All posts filed under: Feature Story

The Beach Boys at Rainbow Gardens in 1962 – A Research Challenge

In the 1991 film JFK, Joe Pesci portrayed David Ferrie who famously describes President Kennedy’s assassination as “a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma.” The quote was borrowed from a radio address Winston Churchill delivered over the British Broadcasting Company October 1, 1939, to bolster Britons’ concerns about an impending war with Germany. In that stirring address, Churchill described Russia as “a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.” But what does Churchill, JFK, or Joe Pesci have to do with researching Beach Boys concerts in 1962? Well, that quote aptly describes what it felt like trying to document the band’s appearances at Rainbow Gardens—a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma. Only there was no key. Until now. Maybe. Rainbow Gardens was a nightclub and dance hall located at 150 East Monterey in Pomona, California, thirty miles east of Los Angeles. It held about 800 people. By early 1962, it was owned by LA record promoter Eddie Davis …

Brian Wilson, Roger Christian, and Ice Cream Sundaes — A Research Challenge

One of the legendary stories of Brian Wilson’s early songwriting career is how he met occasionally with disc jockey Roger Christian after Christian’s shift on KFWB ended at midnight.  Huddled over ice cream sundaes, they talked about music, girls, cars, and songwriting.  The twenty-eight-year-old Christian, a hot rod enthusiast later known as the “Poet of the Strip,” kept a notebook of original poems about cars he had been writing since high school.  The Beach Boys recorded at least ten songs written by Brian and Christian, including “Shut Down,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Ballad of Ole’ Betsy,” “Car Crazy Cutie, “Cherry, Cherry Coupe,” “Spirit of America,” “No Go Showboat,” “I Do,” “In the Parking Lot,” and “Don’t Worry Baby.”  Brian found a wealth of inspiration in Christian’s notebook.  Together, they would solidify the Beach Boys’ reputation as America’s premier hot rod vocal group. It has never been entirely clear when Brian first met Christian, when they began meeting over ice cream sundaes, and, to some extent, where these late night songwriting sessions took place.  So, let’s examine …

Be True to Your School: the ’59 Cinderella Season

This article commemorates the 56th anniversary of the start of the 1959 football season for the Hawthorne High Cougars.  In this Cinderella season, the Cougars went undefeated in eight regular season games, two post-season play-off games, and squared off against the mighty Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits for the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) championship in front of 14,906 fans at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Friday, December 11, 1959.  In a happy coincidence, dates and days of the week are the same this year as they were in 1959.   The night before Soviet Premiere Nikita Khrushchev landed in Los Angeles to begin his historic visit to the United States, Hawthorne High students had a decidedly less global event on their minds.  The traditional Kick-Off Dance was held in the boys’ gymnasium Friday, September 18, from 8:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.  The dress code was dressy cottons for girls and slacks and sport coats for boys.  It was the first social event of the new school year and was designed to get the student body pumped …

Murry Promotes the Beach Boys in Sweden in ’62, Writes the Morgans

In late November to mid December 1962, Murry Wilson traveled to Europe for a trip combining promotional efforts on behalf of the Beach Boys and personal medical reasons. On Wednesday, November 21, 1962, the day before Thanksgiving, Murry completed Department of State Form DSP-17, Passport Renewal Application, at the Los Angeles Passport Agency on Wilshire Boulevard.  Two days later, at 3:00 p.m., he paid five dollars and picked up his renewed passport in person. Murry had to renew his passport because the last time he had used a passport was for a business trip to England and France (Paris) from September 4 through September 19, 1959. He was under a tight deadline now as he stated on his application he planned to depart LA November 28 aboard Scandinavian Airlines to Denmark.  He indicated over the next seventeen days he would travel to West Germany, where the stated purpose of his visit was for medical reasons, Switzerland, and England.  It is unclear what medical reasons took Murry to West Germany or how many days he spent …

Seattle’s Spanish Castle and Party Line — A Research Challenge

This is the first in a series of articles in which I will discuss researching Becoming the Beach Boys, 1961-1963. The topics will include locating and interviewing people connected to the story; searching for newspaper articles, advertisements, handbills, posters, programs, telegrams, tickets, records, and rare memorabilia; finding photographs that had not been published in other books about the band; unearthing heretofore unknown personal appearances and attempting to place dates on appearances for which dates were unknown. First, a little bit about the mystery of human memory. When I interviewed people for the book we discussed events that happened nearly half a century ago. I knew it would be difficult, if not impossible, for them to recall exact dates. I tried to gently jog their memories by asking if they could associate the event with something specific—the season, the weather, a national holiday, songs on the radio, national or world news, events in their own lives—anything that might spark an additional clue. I found with many people the simple act of strolling down memory lane and …

Russia Comes to LA and Hawthorne High

On September 8, 1959, 1,900 students trudged through the doors of Hawthorne High, including seventeen-year-old seniors Al Jardine and Brian Wilson, and Brian’s fourteen-year-old brother Dennis, one of 500 entering freshmen of the Class of ’63.  As much as they hated to return to school, there was some good news.  The school day would be thirty minutes shorter this year.  It still began sharply at 8:30 a.m. and each of the seven periods still lasted 53 minutes, but a half-hour was shaved from the two lunch periods.  The new schedule gave cafeteria workers more time to restock food and prepare for the second lunch period.  The not-so-good news was getting accustomed to the new bell system signaling when to change classes as students had seven minutes to scurry to their next class.  The lunch periods began at 11:23 a.m. and 12:23 p.m., and each lasted thirty-eight minutes.  If you didn’t pack your lunch, you spent a great deal of that precious time waiting in line. Senior Jean Robertson returned to Hawthorne High after spending her …

Bruce Johnston

O n June 27, 1959, one year and eleven days after Alan Jardine and Brian Wilson graduated from Hawthorne High School, future Beach Boy Bruce Johnston turned seventeen years old and also graduated from high school (a year early as Bruce had skipped ahead a year in the fourth grade!). Bruce, originally named Benjamin Baldwin, was born June 27, 1942, in Peoria, Illinois.  His unwed mother from Madison, Georgia, gave birth to Bruce in the Florence Crittenton Home for unwed mothers and, three months later, he was adopted by William and Irene Johnston from Chicago. Bruce’s “new” father was senior Vice-President of the Chicago based Walgreens Drug Store chain. The Johnstons had two older daughters, Bette Jean and Joy Rene. In September 1946, the Owl Rexall Drug Company began building their new national headquarters in Los Angeles (located at Beverly and La Cienega Boulevards and it included a Rexall drug super store which Life magazine called “the world’s biggest drugstore”).  In 1946 William Johnston accepted the position of president of the Owl Rexall Drug Company.  He moved …