Ming the Merciless

Ming the MercilessHere is “Ming the Merciless, Emperor of Mongo, otherwise known as Charlie Middleton”.

Friends of the family thought this was a cute name for an essentially nice cat. What they did not know is that the animal you see in this 1973 photograph actually is Ming the Merciless of the planet Mongo. Here’s the story – back in the early-to-mid 1960’s, my dad was a writer for Bill Burrud, well-known for his syndicated travel shows on TV. One of the old-time hands from Hollywood who worked on the team was a guy named Barney A. Sarecky, famous for saying “All houses are haunted. All persons are haunted. Throngs of spirits follow us everywhere. We are never alone.”

Barney Sarecky was the man responsible for producing the Flash Gordon movie serials starring Buster Crabbe back in the 1930’s. It turned out that “Charlie Middleton” was a real alien who had been stranded in America around 1910. He was a shape shifter on his home planet, and enjoyed considerable success in vaudeville and the first couple decades of talking pictures. Barney hired him because it seemed a natural fit and because he didn’t have to pay more than scale.  One night at a Hollywood party, for reasons that remain a mystery, Middleton changed into a cat and discovered that he was unable to change back into human form (his original life form did not breathe our air).

The cat lived with Barney until the old producer died. My dad agreed to take him in after that, and Ming the Merciless, Emperor of Mongo, otherwise known as Charlie Middleton, lived out the rest of his days on Rutherford Drive in the Hollywood Hills.

Crooning in 1975

Scott Pearce singsA number of talented artists were with me at Hollywood High School back in the 1970’s. Aprile Milo went on to enjoy the most success. Back in the day, she was known as April, but it was clear she was going to have a major career in opera. I was pleased to help lead the fund-raising efforts required to stage “Hello Dolly,” with April in the title role.

In 1975, the music scene in Hollywood was primed for the punk rock and heavy metal explosion that was only a few months away. Although the TV industry was busy marketing 50’s nostalgia, there was a little-remembered movement that looked back to the 1930’s and 40’s for its inspiration.

People liked to joke that 70’s teenage crooners were out of step with the times, but the truth had more to do with Money, the great purpose for which all of Hollywood owes its existence. It’s a lot cheaper to work with a four or five-member rock band than it is to take a full orchestra on the road!

Here is a picture of me from June 6, 1975, on stage in Hollywood, in the middle of a medley of songs that included “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams,” “White Christmas,” “Cold Turkey,” and “Accentuate the Positive.” Sadly, no audio exists from this notable event.

Don’t Do This To A Narc

Don't do this to a Narc!Here’s a nice action shot from October 1972, before I decided to embrace nonviolence.

We’re all quite aware of the fact that the US Corporate Media are adept at covering up bad news they don’t want us to be alarmed about – so it comes as no surprise that the Zombie Uprising that took place in the Hollywood Hills back in the summer and fall of 1972 isn’t part of our history books.

(In these pages I’ve exploded some of our domestic myths. Did you know that the Twin Towers were in West LA before they were moved to NYC? I’ve also explained how UFO’s insure that San Diego has better weather than you have.)

The unhappy truth is that hordes of wretched undead were grazing for brains in Hollywood during its so-called “Silver Age.” This lead to a predictable panic, especially considering that the relatively small size of brains in Hollywood gave rise to justifiable fears that a greater-than-ordinary body count might result when zombies couldn’t get their fill from one or two fresh brains.

Accordingly, some of the more athletic and idealistic young men in Hollywood were chosen for training in the deadly arts. This is one of the few actual photos of hand-to-hand combat between a representative of the living and one of the minions of Satan. Although I daresay that my comrades and I sent our share of zombies back to Hell, the truth is that they weren’t vanquished by us. It turns out that zombies are fatally allergic to cocaine. By the time they made it west of the Beachwood Canyon and reached Laurel Canyon, it was pretty much all over.

More important Zombie History is available for those of you who are interested in the field.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance – Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem!

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Deluxe Edition (Quirk Classics)

Holding Hands with Young Debbie Rowe

1975_10_debbie_roweDebbie Rowe was a classmate of mine at Hollywood High School. I was in the class of 1976. Debbie was a year behind me. Here is her photograph from the ’76 Hollywood High yearbook. (The picture was taken in October 1975.)

Debbie and I weren’t friends, but one time a substitute teacher made us hold hands in class as part of an exercise. Her hands were soft and warm but not squishy. I liked her, though I got the clear impression that she would have been happier holding hands with most of the other boys in class.

She made enough of an impression on me that I recognized her name at the time of her marriage to Michael Jackson. I had gone to Gardner Street Elementary School in Hollywood for first through fifth grade. I left Gardner when my parents moved into the Hollywood Hills. My slot at Gardner was filled in September, 1969 by a transfer student named Michael Jackson. It’s a small world.

At the end of the 1990’s I found myself in a Ventura County Superior Courtroom, where I was defending a guy on Third Strike felony charges. One of the first twelve prospective jurors in the case was none other than Debbie Rowe.  I asked to approach the bench. “Your honor, Juror #5 was a classmate of mine at Hollywood High in the 70’s. Her name is Debbie Rowe and she’s married to Michael Jackson.”

The judge had been on the team of prosecutors during the first Michael Jackson child molestation case, the one that ended when MJ paid millions to the alleged victim. I came to view the judge as a prosecutor in judicial robes, utterly blind to fairness or the pursuit of truth…but that’s a story for later.

I watched Ms. Rowe as the prosecutor asked her questions. She looked and sounded much the same, but her jaw looked as if it had spent a lot of time clenched during recent years, and I sensed a great desire  on her part to be left alone.”I like police officers,” she told the prosecutor. “My husband is an entertainer. He hires off-duty officers to protect me and our children.”

OK, put yourself in my position. You’re defending a serious felony case. Do you want Debbie Rowe on your jury? Would you use a preemptory challenge to kick her off the case? As I sat in court considering exactly that question, it turned out that it wasn’t a decision I was going to have to make.

“The People would like the court to thank and excuse Juror #5.”

R.I.P. Diane Webber

Diane Webber - May 1972

Diane Webber was one of the most gifted artists I have had the honor to know. She founded Perfumes of Araby, one of the first American belly dancing companies. My dad took this photograph of Diane at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in May, 1972.

Believe it or not, the Renaissance Pleasure Faire used to be spectacular fun, especially from about 1968-1973. Those were the years after the LA Sheriff’s department stopped surrounding the venue with mounted cavalry and before the people who ran the Faire started taking themselves too seriously. Back then it was a gathering of counterculture types from the beatnik and hippie eras.

I had the fantastic good fortune to spend many hours on stage with Perfumes of Araby, unobtrusively on the side or in back with the musicians, except for my star turn helping one dancer get her giant snake back in its basket. I remember one afternoon as if it happened yesterday, although it was almost 37 years ago.  We were on the small stage at a corner of the Faire for an early afternoon show. The lead drummer yelled out to the audience, “baksheesh,” which throughout the Arab world means charitable giving.  Some guy in the audience threw about half a dozen fat joints of dope onto the stage, wrapped together with a couple of rubber bands.  My eyes popped out so far the pupils thought it was recess.

The joints landed a few feet in front of me. I thought to myself, “I’m 13. I spend hours every day at the Faire on stage with beautiful, athletic, dancing women. And the audience throws drugs on stage! Am I living one of the best lives a teenager can hope to have, or what?” While I was entertaining myself with these grandiose thoughts about my own splendid good fortune, the drummer glided across the carpet and the felonious cigarettes disappeared into his vest pocket without his missing a beat. Right then, another thought came to my mind. “I’m an idiot teenager who doesn’t know anything, but that drummer has got a pretty soft racket going…”

From 1969 through 1972, Diane and Perfumes of Araby had the big stage for the last hour of the Faire. Her show was so wonderful that anybody who was left at the Faire would come watch her. It’s worth noting that although Diane’s shows were extremely sensual, they didn’t pander to the audience.  Lots of women and children enjoyed the shows.

OK – you might find yourself asking this: just exactly what does belly dancing have to do with the Renaissance in Europe? Who cares? Use your imagination! Or go sit under a tree and have somebody play “Greensleeves” for you on a hammer dulcimer, and let the rest of us have our fun.

Diane Webber was a fine artist and a successful businesswoman.

May 10, 2010 update: here is another picture of Diane, from 1971.

Yes We Can!

Dragon Eats A Cracker

Millions of people all over the world have been inspired by President Obama. Americans are pulling together as never before.

We can learn from the past. We’ve shared hard times before. This picture was taken back when President Jerry Ford was encoraging us to wear “Whip Inflation Now” (WIN) buttons. The cat’s name is Dragon. Back in the spring of 1974,  he made national headlines when he decided to forego expensive meat-based cat food in favor of plain saltine crackers. Sure, he was just one cat, but he was prepared to take a stand against high cat food prices.

President Obama is a lot smarter than Jerry Ford.  Mr. Obama is not going to ask us to wear silly buttons. He may, however, ask us all to spend a few years eating saltine crackers.  And we’ll all say, “Sure, Mr. President, if it helps to pay for corporate tax cuts!”

1971 Hornet Sportabout

'71 Hornet in September '72

Not many people remember American Motors, (AMC). This is a car company that went broke and died out years before it became fashionable.  Behold a not-in-showroom-condition ’71 Hornet Sportabout.

My friends and I used to refer to this car as the “Silver Rolls”. What this car lacked in looks it made up for by being distinctly uncomfortable. Seeing this car makes me smile – for all its shortcomings, it still brings back memories of adolescent freedom. Yes, I remember back in June of 1977, driving north on Cahuenga towards Franklin, listening to the Young Marquis and Stanley on KROQ AM play “Back in the Saddle” by Aerosmith, along with Sparks and the Ramones. There was one speaker set into the middle of the top of the dashboard.

My dad crash tested this car in September of 1972.  My mom and I were in the car with him; it was a typical family affair. We were going up the narrow and twisty Hollyridge Drive in the Hollywood Hills at dusk. As my dad drove around a blind curve, a teenager in a stolen Cadillac hit the front corner on the driver’s side. It turned out that the Hornet could take a punch.

This car lived a surprisingly long and expensive life. After that, my parents drove Hondas.

Vote McGovern 1972

1972 McGovern Campaign Poster

We begin 2009 with a Presidential innaguration coming up and hundreds of millions of people all around the world yearning for peace.

Here’s a campaign poster that has been on the wall since I was 13 years old. See the big burning pile of American wealth behind Mr. Nixon? We’ve been stoking that fire ever since, sadly.

Mr. Obama has promised to spend more, not less, on war. What a tragic waste.

Hollywood Sunset 1975


Here’s yet another glorious California Sunset, this one taken from the Hollywood Hills back at the very start of 1975, during the halcyon days of the Gerald Ford administration. You can see the familiar Capitol Records building.

What makes this an important photograph is the part of America’s Secret History that it reveals.  If you look on the horizon towards the right, you’ll see the Twin Towers. People forget that the Twin Towers originally were the anchor of the Century City real estate development. When Jerry Brown replaced Ronald Reagan as governor, he and the Democrats worried that the towers would fall in the event of a major earthquake. Accordingly, they arranged to sell the towers to the City of New York.

Abraham Beame, Mayor of NYC, presided over the grand opening of the Twin Towers in Manhattan during the celebrations for the US Bicentennial in July of 1976, with the Tall Ships in the harbor nearby. Who can say how different our history would have been if the famous buildings had remained in southern California? Experts agree it is unlikely they would have survived the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

Tribble 1971

Tribble on his back

Here is a fine cat named Tribble.  Like many of the animals in these pages, Tribble has been dead for many  years.  Yet this cat remains a splendid role model for us all.  Not only was he a noble, kitten-protecting big cat, he had a glorious attitude toward life. Tribble was the sort of cat who would stretch out on his back and fall asleep, only to awaken half an hour later to complete the stretch and then go on about his business. We can learn from his example: you’re a lot more likely to get your belly rubbed if you spend a lot of time asleep, smiling, and stretched out on your back.

Art by Rosco Wright 1970

The Final Frontier

Here’s a splendid bit of visual art that’s been on display in various rooms I’ve slept and worked in. Rosco  Wright and my parents were friends at the University of Oregon way back in times that appear to have been mostly black and white, and in the decades thereafter.

Mad Carew 1974

This was one of the crazier cats I grew up with in the Hollywood Hills.  She was named Mad Carew, a perfect description as well as a catchy moniker. Is she using keen powers of concentration?  Is she in touch with a higher consciousness? Or is she nuts? (This is an easy question.)

This photograph is another in the series of winning cat pictures I took back in April 1974. You can check out the other ones here and here.