, ,

LeConte 101

As I sat in an empty classroom at Hollywood High reading the LA Times story of the death of John Wayne, I anticipated my own entry into Junior High a few weeks later.  I had no idea how different going to school in Hollywood could be.  I was tagging along with my sister Laura as she embarked on an accelerated curriculum that had her attending school in the summer.  To my 11-year-old mind there was literally no difference between the attendees of Hollywood High and that of any adult walking around free and not in school.

In my mind these guys had it made.  Though I stuck close to my sis and avoided other kids/adults on the school grounds, everything and everyone seemed normal.


Junior High Babylon

Months later at my first assembly at LeConte Junior High (alma mater of Betty Grable and Carol Burnett [can you say ‘alma mater’ for Jr. High?]) we were informed that the school was the most ethnically diverse public school in the United States.  Cool!   I was 12 now and I was going to learn so much about the different countries that I had developed a fascination for from reading “National Geographic World.”  I couldn’t wait to dip into the different cultures represented here.

Of the 42 countries represented in the school (awesome!) each and every one had their own gang (not so awesome).  It turned out my new school was like a Bizarro World version of the United Nations. Even in 1979 it was becoming recognized that public school kids in the US didn’t know much about geography and history.  Well, these kids were bucking that trend!  Gang affiliation showed an understanding of not only geography but of geopolitical trends of the past 50 years.  There was a North Korean gang and a South Korean gang.  The Armenians, though in actuality deprived of nationhood, here were represented by a numerically healthy gang where everybody dressed like Arthur Fonzarelli.  The Crips were a new entry, as far as I understood.  My Personal Tormentor (or PT) came from that gang.  Similar to a personal trainer, he inspired my entry in a Karate school a year or so later.

But the PT story is another story altogether.

My fascination turned to apprehension and then outright fear as I imagined that all 42 gangs were lined up to take a shot at my scrawny ass.  I noticed there was not a gang for Midwestern white kids, or any Midwestern kids, for that matter.  Luckily for me, I made a friend fast, an unaffiliated kid named Enrique who would help keep my blood pressure at manageable levels for the next three years.

It wasn’t this nice when I was there!

One day during lunch (we all ate outside, like in a prison yard) while Enrique was beating a banana against the edge of a table (he would turn it into kind of a smoothie, then stab it with a straw and suck out the pureed contents), I was approached by 2 members of one of the Mexican gangs.  One came up behind me and covered my eyes (like hide-and-go-seek) while the other one smoothly and professionally relieved of my new Velcro Led Zeppelin wallet that I had picked up during a recent family day trip to Tijuana.   I was proud of that thing, though it was empty but for my LeConte ID.

I felt a perfect 50/50 combination of horror and pride that I had been mugged in my Junior High School.  I was a Survivor.  I took a minute to say to Enrique (who had paused in his fruit abuse and was trying to stifle a laugh) “Wow!  Did you see that?!”  When the cool wore off, the scary started to set in,  and I set off;  for the school security office.

Located inside a Russian nesting doll of chicken wire and glass, the inner security office was conveniently located for any prospective (now)12-year-old crime victim right in the middle of the school campus.   Feeling like I was in a scene from “CHiPs,” I approached Mr. Pittman.  He disinterestedly told me he would look around for my discarded wallet (no word though about the perps). Oh that 70’s ennui!

It never turned up.

But something HAD to be done, I didn’t really fit in anywhere, and I sure as heck wasn’t going to join a gang.  Maybe I could start one and call it Nerd Power.  Most of the gangs in this school had ‘power’ in their name, Russian Power, Armenian Power, Polynesian Power.  I had to look elsewhere.  I wasn’t much of a risk taker, I wouldn’t even ditch school.

Ditching in Hollywood was a different animal too.  Based on your interest or your clique you had 3 options.  You could go to Arby’s on Sunset (they always returned for 5th or 6th period); you could hop on a bus towards Santa Monica and go surfing (those kids I feared/looked up to but I thought you had to have money); or you could attend a Walk of Fame Ceremony thrown by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

Walk of Fame ceremonies always seemed to happen during the middle of a school day, and although I once got to see Fleetwood Mac get their star in right front of Frederick’s, I always wanted to have a talk with Johnny Grant about how his scheduling was increasing truancy at LeConte and probably Hollywood High.

If I ever ditched, I’d lean more towards option 3; I was fascinated by entertainers and all of their doings, especially actors.  I even fancied myself as an actor one day.  There was some inspiration for this idea.  I already lived in an apartment building where several retired silent screen actors lived.  And one time Enrique’s older brother Martin told me “Dude, you should be an actor!”  That was good.  Oh yeah, and my mom was a serious stage mother.  Back then in LA the Entertainment Saturation Culture that we all now love and appreciate was already in full swing.  We’d heard stories of the current archetype for stage mothers, Brooke Shield’s mom.  My mom was a serious but friendlier approximate.  Plus, my sis Laura led the way with full acting school attendance and some work in “the Industry” itself.

I wouldn’t ditch but maybe there was a clique I could fit into.

And LeConte itself was still churning out actors, one kid named Michael who starred in an episode of Charlie’s Angels with guest star Simon Oakland, and a Vietnamese kid who was picked to be in a movie with Tom Selleck, probably “High Road To China.”  We had a special assembly to announce that one.

So it was the acting clique that won out.  They were represented by what Enrique, his brothers and I called the “Tree People.”  It was a group of kids led by Donovan’s (of, “Mellow Yellow” fame), son, also named Donovan, who all hung out in the middle of the school grounds (a big courtyard really) by a lone tree.  They never ditched, were Preppies, and were not in any gang.  They instead formed ‘clubs’, the Beatles Club, the Who Club etc.  They went into a collective mourning when John Lennon was murdered but later thought it was funny when Reagan was shot.

One time the Beatles Club was doing a school play and Donovan approached me (say what?!) during lunch.  I really did think he was heading over to someone else standing near me, but I was by myself.

“Hey, I’m Donovan.  The Beatles Club is doing a play and I was thinking you look just like Brian Epstein.  Would you do it?  You would appear at the beginning, you wouldn’t really have to do much.  It won’t be difficult at all.”

During a break in his spiel I stammered out an “Oh, I don’t know…” I was really scared, scared of fucking up, scared of talking in front of a bunch of people, and scared of being really great and them asking me to do more stuff.  Stuff means Work.  (Uh, oh, I had just thought of it as work, maybe because Donovan told me it wouldn’t be difficult).  That opened up the option in my mind that it might BE difficult and I made up my mind then and there.  Sensing he was losing me, he upped the ante.

“You’ll meet girls, it’ll be cool, c’mon.”

This guy must have really thought I was the come-back-to-life embodiment of Brian Epstein.  But the latest salvo had the opposite effect, the girls thing ramped up my fear exponentially and I was much more firm in my refusal.

Then he produced his Super Weapon.

“But you’ll be popular, I don’t understand.”  I said no again and he walked away, really staggered, in a kind of I’ve-been-hit-on-my-head bewilderment.  I don’t think we ever spoke again; his use for me was done (the play ended up going off without a hitch as they found a Japanese kid to play Brian Epstein).

This episode did not bode well for my burgeoning Hollywood Career.

Trees; no people.

So that I wouldn’t go through the rest of time at LeConte lamenting my status as “a contenda, I coulda been somebody” I got into Mr. Crumb’s Drama Class, and later tried to befriend the Charlie’s Angels kid Michael in Cooking Class (LA County School required class).  I was already nervous and it was only made worse with the news that he was going to be starring in a brand new sitcom (which only lasted 8 episodes, but still!).  I sucked it up and approached him. Curiously, he would not talk to me about acting but gave me copious cooking advice, helping me not burn the lame little pizzas we had to bake in tiny ovens.

In Drama class, as the semester wore on (Donovan sat in the front, me in the back), the war between Fear and Intriguing Interest was in a stalemate.  After all, I preferred to spend my time reading Mad Magazine by my apartment’s pool and dreaming of being a famous actor; maybe even a New John Wayne, not standing in front of this clique acting like I was a tree.

Mr. Crumb was all into The Method.

But a curious thing happened, I got into it, Intriguing Interest kinda won out and by the end I had turned out some serious, thought provoking work.  I could tell this because Mr. Crumb, at the conclusion of whatever I did up there (like ‘being’ President Carter) would yell out a curt “OK, great, next!”

Before I knew it, I was in a Pepsi commercial, an ice cream commercial (that only showed in the southern states) and then came a big one.  I got to play a video game in the background of a scene in a Season 1 episode of the new CBS show “Simon & Simon.”  In all of these things I did not speak or even turn my face right to the camera (though I glanced back when Gerald McRaney exited the video arcade), but I was having a blast.  This wasn’t work at all!  I could continue to take it easy by the pool.

I got a pretty good grade in Drama, I hated my voice though and liked to keep it quiet.  Maybe I was inspired by the Silent Film actors in my building.

One day I attended a Cattle Call at Paramount.  The Cattle Call was that thing where they got a big group of people together (usually kids), then paraded them in front of some assistant director or producer for a quick yay or nay.  There were a lot of kids that day; it was for the show “Trapper John M.D.,” starring Pernell Roberts, of Bonanza fame.

I was a yay, and I was so excited!  They took me into a little room and told me a little of what this would entail.  I was going to be in an episode that had to do with the Special Olympics.  Regardless of their motivations for choosing me to be in a Special Olympics episode I was pumped.

“So, you will have a couple of lines of dialog with Mr. Roberts, it won’t be much, IT WON’T BE DIFFICULT AT ALL.”  Uh-oh.

Ok, but it was like 3 weeks away, I decided to worry about it later.  But as the time approached I became a little more afraid, by 3 days before we had to be on the set I was at a new level of anxiety, a frontier I was now breaching hourly.  I suddenly realized why I couldn’t do it after all.  For school had suddenly become VERY important to me.

“Mom, the school on set is not very good, they let you just do what you want, I’ll fall behind.”

This was true, in fact, a fellow video game player from the Simon & Simon ep advised me to tell the teacher I was much less advanced a student and that they would take it from there.  By law we had to do an hour or 2 of school on any set.

But my mom could see through this and the morning of the shoot I found myself trying to pick out what I was going to wear.  I dillied, I dragged my feet, I dallied, to such an extent that when we finally drove up to Paramount, the guard would not let us in, even with a tour group.

Yes!  No!!  I felt equal measures of joy and bitter disappointment, after all it would have been kind of fun.  My Mom was really upset with me.  I couldn’t bring myself to explain to her that it turned out Acting really was work after all and I wanted nothing to do with it.

I went back to the pool, I continued on with Junior High, not worrying so much about fitting in, I had some friends and had done some cool things.  Enrique made fun of me for aborting my Career As An Actor but I was ok with it.  I finished Junior High strong, still having never ditched or joined a gang but I felt like I had a little niche carved out for myself.

Later on that year when we all gathered around to watch the first run episode of “Simon & Simon” that I was in, my mom gave me a look that I suspected meant, “You are a disappointment to me, my son.”  I later realized the in new year of 1982; when they started airing the Pepsi commercial I was in day and night and I gathered hundreds more such looks from my mom, that she really meant “you loveable screw-up!”  Because there was always a little smile.

33 replies
  1. Laura
    Laura says:

    No ditching? I made up for you. I ditched and went to talk to the old man at the news stand about the days when Bogart would pass him on the way into the bar at Hollywood and Highland! That was better than school.

    • jozef
      jozef says:

      Being a few years older than most (Le Conte 1973) I can provide a nugget or two. Music was what I was into and being a trumpet player Frank Desby was my 2nd dad away from home. After school I’d walk down Fountain to Vine and the Hollywood Ranch Market where I was a newspaper boy for an old Italian guy named Frank. On weekends I manned Frank’s other newspaper stand on the south east corner of Hollywood and Vine. The corner the Rexall drug store was on. On the north east corner was United Airlines, north west was a Howard Johnsons family restaurant. The south west was The Broadway department store. I also attended Hollywood High and can assure you there were NO newspaper stands on any of the Hollywood and Highland corners. There was and still is (I believe) a book/newspaper stand on the east side of the street just south of Hollywood Blvd on Cahuenga. Brings back many, many, memories. Thanks

        • Patti Childers
          Patti Childers says:

          Hey, just found your article doing a search for Le Conte Jr high. I’m watching a Carol Burnett special and it reminded me of Jr high. I was there the same years as you. 78-82. My sister also went to Hollywood High and I spent time there with here after school. I was also on Mr. Crumbs drama class. I remember meeting the Smothers brothers there when they were filming. And being an extra in another show being filmed there.
          I always tell people about the diversity of Le Conte. My group I hung around with was diverse as well. Stacie, Sung Hi, Marie and I were all from different back grounds. Thanks for the wonderful article and trip down memory lane.

  2. Miguel
    Miguel says:

    I believe I was there with youarou.d your time, Fairfax HS class of 1985. I too was in drama with Mr. Crumb and did a show on improvisations
    The Vietnamese kid was Sam Building who did a Vietnam era movie with John Voigt but I don’t think he continued with acting. Thanks for mirroring so much of what I also felt there back in the day..

  3. Nada
    Nada says:

    Hey There!
    I stumbled across your page as I was doing a search on the net for Mr. Crumb! Wow, we had to have been there the same time. Coincidentally, I lived down the street from Jamison Parker(Simon and Simon) and babysat for him!
    You summed up the Le Conte experience just they way I remembered. From the first day of shock to all the other events.
    I wish I had my yearbook to pull out, but hate to day it is long gone.

    • Bill Hardesty
      Bill Hardesty says:

      I still have my ’81 and ’82 yearbooks, looking at them helps jog my memory when I’m writing about Jr High. Thank you for reading, it’s pretty cool that a Google search of Mr. Crumb brought you to my page. I wonder if it works for Mr. Desby….

    • john bergerson
      john bergerson says:

      Nada, I a nephew of Mr. Robert Crumb. He called the students of Le Conte “his Kids” when he came home to Minnesota in the summers. He never married so had no children of his own. I have a photo of a actress/student he asked to marry him while he was studying drama at the Pasadena Playhouse. She was Japanese I believe and her parents didn’t approve. The 1950’s were different than now of course. When he died three of his siblings were there for him. He had 13 in all. He loved you kids so much, and he loved the arts. He loved the Melting pot of Le Conte and helping kids who needed a lift up. My Uncle died in Hollywood. He lived near the Hollywood Bowl. He died on a Christmas Eve.

      • Class of '76
        Class of '76 says:

        Wow. Thank you for your comment. I have often thought about him. (I dropped out of Drama, which he questioned.)
        This was a really nostalgic read, all around.

      • Elizabeth
        Elizabeth says:

        Your words about Mr. Crumb touched me. I can say that I was one of his favorites. I graduated in ’79. My first award ever was from my years in Drama doing the most amazing productions. I won Most Promising New Comer and your uncle always referred to me as a “triple threat”. So many priceless memories. Your uncle felt like our uncle, too. I am so grateful for everything I learned as his student. I was deeply saddened when I learned of his death many years ago. I know his memory is honored every time someone shares a wonderful story about him. ❤

        • john bergerson
          john bergerson says:

          Dear Conte Students and Elizabeth, You can find photos and stories of MY Uncle Robert on my Facebook (John Bergerson) photo album category “Old Stuff” Please do not confuse him with his Nephew Robert Crumb the Cartoonist.

  4. Pablo Ramos
    Pablo Ramos says:

    Hahahaha!!! What a good read and taking me back to memory highway! I was in your class. Not sure who this is but I’m guessing we were in the same class for I was in the Beatles class that was the really the brainchild was Robin Warren and i was in that Beatles play. I went on to Hollywood High and joined the magnet program but after graduating I gave up acting. but then about a year ago, I’ve decided to put on the acting coat again and pursue it again. That’s a long story. Anyway, I found this article because I was wondering whatever happened to Mr. Crumb. I loved that guy, wonderful teacher.
    Anyway, glad you took a leap of faith and took on the acting adventure. Donovan must have sensed a performer in you.

    • Bill Hardesty
      Bill Hardesty says:

      Hey Pablo, your name was familiar and I looked you up in one of my 2 LeConte yearbooks. “Ha I remember that guy!” I exclaimed. I don’t remember anything specific but seeing the picture I knew that I used to think you were a cool kid LOL. I think you knew Rory too. I’m glad you’re back acting and I’ll look you up on IMDB.

        • Bill Hardesty
          Bill Hardesty says:

          Will do, I’ve been great, my wife and I are about to have our first kid in a few weeks, a little boy! I’m going to check out your IMDB page

    • john bergerson
      john bergerson says:

      Pablo. Mr Crumb was my Uncle. He died long ago. He loved teaching you all and talked about it when he visited his home state of Minnesota. He had 13 brothers and sisters. If you want to see him again He is in the movie Wild Guitar. His nephew is the cartoonist RCRUMB.

  5. Elizabeth Honnold
    Elizabeth Honnold says:

    I went to LeConte in the 1944-47 era and remember buying defense bonds, collecting tinfoil and old newspapers, and having special assemblies all about the war effort and learning all the armed forces songs and what the various insignias stood for. A lot of my classmates worked as extras in the movies, some even got speaking parts. At the back of the school property was an old bungalow where the music teacher tried to help us tin-eared kids to play various instruments and learn to sing part harmony. Her name fit her trade, too…Mrs. Nightengale! Discipline was,pretty original, too….besides visits to the principal, we also spent time working in the school victory garden (lettuce, radishes, carrots and beets). Other names I remember…Señorita Kefauver who taught Spanish, Mademoiselle Adam who taught French, Mr. Gamble the science teacher, and Mrs. Nourse the vice-principal. I worked in her office in 9th grade for an hour a day, and then worked the same time slot in the library later the same year. School food was horrible, since meat rationing and general patriotic thrift made a hot lunch pretty grim, so most of us had lunch boxes from home. My favorite boyfriend was a crossing patrol at the crosswalk in front of the auditorium, so I hung out there a lot. The big hot stuff was knife fights after school out back behind the shop buildings. We had neat assemblies, good talent shows with the kids who made their names later in the industry (movies) and I’m proud to have been there in those years.

  6. Troy Celis
    Troy Celis says:

    I went to LeConte for eightth and nineth grade….Mr. Boethin, Mr. Landefeld,Mr Snder ,Mrs Segal, Miss Mossman….Warren was the Principal at the time 1974-5 Live inn the Villa Elaine,right across the street from the Hollywood Ranch Market….walk fountain way to school,my brother and I ….great experience!

  7. Diana Dee (Gillenwaters)
    Diana Dee (Gillenwaters) says:

    Hi everyone! Like Nada, I also found this site doing a search for Mr. Crumb. He had such an influence on so many kids. Being in the Le Conte theatre is his drama class was one of the happier memories of my childhood. Does anyone know if he is still alive?

    I went to parochial school until 10th grade, but during the summers of my 7th and 8th grades, I attended the summer school session at Le Conte – which I absolutely loved. I lived on Cheremoya, near Franklin and Beachwood and would walk down to Le Conte for 2 hours of gymnastics, followed by 2 hours of drama. The years were 1974-5.

    Elizabeth, how amazing that you attended in 1944. I didn’t realize the school was even there that long. Thank you for sharing those memories!

    Jozef – All that about the HOllywood Ranch Market and what was on the corner of Hollywood and Vine, the Broadway, Howard Johnson’s, UA and the Rexall.

    Pablo – yes, I agree, Mr. Crumb was an amazing teacher. One of the years I was there (summer session remember) we did a review with skits, and dancing numbers. The songs I remember doing our dance numbers to were “Fever” and “Shining Star”.

    • john bergerson
      john bergerson says:

      Diana, My Uncle Robert Crumb was so proud of you, his students. He loved the arts and teaching. His Family 13 other Brothers and Sisters were creative people. They grew up on a small farm in Minnesota. He talked about you kids when he came home to visit. He was buried next to his parents and Brother Chuck. I bring daisies to his grave every year. He said he would to be pushing up daisies someday. I do believe My Facebook page John Bergerson might interest you. I think there is a photo of him in my old stuff photo album category.

  8. Elizabeth Honnold
    Elizabeth Honnold says:

    Diana Dee! Yes amazing…LeConte even still looks the same, at least on the Bronson Av (frontage) side. Odd but true, Cheremoya Elementary school is still there, it too looks the same as in the 1940’s…and a Google-snoop of my senior high, Immaculate Heart on Franklin, shows that it too has stayed put. But you know what? Not one of the houses our family lived in between 1935 and 1955 is still standing! Freeway construction, fires, tear-downs for bigger and fancier homes, etc., took them all away. Memory lane, therefore, is only those schools…every one of ’em!

  9. susan (spore) frump
    susan (spore) frump says:

    omg you all were newbies…grad from Hollywood in 1964, back when both le conte and Hollywood were 3 year stints…and vine st elementary to 6th grade…we live in the Villa Elaine across the street from the ranch mkt… quite an upbringing for almost always the only kid in the entire complex, unless the circus, or a stray actor with family, who moved in short term….
    you’re right never a news stand at Highland and Hollywood…
    haven’t been back in years…would be a fun 70th birthday trip. lol…

    • Bill Hardesty
      Bill Hardesty says:

      I lived in the Villa Elaine too when I was in the 9th Grade at LeConte. You could visit, take the walk down Fountain Ave, and it all looks pretty much the same now as then.

  10. Becki Houston
    Becki Houston says:

    I went to school from 1980 to 1982. Then we moved to Texas. I remember it exactly how it has been described. I hung out with Justin Luck, Sonia, Kara Murphey, and Dodd Lede. I found Dodd on facebook but havnt found anyone else. I lived behind the Old Spegetti Factory on Gordon Street. I havnt been back since we moved but have thought of the school and my friends from time to time. We ditched and went to Mc Donald Observatory. Anyway. Thanks for the memories!!

    Becki Houston

    • Bill Hardesty
      Bill Hardesty says:

      I swear my sister Mary had a friend name Becky and I think one day we were all roller skating behind the Old Spaghetti facory, that would have probably been 1980

  11. Mitch M
    Mitch M says:

    I remember a shooting after school in 1972 or 73 of Wilton and fountain…Then going there in 75…I remember Me Francola who helped me get through presidential physical fitness…I remember kinda scary times but made me stronger…I had a crush on Patty Song

  12. Rich Sonntag
    Rich Sonntag says:

    This is a stitch! I graduated a little earlier than you kids (1969), when the only gang on campus was ‘Los Rebels’ and went through Drama under Mr. Graves. Your experiences are wonderfully familiar.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *