from my sketchbook: june fairchild

ajax lady
Just after high school, June Fairchild landed a small role as a party guest in a 1966 episode of “The Monkees.”  She also appeared in the teen comedy Where Angels Go Trouble Follows, and The Monkees’ 1968 big-screen effort Head. Soon, she found herself in films with Michael Douglas, Rock Hudson, Bruce Dern, Tony Curtis, even Mae West.

In 1967, she lived with her boyfriend Danny Hutton, who, along with his pals Cory Wells and Chuck Negron, had formed a pop vocal group. June had read a newspaper story about Australian aborigines gauging the coldness of a night by the number of dogs they had to curl up with to stay warm. She suggested the name “Three Dog Night” to Danny and the name stuck.

In 1978, June was cast in her most recognizable role in the Cheech & Chong comedy Up in Smoke. June appeared as a stoner who snorts lines of cleanser, mistaking the substance for cocaine. She earned herself the nickname “The Ajax Lady.” Unfortunately, this would be June’s final film.

June spiraled into a haze of drugs and alcohol for the next several decades. She had two failed marriages. She worked briefly as a go-go dancer and stripper. but ended up homeless, living in a cardboard box on Los Angeles’ infamous Skid Row. While living on the street, she was raped and robbed of what little funds she had. June sold newspapers on the steps of the LA County courthouse, using the money to buy single nights at a hotel. She was recognized by a police officer in Van Nuys, who arrested her for failing to complete a community service sentence for drunk driving. She was sentenced to an additional 90 days in jail.

In 2002, Paramount offered her a small contract. Not for acting, but to use her likeness for a series of Up in Smoke-related bobble heads.

June passed away on February 17, 2015, while in hospice care. She had been suffering from liver cancer. June was 68.

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from my sketchbook: frank christi

tough guy

You’ve seen Frank Christi before. His chiseled mug has graced the big and small screens countless times. The New York native brought his craggy streetwise visage to villainous roles in Baretta, The Rockford Files, Kojak and other police dramas. In movies, he appeared on the wrong side of the law in Terminal Island, The Hit and The Don is Dead.

His checkered past must have helped his acting career. He carried a police record that dated back to the 1950s, when he was arrested for burglary. Later, he would move on to a run-in with a Secret Service agent over his connection to a large sum of counterfeit currency. But, soon he turned to Hollywood and seemed to have put his shady dealings behind him.

In the early morning hours of July 9, 1982, Frank’s life took a turn that was straight out of one of his gangster scripts. He was confronted by two men under the carport of his rundown home on Woodrow Wilson Drive in the Hollywood Hills. Frank was shot to death, found later on the ground next to his ten-year old Datsun. Frank was 52.

A neighbor saw Frank with his hands raised, pleading, “What did I do?,” when the two men opened fire. A known mob informant (Anthony Fiato, who also testified in O.J. Simpson’s trial) led police to Norman Freedberg, the jealous lover of one of Frank’s exes. Freedberg paid hit men $2,700 to kill Frank. Eleven years after the crime, two men were caught, tried and convicted, each serving life sentences. A third man was implicated by Freedberg, but died of lung cancer before he could be sentenced. A trial for Freedberg ended with a hung jury. Plans are still being made for a retrial.

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from my sketchbook: marjorie white

Little Bits of Everything
Marjorie Guthrie began performing in her native Winnipeg at the tender age of 8. She was part of a group of child entertainers in a troupe that toured throughout Canada. As a teenager, Marjorie traveled to San Francisco to take a stab at vaudeville. She partnered with Thelma Wolpa as a comedy duo under the names (at various times) Wolpa and Guthrie, Little Bits of Everything, and The White Sisters, the name on which they eventually settled once they moved their act to New York City. After three years, they broke up the act, although they both continued to use the surname White. Thelma went on to film infamy, starring in the 1936 cult classic Reefer Madness.

Marjorie married in 1924 and continued to appear on Broadway. In 1929, Marjorie and her husband moved to Hollywood. She immediately signed on with Fox Films (the forerunner to 20th Century Fox) and starred in a string of comedies. Marjorie worked with top stars of the day, Humphrey Bogart, Joan Crawford and Van Heflin, as well as respected directors, like Raoul Walsh and Mervyn LeRoy. She appeared in two installments of Fox’s popular Charlie Chan series, alongside future stars  Bela Lugosi and Robert Young in an unlikely pairing. In 1934, Marjorie was cast in a comedy short subject for Columbia Pictures called Woman Haters. It was the first of nearly 200 shorts starring the Three Stooges. Marjorie lit up the screen as Larry Fine’s suspicious wife. As with most of her roles, she stole the show.  However, it would be Marjorie’s last film.

In 1935, Marjorie was travelling as a passenger on Roosevelt Highway in Santa Monica, California. The driver, her friend Marlow M. Lovell, recklessly sideswiped the car of a couple who had been married only an hour earlier. Lovell’s car flipped and Marjorie suffered serious injuries. The diminutive actress was taken to  a Hollywood hospital where she died the next day of internal hemorrhaging. She was 31.

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IF: toy

I'm not your toy

In the pre-hand held electronic device days, before Nintendo DS and iPads, toys didn’t take batteries. Board games, like Mousetrap, Hands Down and Mystery Date (for girls) were powered by a roll of the dice or a flip of a card. When we played politically-incorrect games like Cowboys and Indians, we used die-cast cap pistols that were loaded with a roll of paper caps that were probably dangerous. Water pistols were powered by, um, water. Hot Wheels cars got their power from a flick of the wrist.

I remember one cool, no-batteries-required toy that was extremely popular for a short period of time. In the late 1960s, when I was in elementary school, some toy company (it is unclear which one, because they were marketed under many different names) introduced a pair of heavy acrylic balls attached to a heavy piece of cloth cord. The one I had were called “clackers.” The object was to hold a plastic tab at the center of the cord and, through a bit of wrist shaking and manipulation, cause the balls to bang together. This would accomplish several results: 1) the balls would make a “clacking” sound (hence the name); 2) the owner would enjoy hours and hours (well, maybe minutes and minutes) of fun and; 3) the balls could shatter, blasting dangerous shards of sharp plastic in all directions if they were slammed into each other too hard.

Clackers were eventually banned on the playground of my school and many others across the country. However, by the time the ban was put into effect, we had grown bored with Clackers and moved onto something else (probably Footsie for girls and Super Elastic Bubble Plastic for boys).

Clackers made a feeble attempt at a comeback in the 90s, but they were no competition for Game Boy.

And they were banned again.

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