HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER (The True Story)

My dad knew Gil Rodin from Chicago, and he had heard that Gil was
leading an Army band up in Vallejo, so when we knew I was going to be
drafted, my dad got in touch with Gil and asked him if he needed a piano
player. Gil said yeah, he could really use a good piano player, but he wanted to know who I had worked for. My dad mentioned Jan Savitt. I had never actually played piano with Savitt, but I had written a few arrangements for him, and he had sent me a wire to join the band as pianist and arranger on the road, so my dad mentioning Savitt wasn't a complete fabrication.

Gil said OK, he'd get his Colonel to put in a request for me. And after a
couple of months of basic training I was assigned to the 211th Coast
Artillery Anti-Aircraft Band in Vallejo, California. Gil had told everybody that
I had played with Jan Savitt, and I figured that that was close enough to the truth
to stick with the story.

So three years pass, and about two or three days after I get home
from the army, Jan Savitt calls. He's going into the Casino Gardens in Ocean
Park for a few weeks and he'd like me on piano. I said fine. So that made
the story we'd told in Vallejo even truer.

When we were coming to the end of our engagement in Ocean Park, Jan
called me into the band room and asked me what my plans were after we
were through at the Casino Gardens. I told him Will Osborne was forming a
new band for a couple of weeks of one-nighters up and down the coast, and
Will asked me to go with him. I said to Jan, "Will has Jimmy Mundy writing the
book, and he's got a real good singer—Eileen Wilson—so I told him I'd Join
him."

Jan said he thought I ought to stick around town because he was
negotiating for a radio show and he might be able to use me. I thanked him,
but I told him I really didn't want to do studio work—I enjoyed working with
swing bands and small jazz combos. He said OK but to let him know if I
changed my mind.

So a few days after we were through at the Casino Gardens, I
was doing one-nighters with Will Osborne.

Everybody in the band was first class except the drummer, who was
the world's worst. Every night was like a catastrophe waiting to happen.
Thanks to the excellent musicianship of the rest of the band, we got through
the trip, but it kind of turned me off going on the road with a swing band.

The next day after I got home, I got a call from Ray Bauduc. Ray had a
little jazz band on an open ended job at the Susie-Q on Hollywood Boulevard.
His piano player was leaving, and he asked me if I would like to step in. I had
worked along side Ray in the 211th army band in Vallejo; and the Susie-Q
band had Joe Graves on trumpet, who had also been in the 211th, and Don
Lodice on tenor sax, who had been featured with Tommy Dorsey's band—so
it sounded like a very comfortable situation. I said OK.

Ray Bauduc was a famous dixieland drummer, but dixieland at this
period was passe, so Ray played pretty much in the background at the Susie-
Q except on his feature numbers. The band was good, but it lacked that
extra spark you usually get from a drummer of Ray's caliber.

I enjoyed playing with the band. Other than working at the club, we
made some records, worked in a movie and did a couple of Soundies. I really
considered myself fortunate to have such a good, steady, in-town job. But
as the weeks turned into months, I kept getting more and more depressed.

The family decided I ought to see a doctor. Uncle Dave suggested a
fellow he was seeing who had offices with a couple of other doctors at
Crossroads Of The World, which was, and I guess still is, a bunch of cottages
set up for offices and shops between Sunset and Selma not far from the
Susie-Q. I had some tests, and the doctor said I had low metabolism and low
hemoglobin, and prescribed thyroid pills, and made me an appointment with an
upscale psychotherapist friend of his who had a reputation for being involved
in left-wing causes.

I really didn't like this guy. I felt like I was boring him to death. Half
the time that I was there, he was looking at his watch.

I stopped going after a few weeks, so I never got a diagnoses. But it
got back to me, I think through Uncle Dave, that the therapist thought I
needed a girlfriend.

After I thought about that for while, I had to admit the guy was on to
something.
***
By this time the pills were working pretty good. I remember A!
Pellegrino had taken Don Lodice's place, and one night Al noticed me taking
my pill and asked me what it was. I said, "It's a thyroid pill. It helps me
smile." He thought that was the funniest thing he'd ever heard; and from
then on he kept asking me if he could have one of my "smiley" pills.

So now, as long as I could actually carry on a normal conversation, I
started talking to the Susie-Q's hostess.

I don't remember her name, so I'll call her Miss Hostess. (I could call
her Miss Hostess-With-The-Mostest, but I won't; although she was—as they
said in those days—very curvaceous.)

There was this play I wanted to see that was playing right down the
street from the Susie-Q at the Actors Lab. I asked Miss Hostess if she'd like
to go see a play on our night off, and she said yes. There was a nice
restaurant in the hotel right across the side-street from the Susie-Q, so we
decided to meet there Monday evening for dinner and then go to the play.

The Actors Lab was an acting school and theatre company very similar
to the Group Theatre in New York. Most of the stuff they did had a social
message. (According to Wikipedia, the Actors Lab was "a group with links to
the Communist Party.") The play I wanted to see was "Home Of The Brave,"
by Arthur Laurents, who went on to write "West Side Story."

"Home Of The Brave" concerned anti-semitism; and, I think, about half the audience was Jewish. As we entered the theatre I noticed my cousin Gilbert's
ex-wife taking her seat. Miss Hostess and I went down the isle towards our
seats, and as we passed the ex's row I said, "Hi!" She hesitated for a
moment, then gave me this look, like, "Who is this shiksa you've got with
you?"

Miss Hostess seemed a little out of her element at the play, but all-in-
all we had a pleasant evening. At dinner she told me all about her childhood
as an "army brat," and how at one time she had owned a motorcycle. (That
should have told me something right there.)

One slow evening at the Susie-Q, as I was getting off the stand for our
first intermission, Miss Hostess comes over and says, "C'mon, I want to take
you someplace." So she takes me across Hollywood Boulevard to a bar. We
walk in, and the place is packed with men. It's, like, a Tuesday, and the
Susie-Q is practically empty, but this place is standing-room only. She goes
right over to the bar and starts talking to a couple of guys. She introduces
me to a couple of other guys, and continues her conversation. I'm standing
there dumbstruck for, it seems like, forever. She finally finishes her
conversation, and we start back to the Susie-Q. I'm thinking, "What was
that all about? How did she know those guys?" ...Then I thought, "Well, she works in nightclubs—maybe she knew them from where she worked before."

About a week later, I suggested to Miss Hostess that we have dinner some evening before work at that restaurant in the hotel across the street, and she said OK. On the appointed day and at the appointed time, I'm sitting and waiting in a booth at the restaurant and she doesn't show. I call the number for the rooming house where she lives, and a female voice answers. I ask to speak to Miss Hostess, and I can hear people arguing in the background. The voice on the phone says, "No, she can't come to the phone....No, you can't speak to her." The arguing has now become yelling, and the voice repeats, "No, she can't come to the phone....No, you can't talk to her," and she hangs up.

Evidently Miss Hostess was being prevented from going on her dinner date with this “straight” guy. So I had some dinner by myself, and went to work. Miss Hostess and I pretty much avoided each other for the rest of the time I was at the Susie-Q.

Then there was the young lady who worked in my doctor's office as receptionist. She seemed friendly and intelligent, so I invited her to go to dinner and a movie with me on one of my Monday nights off, and she accepted my invitation. Her name was (would you believe?) Peggy O'Shay.

But we got off on the wrong foot. Going into the movie, I went in front of her through the doorway, and she gave me this whole big lecture about her "Irish temper." Also, I had this suspicion that she knew about my psychotherapist's opinion that I needed feminine companionship, and she felt she was doing a good deed by going out with me. But she seemed to enjoy herself, or maybe it was the free dinner and show that she enjoyed.

Peggy was plenty smart and very well read (more than I), so I actually
could have an intellectual conversation with her—usually about literature. Her favorite author was Thomas Wolfe (whom I had never read). I took her out to dinner a couple of more times—at one of those big old houses above Hollywood Boulevard that they'd made into a restaurant. She was pleasant enough, but I couldn't get over the feeling that she was doing me a favor. So—I guess— I lost interest.

I was feeling pretty good, but I was convinced that I wasn't going to come into contact with anyone with whom I could have a long-term relationship as long as I was working in a nightclub. Little did I know.

One night at the Susie-Q, during the depths of my depression, we
were on one of our intermissions, and I was back in this little broom closet
they called the band room, sitting and reading, when one of the waiters
comes back and says, "Some people want to buy you a drink." I said, "Tell
them I don't drink." A couple of years later, Mom and I figured out that she
was one of the "people" who wanted to buy me a drink.

Also, at this time, I had been seeing articles about how a lot of ex-GIs
were having problems readjusting to civilian life. Psychologists were
recommending that veterans take some time off to kick back and think
about what they wanted to do, instead of rushing back into work and
responsibilities.

And there were government programs that made it fairly easy to do
just that. There was what was known as "the 52/20 club," where the
government gave unemployed veterans $20 a week for up to 52 weeks, and
you didn't even have to prove you were looking for work. And, of course,
there was the Gl Bill, which paid complete tuition costs for just about any
kind of class you wanted to take. I gave Ray Bauduc my notice and started
looking for some interesting classes to take.
+++
It wasn't difficult to find communist sympathizers in Hollywood in
1946. During the war the USSR was our ally, so we heard a lot of positive
stuff about the Soviet Union: In Russia there was no racial discrimination
(Paul Robeson had assured us), everybody had a job, everybody had free
health care, and there were no millionaires (a million dollars was a lot of
money in those days). But as soon as the war in Europe was over, the
backlash started in earnest. In 1945 the House Un-American Activities
Committee became a permanent committee, and the anti-communist crusade
began. We were now getting propaganda from both ends of the spectrum.

I didn't know anything about Marxist philosophy, so I figured if I wanted
to know about Marxism, I should go to the Marxists. There was a place called
the People's Educational Center that had classrooms above a restaurant on
the northwest corner of Hollywood and Vine. The PEC was originally set up to
provide night-school classes for union worker's. Now they were open to the
public, and they advertised classes in Marxism. They also offered classes in
other subjects, but everything was taught from a Marxist perspective (they
even had a class called "Historical Materialist Development of Music"). I
signed up for their basic Marxism class. The text was Anti-Duhring by
Friedrich Engels.

t didn't take me long to figure out that the class was made up of true
believers. I think it was probably during the second weekly class meeting
that I raised my hand and asked the instructor if one of the basic precepts
of Marxism that he was discussing was meant to apply absolutely, in all
circumstances. My question was immediately greeted with hisses and boos.
The instructor tried to smooth it over, but I learned that a good Marxist
listens and accepts and doesn't question. I dropped the class after a few
weeks.

Later I became aware that the instructor was one of the doctors who
shared office space with my doctor at Crossroads Of The World.

The other class I took was at the UCLA Extension in downtown L.A. It
was called "Social Psychology."

At the beginning of the first class meeting, the professor asked if
anyone needed a ride. I guess this had become standard procedure during
the days of gas rationing. A gal stood up and said she needed a ride and lived
near Westlake Park (which had become MacArthur Park in 1942). I figured
that that really wasn't out of my way, so I volunteered to pick her up and
take her home. Her name was Gay.

During the break at one of our class meetings, we went out into the
hall, and a group of Gay's friends were waiting. She introduced me to
everybody, one of whom was Mom, and said they had come up to visit the
class and then go to Gay's place for a little get together, and I was invited if I
wanted to come. I wasn't really comfortable in groups, so I begged off and
was glad I could go right home.

I had noticed Mom, but I couldn't figure out why she was so dressed
up—in a suit, high heels, stockings, and lots of makeup. Mom says that that
was probably when she was working at the May Company, and she'd probably
come to the class directly from work.

In general, the class was OK, but I didn't really like the
professor—another dogmatic leftist. Mom had had her for something at
UCLA and thought she was great.

It was getting towards the end of the semester, and I was starting to
feel that it was time for me to go back to work. So when Jerry Wald called
(the clarinet player, not the movie producer) asking me if I wanted to go into
Ciro's for a couple of weeks, I said yes.

Also around this time, I was starting to think that maybe I ought to
give Peggy O'Shay a ring—say hello, maybe arrange to have dinner. So I
called her at the place where she was renting a room near Crossroads Of The
World. Peggy told me she wasn't working for my doctor any more, she had a
job downtown working in the law offices of Robert Kenny. When I asked her
about dinner, she said there was a nice lunchroom in the building where she
worked, and she suggested we get together for lunch.

Robert W. Kenny was at that time California Attorney General. But he
had just lost a run for governor against Earl Warren. Kenny had made a
name for himself as the courageous civil rights lawyer who had defended the
head of the California Communist Party against prosecution by the U.S.
government. As it happened, he lost the case, but it was won on appeal
before the U.S. Supreme Court by his replacement, Wendell Willkie. Despite
Kenny's protestations of idealism, I didn't trust him. I thought he was
strictly a political opportunist. And I guess I wasn't the only one. In the race
for governor, Warren won both the Republican and Democratic primaries—and
he won the general election with 90% of the vote.

So we did lunch. Peggy told me she was studying to be a paralegal, and
the conversation went along fine until the subject got around to Robert
Kenny. I told her what I thought of him; and also that, because of the anti-
communist witch-hunt now going on, I didn't think it was a very good idea for
her to be getting mixed up with people like this.

I looked at her, and her eyes were welling up; which really surprised me,
because up to that time she hadn't shown any emotional reaction one way or
the other to any of my opinions.

She said, "I have to go back to work." So she went back to work, and I
paid the check and left.

I thought, "Well, she probably never wants to see me again. So that's
that."
+++
Right around this time—I think I was still working with Jerry Wald at
Ciro’s—Jan Savitt contacted me to tell me that he, too, was going into
Ciro's, but he had a few weeks booked before that up at the Palace Hotel in
San Francisco. He wanted me on piano, and, because it was going to be a new
band, he also needed me to do some arranging. Jan had decided that bebop
was the coming thing, so the instrumentation was kind of interesting: A small
bebop band plus strings. The floor show was going to be Jean Sablon ("The
French Bing Crosby"), so we would add accordion for Sablon's numbers.

And that's how I met Bill Woolfson—my friend the accordion player.
+++
A couple of months must have past, I was finished with Savitt, and one
day, out of the blue, I get a call from Peggy O'Shay. I hadn't given her my
phone number, so I asked her where she got my number. She said, "From the
musician's union." I thought, "Smart girl."

She had called to tell me that she now had her own apartment, and she
wanted me to come over and have dinner some evening. I had given up trying
to figure her out, so I said, "Fine."

A few days later—I think it was a Saturday evening—I drove down to
Peggy's apartment in an old part of town just south of downtown L.A. The
apartment building looked like it was from the 1800s, but finding any kind of
apartment for rent in those days was a real accomplishment.

We had dinner, and as we were finishing our coffee, comes a knock on
the door. It's a guy come to pick Peggy up. She introduces the guy—I think
he was one of the lawyers from her office—and she says they have to go
someplace. If I'd had a hat, she would have handed it to me. So I left feeling
pretty humiliated.

I don't know if she was being intentionally cruel, or just insensitive. But
I knew I never wanted to see her again.

A week or so later, during one of those Southern California spring heat
waves, Bill Woolfson calls and says, "Lets go to the beach." I thought, "Why
not?" Nobody had air-conditioning in those days, and about the only thing you
could do in a heat wave was go down near the ocean. So we agreed to meet
at Will Rogers Beach, down at the foot of Sunset. I think it was a Sunday.

Bill and I found each other, and as we stepped onto the sand, we
noticed a hot dog stand up the beach a little ways. One of us said, "Let's
have a hot dog." So we walked towards the stand, and as we got closer, I
noticed Gay from "Social Psychology" class waiting in line. I went up and said
hello, and she said she and her friends had a spot on the beach, and she
invited us to join them. So the three of us got hot dogs and went down to
where Gay's friends were. And there's Mom.

I sat down next to Mom, and we talked a little, and after a while we
went for a walk near the water, and we seemed to hit it off right away.
When we got back to the group, it was starting to get cool and they were
saying that they were all going to meet at Barney's Beanery for beer and
food, and Bill and I were invited to come, too. Bill bowed out, but I agreed to meet them at Barney's.

When I got to the Beanery they had already arrived, and there was an
empty chair conveniently waiting next to Mom.

We ordered, and Mom and I picked up our conversation where we had
left off. When it was time to leave, Gay told me that Mom needed a ride, and asked me if I would oblige. I said, "Of course."

So I took Mom to the bungalow court in West Hollywood where she and Nana Sally were living. I asked Mom if she'd like to go out to dinner sometime, and she gave me her phone number.

A day or two later, I called Mom but she wasn't there, and Sally didn't
know when she'd be home. So I gave Sally my number, and I left a message: I told her to tell Mom to call me at noon or later.

A couple of days went by, and I didn't hear anything, so I tried again.
Same story—Mom's not there, Sally doesn't know when she'll be home. Yes, she gave her the message.

So I thanked Sally, and told her to tell Mom that I called again.

A couple of more days passed, and Bill Woolfson calls wanting to know
what happened with the girl I met at the beach. I tell him the whole story,
and that she still hasn't called yet. He says, "Well, you can't give up. You've got to be persistent. You're gonna have to call her again."

I said, "I don't think she's interested."

And Bill says, "Give me the number."

So Bill called Mom, and she was home. He said to Mom, "What's the idea of not returning my friend's call?"

Mom said, "The message was to call him at noon. I'm going to UCLA,
and I'm nowhere near a phone at noon."

Bill said, "No, it doesn't have to be exactly at noon, as long as it's not earlier."

So Mom called me, and we arranged to have dinner together.

When I picked Mom up, I suggested we go to Lucy's, down on Melrose
across from Paramount. Mom said that sounded fine.

So we drove down to Lucy's, and as we were waiting to be seated, I
noticed a couple sitting in the bar, and it was none other than Peggy O'Shay
and her lawyer boyfriend. I pointed them out to Mom, and Mom said she
thought she had met the lawyer guy someplace.

They didn't see us, so we proceeded to our table, and let it go at that.

[end]

Add a Comment

You need to log in to comment on this article. No account? No problem!

  • Email E-mail
  • Share Share
  • Rss RSS
  • Report Report

Community Authors

RAY SHERMAN