Royal promised us a Christmas surprise and told us to be ready by 7:30 p.m. on a recent Friday night. With the inevitable last-minute dashing over to David Lee's house looking for Connor, and from there to Rocky Cola where they HAD been but no longer were (GRRRR), then back to David's house where they pulled up a few minutes later, I was no longer in the Christmas mood.
We followed Royal like a string of ducklings into the Pasadena Playhouse, where I saw various La Cañada faces and backs. Dilbeck's Lorie McKenzie was too swift and got away before I could say hi, Kathy Hansen and some of her lovely friends hung around afterward for a chat. Royal saw David Dow (CBS News Radio correspondent, and they renewed their acquaintance), and up to the balcony where we had a perfect view of the entire stage. "It's a Wonderful Life" was presented as a 1947 Lux Radio Theater radio drama, complete with commercials (very funny).
Our kids used to watch that Frank Capra movie a dozen times each December before they switched a few years ago to A Christmas Story, which is edgier and has kid-beloved scenes where a little boy is TRIPLE-DAWG-DARED to lick the school's outdoor flagpole during a sub-zero recess period. Who can resist the hilarity in that?
I figured the play was the entire surprise. But I was wrong. The actors were part of it too. Robert Picardo, who played the hero George Bailey, used to live in LCF and I'd gotten to know him and his wife a little during various political and school meetings during those years. So that was an unexpected pleasure. (La Cañada's own Michael Gross will play that lead role Dec. 29-Jan. 1.) Hal Linden of Barney Miller fame (he was Barney Miller) played the apprentice angel Clarence. But the real surprise for me (and that was Royal's plan all along) was the man who played Joseph, the head of apprentice angels, Tom Hatten.
My pre-school childhood was anchored by a daily TV show, the Tom Hatten Show, in which he was dressed as a sailor and introduced cartoons. In between the cartoons he chatted with us (as though we were people and could actually hear him) and at the beginning of the show he'd use a piece of charcoal to draw a very definite squiggle on a large sheet of paper atop an easel. Three kids with similar easels all had the same squiggle on their pads, and during the show they'd be drawing away using that as a basis for some artistic creation. Tom Hatten also drew and in millions of homes, so did we.
I'd be set up in front of the TV way in advance, with my huge drawing pad and my box of various sized and shaped charcoal pieces (if Tom Hatten used charcoal, I USED CHARCOAL), my glass of milk and a peanut butter sandwich. I was READY.
At the end of the show the kids each got to explain where the squiggle was in their drawing and then one of them won the prize. No gutless "Oh they're all equally gooood!" slathering on of fake self-esteem there. And I doubt any of those kids who lost ever had "issues" about it.
After the show Royal took me down to the Green Room, which I had never known existed beneath the Playhouse, and introduced me to my childhood idol. Tom Hatten was delightful, charming, urbane, witty, kind, I could go on and on. I AM going on and on. He told us they paid him $100 a week for that show and supplied him with the sailor clothes, which he described as about three sizes too small. I did remember that, as he was the first guy I'd ever noticed had a body. He laughed and said it was ALL uncomfortably tight but it was a JOB. I admitted I still love hearing his voice on KNX radio when he does movie reviews and reports on entertainment issues. I admit it, it was a lovefest.
The kids, without all these old memories, were patient and polite about the meeting and greeting. Visions of a Panda Inn after-theater dinner dancing in their heads, for them it's orange chicken and ONLY orange Chicken (although Trader Joe's has a frozen orange chicken in a bag which they find perfectly acceptable).
All in all a wonderful evening. The only thing I'd change? I would have brought charcoal and pre-squiggled drawing pads. Now THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT!