins and honeycakes to see her on Charon’s way.
She would have pinched each coin as it fell from the purse.
Sure, she had some rough edges, 
she was salty and strong-willed as they come,
and you’d think the universe revolved around her, 
she was a princess, but she had a big heart. 
The breathless heart shrouded by decoy symptoms.

Someone says it’s Saturday in that photograph.
It will always be a Saturday frozen in time.
On Sunday morning, my uncle will arrive at the platform,
not ready to go, he will rage against the dying light.
There will be the classic long goodbyes from the family.
Late reconciliations played out around the hospital bed.
His heart having failed him early in life, 
slid down the neck of a bottle. But he took heart again, 
redeemed himself with seva. Like Deborah.
Courageous. Mon coeur, we could have been friends.
I bring her an armload of flowers from my uncle’s wake.

Deborah will wait until Monday morning,
she will wait for the real work week
to begin the letting go of this mortal coil. 
Her heart will fail her.

Deborah, I don’t remember when we first met,
perhaps at the writers’ group, some five years ago,
but I will remember your passing, and your big heart.
I will wear your clothes with style so that you may see again.

In the photograph, it could be Taos, or Santa Fe,
or perhaps one of the turquoised Greek isles you loved so well.
Instead, it’s a suburban hospital just up the road
from the lost inheritance of his father’s hospital, 
a hospital well within view of the road not taken.

                        —Maureen Hurley, 3/9/2007

Saturday, March 24, 2007

My Mother was a Bohemian

My glamorous mother was a real bohemian gypsy artist, traipsing all over the West Coast, following the jobs to Reno, Las Vegas and Hollywood but she always came back to her home base in San Francisco, where she was born, usually broke and more often, broken down. She'd mend for a spell and then she'd be off again seeking her fortune and fame on the road.

She'd talk of the places she'd been, the people she'd met. How nice Frank Sinatra was, how he bought her a drink at the Cal Neva. At one point, she did costumes for the show girls in Tahoe and Las Vegas, a connection which led to her working for costume designer Ruben Panis in Hollywood but that's a convoluted story of the 60s and '70s I'm not quite ready to excavate.

She brought home strangers she'd met, some of whom, paradoxically, I'd run into decades later as a poet: Beat poets Eugene Ruggles, Bobby Kaufman, in the late '60s and early '70s, even the singer Bobby Darin—who was holed up near Esalen. He was tall and thin and pale, leaned back on the couch in jeans and cowboy boots, hair pulled back in a ponytail, with the longest sideburns I'd ever seen. Enigmatic. I remember trying to fret the chords to "If I Were a Carpenter," on my cheap steel string guitar until my fingers bled.

I don't think he was impressed with my talent. I didn't get my Maritn until my 16th birthday, the winter of '68-69 in a pawn shop in San Francisco. The ending of Kevin Spacey's Beyond the Sea had a huge unexpected memory payload for me. I remember a very hippie Bobby sitting back on the sectional couch... But the corroborating details of those stories are lost.

When I was young, I wasn't interested, then she got too crazy with the drugs, I was distainful, now it's too late to recover the facts and now here I am, in my fifth decade, weaving the thin threads of the past into a tapestry of stories.

© 2007 Maureen Hurley

Friday, March 23, 2007

Guys and Dolls

In the late '50s, and early '60s, live staged television was the new medium. A veteran actor with over a hundred film credits, Lloyd Bridges too was transitioning over to television. Lloyd Bridges' movie career may have been interrupted during the McCarthy trials, but he still very much the local actor about town, having grown up in Petaluma. My mother knew Lloyd from her Sausalito Gate Playhouse days. I'm not sure how it evolved, but she did the costuming for Guys and Dolls, and The Student Prince at the Music Circus Theater in the Round, one hot summer of 1959.

Lloyd Bridges, my mother, Maureen AKA “Kellé” Hurley, The Student Prince.

I don't remember the particulars (I was six), but we all moved to the Central Valley for at few weeks to produce the show. What I do remember was that there was a live televised show with ballet, men arguing, lots of singing, and poodle-skirted girls.

It was Midsummernight's Eve, June, 22, 1959, and according to Christopher McSwain, the Community Affairs Director of the California Musical Theatre, Guys and Dolls ran only one week. (I originally thought it was circa 1960, or 1961, because my memories were so vivid, I though I was much older).

But I do remember that Lloyd Bridges was Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls at Sacramento's Theater in the Round, at the Music Circus. With some 30 television credits under his belt, Lloyd was both an actor (Sky Masterson) and emcee. Of course, my mother wasn't listed anywhere in the credits. (McSwain said she wasn't part of the ensemble, or costume crew, but note that she's sewing the costume for The Student Prince in the photo below. Beside, my aunt Canice also sewed costumes for Guys and Dolls.)

My mother sewing the costume she wore in The Student Prince.

We were (cast and crew) staying at a white stucco ranch style motel. Mornings, while everybody was sleeping in, I'd sneak into the kitchenette and eat Tony the Tiger corn flakes from waxpaper-lined cardboard boxes that you cut along the dotted lines. Two doors opened to frosted cereal sweetness—no bowl needed—which I thought was pretty amazing.

When everybody finally woke up (late) and went to rehearsal, my aunt Canice babysat me—even Lloyd Bridges did a babysitting stint or two—but he was usually in rehearsal. So I often hung out at the theater with my mom or with the Bridges boys.

At the motel, I had no one to play with and I was bored to tears (no such thing as TV in every room). Our room was at the shallow end of the tiny kidney-shaped pool and the Bridges' room was at the deep end. That summer, my world was divided up according to the depth of the pool. I wasn't allowed near the deep end. Lloyd's boys wouldn't play with me in the turquoise pool because I couldn't swim in the deep end.

Jeff was three years older than me. When you're young (six) and days seem like weeks, three years is a half a lifetime. But his brother was a whopping eleven years older and wouldn't have anything to do with me. I remember Lloyd introducing me to his two sons, we were standing near the shallow end of the pool.

I remember Lloyd telling me his oldest son's name was Boy, which I thought was bizarre 'cause he was clearly much older, he was a teenager, practically a man, and Jeff, who was closer to my age, was obviously younger, and therefore should rightfully be called Boy. Lloyd threw back his head and roared with laughter when I explained to him him why I thought that Jeff should be called Boy.

But that summer I was fast discovering that adults often told lies and were unreliable. What? Even my hero, Mike Nichols of Sea Hunt was making up strange stories. Just because I was six going on seven, I wasn't THAT gullible. Hiding my disappointment, I said, Hi Boy, and, of course, he completely ignored me. It wasn't until I saw him in Hotel New Hampshire (1984), that I realized his name was Beau, not boy.

The boys were enshrouded in their own world of water and sun like blond viking godlings with eyes the color of the sky. From the safety of my end of the pool I watched them become airborne as birds against the cerulean sky and plunge into the turquoise depths. Sometimes Jeff resurface at my end of the pool to play with me—I stood there mesmerized—but Boy would always call him back. I can safely say I've been cannon-balled by the Bridges boys. Not that they'd remember making me cry.

I was inconsolable as the boys were the only other kids around and Lloyd must've taken pity on me. One afternoon at the theater, he gathered me up, dandled me on his knee, and said, "I have a daughter about your age, Lucinda." But she was a whole year—and a month—younger than me, I was desperate for a playmate, I asked if I could play with her but he said, no, she was at home in LA.

Lloyd reached into his pocket and pulled out an exquisite crystal star on a silver chain. I was dazzled. He placed a star around my neck. My faith in adults restored, I wondered, did he give his daughter a little crystal star too? And would I get to play with her later?

My mom fitting a costume possibly for Guys and Dolls.

During rehearsal, Lloyd said I could stay and watch the show that night if I was very quiet as they were filming it for live TV. I practiced my own dress rehearsal by sitting in the empty theater, quiet as a mouse as the purple netting curtain descended from the ceiling to create a dreamscape of stardust and a ballet dancer emerged like a swan from the darkness into teal and blue spot light. It was pure magic. I was starstruck.
Wardrobe assistant, Maureen Hurley adjusts the costume of Betty Downey
Sacramento Bee, June 21, 1959 Newspapers 

I remember the ballet dancers, lots of people singing, short-sleeved men with fedoras tussling with each other and banging down their fists on red and white checkered table cloths. Everyone bursting into improbable song. Gaffers silently rising, large cameras the size of ponies. At that age, what I remember was the magic of theater, but the plot was far beyond me. Maybe that's why I dislike musical theater to this day.

Later that year, with the crystal star around my neck, I religiously watched Sea Hunt at neighbors' houses, as we didn't have a TV. Sometimes I'd glimpse the summer boys on TV, sleek as otters. From Lloyd as Mike Nelson, I have an enduring love of the sea and I love to snorkel for hours on end, no matter how rough the sea.

I lost that crystal star, one morning it slipped down behind the back seat of a neighbor's car. She wouldn't pull out the seat. I realized much later, she was probably far too drunk to do it. But I didn't know it then. I cried for the loss of that star, and sometimes I'd find it again in dreams, I'd reach for it to pull it out and it'd slip from my grasp, ephemeral as water.

© 2007 Maureen Hurley

Thursday, March 22, 2007

You rarely got what you wanted at Juanita’s Galley, but you got a lot of it

THE most distinctive memory I have of of my mother during Sausalito's halcyon Bohemian Gate 5 days, was when she worked for local legend, Juanita Musson, circa 1958.

Friend of Sally Stanford, former madame and unlikely restauranteur, Juanita Musson, in her trademark Hawaiian muu-muu, and acres of hair piled atop her head, was a local—if not infamous—institution. Of ample body and heart, Juanita, who tipped the scale at 300-pounds, was renowned for her eclectic cooking and unorthodox style of restauranteuring, which was more akin to rest-RANT-eering.

Truly a unique dining experience was had by all who crossed her many thresholds. Juanita was both a finicky diner's and health inspector's worst nightmare; she was immune to the mundane trivia of sanitation health codes, brushing them off like midges. I remember a turkey being served in an oval enamel baby's bath pan.

Juanita's was open at 5 AM, and she fed everybody in town, including the local fishermen (Sausalito was still a real fishing village in those days). Her heart was so big, she fed starving artists and equally starving actors (everybody was thin as a rail) and of course, myriad stray dogs.

On fine Sunday mornings, everyone turned up en masse at Juanita's Galley, which was often so full, she fed the overflow crowd on long picnic tables made of sawhorses and old doors in the dirt parking lot at Gate 5 Road.

Doorknobs poked up through the tablecloths—if you got one. Generally there was nothing more than the unvarnished truth between your plate and the door. In those days, anything resembling a dish or a vessel—from ferries to jam jars to bedpans—was also pressed into service. It made the Baghdad Cafe look like a 4-star Marriot.

You rarely ever got what you ordered at Juanita's restaurant, not like Alice! and if you protested, well, then, she'd wave her arms like a windmill and scream bloody hell seasoned with plenty of verbal (as)salt at you in that big crass Panhandle voice, "Eat it, or wear it!" And if, God forbid, you didn't finish your food, then, you had to take it with you. Or else.

Feeling very grown up at the age of six, I ordered a rare treat, pancakes. It was a tough decision between pancakes and French toast. The kitchen was already out of French toast. My mouth watered in anticipation. I wasn't allowed to eat them except on Sundays. My usual fodder was my grandmother's oatmeal mush.

But, after an intolerably long wait, my order finally came. My mother was busy waiting on customers at the other end of the parking lot, so Juanita herself hustled out in her red muu-muu, and plonked down a real fisherman's breakfast: eggs, runny side up, bacon, a big leathery slab of steak, toast, and mountains and mountains of white rice—more than I could possibly eat in several Sundays. I was aghast. No syrupy sweet pancakes?

I just stared at those two quivering yellow orbs staring right back at me from the rim of the plate and did what any reasonable six-year-old would do, I cried. The sunshine had gone right out of my day. Thunderclouds on the horizon.

I was six, and I knew the clean plate rules, firsthand. I also knew about starving pagan babies in China, and all that. And as ill luck would have it, there were no street dogs or starving Chinese kids to the rescue. And mailing my breakfast to China was not an option. I didn't have the postage.

The insurmountable mountain of food would have challenged even a fisherman's prodigious appetite. As customers watched, transfixed—to see what would happen next—Juanita, startled by my tears, softened a bit, seeing as it was me, after all. And so she grabbed a stack of pancakes from a hapless customer who, knowing from experience, the futility of complaining to Juanita, was just about to tuck in to what HE didn't order.

Now instead of giving my first plate to the man, I was stuck with TWO breakfasts. And Juanita took no prisoners. You cleaned all your plates—even if you were six! I began to wail in earnest, while plotting an escape—perhaps I could crawl under the table. Then what? Make a run for the car? My mom was pretty swamped waiting on tables at the other end of the parking lot, so she couldn't run interference, or rescue me until the brunch crowd had been fed.

Someone finally took pity on me and helped me out. I think it was my mom's good friend, the tall, skinny bespectacled New Yorker, Skip Rognlien, who was a Gate Playhouse set designer, playwright and director (along with Les Abbott); he happily polished off a second breakfast.

There are many outrageous stories of Juanita's restaurants—and all of them apparently true. But unfortunately it's hard to find the active bearers of oral tradition. Hence this blog. To see what will crawl out of the woodwork. Most people remember Juanita, but not the specifics. Painter and sonic artist, Richard Waters remembers it was pretty crazy washing dishes for Juanita during his starving artist days the 1960s, but little else, other than he ate well. As classmate, Robin Williams famously quipped, "If you can remember the '60s, you weren't really there..."

Sometimes Juanita, with her auburn hair piled high and red lipstick often askew, or decorating a tooth—she had a large toothy smile—would sneak up from behind and wrap her big boobs around the ears of a hapless male customer and if he turned around, she'd smother him, rocking his nose deep into her cleavage, and then she'd laugh like a hyena while he struggled for breath. Wives later reported that Juanita's boob-muffin worked like viagra. I remember Juanita muu-muu-ing some poor fisherman who entered the galley kitchen. At Juanita's Galley, you were expected to pour your own coffee and to bus your own dishes—or you might be wearing them as ornaments upside the back of your head.

The kitchen was really a ferryboat galley. Was it The MV Vallejo? I don't remember. Someone insisted that it was the Charles Van Damme but that ferry was stuck high in the mud at the north end of Gate 5 or Tiki Junction and this Juanita's Galley was still floating. I remember that it moaned and shifted like an uneasy horse on the tide.

If I remember correctly, the ferry sported a forest green trim and the Charles Van Damm was white. Maybe Juanita moved the Galley over there later? Some of the mothballed green and white ferryboats were later retrofitted and sent to Puget Sound—in the 1970s, I rode the MV Lagunitas ferry to Anacortes. Does anyone remember what happened to The Trade Fair ferryboat by the park? Please drop me a line...

In her house above Casa Madrone, Juanita kept a strange menagerie of animals. One sunny afternoon when my mother and I were visiting (we lived out in Forest Knolls, my mom must've had a rehearsal at the Gate Playhouse), Juanita wore so many bangles on her wrists, they sounded like an empty closet of coathangers. She offhandedly offered me some grapes. But the monkey beat me to them. Beauregard leaped down from the ceiling molding and stole the grapes right from my hand.

Juanita kept a blind cockerel rooster that perched on her shoulder like a parrot, and there were rampant chickens, myriad cats, stray dogs and goats wandering in and out the front door. I remember she adopted an orphaned fawn named Sissy that rode around on a bed in the back of her white Ford Falcon station wagon. I remember that the fawn still had its spots, like a dusting of snow, and its fur was coarse to the touch. But its ears were shaped like the air scoop on the ferry and it had the longest lashes I'd ever seen.

I was already scandalized by the idea of a monkey in the parlour and a rooster on her shoulder. But I was particularly flummoxed by the conundrum of Juanita's owning a pet fawn, because even at the age of six, I knew that deer belonged in the wild, not in captivity.

I was putting together a list of things that had their rightful order in the universe, but with the fawn, Juanita had upset my idea of order. I didn't give a thought to how a nursing fawn could survive on its own. Or the compassion Juanita must've felt as she nursed that orphan from a glass milk bottle with Lucas Valley Dairy imprinted on its side. The fawn was clearly imprinted on Juanita and followed her like a little dog on reed-thin legs. Tiny hooves clattered on cement like a staccato of hard rain.

I was just getting my first glimpses of life lessons and I was learning that my mother was becoming too fey and fragile for this world. It was as if God had made a deal with my mother—trading talent for emotional stability. She opted for talent and it drove her crazy. More than once, Juanita picked my mom up and put her back on her feet. Juanita was that kind of woman. Picked you up by the scruff of the neck and plopped you in front of the trough with the rest of your littermates.

It seems Juanita was always picking up and setting down roots herself (she was a plucky old gal—built like a Peterbuilt) and it seems that someone was always burning down her restaurants—by her own count, she had some eleven establishments.

Several of Juanita's legendary venues were opened in Sonoma's Valley of the Moon: Boyes Hot Springs, Fetter's Hot Springs and Glen Ellen. Then, I'd heard she moved to Port Costa, then to Vallejo and lastly, to Winters.

A surprising number of her places really did burn down. One—was it in Winters?—was lost to back taxes, or maybe Juanita just grew tired of it. There was always wild speculation that she did them in herself for the fire insurance, but as far as I know, Juanita always ran a lean shop, so there was no money for frilliness like fire insurance. Someone said she had a thing going with an insurance salesman....but you know how rumors spread like wildfire.

In the early '70s, I went to Juanita's Fetter's Hot Springs restaurant, and the joint was crammed to the gills with odd antiques and old hunting lodge memorabilia, with dusty moose heads and bucks with impressive racks—sort of like Spec McAuliff's bar in Lagunitas (another fabled Marin institution that fell to an arson's hands).

Cobwebbed candles stuck higglety pigglety in any convenient corner over the fireplace mantle and chimney, with bright layers of wax stalagtites dripping down the rocks in rainbow hues. Diners were crammed in knee-to-knee, tighter than a party of sardines at a canning factory. Sweet-old-Bob, my boyfriend from the 'burbs, was left speechless by his first (and only) Juanita dining experience.

The menu was prime rib for two and you had to share it with someone, or else. Heaven help the lone diner. When Juanita came out the kitchen with the cleaver in hand to divvy up the slab of meat, diners were surprisingly meek. The Juanita's Galley House Rules were printed on the dining check: 1. Pour your own coffee. 2. Write your own order. Be sure to put your name on your order so we can find you. 3. Our food is guaranteed—but not the disposition of the cook. Check Here for Special Service: Slow. Don't Care. Damned Big Rush. Those in the know never checked the last box.

Goats tethered in the yard on long chains (they ate through ropes), mowed down the weeds. There was Erica the white pig and even a holstein cow looking longingly toward the greener pasture out back of the restaurant. And there were flocks of randy ducks were swimming in the old bathtub cum water trough, or recreating, and nailing everything in sight—including escapee enamel bedpans from Sonoma State Hospital.

In 2006, I heard there was a "Juanita Roast" at Little Switzerland in Sonoma, replete with Juanita's signature dinner: moose-sized slabs of prime rib—enough to feed triplets, set in an acre park of mashed potatoes. The only thing un-Juanita-like about the dinner was the price. She'd never charge $40 a plate! During the Roast, Tommy Smothers (my one-time babysitter at Gate 5), or someone quipped, "Well, now, Juanita was never very good with candles...," and the audience roared with laughter. Ya hadda be there....

I recently ran into someone who remembered Juanita during the Sausalito days, and I had the opportunity to ask her: "Did Juanita really walk around with a rooster perched on on her shoulder or is my memory playing tricks on me?" She answered, "Yes, Juanita really did. So the story is true—which, BTW, inaugurated this blog.

Remember that blind, one-eyed rooster? Well, the story goes, that Juanita would amble up to men in the restaurant with that little banty rooster riding shotgun, and she'd say, "How do you like my cock?" Of course, at age six, that allusion went right over my head. I had to ripen a good decade or three before I finally got it.

© 2007 Maureen Hurley

A shorter version of this story appears in Marin Nostalgia (in fact, this story was revised and expanded in December, 2008 because Jason Lewis wanted to use it on his website.

Tiki Junction, Sausalito

When my mother, Kellé Reilly was at the Gate Playhouse theatre, I was left on one of the houseboats at Tiki Junction or at Gate Five or Gate Six. I loved when my mom parked the big convertible right in front of the tikis at Tiki Junction because I could stand up in the car and see them eyeball to eyeball.

My mother knew Barney West, the South Pacific carver, he told us he had to padlock the tikis together like a San Quentin chain gang because people were always trying to steal them. These tikis were huge, stealing them must've taken some planning. Not something you could pop in the trunk on a whim without blowing out your rear tires and busting an axle.

Barney West salvaged a lot of his wood after the big storms. Winter of '64 was record flood year (we measured rain by the foot in '63 too), and when it retreated, (following on the cusp of the big Alaska quake and tsunami) left a lot of debris and salvaged boatwrecks behind.

Years later, there were still huge beached logs and big burls shipwrecked and marooned in the oddest places up and down the coast. (I remember the Good Friday quake, I was home sick, leaning back on the couch the wall, with a fever, and the wall suddenly slapped the back of my head like a cricket bat. Marin was hit hard, the tsunami, though small inside the Gate, stacked the bay water up. Many boats, snapped from their moorings, were turned into kindling).

At the junction, there was always a tiki boneyard in reserve. We'd climb the logs and burls like they were Mt. Everest. Sometimes they'd be floating in the bay, seasoning, I guess.

I remember watching Barney work, shirtless, deep baked skin glistening like mahogany, sometimes he worked with chainsaw and axe, or with mallet and chisel.

Barney was not one for smalltalk or small kids pestering him but I was fascinated, watching the progress from blank wood to terrifying tiki. Sometimes painted, sometimes not. What remains in memory, a flotsam carpet of woodchips, the sonorous chainsaw idle and whine, the resinous odor of carved wood and a lifelong urge to visit the mo'ai of Easter Island.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Gate 5, Gate Playhouse, Sausalito

Gate Playhouse Theatre, ca. 1961. (Photo courtesy of Richard Knablin)

During the 1950s and early 1960s, my mother Maureen (Kellé Hurley) Reilly was an actress and costume/ set designer/painter for the Gate Community Playhouse Theater Company, on Bridgeway, catty-corner from the No Name Bar, in downtown Sausalito.

After a show closed, I used to love playing dress-up with the discarded costumes and remnants mouldering in my grandmother's basement. Yards of purple netting from Guys & Dolls at the Music Circus, loud silk print dresses, Victorian capes and witches' rags.

Sometimes I went to the theater or work with my mother when she was staying with us out in Forest Knolls. She never lived with us for long. She'd drive over White's Hill in her big white convertible with the top down and the known world spun past my forehead in the form of cerulean blue sky, green oak canyons and golden hills. I must've been about six or seven.

My mother supported her ephemeral art by working as a waitress in nearly every coffee shop in Sausalito. So I got to know them all from the inside out. The Kettle, The Valhalla, Juanita's.

Juanita was unforgettable with her menagerie (a rooster perched on her shoulder, a spider monkey and an orphan fawn named Cissy) following her around the parking lot as she served customers on Sunday mornings at Gate 5.

I don't remember the infamous Trident (until I was older) because it was on the other side of town by the bronze seal (though for a time, my mother did move into the big shingle house overlooking the water near Sally Stanford's infamous Valhalla). I do remember meeting The Kingston Trio. Perhaps that's why Tommy Smothers and others were hanging out at Gate 5. (It may have technically been Gate 6, but it was always called Gate 5.)

There was the time when my mother was working for Sally Stanford at the Valhalla and who should walk in but Perry Como! Richard Knablin happened to be hanging out at the bar that night, and said (my mother) Kellé looked great standing there in her Valhalla costume, fishnet stockings, tall heels, a merry widow and not much else, as Perry Como walked in and sit at one of her tables. She had the classic tall willowy showgirl figure for it.

Perry left a nice tip. There might have even been an autographed napkin involved as well. I've a vague memory of something like that....

My mother, Kellé Reilly (later it was Kellé Green—her stage name as there was already an actress, Maureen Hurley in SAG), Richard Knablin, Skip Rognlien and Vee Rae, Christmas, 1960. (Photo by Chris Gracida, courtesy of Richard Knablin.)

When a show was running at the Gate, sometimes I went to the theater (I saw Guys and Dolls, Pipedream, The Fantastics, Anything Goes, Annie Get Your Gun, On the Town, Of Thee I Sing, and a children's matinee, Hansel & Gretel—my mom played the evil witch. It was in November of 1960?, because The Gate Players had a tradition of bringing all the birthday kids onstage after the show for a big birthday cake and ice cream party. But it quickly became ice scream.

We were all gathered round the cake singing Happy Birthday to blow the candles out when my mom came out from the wings still in costume and makeup to give me a hug. I knew it was my mom, but the other kids didn't, they saw the witch had come to eat them, so when she hugged me, pandemonium broke out as they all ran off the stage—screaming.

I was the only one left standing so I blew out the candles by myself. I was also the last kid left standing, mortified, glued to the spot, but I had the whole cake to myself as none of the kids would come back on stage even after my mom took her makeup off. I shrugged my shoulders as if to say, it's their loss and went on with the serious business of eating cake.

Les Abbott and the Marquee. Vee Rae photos 1961

Courtesy of Vee Rae photos 1961

But more often than not, I was left on one of the houseboats at Tiki Junction or at Gate Five or Gate Six.

Before the show, I was deposited at Dick and Tommy Smothers' houseboat where there were folks sitting around on chairs and pillows in the living room singing and playing banjos and guitars. With all that adult attention, I was pretty precocious and I'd dance around in circles to the music. In hindsight, it was probably The Kingston Trio and entourage down from The Trident.

My babysitters were the funny men: There was big black Sam the actor, with a fabulous physique who looked like a bald muscleman genie from Aladdin. I asked him if he was Samson but where was his hair, did Delila cut it all off, and was he still strong? He roared with laughter and tossed me up into the air. I'd never seen a black man before wearing a single gold earring so I knew he was exotic and not of this world.

In those days, I was preparing for my first communion, I was busy equating everyone with Biblical characters—trying to reconcile imperfect metaphor with reality. The nuns at the Lagunitas church, St. Cecelia's, told us me that whenever it rained, it was God's tears because we were so bad in church. I said He was peeing on us and let me tell you, I got into deep doo-doo for that remark. I was never was asked again to be Queen of the May, never again to crown the statue of the Virgin Mary.

Unlike his dour brother, Dick, who didn't seem to like kids, Tommy Smothers was kind and funny, if not funny looking with his ears sticking out like teapot handles. I liked Tommy the best. He was a real kid magnet. Whenever I'd spot him, I'd launch myself at him and he'd sing me around the room by the arms and then throw me through his legs and toss me back up into the air until I nearly hit the ceiling and I screamed with laughter. (And I probably immediately fell asleep exhausted).

In the '60s and 70s, I was shocked to later see Tommy's name on billboard at the Purple Onion, or on TV —The Smothers Brothers Show. A few years ago, when I ran into Pat Paulson's daughter and we exchanged stories, she said Pat was living in Sausalito too, but I don't remember him. Weird to think I might have played with her as a child.

Gate Playhouse. Vee Rae photos 1961

I remember seeing Sterling Hayden in a movie—The Ten Commandments—I was in Switzerland as an "exchange" student in 1973—I'd seen very few movies in my lifetime and almost no TV when I was young, so I tended to remember everything in minute details. I asked my mom why he seemed so familiar and she said because I knew him from the Sausalito days. Another veil lifted. I have only one image of Sterling, taller than forever, tossing me up into the air by the elephant fountain. I thought he was a Viking God.

During the '50s and '60s, McCarthyism drove many Hollywood folks north to the Bay Area. In the '80s I remember seeing converted chicken ranch barns in Sebastopol and Cotati made from Hollywood backdrops and movie props. Whatever happened to the Gate Playhouse director, Skip Rognlien, from New York, or to beautiful Greek Athena Martin the actress living in the Alta Mira above the Village Fair, who looked like Jackie O?

Back of the Gate Playhouse. Vee Rae photos 1961

Back of the Gate Playhouse opened abruptly into the bay,
a tiny ledge & nothing more than air. Vee Rae photo 1961

I ran into my mom's sidekick, Sally Lacey, who lived near Sally Stanford's Valhalla, they'd all meet for coffee and sit on the deck with the whiskey-voiced chain smoking Madame, Sally Stanford, and later mayor of Sausalito holding court. I ran into a toothless Sally Lacy—in the looney bin at Napa State Hospital where I was teaching poetry to the inmates. Sally Lacey remembered me, but that was about it. Time had not been kind to her. Was Sally one of Madame Sally's girls from 1144 Pine Street in the City? Or another colorful character from Sausalito's past? Vee Rae said Sally was Marilyn Monroe's stand-in in Hollywood.

And I haven't even mentioned Pat Wall, Piro and Alice, Peter Wolfe and Jean Varda....but that was my second Sausalito incarnation, when I was ten and learned to pilfer at the Trade Fair. Fodder for another blog.

The Ark, 1967

Sally Stanford died in 1982. I heard that Juanita died in a fire, when someone torched her restaurant in Boyes Hot Springs. But rumors of her death are greatly exaggerated. She's alive, and well, living in Sonoma County, (She died in 2011) Sterling died in 1986 in Sausalito.

They cleaned up the waterfront, blew up the ferryboats and a bit of the past along with it. Tommy opened a Volvo car dealership in Santa Rosa, and Pat opened a winery in the Valley of the Moon. My mom died in 1994, Lloyd, in 1998. With them, the rich stories of Sausalito in the 1950s, are irrevocably lost.

The 7 Seas

© 2007 Maureen Hurley

Thursday, March 15, 2007

My mother & Tom Green


My mother Kellé hooked up with actor/playwright Tom Green in the early 1960s...I truly hated him. Not enough words in the English language to cover all his vagaries.

And the drug thing was Tom's doing. I suspect why I kept such a distance from the theatre was because I saw what my mother turned into under the the influence of Tom Green. He latched onto her and wouldn't let go. Took her down with him as far as I'm concerned. He was forever writing that half-assed Fellini rip-off screenplay, 4 and a quarter, that never materialized... But I did inherit his old compact baby blue enameled Olivetti, my first real writing machine.

Tom Green stayed in her life one way or another until he died of TB. Or something like that. By the end, even he—human leach that he was—was too much for her and she no longer lived with him, ca. the end of the 1980s.

Anyway, we saw a lot of Mom during the 70s and I must say that hanging out in the early 70s with her was a blast, I remember concerts in Golden Gate Park—especially the Human Be-in... I remember hanging out in the Haight in a cafe, a big booth.... We were always dropping in on folks and things were so loose in those days.

Some names emerge from the memory blank (stet): Lynn Deutra—a Digger who ran the Forest Knolls Freestore. Vampyre Mike, Pasha (I met her later at Whitman's memorial), Whitman McGowan—you can see a glimpse of my mother in his DVD "White Folks Was Once Wild Too." Eugene Ruggles, Bobby Kaufman.

I've one memory of wandering with a girlfriend into Grace Slick's place on Fulton? during a drug deal. Grace was in a black ecru lined babydoll, heavy raccoon eyes, and was generally rather cross that we were hanging out in her living room.

But by the 80s, my mom was spending more time in The City, I suspect she was becoming increasingly marginalized. Or strung out. I think speed was her drug of choice. She was painting a lot at Project Artaud. For a while she lived in a beer vat at the old Hamm's Brewery and was den mother to fledgling punk rockers.

sfchronicle_vault June 24, 1954: The Hamm’s Brewery sign🍺 was always able to toast itself, high above the Central Freeway, a neon chalice that filled and emptied endlessly in the San Francisco night sky. It seems like a dream now. There is no known video, and The Chronicle only has black-and-white photos. But for more than two decades, the 13-foot-tall glass of luminescent beer was the most prominent landmark in the center of the city. 📷: Bob Campbell

I've not yet written about the Venice memories, I stayed a couple of summers with her and my brother Guy stayed on the full year when she moved to the canals—I don't even know the names of the streets. Was she on the canal or on the beach?

Or what it was like for my brother living with her. He never talked about it. Her friend Pat was the one who kidnapped the baby boy, Billy, and then gave him up to the state. Kellé pretty much went off the deep end after that.

I would love to find someone who remembers anything of the gigs she got in Las Vegas costuming—how that came about? What went wrong? It seems she could've made it bigtime and derailed.

My grannie said she wasn't sleeping, up sewing 60 hours straight. There was some story about a missed deadline, falling asleep at the wheel, waking in the desert, beads breaking on one of the costumes (probably something I threaded), showgirls falling on the beads onstage—all scattered snippets of lost stories.

But I remember what she wore as she sewed. White capris and a B&W Marseilles sailor striped shirt. She showed me how to dance the cha-cha-cha. She showed me the place where she had drinks with Frank Sinatra at Cal Neva. So I know it happened. But how to shape it into a story?

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Letter to Herb Gold

Herb Gold, c/o Letters to the Editor
Image Magazine
110 Fifth St.
San Francisco, CA 94103

It was interesting to read your reminiscences of the other Sausalito; I found myself looking for the other story, the characters and places I remember as a child: The No Name habitué, Lew Welch, and bartender/novelist Don Meredith. The Gate Theatre (my mother was an actress, costume/set designer); where I first met Sterling Hayden—one of my favorite babysitters. I liked Tommy Smothers better because he was so goofy.

At The Gate Playhouse Theatre, I sat through countless performances of Pipe Dream, Of Thee I Sing. My mother was the wicked witch in the Hansel and Gretel matinee. After the performance, we birthday kids were nervously lined up on stage, the audience singing Happy Birthday to You as the cake was carried out by my mother—while still in costume. When she hugged me, there was pandemonium; all the other kids ran off the stage crying and screaming.

No story about Sausalito is complete without some mention of Juanita Musson, the legendary restaurateur who, to my horror, kept a fawn in the back of her white Ford Falcon station wagon. Meals at Juanita’s (the Bridgeway parking lot on weekends) were always a surprise. Juanita’s wrath was legendary; customers quickly learned to shut up and eat, even if what they got wasn’t what they ordered.

Instead of pancakes, Juanita brought me runny eggs and rice. I was crushed, my mother (the waitress) signaling, Let it go. . . When I burst into tears, Juanita exploded, Fer Chrissakes! her cursing louder than her parrot or her muu-muu. The more experienced patrons instinctively ducked as she charged back to the kitchen. Juanita pysically endorsed the clean plate club; for my crocodile tears, I got a lovely stack of pancakes the size of dinner plates, and as tall as Everest, my work clearly cut out for me. . .

Juanita’s apartment above Bridgeway was a realm of filtered pink light, with beaded curtains, gizmos in every available space—and the menagerie—a monkey who might pinch, pee on us (or worse, fling shit), if we didn’t feed him the grapes Juanita handed us. At least one big rooster strutted his stuff in the living room.

At the Village Faire, and the Trade Fair, a converted ferry boat, we were regular little filching Olivers with our five-gallon wide-mouthed black naugahyde purses. We’d sit on the retaining wall outside the Village Faire, pool our money for fish and chips, and compare the day’s catch: wooden mice and cheap silver Navajo rings that we later mailed off to Micaela’s parents’ puzzled friends and relations.

My friend’s father, Patrick Wall, was a retired art dealer from Carmel, and his wife Betty, a potter, so we ran wild through many an artist’s party including one on Varda’s ferry boat. The Charles Van Damme was so rakishly angled that Varda had to nail his cobalt and vermilion montages to the walls. Caught stealing food in the kitchen, and compounded by a case of mistaken identity—as some guest’s brats—we were sent upstairs to the captain’s deck, prisoners with nothing to do but watch the Spreckles House slowly sink further into the mud.

When we were 86ed from another party, we balanced on the thin warped boards that threatened to toss us into the raw sewage as we peered in the portholes of Piro and Alice’s houseboat at Gate Five. Piro Wolfe, who founded the successful Anchor Steam Beer Company, once made legendary history when he and Alice, dressed to the nines, took a dingy to the opera—neglecting to check the tides—only to arriving hours after the opera was over.

The first major influx of tourists came hard on the heels of the flower children. Comedian Robin Williams (with whom I went to school) was right to repeat the Marin adage early and often: If you remember the ’60s, you weren’t really there. I will forgive you for bungling a few facts. We’ve all had to reconstruct our past from the literary fragments that followed. We had no idea we were living through a significant era until after it was over and done with, dead and anthologized, taken from us by the coffin of time and by the tide of eager hordes that followed.

Maureen Hurley