Tuesday, November 18, 2008


There was so much work to be done. Our house had been uninhabited for several years. It was sold by the estate of Hockenbiemers and our realtor bought it as an investment. There were cigarettes on the hardwood floors telling us that it had been a hangout for teens. And the plumbing was old and antique looking. The two showers were lined with white, tiny ceramic tiles. The kitchen again was old-fashioned and no one had thought about how many steps were wasted there. But beneath all the ugly parts there was such beauty in nature surrounding the house. The backyard was bordered by the highway going up to Mount Diablo. On the other side of that road were green hills where cattle were grazing. A bull lumbered up and down these hills. The bull became famous, which we did not know for several years. I have to consult with the Gordons, for I forget the name of the bull and I forget the name of the owner who used to drive around the country side with the bull in his convertible.

The Gordons came later, but I just spoke to them on the phone and so they are invading my memory at the moment. They moved to Danville when their early children were tiny. Semmes started a news paper called the Blue Paper. It was mimeographed and Semmes referred to his wife as 'His cute little stencil cutter' It made us think of Herb Caen's type of writing and I think he was popular from the very beginning. They later bought The Valley Pioneer and he was then in the high Media world. The way we met was my idea of using the weekly grocery adds with recipes containing the specials. I invited Semmes to come to the house to discuss my idea and he at once poured cold water on the whole thing. He said the grocers wanted customers to come buy specials but more than anything they wanted customers to buy the steaks and the other expensive groceries. I was no home-ec educated person and I was trying to tell people how to live on specials and how to save their money. And I was going to get rich in the meantime. One of my early failures.

After a couple of years of painting I asked Herb Caen if he would sit for a portrait. I would drive in to San Francisco and paint him in his office at the San Francisco Chronicle. He agreed. I painted and tried my best and when I had to do the back ground I asked if he would ask a photographer from the paper to take a picture. He agreed to do so for I am sure I had become an awful nuisance. The photographer was the man who took the photo of raising the American flag on Iwo Jima.

And Herb promised I would get huge rewards if I made his nose shorter.

Soon after, there was some kind of contest at The de Young Museum and I entered the painting of Herb. It was accepted. Preview night Sam and I invited Semmes and his cute little stencil cutter to join us for the festivities. Sam and Semmes had never met before and neither Sam nor I had ever met Peggy. (tclsc). And so began a friendship that lasts to this day. We met Walter Keane, who painted children with enormous eyes, who invited us to go to Sausalito for dinner at Sally Stanford's Valhalla and we refused, for we had come into the city and did not want to go back to the country. He said I want you to have dinner on me. Here is a blank check for dinner at Trader Vick's



Emiana said...

Another transporting post and then the mention of Trader Vicks! WoW! How fabulous. It must have been swanky and so fabulous in its heyday.

Your life - what a journey. What an American story.

Look forward to the next posts.

Anonymous said...

No matter what the generation, there will be parallels. I am in a house that was a wreck but the countryside is beautiful, and am fixing it up. I'm back to painting again after 20 years but do not expect to ever be good at it. But I feel your excitement, especially in fixing up the house, throwing out the old but finding history while doing so. I really enjoy your blog.

Anonymous said...

Lots of famous names this time! You reminded me of things I haven't thought about in years. Love your blog!

kin said...

Thought you might find this interesting:

"In the 1960s, Margaret Keane's artwork was sold under the name of her husband of the time, Walter Keane, her second husband. Many reasons might be put forward to explain this, but it was also one of the reasons they divorced. Not wanting to relinquish the rights to the artwork, Walter and Margaret's divorce proceeding went all the way to Federal court. At the hearing, Margaret painted in front of the judge to prove her point. Walter declined to paint before the court, citing a sore shoulder. In 1965, the courts sided with her, enabling her to paint under her own name."