Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Cleavers: American Dream to Some, Bitter Fantasy to Others

by Dan Ehrlich (writer), London/L.A./Seattle, November 08, 2010

Death of Beaver's TV mother Barbara Billingsley signifies the passing of White America's "Golden Age."

by Dan Ehrlich

Long live the Beaver, for his mother has died and with her a little more of possibly the greatest, shortest and most naïve period in US history, the 1950s.

Actress Barbara Billingsley, who made her name as June Cleaver in the 50s family comedy Leave It To Beaver has passed away at 94. She epitomized the traditional homemaker of the era, something that has become almost an oxymoron in age of the dysfunction and non-functional families, where stay-at-home dads may soon outnumber stay-at-home moms.

Even decades after the show ended Billingsley expressed surprise at the lasting affection people had for "Leave it to Beaver" and her role as the warm, supportive mother of a pair of precocious boys.

Having been through this era and a grad of Hollywood High, I can speak with some authority of what a wonderful time it was to be a white guy on the West Coast. That's because we didn't know about the other side of America where people, mainly Blacks and Hispanics, didn't find it so nice and shows such as Leave it Beaver had no relevance to them other than possibly being an unreachable fantasy.
Where Nation's Image Was Formed
Hollywood is where America's international image is molded and packaged. Yet, the area itself is rarely depicted in realistic contemporary scenes. It's normally shown as the Hollywood of opulent bygone days, days of glamorous stars and luxurious cars.

Tinsel Town's very own and very real high school more accurately reflects the evolving nightmare of Hollywood today. It's an area in transition from glitz to vice, from tourism to urban terrorism, from the zenith of escapism to the reality of the street.

For me, a visit to L.A. inevitably involves a drive by my old school. And even though its 1950s persona is now barely recognizable, waves of nostalgia still cover my body like a sudden bout of malaria.

This wasn't just any American high school, filled with hot cars and kids too match. This was Happy Days, Grease and Back to the Future rolled into one. This was the place where the ideas for many of these films actually took shape. And, it that sense, this was America itself, located in the center of world's dream factory. This was Hollywood High School.

Yet, as I pass the graffiti-covered buildings surrounded by high wire and iron-bayonet fencing, offering no concealment to the ugly parking lot that used to be a green lawn, it becomes that much more difficult conjuring up a mental picture of what the school used to be like. That was in 1956 when, at 15, I walked onto the Campus for the first time.

Then I could never have imagined signs over the various entrances reading: "Metal detectors in operation. Don't bring firearms or other weapons on campus."
Rock's Greatest Era?`
It was the beginning of what many musicians consider rock's greatest period. Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, the Coasters, the Diamonds, the Platters, the Flamingos and the Fleetwoods, to name only a few, were setting the national tone.

The school had its own roll of honor. Stars such as Lana Turner, Carol Burnett, Linda Evans, Ricky Nelson, Sue Lyons and James Garner at one time attended.

So, HHS was maintained as an oasis of academia and greenery at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Highland Avenue. It was the showbiz capital's showpiece 200 yards from the famed Chinese Theater and in sight of the Hollywood sign, lending it an official nature.

There were no fences or even teachers on patrol to keep kids from shooting-up or shooting each other. We didn't do those things, in any case. This was an "open campus."
On hot spring days students covered the lawns from Highland and Sunset, some studying, others eating.

This was a time when American affluence was matched by our puritanical morality and sexual stupidity, exemplified by the top rated TV shows of the day, Leave It To Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet. It depicted a model American couple, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, with two clean-cut kids, David and Ricky Nelson, the antithesis of Beverly Hills 90210.

To me it seemed every boy would have sold his soul to live in that household, where life was just a series of harmless and good-natured games. How appropriate, then for Ricky Nelson to have actually attended Hollywood. We all knew that because of his name, carved into a wooden desk in Miss Miller's room, was clearly visible. But, he had since moved on to a private school.
Drugs and Sleaze
I lived over the pass in Toluca Lake. This meant taking the bus to and from school. The bus stop was on Highland Avenue, then a busy but a relatively safe street. Today, the bus stop is still there. But the kids have been replaced buy drug pushers, prostitutes, street people and all manner of sleaze normally associated with some seedy sections of New York. Hollywood Boulevard, from where that famed sign can be seen in the hills behind, looks something like New York's 42nd Street, except more dangerous. The star studded Walk of Fame had become the walk of shame.

But worse, the school reflects what the area itself has become. It's no longer an institution to prepare students for university, but to keep kids out of jail or the morgue---hopefully until they're 18.

Hollywood High has devolved into a hotbed racial strife, gun-running and drug dealing. "You got to watch out who you talk to or who you mess with here. Because there's a lot of shit going down all the time," Rudy, a student, sitting on the auditorium steps said, before the campus guards interrupted him.

There aren't many kids visible at lunchtime now. Most of the spacious front lawn has long since pave over. Even if they were still there, it would be too dangerous of a place to lounge. The fear of drive by shooters trying to even a score is always a possibility. Besides shooting-up dope or sniffing coke are things best done in private. Anyone lying on the remaining lawn these days will more than likely be on of L.A.'s down-and-outs, probably sleeping-off booze and drugs.
Guards Patrol Prison-Like Campus
"There's a 10-strong full-time security force here," a humorless guard said, his upper body covered with the word 'Staff'. But he's no teacher and the large electric gates that seal off the school are to keep people out as well as to keep students in.

"This is a closed campus," he bellowed. "You can't come in here without permission." I couldn't help smiling a bit, thinking how times have changed. This was graphically illustrated by groups of students huddled against the fencing, as if in a penal colony.

These days Hollywood has what it takes for campus warfare, an ethnic mix of lower middle class and poverty level whites, blacks and Hispanics, many of whom not only hate each other but can't even understand each other's language. Yet, most are trying for the same goal, to prove they exist and that life has meaning. And what's even more depressing, as bad as Hollywood High has become, it isn't as dangerous as some other LA inner city schools. Yet, it's part of the changing face of Los Angeles, of which Hollywood is only one area.

Crime and the high cost of property in Southern California are creating America's first eastward migration. As more and more affluent white, blacks and Hispanics flee Los Angeles for more secure areas to the north and northeast, a vacuum is being created. They leave behind a 500-square mile megalopolis with a rapidly declining tax base and expanding welfare roles…a former boomtown.

Now that the boom is over, the population is rotating, with low-income minorities replacing upwardly and outwardly mobile whites. As for Hollywood, today you're more likely to see junkies and prostitutes mingling with the tourists along the star-studded walk of fame than the stars themselves.

Back in those happy days life was simple because we had few choices and few problems. America's 'classless society' was epitomized by Hollywood High.... only five miles and yet light-years away from the other Los Angeles, the one which, then, was rarely seen on television shows. This was the past that has shaped present-day America, an era when there was no time for thoughts about social injustice and deprivation at home. Of course, that was largely due to the paranoia about the Soviet threat abroad and the worst thing anyone could be branded was being a 'communist.'

We at HHS could only look in disbelief at TV pictures showing troops being called in to forcibly integrate Little Rock, Arkansas' Central High School. Such thing was alien to us on the 'liberal' West Coast.
Decaying from Within
America may be the most powerful nation since Rome, but like Rome it is decaying from within. It has the largest underclass, the most uninhabitable inner cities, the greatest socio-economic deprivation, greatest drug culture, largest teenage pregnancy rate, largest prison population and greatest murder rate of any major developed nation.

However, unlike Rome, I doubt if the US will last 1,000 years. It has taken us only 60 years to reach this sorry point. For any nation to exist it has to establish and maintain an identity as a people. Our identity, just like the 50s, seems to be fading. But, some of us can still remember the Beaver and his warm and wonderful mom in that inviting home that represented security.

So, as I once again drive by the old school, I can at least look back to those few good years of ignorant self indulgence and paraphrasing Humphrey Bogart mumble: "We'll always have Hollywood." But like Bogart and Ricky Nelson, the Hollywood of my youth, of what most things America was supposed to symbolize, seems to be fading away just like the 50s, nickel Cokes and free gas station road maps.

About the Writer

Dan Ehrlich is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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1 comments on Cleavers: American Dream to Some, Bitter Fantasy to Others

Log In To Vote   Score: 1
By BusinessLife on November 09, 2010 at 10:09 am

Really great read. One of the best things a writer can do is to stop and make his/her readers think. You did just that.

Thanks. BusinessLife :)

Do you have any stats for the following mentioned in your article?

"It has the largest underclass, the most uninhabitable inner cities, the greatest socio-economic deprivation, greatest drug culture, largest teenage pregnancy rate, largest prison population and greatest murder rate of any major developed nation."

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