CHARACTERS 

Santa Monica’s full of them. If you get out and talk to people, your neighbors, you discover more all the time.

Many more, I suspect, than in most burgs our size. I grew up in Albuquerque, which also hovered just under 100,000, then. It hit a third of a million by the time I bailed in 1980 and is now double that. No problem, with endless acres of empty mesa. Still a low-rise city except for a small downtown, it always felt like a small town and still does (not necessarily in a good way).

Santa Monica’s the opposite, still smallish in population, but cosmopolitan. Because of its 8.4 square mile border there are natural limitations on its growth, but those borders also mean it retains a sense of community, as a place apart from behemoth next door neighbor L.A. It has its own long, colorful history, as a respite and refuge sought out by many who have already been there and done that and now just want some sun and sea. Residents and visitors alike.

I hate to keep raggin’ on the Duke City, it’s a great town to be from (ahem), but the truth is most of the really interesting people I knew there came from somewhere else. Whereas I could spend every column for the next year singling out characters I know here and telling their stories. But, gol durn it, timely stuff keeps getting in the way. Political stuff, cultural stuff. Basketball. Spinal Tap. Jack Neworth’s annoying phone calls. But I’ll keep trotting those characters out. Stay tuned.

Sometimes those characters are a side of someone you thought you knew. Did you know one of our ex-mayors used to have a beard down to his belly and hair even longer and hung out with the Firesign Theater while running a hipper-than-anything FM radio station, and a similar description (but with less hair) could be made of our most respected political columnist, who helped change the face of L.A. radio? In their youths. But while both have clashed fiercely and often for years over local politics, I got them to sit together peacefully in my backyard and for more than an hour they swapped stories, with passion, about music and radio, ending with a handshake and big smiles. Stay tuned.

MOST AMAZING PERSON

But there’s one local character I have intentionally never before trotted out, even though she is the most amazing person I have ever met. That’s because, for a number of reasons, I try not to bring family into my columns.

But on the momentous occasion of her 60th birthday this past Friday, I have to acknowledge my wife Dian, known in show biz as Diane Michelle.

I will not try to present her in any kind of entirety because this column ain’t long enough, and words would surely fail me. But here’s just a slice.

She’s third generation San Pedro. Her grandmother grew up in Santa Monica, also her great grandfather, buried at Woodlawn. Funny coincidence: her parish priest as a kid at Holy Trinity in Pedro was Fr. Lloyd Torgerson, who lo and behold also moved north and has been leading St. Monica’s here for the past 30 years, about as long as we’ve lived in Ocean Park.

She’s a singer and voice over actor, the voice of Daisy Duck for nearly three decades, and on the Simpsons for nearly that long. Check IMDB for all her credits (as Diane Michelle) in movies, TV, cartoons, commercials, computer games, etc. She’s been signed to continuing contracts for 25 years to a top agency here, no mean feat in a fickle show biz world always looking for the new best thing.

BEST HOLLYWOOD DEAL EVER

I proposed to her at a solo show she did at Hollywood’s famous Vine Street Bar & Grill in 1985, in front of a packed house. I joke that it’s the only time I’ve ever seen her speechless. That was also the launch of The Goils, her Andrews Sisters-style singing trio. (I think she only married me so she could officially be an Andrews.)

They made four very successful tours of Japan and spent five years as the house band on the Queen Mary, probably the best-paid club act in L.A. at the time. They performed for the spectacular opening of New York, New York in Vegas, then were asked back as regulars there for more than a year. Diane was also featured as lead vocalist for the Rhythm Kings big band, in the first show ever in our famous Pier concerts series.

But that’s not the important stuff. My son who she raised as her own starting with the teenage years (tough gig, even though he’s a sweetheart). Our daughter who also turned out fantastic (if I do say so), graduating this June from UCLA in ethnomusicology, exposed to great live music since in utero and singing with her mother since before she could walk. Her fantastic family and friends, who paid her loving tribute by showing up at her recent birthday gala, nearly 70 of them and EVERYONE in costume, coming from CT, TN, TX, NM and a whole passel from northern CA.

Especially thrilled to see her hit 60 because 13 years ago, when she courageously survived cancer through tortuous chemotherapy (still doing auditions and jobs, in a wig), no one could be certain this day would come. Living with that can take over your brain and soul, but she has celebrated each day joyously, even more than she always did. Dian has always been the kind who lights up a room and puts herself out there, and has provided so much good feeling through her singing, from small parties to the Hollywood Bowl, that you can’t possibly estimate how many people she has touched.

She was the one who insisted we make our year-long camping trek across Europe and

North Africa in 2011, reprising one I did in ’72 – “I want in on that,” she insisted. It was unlikely, it seemed impossible at times that we could make it happen, but we did, and were rewarded with unmatchable lifetime memories for the three of us. She’s a miracle worker, that Dian.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Happy Birthday, Dian – I love you.” – Charles Andrews

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 30 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com.