The Crowd: Remembering an exceptional friend

She was a movie star from the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood celebrating life in her eighth decade. I was a 30-something former network TV producer writing a column for the Daily Pilot.

It was an unlikely alliance, but in spite of the obvious disparities in resume and life experience, Claire Trevor was my friend.

We had instant chemistry. Perhaps it was simply her naturally warm and gracious way with everyone she knew or came in contact with. Or maybe it was my fascination with her film career and her life path in what Tom Brokaw has labeled "the Greatest Generation."

Whatever the connection was based on, I know it was genuine. We did not see each other often, but when we did, our talks were never superficial. Nor were our conversations about the old days in Hollywood. The Academy Award-winning actress, who co-starred with John Wayne in the 1939 classic "Stagecoach," among other notable roles, lived very much in the present.

We talked about politics and social issues, including the most controversial topics. We talked about the future of families and the education of American kids. Claire always shared the progress in the lives of her beloved family, mostly proud of the grandchildren who were all coming of age and growing into their personalities.

One of the last times I saw her was at her home in Big Canyon. She was hosting a small reception for a local cause I can't recall in a home that reflected this strong, artistic, take-no-prisoners woman with a caring heart. The leopard-print carpet on the curving staircase, walls adorned with lovely plein air landscapes next to contemporary art perfectly balanced with fine antique pieces of furniture — this was a movie star's residence.

This was also the single occasion on which I met the very private Donald Bren, Trevor's stepson. His reputation as both a visionary businessman and tough-as-nails financier is legendary. On this night Bren was simply a loving and dutiful son. He was so kind to his stepmother. She put her arms around him and they hugged just before he departed. It was a big bear hug. Bren will be embarrassed, but that is how I will always think of him — not so much as the real estate tycoon, but as Claire's loving stepson.

March 8 marks her 103rd birthday. The UC Irvine Claire Trevor School of the Arts celebrates with a birthday bash in the Arts Plaza, followed by a screening of "Stagecoach" in Winifred Smith Hall. While the screening is free, general admission to the party is $19.39 per person. VIP tickets, which are $103 per couple, include complimentary parking, preferred seating and a donation to the Dean's Fund for Excellence. A little more than $70 of that is tax-deductible.

Claire would be most proud. She believed in education and she was bullish on opportunity for youth and the pursuit of artistic endeavors. Mostly, she was excellent as an actress, as a mother, as a friend and as a human being.

To support the Claire Trevor School of the Arts and to join the fun at the 103rd birthday bash, email or call (949) 824-2189 by Thursday.

THE CROWD runs Fridays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.

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