Singing America to sleep, Hollywood & BSS
Updated: Sep 10, 2020
It was the summer of 1963 before 2nd grade. Dad was an executive at KCET, a local public access station in Los Angeles.
Little did I know that he had plans for his little ‘puddin’ as he lovingly called me. That summer I would appear on the Romper Room show. I remember feeling anxious and excited as Dad drove me to the studio. I’d watched Romper Room on TV but never thought I’d actually be ‘on the show’. There were six of us kids with the teacher/hostess - Miss Nancy. We listened to stories and music, learned manners, and of course, enjoyed our milk and cookies. (but not before we said the pledge of allegiance and a prayer)
Fun times. I remember earning the title of a “Good Do-Bee”. After this recognition, no one wanted to risk being a “Bad Do-Bee”. Miss Nancy recited a special poem that rang in my head for years, “Romper, bomper, stomper, boo, tell me, tell me, tell me do... Magic mirror, tell me today, did all my friends have fun at play?” We all sat fascinated waiting to hear who she saw in her magic mirror.
Later that summer, Dad took me to KCET studios, telling me I’d be singing ‘America the Beautiful” as the late-night sign-off song for the station. I felt excited yet scared as I entered the studio. I stood in front of a huge microphone while a man in a booth behind a glass window pointed to me to start singing. The words to the song were on a teleprompter, even though I knew them by heart. I took a deep breath and sang “Oh beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain…” There were several takes, making me feel that I wasn’t getting it right. This made me even more nervous. Finally, the sound engineer said, “That’s the one” and we were done. I was so relieved. For the next several years when KCET signed off late at night, you could see the American Flag waving and hear my young and very untrained voice singing America off to sleep.
Summer came to a close and it was time to go back to school. I guess Mom wasn’t too thrilled with St. Ambrose Elementary School when I suddenly found myself at Blessed Sacrament at the start of 2nd grade. Blessed Sacrament was on Sunset Blvd. in the heart of Hollywood. The iconic school was founded in 1904 before Hollywood even existed.
I later found out that BSS (Blessed Sacrament School) had been the Sunday home of many a catholic Hollywood celebrity back in the 1920s-1950s – the likes of John Wayne, Bing Crosby, Loretta Young and Zsa Zsa Gabor to name a few. I wonder if any of their ghosts still walk the halls of old BSS.
BSS was a huge place. With its Italian Basilica Renaissance style, the church loomed large over Sunset Blvd. and housed several hundred Pre-K through 8th-grade students.
Yet another adjustment for this little girl. But this time it was different. I met my sweet Annie. She would become my best friend and still is to this very today. The fun we had!
Our fun turned into sorrow months later as the principal got on the loudspeaker to announce that President Kennedy had just been shot in Dallas. Less than an hour later my Nonna came to school dressed in black and crying as she walked me home. “Hanno assassinato il Presidente” she said between her tears.
For the next six days, we joined in collective mourning as the nation sobbed over Kennedy’s untimely death.
Mrs. Crews was my 2nd-grade teacher and my very favorite. She was kind, warm and fun. She just loved me, everything a 2nd grader could want. That would soon change when I started 3rd grade and met the teacher from hell -- Mrs. Maeder. We called her 'bull dog’ as she was always angry. She’d grit her teeth and make growling sounds or scream like a banshee! She’d walk around the classroom and beat us with a ruler. That certainly wouldn’t fly today. I mean how naughty can a 3rd grader get? We weren’t even in middle school yet. She seemed to take all her frustrations out on our class. Everyone was scared to death of her. You see, back in the 60’s corporal punishment was still ‘a thing”. Not fun. That, coupled with the incredible fear of a “punishing God’, taught to us from pre-Vatican II Catholicism was a bone-chilling experience for years to come.
By 1964 we were expected to dutifully study catechism for our First Holy Communion. What an incredible pain in the butt as we memorized pages and pages of dogma so that we could fully accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Then the day came when we dressed as little brides with veils and walked down the long church aisle to receive the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Family parties ensued with lots of food and gifts. When others ask me today if I’m religious, I say I survived catholic school. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have my own spiritual beliefs. As Mark Twain might have said, I never let religion get in the way of my spiritual life.
Coming up next: more Hollywood, my first crush and BS