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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

John Hendry’s Forgotten Suburbs - A Valley Song, or Poem Perhaps

Blog Two – A Valley Song, or Poem Perhaps
By John Hendry

A Valley song, or poem perhaps?  That is the odd topic I was given as a neighborhood council member from a group who didn’t even quite know who Isaac Van Nuys was – or why we live in a town named after him.

How does one actually know who we Valleyites are or how we live?

Try looking for our Valley song, or our poem – and you’ll find Bing Crosby singing “I’ll Make the San Fernando Valley My Home” (actually in the “Top Ten” on D-Day), – or Los Abandoned “Van Nuys es Very Nice” on the Internet as a “punk anthem” to Van Nuys gone bad, - or even Tom Waits’ “Frank’s Wild Years” depicting a San Fernando Road used furniture salesman’s insanity created by living in The Valley.  Go to Luis J. Rodriguez, former Poet Laureate of Los Angeles and his literary salon in far Sylmar, a coffee shop/bookstore in a declining shopping center, and ask him to offer us suggestions.

But recently I was struck by Amanda McBroom’s song “Errol Flynn” (who also wrote lyrics to “The Rose”) for offering a storyline about her father that seems so very “Valley”.  

The song starts –

In a hall, on a wall, in a house in Reseda
There’s a poster held up by two nails and a pin
It’s my Daddy, the actor, ‘bout to die with his boots on.
He’s the man standing up there, beside Errol Flynn.

He got third or fourth billing at the end of each picture.
“But that doesn’t mean much”, he would say with a grin.
But he’d hold my hand tight as he pointed his name out
Only four or five names down below Errol Flynn.

Now this could be our “Valley song” – so many of us have lived our lives thinking we are “only four or five names down below Errol Flynn” – or know those who are.” Birth of a Nation” filmed just below the Pacoima Dam, 9 movie ranches throughout the Valley for Errol Flynn to ride through, charging the “Light Brigade”, or was it fending off “hostiles” with the 7th cavalry one day in that canyon behind Calabasas as General Custer with his men died “with their boots on” – a whirling dervish of excitement throughout our Valley home. 

As a USPS letter carrier for over 40 years, it was all around me.  I saw all of them – just around.  From Yakima Canutt, rodeo star of the 1930’s and the guy who actually rode Charlton Heston’s chariot in “Ben Hur”, to all the lesser actors -  “four or five names down below Errol Flynn”.  The day I surprised one of my actor friends – I had been watching a video – and there she was – one scene with Robert DiNiro – and I couldn’t believe I saw her. “That’s her!”…and then she was gone.

The Valley has such a remarkable heritage.  One day in Canoga Park, riding by the Madrid Theater, I saw a hundred people dressed in “Western wear”, the “best of cowboy culture”.  It was a memorial service for Dale Evans, Roy Rogers’ wife, and here were a hundred people who “kept the West alive” – from the movies – the horse handlers, the saddlers, the armorers, the mule skinners, the construction gang – all the people who made the movies – who would have had duller prosaic lives except for the Errol Flynn’s among us.

A Valley song, or poem perhaps?  A bit closer to reality than Bing Crosby’s version.

But he’d hold my hand tight as he pointed his name out –
Only four or five names down below Errol Flynn.

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