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Script Has Changed--What Really Happened to That Golden Class of ’65

Times Staff Writer

The Jan. 29, 1965 issue of Time magazine chronicled Lyndon Johnson’s inauguration, the death of Winston Churchill, and Martin Luther King Jr.'s first trip to Selma, Ala., “trying to push the Southern Negro’s right to register and vote.” Its sport section opined, “Some day the Boston Celtics will lose and make news.”

The cover story on “Today’s Teenagers,” included the Class of 1965 from Palisades High School, 506 affluent kids from Pacific Palisades who were about to enter a faltering world, one that included political assassinations, an escalating Vietnam War, worldwide peace marches, a burgeoning national drug culture and civil rights protests and deaths.

Made Their Own History

Certainly, the Class of ’65 made its own history, along with hundreds of thousands of other young people across the United States who came to be known as the ‘60s generation--people who didn’t believe in what they called “an unjust war” and didn’t want to fight in it, young men and women who became hippies and flower children and/or slipped into a drugged existence that the country’s older generations could not understand.

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They embarked on a sexual revolution, and, if you will, a kind of spiritual one, looking for a different kind of life than the one their parents had offered.

It was those same Pali High students who met last weekend to celebrate their 20th reunion, renew old friendships and see how much everyone had changed in the two decades that have passed since they left high school.

“We were a terribly spoiled generation,” said Michael Medved, a Pali Class of 1965 member who co-authored a best-selling book about the class with his friend David Wallechinsky in 1976. “We had a preposterous sense of self-importance: The absurd notion we knew more than our parents and our grandparents and in our 20s we were going to show people in their 40s how to live. I think it was very costly to my generation.”

It was almost sundown Saturday when the Class of 1965 of Palisades High began gathering at the Riviera Country Club for its 20th reunion.

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The parking lot filled with a sizable number of shiny Mercedes, Volvos and BMWs, and a few of the classmates noted that the staid, 58-year-old Riviera, with its meticulously manicured lawns and sprawling Spanish-style clubhouse, surely was a different setting than the one for their 10th reunion, a banquet room of a restaurant in Marina del Rey.

That reunion, on Dec. 27, 1975, was recorded in Wallechinsky and Medved’s book, “What Really Happened to the Class of ’65?”

The state of flux that most class members were in then prompted the authors to offer, in addition to profiles of 30 class members, their assessment of the class 10 years after graduation, recalling that the 1965 Time magazine article had predicted for the graduates “a golden era.”

“Time had been right about our

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wide-ranging possibilities, but had not foreseen the fact that we might be paralyzed by them. With the experts of the world waiting expectantly for glorious achievements, how could we possibly disappoint them? And so we struggled forward, constantly shifting our choices, plagued by chronic indecision, searching in vain for a fate that might be worthy of us.”

It was a far different story on June 22-23, 1985.

For most of the Class of ’65, the search appears to be over. They’re nearing 40 now and are established in businesses, professions and life styles. They’re a handsome group of grownups, too, many with children whom they bought to the class picnic on Sunday on their old schoolgrounds.

“They’re not crazy anymore. They’re settled,” said Rose Gilbert, who taught English to many of these former students and is still teaching at Pali. Known by Pali students as “Mama G,” Gilbert also coaches the school’s academic decathlon team, city champions for the four years since the academic contests began.

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“Twenty years and they’re so different,” Gilbert said as she greeted a group of classmates Saturday at the Riviera. “Especially the men. They’re so conservative. They aren’t radicals anymore. They’re in suits. They’re 38. They’re gray-haired and paunchy.”

They also are doctors, writers, lawyers, philosophers, professors, artists, architects, financial advisers and business persons.

During the evening, this fashionable group caught up on old times, drank (mostly wine and Perrier) and ate from a large buffet of hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, and danced to records from the 1960s--the Beatles, the Beachboys and the Righteous Brothers.

A large dolphin, the school emblem, was fashioned of papier-mache and hung from the ceiling over the dance floor. The decor was blue and white, the Pali colors, and old school photographs were placed around the edges of the room.

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Posed for Portraits

In a separate room, classmates and their spouses and/or dates posed for formal reunion portraits.

At the door, Tom and Mila Malden Doerner had signed up many more guests than were expected, about 350 people. Doerner, a cardiologist, wore his blue letterman’s sweater that he earned playing football for Pali High.

The Doerners, who live in Brentwood, didn’t know each other in school, even though they were classmates. They met after high school and have been married 16 1/2 years.

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“I went with somebody else in high school,” said Mila Doerner, whose father is actor Karl Malden. “Neither of us was in the book. We were too dull. We weren’t Hari Krishnas or anything.”

Kathy Mader, who was the defense lawyer for Hillside Strangler Angelo Buono, and her attorney husband Norman Kulla won the prize for having the youngest child, a seven-week-old boy. (Mader later gave her award to Sheila Schenck Halcomb, whose new baby is only six weeks old.)

Brian and Anne Cheney received the prize for the most children: five. Cheney, a member of the Pali 1965 tennis team that won the city championship, is the tennis pro at a club in Phoenix.

Silke Podeyn Vannater and Lynn Marble Erler each got awards for coming the farthest distance, Vannater from Switzerland and Erler from England.

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Most of the class members had married; some were divorced and remarried. Former football team captain Mark Holmes, now a doctor of Oriental medicine at a Santa Monica holistic health center, and Suzanne Thomas, voted the Class of ’65’s most beautiful girl and now an art dealer in La Jolla, are among those who are single.

Missing at Roll Call

A few members of the Class of 1965 are gone now: four were killed in car accidents, one in a plane crash, another drowned and two committed suicide.

The latest recorded death of a 1965 classmate was that of Jon Wilson, who died in a car crash in Northern California in February, 1979. Wilson, ironically, had survived a tour in Vietnam and 1 1/2 years in a Lebanese jail for attempting to smuggle out hashish oil. He had attended the 10th reunion.

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“Jon was my best friend,” said Jeff Stolper, who was profiled in the Class of ’65 book and recommended that Wallechinsky and Medved also interview Wilson, which they did.

Stolper was characterized in the book as “the surfer” who got in trouble at school in 1965 because he wouldn’t cut his hair. He later became a speech and language therapist at his alma mater and is now a financial planner with a firm in Sherman Oaks.

Jon Wilson became “Jon Who?” because not very many of his classmates could even remember him.

But Stolper, 37, remembered his friend with an expressive fondness in an interview before the reunion. “He went to Vietnam because he felt in his mind it was the best thing to do, it was right for him and for the country.

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“I imagine he was an excellent soldier, because he was an excellent friend. It’s really sad what happened. He survived Vietnam and Lebanon and was finally getting his life together. He was in the construction business and had met a woman he really loved.

“Nobody in our class was killed in Vietnam,” Stolper continued. “People went, but most of us stayed in college. I still believe it was because we could all afford to go to college and could afford draft lawyers. We were from a white, upper middle-class background. That’s all we knew. There was a tremendous amount of affluency. There were people who were wealthier than my family, but most people in the Palisades were well to do. I had a nice home; when I was 16 I got a car. I had clothes. Money never concerned me. Our parents grew up in a generation of the Depression, and they wanted to do for us what they didn’t have.”

Jeff Stolper, like many of his other friends, stayed out of the war by staying in school and because of an old injury to his left knee. “But I was actively opposed to it,” he said. “I firmly believe we were not put on this earth to kill or hurt mankind. I could not picture myself halfway around the world carrying a gun and intent on killing somebody.

“By the same token, I stated I would serve my country in other ways. Improve the country here, working with kids and senior citizens. My parents supported me 100%.”

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Rebelled Against Tradition

Stolper believes that the majority of his classmates rebelled against traditions in some form during the ‘60s, some starting in high school, others in college.

“We were rebelling against authority that was trying to supress our particular generation,” he said. “Like cutting your hair, going into the service, killing and fighting. There was the sexual revolution and the drugs. I never used drugs. There were tremendous changes in values and mores. And protests, no matter what campus you were on.”

Now settled into a low-key life with his wife, Mary, and their two boys and two girls, Stolper said: “I can’t think of really any drastic change in myself, except that I am the father of four.” He and his family moved recently from the Palisades to Thousand Oaks.

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“The most important thing in my life are my wife and the kids. We’re a strong family unit. The whole family loves the ocean. I still body surf and I’m still a practical joker. In my own mind I still feel I’m young. I still do a lot of the things I did when I was 17.”

Stolper said that he made the career change from teaching to financial planning because he didn’t make enough money teaching to support his family.

“In my generation, almost everybody has switched careers two or three times. Maybe doctors haven’t, but I know lawyers who have. Our generation wasn’t afraid to make that switch in careers. That’s one major change I see in this generation. People are doing what they want to do. They’re not afraid to take a shot at it.”

For Jamie Kelso, known in the book as “the idealist,” the evening was spent “having mental overload trying to remember the names.” Kelso had not attended the 10th reunion and had seen only a few of his classmates in the 20 years that had passed.

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“I should have gone over the annual before I came,” said Kelso, dressed in a gray pinstriped suit. “A good number of people here I didn’t know in high school.”

After graduating from Pali, Kelso became involved in diverse ventures and occupations. He enrolled in UCLA, mostly to escape the draft, he said recently.

“A lot of the anti-war thing was also based really on the shock you might have to go out where there might be some risks to your life. It was too much for these pampered people to handle. We had a pompous nature, but we masked that. We pretended that it was great high beliefs. When it all boiled down, it came out something much more wonderful, like cowardice.”

Today, Kelso says he very much admires the young men who did serve in Vietnam, and thinks they probably have their lives together more than many others of his generation.

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After dropping out of college, Kelso traveled around the world as a deckhand on a freighter. He later joined the Church of Scientology in Los Angeles, then dropped out and moved to Kansas City. He became a John Birch Society adherent, and dropped that too.

“I’ve done everything,” he said. “I worked as a horseshoer assistant to my brother, at farm jobs, tractor operator, farm hand. I worked in sales, insurance, construction, sold encyclopedias.” He married a young woman from Kansas City, Mo., and moved back to Pacific Palisades in 1984.

Pruning the Ego

“It’s something of a spiritual odyssey coming back here,” said Kelso, who said he lives on prior earnings. “The reckoning of accounts. To see what you learned coming back to where you went off the rails. The biggest change in the last 10 years is a great pruning back of the ego.”

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Kelso said his one regret of the book is saying what he said of the Pali High teachers, basically that he was smarter than any two of them. “I was feeding on my own ego, trying to gain power,” he said. “As I view it now in 1985, I was going the wrong way.”

Renting a house not far from the one in which he grew up, Kelso spends his days writing a philosophy book, a work he hopes to finish this year. “I’m still a philosopher. I’ll die a philosopher. But the content has changed. If in one’s philosophy one can push oneself out there, as the ego subsides, serenity arises.

“I’m nearing 40, and now it’s all turning out to be rather nice,” said Kelso. “In retrospect, youth seems rather dreadful.”

Kelso said he and his wife, Jennifer, 25, are planning to have a family, but isn’t sure he would send his kids to Palisades High. “It’s a good school. It has imperfections, but as things go, it’s a pretty good school. But I don’t know. There are a lot of warts that are built into the American educational system right now. It is geared toward mass man.”

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Once out of Pali, Mark Holmes went to four different colleges before finally deciding to go into Oriental medicine and acupuncture. He still belongs to the Movement of Spiritual Awareness that he joined in the ‘70s and leads a quiet life.

“I almost got married once,” said Holmes, dubbed “the quarterback” in the book. “I’ve lived with two women and have a good relationship going now. But I live alone. I sold my house in Malibu and plan to buy another. But I’m real focused on my work (at a holistic clinic of which he is president). I don’t go out to bars. Oh, I have a beer occasionally. I haven’t done any drugs in 15 years. I’m not the typical 38-year-old male in Los Angeles.”

A few of Holmes’ patients at the center are Pali alumni, a couple from his class.

“I’d like to get married and have a family, may be in five years,” said Holmes. “But if I’d had children when I was in my 20, I wouldn’t have been able to handle it. I could now, though. I’m happy with myself. . . . Life presents itself to me and I cooperate with it.”

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Unlike most of his fellow classmates, Harvey Bookstein always knew what he wanted to be and that’s what he is today, an accountant. Ten years ago, shortly before he was characterized as “the cashier” in the Class of ’65 book, he started his own firm in Santa Monica with four partners. A CPA, Bookstein now puts together total financial profiles for his many clients.

“I was put on this earth to be an accountant,” he said last week at his office. “I was not like anyone else at Pali Hi. My parents were accountants and that’s what I wanted to be. I was an adult in a child’s body and I never knew how to act. Work was what I did and still do. I call myself a business psychologist.”

Among his clients are Wallechinsky and Stolper.

Bookstein, 37, describes himself at Pali as “a short, fat little kid who wore a shirt and tie and suit and carried a briefcase. Nobody carried a briefcase. But I did. I lived in my own world and I was very happy in it. I used it as an escape hatch. I was not acceptable, so I created my own world.” He did not date until his third year in college.

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Today, Bookstein is 70 pounds lighter, exercises daily at a gym and runs several mornings each week. He is married, has two children and lives in Tarzana. He has started snow skiing and waterskiing, “things I probably should have done in my 20s.”

But Bookstein’s first love still is work. “If you told my wife, Kathy, I said I preferred accounting to sex, you know what she’d say? ‘That’s Harvey.’

“I haven’t changed,” he said. “I knew I wasn’t going to change.”

During the reunion, Bookstein spent much of his time observing his classmates, watching to see if people congregated in the cliques they had in high school or at the 10th reunion. He was pleased to see that they mingled a lot more this time.

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“Everybody seems a little more relaxed now, and they seem to have found a direction,” said Lisa Menzies, who turned 38 last week. “Everybody has grown up and become a human being, doing their own thing.”

In 1976 Menzies was profiled in the book as “the bad girl,” having admitted to sleeping with 425 young men while she was a student at Pali High. She was expelled from school for being drunk on one occasion; after high school she became heavily involved in the drug scene of the ‘60s.

Menzies has been trying to live down her past revelations for several years. “When the whole thing came busting out 10 years ago, I was just really naive,” she said. “When anybody is honest, they leave themselves wide open. I think after this 20-year reunion, the whole thing is going to die down. Nobody is going back to 18 and do the crazy things we did. We broke the door open. What we’ve done is old hat now. But the residual effects are unfortunate.”

Menzies works now as an assistant to her father in his dental surgery practice. Once divorced, once widowed, she lives with her two sons, age 16 and 12, in Hollywood. She has just started her own firm, Kaleidoscope Audio Visual. She videotapes athletes who want to know if they’re working out properly, golfers practicing their swings, students at their graduations.

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Earlier, Menzies took acting and singing lessons and embarked on a singing career, but gave it up because she couldn’t spend enough time with her children.

“That kind of career demands so much time,” she said. “And the boys really need me. My parents wanted me to go on to college. I’d like my children to go to college. I’d like the boys to be able to handle their own lives and grow up and be responsible. I don’t want them to be rich and famous. I just want them to be happy.”

“We were the first generation in the history of this country that felt we had to find a reason to work,” Michael Medved said before the weekend reunion. “My dad was a slum kid from South Philadelphia whose parents couldn’t read. He got a Ph.D in physics and became a vice president of Xerox. Our parents had remarkable positions and very few of us had ever seen financial struggle. Our parents wanted to protect us from those grubby realities.”

Medved, 36, was divorced two years ago and remarried in January. He has become a successful author, and is now completing his eighth book. He went to UC Berkeley, then to Yale Law School, but dropped out. While in college, he embarked on a rediscovery of Judaism, and now lives in an Orthodox Jewish community in the Ocean Park area.

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Medved, who described himself in the book as the school troublemaker, “the walking commotion,” believes the entire uproar of the ‘60s generation was a product of life after World War II. “I can’t emphasize too much to what a tremendous extent our situation is traceable to World War II,” he said. “What the war did was to devastate the world. Europe was in ruins, Japan was in ruins. The Russians lost 22 million people. The only place that emerged unscathed was here. We became a dominant power that continued for at least 20 years, economically, militarily and politically.

“When we were in high school and college, those were absolutely years of peak prosperity. America was strong and prosperous. Those years of the ‘50s and ‘60s were abnormal. We grew up in the optimism of the time. It was not a realistic climate in which we grew up. Today, this is normal. Reality hit us in the face individually after graduation. The Watts riot hit us in a very different way than the war in Vietnam. There were many factors of rebellion of the ‘60s.”

Medved talked on, of peace demonstrations, politics and protests.

“We were a whole bunch of kids who didn’t think they should get drafted. We grew up that way. . . . People from Pali High didn’t go into the Army. That was for poor people. I think we as a generation were a disgusting bunch. We’ve only gradually begun to awaken to the larger realities around us.”

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Medved says now he is fully in favor of a peacetime draft, “even if you extend the limit up to 40.

“It just took us a long time to grow up,” he added. “We had a 20-year adolescence.”

“I think we’ve all mellowed out,--oh, I hate that word,” said Louise Fisher Schuster, a Class of ’65 member who became a psychologist and lives in Encino. She was not chronicled in the book. “Say matured. I feel like we’ve all become more thoughtful and more tolerant. At the reunion, people seem to be making an effort, too, to expand their circle of friends. It’s great to see.”

Lany Tyler May, a history professor at the University of Minnesota, was characterized in the book as “the homecoming queen” who was the Class of ’65’s most popular student. She prefers now not to talk of the book at all.

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“This is really a better event than the 10th,” she said of the reunion. “It was really done well, and people had a chance to visit. I felt a tremendous warmth in people. I had the feeling I really liked these people. They’ve grown up into good people.”

May and her husband Lary, also a history professor, are spending the summer in California with their three children. They’ve been married 15 years.

May’s high school boyfriend, Kevin Burke, and his family came down from Washington to stay with the couple during the reunion weekend.

“Kevin and I haven’t seen each other for years, and here we are all together and our kids relating to each other. To think, my teen-age son and Kevin’s teen-age daughter were sitting at home chatting while we’re at the reunion.”

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Burke, former president of the Class of ’65, lives with his wife and family in Port Townsend, Wash., where he is parks superintendent.

“I have a sense now that everybody is an adult,” May added. “At the 10 year reunion, they were still trying to grow up. Now I appreciate them as adults, not in just a nostalgic way. They’ve grown up into good people. And I still like them as adults.”

At one point during the evening, David Wallechinsky looked down at the nametag on his chest that bore his senior photograph, a clean shaven, boyish-looking David Wallace, and remarked to another guest, “Now you see why I don’t shave my beard. If I did, I’d look just like that again.”

Wallechinsky, whose parents are authors Irving and Sylvia Wallace, reverted to using the family’s original name which they had when they emigrated from Russia to the United States. “I did it in 1972 as a gesture of recognition to my grandfather,” he said during an interview earlier in the week. “He was still alive at the time. It was changed when they came here. I didn’t believe that the government should decide what your name is.”

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Wallechinsky, as well a successful author, lives in Santa Monica with his wife, Flora, and their 2-year-old son Elijah. He currently is working on another book about the class of 1965, this time on a nationwide scope, and 20 years later, rather than 10.

“Both Michael and I wanted to do a sequel to ‘What Really Happened to the Class of ’65,’ ” said Wallechinsky. “But he wanted to do it literally with people from the book. Whereas, I wanted to do the reaction of the nation as a whole. We flipped a coin and I won. We made a deal that whoever lost would get a financial percentage of the other fellow’s book. He’s going to write a forward for it.”

None of the “characters” from the original book will appear in the upcoming one, according to Wallechinsky. The only member of the Pali Class of 1965 that he was interviewed for his new book is Kathy Mader, not in the original book.

Wallechinsky said that he still feels bad that some of the people were angry about the original book. “It’s bothered me ever since, and I wish I hadn’t been judgmental of some of the people and critical of religious groups some were involved in. I hope I learned my lesson. We didn’t even know some of the people. We were nerds, Michael and I. So, I’ll take a different tack this next time around.

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“Sometimes you hear that our generation has sold out, become yuppies,” said Wallechinsky. “But every generation has young upwardly mobile professionals. For us what happened was simply reality. But the idea of selling out. A guy from San Jose that I interviewed for the new book, David Hinkley, said it best. He said, ‘We were so involved in the politics of the ‘60s that we couldn’t sell out. It took time out for our lives to be socially committed. And we’ve gone on to regular lives. But it affected our lives forever.’ ”


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