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Don Edrington - Shy Guy from Hollywood High

Chapter 1    (Part 1)  (Part 2)  (Part 3)

1940 — Alameda, California
Pre-ordained to be a Sign-Painter?

Donald Edrington Lettering a Sign

The Fickle Finger of Fate

Looking back, it almost seems as though I was destined in some perverse way to become a signpainter. It started when I was nine.

I was living with my mother and her third husband in an apartment above a store in downtown Alameda, a small city on an island in San Francisco Bay.

Downtown Alameda, California - circa 1941
We lived in an apartment over a store near the corner of
Park St. and Santa Clara Ave., the busiest intersection
in downtown Alameda. My stepdad's "Little Bohemian
Art Studio" was located on both floors of a nearby building.

I remember my stepdad, Bryson Perry Hall, as being a very intellectual type with a serious face who looked as though he should have been a philosophy professor or a psychologist of some kind.  Bryson Perry Hall

Even his name had an intellectual ring to it—how many people have you known named Bryson? And he'd never say or write his name without including the middle one. 'You and Your Tomorrow'

I remember that he wrote a "self-help" booklet called 'You And Your Tomorrow.' I also remember him pointing proudly at the cover of the booklet, which had a famous Leonardo da Vinci drawing on it, and saying, "You know, a man's body is really a beautiful thing to behold." No, this was not a reflection on his masculinity—it was just his inate intellectual appreciation of artistic beauty wherever he found it.
December 2004 - I received an email from Bryson Perry Hall's niece, who discovered my writing about him when she typed his name into an Internet search engine. She told me that he had recently passed away at age 88, and she had some wonderful things to say about the man. She even named her son after him. A couple of days later I heard from Bryson's widow, who had even more wonderful things to say about him. It was wonderful hearing the things these charming and gracious ladies shared with me about my late step-father.

In any case, Bryson Perry Hall seemed totally out of place in a messy silk screen printing shop.

How he got into that business I don't know, but I remember that shortly after marrying my mom he opened a little shop (or "studio" as he preferred to call it) that had a sign hanging in front reading, "The Little Bohemian Art Studio."

The sign was a little misleading, because it was not an art studio—in the sense of being a place where you'd find an artist, Bohemian or otherwise, busy painting a portrait or a landscape. It was a small silk screen printing shop where my stepdad produced a variety of Polynesian-type wall decorations.

I don't know who did the original art—it had a sort of public domain look to it—but each picture featured an expressionless brown-skinned woman wearing a sarong and placed against a variety of palm, sand, and/or surf backgrounds.  Wahini in Bamboo Frame Wall Decoration

The 8x10 inch pictures would then be mounted with bamboo frames, and wholesaled to retail stores. This was during an era when rattan furniture—and anything else Polynesian—was considered very chic for interior decorating.

But I think the bamboo frames had more personality than the blasé women depicted in the paintings.

I Was More Interested in the Production of the Pictures
than in How They Were Sold

My mother was the traveling salesperson who sold these pictures to various department and furniture stores, and I remember accompanying her on some of the calls when I was out of school. Mom - Car

But somehow I found the production of the prints to be more intriguing than following my mom around as she tried to sell them.

As I remember, the artwork was painted directly onto the screens and then masked with some kind of a foul-smelling glue. The water-soluble painting would then be hosed away, leaving the glue to form the stencil. A separate screen was made for each color.

Because of the primitive way this was done, the drawings were very simple and had a flatness to them that didn't strike me as being all that artistic. Nor did they apparently impress too many others, because the business only lasted about a year.

But I do remember with great fondness the double-faced plywood sign that hung in front of the shop. I have no idea who painted it, but I loved its caricature of a little "Bohemian" artist.

Continued in Next Column
 Little Bohemian Plywood Sign

I've tried to recreate the little fellow here as best as I can remember him—although it's been more than 60 years since I actually saw the sign.

I remember thinking that the shop really should have been busy all the time, simply because of this charismatic little character which, to me, seemed to emanate such warmth and charm.

Mom Said I Should Become a Sign-Painter


Whenever my mother caught me admiring the Little Bohemian sign, she'd tell me I really ought to learn to do that because an uncle of hers had made it through the Great Depression doing free-lance sign-painting.

He kept busy all the time, she was fond of saying, while others were out of work and selling apples on the street. She loved to tell how he'd go into a restaurant and offer to paint a sign for the price of a meal, and how he never went hungry.

Well, that certainly didn't sound like an appealing way to make a living to me, and I was sure the smell of that glue would keep me from ever getting into silk screen printing. Banner Sign Co. Crew

Nevertheless, I ended up being a signpainter and a screen printer. Go figure.

The Little Bohemian painting may not have motivated me to want to be a signpainter, but I remember thinking that I sure wished I could draw like that. I had always enjoyed doodling with a pencil—but now I had begun to draw with a little more purpose. I was also a big fan of comic strips (and still am) so I would try to emulate the popular cartoon characters of the day.

Well, I never became a Norman Rockwell or a Chic Young or an Al Capp (or even all that terrific a signpainter) but over the years my modest drawing and lettering skills have kept me out of the welfare lines my mother warned me about.

Here are some cartoons I did a number of years ago:

Don's Vintage Cartoons

The other thing I remember most about the apartment in Alameda was the news that came over the radio that fateful morning of December 7, 1941 while I was reading the Sunday funnies. I couldn't believe that the Japanese had actually attacked the United States at a place called Pearl Harbor.

It was exactly a week before my tenth birthday, and I'd never been interested in the news before—but this really got my attention. My serious-minded stepfather was an avid follower of the news, and now I found myself listening to it on the radio and reading it in the papers almost as much as he did.

A war in Europe had already been raging for a couple of years, which the United States had been hoping to stay out of. But now the US would send troops to help defend our European allies from Germany and Italy, while sending troops to the Pacific to fight Japan. World War II was in full bloom.

But I was pretty sure the war would be over in a few weeks, now that the United States had gotten into It—and then I could go back to starting with the comic page whenever we picked up a newspaper.

Of course it didn't work out that way. Suddenly we were all adapting to a wartime economy. I guess the first sacrifice I had to personally make was paying more to go to the movies. Kids-10-cents.jpg

They had always been a dime—but with the new 10% "luxury tax" I now had to pay 11¢ to get in. I had enough trouble talking my mom out of a dime—where was I going to get the extra penny?

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Ch.1 Alameda - Los Angeles 1939/40   Ch.2 Echo Park 1943   Ch.3 Virgil Jr Hi 1944   Ch.4 Le Conte Jr Hi 1945-46
Ch.5 Gower Gulch 1946   Ch.6 Hollywood Hi 1946/47   Ch.7 Drop Out 1948   Ch. 8 Norma Jean Salina 1948
Ch. 9 Fort Ord 1949   Ch.10 Fort Belvoir 1950   Ch.11 Korea 1951   Ch.12 Back to Civilian Life 1952
Ch.13 Cornet Stores 1953   Ch.14 Puerto Rico 1955   Ch.15 Signs by George 1956
Ch.16 Mexico 1958   Ch.17 Fullerton 1960   Ch.18 Fallbrook 1973   Ch.19 Costa Mesa 2000

Graphics Disclaimer:

Since I have no personal photos from my youth, I've used pictures found
on the Internet to help illustrate some of the stories told on these pages.
In a couple of instances I've used photos of people who just happen
to closely resemble someone I once knew. However, if it's found
that I'm using any images in violation of someone's copyright,
please let me know and I'll take appropriate action.
Thank you!