Meet Miss Lial…

misslial.jpg(photo: courtesy Jerry Koontz)

Miss Lial was very old when I met her years ago. She lived in a very old house that hadn’t been painted for a long time on Highway 1 near Miramar. The worn-out house was hidden by thick manicured hedges and trees. The only light that could seep through the hedges was in one place only, and it was an opening in the greenery formed by Miss Lial’s shape. At her advanced age, she walked with a stoop and the artful “door” in the otherwise thick hedge fit her perfectly.

Miss Lial had lived on the Coastside for decades. Her father was called “Hightop,” because he drove a surrey with fringe on top to worship at the Catholic Church on Sundays, and when he crossed the concrete bridge in Half Moon Bay and lit up a cigar the fringe inevitably struck the sign that said “Half Moon Bay.”

Peter Kyne: Coastside Author (2)

The Kyne family oved from San Francisco to Moss Beach in 1885 when Peter was five-years-old. A precocious child, with a gift for gab, he knew he wanted to travel and “to make his mark in life.”

Kyne spent hours wandering around Amesport Wharf at Miramar Beach, which by then was already in decline, but where little steamers such as the “Maggie” tied up at the dock. He had a chance to observe the rugged life of sea captains, one of the subjects he later wrote about.

(In an early book, “Captain Scraggs or The Green Pea Pirates,” sea yarn published in 1911, Kyne set the scene on the “Maggie” off Half Moon Bay.)

In 1897, when he was 16, Peter worked at a general store on Main Street in Half Moon Bay–he soon discovered that he had to learn to do business in Spanish, Portuguese and Italian. Working in the store, gave him the opportunity of mentally recording the actions of colorful characters who occasionally appeared in his short stories.

…to be continued…

Peter Kyne: Coastside Author (1)

Jack London lived on a coastal farm in the 1880s, author John Steinbeck holed up beside a tree-studded Coastside creek and Palo Alto writer Kathleen Norris got her inspiration in a Moss Beach cottage overlooking the ocean.

Peter Bernard Kyne, who went on to become one of America’s best-loved and best-paid authors, also got some of his writing material from living on the Coastside.

Between 1916 and 1930, Peter turned out 25 novels and 1,000 short stories. Most of his hugely popular pieces took place in and around San Francisco, leading to his coronation as “king of the literary mountain.”

…to be continued…

1945: Destructive Fire Hit Pescadero, (II) Conclusion



(Photo: J.C. Williamson)

From the “Half Moon Bay Review,” 1945

“Principal loss was counted by F.G. Williamson, successor to his father, J.C. Williamson, as operator of the general store. He counted the loss to the building insured at $10,500 and to the stock, not insured, at $17,500.

“Some $2000 damage was done to the Pescadero branch of the Bank of America separated from the Williamson store on the south side by an alley.

“In 1927 fire leveled virtually the entire business district, including the famous old Williamson store, razed Sunday.

“Sunday’s fire was discovered by Mrs. Gwendolyn Meyers, wife of Deputy Fire Warden Albert L. Meyer in charge of the Pescadero Fire Station. Her husband had just returned from a small grass blaze at the Pescadero cemetery when she noticed smoke rising from the rear of the Williamson, a half block north of the station….”

Merv Griffin, R.I.P. (Part V) Conclusion

“The Merv Griffin Show” was an Emmy-award winner and he honored his hometown [San Mateo] by taping a show in 1965 at KCSM-TV, located on the College of San Mateo campus. Featured guests included Carol Channing, Phyllis Diller, the Smothers Brothers and the gospel singer Mahalia Jackson.

It was not the only time Griffin honored his hometown. In the late 1970s he returned to a San Mateo High School anniversary and performed before 7500 at the nearby fairgrounds.

In 1999 the 75-year-old entrepreneurial powerhouse lived near Palm Desert at La Quinta, also home to his 80 racehorses. One of his horses. Greny, had recently won an important race at Bay Meadows Racetrack in San Mateo.

When Griffin discussed his present and future projects, any evidence that he was a senior citizen evaporated. He was always in high gear. New projects included a television show based on author John Gray’s best-selling book, “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,” to have been hosted by Eleanor Mondale.

Another major interest was the Coconut Club at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, “one of the hottest nighclubs in town,” according to Griffin. He was especially proud of the role he played in remodeling the hotel, selecting everything from floor tiles to the motif each suite.

He was also very enthusiastic about his production of the movie, “Barnes,” starring Kevin Kline. [The movie did not come out.]

In 1999 Merv Griffin was leading an exciting, challenging life.

“I look at things I really love,” he told me, “buy them and take them to the next level.”

[Note: I filed the article and a good photo of Merv Griffin was going to be supplied by the newspaper I was working for.  The next morning I get the paper, and what do I see, to my horror? There was a photograph accompanying my article but it was not of Merv. It was of a San Mateo County politician called Mary Griffin! I won’t tell you what I was thinking….because I didn’t know what to think….but by the afternoon edition the photo had been changed to that of Merv Griffin.)

Merv Griffin, R.I.P. (Part IV)

The 1950s ushered in the television era. Griffin was “discovered” and seen regularly on “The Arthur Murray Show” and “The Jack Paar Show.” He was offered his own television program in 1958 called “Play Your Hunch.” This success led to another Griffin-hosted program he produced in 1963 called “Word for Word.”

It was during this period that Griffin conceived “Jeopardy!” [1964] the most popular game show in TV history.

In 1962 he was a substitute host for Jack Paar on NBC’s “The Tonight Show.”  Griffin was a hit with the late night crowd leading to the creation of “The Merv Griffin Show.”

Griffin’s style differed from Jack Parr, Steve Allen and Johnny Carson. Just like the home viewer, he was in awe of the celebrities he interviewed. He disarmed his guests and had them revealing personal, gossipy things rather than promoting their latest movie or record album.

People genuinely felt affection for Griffin, considering him part of their family, and Griffin seemed particularly human when, for example, he shared his weight problem with the audience.

…to be continued…

Merv Griffin, R.I.P. (Part III)



Blonde movie star Doris Day saw Merv Griffin in Las Vegas, and, impressed, arranged a screen test for him at Warner Bros. Merv got a contract and co-starred with Kathryn Grayson in the 1953 film, “So This Is Love.”

Although Griffin’s career as a movie star was short-lived, San Mateans were proud when the film opened at the Baywood Theater. Griffin remembers that “There was a big party at the Villa Chartier. Everybody was having a wonderful time reminiscing about the old days at San Mateo High School.”

Griffin, who had been on an exhausting publicity tour of the United States with co-star Grayson, told me that he was so tired he eventually slipped out the back door of the Villa and went to sleep.

…to be continued…

Merv Griffin, R.I.P. (Part II)


Three years later the nationally known big band leader Freddy Martin came north from the famous Coconut Grove in Los Angeles to play at the St. Francis in San Francisco. Martin was urged to listen to Merv Griffin’s radio show–and he liked what he heard–proposing that the younger singer join the band for a U.S. tour.

Money wasn’t the key factor in tempting Griffin to leave his cushy job at KFRC; it was the opportunity to record with Freddy Martin’s band on the RCA label.

Griffin never forgot what it was like to travel as a band singer on the road.

“I left in June 1948 on a bus tour of the U.S., with the first stop–Eureka,” Griffin recalled, with a smile in his voice. “It was 74 one-nighters, with one day off in Fargo.”

Two years later, the Martin band and Griffin climbed to No. 1 on the Hit Parade with his novelty recording of “I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch of Coconuts,” which sold three million copies. Griffin stayed with the band until the early 1950s, when he struck out on his own with a hot nightclub act in Vegas.

…to be continued…

Merv Griffin, R.I.P. (Part I)


[In 1999 I was doing a story on Merv Griffin and through his agent had made “the connection.” Mr. Griffin was to call me at home– and, just between you and me, when you’re interviewing on the phone, you don’t have the advantage of seeing the person, you don’t know what you’re going to get. The voice could be cold, impatient, condescending. In my case, when the time came, when the phone rang, I was pleasantly surprised by Merv’s voice on the other end, just the nicest guy in the world.]

After beginning as a big band crooner San Mateo’s own Merv Griffin became an early star of late-night television’s talk shows and one of the most successful entertainment entrepreneurs.

Seven years ago Griffin told me, in a telephone interview from his home at La Quinta near Palm Desert: “I have a warm spot in my heart for San Mateo.”

He was born at Mills Hospital in 1925, resided on Humboldt Street and El Dorado Streets in San Mateo, attended San Mateo High School and San Mateo Junior College. He was not the only Griffin who gained notoriety: his father was California’s youngest tennis champion in 1918–and an uncle won honors in tennis doubles.

But it was music that excited Griffin and when he was still a kid he played the organ at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church.

There weren’t many bumps or detours on Griffin’s road to success. He entered talent contests, wrote songs and eventually landed his own radio show on San Francisco’s KFRC in 1945.

…to be continued…