Article from the 2/1/2018 Avalon Bay News


From March 10, 2014-March 16, 2017, when I was "Catalina's Official Greeter", through the Catalina Chamber Of Commerce, I answered 64,590 questions from the cruise ships' and cross channel boats' passengers.  That amounts to greeting approximately 650,000 visitors!  Here are some of the inquiries I had to address (additional ones,
"Is Catalina Island a 'penal colony' like Alcatraz?"
"If  there are 'International Waters' between you and the mainland, how can you be part of California?"
"Where can I rent SCUBA gear so I can swim under the Island?"
While I was greeting a group off the cruise ship, "Do you work here?"
"Does the 'Newport Boat' go to 'Newport'?"
For approximately the first three years of my life, 1947-50, you would RARELY see me wearing any clothes!  Many pictures have been taken of me in the buff, especially by professional photographer and pharmacist, Paul Gilbert, of the old "Island Pharmacy", 417 Crescent (now "Buoys And Gulls").  When his pictures of me would mysteriously appear, I would always ask him for the NEGATIVES so I could destroy them! (For those of you too young to remember cameras and especially "negatives", ask an older person).  Some older friends, especially RS and CBHHBR almost CLC, have taken great exception to this practice or going around town nude and so about 10 years ago I FINALLY confronted my Mother, who is now 92, WHY she didn't want me to to wear clothes, or should I say ALLOW me to parade around in the "buff"!  She told me that I had the concept all WRONG!  It wasn't her idea, but the tourists coming to the Island, especially the Hollywood celebrities, who wanted this!
Catalina had been a major tourist destination before WWII, especially for celebrities.  The Island was virtually closed to all, except Islanders and military personnel, from December 8, 1941, until the end of the War in August, 1945.  Many Island families had to leave due to financial hardship during this tourist embargo and so when I came along on May 24, 1947, there weren't that many young kids hanging around.  Those visitors coming here after the War had a very "romantic" notion of what "Islanders" were like, especially those of us "Native Born".  They somehow got the "National Geographic" picture in their heads of young native children running around "sans everything"!
For whatever reason, I realized this misconception quite early and obliged those who wanted to have me play the "Native" stereotype!   I was often "snapped" sitting on their laps, being hugged, etc.  I sort of became the "token", and they started calling me "Nature Boy"!  Why me?  Dad was very high up in the "Santa Catalina Island Company" (now "Catalina Island Co.") as the "Chief Engineer" and Mom was a beautiful young woman, in her early 20's, who was often called upon to act as the chaperone for special events, most notably the "Miss America Beauty Pageant" contestants on the Island.  It was mandatory during the "Bath Suite" part of the competition that they ONLY wear "Catalina Swim Wear".  Thus, the publicity shots were always taken at the old "St. Catherine Hotel", at Descanso Beach. I have a GREAT picture of me sitting on the lap of "Miss America" for 1948, NUDE AS A JAY BIRD (me, NOT her). Getting "real", how many little kids would have LOVED to have gone around without worrying about wearing clothes!  I am sure I was envied by my few peers!
During the period, I was often taken to the Mainland to visit Mom's parents in Anaheim.  OF COURSE, IT WOULD MANDATED ME WEARING CLOTHES!
The transportation was pretty limited in those days, especially during the Fall and Winter months.  The seaplane service was only just starting up again after the War and so we had primarily only the "Big White Steam Ships" ("Avalon" and "Catalina") and the much smaller  "Water Taxis".  When these were either not in service or we needed to get "overtown" quickly, we would utilize the scheduled DC-3 planes proved by United Airlines, between the "Airport In The Sky" and Los Angeles.  
Now, this form of transportation caused three major issues for me.  Two of a physical nature and the other purely imagined.  The first problem was agreeing to wear clothes!  I don't remember ever putting up a major battle here. I seemed to enjoy the change every now and then.  The other one was simply getting into the plane itself.  Anyone who has seen a DC-3, or better still, the privilege of flying in one, has noticed the strange configuration when standing still.  It looms at quite an upward slant, unlike the horizontal ones of today.  For some reason, Mom always chose to sit as far up front as she could, which meant that "Champ" or "Chuckie" (names I went by when fully clothed.  "Champ" was the name given to me by Duke Fishman as I had learned to swim at such an early age, 18 months) would have to hold on to the leather backs of the seats and PULL myself forward, one row at a time, until I reach the front!  I knew what Sir Hilary went through when he conquered Mt. Everest!
The third problem, and certainly the most traumatic one for me, was indirectly due to the fact that my family owned one of the first televisions on Catalina in 1945.  I would spend hours watching television which, to a large extent, was composed of old movies there were being shown to fill in all of the dead non-live spots on the few stations (we only had channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9,  11, 13, and 28, if we were lucky enough to get reception!).  Unfortunately, showing  old films meant a lot of old Tarzan flicks and thus seeing a lot of DC-3s crashing into jungles!  You probably know the ones with the plane having major motor problems, skimming the tops of the trees, then having its wings pulled off and only the fuselage in tact, racing through the trees like a torpedo until it would come to an abrupt stop, usually at the edge of an extremely deep gully. Normally this is when the local natives would surround the plane and kill the passengers.  When Mom would announce that we were taking the plane to visit Grandma and Grandpa, I would always start crying, because I didn't want to crash in the jungles and be killed by the natives!  Mom had to always keep reminding me that one, there were NO jungles between Catalina and Los Angeles, and two, these were just movies and NOT REAL!
One time, much to EVERYONE'S DISMAY, a WWII movie was shown having a DC-3 having to ditch in the North Atlantic, with all of the passengers having to go out on the wings in order to keep from being drowned, while fearing the Nazi U-Boats torpedoing them before an Allied ship could rescue them.  I IMMEDIATELY called Mom into the living room to witness the fact that these planes we flew on ALSO went down in the ocean and there was an ocean between Catalina and Los Angeles!  I bet Mom was one of MANY mothers during this early television period who wondered if this new "baby sitter", television, was worth it!
During my last "aux natural" period in 1950, they still had Professional Gold Tournaments on the Island.  Many celebrities viewed and often participated in the event.  One such celebrity had just lost his Mexican-Actress wife and so was on the "hunt" for female companionship.  He was born in Romania in 1904.  He was an excellent swimmer and won metals in the Olympics in the 20's.  He went on  o be a major movie star in the 30's-40's.  He was pretty much washed up in movies after the War.  He would be up on the "greens" for the first hole, across from the Country Club, where the players would "tee off" and the visitors would be gathered there to watch.  He went to Mom and asked if he could "borrow 'Nature Boy'", which Mom readily complied.  He then took off his shirt, put me around his neck on his shoulders, and paraded around.  The women would be attracted to this "adorable" curly haired dark skinned, native boy and would look down and IMMEDIATELY recognize the one carrying me! He died in Mexico in 1984.  WHO WAS HE?
The second celebrity would use me in the late afternoon.  I must preface this to say that young kids were given a LOT MORE freedom and leeway in those days, especially when  it came to "playing outside" and coming downtown alone.  There were few cars and so security issues were pretty non-existent.  The actor would sit outside the "Hurricane Bar", in the present location of the "Sugarloaf Book Store", 403 Crescent, on the bench around the planter, which is still there. He wold await my arrival and, once I came, would put me on his lap and then, with me as his "bait", waited for the ladies comping in and out of the bar.  He was born in Los Angeles in 1880 to one of the earliest and most prominent Mexican families in Southern California.  There is a State Park named after him.  He did much of his acting in silent pictures as a leading man and easily made the transition into "talkies", even early television.
When the "objects of his attention" would see us, they would naturally be drawn to this "adorable" child and start a conversation with this gentleman, not easily recognizing him, but wanting to know if I was his grandson.  He would have to admit not, but would regale them with the fact that he was once a major movie star and was now co-starring in a new television series.  Once he "hooked" enough of these young ladies, he would quickly get rid of me by giving me a nickel and off I would go to the corner of Crescent/Sumner, 315 Crescent, to buy an ice cream at "Diffin's".  Harry Diffin had for years run the place, but it was now called "Lloyds" as it was and still is.  (You might like a bit of "trivia" here.  The Butts family owned and ran the candy store there for a few years before the war.  When their son, Lloyd, went to be stationed in the South Pacific during WWII, they changed the name of the candy store from "Butts" to "Lloyd's", out of tribute to their.  Lloyd lived on the Island for a number of years after returning from the service).  This older actor died in Santa Monica in 1961.  He wasn't as cheap as the "heman" at the Golf Tournament!  At least I got 5 cents from him!  I wanted to write an article for "Readers Digest", entitled, "I Was A Three Year Old Pimp For...." (names would then be mentioned).  I don't think that this Conservative magazine would have ever printed a story with that title!
O. K., who are these two celebrities who took advantage of of "Nature Boy"?  If you think you know the answer, contact me, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and IF you get it correct, I will share your names in my next column.  Don't worry, those who don't know me personally, unlike my predecessor, Duke Fishman, I don't parade around in "Speedos" and CERTAINLY NO LONGER NAKED!  (If you want to contact me for any reason, you now have my email address and if you would like to catch up on all of my past columns,