Nature’s Publicist at Work

Commuters dipping onto Laurel Canyon Boulevard just south of Mulholland this morning were no doubt amused, bemused or just plain puzzled by this hand-lettered roadside sign: MOLEHILL MADE OUT OF A MOUNTAIN.

No, it’s not some crazed Burma Shave survivor on the loose. It’s Jon Earl--and he doesn’t trek to that spot at daybreak to plant his signs solely to titillate motorists crossing from the Valley to Beverly Hills.

He wants to make them aware that the Santa Monicas are not merely “a speed bump on the way to the Westside and vice versa,” but the endangered natural habitat of priceless flora and fauna.

In his world view, these commuters are “like strange animals migrating over the mountain range"--a range that rightfully belongs to the plants and animals that were there first.


In the Hollywood Hills, where he lives, he’s been known to stop traffic to rescue a baby gopher snake about to be run over. Five years ago, distressed but not yet discouraged by the state of the environment in the L.A. Basin, he and Ellen Petty founded Rhapsody in Green.

The idea of their new nonprofit group was to enlist and train volunteers in hands-on work such as cleaning up estuaries, restoring natural habitats and planting native trees. Earl, 43, who grew up in the house next door to the citified mountain cabin where he and Petty live, waxes absolutely, well, rhapsodic about the El Segundo blue butterfly and the red ant.

And he wants to spread the word: “It’s not too late. Nature is ready to respond to our efforts.” How, he wondered one day, could Rhapsody in Green make motorists think in terms of bio-regional awareness?

Brainstorming, he and Petty came up with the idea of roadside signs. They hit upon a formula: “Quick, educational and fun.”


The first sign, which went up March 15, proclaimed: EARTHWORM CROSSING. DRIVE CAREFULLY. When Earl returned at dusk to retrieve it, it had been stolen. Now he chains his signs to a post.

A sampler of signs coming soon to a canyon road near you:

* THIS MOUNTAIN IS NOT A REHEARSAL. (Says Earl, “I thought that might appeal to the theatrical people.”)



You get the idea. Earl’s kicking himself that he didn’t do an Oscar week special. It would have read BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY, with an arrow pointing to an unspoiled natural canvas.

He toyed briefly with the idea of HONK IF YOU HATE NOISE POLLUTION. Only briefly. And he reasons that his signs don’t count as visual pollution because he removes them each night. Plus, the cause is noble.

For a change of pace, he may throw in a few that are downright lofty. Like this Persian proverb: “In the ant’s house, the dew is a flood.” And this, from Buddha: “The tree offers shade even to the ax man that destroys it.”


Earl--who earns his only income teaching environmental studies at a private elementary school--recalls when he was a kid, and how different things were.

Gazing out the window of his home, he says, “My play yard was the hill up here.” When he grew up, he studied math for two years at UCLA, but only because he was good at it. Inevitably, “environmental fever” consumed him.

He’s “very angry” at how earlier generations have mucked things up: “Southern California used to be a paradise, an absolute paradise.”

Why can’t people understand that coyotes help control rats? That snails, an important part of the food chain, don’t exist merely to annoy us? Until now, Rhapsody in Green, with a budget of only $3,000 a year, wasn’t exactly a high-visibility group. But wait . . . Earl dreams of recruiting a small army of the like-minded to write jingles and make more signs, and more signs. He talks about signs throughout L.A., throughout the country, in other countries . . .

For now, he’s going to zero in on those big arteries through the Santa Monicas--Laurel Canyon and, next week, Beverly Glen and Coldwater Canyon. He figures he can reach maybe a million people there each Monday through Friday.

He hopes to grab them with signs such as:

* GRAY WHALES ARE SWIMMING THROUGH THE SANTA MONICA MOUNTAINS. (Technically, he says, the Channel Islands are part of the same chain).

Or maybe:



From Madge to Mommies

Madge has packed up her nailbrushes. Make way for “The Mommies.”

Colgate-Palmolive, the dishwashing-liquid people, staged an L.A. media event to introduce the successors to America’s favorite manicurist/confidante, who was retired after 26 years as TV’s longest-running pitch person.

Replacing Madge (in real life, actress Jan Miner) are Caryl Kristensen and Marilyn Kentz, stars of NBC’s Saturday night comedy show “The Mommies.” Their first soap spot aired Tuesday night.

In a year-long $20-million ad campaign, the Palmolive folks are wagering that Kristensen, 33, and Kentz, 46, will be able to sell soap to the dishpan-hands set by poking a little fun at what it’s like to be a contemporary mom. (Kristensen and Kentz know: Between them, they have six children).

A corporate type explained that, like “icon” Madge, Caryl and Marilyn are “funny and presumptuous, but accessible and likable.” They don’t do nails; they’re just hip homemakers. Consider this spot, filmed in their TV kitchen:

MARILYN: “On the few occasions we actually cook, we clean with this. . . . It’s the new way to get rid of dried-on food and tough stains.”

CARYL: “What’s the old way?”

(Marilyn tosses a dirty plate into the kitchen trash can.)

CARYL: “Nice shot.”

One gets the idea they might have actually done this in the not-long-ago days when they were suburban neighbors in Petaluma. That was before they parlayed their stand-up comedy act--in which they made light of car pooling, wrinkles and morning sickness--into a network TV show.

This is their first TV commercial, they said. The diet-food companies courted them, quipped Caryl, “but we knew that was something we could never achieve.”

And do they really wash their dishes with Palmolive?

Well, said Caryl, both now have full-time househusbands who do a lot of that stuff, including the cooking. “They swap recipes,” deadpanned Marilyn.

And, someone asked, do “The Mommies” see themselves selling soap 26 years down the line?

It’s possible, said Caryl. By then, “We could afford more surgery.”