It was a big college graduation party, and apart from the guy who brought me, I didn’t know anybody there. The scene was a Beverly Hills back yard in the mid-fifties, and a band from the other side of town was playing Mexican music. I was a guest of one of the graduates, Junior Barr, whose mother Ruth was an old friend of my mother. Junior’s job was to introduce me to some nice Jewish girls.
The college boys at that party all looked the same in their grey flannel suits and slick “Mad Men” style haircuts. I should have stood out in my light beige Groshire and GI crew cut, but I don’t think anybody even noticed me, or my suit or my haircut.
There’s some history here: The Korean War had come to an end. I was mustered out of the Air Force and offered a job in Los Angeles with an advertising agency as a trainee, learning radio and TV production. They didn’t even pay minimum wage, but I had lucked into a job in “LA” that the guys I knew back home would have killed for.
I had one last beautiful farewell evening with the then current “love of my life” in Minneapolis and headed west…
I had fallen into a dream job. I was in showbiz. I was rubbing up against beautiful models and starlets almost every day, and a couple of nights a week as long as I could afford to pay for dinner at the ‘right’ places.
It’s traditional that Jewish mothers worry about Jewish sons and daughters, especially those who are far away from home and fair game. Through their mysterious pipe line, their own CIA, they find ways to monitor your social activities.
Six months had gone by. I was 24 years old and, from my mother’s distant perspective, not meeting the right people. I’m sure she had a network of spies, because when I received a dinner invitation from her friend Ruth, I should have figured there was something in the works.
Back to the graduation party. Junior did his job and introduced me to a lot of people; most of whose names, even their first names, I didn’t remember. There were however a couple of very attractive exceptions.
The host of the party was, Harry Nagin, a delightful man who was destined to become my father-in-law and play a very important role in my life. It was in Harry’s back yard that I first met his daughter, Elayne, who had graduated UCLA that same day. That first encounter with Elayne lasted at most about 20 seconds. She confessed later that, what with her job as a hostess, she didn’t remember our first meeting. She was sorta cute in a flighty way, but was certainly NOT my type.
I got a couple of names from Junior to follow up, and after the Mexican dinner and to escape from all that cigarette smoke, I quietly managed to slip away. Hopefully my mother got a satisfactory report from her girlfriend Ruth. Junior had done his job and introduced me to the early 20-somethings Beverly Hills community. I had met some “nice Jewish girls”… mission accomplished.
As happens, I got a call from an old fraternity buddy of mine, Warren Silver, who was working in Phoenix at the time. It seems that his best pal was an ex-GI named Sam Goldenberg who had just returned from Korea. Sam was living in Beverly Hills with his family and, like myself, was a bachelor tennis player. We became great buddies.
Sam’s sister Judy was a sorority girl at U.S.C. who decided that Sam too should meet some “nice Jewish girls”.
“Why not?” said Sam, who had been forced by geography to give up his little Korean ‘jagi’. Sam, by the way, would go through several marriages, the first of which just happened to have been a “nice Jewish girl”.
One day over a beer Sam mentioned a girl he had dated a few nights before. Her name, he said, was Elayne (spelled Elayne) Nagin. According to Sam she was not very “sexy” but had a lot of energy and they had a “great time”.
“I met Elayne Nagin,” I said, “It was about six months ago at her house the night of her graduation. I wasn’t impressed.” I added.
“Well anyway,” said Sam, “I’ll ask her out again for next weekend or the weekend after. Maybe she can bring a friend. We’ll take in a movie.”
Well, that never happened; I guess she was all booked up. As it turned out, Sam never gave it another shot. I, on the other hand, was intrigued. Who could be that popular?
“Busy” was the response.
“The following weekend?”
Any day Friday, Saturday or Sunday?” I asked.
“I’m really sorry, but I’m busy.”
Now she really had me intrigued.
“Well,” she suggested after a long pause, “Maybe the Sunday after next might be possible.” She explained that she was spending the weekend with her “boyfriend Eddie”, in Palm Springs.
“He could drop me off at a theatre in Hollywood. I could meet you there; we could go to a 7:00 movie and have a chocolate sundae at CC Brown’s. I just have to be home early, because I have to be at work Monday morning.”
I thought to myself. Did I understand right? She’s going to have her “boyfriend”, with whom she’d spent the weekend in Palm Springs, drop her off in Hollywood, so she could spend the rest of that last evening with another guy. This I had to see.
So according to the script; it’s 7:00 PM. I’m standing on the sidewalk in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. A black Jaguar convertible with its top down pulls up. She gets out, introduces me to her “boyfriend Eddie”, and we both watch him as he waves goodbye and drives away.
I thought I had seen everything. Maybe that’s the way things are done in Beverly Hills. Anyway, I don’t remember much of what happened that evening. I don’t even recall the name of the movie, however CC Brown’s chocolate sundaes were great. We talked on the way back to her place about a lot of things, none of which I can remember. The evening ended too soon for me. She “had to be at work” in the morning.
To this day, I’m not so sure I understood how it happened, but it was obviously a mutual thing, as we saw each other for lunch a few days later and again to another early movie that weekend. There were more movies, several lunches and a few long walks. Though Elayne continued to date, we both knew that we were caught up in something that was way out of control.
My Minneapolis girlfriend flew out for a party at her sister’s home in Bel Air. We had nice things to talk about, and we made a little love, but I wasn’t really with it.
One night a few months later while parked behind her house in the driveway after yet another movie, (We saw a lot of movies.), I told Elayne that I was pretty sure that I was in love. She didn’t say anything except “That’s nice.” There was a long pause; I’m sure she had heard that one before.
“I’m in love,” I said, “I think I want to marry you… how do you feel about me and… marriage?”
“That’s nice,” she repeated.
“This is a proposal,” I said, “I’ve never done it before; never even considered it.”
There was another long pause… “If I accept now, tonight,” she said, “Can I still go up to Stanford this weekend? It’s the big game. My “boyfriend Bob” is on the team, and they’re playing Cal. And then… what do I tell Eddie and Mort and Pete and…?
“What did she say?” I thought to myself. I had no experience in this business. I had never proposed before. My answer was, “I can’t see any problem with the Stanford-Cal game date”… But as for the other guys… that was not really my department. It was her choice, but it sure seemed unusual.
We were married five months later.
Stanford beat the California Bears nineteen to nothing that year, and Elayne had a “wonderful time” at the big party that followed.
I don’t think she ever mentioned my existence to her “boyfriend Bob”. I’m not clear on how her “boyfriend Eddie” dealt with the shock. Apart from the drive-by that one night in Hollywood, he probably had no idea what was going on. As for the other guys, I never met any of them until after the wedding.
I’m sure the Stanford football star had no problems; he and his team had won the “Big Game”. He could have his pick of Stanford’s co-ed litter. In time Eddie married another Beverly Hills girl, who fell in love with his Jaguar. It was a good five years before Mort would hook up.
Note: In those days “hooking up” or “getting hooked” meant getting married. Today it’s usually in reference to a one-night-stand… Times change.
Pete was a bit of a problem however. After recovering from the surprise, he approached Elayne about a week after the wedding and asked where we were planning to live.
“We just figured we’d look for an apartment on the west side,” she replied.
It was a few days later, (I wasn’t there at the time) when Pete suggested to Elayne that we move into his place. “It’s close by in Brentwood,” he said, “on the corner of Sunset and Barrington. It’s fully furnished, thanks to my mother’s good taste, and it’s got a pool. With dad gone, mom’s alone, and she’d be happy for me to move home with her in Westwood.”
“That’s what he offered,” said Elayne over dinner that night with her parents.
“Really,” said Harry Nagin, my brand new father-in-law. “How can you pass up a deal like that?”
“What’s the catch?” asked my mother-in-law, Belle Nagin. “There’s gotta be a catch.”
“Yeah,” I repeated, “There’s gotta be a catch.”
Then I thought to myself, “Catch or no catch, we’ll be starting our lives together in a beautifully furnished apartment in the best part of town, and the rent was only $75 a month”.
As happens, there was no catch, unless you count the fact that Pete showed up at his old apartment every Sunday in time for brunch.
“It’s OK,” I said to my new in-laws, “It’s just brunch; maybe all he wants to do is to count the silver.”
Sadly, as I write this little “Bit and Piece” for my blog today, Harry and Belle are gone. Sam’s gone, Eddie’s gone, Mort’s gone, as is Pete and so many others, including my beautiful Elayne spelled Elayne. We had a great run.