More about Los Angeles, 1945
New Beginnings in Post-WWII World
Cowboys, Cliffhangers & Cartoons
As for the movies, we guys always looked forward to the Saturday afternoon matinees. Neighborhood theaters usually featured two westerns, a cliff-hanger serial, and at least four cartoons. My favorite cowboy was Johnny Mack Brown. He didn't play a guitar or sing or go in for any of that mushy "love" stuff. He just went after the bad guys and saw that they got what they deserved.
Another exciting thing about 1945 was the prospect of having new cars appear in the showrooms for the first time in four years. Since no new ones had been built for so long, everyone was wondering what they'd be like.
Were they really going to have this thing called "fluid-drive" or "hydramatic," so you wouldn't have to shift, and radios that could pick up FM, this new kind of signal that was supposed to be static-free,—and would they really have extra speakers in the back seat? Wow! And were they really going to have convertible tops that would go up and down with the press of a button? We could hardly wait to see.
But you didn't really have to have a car to get around Los Angeles in 1945. Neither smog nor freeways had yet arrived—but buses and streetcars were plentiful. 5¢ or 7¢, depending on whether you took the Red Line or the Yellow Line, got you just about anywhere you wanted to go.
Looking back on it some 60+ years later I can now appreciate that Hollywood wasn't a bad place to be living in 1945.
LP Records & "High Fidelity"
Another new thing to hit the market was the "long play record." The 78 RPM platter had been around for about three decades—but now RCA was pushing a smallish 45 RPM record that looked like a flattened donut, but still had only one song per side, while CBS was trying to launch a 33-1/3 RPM item that was still 10 or 12 inches in diameter, but could hold several songs per side.
Instead of agreeing on one format, RCA was banking on the idea that teenagers, the biggest market for new records, would prefer buying the hit single of the moment, and not have a disc cluttered with songs they didn't really like, while CBS was sure people were going to prefer getting a whole album on one disc, not to mention a whole symphony or ballet or Broadway show. Either way, you didn't want to buy any record that hadn't been recorded with something new called "high fidelity," although what constituted "hi fi" sound was never officially defined.
So both formats went on the market, and it took several years for the 7" RCA donut to be finally declared the loser.
In the meantime, manufacturers of record players had to start making machines that would play all three speeds, not to mention a fourth speed—16 RPM—which was rumored to be in the works, but which never materialized.
I find it ironic that the very first 78 RPM discs—recorded in the early 1900s—had music on one side only—and now that we've evolved to the CD and DVD, we're back to music on just one side again. Go figure.
Another exciting development that would hit the music scene in a few years would be something called "stereophonic" sound. Of course you'd have to buy a new kind of phonograph to handle these "stereo" records—and it was going to be more expensive, what with having double amplifiers and multiple speakers. But, we were assured, it would be worth it to get different sounds coming out of each speaker, which would then all blend together to make it seem like we were right there in the recording studio or concert hall.
Furthermore, we were told, radio stations would soon be broadcasting in stereophonic (also called binaural) sound, at which time, of course, we'd all have to buy new radios. My friend Carl and I can still remember hearing our first "stereo" broadcast in the late 40s, several years before they actually had the technology to produce what we've come to know as "stereo FM" broadcasting.
Los Angeles' First "STEREO" Broadcast
KFAC, LA's then all-classical station, had recently begun broadcasting in FM, as well as AM. Then one day they proudly announced that they were going to be playing a two-hour concert in stereophonic sound. But in order to enjoy this amazing event you would need two radios—one AM and one FM.
So Carl and I, full of anticipation, set up his old AM radio and my recently acquired Zenith AM/FM on either side of his room and anxiously awaited the very first Southern California Gas Co. Evening Concert in Stereo. To us this was a really big event.
Well, neither of our radios were "high fidelity" units, but it was nonetheless interesting to hear the woodwinds and strings coming out of Carl's radio, while the horns and tympani could clearly be heard emanating from mine.
However I wasn't so sure the whole idea was going to fly.
When you listen to music, I reasoned, you don't think in terms of hearing the sounds of certain instruments coming from the left, and others coming from the right—you expect it to all come together as one total package—just the way it already was in mono. So what was the advantage?
I Was Reasonably Sure That "Stereo" Music Would Never Really Catch On
As for car stereos, which were promised to be available soon, that made no sense at all. After all, you don't sit right in the middle of your car—so what's the advantage of having different sounds coming from different speakers if you're not seated right in the center of the whole thing?
No, the idea of stereo was interesting, but I could see no practical application for it. Of course I never thought Cabbage Patch Dolls or Pet Rocks would catch on either. And I'm still not convinced that "rock and roll" isn't just a passing fad.
But back to being a teen in 1945. Carl and I were each being raised by a usually-divorced mom. Welfare, as we've come to know it in recent decades, was practically nonexistent then—except for the truly destitute. Although at the moment my mom had a husband and Carl's had a boyfriend, they each usually managed to earn just about enough to get by on. We were what you'd have to call "poor" by most any standard. We lived in low-rent apartments and our moms worked at relatively low-paying jobs.
Mine was usually a waitress, but on occasion was a manicurist or a live-in companion to an elderly invalid. You didn't need a license to be a manicurist or a "practical nurse" in those days. Carl's mom did cocktail waitressing and other odd jobs. As a result, any money Carl and I earned selling papers was expected to go towards our support—very little of it was allowed to be spent on fun stuff.
Well, some of it got spent on fun stuff, anyway. Since we were paid in cash each day, our moms had no way of knowing how much we made—so Carl and I managed to hold back a little for ourselves. We may have been Hollywood kids—but we were not part of the tinsel-town elite. However one of our friends was.
Thames (whose name was pronounced the way it's spelled—not the way the river in England is pronounced) was the son of a prominent screenwriter and lived with his family in a stylish home in the Hollywood Hills. He even had his own car, a '36 Chevy coupe, and, boy—were we envious. Most of his other friends were also from families who were part of the Hollywood cinema scene. So why did a rich kid like Thames bother with a couple of outsiders like Carl and me?
It was the magic.
No—not our charming personalities—magic tricks. All three of us were aspiring amateur magicians and we even had a little club known as the Protégés of Prestidigitation.
I think Tam (we rarely called him Thames) liked Carl and me because we tended to be creative with our tricks and were always coming up with new ideas of one kind or another. Tam bought mostly off-the-shelf illusions, which he could afford and we couldn't— and he seemed to admire our originality.
In fact, it was Tam who introduced us. When he did, Carl and I hit it off right away. I was new at Le Conte, but Carl had been there since 7th grade. Carl couldn't wait to tell me about a place called Bert Wheeler's Magic Shop on Hollywood Blvd. He said it was a great place to meet other magicians and to pick up helpful pointers on doing various kinds of magic. He also said they had a small stage in the back, and that amateur magicians were invited to put on shows there every Saturday night.