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We never lit candles, we never said prayers, we just argued with each other. The uncles all argued with each other. Some of them were Democrats, and some of them were Republicans. So they would argue together. So I never really had any religious instruction at all. Well, what they had done, before my time, was they'd formed parallel clubs. They had their country club and their golf course, and everything was exactly parallel to the gentile things.
I've inherited this business. I think there's a considerable streak of anti-Semitism in me, which is absurd for an anthropologist. I mean intellectually, of course. But I never, I didn't choose Jewish friends, and of course I didn't marry a Jew either, so it was a real crash course in assimilation. Some of them were. And I had a couple of friends who were bright, but they weren't close friends, but we were good friends. But not all of them--I think the brightest kid in our class was called Cooper.
And I didn't go out with Jewish girls either. These friends of mine, one of them is still a close friend, and I was his best man at his wedding. About three weeks ago I went down to L. So he's the only one that's left of that crew. Two of them committed suicide and one died. There were five of them.
We lived up in the Hollywood Hills in a biggish house. We had a couple of servants. We didn't have a chauffeur-driven car--we had two Buicks. Summers I would spend often with my father. Meanwhile, and this is of some interest I think, my father much later remarried, and he married another Baltimorean called Ellen Frank, who just died. She came from an extremely interesting family. Her mother was Rose Ellen Hecht, and she was related to the Hechts and the Gerstles here, and the Zellerbachs, and the Fleishhackers, all of those people.
Also, she had been married twice. Gertrude was very close to Rose Ellen and particularly close to her son Julian, who is still alive and a good friend of mine. He's five years older than I am and we see each other usually at least once or twice a year, either in Paris or London or here or somewhere.
A Social Anthropologist in Britain and Berkeley
Gertrude used to come over and visit them, and when I went to Paris--this was a later thing when I went to Gertrude's apartment, and Gertrude had died, but Alice was still there. Shall I tell you now about it? Or do you want to wait? Something to look forward to. Anyway, it was pretty interesting. I became very close to that family, and in the summers the Steins had a camp, a summer camp in Rangeley, Maine. They had that place since around , and the families always went up there.
It became a huge encampment, in which they each built a house. I would go up there in the summer. We just had a splendid time. Or sometimes my father would take us on a trip. We went to Nova Scotia once. We went to a ranch in Colorado. I would spend the summer with them, and I really loved my stepmother. You mean had they mapped out a career for me? I was allowed to do pretty nearly whatever interested me, and of course I had millions of hobbies and collected like crazy. And I had huge electric train sets. When I took chemistry, I made my own chemistry lab.
I was always crazy about animals, and even in New York I had aquariums with salamanders--in Greenwich Village you can't have much other than salamanders. So when we moved to Hollywood, it seemed to me I could have some animals. It was difficult to have animals--we always had a dog, of course, or two--so I started having birds. I saw all these marvelous exotic birds which you could get in those days, and which I had not seen before. Mostly Australian birds, which are pretty colorful. So I started out with little finches, and eventually I ended up with birds. I had some aviaries in which they would fly together, but I wanted to breed them, so a lot of them were separated.
I don't know, I must have had fifteen, sixteen aviaries, I would think. Not as successful as I would be now, because I didn't know as much. Well, this is turning out to be quite--I don't know when we'll ever get to anthropology! I think you're right. They are by far the most interesting. Certainly in the biographies I read, they're the most interesting. A friend of mine has just sent me a book that he wrote on George Perkins Marsh, who was a pioneer in conservation and involved with the Smithsonian--well, you're right, after Marsh's thirtieth birthday he was getting much duller.
Anyhow, do you want to go back to the birds? I'm interested in who was your mentor for the birds. Or whether you just did it from books. I did it from books. As I look back on it, my mother and stepfather were very busy entertaining and getting into this whole Hollywood business, and that's why they'd sent me to the boarding school. When I came back, they really basically didn't want to be bothered with me very much because they had all these other things.
I mean, they were always very nice to me and everything. I didn't suffer in any way, I assure you. When I got this hobby of birds--I started out with a couple of birds in a cage of course, and then I wanted to breed them, and there were a lot of bird farms in Southern California, where there are a lot of breeders. And then I found out that there's something called the Avicultural Society, so I joined the Avicultural Society, and then I began to read all about them, and then I got some more birds.
We had a couple working for us then, who were African Americans. The man I guess was part Mexican, Brian Howard, and he was really nice and I liked him very much, and he got interested in what I was doing, so we would go out on expeditions to get these birds. I still wasn't old enough to drive, so we'd go out and bring them home and put them in the aviary. And he helped me build the aviaries. They were all exotic.
In fact, you were not allowed to keep native birds. I did, I think, have some California quail. And I guess I had a magpie once, too. I had a few mammals, a fox and a monkey and so on, but they were not great successes. I had chipmunks and ground squirrels and that kind of animal. But mostly I just concentrated--I got more and more interested in the birds. At one point I had--this is really a terrible story!
What happened was that I thought that I should have my own pet shop. My parents went off somewhere, I guess to Europe or Mexico or someplace, and they left me alone with these two servants in their house. I thought I would like to have this pet shop, so Brian and I went down and we found--now this was in the thirties so everybody was suffering.
I wasn't suffering, but everybody was suffering. So I went down--do you know Los Angeles? Of course I was under age, but Brian was there saying, "Oh, yes, it's all right if he wants to do that he can do that. And then I had to go and buy all the supplies for it--I had to buy bird seed and the little cages and cuttle bones and all this. We found the Mercantile Supply Company down in L. We had to have goldfish, so we had to have a tank with goldfish. No, it didn't occur to me, never. Anyhow, so then Brian and Woody, his wife Woody, said to me, "You know, you've got to go to school"--this was in the summer--"Who's going to look after the pet store?
She can live in our guest room. We went down to Long Beach and we found this woman, and she seemed to be a nice woman. She came up, and I showed her the guest room, and she said, "Oh, that's very nice. When my parents came home they found a strange woman in the guest room. They found just stacks of bills! At any rate, so there it all was. Of course the woman was packed out of there pretty quickly, but what to do about the store, which was full of all this stuff? My parents said, "Look, you've got to get rid of that pet store.
You can't have a strange person living in the house. But at any rate all of the stuff was taken and moved to the house of the cook that we had, Clara, to her house in Watts. She had a big back yard. We built aviaries in the big back yard in Watts, and she had all these birds and all these goldfish and all this stuff in her house for a long time--until I realized that she was gradually selling it all off. You can have aviaries in the back yard, just don't do anything like that again.
I built some of them, along with Brian. We built them together. I hammered away, but he did most of it. And then at one point finally, when it was getting to be a fairly big thing, my parents for my birthday or something had this bank of aviaries built. I was pretty indulged, as you're gathering, I think.
I think so, because I tried to find out everything I could about them. I had this avicultural magazine, and my hero was the Marquis of Tavistock who was a great aviculturist in England, and he--Marquis of Tavistock is the second title of the Duke of Bedford, so he became Duke of Bedford eventually--he wrote and he started collecting birds. And there are some now in the Bronx Zoo and in zoos all over the world.
He wrote a book on parrots, so I was crazy to get that book, and he wrote articles for the aviculture magazine. The Avicultural Society in California would have meetings every month where you'd visit somebody's house, where they had the aviaries, and then somebody would give a talk and we'd have refreshments and so on.
Brian would drive me to these meetings. So I went to all those meetings, and I learned a lot about it. I learned that the proper way to house birds is not in a cage that goes vertically but in a cage that goes horizontally because birds don't fly like helicopters. You learn a lot of things like that, so yes, I was pretty knowledgeable about it, and I read a lot. I remember reading William Beebe's pheasants book. They're obviously beautiful to look at, but also, of course, the fact that they fly is so extraordinary.
And the more you learn about why and how they fly, the more amazing it is. These terribly light--an eagle, for example, which has a wingspan of six or seven feet only weighs about eight pounds. Of course, birds' bones are hollow and they have no water in their bodies except for their bladder, which is why it makes such a mess on your car--because there is no distinction in their intestinal tract.
I was pretty solitary as I grew up. I got friends when I was in high school. As a small child, I certainly played a lot by myself, mostly with little animals. I had hundreds of little animals. I know that when my mother and stepfather were married, my stepfather--at least so my mother said--didn't want any children.
In fact, it's a curious thing, neither he nor his brother, nor his sister had any children. But he didn't want any children. And I think my mother must have not been happy with my father. I don't think they were very sexually compatible--my mother has more or less indicated that. And when my father married my stepmother, he didn't want any more children either. Of course, I didn't want any of them to have any more children! I didn't mind that at all. It's never worried me that I was an only child. And I was horribly spoiled by many other women in my family.
It was really quite disgusting when you stop and look at it--well, I don't really think it was disgusting, I think it was great. I remember after the divorce, and I was living with my grandmother, my grandmother sent me and her chauffeur--because I wanted to go to Schwarz's toy store in New York, she sent me and Julius, the chauffeur, a German who had worked for my grandparents since he was a boy, and we went to Schwarz's, and I just bought lots of toys, and I got away with it.
That ability to accrue things--I wonder whether eventually that becomes an interest in material culture. I think so, because I always had some idea from the time I was quite young that if you collected things that you had some responsibility towards them. That is, that you had to find out about them, and you had to do something with them. It wouldn't do to just take them and stash them away somewhere, and that was not something that appealed to me at all, hoarding. I wasn't interested in having a lot of stuff and hiding it away.
From the time I was small, I always had bookcases full of all my things, and I would try to arrange them, and when I had lot of little toy animals, I would try to arrange them on the shelves in natural habitats with little trees around and so on. I'd have Africa or India, and I'd put a little label on it.
That was an interest in displaying the objects, it wasn't an interest in how people used objects which is something that came much later. How people used objects, which is much more anthropological, became an important aspect of my collecting and my work in the museum. In Los Angeles, museums were kind of thin on the ground in the thirties.
I used to go down to the county museum, which at that point was down on Exposition Boulevard near USC. I got the dinosaur bug very early, before anybody else--well, I don't say before anybody else, but it wasn't a big thing, you couldn't get toy dinosaurs when I was little. So what I did was I got books about dinosaurs and about early mammals, and then I always liked to model in clay and so I made--I was sick at one point and so I had to stay home. I had a fall off a horse.
It's not very interesting really. Anyhow, in England you never "fall off a horse," you're always "thrown. So while I was at home I made clay models of all the prehistoric animals that I could and arranged them in a chronological sequence on big boards on the floor. They were all labeled the Jurassic Age, the Triassic, etc. I must have made a hundred of them. That was very hard to get to. You had to drive in the middle of Los Angeles--that was a horrible place to get to, still a horrible place to get to if you're down there.
There weren't any museums in Hollywood where I lived. I don't remember any museums in the Wilshire area where they are now. Before we moved to Hollywood, of course, we lived in Greenwich Village in New York and that was a different proposition. I used to go on the subway up to the American Museum of Natural History. There is a subway stop right under the museum. I was allowed to go up there on my own and look at the exhibits.
I did that quite a bit, and I was very interested in it. And this wonderful school that I was telling you about, one of the things that they did when we studied Egypt--and this was at the ages of ten and eleven, mind you--the teacher said, "Would you like to learn hieroglyphics. My mother was very supportive. Any book I wanted, she bought for me, so I had a lot of books. I don't think I used the library very much. I obviously used the school libraries when I was there, but not very much. I didn't do that very much at that period in my life. If you had wanted a book about birds, your mother would have seen to it that it was ordered.
She went to Smith when she was sixteen, and she stayed for two years, I think, and then she and my father were married. My father went to the University of Pennsylvania, but he didn't graduate either, because his father insisted that he come into the business. You said there was no pressures on you from your family to be anything or do anything? But you assumed that you would go to Harvard? True, there were no pressures on me to do anything or be anything. There was no business for me to inherit, which is of course what most of my family had done for several generations.
I wasn't going to inherit a Hollywood studio, that's for sure. It was always of course assumed that I would go to college, but there was no pressure for me to go to Harvard or any place else. Going to Harvard--it was really Julian Stein, my stepuncle, or my stepmother's half brother if you really want to get technical about it, he's five years older than I, and he went to Park School, the school that my grandfather had founded, as I did--of course he was ahead of me.
And he loved my father. He thought my father was just great. Julian's a very funny man, he really is. In the first place, he's full of energy, and in the second place, he's full of jokes, and I don't mean jokes that you get out of the joke book, he's just naturally amusing. He went to Harvard and he's never gotten over it, still at the age of eighty. Anyhow, he kept saying, "You've got to go to Harvard. You just absolutely have to go to Harvard. That's where you have to go. But maybe we should save that for next time.
When I went to Harvard, this was the fall of Of course it was a fairly turbulent period because of the impending war. War was already going on in Europe, of course. At any rate, I went to Harvard with the idea of studying ornithology, which won't surprise you. When I got there as a freshman, it was all quite bewildering and very different from high school, of course, and I think what happened to me was what happens to many people who go up to a first class college, and that is you were a fairly big frog in your high school and you turn out to be a little tadpole when you get to college.
Anyhow, they assigned me an advisor, and the advisor was Ludlow Griscom. Now Ludlow Griscom was a leading ornithologist, and he was in the museum--then it was the Museum of Comparative Zoology--and so I went to see him. He was a sort of grizzled, big guy. And he said to me, "Do you know German?
But I couldn't learn German. I simply could not do it. I just simply could not do it. I tried to memorize it, and I tried to do everything I could. It was like a real revulsion inside of me. So that was really frustrating. Also Griscom was, as you gather, a fairly formidable character, so I didn't want to go back and say, "You know, Dr. Griscom, I tried, but I really can't learn German. So I didn't do it. Of course, I was just a freshman. I had also made the mistake in my arrogance of signing up for five courses, which you could do, instead of four which was normal, because I was such a hot shot in high school.
And of course, that turned out to be much too much for me. I didn't have the background. Plus the fact that there weren't very many people from the West Coast at Harvard at that time. Most of the people were from the East Coast, generally from the Boston area and they'd all gone to Boston Latin or some place.
Plus there were an awful lot of prep school people from Exeter and Andover, and so on. And they all knew each other and were very sort of clubby and so I was kind of an oddball out there. Of course there were other people who had been to public school there, but there were an awful lot of people who came from private schools. Well, it was a house. The first year at Harvard you live in the Yard, which is the oldest part of Harvard. I lived in something called Thayer Hall, a very old building, and I had a very nice room.
In those days, they still had the idea that Harvard students were gentlemen, and so you had maid service, and you were served in the dining room, and so on. None of that exists any more, but that's the way it was. I didn't have a roommate. I was one of the few people that had a room on my own. I wanted a room on my own, which I think now was probably a mistake. But there were only about six rooms to a floor, and so I got to know, of course, all the other people on my floor.
Two of them turned into lifelong friends. Of the two, one just died, and the other I still see. He's now a professor of law at the University of Washington. So that was all right. I wasn't a poor, lonely thing that nobody spoke to or anything like that. Harvard's funny in that way.
And the clubs, they're very, very exclusive, those clubs, and I don't think--many of them had Jewish members, but it didn't much matter, because they were so exclusive that hardly anybody belonged to them. Hasty Pudding was a little different, because it was kind of a catch-all club. I could have joined Hasty Pudding. These others had their little clubhouses, and it was the kind of thing if your father belonged, you belonged.
It was that kind of business. So I never felt deprived. In fact, I don't think anybody on my floor belonged to any of those clubs. I think I would have had to do zoology or something like that. Ornithology was sort of a branch of zoology. I don't think you could have just done ornithology. Maybe biological sciences or something. But of course, I never got that far. And at Harvard you don't major, you "concentrate. And I decided that anthropology sounded kind of an interesting thing to do, I thought I would enroll in an anthropology course.
So I did, and it was a very interesting course. You did a little bit of physical anthropology, a little bit of archaeology, a little bit of social or cultural anthropology. I took that and I quite enjoyed that. But several other things happened to me while I was at Harvard as a freshman, and I'm afraid this will be somewhat anecdotal, but they are important, I think. One of them is a kind of ridiculous story, and I think you may want to cut it out, but it is amusing, so I'll tell you.
They have every year, sort of a get-together dance for the freshmen. The freshmen organize this dance, and it's in Memorial Hall which is this gigantic Victorian thing that was built to commemorate the Civil War and it's a huge, gloomy building. It's enormous and what they do is they have all the freshmen come, and then they bring in freshmen from Radcliffe and Wellesley and Simmons and all the girls' colleges. I don't think they used that word, but that's exactly what it was. So they had a dance committee that got together, and somebody put me on the dance committee.
I was considered somewhat exotic coming from the West Coast, and especially coming from Hollywood, so these people on this dance committee said, "Look, we've got to do something to publicize the dance. Can you do something? Have you got any ideas? I'll ask my stepfather. So, there was a young woman called Maria Montez, who was at that time not a star yet, and it was all arranged that this Maria Montez would come. Well, of course, the studio wanted to get maximum publicity for that and what had happened--the background of this was that a year or two before the [Harvard] Lampoon had voted Ann Sheridan as the worst actress in Hollywood.
This had gotten enormous publicity, which shows you something about the times. Well, to make the long story short, when Maria Montez came, I met her at the train with flowers and everything. And of course there was all kinds of publicity and photographers and so on. And we went out to Harvard, and you can imagine all the students loved this. There was lots of attention and everything. Finally the administration called me and said, "Look, we want you to stop this. The night of the dance I was supposed to go in and get Maria from the Copley Plaza where she was staying and drive her out.
And a friend of mine loaned me his convertible to drive her out to the dance. Well, when I went to pick her up, she came out of the hotel in a white lace dress with nothing underneath it. Even at that point I said, "No, no, you can't go to Harvard looking like that. You have to go back and put on something else. So we got into the car, and we drove out to Harvard. Meanwhile the administration--because the publicity hadn't stopped, it had got worse if anything--the administration was really pretty angry at all of this and wanted to stop it. What they had done was that they had driven away all the newspaper people off Harvard property, so there were no newspaper people in the front of Memorial Hall, no photographers and everything, and Maria said, "Go around again--why aren't they here!
Finally we had to go into the hall, and it was full of freshmen, and all these chaperons, these sort of gray-haired ladies all around the edge of the dance floor, sitting in chairs and looking very disapproving. Meanwhile the administration had got hold of [James Bryant] Conant, who was of course the president of Harvard. And Conant had called the head of the studio and said, "You know, we don't want this. You'll have to stop it. The head of the studio had looked to see who was the press agent that was in charge of this--it was some poor little Irishman named Murphy--and had called this guy to whom his name was simply something in the stratosphere and said, "You either fix this up or you're fired.
And he began to think, "Why am I in this mess? I'm in this mess because of Burton Benedict. Where is the son of a bitch? He came out looking for me, and I was involved in something else that was even worse with Maria Montez, but never mind about that. At any rate, he was drunk, and he started making a fuss, and he got to Maria who was in the dance hall, and he told her what was going on.
Well, she walked into the middle of the dance floor and she threw out her hands and screamed at the top of her voice--she had a fake Latin accent--and she said, "What they think I am? They think I'm whore? They think I'm prostitute! As I say, I was up--they were taking pictures of me in the Yard--so I came into the dance hall when all this was going on, and I ran up to Montez and I said, "Come on we have to leave. And she said things like, "Don't you worry, baby! I sue them for two million dollars--one million for you, one million for me.
We started to go into Boston, and the newspaper people, who were of course outside of Harvard property, realized something was going on and there was this sort of car chase, and I got to the Copley Plaza, and I pushed her into the elevator. And we went up to her room, and I pushed her into her room, and I shut the door. And the newspapermen were banging on the door, and the phone was ringing, and I was in a panic. Finally Murphy sobered up enough to come back and take charge, and I slunk back to Harvard.
The next day there was a note under my door saying, "Please report to the dean. You're just a stupid, ignorant freshman and we should expel you, but we won't if you can fix it so that there's no more publicity. But if there is more publicity, we'll not only expel you, but we'll expel all the people on the dance committee. I called my stepfather, and I said, "This has to stop. It was really a kind of shattering experience. But, it of course meant that I acquired a reputation--you can imagine the kind of reputation I had--the students all thought it was great, of course, they loved it.
- Liberando Bendiciones Familiares: El plan de Dios para su matrimonio y sus hijos (Spanish Edition).
- The Rise and Fall of Stevieland ~ Book One?
Something exotic, and it was fine as far as the students were concerned. They weren't at all shocked by all this.
Of course, it didn't help my studies either. All right, that's one thing that happened. The second thing that happened is a little more serious because there was, as you can imagine, a lot of political activity going on. The Young Communists were very active. There was a socialist club and there was a liberal club, and I joined the liberal club.
A lot of them were for--it was the argument between the isolationists and the America-firsters and all those people who wanted to keep us out of the war, and the interventionists who said we have to get into it. Then it wasn't very long after that before December 7th arrived--everybody remembers what he was doing on December 7th, but I wasn't doing anything very important, so never mind. However, what I wanted to do then was to help the war effort.
And at that time they were selling, I guess they were called Defense Bonds. You could get a little stamp book, and you could stick these stamps in--they were, I think, twenty-five cents each. Don't forget, this was when twenty-five cents was money. And then after you filled your book you could turn it in and get a war bond for it.
They were called Defense Bonds until we got into the war and then they changed to War Bonds. So I started doing this. I wasn't the only one and these people in this liberal club, we were doing it. I would go around and knock on students' doors and say, "Wouldn't you like to buy some of these stamps? And get one of these books, and so on. However, after I'd been doing this for a while I got another slip saying, "Please report to the dean's office. So that was a fairly turbulent year.
There were some Japanese in my high school, but I didn't--I knew about the deportation into the camps and everything, it was in the papers and all, but I never knew anybody who was deported or anything. In Germany--[long pause] I remember my stepfather talking about it, and my--it wasn't about the German ones--my aunt, my mother's sister took some Jewish English kids. You know, they were evacuating children from London, and, of course, Britain was all alone at that point, and that was really the lowest point.
France had fallen, Dunkirk had happened, that was a disaster. I think she took two of these kids and took them into her house in Baltimore, and I remember my stepfather and his friends, sort of kittied up some money to bring over a German child from Germany. You had to guarantee that he wouldn't become a charge on the government. They did that, but apart from that, I don't remember that there was a lot of discussion about it at home.
We were all pretty horrified at it. We didn't know about the camps. Really that wasn't--I wasn't at all ashamed of it or anything like that. I thought I did the right thing, and a lot of other people thought they were doing it too. At any rate, I didn't do very well that first year. My grades were terrible. I got three C's, a D, and an F in German, which was just about the minimum you could get and stay there. But I left--then of course we didn't know what was happening, the draft was now in full force, and of course I was 1-A.
I went back to Hollywood and decided I wasn't going to return to Harvard. So, meanwhile, of course my father, my real father, was very much involved in all this because he was in Washington. He talked about it a lot--when I saw him. I didn't see him that much, but he came up to see me in Cambridge once or twice. As a war to get into, and of course, the Roosevelt administration was pretty committed to getting into it, and he was very committed to it, and he was an admirer of Roosevelt, and he'd been asked to the White House and all that, so he was really quite involved.
And my stepfather, who was basically all involved in movies--that's what he was doing. So he was--they started making war films, so called, little features about life in the camps--life in the army. Anyway as I say, I went back to Hollywood, so there I was with my high school friends out there. And so we sat around and talked about it a lot, and we all knew we were going to be drafted. So my closest friend, who is the one I still see, the one that's left besides me, he and I decided that the best thing to do was to volunteer--not to wait to get drafted, but to volunteer in the air force.
And the reason for that is in the first place it's better to go in the air force than the infantry, which we would have probably been put into if we had waited to be drafted. We didn't want to go in the infantry. And in the second place, since there were so many people volunteering for the air force, there was a long, long delay before they called you up.
So we both volunteered, I guess in what was then known as the U. Army Air Force, because it wasn't a separate branch at that point. And then we had several months to wait, and during those months I enrolled in Extension, I guess it was, at UCLA and took courses there. I took a course in sociology, and I took a course--I knew I would have to be taking a mathematics test when I was called up, and I wasn't very good in mathematics, so I took a course in algebra.
I had a brilliant teacher. I can't remember what his name was, but he made me understand it. I took sociology, and that course, and I think something else. I can't remember what the other one was. It was some months before we were called up, and we were both called up at the same time, the same day. We stood in parallel lines instead of one behind the other. Well, that was a mistake because his line went to one camp and my line went to another camp, so we were separated. So our whole air force careers were entirely different because of standing in the wrong line.
I was sent to a camp in Denver for basic training, and then we were to get some education, so they sent me to the Southwest Missouri State College in Springfield, Missouri. Now, I'm just trying to pick out the things that might have some bearing on my subsequent career, not just all the trouble I got into. One of the people in the same camp that I was in--we were in this college and our dormitory was the gym, we'd sleep in the gym, and we used to have to scrub the gym floor.
It was a terrible mistake because it was a hardwood floor basketball court, and of course after we finished scouring and scrubbing it, it warped! But one of the other people there was an actor from Hollywood called Rand Brooks. Did you ever see Gone With the Wind? He was Scarlett's first husband. Rand Brooks, a real typical Hollywood actor type, very much a public personality, handsome, so on. He said, "Look, here we have to do all this drilling and everything.
Instead of that, why don't we go to the camp commander and say we'll put on a show for the troops? Go ahead and do it. So Rand and I wrote this revue, which was as bad as you might expect, and we put on this show, which of course they all liked. I mean they didn't have anything else to do except go to the movies and drill and go to classes.
Later on, funnily enough, Rand went to the same places that I did. He followed on the same track that I was, so I saw him through the war pretty much. So after that time in Missouri we were sent to Texas, to something called the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center, which was this gigantic place where they were training people to fly. I didn't think I would be very good as a pilot, I thought I would be better as a navigator. Usually the crews were--the three officers were a pilot, a navigator, and a bombardier.
And then there were the gunners and so on who were enlisted men. The training had started in Southwest Missouri, because we got some training flying. We were flying Piper Cubs and Porterfields, little airplanes, and we were taught how to do it. I was very bad at it, I was frightened, and it became clear to me that I would never be a pilot. That's why I decided to go for navigator. The instructor would do things like put the airplane in a spin and say, "So now what do you do? They kept testing you, physically, and mentally with various IQ type tests. I did all right on most of those, but they discovered that I had some kind of astigmatism.
And so they said, you know we're not sure that you're going to be able to fly at all, so they gave me a whole lot of tests and they kept me up all night and all that kind of thing to see what would happen. And they did things with your nerves. I had the most--well, I won't go into that--it's too many tangents.
At any rate, to make that long story short, which I don't seem to be very good at doing, they washed me out. Now the people that got washed out they didn't know what to do with, and there were an awful lot of them, and they were still at SAACC. Then the air force, which of course was expanding like crazy, they didn't know what to do either. I mean it was real chaos, it really was. Huge numbers of soldiers, really a big logistical problem there.
So what they had us doing, for instance, was picking rocks up out of a field and putting them into a bucket, and then you dump the bucket out and put the rocks back in again--it was not a very morale-building activity. Most of those people, of course, became air crew people, and many of them became gunners. Now the mortality rate for gunners was extremely high, especially tail gunners. So there I was in this situation. One day, the officer in charge said, "We're looking for volunteers to go into the altitude training unit. I went over to the altitude training center, and I was accepted into it, and what that was is that they had an idea in those days that certain people were physiologically predisposed to get the bends at high altitude.
Do you know what the bends are? It's the same thing. So they had these big chambers, and they would take the air crews, and they'd put them in a tank almost as long as this room and about as wide as from where I'm sitting to the windows, and then they would suck the air out of the chamber.
You had an oxygen mask. And if you got the bends they washed you out. Now, if you get the bends once it doesn't mean you'll ever get it again, and there's no such thing as natural immunity to the bends. What the bends is is like a bottle of Coca Cola. When you open up a bottle of Coca Cola, it [making a sound of Coke foaming out of the bottle]. So if there are little bubbles of nitrogen, they collect in your joints, and when you go up and the pressure goes way down, of course those bubbles expand and that hurts like crazy, and if it happens in your brain, it kills you.
But, it really depends on how much nitrogen is in there. And that depends on things like what you've been eating, and what you've been doing, and so on. It doesn't have anything to do with being acclimated. Well, I had to go in there with these people, because if they collapsed, I had to take them out of the pressure chamber and there was a lock. To go in with them. That was one part of it. The other part of it was to train people to use oxygen.
Now that sounds easy, but it's a very difficult thing to do because when you become anoxic it feels good because it's like drinking. It's the same physiological process. The alcohol combines with the oxygen in your blood and you feel lightheaded, and you feel great. So if you're not getting enough oxygen, you feel more confident and happier!
Now these people who were flying fighter planes are up there all by themselves, so they have to make the judgment and they're not in a good condition to make that judgment. So what we had to do was basically to frighten them to show them that. So we would put them in this chamber, we'd take out the air, which meant that we were simulating the altitude--and we had altimeters in there to show that--and then I'd cut the oxygen off of one and the rest of them could see what happened to this guy.
Sometimes they'd sing or laugh or something like that, and then they'd collapse, and of course we'd quickly give them the oxygen back. Never lost anybody, but And what had happened--and I do have to tell you this because it's very interesting in itself--one of the reasons that we nearly lost the war in North Africa was that the Germans had a much, much more efficient oxygen mask than we did.
We had oxygen masks that were left over, really, from the First World War. They consisted of something that went over your face and a bag underneath and two little sponges here. And when you went up to very high altitudes, those sponges and the inhalation tube froze because, of course, they were moist from your exhalation, and that cut off your oxygen supply. The Germans had a mask which didn't have any of that.
It just fitted over the face like this [demonstrating]. And it was regulated by a regulator and not by anything in the mask itself, so they were always getting the right amount of oxygen. And the Germans learned about this difference, so what would happen--it was a real mystery to the Allies because their best fighter pilots were getting killed in what looked like stupid maneuvers up in the sky.
And what the Germans would do is that they'd get into a dogfight with one of the Allied planes--and they'd go [whistles] straight up, we'd follow, and then, you know we'd get goofy, and then the Germans would turn around and shoot you down. Nobody could understand it for a long time. So we had to really show them how important that was to do. The officers in charge of that unit were mostly Ph. It was a very good unit to be in because they didn't go in for all that army rubbish--it was a wonderful thing to be in.
I was in it during the whole war. The fact is that although it makes a terrible noise, and it's very frightening, nothing happens to you, except you have to use an oxygen mask. Your guts don't spill out and through your nose or anything like that. What we used to do then was--and the army has such a nice subtle way of doing things--we'd have a pressure chamber divided into two, and one would be at a simulated altitude of say 38, feet, and the other would be at an altitude of 5, feet, which is what a pressurized cabin is and there would be a heavy paper partition between the two, and we'd take them up in there, and then I'd go over and kick a hole in this, and it would make the most godawful noise!
So I had to do that. Also at the end I had to train pilots how to see things when it's very, very dark. How to see where you are when you can't really see very well. And the way you do that is you don't look directly at it. You know yourself that when you, say, are looking at the sky, that you might see a flash of a star from the corner of your eye, and you turn around to look at it, and you can't see it because of the way the cells are arranged in your eye. The cells in the middle of your eye see color and very sharp definition.
The cells around it see black and white and movement very well. So you have to--you can train yourself. We used to have little models, and you were supposed to say how many crossbars were on the telephone pole, that kind of thing. I stayed in San Antonio for a couple of years, I guess, a little more than that, and there were several things that happened to me in San Antonio which helped.
One of them was that I had a cousin, my father's first cousin, who was a colonel in the air force. I guess he ended up being a general in the air force. He was stationed in San Antonio. He'd been an early flier. He had flown the U. And he was very nice to me. He used to invite me out to dinner, which was a pretty big deal, because of course I was just an enlisted man. I eventually got to be a sergeant, but I was just an enlisted man and here I was mingling with these high-ranking officers. Then we sort of gravitated--there were a couple of other people, there was a pianist, and there were some people who had had some education from other units, and we all get together.
And there were a couple of warrant officers who were really very amusing, and they managed to hire a house in San Antonio, and we used to go out there and have parties and play music. So it was not exactly what you'd call a tough war. But at any rate, what I guess I'm saying is I was able to keep up a certain amount of intellectual interest during all that time and able to read and so on. No, I was not. I was simply saying, "Am I going to survive this war?
We'd all been together for quite a while, this whole group. It wasn't a big unit, I suppose there were maybe fifty people in it altogether and so it was sort of luck of the draw, you didn't know what [would] happen. But the commanding officer called me one day, and he said I'm reserving you, you're not going to be drafted because you know how to work this machine for the night vision. It was always breaking down, and I knew how to fix it, and the reason I knew how to fix it was that it worked just like the electric trains I'd had when I was a kid.
I think I mentioned to you last time I had fifteen engines and fifty cars in a huge layout in the basement in our house in Hollywood, so I knew how to wire these things up. When you were there, was there any gossip about work on the bomb? Did you hear about that? Because after Texas--as I said, most of the time I was in Texas, and then sort of towards the end they decided to close that unit in Texas, that they didn't want to train people there any more.
And so the whole unit broke up and we got sent to different air bases. And I was sent to Albuquerque. When I got to Albuquerque, to Kirtland Field, where they were doing B training--that's when they had that business that I just told you about, that business about kicking holes--when I had leave, when I'd get off the post, I would go up to Santa Fe. I had a Ford and I would go up to Santa Fe. Well, I became absolutely fascinated with the Pueblo Indians. And I went and visited all the pueblos. See that big one over there with the bird on it?
I purchased that from the woman who made it in Zia Pueblo at that time. And the furthest black one also came from there and so did this little Cochiti one, the one with the lizards on it behind the radio, right next to you. So what happened, and that's probably worth telling about, was that I just became absolutely fascinated with them.
And of course there were all these ruins around. It was just terribly interesting. So in my spare time I would go to the library at the University of New Mexico which was in Albuquerque and read about the Pueblos. I'm coming to that. Between Albuquerque and Santa Fe there's a little place called Bernalillo. Bernalillo is on the site of a ruined pueblo, and that pueblo was, we're pretty sure, a pueblo that Coronado visited in , roughly.