Article from the 12/11/2015 Catalina Islander

 

Since I became "Catalina's Official Greeter", March 10, 2014, when the Chamber Of Commerce assigned me to greet the cruise ships and cross channel boats, I have answered

These are some of the more interesting/unusual questions/comments that I have received:
"Is Catalina a penal colony like Alcatraz and do you have a 'jail boat' to transfer the locals back and forth?"
"Can anybody live here, even if you are from the United States?"
"How can Catalina Island be part of Los Angeles County when there are 'International Waters' separating you from Los Angeles?"
"What's the best place for me to SCUBA dive under the Island to the other side?"  I recommended Two Harbors.  It is only 1/2 mile across there.
As I am standing there answering questions, "Do you work here?"

Over the 40 some years that I have volunteered my services to the Museum Society, I have had the humbling honor of playing host to some of the most outstanding celebrities of motion pictures and television:  Charles "Buddy" Rogers, Esther Ralston, June Lockhart, Marion Ross, Beverly Garland, Bruce Belland, Gaylord Carter, and then there was Mickey Rooney!  I often asked if they showed up for special events, such as those put on by the Museum. and their reaction was generally the same across the board, "No, only on Catalina!"  This place held a special memory for them as they remember fondly coming here as children and sharing some of their most special times.  John Wayne was in communication with me during the year before he died and he shared many of his favorite memories.  

One of my favorites that I would like to share with you is someone you might know as "Mrs. Cleaver" from the icon family sitcom, "Leave It To Beaver", which originally aired from 1957-63 and seems to be shown somewhere all the time, or the "jive talking" lady in the 1980 movie classic, "Airplane", but I had the sincere honor and privilege of simply knowing her as "Barbara".  Miss Barbara Billingsley.  She would have celebrated her 100th birthday on December 22!  Tony Dow, who played her son "Wally", had been contacted by CNN immediately, on learning of her passing, and he was kind enough to call me to prepare me for this sad news, before I heard or read it over the news media.  This, then, is the tribute that I wrote as a tribute to Barbara which I shared with her family as well as putting it on my internet blog:

I met Barbara in December 1992 shortly after I was contacted by two officials who were arranging the "Floating Light Parade", in San Pedro Harbor.  The boat owners compete in having the most decorative boats and float in procession through the harbor while festive merry markers line up on shore, or watch from the homes, cars, or restaurants along the way.  They always have a  celebrity as "Grand Marshall.  Since I knew and represented many entertainers that would fit the "celebrity status", they  asked me to help them.

I immediately thought of my old friend Tony Dow, who played "Wally" on "Leave It To Beaver".  I had known Tony literally since I was born on the Island since his  parents, John and Muriel, started bringing him to the Island when he was 18 months. I called him and asked if he would be willing to participate.  He was more than willing to help out, but wondered if he could ask a couple of "friends' to join him.  That seemed a bit irregular to the parade committee until I shared with them who these "friends" were!  Tony had suggested asking Ken Osmond, who played "Eddie  Haskell", his best friend on the series and "Mrs. June Cleaver", Barbara Billingsley!  I should have contacted the "Guinness Book Of World Records", because of the remarkably quick time that the response was 'YES!!!!!"

Since the regular "Beaver" series closed up shop in 1963, they were now doing a spin-off entitled "Still The Beaver".  The "boys" had all grown up and  started their own families.  "Mr. Cleaver", Hugh Beaumont, had died (he passed away before the new series commenced), so June Cleaver was now ruling the roost and also trying to redefine her life.  Shorty after Barbara and Ken agreed to join Tony in this "gratis" venture, Ken wanted to know if his real sons, who were now playing his sons in this new show, could come along and I of course agreed.  WHY NOT!  We now had a "Celebrity Entourage" for the parade!

The day before the parade, we all got together so that I could meet Barbara, Ken, and his family.  I IMMEDIATELY FELL IN  LOVE WITH BARBARA.  She was "June Cleaver", but without the pearls and a bit of an attitude in her sense of humor that never came out in her role as "June".  Barbara knew that part of the duties of "Grand Marshall" was to take a private yacht around the harbor, on the day of the parade, and visit "Ports O'Call Village", and the hotels and restaurants along the route, to have pictures taken, sign autographs, you know, the usual "celebrity thing".  We all had a special lunch on the W.W.II, Kaiser built "Liberty Ship", the "Lane Victory", and then started on our designated route.  It started to rain....it POURED!  By the time we pulled up in front of the first restaurant, "The Ports O'Call Restaurant", we were told that because of the bad weather, it didn't look as if we were going to have many, if any, fans.  We arrived with only TWO.  While Tony and Ken decided to stay on the yacht, Barbara said she would be happy to meet "whoever showed up" and so I escorted Barbara to meet her two fans.

I immediately focused on the lady standing there.  She must have been in her late 30's, early 40's, but had the look of a young girl, poorly dressed, showing a lack of personal hygiene, and generally gave the impression of someone who had really lived a "hard life".  The man with her, same age, seemed average, but tended to stand back from her.
When Barbara and I saw the camera around the man's neck, we naturally assumed that they were there to get their picture taken with the celebrities and possibly an autograph.  When Barbara asked them what they wanted her to do for them, the lady simply pleaded, "WOULD YOU PLEASE JUST HUG ME!?!"  That seemed to me like a strange request and the man simply moved even further way.  Barbara, without a moment of hesitation, put out her arms and embraced her.  I was standing with Barbara's back to me, so I could see the lady's face.  I didn't plan it that way, but was glad that I did!  Barbara gave her a REAL HUG, not a "Hollywood Hug", but a genuine "Motherly Hug".  The man never touched his camera, but simply moved further away, almost trying not to see what was transpiring. The look on the lady's face was one of a child being hugged by an angel, her loving mother!  Barbara never stopped hugging her, but kept the embrace until the lady let go.  I have NEVER seen a happier, more content look on anyone's face, nor have I since, as I saw at that moment.  It lasted for over a minute.

Now, I know that I like to romanticize things, but seeing the look of euphoria on the lady's face, with her eyes closed, I couldn't help doing some speculating.  Based on how the "fan" was dressed and her basic demeanor, I could only surmise that she had come from a poor household and probably didn't enjoy the best relationship with her family, especially her mother.  She seemed to feel, as so many 50's "Baby Boomers", deprived of the television sitcom mothers such as Barbara, Donna Reed, Jane Wyatt, June Lockhart, etc., who were the "epitome of Motherhood".  When their own mothers fell far shot of the "make-believe stereotype", they had hoped and dreamed that somehow they had been switched at birth and, in this case, "Mrs. Cleaver" was her REAL MOTHER.  After all of these years, they were finally REUNITED!

After a few moments, she joined her companion and left and I accompanied Barbara back to the yacht.  I sat next to Barbara and I was in a daze.  Barbara acted as if nothing unusual had occurred.  After a few moments, I had to break the silence, "Can you believe what just happened!?!"   "What?" Barbara replied.  "That lady ONLY wanted to HUG you!!!  "So?"  Barbara seemed a bit surprised by my reaction to the episode.  "Does this happen very often?" Barbara only smiled and told me that it happens quite a bit.  In fact, she said that she has been hugging countless "Baby Boomers" since the show began and is STILL doing it wherever fans recognize her!  I then realized how truly remarkably sensitive Barbara was and what a unique and unquestionable valuable service she had been providing for so many years!The parade came off as planned, even with the intermediate showers, and the cast of "Leave It To Beaver" received their well deserved applause, with Barbara given more than her fair share of acknowledgments.

I kept in touch with Barbara and, in 1997, when the "Leave It To Beaver" movie was released, using ONLY Barbara, out of the original cast.  BAD DECISION and the poor response to the movie resonated this mistaken casting omission.  I had invited Barbara to the "Hollywood Bowl Amphitheatre" for one of their special music and fire works programs.  We arrived late as I had to drive all the way to Universal Studios to pick up Barbara after she had attended the "Leave It To Beaver" movie premier and then all the way back to the Bowl during heavy Friday afternoon traffic.  I was frazzled to say the least!  We were greeted by Tony, and his beautiful wife, Laurin, in a cute little park across from the main entrance to the Bowl.  This was where many of the Bowl patrons would have their "picnic" meals before going to the concert.  These were primarily the ones who did not have Box Seats.  All of the tables were taken.  I left Barbara in the park with Laurin and Tony and I went to park the car.  The parking lot was nearly full and we had to sit in a long line simply to get up to the attendant to pay for a spot.  The young lady was ready to take our $5.00 when  she saw Tony and swooned, "Weren't you 'Wally' on television!?!"  "Yes". he said, with his typical boyish, yet handsome smile.  The lady, after a bit of a sigh, motioned us on, WITHOUT PAYING!!!   I asked Tony, "How often does it happen that you get 'free' parking?"  "Most of the time".   "I need to have you with me MORE OFTEN!  You just saved us five bucks!"

When we got back to the picnic area, there was Barbara and Laurin sitting at their "own table"!   I asked them how they were able to get a table when the whole area was full a few minutes before.  The ladies told me that a family, who was using two tables, recognized Barbara and immediately offered her one of the tables and doubled up at the other one. Barbara and Tony graciously posed for photos with that generous, but now overwhelmed family.  BOY, IT'S NICE TO HANG OUT WITH CELEBRITIES!  

I didn't have the money, nor the political pull, to get "Box Seats", so we had to sit in the "nose bleed" section of the 15,000 plus seat outdoor theatre. There seemed to be at least a five second delay between the performance on the stage and what we finally heard.  Some patrons in our section were complaining that we were probably in a different zip code than the stage!  YOU GET THE PICTURE!?!   I had Barbara sitting on my left, while a large family sat on my right.  The father looked over and whispered to me, "Isn't that 'Mrs. Cleaver'?"  I tried to ignore the question, but I knew that he would continue to pester me, so I confessed.  "Well, what is she doing in these crumby seats, way back here?  Why isn't she up front in one of the Box Seats?"  Barbara overheard the conversation, as I am sure that EVERYONE in our section did, and pointed to the Orchestra Box Seats and said, so that EVERYONE could hear her, "THAT'S where I normally sit, when I am invited to the Bowl!"  Mrs. Cleaver NEVER would have said that.  I know that she was simply trying to raddle my cage, but she really embarrassed me and quickly covered up her comments in my defense, "But I NEVER knew how much BETTER these seats are, rather than being SO CLOSE to the stage.  I'm sure that the fireworks display is going to be seen better from here, instead of having to bend my neck way back to look straight up!"  Nice try, Barbara, but I still felt as though I had let her down.  Boy, the guilt, even passed out by T.V. mothers, is universally felt by kids everywhere!

That evening, when I drove her back to her home in the Santa Monica hills, she asked me to come in to talk, as we hadn't had much private time at the concert.  Besides, I think our ears were plugged up, due to the altitude of our concert seats!  I went into her immaculate kitchen where she immediately brought me a plate of freshly baked brownies and got a pitcher of ice cold milk out of the refrigerator.  As I was eating the brownie and drinking the milk, I suddenly felt very surreal!  Barbara didn't seem to catch on to my excitement of the moment.  "Barbara, do you have any idea of the thousands of dollars that 'yuppies" around the world would pay to have this once-in-a-lifetime, wildest dream experience of eating Mrs. Cleaver's brownies while drinking ice cold milk in her kitchen!"  She seemed completely unaware of what I was talking about so I tried to act "cool" and  we had a very nice evening of conversation.  I have since told friends about this experience and even gave them one of the brownies that Barbara sent home with me. THE LOOKS THAT I GOT! 

About 15 years ago, Barbara was hoping to join a number of other celebrities who were planning to come to Catalina to help raise money for the Museum.  However, she had other commitments, but she still wanted to donate "something" for the silent auction, but had "no idea" what to submit.  I told her that I had the PERFECT "Mrs. Cleaver" item.  I suggested that she make up a batch of her brownies.  "YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING!"  I told her that I was completely serious and that I had topper.  "Do you have an apron you can spare?"  "Sure!" she said.  "Write on the border of the apron, 'Now all you need are the pearls' and sign it 'June Cleaver'!"  She was SURE that I had lost my mind, but admitted she had no other ideas.  I told her that I would be coming back in a few days, on a Friday, to pick up the brownies and the apron, and catch the last boat back to the Island so that they would be fresh and ready for the Saturday auction.  She had the brownies covered up with aluminum foil and informed me that there were "48 brownies" in there.  I asked her WHY she told me that and she replied, "Because I EXPECT 48 brownies to make it to the auction!"  She said in the manner she would have warned the "Beav" not to get his suit dirty before going to a friend's birthday party. She had a twinkle in her eye when she made her declaration so I didn't take it at all seriously!

When I made it to the Island, Stacey Otte, the Museum Director, met me at the boat and I "assumed" was there to drive me into town.  "Give me the brownies, please!" which is what I immediately did.  She took the aluminum foil off and started counting.  "What are you doing!"  "I am counting to make sure that 48 brownies made it over here.  Barbara just called and informed me that she had sent 48 with you, but wasn't sure how much self control you had!"  I was a "bit" insulted!  48 MADE IT!  When the auction proceeded, Barbara's item was a real winner and raised considerable money for the Museum.  

A few years later, Barbara planned to come back to the Island as part of the Museum's celebration of "Hollywood's Mothers".  We had planned on having June Lockhart ("Lassie" and "Lost In Space"), Marion Ross ("Happy Days"), Beverly Garland ("My Three Sons"), Florence Henderson ("The Brady Bunch"), and Shirley Jones  ("The Partridge Family).  Unfortunately, Barbara had broken one of the vertebrae in her back, while doing some floor exercise to strengthen her bones.  We did a telephone hook-up over the sound system in the Casino Ballroom so that everyone could hear her voice and tell her how much she was missed.  Only June, Marion, and Beverly were able to attend.  This physical situation was the beginning of Barbara's major health problems.

A few weeks before she died, I called her and suggested we get together for lunch.  Although she was bedridden by this time, she said that she would love to have lunch  brought to the house and we could eat in her garden patio,  She was going to make a special effort to get out of bed and get into her wheel chair.  We were going to get together on a Tuesday.  She died the Saturday before!  I can't help but feel guilty that I didn't try harder to see her sooner, but at least I am comforted with the realization that she died planning our lunch together.  This only reminds me of one thing, DON'T PUT OFF SEEING OTHERS OR SHARING YOUR LOVE WITH THEM.   WE HAVE NO IDEA OF HOW MUCH TIME WE HAVE LEFT!!!

She died on October 16, 2010 at the age of 94.  "GOOD BYE, BARBARA, SEE YOU SOON!!!