Fun times in LA!
Southern California in the early 1970’s was a great place to be. Although the hippie era was coming to an end, there was still enough “peace, love and rock n roll” to go around. After having spent one year in North Dakota and one year in Vietnam, I enjoyed my last eighteen months of military service at March Air Force Base in Riverside, California. I enjoyed it so much, after a short stay back home I moved to Southern California and spent another couple of years there, until economic concerns (I was broke 😀 ) sent me scurrying back to the Midwest.
Along with hippies, Southern California was a magnet to many other zany characters and people of note. Ronald Reagan, an actor with a modest following was the governor, Shirley Temple Black, a child star from California also danced into politics during that time. The sun kissed state with beaches, mountains, access to Mexico and Las Vegas drew a vibrant crowd. LA, for a time, was known as “Iowa on the West Coast”.
Bill Balance, Satin Voice of the Airwaves
George Dooley, AKA Dr. D. though in Seattle,
We palled around in LA (Was Bill his mentor?)
One of the LA characters I got a real kick out of was Bill Balance. Balance, another transplanted mid-westerner, began his professional career in journalism. However, he soon found his niche in radio. Credited as the first “shock jock”, Balance’s popularity peaked in 1973, however he kept his foot in the business until the late 1980’s, and his influence reached television audiences as well. Balance’s “Feminine Forum”, which ran from 1971 to 1973, to this day remains a radio show with one of the largest listening audiences ever. We tuned in to it all the time, it was a hoot!
Suitcase Sam, the Man on the Move
The One and Only
The public figure who tweaked my funny bone more than anyone else out there was none other than the mayor of Los Angeles, Sam Yorty. Originally from Nebraska, the irascible Yorty made his way out to La La land after high school with the rest of his family. After a stint in the Army Air Corp in WWII, Yorty became a lawyer, and stuck his toe into politics as a liberal.
But Yorty was a maverick, rejecting partisan politics and the “good old boy” network. That tendency cast him in a bad light on both sides of the aisle. Especially when his allegiances bounced back and forth. Despite his early liberal leanings, Yorty supported Richard Nixon over JFK in the 1960 election. And Yorty seemed to enjoy antagonizing people of all make and model, with many folks falling victim to his barbed tongue.
Hey, even Mayors are allowed a little fun
Part carnival barker, part grifter, (sound familiar?) Yorty frequently appeared on Johnny Carson’s Tonight show, strumming a banjo, dispersing salty witticisms. He ran for governor at least twice and president once. He was a talk show host for several years, often targeting his nemesis Tom Bradley, who he lost the mayoral election to in 1973.
One practice that always tickled my funny bone, but irritated his constituents, was Yorty’s habit of taking frequent, lengthy excursions. Mr. Mayor took an estimated forty some “business trips” during his tenure, often gone for weeks at a time. This flare for travel earned him a few monikers:
Sam Suitcase Yorty,
Travelin Sam (My favorite)
A life of travel means you get
welcomed home a lot. 😉
In addition to Carson’s jibes on the Tonight Show, Yorty’s propensity to wander became fodder for other talk shows, radio shows, coffee break discussions, newspaper editorials…and not hard to believe, political enemies and rivals.
While I was still stationed at March Air Force Base in Riverside, California my NCOIC (non-commissioned officer in charge) was Master Sergeant Tyrone Glover, an LA native. Almost every morning, someone would yank his chain about the mayor.
“Is Sam in town?”
Glover would play along.
“No, he’s been working too hard, we sent him to France this week.”
“Will he be back for Christmas this year?”
“Don’t think so, he likes to spend Christmas in Paris.”
And so it went.
Yorty, ever the political animal, had to choose sides regarding the volatile issue of the Vietnam War. Being a staunch ally of Richard Nixon, he jumped in with the hawks, adding the nickname Saigon Sam to his impressive list of monikers.
Yorty’s star power somewhat dimmed in the eighties and nineties. He spent most of his later years as a rainmaker for various commercial and political concerns. In 1998 he passed on at the age of eighty nine.
Bradley (far left) and Yorty (far right) in friendlier times
In an interesting turnabout, Yorty’s successor, Tom Bradley, also got happy feet, taking extended trips here, there and everywhere, staying away from the increasingly gritty confines of Southern California. He learned from the master. 😉