In the past 18 years, I have written many stories about John Weld,
the man, the Laguna Beach newspaper publisher, the author. This is
one story I wanted never to write.
John Weld died June 14. He was 98. No memorial service is planned.
John suffered a stroke six years ago, impairing his speech and
requiring professional care.
"To the end, he remained my darling John," said Katy Weld, his
wife of 67 years. "But he wasn't happy. He wanted to come home and
not be with strangers."
The Welds met when he was working as a screenwriter in Hollywood
in 1932. This was John's second try for a career in Tinseltown, where
he had worked years earlier as a stunt man. She was an actress with
the stage name of Gigi Parrish, a rising star and the most "beautiful
woman" he had ever seen, he wrote in the foreword of one of his
After a complicated courtship, the couple moved to Laguna Beach in
1937, where John eventually opened a Ford dealership in 1948, after
years as chief copywriter for Ford Motor Co.
They published the Laguna Beach Post from 1949 to 1965 in
partnership with "Bud" Desenberg. Katy managed the office. John wrote
"Our Town," a very personal column -- often hilarious, sometimes
bawdy -- featured for 18 years on the front page. It always ended
with "Laguna I love you."
A compendium of the columns was published in book form in 1996.
The late Phil Interlandi illustrated it. It was the ninth book of the
10 John had published. The last was a biography of actor Walter
Houston, a friend from John's sojourn in Europe in the 1920s.
John and Katy were a welcome addition to Laguna's active social,
business and civic circles. He was an organizer of the South Coast
Community Hospital, now South Coast Medical Center, and served on its
board, including a stint as president.
The paper later was sold to Vern Spitaleri, who merged it with the
South Coast News to form the Laguna News Post.
"I respected him, Spitaleri said. "When I put together a Vision
Committee 30 years ago. I chose a broad spectrum of people and I
picked Weld. I needed people like him. He was a good thinker.
"We are going to miss him, I can tell you that."
John Weld was born in 1905 in Birmingham, Alabama. His father died
just months after his son was born. While his mother worked to
support the family, John attended military academies in Birmingham
After an unsuccessful try at a career in New York vaudeville, John
crewed for a year on a freighter, saving as much money as he could.
Then he and three friends drove across country to Los Angeles, where
he literally dove into a career as a stunt man.
John, a skilled swimmer who tried out for the 1924 Olympics,
according to a publicity release for one of his books, was hired as
an extra for "Dante's Inferno." He volunteered to replace a stunt man
who refused to dive off a 137-foot cliff into the rocky waters off of
Santa Cruz Island. John asked for $60 and got it. He also got 16
stitches in his scalp.
For the next few years, John "doubled" -- did stunts for Hollywood
stars such as Tom Mix, John Barrymore and Zasu Pitts.
He wrote about his experiences in "Fly Away Home -- Memoirs of a
Hollywood Stuntman," published in February 1991.
John wrote his first novel in Hollywood, but didn't have a clue
how to get it published. He asked gossip columnist and Hollywood
power broker Louella Parsons for help. She got him a job on a New
York American newspaper. It was 1926. He was 21.
After a year, John headed for Europe, where the Paris Bureau of
the New York Herald Tribune hired him.
John wrote about his time in Paris and the extraordinary cast of
characters he met there in "Young Man in Paris," published in 1985.
Houston called the book "utterly fascinating," according to the dust
John wrote his first two books that sold, "Gun Girl" and "Stunt
Man," in Paris. By the time he came back to the United States, he was
considered a rising literary star, a member of Maxwell Perkin's
stable of authors at Charles Scirbner's Sons.
But Hollywood beckoned, Katy was waiting in the wings and the West
Coast became his home for the rest of his life.