Article from the 2/5/2016 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 42, 297 questions.
These are some of the more interesting/unusual questions/comments I have received:
A boy around three years old, who obviously had never seen the ocean before, was bending over the railing and saw the garibaldi fish, "Hey Dad, come and look at the big gold fish in this giant aquarium!"
"Do you have hotels here?"
"Do people get off the cruise ships?
"Do visitors come here?
"Are you a territory of the United States?"


Although the chance to participate in the contest was over on January 31, those guessing when I will be answering my 50,000th question ranged from January 26, 10:32 to August 15, 10:31, 2016.  Thanks for being so optimistic, Judy Grear, thinking I would reach my mark on January 26.  Now we are looking to see if Linda Hayes will be right on her March 2 11:30 guess.

I Want The Mermaid!

On one of my Catalina History Walking Tours (how is that for a "shameless plug"?), I was sharing how the Mermaid at the entrance to the Casino got "tiled", leaving all of the others painted on the walls.  One of the guests had found this particularly interesting and had suggested that I write this story up in my column, so that was the decision I made for this week's column (by the way, this kind of feedback is VERY MUCH WELCOMED as there are SO MANY stories to tell and I am not sure what my readers would like to read about.  PLEASE let me know if a particular story would be of special interest and share through "Letters To The Editor" or email your reaction to any of my stories).

Bill Bushing (yes "Dr. Bill"), my Manager and myself, President, of "Catalina Island Odyssey", a special events and Island shuttle service, which was located at 215 Catalina, decided to head up the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Casino, on May 29, 1979 for the Wrigley Family (by the way, the original 1979 commemorative posters, painted by Frank Loudin, are still being sold at "Leo's Drug Store".  Yes, another "shameless plug"!).  
One of the my toughest yet most rewarding jobs was to locate as many of those as possible who were present or responsible for this Avalon icon being dedicated on May 29, 1929.  I was able to find the designer and the daughter of the architect.  Malcolm Renton, son of the man who was most responsible for this building, D. M (David Malcolm) Renton, was still very much alive as were over 400 people who had been there for the Grand Opening!
I thought I had traced everyone who had played a major role in the building, but had purposely ignored John Gabriel Beckman, the designer of the beautiful murals, both inside and outside of the Casino, as no one had heard from him since he left soon after the Grand Opening and he certainly couldn't still be alive 50 years later!  As with most of my Catalina stories, this had a VERY serendipitous encounter.  One day a young man came into the Museum and was enquiring about the impact that John Beckman had on the murals in the Casino.  He was immediately reminded of Mr. Beckman's full name, John Gabriel Beckman, and was then told that he had designed the murals.  He was asked why he was so interested and he shared that Mr. Beckman "is" his art teacher.  His use of tenses was changed to "was", but the student reiterated that unless his teacher had died in the last few days, it was still "is"!  THAT WAS FANTASTIC NEWS.
It was discovered that he was still very active at the Columbia Studios doing the set design/art direction on television shows.  As quickly as possible, contact was made with Mr. Beckman through Columbia and a date was set up for me to have a meeting with him and Art LaShalle, at the Newport Yacht Club.  My decision to have Mr. LaShalle there had a double purpose.  First, Art had actually made a movie of the building of the Casino, using "time lapse" photography.  He had a camera set up on a permanent mounting, near the present flag pole and only took a few frames each day, so over the18 months that went into the building of the magnificent facility, it would look like it was "blossoming" within a few minutes.  The second reason was I wanted to interview Art for all of the activities he was involved in during the early years of the William Wrigley Era, primarily at the Isthmus/Two Harbors.  And probably the most important reason, he was member of the Newport Yacht Club!
Regarding Art's ill-fated movie!  I was ELATED to think that I was going to be able to use this footage for my May 29, 1979 gala event, but my enthusiasm was quickly squashed (can you "squash" enthusiasm?).  It turns out that this particular film, along with the launching of the "S. S. Catalina", and other irreplaceable pieces of celluloid, was in the Casino vaults and under the watchful eyes of Malcolm Renton.  Mr. Renton, who had at one time been my father's immediate boss with the Island Co., had heard that film that was used at this time were on nitrate stock and that over the years had deteriorated to the point where it would actually catch fire, or under worse case scenarios, EXPLODE!  These FANTASTIC nitrate films could have been sent to the mainland and put on "safety film" by many film studios that we were up for this, Malcolm had hired Doug Bombard to row him out at the Casino Point and threw these GEMS into hundreds of feet of salt water!  This had occurred only a short time before I was searching for them!  MURDER WAS ON MY MIND!!!!
Getting back to the interviews, I met with Art and John.  The former was quite drunk, which I understand was his usual, and the later was quite angry.  John literally HATED Catalina and refused to EVER come back again, which he hadn't in 48 years.  After letting him "vent", I asked him what the problem was and he shared with me that he had been told that Catalina so disliked his art work that we had "painted over them"!  WHAT!?!  I assured him that we LOVED his art work and they were still on the building and none of them had EVER been removed.  I told him that because of the salt air and the sun shining on the of the murals in the middle area of the outside entrance to Casino, over the years, they had to be "touched up", BUT NEVER PURPOSELY PAINTED OVER OR REMOVED!!!
A look of relief buy disbelief overtook John and he agreed to come to the Island at his earliest convenience to see for himself.  He did and his reaction is worthy of ANOTHER story, if you readers would like for me to cover it.
Needless to say, John IMMEDIATELY reinstated his LOVE for Catalina and all who had the honor of meeting him returned the feeling!  H, on occasion, would stay at the home of Milton and Carolyn Bostrom's  on Los Lomas as they had generously made their home available to him. John had "destroyed" much of his original art work connected with the Casino as he really wanted NOTHING to do with either, but found that he had a few pieces here and there at either his home in Sherman Oaks, Southern California, or Cambia, in Northern California. Whenever he came to the Island to visit, which was now quite regularly, he would give me some of these precious pictures, some autographed to me, which I would study with him and then immediately give to the Museum. On one visit, in the 1980's, he showed me one picture that was amazing in itself and would later prove to be one of the GREATEST FINDS in Avalon's history.  It was simple picture of the mermaid, that sits right above the ticket book at the entrance to the Casino.  I had seen her, of course, my entire life, but this picture was different.  It contained many vertical and horizontal lines,  I puzzled over this for a few minutes and then decided that I had solved one of my many questions about the building.  "John, now I know how you were able to design those 25' panels and allow the artists to paint them without losing perspective!"  "O. K., Chuck, how did I do it?"  "GRIDS!  Those are 'grid lines' and that is what you used when completing these outside murals!'  (BOY, I WAS SO PROUD OF MYSELF!!!).  "What grid lines'!?!"  Pointing out all of the horizontal and vertical lines, "THESE 'GRID LINES'!"  "Those aren't 'grid lines', Chuck', those are tile borders!"  "What 'tile borders'?  There have NEVER been tiles on the outside on those panels!"  "Yes, I know.  Originally Mr. William Wrigley, Jr. had commissioned me to do all of the murals in tile, but because he insisted that the building have it's "Grand Opening" on May 29, 1929, "Memorial Day" (I would love to hear from anyone who would like to guess WHY the Casino Building HAD to be built in 1929).  By the time that the Casino had FINALLY been completed, we were only given two weeks to do the art work, both inside and out, and so I told the artists to simply paint the murals  with the intention on coming back sometime after the opening ceremonies to finish them off in tile. We had trouble getting all of the artists together again, but when we finally did, I was 'told' that Catalina didn't like the murals anyway, so I just dropped the entire idea!"  "THE OUTSIDE MURALS WERE ORIGINALLY INTENDED TO BE EXECUTED IN TILES!!!!  Besides you and Mr. Wrigley, who knew about this agreement?"  "No one, Chuck."  "What are your plans for tonight, John?"  "No plans, just whatever you would like me to see or do."  "If it is O. K. with you, John, I would like to set up a meeting, as soon as possible, between you and the CEO of the Island Co., Packy Offield, who just happens to be the great-grandson of Mr. Wrigley!"  I quickly got on the phone and called Packy.  I asked him what his availability was going to be in the early evening and he said that we was just going to be having some drinks with a friend at the "El Galleon".  I asked him if he would mind if I introduced him to someone VERY SPECIAL.  Of course, he agreed to the meeting.
I took John to meet Packy a few hours. As they were shaking  hands, I shared for the first time that John was meeting the great-grandson of William Wrigley, Jr. and the CEO of the Island Co. and that Packy was shaking hands with the man who had designed the murals at the Casino!"  Both men, obviously, were very happy to meet each other.  Once we sat down and John had ordered his favorite wine (he was quite a wine counnisur) we exchanged the usual "nicities", and then when the time was right, I asked John to share his story of the tiles with Packy.  I never saw Packy's or anyone's else's eyes get so big!  Once he absorbed the significance of this news, he said, "Mr. Beckman, would you be willing to do the murals in tile the way that you had originally agreed to with my great-grandfather?"  With a giant smile, John responded, "YES"!  Packy then said he would get back to him regarding the details.  I seem to remember that Packy just happened to be with Richard Keit, at the restaurant, who later became the tile expert who Packy lined up with John to do the murals!  WHAT A COINCIDENCE, if my memory (what is left of it) is correct.
With this in mind, the next day I drove John down to the Casino.  We stood in the entrance, looking at the mural., "O. K. John, which mural do you want to do first!?!"  I KNEW THE ANSWER!  John took a quick look at all of the panels and pointed over the ticket booth and loudly blurted "I WANT THE MERMAID!"  She did look pretty pathetic as she had most of the touchup done due to her location.  John then went on to explain that then, if the Island Co. would commission him, he would  do the two on either side of her, then the next two bordering panels, and then the next two, etc. until they were all done.
The unveiling came July 19, 1986 when John was 88.  Under the mermaid sat John, Packy, Bill Wrigley, Bud Upton (who had been touching up the murals from the beginning.  By the way, they did become friends), Richard Keit, and I seem to remember one other gentleman.  Packy acted as the MS for the event and welcomed the MANY fans who had crammed into the limited space in front of the mural as well as going up the stairs leading to the upper road, as well as spilling along both sides of the walk way.  He introduced all of those honored individuals under the mermaid and then said, pointing to the lamp post, at the left top of the stairs, where I was standing, "I want to point out the one man who made this who event possible, Chuck Liddell!"  I was very honored as everyone looked my way and then applauded!  The speeches then started and I can't remember much what was said, except that when John's turn came, he went up the microphone; all he could get out was uncontrollable crying.  He literally sobbed throughout his entire presentation and I hope it was written down for posterity as I doubt VERY MUCH was picked up during the recording.  He was letting lose his regrets for having turned his back on such a wonderful city, Avalon, who would have shared their love for him all of these wasted years.  He did get our full love from 1978 until his death on October 21, 1989, at the age of 91.  He and I shared his last dinner, the night before he died (that, in itself, is quite remarkable story), he put in a full days work on the TV show, "Designing Women", went home, probably just had a bite to eat for supper, went to bed, and never woke up again!  He was never able to even attempt to do any of the other murals in tile.  I am sort of glad that he left the others in paint.  That shows how they were originally done and then the one that he worked on in tile.  Any attempt to change ANY of these would be paramount to destroying the actual work of Mr. John Gabriel Beckman so I hope that this is never even contemplated.  John GOT his "Mermaid" in tile, after a 57 year delay.  I hope that all who visit her now, knowing the "story", will have a greater respect and perspective of both she and her creator, John Gabriel Beckman.