Boski, Peter and George Antheil, Hollywood, c. 1945
“My father was a wishful thinker” (2008)
Memories by Peter Antheil (1937-2010)
I once asked my father what he wanted for Christmas.
He answered: “A blonde wrapped in cellophane.”
Foreword It takes me a while to write, in contrast to my father who cranked out single-spaced typed letters like sausages for nearly any reason, from important to relatively trivial. Therefore I hope I can be forgiven for some repetitions and for my style, very simple and unpretentious. These are my mind memoirs and there are various details of our life over years, in our houses at Manhattan Beach, Laurel Canyon, and later Laurel View Drive; things about George that for obvious reasons wouldn’t be in Bad Boy of Music, but also other things he never wrote in his biography, and other details that came later on, as for example my father’s likes and dislikes, funny episodes, and all kinds of things.
CHAPTER 1. GENEALOGY
George’s side of the family. The story was that the Antheil ancestor, Frederick, came to America on the famous clipper ship Marco Polo, built in 1851 and active until 1858. At the time it was the fastest ship in the world, making high speed runs to Australia, but apparently not to America. Anyway Frederick is mentioned in the Trenton City Directory in 1855 as a farmer. But probably it was our great-grandmother who came on Marco Polo, not Frederick. I don’t know. I met my grandmother Wilhelmine Antheil Hillman in 1939, when I went to New York for the World Fair. She probably knew Frederick, the first Antheil to come to America. Wilhelmine Zickhur (bonr 1854, Baldenburg, Germany) married Henry Antheil, son of Frederick. Maybe for legal reasons, she said she was born in U.S. but she was really born in Germany. I don’t know how that rumour got started. She had three sons by Henry: Henry (my grandfather); William and Frederick (“Uncle Fred”). Her husband Henry worked as a brakeman on the Pennsylvania Railroad and was killed in a rather gory accident in 1884. She then married a widower who was a farmer and also a Trenton policeman, a man named Hillman, who also had children. Then, between them they had more children. They must have raised at least 10 children. Wilhelmine’s story is a real American story. I met her when I was only 2 or 3 years old, but I remember her as a kind old lady sitting in a chair on the porch of an old house, making a beautiful quilt. We had and used several quilts in California, which had probably been made by her, wonderful pieces of folk art. I remember one was on my bed. The quilts were made of many different pieces of cloth. We foolishly used them until they were worn out and then they were thrown out. Her son Henry was the father of George Antheil, and of Henry Jr., a very important State Department man. Henry too married a Wilhelmine: Wilhelmine Huse. She wasn’t warm, she was a religious fanatic. One can see her in a home movie made in 1946. That really shows the house and my grandmother is one of the people there. She too had a hard life, grew up as a little girl in Germany, lost two children out of five: one was Ruth, the girl that died at the age of eight-nine. The family went to Germany afterwards, to get over it, but there was one more child, I forgot her name, another girl. Well, I didn’t like my grandmother that much when I met her. She was very religious, a very zealous German Lutheran, very fundamentalist. Well, I think that George, going to Paris and remaining there among bohemians and very free, open people, was escaping the dread and the discipline of his mother. He and his mother didn’t really see eye to eye. Maybe George was exaggerating about his mother too, so you can’t believe everything he said about her, but she was difficult, I remember myself, and I think she made things difficult by being overly religious and she was not an easily laughing person. George was more similar to my grandfather, who was an easy-going, nice, likeable guy. My grandfather may have liked woodworking – I met him once, but I can barely remember. George was very fond of him, and very fond of his nanny, Anna Neumann. He also had a beloved Aunt Millie (I never met her). My first trip to Trenton was in 1939, this was when I met Wilhelmina. The third trip to Trenton was to visit aunt Justine, George’s sister, and she took us on a whirlwind trip down to Washington: we saw everything, but I barely remember – it was so fast. We did go to the Washington monument and we toured the FBI. Justine Antheil (married McTighe) was George’s younger sister, born in 1911. She and her children, Judy and Arthur, are the only part of the family I had contacts with in all those years. I met Justine and her family once in Ashbury Park, in 1954, I remember- We had a good time even if there was a big hurricane. In 1956 Justine, Art and Judy came to California and my mother and I took a trip around California with them, but I don’t remember much of that trip.
Boski’s side of the family. My mother was born Elizabeth (Boski) Markus in Budapest in 1903, and died in Los Angeles in 1978. I know much more about my father’s side of the family, also because they lived in the States, while the Markus family stayed in Europe. All these years, I didn’t know much, not even how many sisters she had. Boski didn’t talk so much about herself, her own past, her background. She was a bit shy. She was Jewish, of course. As a teenager, I discovered that I was Jewish… I was delighted. I had always figured that anyway, with a name like Markus. And being a Jew in Europe wasn’t the most pleasant thing in the world, so I think that’s the reason why she didn’t talk about it much. But only on the death of her sister Klara, did she start giving information, and also her first cousin wrote me a letter outlining a lot of things in the family, he wrote this before he died. Nevertheless, recently I made contacts again with Klara’s daughter, Julia Pestalozzi Kerpel, who lives in Switzerland, and then I was able to know more about the European side of my family. My grandfather Markus was a self-made man who became wealthy and powerful in Budapest. He had an important place on the Budapest Stock exchange. He wasn’t the nicest guy in the world towards his family. Grandmother Markus was cultured and cultivated and connected to the Schnitzler and Hayek families. They had four daughters and a boy, Janos. Since I have always been interested in history, Janos intrigued me the most: there were six photographs I saw years ago, of him in the First World War. My mother told me he was awarded a medal because he let men out of the trench in the middle of a gas attack and he got gassed himself. She told me he died young because of the gas injuries. I believed that for many years. However, my mother’s cousin showed me that he lived till between 1960 and 1970, so he apparently lived a nice long life.
CHAPTER 2. GEORGE’S CHILDHOOD Of course I don’t know much about my father’s childhood, except that he liked to play baseball. I like to think of him as a child, imagine him smoking corn-silk cigarettes. He was an artist and all-American boy simultaneously. As for the most glamorous episode of his early life, it was the fact that he left school before he could graduate from Trenton High School. He gave different versions of the fact, and that is a sign that probably neither of them is true. He said that he ran the School Skeleton with a placard saying “Principal” on it and hung around its neck up the school flagpole. For this he was kicked out of school. Another explanation is that he was the editor of the school paper, “The Spectator” (that is true, by the way), and he wrote articles criticizing the school administration. And the end is the same. By the time he was 20 years old, he had a noticeable broken nose, also. He told me he broke it when he bailed out from his fighter in WW I, and banged his nose against a tree. There is no evidence he was an aviator, by the way: he applied for the Canadian Air Force, but was rejected because of his age. And he would tell me when I was a kid that he had the French Legion d’Honneur medal for his military service. He told me that he won it as a result of his exploits as a fighter pilot in the First World War. He might have said he was an ace. Of course, it was for cultural service, which is just as good. It is a beautiful thing and one of my prized possessions. When I was a small boy, George showed it to me along with photos clipped from the Life Magazine, of French war heroes wearing the military version (equal to the United States Congressional Medal of Honour, the British Victoria Cross and the German Blue Max in World War I). During WWI he was a captain in the reserves, inspecting artillery shells. I loved to go back to Trenton, it was like a time-machine. Small town, anyway.
CHAPTER 3. THE TWENTIES Everybody, of course, is interested in George Antheil in the fabulous Paris of the Twenties. It is therefore quite astonishing that the only thing I remember and that impressed me so much about his early life, is that my father saw Lindbergh land in Paris ending his transatlantic flight in 1927. He was in the huge crowd at the airport seen in the newsreels. My mother told me she didn’t go because she “didn’t think he’d make it”. I have heard of many of his friends; probably the most notable character was Linky Gillespie, even though I never met him. They said he was strange, but not that he was an alcoholic. He was strange, he had one eye. A weird character, very strange. I don’t think he ever came around to the house or anything like that, after I was born. He drank a lot. I remember having seen him on a documentary about Paris in the ‘20s.: Joyce had a terrace and a banquet to raise money for his book. In the banquet there was a long table, and at the very end of the room, in the half-light there was George. He was there, having the banquet, standing up. …and Joyce was there – perhaps it was held at Shakespeare and Co.
CHAPTER 4. MANHATTAN BEACH
Many houses. I was born on June 8th, 1937. My parents had already moved to Hollywood, since the end of 1935. They were staying at 8163 Willow Glen Road, nut of course, I don’t remember the house or area, neither do I remember the next house at 3011 Ledgwood Drive (1938). George changed house many times: in 1939-40 we moved again at 1628 North Stanley Ave. It was a modest “Colonial” one-storey frame house built in the teens or early 20’s on a flat-land street with mostly houses from about those years. A pleasant tree-lined residential street. But it wasn’t enough. During the Fall of 1940, we moved again to 246 Norther Sweetzer Ave. And then, during1941-1942 we lived at 461 36th Street, Manhattan Beach. This is the first place I remember a bit better. It was a very modest late 20’s or 30’s stucco “Spanish”-style house built on the sand dunes in the hills behind Manhattan Beach. The hilltops were mostly open then and had patches of wild ice plants. It was in this house that we heard the Pearl Harbor attack news broadcast. That was real. I understood what was happening, that was the interesting thing too, I was only 4 years old. I knew what they were talking about, I knew the battleships, exactly what they were broadcasting. I remember all of it well. As Manhattan Beach would be a prime place for Japanese invasion and air attack on the nearby defense plants and oil facilities, it rapidly became a war zone. Boski had to take down her crockery whenever the nearby anti-aircraft guns would practice fire. There may have been a huge railroad cannon behind the hills and the street lamps were painted black on the seashore side. The blackouts were strictly enforced. Nearby there were large camouflaged oil storage tanks. If they were hit with a bomb or shell, it could have wiped our part of the neighborhood. With the blackouts, it was difficult moving around the beach towns by auto after dark. My mother and a friend, one night, had a hard time getting back after seeing Sergeant York in a local theatre. I remember her talking about that. The war situation was very exciting for small children like me, but not for the grownups. In 1942 we moved from the beach to Laurel Canyon in Hollywood. Many years later I asked Boski why we moved. She replied: “It was too much like living in a war zone”. I’m sure there were a number of reasons for moving, but that was one of the big ones. As for the reasons why we went to the beach, I think George he wanted to. I suppose he wanted to get away, his life was getting too hectic in Hollywood and he wanted to get away and write some of his serious music in an unsettled area where he would not be interrupted by a lot of things. I don’t think he did any movies either at Manhattan Beach, just serious music there. And he was really active also, a great many things were happening there and that’s why the music is a lot about it; but it’s only a tip of the iceberg. Recently, I have met Rita Castillo and her husband, Luis. Rita is the daughter of Nina Luce, an early friend of my parents’. They brought me George and Boski’s letters to Nina, from that period. Nina lived with us in Manhattan Beach. These letters illuminate that period very well. My mother and George both liked Nina and a lot of details emerge of their life there.
Nina Luce. In the letters there are two descriptions of the house: one was written by my father and one was written by my mother, and George’s description was a bit exaggerated, he could add a bedroom, he tended to exaggerate at times, and have it sound more mansion than it really was. My mother’s description is more a matter of fact. And, generally speaking, if any of the information comes from my mother, it is always good, exactly the way it is. So, anyhow, when you read the letters, it turns up that my father had a big weakness: he was a womaniser, and he got obsessed with Nina Luce. He fell in love with her the moment he set his eyes on her. She came as a nanny, we all lived in the same house. He never did anything physical, of course, he was always a gentleman, but he wrote her a lot of letters, trying to get “a better position”, so to say. Anyway, he was really obsessed with her. I’ve been reading to know what my father was like, and I discovered one side of his life. Nina’s letters brought this up in a way. And of course Nina was really beautiful. And not only that: she was very keen, very witty, she liked to play poker games and things like that, she was very wise-cracking. I think when my parents met her she was a cabaret, a night club dancer, and many other men were chasing her. One of them was Al Capp, who was dating Nina, and was getting further to Nina than George was. Nothing happened there either but George was really jealous of him. Capp had a wooden leg, by the way. He was in the army and he was over to stay at our house during the so-called “Battle of Los Angeles”. George didn’t like Al Capp very much. At the end, Nina ran off and ended up marrying a nuclear scientist. But she and my parents remained friends and they exchanged a lot of letters later in 1945. When she went to Britain, she once wrote back to us, when she got married and she described whom she married. In 1954 she visited my mother and father in the big house, they took photographs, in 1955, I was up in college, my only chance I ever got to meet her and I wasn’t there. Wataru At the same time that George and Hedy let Nina go, or perhaps even before, they decided to take in a boarder to help their finances. They chose a Japanese-American boy going to UCLA for an advanced degree, I think in English. His name was Wataru, but they called him Waterloo, or Watts, not knowing much about the correct pronouncing of Japanese names. He became very fond of my parents and they of him. He liked to help them and did so by putting on a white housecoat and speaking Pidgin English when important visitors came, letting them believe that he was our Japanese houseboy, which of course he wasn’t. They must have been very impressed with my parents having a house boy. I don’t know what happened to Wataru, maybe he ended up in the renowned 442nd regimental combat team or the 100th Battalion. I would like to believe so, and that he survived the war safely. We did receive a postcard form his sister from an internment camp (early 1942).
Ariane Borg. Another of the early acquaintances of my parents was Ariane Borg. How could I forget her? She had a delicate, blonde ethereal beauty, found in some French women. She was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. She had had an acting career in France, earlier. My parents first met her in the late 1930’s in Hollywood when she tried to break into the movies there. She came back in the 1950’s to revive her dream of making it in Hollywood, but failed. At that time, anyway, my mother and I drove with her to San Francisco on Highway 99 up to the rural San Joaquin Valley. We stayed in cheap motels and ate in cheap roadside restaurants. I’m sure she was used to much better, but she was a good sport. Her knowledge of American life and of English wasn’t very good, if not poor. I remember driving up highway 99 with Ariane worrying about being attacked by “Wild beers”, and I could picture huge beer bottles with arms and legs crossing the highway to destroy us. Vice versa, once at a restaurant she ordered a “bear”. Ariane was very likeable, but somewhat out of place in California’s rural heartland.
CHAPTER 5. UNCLE HENRY There is a trait d’union between George’s life in the Twenties and the early war period, and unfortunately, it is a tragic one. His younger brother Henry Jr, my uncle, died in tragic circumstances in June 1940. He had worked for the Moscow Embassy since 1934, when he was 21 years old. The story is that, in a way, George found him a place there, through his connections with Ambassador William Bullitt and his wife Louise. Louise Bryant had been married to a famous communist, John Reed. After Reed died in the early part of the Russian Revolution, she came to Paris and she was a friend of my mother and father’s. Later she married William Bullitt, so George was a friend of Bill’s, which is how my uncle got into the State Department. Henry was then stationed in the US Embassy in Moscow. When in 1934 they were looking for young diplomats to be posted there at the first US embassy to be opened in Moscow after the Revolution, my father pulled some strings to get Henry into the State Department. Bullitt was the first American ambassador in Russia, the Soviet Union. Henry Jr. was very keen, very intelligent, very brilliant, but not an obvious rebel like my father was. My father was rebelling all over, all the time, while Henry was an all-American boy, he was raised like my father, but he played the game, fitting in America, in our society, not being that different. Anyway, he and my father were really close. They loved each other. Henry was so young, he was very promising, he had a great future in the State Department, but he was shot down while he was working for the US embassy in Helsinki, during summer 1940. He was organizing the retreat from the Estonian Embassy in Tallinn right some days before the Russians invaded the country. He was on a mission, probably to help evacuate materials from U.S. Legation in Tallinn. His plane was shot down. My idea is that they didn’t want this group to ever get to where they were going, they were in the Kaleva, a Junkers JU-52, a transport German plane, used by the Nazis, but used by other countries for airlines. Well, Finnish eyewitness accounts of the fact that the Kaleva was shot down by two Soviet fighter bombers on June 14, 1940, mere 10 minutes after taking off from Tallinn. Well, this, we discovered later, was only part of the story. My cousin Art, who is very much interested in his uncle Henry, did some research, he went through declassified files, asked the Government in order to know more about Henry. There are some rumours that he was a spy, but I do not think so. For sure, Henry had a friend who was a kind of a spy, Tyler Kent. He wasn’t spying for the Germans or the Russians, no, Kent was – I saw this on the History Channel in a documentary –a code-breaker at the US Embassy in London. Churchill and Roosevelt were having communications between them, and of course over the Atlantic it was in codes, and of course Churchill and Roosevelt didn’t want it to get to the Nazis. At the same time there was this boom in America, the isolationists, and Kent was an isolationist: what he was doing, was getting all this information about the Roosevelt-Churchill conversations and communications and sending that to Brandenburg. That’s where it was going, to Brandenburg, who was the leader of the isolationists. It wasn’t quite as bad as spying for the Nazis or the Soviets. And, unfortunately, Henry was a friend of Tyler Kent. Well, in any case, something happened after Henry’s death. Tyler Kent went to jail in England, they arrested him before he could send anything back to Brandenburg, I mean more than that, he’d sent a lot already. He was arrested by the British, they put him in jail in England, during the war. I think Henry was a scapegoat for the real culprits, blamed with something he had nothing to do with. I can assure he was no spy, he hated Stalin and the Soviet Union. In fact they killed him. I’m really offended by those charges. During all these years abroad, Henry maintained his relations with George. They corresponded, especially on military subjects: I have the letters, a two inches thick stack of them. They mention mostly his Finnish girlfriend, she was really beautiful. She kept in touch, at least once, and sent a condolence letter, I think it was when Justine died, and she was talking about how much Henry’s death had hurt her. Out of this long correspondence, my father produced a book on quite accurate military predictions, “The Shape of the War to Come”, except for one thing: he predicted that the Soviet Union would fall to the Germans, which it didn’t. I think my uncle wrote more of it than George. When Henry died, it seems that George had a real breakdown, he quit composing for a while. We all moved to Manhattan Beach. I think at that time he was just thinking of giving up on composing and he was writing lover advice, things like that, and doing military predictions, and trying to commercialize his invention of a new musical notation. But, at a certain point, in 1941-42, he began to compose again, he was producing a lot of music, many patriotic symphonies. It was to honour his brother, I think. I am very, very sorry I never met Henry. Well, perhaps I did it as a kid, probably, bouncing on his knees. He was quite a guy!
CHAPTER 6. LAUREL CANYON BOULEVARD My memories begin to be clearer when we moved to a house in Laurel Canyon Boulevard, in May 1943. We stayed there until Summer of 1954. Laurel Canyon was quite an interesting place to grow up in, because all the intellectuals lived up there and everyone was very radical. It was a place with plenty of leftists and it had a great school to go to: Wonderland Avenue School. In it you could find smart kids, rebellious, full of mischief, hard to control. Later I went to Hollywood High School. Our house was another modest house in a very small development form the 30’s, two short, dead-end streets connected to Laurel Canyon Blvd by one of them, Elrita Drive. The rear of the house, through which we entered most of the time, faced Cornett Drive, the longer of the two streets. The garage with an attached room and the back gate faced this street. Even in those days Laurel Canyon Blvd was too busy and crowded to be much used for anything by the people living in the little enclave of houses. The enclave was a short distance from the crest of the mountains and Mulholland Drive. Along the crest were posh neighborhoods and expensive houses. Our neighborhood was nice but not posh, and the houses were decent, but not of the category found higher up the canyon. A good percentage of the people living in the neighborhood were involved in the movie industry and in the arts. In our enclave there were Marion Davies, the hairdresser (who had been a guest at the Hearst castle), Lorette (not Loretta) Young, an actress, Charles Vidor (probably in the industry and probably related to King Vidor, the director) and the unfortunate Diana Barrymore, well into her alcoholism. However, no big names. The big names lived along the crest. Only one newsworthy event occurred in the near vicinity of our enclave, about a block down Laurel Canyon towards Hollywood: an associate of Mickey Cohen was bumped off on the steps to his front gate. I remember seeing the dried blood on the steps form the school bus window the next morning. I remember some notable visitors at that house, first of all Leopold Stokowski and Gloria Vanderbilt. Gloria was indeed one of the two most beautiful women I had ever met, the other being Hedy Lamarr. That time that Stokowski and Gloria Vanderbilt came over for dinner, I was there with my friend George Mitchell: The story in the Bad Boy of Music is absolutely true, also true about the dime. Another one was Hans Stuckenschmidt, one of my father’s oldest and best friends. He stayed with us at Laurel Canyon Blvd house in a small room attached to the garage facing the street behind the house. This room had no bathroom and sometimes we used it to keep the dog in. The garage and the room were separate from the house. The room was rather miserable lodgings for the possible son of the Kaiser (this was the rumour), as occurred to me years later. But it was the best we could offer and Stucky (as we called him) was grateful and took it in stride. Well, another one of my father’s oldest and best friends was Hans Heinsehemier, but here I hardly remember anything about him. I did meet him and had a conversation with him many years ago, after George died. But he didn’t speak of my father. Another one was Vincent Price, who was very cultured – he was a big art collector – very intelligent and very tall. He towered over George, who was only 5’- 2” tall, and the height contrast really struck me. At the same period George and Boski were very friendly with Janet Gaynor and her husband Gilbert Adrian, main dress designer of MGM during the ‘20s and ‘30s . Since Janet was about the same size as my mother and, being Adrian’s wife, she couldn’t wear clothing more than a few times, she passed them to Boski. Of course Janet’s clothes were mostly designed by Adrian, and even in those days every Adrian creation was worth thousand of dollars, so from time to time Janet would show up in a Limousine loaded with Adrian clothing (evening gowns, dresses, etc.) and give them to Boski. When important guests would visit our modest house, my mother would often be wearing an Adrian, and they would be very impressed, thinking he was an eccentric who loved that house, but could afford much better. In fact we were pretty broke, by Hollywood standards.
CHAPTER 7. HEDY LAMARR The story of the meeting between George and Hedy at a party at Janet Gaynor’s mansion is well-known. That must have been in 1940 or 1941, I guess. So it is probable that we were still at the Manhattan Beach, but I remember better Hedy’s visits at Laurel Canyon, and there is a photo as well, a famous family photo in which there are two neighbours flanking mother, Hedy, and George. The car in the background is a 1941 Mercury Coupe. It was taken on the eve of WWII. Well, the story of their invention is well known: Hedy was both a major movie star at MGM and co-inventor with George of a frequency hopping device. She always looked like a million bucks, even in street clothes and little makeup. And what a mind! She should have been at MIT rather than MGM. She was brilliant: I should say a woman with a man’s mind. Hedy Lamar was also very tall. You can see that from the picture I mentioned, and also from her son, Anthony Loder. He’s a very, very big guy, he’s 6 feet tall, a very big man, physically. He ran an electronics store in Los Angeles. Probably he has some letters from George to Hedy that could clarify their relationship a bit. I remember that George used the telephone, but he liked also to write letters. And for any reason he was talking to Hedy, he wrote a letter. I don’t think Boski and Hedy were good friends. I can say they got along with each other. I don’t know if Boski would have associated with Hedy if Hedy and George had been involved. Boski would have been too hostile. There is one episode I remember well: in one of her visits she came with me and my mother when we went shopping at the commercial district around the intersection of the Sunset Boulevard and Fairfax Ave. George drove us down from the house way up in Laurel Canyon Blvd. The shopping completed, we called George to pick us up and take us back up the Canyon. For some reason he couldn’t do it and we decided to hitchhike back. We went to the NE corner of Laurel Canyon Blvd and sunset Boulevard opposite Schwab’s Drugstore. We were there for a while trying to thumb a ride and failed to get one. It was unbelievable. The people driving by must have thought it couldn’t be the movie star and drove on, depriving their grandchildren of a great story. Finally we gave up, called my father, who was then able to pick us up and we finally got up the Canyon.
CHAPTER 8. DALLAS One of the episodes I remember better was a trip we took to Dallas, in 1946. At that time my father had composed a beautiful Violin Concerto for Werner Genauer, the young first violin of the Dallas Symphony under Antal Dòrati. Gebauer was married to a friend of my parents’, Viola Essen, who was the dancer in Ben Hecht’s Spectre of the Rose, the movie. In the movie, she was really beautiful, but perhaps it was the worst movie ever made. At the end of the film Viola was beginning to break up with laughter at her lines, but the film company was too cheap to re-shoot the sequence, so it remained in the film. As usual George gave the movie a good score. We stayed with Viola’s mother in a tiny little stucco house on the edge of town, a really miserable little house. It was on a side street off the main boulevard, in a dusty area of fields, some trees and sparse buildings. Viola’s mother babysat me when my parents were in Dallas. I remember clearly the day Viola’s mother wanted to have a drink (or drinks) at a bar two blocks away on the main boulevard and she took me along. The bar was smoky, had a juke-box playing “The San Antonio Rose” and was filled with big men in cowboy boots and hats. To me they were real live cowboys. Up until then I had only seen cowboys in films at the Hitching Post Theatre across the street on Hollywood Blvd. From the pant ages the Hitching Post specialized in “B” westerns to be shown to little boys like me. In any case the “cowboys” in the bar made a big fuss over me. I guess I was a cute little blonde-headed kid. I had a great time basking in the attention of so many cowboys. After a while we returned to the little flyblown house. Much to my surprise Viola gave her mother hell when she found out about us going to the bar. How could the mother be doing wrong by giving me a high point in my life? Later on, of course, I understood why she received the tongue-lashing. Anyway, my trip to the cowboy bar is still one of my fond memories. I also remember going to the wonderfully modern Texas State fairgrounds about something to do with the performance and the huge neon flying red horse atop a tall downtown Dallas building. The horse was the logo of Mobil Oil. Probably we drove to Dallas and back from Los Angeles in the 1941 Mercury. We drove the Route 66 and went also to Las Vegas on the way back. Las Vegas was just two street-blocks of casinos and nothing else but a few scattered resorts. Open desert, nothing else. I started gambling at the slot machines…a guard stopped me; got a hold of my father, and my father took me out. I liked gambling. And I liked drinking and cigarettes.
CHAPTER 9. HOLLYWOOD My father liked to do his own work, the serious music, though he liked the movies too. He got Hollywooditis: he wanted to make a name for himself, was ambitious, wanted people to think he was making a lot of money…but he wasn’t. Like any artist who came to Hollywood, he wanted prestige and fame. And, in order to make money, he had to score movies, there was no choice, also because he always wanted to teach for free. Among the many scores he did, I think the best ones are Pride and the Passion, which is a bad movie, but has a good score. The other is surely The spectre of the Rose. My favourite films would be In a Lonely Place and the other one would be The Juggler. Well, Tokyo Joe is another good one. Normally, you don’t get to meet actors or anything, you have to write the music after the whole thing is in the can. But with Pride and the Passion, in 1956, George went to Spain with my mother to research and write the music, for the trip was paid for by Stanley Kramer, the director. This was generous of Stanley, to let George get the feel for it. I think my mother liked it too, afterwards they went down to see bullfights, which he loved….he was enamoured of all things Spanish. I remember he had a big poster of himself as a matador, it’s 6 feet tall, I still have it downstairs somewhere. I also remember once going to the studios, at that time, to see a recording: it was in a darkened room with an orchestra. I’m pretty sure George was conducting. In any case George scored many, many movies, also some TV documentaries, as the “Twentieth Century” CBS series. He also scored some anonymous stock music for a friend of his, Sharpless Hickman. The poor guy, I remember, had that glandular disease, where the hands and jaw grow large and deformed. So speech and use of hands become affected. It is almost unbelievable, how much music he composed for movies, also uncredited: one film I can’t figure out is Hellcats of the Navy with Ronald Reagan and his (then) wife. No composer listed, and it doesn’t even sound like George’s music. But I still get royalties. I think, anyway, that at the end of his career he became a bit disillusioned with the establishment. For example, he was a member of the Academy of Motion Picture, Arts and Science. He might have voted for the Oscars, but I know he had me vote at least once! Of course, among movie composers, he had some friends, but also some enemies. I think Dimitri Tiomkin was a bit of a competitor, or Franz Waxman. I am not sure, by the way. I mean, I knew his son, Johnny Waxman, because Waxman lived up the top of Laurel Canyon, it was the top of the intersection between Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Mulholland Drive and his son Johnny and I were friends, I played with him. If my father had anything against Waxman, he surely didn’t have anything against me playing with Waxman’s son and maybe George and Waxman did get along. I like Waxman’s work, Sunset Boulevard, for instance, one of the great scores. But I think I heard George talk about Waxman like he didn’t like him, was envious of him or had some kind of bad feelings towards him because he was successful. I think he said he did pretty good at the time, but still be envious of him. I know he didn’t stop me from playing with his son, anyway. George was just pulling off with the steam, saying something he didn’t really mean that much. Well, for sure he was friends with Bernard Herrmann, and Jerry Morross, of course. Jerry had been a pupil of his, and later in his life my father stayed at Morross’ apartment in New York with Boski. In fact he died there. They had exchanged apartment and Morross stayed for a while in our house in Laurel View Drive.
CHAPTER 10. MANY DOGS AND A BITCH Our first dog, Brownie, was a female of mixed ancestry that we obtained at 2711 Laurel Canyon. She was a good-natured and gentle creature, and, of course, more or less brown. She was of medium size. The next dog was Open Eyes, probably the son of Brownie. Obviously he was the first puppy in the litter to open his eyes. I remember naming him. He was a medium-sized, independent, very smart and.. brown. Perhaps smarter than the two German shepherds we had later. Since the house was built against a side of a hill, the roof was easily accessible to all the family dogs, but only Open Eyes used it a great deal. The roof was his territory: it was a gabled roof and he must have presented quite a sight to the cars driving by on Laurel Canyon Boulevard. When people asked George what kind of dog Open Eyes was, he would reply “A Mongolian Fish-hound”. The next dog was a female German shepherd named Duchess. Like Brownie, she was good natured and gentle. Our last dog was Yukon, son of Duchess, large and white: of the litter he was the one we wanted. We tried to hide him when the father’s owner came to collect the pick of the litter, which was his right (the father had a fat pedigree). Yukon started whining and maybe the stud’s owner heard him, but pretended not to, and so we kept him. He moved with us to Laurel View Drive. He was very smart and always eager to please. He was George’s favourite. We trained him to go down a long flight of stairs to get the newspapers. Once he went up and down and brought up half of the newspapers in the neighbourhood, with a happy and satisfied look on his face when he was done.. Anyway, I am telling this because I wanted to tell a story that shows you both my father’s hatred and his sense of humour. There was a B movie actor who lived up our street: Richard Denning. He and my father were engaged in a bitter feud. They hated each others guts. It was something to do with our dog Yukon, a white male German shepherd: one day he crapped on his lawn, like any other dog, and Denning was so mad he yelled at my father, calling our house with complaints. So my father decided he would fix him good. One day when Denning was out and just his wife was at home, George found a prostitute and paid her. So she went up to Denning’s door and rang the bell and when his wife opened the door, the girl asked “Is Richard here?” So my dad enjoyed getting revenge that way. Apparently it worked. We never heard from Denning again.
CHAPTER 11. CARS, AIRPLANES, BOATS Of course, a man who wrote an Airplane Sonata, a Sonatina called Death of the machines, and a Ballet mécanique, for sure was a lover of technology, of speed and of progress. As for the cars, my father was mainly a Ford products man. The first car I remember was when we were living in Manhattan Beach. A 1941 Mercury Maroon coupé. My father always liked fast powerful cars. I always wondered why he chose an unimpressive ’41 Mercury Coupé. Until recently, when I made an acquaintance with a man who was a part time bootlegger in the mid 1940’s. The car he used was the same: it turns out that it was a very powerful car, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and my father knew it! The car was a good, reliable friend, it got us through the war and probably into 1950. My mother cried when we sold it. That is in the photograph with Hedy Lamarr in the background. Around 1950, George bought a used 1949 Mercury convertible from a Los Angeles Police detective whom he knew. It was a magnificent machine, sleek massive, very powerful and fast. I went to a trip once, with my mother, we took a lot of trips, and I had the car up to 110 mph. The cop might have soured it up. It was maroon with a white top, had red leather upholstery and white sidewall tires. It also had a spotlight on either sides of the windshield. It’s quite possible that the policeman used it in his work. My father really liked that car. If he really liked the 1949 Mercury, he loved the next car, which he bought I believe in 1955, a 1955 classic Ford Thunderbird, black with a white top and, I think, white sidewall tires. He didn’t drive it very much, as he was in and out of Los Angeles because of his work. It spent much of its life sitting in the garage. I remember Boski rarely drove it fearing to damage George’s pride and joy, even though my mother was an excellent driver). I didn’t drive it for the same reason as my mother. Boski had a 1953 or 1954 Hillman Minx, a small English car, which eventually became my first car. About 1956 George bought a Ford 4 Doors Sedan, mostly for my mother’s use. If my father would have been a wealthy man, he would have very quickly jumped above the Ford Product level. I once asked him what car he would have if he could have any car he wanted. “A Bugatti!”, he answered. As for the airplanes, I remember he flew to New York City around that time, ’46, ’47, ’48. In 1945 we all went in an airliner, a WWII 54, to Trenton to visit my grandparents. My father was very fond of airplanes. He liked the rush of the adrenalin. I remember flying to New York, at Mines Field: that was an airfield that was in the vicinity of Manhattan Beach, the predecessor of LAX. But there were only two hangars, a control tower, and a coffee shop. It was surrounded by open country. My parents would take me there during the war, they’d go to take a cup of coffee and let me stand behind a chain link fence to watch the comings and goings of the marvellous flying machines. They had a temporary terminal so I boarded the airliner there and went all the way to New York and we stopped in Chicago. It was grounded for a while and I re-boarded the New York plane and I don’t remember the rest of it. My first memory was an airplane at the 1939 New York Worlds Fair. Much to my parents chagrin I insisted on going through it a second time. I loved it so much! The last time I went to Mines Field was to go with my parents to a military air show. There were also tanks and military ground vehicles. I remember going through a B25 Medium Bomber. I had one of the best times in my life that day. I can still remember the scene walking back to the car, the small local airport, the WWII planes and tanks, the huge crowds streaming back to their cars. And, last but not least, there was also an interest in boats: for a time there were Criss Kraft catalogues and literature scattered around the living room at Laurel View Drive. Apparently George was playing with the idea of getting a BK – powerful Luxurious (it could sleep a number of people) motor boat. My father was not an outdoor type and certainly not a sailboat man. I don’t know where he got the idea. Moreover, there was no way he could pay such a toy outside of selling the house but George was really thinking about it.
CHAPTER 12. THINGS I DID WITH MY FATHER My father was never into sports. He told me he was a good baseball player when he was a boy, but he wasn’t that fond of sports except for, he liked boxing a lot (he was a great fan of Joe Louis), and later on he liked bullfighting (he got hooked on bullfighting when he went to Spain to score The Pride and the Passion). I myself had boxing lessons when I was a kid, I was sparring with other kids at Laurel Canyon and a car pulled up at the park and there was a fighter who gave boxing lessons, a retired fighter. I can’t remember his name. My father said he was competitor, he knew who he was and I went over to have boxing lessons. I don’t even recall playing games with him. He liked to play poker at poker parties at our big dining room table. That’s the only thing I remember: we had a lot of poker parties, and I liked to play in them. We played for pennies, of course: just to keep it interesting. A lot of people came to play. I enjoyed playing poker also later in my life, in the army for example, but I didn’t gamble that much. Anyway, my father was a very busy man. I didn’t spend as much time with him as I would have liked or he would have liked. We went on walks on Hollywood Blvd and would go to the newsreel theatre there or take a walk, and he would stop to a bookstore or so. Once he took me fishing on a barge at Santa Monica, but it was a failure: we didn’t catch any fish, and neither of us were into fishing, anyway. But it was good being with him. He took me once to see the movie The Things to Come, a British science fiction film made in the 1930’s which was, and still is, one of my favourite movies. Probably it was one of George’s favourites and he knew I would like it, and he was right! And H.G. Wells’, The Days of the Comet, science-fiction, is another one I can remember, In the spring of 1945 he took me to see General George Patton speaking at a War Bond Drive held in a park in Redondo Beach. It was a huge crowd. I didn’t have a chance of seeing the general. So my father hoisted me to his shoulders, but still I couldn’t see Patton over all the heads. It probably didn’t help that my father was short (about the height of Mickey Rooney or Peter Lorre). So all I can say is I was in the presence of general Patton, which is still something. For his birthday, I gave my father a Superman neck-tie, to me it was a thing of beauty, it was, the film was “the man of steel flying to speed up the time”, it would be worth a fortune today. We had people over and he wore the tie telling them his son gave it to him. Actually, I was rather surprised that he wore it on social occasions. Later, I stayed with George in New York City for a while in the 1950’s. In a somewhat shabby hotel room (The Great Northern Hotel). He cooked me a breakfast, which was only average (he lacked cooking talents). But I let him think it was one of the best meals I ever had. He was very proud of it. He took me to the automat at street level and he considered it a real treat. I remember the automat well, an art deco fantasy of chrome and yellow tile. I believe this was the automat were George and Jean Shepard, the humorist, became friends. Shepard did a radio show on George, just after George died. He really liked him, as most people who knew him did. In the mid and late 1950’s George was out of Los Angeles much of the time because of his work – I really regret I didn’t know him better during the last years. The thing is, I believe, that I was reacting at my father’s being a composer. I mean, my father’s being a famous man and everything he was involved in. I tended to get involved in just the opposite. I loved my father, I respected him for everything he did, all his work and he achieved so much, but I was not interested in what he did, I didn’t want to be associated to him, I wanted to be my own person. I didn’t want to get myself involved with what he was doing, mentally or physically. So with my taste in music, instead of being into classical music, I was in jazz, which of course he incorporated into some of his early stuff, but he didn’t do it that much. I had a lot of records, 1920s jazz records, I still have them.
(This is the first part of Peter’s memories. He left us in 2010 and we want to pay him a respectful homage by publishing this long interview, done in Los Angeles in 2008, reworked thematically)