KCET Departures asks, "What's your or your family's Los Angeles arrival story?"
Today, we hear from Terry Castle, a writer/producer and the daughter of filmmaker William Castle:
"My half Jewish mother, Ellen Falck, managed to escape Nazi Germany, but she and her family ended up trapped in Amsterdam where she worked for the Dutch Resistance throughout World War II. She told me that she had spent the entire war dreaming about the day she could escape Europe and move to Los Angeles.
"One of her great uncles had gotten out of Germany before the war and found his way to a small street called Burton Way in Beverly Hills.
"My mother, my aunt Ruth (who happened to be her identical twin), my grandmother and grandfather finally found passage to New York by boat in early January of 1947. They sailed on the MS Gripsholm from Gothenburg, Sweden. On January 14, 1947, they caught their first thrilling glimpse of the Statue of Liberty rising above the early morning mist.
"Unfortunately, my grandfather had become gravely ill on the ship and never recovered. He died in New York City several months after reaching freedom.
"Soon after his death, the three Falck women undertook an arduous cross-country journey. I know they stopped in Las Vegas before they finally got to Los Angeles. I often think how brave they were, setting out across a country they did not know and customs they did not understand.
"But they arrived at their cousin's house in Beverly Hills and never looked back. My mother never took for granted the eternal sunshine, the lush greenery, or her beloved oranges. Every morning for as long as I can remember, Mom would slice fresh oranges in half and I would be awakened by the purr of the juicer. My mother smiled as she filled our glasses with the liquid sunshine.
"My father, William Castle, arrived in Los Angeles via New York on September 30, 1939. He was driven across country -- my father never learned to drive. He found a man named Charlie who was headed to San Francisco and paid him for the ride.
"Dad was twenty-five years old. He was orphaned at age eleven and grew up on the streets of New York City. He came to Hollywood to follow his dreams with the hope of working for the legendary Harry Cohn, the president of Columbia Pictures. Dad wrote about his first night in Hollywood in his memoir, STEP RIGHT UP...I'm Gonna Scare the Pants off America.
"It seems that on the first night of his arrival, Dad sat close to the phone at his Hollywood Hotel waiting for a call from the infamous Mr. Cohn.
"'I didn't leave the hotel all day but that evening I wondered down Hollywood Boulevard, fascinated by the tall palm trees. I found myself in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre. A pretty red haired girl was putting her foot in Jean Harlow's footprint, so I decided to put mine in Lon Chaney's.
"'Some day I'll be a superstar,' she said.
"Smiling I replied, 'And I'll frighten audiences.'
"Dad told me that over a soda he spoke to this red haired girl and her name was Susan Hayward. She told him that she had just finished a screen test with Gregory Peck with whom she would later go on to star in The Snows Of Kilimanjaro.
"Dad loved Hollywood not just because he loved the motion picture industry, but because he loved the magic of Los Angeles. His life was making movies, and he lived in a town that was all about movie-making.
"I grew up in Beverly Hills in the 1960s, but back then it was more like a small town. The houses were always pretty, and the palm trees always majestic. But for me, as a young girl, it was all about hopping on my bike and visiting friends.
"In the alleyway between Alpine Drive and Rexford Drive I had some of the best cumquat wars imaginable. The small, round tangy fruit was in abundance as the boys took on the girls. We tossed this lovely fruit like canons at our enemy. But we always stopped long enough to enjoy the tangy taste of this unusual fruit.
"If we were really energetic, we would ride our bikes down to the shopping area of Beverly Hills. Back then, Beverly Hills was just like any other small town. We shopped at a five and dime called Newberry's. They had a great soda fountain, and if we were lucky enough to have quarters in our pocket we would always treat ourselves to a soda.
"If not, we made our way to Nate 'n Al's. Back when I was growing up, Nate 'n Al consisted of a small counter, but they had the best rye bread, coleslaw and cold cuts. The very best part was that my father had an account there, and I could order myself a huge Westwood (a roast beef sandwich piled high with coleslaw and thousand island dressing on rye bread) or my beloved Beverly (the same sandwich but with roasted turkey instead) and charge it to Dad.
"If we were feeling particularly cool, we would wander into the record store. Rodeo Drive didn't have any interesting stores back in the early 60s. It wasn't until I was a young teenager that the town changed.
"Putting aside the thin layer of brown that clung to the atmosphere, I always thought that I lived in the most beautiful place in the world. I always took notice of the exotic flowers growing on Sunset Boulevard or the exquisite sweet peas my mother grew in our backyard.
"As a daughter of an immigrant who had escaped Hitler and moved to Los Angeles where she found the love of her life, my father, a horror film producer and director who made a living scaring the wits out of moviegoers, my Los Angeles was filled with the duality of scary pasts and bright futures, combined with a promise of eternal sunshine."
-- Terry Castle
(as emailed to Jeremy Rosenberg)
- Departures References:
- Lights, Camera, Chinatown
- Esther Lee Johnson - Actress & Hollywood Extra
- Paul Townsend's "The Power of Place: Map L.A." -- featuring Hollywood Boulevard
- Roxanne Steinberg & Oguri: Arrival Story -- featuring a Hollywood studio story
Photo: Courtesy Terry Castle. Pictured from left: Ellen, Georgiana, William and Terry Castle.
Terry Castle will be signing copies of her book and her father's autobiography at Larry Edmunds Bookshop in Hollywood on Thursday, November 10 at 7:30pm.