Chita Rivera Saves the Day

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We bid a fond adieu to Kansas City.  We watched as the moving packers swept through our apartment like locusts on the Kansas plains.  The last thing to be loaded onto the moving van was our new 1973 Chevy Vega Kammback Wagon.  I was nothing if not a company man.  I gave the keys to my free KC car to my replacement. Dick Byrne was giving me his Impala company car. We landed at LAX and went directly to the Franklin Arms.  This was old Hollywood at its stylish.  The residents were all “entertainment people” who would rent a unit on a month-to-month basis. Lots of ice plant and palm trees. A large pool in the centre of the units provided ample tanning area for folks to maintain their healthy Hollywood patinas.  It was about a half a mile from my office.  Fortunately, each unit was air-conditioned, as it was 104 degrees when we arrived.  I told my wife to enjoy the pool as I went off to work. Our furniture wasn’t expected to arrive for another five days. After the first day of having nothing to do from 8:30 AM to 6:00 PM but sit by the pool and read, she informed me that she was getting bored. Uh oh! I suggested that she walk down Hollywood Blvd, maybe visit Grauman’s Chinese Theater which was next to my office.  She wasn’t too keen on that as long as the temperature was above 100.  I told her that I’d try to come up with something for her to do all day.  

This all changed on the evening of the second day.  My wife had met a friend at the pool.  Chita Rivera!  Ms. Rivera was the first Anita in West Side Story on Broadway. Her show stopper was the song “America”…”I like to be in America, OK by me in America, Everything free in America.” She and my wife struck up a conversation and became pool buddies.  Whew!!  On the third morning, as I was checking for any mail, a French couple was checking in.  I don’t really recall what he looked like, but his wife/girlfriend/mistress/lover was striking.  Think of Catherine Deneuve with long dark hair.  Thatimages afternoon I received a call from my wife.  She was quite upset. “What kind of place is this?  Around noon, a French woman comes out and takes her top off and starts sunbathing in front of everyone!!!”  “No!!!,” I exclaimed.  “Tom, I want you to call the manager and complain.” I replied that I’d “get right on it.”  When I got to the apartment that night she asked if I had called the manager.  “He was out, so I left a message.”  The next day, at noon, I got another call.  “She’s back! This isn’t France. Call the manager”  About ten minutes later I surprised my wife by joining her at the pool.  “What are you doing here?” she asked.  “I brought you some lunch, Dear,” as I dropped an egg salad sandwich in her lap, while I frantically scoured the lounge chairs.  “Uhhh, where is that French trollop?”  “Oh, she left about ten minutes before you got here.” Hmmmm. The next day I brought a tuna salad sandwich…at 11:00.  No luck.  I guess someone else had called the manager.

Being the LA Field Guy was the greatest job in the world.  Even though I protested that I didn’t, all of the TV and radio stations, newspapers and outdoor companies in LA and San Diego thought I could help them get on a Chevrolet media buy. I quickly learned about Chasen’s, Perino’s, The Brown Derby, The Polo Lounge, Trader Vic’s, Tail O’ the Cock, and Scandia to name a few.  I learned that the big outdoor companies, Pacific Outdoor and Foster & Kleiser, would barter space with Las Vegas resorts and airlines to provide trips to clients.  I quickly realized  why Dick Byrne had refused to go work in Detroit and stayed in this job for 17 years.  If I played my cards right, I could stay in this job for at least 39 years.  I quickly became used to the lifestyle.  The one thing that I had yet to master, and found out that I should, was golf.  The landed gentry in England went fox-hunting, the Germans went boar-hunting, LA Ad Guys played golf. A wonderful man named Harley Humes “adopted us.”  He was a rep for Pacific Outdoor, and was already well into his sixties. My wife and I would often have dinner at his house in La Cañada. He was “old LA.” His father was one of the founding members of Wilshire Country Club in 1919. Harley came into my office one day and announced to me, “Tom, I’ve gotten you a membership in SCAGA!”  This was the Southern California Advertising Golf Association.  Rich ad guys who were good at golf.  “I’ve put you in our foursome for the next tournament at Lakeside County Club,” he said. Another old line club, a short distance from Warner Brothers in Burbank, Lakeside was founded in 1924 and had as it’s members Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, W.C. Fields, Oliver Hardy, Gene Autry, among others. On the day of the tournament, and with my Sears golf clubs, I arrived at the club. A man about the same age as my father 8893588_122902194863approached me and asked if I was Mr. Cavanagh. I was, I told him.  “Hi, sir.  I’m Sam. I’ll be your caddy today.  Why don’t you just give me those clubs and meet your friends in the grill.”  OK. Not too shabby.  I met Harley, who was sitting at a table with two other gentlemen. The first was introduced as Jim Davis, who owned a photography studio.  The other was introduced as Neal Reagan, Senior VP at McCann-LA.  I tried to lighten things up.  “Hey Neal,” I asked summoning all of my 26 year-old hubris, “you any relation to our actor-governor Ronald Reagan?”  “Why yes,” he intoned,”Ron is my brother.”  Uh oh!!  I felt retribution on its way.

As we walked toward the first tee, Harley pulled me aside and whispered, “We’re partners in this foursome. Don’t let Neal get under your skin. He’ll try to ride you, but he’s really a good guy. We’re not betting that much.”  If this hasn’t happened to you, you have NO idea the terror of being the new guy in a golf organization as you walk up to the first tee which is surrounded by golfers waiting to see what the “new kid” can do. I casually asked Sam for my driver and sauntered to the tee.  The quiet was deafening as I began my images (1)swing. Keep your head down!  Keep your head down! The ball left the tee with a mighty crack.  It was about 100 yards out when the ball’s right turn signal began flashing and it veered into some brush on the right side of the fairway.  Whew!! At least I got off the tee. “You’re OB, Tom!” Neal crowed.  “Tee it up again, you’re lying three!” Mortified, I walked over to Sam for my 3-wood.  Just hit it straight.  Again, the turn signal. This time the ball wasn’t as far right.  “OB again!!” Neal observed. “Tommy, you are now lying 6!!!!” I walked over to Sam and asked for my 9-iron. At least my slice would be limited. By this time the throng had dispersed, shaking their heads and chuckling to themselves.  My shot went all of 60 yards, but I was off the tee.

The rest of the round wasn’t too traumatic.  That evening at the awards dinner, Neal sat with me. The evening was kept buoyant by gallons of vodka martinis.  Well into the evening he turned to me and said, “You know Tom, you took my ribbing well. You’re a fine Irishman…like me. It’s a pleasure meeting you. Now I have to go the bathroom. I’ll be right back because I want to talk to you.”  He ambled off to the mens’ room.  After 30 minutes had gone by, Harley and I became alarmed.  We asked the waiter if he had seen Neal.  “Oh” he said, “Mr. Reagan got into his car about 30 minutes and drove home.” There were giants in those days.

Next:  The Case Of The Missing Cars 

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