In 1951 I walked from Santa Ana to San Juan Capistrano and never left orange groves. Now you're hard-put to see one orange tree. This is progress and development, but hardly improvement. We lived in San Pedro from 1948 to '51, when Beacon Street was still a waterfront bunch of sailor dives. I was strictly instructed to stay away from that area, although my parents were remarkably permissive about letting me wander all over hell and gone. I suppose I'm lucky to have survived. We drove all over the place on weekends, as recreation. Torrance and Lomita and Wilmington were well-separated by bean fields. Palos Verdes and Rolling Hills had nothing at all on them yet. You could drive from White's Point to the Palos Verdes Estates, and it was all as open as Big Sur. The "Valley" was made up of discreet towns with space in plenty between them. Tarzana was still dedicated to Edgar Rice Burroughs and the MGM animal compound, including the 1st mangy old MGM lion, and it was considered to be way far out of town. Oil derricks covered Signal Hill and the whole coast down to Newport, along which miles and miles of the beach were covered with three or four decades of discarded rusty cans from where citizens camped, unvexed, for the summer, or all year during the Depression. It was known as "Tin Can Beach". The Huntington Pacific Electric trolley Red Cars went everywhere, from Malibu to the Rendezvous ballroom at Balboa, and from Santa Monica to Riverside, and hadn't yet been 86'd because it suited the oil companies, with the freeways starting to come on, to annex the rights-of-way. We lived on Point Fermin, and could watch the Lurline and other ships on the edge of extinction coming and going. We watched Howard Hughes lift-off the Spruce Goose from that house's front yard, not knowing it would never fly again.. Then we moved to San Clemente, where it was REALLY rural. Phone #'s were three-digits! Ours was 363. Our high school grad class at Capo was 34. Not a bad scene to grow up in, all things considered...certainly better than now. Lucky, lucky, lucky.
I found myself an artist in Laguna Beach commencing in 1959. Laguna had lots of celebs, whereas San Clemente had none. One became accustomed to seeing Humphrey Bogart leaning against Bushard's Pharmacy, or Bette Davis dictating to the Laguna little theater group in town. Eventually I stumbled onto my Tom Mix anecdote.
Tom Mix was the real deal. He was a top cowhand who did all of his own stunts, getting launched in Hollywood during the early era of the silent films as a stunt cowboy, I believe, and then starting to get parts because of his Jack Dempsey good looks. He became, for a while at least, the top-paid actor in Hollywood.
When I started hanging out in Laguna, I became friends with the Don Williamson Family, sort of tangentially to Don Williamson's role as head of the Pageant of the Masters, and architect of beautiful buildings, including the hyperbolic paraboloid restaurant on the Festival grounds. I was friends with his kids. He was as gracious and kind as he was brilliant. His wife Jo ran the backstage at the Pageant, and she was a fearsome disciplinarian. Between them they made the Festival of Arts and the Pageant of the Masters what it is today, although it may have changed direction somewhat from their particular vision.
Age overtakes us, but Don and Jo had longevity. Their beautiful home and all its spectacular Art burned to the ground in one of the recurring brush fires during the 70's. They recovered from it, but they were getting old. Then their son Doug died from a flesh-eating staph infection he got on Main Beach. Then Jo died. In the twilight of his life, I had a lot of conversations with Don. I was lucky that he bothered with me, because he was a most cultured, educated and refined individual, who surely might have found better company than I. He took to hanging out at the Sawdust Festival, where his daughter, Jennie, was an artist, and I often wondered, but never ventured to ask, what he thought of the differences between the two festivals. Don was a charming raconteur who, approaching ninety years of age, had lived all of his life in Laguna Beach. He told me about what it was like being a boy in Old Laguna.
Around 1925, Don and his friend had a small dory that they kept, in that innocent age, unlocked on the beach at Divers Cove. They liked to take it out through the surf and the rocks to go fishing. One winter day , they ventured out when the weather was blustery and the sea was angry. They were outside of the Cove when a wave turned them over, and they found themselves struggling not to drown in the rough water. On the bluff above the water, a man looked out of his window, saw what was happening, and rushed down to the beach, shedding his shirt as he went. He plunged into the surf, and swam strongly out to where he rescued the two boys, and brought them back to shore. The man was Tom Mix.
As it happened. I visited that same house on the bluff overlooking Divers Cove one time in the 60's, on a political errand. Tom Mix's daughter still lived in the house, and she was the local head of the ACLU. I guess Tom had wanted a son, but getting a daughter, he named her Thomasina. She grew up to be a flaming radical, whatever Tom Mix's politics may have been, and married a stock-broker named Gordon Gunn. They lived together childless in Tom's old Laguna house, and fought the good liberal fight. By that time she was called "Tommy Gunn". I only learned about who her father had been later. Gordon and Tommy Gunn threw in the towel when Tricky Dick was elected, and they moved to Australia.
Tom Mix was killed in a one-car traffic accident in Arizona, probably due to speeding. Don Williamson lived to 94.
Tom Mix was played by a guy named Curly Bradley; very good voice and accent. His white horse was named "Tony". He was sponsored by Shredded Ralston, a sort of loose shredded wheat. Some kids liked it, but I was not one of them. Curly always sang tp to the tune of "When It's Round-up Time in Texas":
"...It's delicious and nutricious,
Full of good ol' Western Wheat!
Take a tip from Tom,
Go and tell your mom.
"Shredded Ralston cain't be beat!"