Santa Monica resident, Paul Veglia, turned 88 in May as the father of three adult children, six grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren. That might wear out some people but not Paul. Perhaps it’s because he’s had such an interesting life, full of extraordinary accomplishments, including as an opera singer touring the country with the Metropolitan Opera. Either way, it would take a book to do justice to his rich life. In fact, charming but never shy, he asked if I might do three columns about him. I replied, “I don’t do mini-series.” (But with Paul I’m almost tempted.)
Paul was raised in Santa Barbara County, near Casmalia, a small town that actually became quite famous following the hit 2004 comedy road trip movie “Sideways. ($16 million budget, $117 million gross!) The prime location was “The Hitching Post,” restaurant which Veglia’s immigrant grandparents bought in 1920 for $2200 including the surrounding land. That’s where 10-year-old Paul would peel 15 to 20 pounds of potatoes each morning before school.
Two years later, another daily chore was added, sweeping the porch of a beautiful and often barefoot boarder and movie star wannabe, Elizabeth Short. Tragically, in 1947, fame “found” Short posthumously as the murder victim “Black Dahlia,” perhaps Los Angeles’ most infamous and the subject of numerous movies. Paul’s interactions with Short are documented in former L.A. homicide detective Steve Hodel’s latest book on the Black Dahlia that shockingly proved his surgeon father was the actual murderer.
A natural athlete, in 1950, Paul was the Santa Barbara County Decathlon Champion. Soon, when the Korean War broke out, ten days later Paul enlisted in the Air Force and was shipped to Alaska. As fate would have it, he was given the job of the base “disc jockey,” much like the character Robin Williams played in “Good Morning, Vietnam.” Paul was not only a celebrity on the base but he discovered and developed a remarkable singing voice that would lead to four decades as a highly successful tenor.
So where does house painting come in? Well, for ten years Paul was married to Monika Henreid (daughter of famed actor Paul Henreid) and they had three children. But when their marriage failed the divorce left Paul so depressed the joy of singing seemingly vanished. Again, as if by fate, a wealthy neighbor, knowing Paul’s array of skills from his farm upbringing, asked if he would paint his house.
Reluctantly, Paul took the job but found serenity in painting and was exceptionally proficient. Word spread and other jobs followed. Given his singing fame, soon job offers came from celebrities. For example, Paul painted Greta Garbo’s house and, over a period of years, painted Sidney Poitier’s twice. (Having chatted numerous times on the Promenade with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Paul is determined to one day paint his house!)
That bring us to the Santa Monica Pier, March 4, 1974. Arsonists set fire to the Carousel building just below the apartment of Colleen Creedon, a liberal political activist whose friends included Joan Baez, Cesar Chavez and Daniel Elsberg, to name but a few. Colleen actually saw the two young men who set the fire and placed the 9-1-1 call.
Thankfully, neither Colleen, nor her husband or the family dog, Thurber, were injured. But the damage was so extensive that within days city officials ordered that the Carousel apartments be vacated. (Later Colleen discovered two other female activists were also targets of arson during the same week!) So who was hired to repair and repaint the damage? The talented tenor, Paul Veglia.
Amazingly, Paul continues to take painting jobs but he’s also returned to music. And no wonder. Having worked with entertainment and musical legends like Mary Martin in “South Pacific;” Alfred Drake and Ann Jeffreys in “Kismet” at the Lincoln Center; receiving rave reviews in a concert version of Puccini’s “La Boheme” conducted by the famous Antonio Morelli, personal conductor; and appearing in Vegas nightclub shows like “Funny Girl” with Mimi Hines and “Mame” with Juliet Prowse, “It becomes part of your heart and soul,” Paul says.
Interestingly, among his versatile entertainment talents, Paul’s almost most proud of his creative invention of turning a restaurant into a musical super club as he successfully did at the iconic La Strada in Glendale and the “Rat Pack’s” famous private club, The Factory. In the meantime he also sang at other restaurant venues such as Verdi’s in Santa Monica, where he delighted audience’s with his beautiful voice.
Even at 88, that brings us to Paul’s continuing dream of one day converting what would be his fifth elegant restaurant into a Broadway-like cabaret where the waiters and even the chef, surprise diners by singing as they prepare and serve the meals. (And if by chance that restaurant needed potatoes peeled, Paul would gladly do that, too.)
Ever energetic, Paul Veglia is available for painting jobs AND singing at weddings, anniversaries birthdays and Bar Mitzvahs. Call (424-387-9148.) After he naps, not so ever energetic, Jack is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.