Camarillo Decides on the 'Real McCoy'

What this county needs is a good publicly funded statue of Walter Brennan.

Think of it: A county of 750,000 people, and there isn't one statue honoring the lovable old character actor who played Grandpa Amos on "The Real McCoys."

It's a pity, it's a shame--and soon, it will be history. Our long municipal vacancy will be over. Walter Brennan, the three-time Oscar winner who excelled at playing the crusty sidekick with a golden heart, will rise in Camarillo, in bronze.

So, you're asking, won't a statue of Walter Brennan seem a bit out of place, all by its lonesome out a-Camarillo way, with the walled subdivisions and the outlet mall?

I'm glad to report the answer is no: Because a statue of Joel McCrea, the movies' quintessential, slow-talking, hard-riding cowboy hero, will go up just down the street from the statue of his old pal, Walter Brennan.

Now, pard, never mind that these Hollywood hands never lived or worked in Camarillo. It's the sentiment that counts, and the Camarillo City Council was brimming with it last month when it voted to put up four statues as part of its Old Town revitalization project. Each will cost $10,000 to $20,000, according to city estimates.

Two of the subjects are slam-dunks.

Don Adolfo Camarillo will gaze upon Ventura Boulevard from his horse. Who would argue against such an honor for the pioneering rancher who gave the city its name.

Another statue will feature a couple of eagles. While eagles do not soar majestically over the Camarillo city limits, who would quibble with a statue of our national bird?

But the council went further than Don Adolfo and the eagles. It defied expectation. Instead of choosing comfortably monumental subjects--a local war hero, a beloved educator, an early city planner--it headed for the box office. Star power trumped history, even if the stars' connection with Camarillo was a bit on the casual side.

Joel McCrea--who described himself as a rancher with an acting hobby--had a 3,000-acre spread outside Thousand Oaks. He was, however, active in several Camarillo charities, donating enthusiastically to the Boys Club and other groups.

Walter Brennan lived on a ranch near Moorpark, but also gave to Camarillo charities. He is best remembered, though, for serving some years as grand marshal of the city's Christmas parade.

Charlotte Craven, a longtime city councilwoman, defended the city's decision.

"Our intent wasn't to make Ventura Boulevard a history museum through statuary," she said. "It was to create interest" in the upgraded Old Town area.

It's hard to picture throngs of tourists pummeling each other for a glimpse of the world's only Walter Brennan statue. I can see, maybe, a carload of Hollywood impersonators making a pilgrimage--or a few straggling "Real McCoys" fans crying, "Well, where's Hassie? Where's little Luke? How about Pepino?"

But I'd go see it, and sip coffee in the outdoor cafes envisioned on the now-dowdy Ventura Boulevard, and generally celebrate something a little different in a town where so much seems so uniform.

In the corporate arena, the city's effort is known as "thinking outside the box."

In companies across the country, high-priced consultants conduct fanciful exercises to encourage employee creativity: "Now pick up your red crayon and draw your vision of a human-resources department in Paradise . . . " Be different! they urge. Be bold! Jump outside the box!

But there will always be some good reasons offered to dive back into it.

Gerald FitzGerald, a grandson of Adolfo Camarillo, still ranches in the city.

"It's ridiculous," he said. "Why on earth they picked those two is beyond me."

FitzGerald facetiously suggested a statue of Marilyn Monroe reclining on a couch outside a local bar. She may have passed by Camarillo in 1958, he said.

Others also have questioned the council's choices. Craven said she's gotten calls from people stumping for charter members of the 30-year-old city's first council.

"One guy called me and suggested his mother," Craven said. "He admitted she didn't have anything to do with the founding of the community but was very nice to all the children."

More statues--nobody seems to know just how many--are in the offing.

Some might be generic--Councilman Mike Morgan likes the image of a mother walking her child to school--and others might be celebrities who were more or less local.

I nominate Emil Sitka, the zany Camarillo resident who played the straight man in dozens of Three Stooges comedies. Sitka had "STOOGE" on his vanity license plate, was mobbed at Stooge conventions, and suffered his final stroke as he was demonstrating a Stooge gag to adoring fans in his Leisure Village home.

If Camarillo really wants to "create interest," nothing would say unique like a bronze pie in the face.

Steve Chawkins can be reached at 653-7561 or by e-mail at steve.chawkins@latimes.com.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
65°