Sunday, December 20, 2015

Ghosts of Christmas Past

A ghostly image of ornaments evokes Christmas past in this detail of a Kodachrome slide shot by my father, circa 1970.

Christmas is nearly here, and the frenetic bustle of the season is shifting into high gear.  At the Malibu Post that includes finding and decorating our Christmas tree this year, a tradition that was left to the eleventh hour.

For years, my family had a succession of live Christmas trees in pots. Some of the early ones grew into massive trees, others flourished in their pots for years, carted into the house in December and back to the garden in January. However, the most recent specimen didn’t fair well during the drought. Last year, my mom and I purchased the first cut tree we’ve had in a long time.

In a spirit of carpe diem, we purchased the Christmas tree equivalent of a butterfly chrysalis—a fir neatly cocooned in a sort of string hammock. Alas, it didn’t look large at the tree lot, but once it was freed, it expanded like mild-mannered Bruce Banner transforming into the Incredible Hulk. 

The unexpectedly enormous 2014 Christmas tree looms like Charles Dicken's jovial giant Ghost of Christmas Present.

Furniture went flying. The cat and dog, forgetting the rivalry between their species in the terror of the moment, both attempted to hide behind a smallish Celtic harp. I abandoned my mother as she grappled with the massive tree and leapt to rescue the toppling instrument instead.

Fully unfolded, our seven-foot noble fir ended up being nearly as wide as it was tall. It looked lovely when we finished decorating it, but there was no way of avoiding the fact that it is like having Charles Dickens’ giant Ghost of Christmas Present in residence in the living room, and it gave me a shock of surprise every time I saw it, even though the animals completely forgot that they were afraid of it, and spent the rest of the festive season competing for who got to sit directly under it.

We didn’t know then that it would be the dog's last Christmas. This year is tinged with sadness, despite the presence of a new dog in our lives—an endearing but mannerless beast adopted a month ago from the Downey Animal Shelter. She’s a far cry from her dignified, saintly predecessor, a lifetime member of the Order of Good Dogs.

This dog has not yet learned that cats are not edible, and is new to the concept of house dog, necessitating a smaller and preferably higher up and out-of-reach Christmas tree, however disappointing that may be to the feline contingent.

Recalling the Adventure of the Noble Fir and contemplating a more Charlie Brown’s Christmas-sized tree made us think about the ghosts of Christmas trees past here at The Malibu Post, and the first trees I remember came from the long forgotten McCoye Christmas Tree Farm in Latigo Canyon.

The author, her big brothers, and the family dog pose in front of a live McCoye Ranch Christmas tree, circa 1972 or '73. You can see the edge of the large pot holding the roots on the left. My brothers remember helping my dad dig the tree out of the ground at the Escondido Canyon Ranch once the family made their selection. I was too little to do more than get under foot. 

Thurlow Orin McCoye—better known as T.O.—was born in 1893 and made a fortune in real estate in Playa Del Rey in the 1920s and 30s, selling land during the first housing boom, and moving on to homes and oil leases. McCoye bought a large piece of undeveloped land in Escondido Canyon in the late 1950s, where he planted fruit orchards and a fabulous garden of tropical plants.

No trace remains of the Christmas tree farm at the old McCoye Ranch, and even the name is forgotten—the property, now parkland administered by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, is officially named Weintraub Family Park, for the developer who sold it to the Conservancy, but many of the trees planted by the original owner still survive, including evergreens like the ones sold to local families at Christmas time in the 1960s and '70s.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, McCoye grew and sold Christmas trees. It was indescribably exciting to walk into that miniature forest, smelling the exhilarating tang of pine and looking for just the right tree, i.e., the biggest one we thought we could talk our parents into buying.

A sort of hippy commune on the ranch provided cheerful if haphazard assistance with the long, hot, difficult job of digging up the trees and stuffing them in or on top of the car. 

There's a Sleeping Beauty fairytale quality to the old McCoye Ranch. Something of the same magic I felt as a child is still present, a sort of exhilaration that comes from stepping outside of the everyday world and into something extraordinary.

However, the highlight was a visit to the three-story tree-house, shaped like a stylized Christmas tree and decorated with round, colored plastic windows that were illuminated from the inside to resemble Christmas tree balls. Inside of this green-painted plywood folly were two steep ladders.

I was only allowed to go up to the second level, but my big brothers were permitted to climb the ladder to the forbidden third level, where you could look out through the red plastic window and see a strange pink landscape spread out below. 

Old Mr McCoy always said “next year you will be big enough to go up there, too.” I was convinced that climbing to that third level was somehow an extraordinary experience on the level of climbing through the wardrobe into Narnia, but I never had the chance to find out. I was, alas, never old enough or big enough.

Stone walls and the old ranch road are just about all that remains of the old McCoye Ranch in Escondido Canyon. The property is an essential link in the Pacific Slope Trail and is preserved as open space. 

The farm closed and later burned. After McCoye’s death in 1981, the property was at the center of a legal battle between his daughters and his caregivers. Eventually it was sold. After years of half-baked development plans that at one point included a conference center and self-catered vacation yurts, the property was purchased by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy in 2013. 

I suspect that Mr McCoye might have liked the idea of yurts. He had a grand vision for his farm and the gift of blarney. His trees came with assurances that they would thrive and grow and bring luck upon the house and long life. Ours invariably died, but they came with memories that continue to live on even after the trees and the man who sold them have been forgotten for decades.

Old Mr McCoye always wanted the property to be a botanic garden, open to the public. More than 30 years after his death, his wish has been realized in part.

Although the gardens are neglected and overgrown, and the tree house that so fascinated me as a small child is long gone, many of McCoye’s trees are still there, having survived devastating fire and continued to thrive. Among the oaks are redwoods and pines, still fragrant with the scent of holiday enchantment.

A message left behind on a secluded garden bench reads: "His strength is the rock on which our fears are shattered into nothing." The inscription is signed "T.O. Mc."

I couldn’t find a single photo of the tree farm, but there is a Youtube video of McCoye’s grandson recalling the Escondido Ranch in its heyday. You can watch it here:

For several years after the McCoye Tree Farm closed, my family purchased cut trees from the tree lot in front of the Colony Market, and later, from in front of the Market Basket grocery store, located where the Malibu Village shopping center is now. 

Early Malibu residents had few shopping options in Malibu, and Christmas trees  were not one of the things that were readily available, but this 1946 ad, rather pessimistically advertises that the proprietors of "The Little Store" had at least "a few Christmas tree lights." An ad for the following year advertises not just any tree lights but "fluorescent Christmas tree lights." I had no idea there was such a thing.

By 1949, Malibu residents had the option of  buying a Christmas tree at the Malibu Nursery on Malibu Road. According to Google Earth, the Perenchio family's private golf course is located on the site today. 

In the early 1980s, Calvin’s Nursery began stocking live trees in pots. They were Monterey Pines, just like the trees McCoye sold. 

My brothers were grown by then, but Dad and I would always go together to pick out our tree, just the way we always went there together on the way home from weekend errands in the summer to buy flowers for the garden.

Once again, although I can shut my eyes and smell the scent of exotic flowers in the greenhouses and see the rows of bedding plants and orchard seedlings and the nursery's motley family of barn cats, there isn't a single photo of those visits in the family collection. 

You might meet a rock star or an A-list celebrity at Calvin's. We often saw Dick Clark there, chatting with the proprietors, Gloria and Polly, about growing pansies or petunias. There wasn’t much those two ladies didn’t know about plants, for all that Gloria spent more of her time in the greenroom than in the greenhouse as a young woman. She and her identical twin sister Patty were performers who toured with Spike Jones and his City Slickers in the 1940s and 1950s. 

Gloria and her adopted sister Polly took over Calvin’s after Patty and her husband, Joe Calvin—a trombonist for both Les Brown and Jimmy Dorsey and the founder of the nursery in 1953, died. Joe and Patty’s daughter, Casey, stepped in to run the nursery for its final years, when Gloria and Polly retired. It closed in 2012. 

The pine tree under the span of the rainbow is the last surviving live Christmas tree, purchased over two decades ago at Calvin's Nursery.

Later, our pilgrimage for a live tree took us to Treeland in Woodland Hills. Unlike McCoye’s Farm or Calvin’s, Treeland is still there, and still family owned, but it isn’t the same going there without dad.

All of the trees my family purchased from the McCoye farm are gone now, but there is still one big Calvin’s tree in the garden here at The Malibu Post. It's a living reminder of Christmases past.

Wishing you, dear reader, a very happy Christmas, one that will be remembered with affection in years to come.

Suzanne Guldimann
20 December 2015

The Malibu Post's helpful cat assists with decorating the 2015 Christmas tree.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Malibu's December Gold

The trail through this Malibu Canyon cottonwood grove evokes Robert Frost's "path diverging in a yellow wood." December cold has brought autumn to the Santa Monica Mountains. All photos @ 2015 S. Guldimann

When milkweed blows in the pasture
And winds start spinning the leaves
And out by the wall the cornstalks
Are neatened in packs called sheaves;
When apples bump on the roadway
And over the road and higher
The last of the birds, like clothespins,
Are clipped to the telegraph wire.

I suddenly think, "Horse-chestnuts!"
And, singing a song, I go
And find a tree in the meadow
Where millions of chestnuts grow;
And underneath in the grasses
I gather the nuts, and then
As soon as I've filled my pockets,
I sing along home again.

And singing and scuffing homeward
Each year through the drying clover,
I feel like a king with treasure,
Though-now that I think it over-
I don't
do much with horse-chestnuts
Except to make sure I've shined them.
It's just that fall
Isn't fall at all
Until I go out and find them.

—Kaye Starbird

The other day I went looking for autumn. Not, like poet Kaye Starbird, in search of horse chestnuts, but on a quest instead for autumn leaves. 

There was frost in the canyons overnight all week, and it brought the most fleeting and transitory beauties of the year to the Santa Monica Mountains. This gold can be neither bought nor sold, and like the fairy gold in stories, it turns from treasure to withered brown leaves overnight.

To find autumn gold you have to look deep in the canyons for the riparian woodland that is home to deciduous willows, sycamores and cottonwoods. This golden wood is located above the old Rindge Dam in Malibu Canyon. The area is closed to hikers, but the three tiny pullouts along Malibu Canyon Road offer a dramatic overview.

The frost was still on the grass at 9 a.m. on Saturday at King Gillette Ranch. Malibu Creek is the only stream in the Santa Monica Mountains that cuts through the entire range. It carries more than water through the canyon. In autumn and winter cold air drains as well, and it's not unusual for the temperatures to dip into the teens in and around Malibu Creek State Park.

The old King Gillette Ranch estate was once the mountain retreat of razor baron King Gillette, and later a Cistercian monastery and a Japanese University. Today, it's owned by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and is home to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area Visitor Center. The old gardens, half overgrown and on their way to being wild again, are a perfect place to look for signs of autumn.

A massive sycamore carries an entire symphony of autumn colors on its twisted boughs.

Bright leaves transform the still pond water into a golden mosaic.

Hooded mergansers—the females are brown, the male spectacular in black and white and red (just like that joke about a newspaper) plumage, glide on gilded water.

Sycamores, walnut trees and willows in the visitor center native plant garden offer an appealing fall palette of ochres, browns and golds, but the cottonwood is the tree that really stands out in autumn.

Cottonwood trees, found only where they can have their feet in water, are transformed from dusty green to pure gold for a few brief weeks in late autumn.

This is the view from the Tapia Creek Bridge in Malibu Canyon.

Directly beneath the endless stream of cars, is a magic mirror of still water that reflects living gold.

Only the scrawl of graffiti reminds the viewer that this view is right next to Los Angeles, one of the largest urban areas in the country, and not some remote corner of California backcountry.

Malibu's autumn gold is a fleeting joy, soon transformed by nature's alchemy back into earth. It's a reminder to take time to breathe during this frantically busy season, and to stop and look at the beauty around us.

There's another kind of December gold, even more fugitive than that of the leaves. It's the gold of the sun, setting at midwinter over the ocean and transforming the sea and sand into the colors of the rarest and most vivid jewels in nature.

December offers some of the best sunsets of the year in Malibu, followed by dark clear skies ideal for star gazing—the Geminid meteor shower peaks December 12 this year. And, if you know where to look for it, there's even a taste of autumn color, without the short northern days and piercing cold that makes the turning of the leaves a bittersweet joy in other parts of the county. 

These are treasures that cost only one thing: the time it takes to go and look for them.

Suzanne Guldimann
9 December 2015

A limited number of 2016 Malibu Post calendars are currently available for $15.95 plus sales tax.
The calendars are 8.5 x 11 and feature 12 of our favorite Malibu Post photos from 2015 printed on heavy photo stock and spiral bound. Being hopeless luddites, we haven't figured out the whole e-commerce process, but we will gladly accept cash or checks. Shipping is $6. Orders in the 90265 area code can be dropped off. Orders can be placed using the contact form in the right column.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Gathering in the Blessings of the Year

It's all too easy to feel, in this Autumn of sorrows and anxiety, like a feather carried on a bitter and turbulent wind, but there are plenty of blessings to count, and not all the news is bad news. All photos @2015

I went to turn the grass once after one
Who mowed it in the dew before the sun.

The dew was gone that made his blade so keen
Before I came to view the levelled scene.

I looked for him behind an isle of trees;
I listened for his whetstone on the breeze.

But he had gone his way, the grass all mown,
And I must be, as he had been,—alone,

As all must be,' I said within my heart,
Whether they work together or apart.'

But as I said it, swift there passed me by
On noiseless wing a 'wildered butterfly,

Seeking with memories grown dim o'er night
Some resting flower of yesterday's delight.

And once I marked his flight go round and round,
As where some flower lay withering on the ground.

And then he flew as far as eye could see,
And then on tremulous wing came back to me.

I thought of questions that have no reply,
And would have turned to toss the grass to dry;

But he turned first, and led my eye to look
At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook,

A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared
Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.

I left my place to know them by their name,
Finding them butterfly weed when I came.

The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
By leaving them to flourish, not for us,

Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him.
But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.

The butterfly and I had lit upon,
Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,

That made me hear the wakening birds around,
And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground,

And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
So that henceforth I worked no more alone;

But glad with him, I worked as with his aid,
And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;

And dreaming, as it were, held brotherly speech
With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.

Men work together,' I told him from the heart,
Whether they work together or apart.'

—Robert Frost

Malibu's autumn arrived late this year. Hot weather and warm water—harbingers of El Niño—lingered late in the season, prolonging summer season long past Labor Day—beach season's unofficial end. Even the liquidambar trees, the most dependable source of autumn color in coastal gardens didn't take the threat of winter seriously until Thanksgiving week. Autumn has arrived at last, bringing with it much to be thankful for.

There is no shortage of things to give thanks for this year in Malibu. That we've made it this far without a major wildfire is a blessing everyone can agree on, that El Niño is holding off long enough to give everyone an opportunity to prepare for the worst is another.

So far, 2015 has been a stellar year for local conservation issues. 

Measure W was defeated by nearly 60 percent of Malibu voters, sending a 38,000-square-foot shopping center back to the drawing board and the clear message to developers that Malibu residents do not want oversized development projects.

Although it looks green, peaceful and still rural from the top of the Serra Retreat, the Malibu Civic Center was ground zero for Political activism this year in Malibu. That bare patch was the Measure W battleground, while the PCH sycamore and the row of eucalyptus trees are visible in the distance.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors reined in run-away vineyard development in the North Area of the Santa Monica Mountains.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has cracked down on the mad rush for vineyards in the north area of the Santa Monica Mountains (21,000 acres located mostly between Mulholland Highway and the 101) after 50 new permits were filed. New plantings can't exceed two acres and must pass strict environmental review.

 The campaign to build a wildlife overpass over the 101 Freeway at Liberty is off to a strong start.

The City of Malibu is making progress towards a rodenticide ban to protect wildlife.

The vote on U2 drummer's obscenely large ridge top housing development was postponed once again by the Coastal Commission and sent back for a less intrusive redesign.

The California Coastal Commission delayed voting on U2 drummer David Evan's oversized ridge top housing development to give his development team time to redesign and downscale the project. The original project would have dominated this largely undeveloped section of the Santa Monica Mountains. The big battle for local conservationists in 2016 may not be over the background, but the foreground—Bluffs Park Open Space, where the City of Malibu hopes to construct sports fields and recreational facilities. A plan that has already attracted opposition from the Sierra Club.

Malibu activists successful campaigned to save the heritage sycamore tree on Pacific Coast Highway at Cross Creek Road from a development-driven turn-lane expansion.

The five-house subdivision next to Malibu Bluffs Park was reduced in height if not in size, and moved back from the bluffs. 

Local activists joined their voices to the successful effort to end Sea World's orca breeding program in San Diego.

After years of pressure from conservationists and despite a still powerful fur lobby, California passed a ban on trapping bobcats.

And on the national level, the federal government has begun enacting protections for the monarch butterfly, including the EPA's decision to revoke approval for Dow's highly toxic "Enlist Duo" herbicide. 

 All of these stories, whether national, statewide or local, begin as grassroots efforts—the work of a handful of volunteers—but they also play out on a larger scale.

Malibu voters rejected a proposal to permit developers to build a shopping center and grocery store on the corner of Civic Center Way and Cross Creek Road.  The developer gambled on whether the promise of a Whole Foods would be enough to entice residents into bending the city's zoning requirements. It wasn't.
Municipalities and development interest all over the county were watching the outcome of Measure W, to see if this first test of Measure R, the grassroots initiative that requires commercial development over 20,000 square feet to be put to a vote and also limits chainstores, would hold up. It did. And the Liberty Canyon overpass was featured in Scientific American this week.  

In Malibu, a coalition of activists and city officials are seeking to ban deadly rodenticides that are wiping out local wildlife. Bobcats, like this Point Dume resident, are at high risk from secondary poisoning, but they are no longer the targets of trapping for the fur industry. The California Legislature passed a ban on bobcat trapping earlier this year.

And the battle over rodenticides? Grassroot efforts like the one being made by Poison Free Malibu put the plight of poisoned wildlife in the spotlight and ultimately will help change policy on the state and federal level. 

There was one story that is dear to our hearts here at The Malibu Post that slipped by without much media fanfare. Earlier this year, the Department of Fish and Wildlife's announcement that the California sea otter is finally free to return to its historic southern range, including Malibu.

Otters like these, photographed in Moro Bay, may once again be a frequent sight in Malibu, now that new Fish and Wildlife regulations permit the species to return to their historic southern range.

Before it was threatened with extinction, the southern sea otter once lived in the kelp forests along the Malibu coast. Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed restrictions that prevented  the marine mammal from returning to its historic range in Southern California, after decades of being sequestered in a limited portion of the Central Coast and Channel Islands. 

Hunted to the edge of extinction by the fur trade—in 1935 the population was estimated at just 50, the southern sea otter was listed as an endangered species in 1972. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the population currently numbers approximately 2000 and is still threatened. An oil spill or other disaster has the potential to wipe out the species in the wild.

For decades the southern sea otter has been restricted to a small portion of the Central Coast centered at Monterey Bay, despite once having a range that extended all the way to Baja California. Fishing interests have repeatedly pressured the federal government to relocate sea otters that migrate further south. However, a federally funded program to relocated otters to a new colony at San Nicholas Island was a fiasco. The new plan allows for the the animals to recolonize the south coast of the mainland without human interference. 

Otters are occasionally observed in western Malibu, off Leo Carrillo and Nicholas beaches, with time and luck they may once again become residents, and the Point Dume Marine Protected areas provide a safe haven for them to potentially thrive. Imagine looking out from the whale watching platform at the Point Dume Headlands and seeing not only sea lions, dolphins, and whales, but sea otters? Thanks to the activists and conservations and volunteers, that vision is a big step closer to being a reality. 

Thanks to a new US Fish and Wildlife management plan, Malibu's whales, dolphins, and sea lions may be joined once again by the sea otter, free at last the return to local waters. All three of these species have had a brush with extinction due to human shortsightedness. They are only still here because  not everyone was blind to their plight and someone was willing to fight their continued survival.

All these things have happened because people cared, and came together, and refused to be discouraged by what sometimes seems like impossible odds. There are many more battles ahead, and some that are still being fought ferociously: Malibu parents continue to seek justice and remediation in the Malibu school PCB contamination scandal; the campaign to save the monarch butterfly from extinction is just getting started, and the Liberty Canyon wildlife overpass still has a long way to go before it can be built, with time running out for mountain lions and other threatened species isolated by the freeway.

The important part is that there are people who care, and who work for the good. Malibu residents feel passionately about local issues. While we may not always agree on the issues, we can still meet midway and come together for the important things and in times of need. That's something to be truly thankful for at Thanksgiving and always. 

A rainbow appears to encompass all the aspects that make Malibu unique: the ocean and the rugged mountains, the complex and colorful history that includes the pier and Surfrider Beach, Pacific Coast Highway—the divisive, dangerous, essential thread that ties the community together while also dividing it, and the constant conflict between development and conservation.

I had the opportunity as a reporter to cover many of this issues, and to talk to the people involved. They are our own Rachael Carsons and John Muirs. They commit their time and energy out of a passion for the things they love and get no reward other than the knowledge that they are fighting for something worth fighting for. Sometimes that fight takes years or decades. We may not remember the names of the ones who began it, but, in Robert Frost's words, "men work together, whether they work together or apart."

November 22nd was the Malibu Post's second anniversary. We are thankful for our thoughtful, kind, and wonderful readers, for our neighbors, friends, and family, and for the opportunity to live in a community where people truly care about the environment.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Suzanne Guldimann
25 November 2015

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Literary Malibu

Frederick Hastings Rindge's 1898 book Happy Days in Southern California was the first book to be written in—and about—Malibu. 

Malibu has been home to an astonishing number—and variety—of writers who have written everything from mystery to history, and from screenplays to picture books.

I’ve profiled a number of historic Malibu authors over the years for the Malibu Surfside News. The list includes Lawrence Clark Powell, Frederick Hastings Rindge, Madeleine Ruthven, John Fante, and Phillip Dunne, and you can read about one of the area’s most famous and successful authors, Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs, right here, but there are many more.

Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs was one of the first residents of La Costa Beach and Malibu's first honorary Mayor. Several of his novels were written in his book-lined Malibu study, including Lost on Venus

Speculative fiction author and bestseller Michael Crichton,  had a house in Malibu in the 1970s and '80s. Congo was written during his Malibu years. So too were Sphere and a non-fiction book titled Travels.

Novelist Michael Crichton wrote two bestsellers, Sphere and Congo, during his time in Malibu.

Novelist Joan Didion and her husband John Gregory Dunne, who was a novelist, screenwriter and critic, lived in Malibu in the 1970s. Didion's reflections on Malibu are, however, bitter and filled with grief for the death of her husband and daughter. Didion has this to say about life on the edge of the Pacific:

“California is a place in which a boom mentality and a sense of Chekhovian loss meet in uneasy suspension; in which the mind is troubled by some buried but ineradicable suspicion that things better work here, because here, beneath the immense bleached sky, is where we run out of continent.” 

Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking offers a bleak vision of life in Malibu as it chronicles the pain of the author's loss.

Unlike Didion, crime writer and Edgar Award-winner Ross Thomas embraced life in Malibu with enthusiasm, taking a keen interest in local issues and working as a passionate advocate for cityhood and other Malibu causes. Thomas, who died in 1995, wrote many of his 20 novels in Malibu and was a regular at Malibu Books and Company, the community's original independent bookstore. 

That's supposed to be Paradise Cove in the background of this  rather lurid, 1980s paperback cover of Ross Thomas' 1978 thriller  Chinaman's Chance.

The opening scene in Thomas’ thriller Chinaman’s Chance is set on the beach at Paradise Cove. Portraits of local characters are woven among the pattern of the plot.

Screenwriter and novelist Myles Connolly, 1897-1964, best remembered as a novelist today for his parable Mr Blue, published in 1929 as a sort of Catholic response to the Jazz Age narcissism of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, was an early and longtime resident of the Malibu Colony. 

Mr. Blue, published in 1929 at the start of the author's career, is Malibu screenwriter Myles Connolly's best remembered novel. 

Connolly's more famous legacy as a writer is for his work in film. He worked on more than 40 films, and his screenplay credits include The Unfinished Dance, with Margaret O'Brien; Till the Clouds Roll By, the life story of Jerome Kern; Two Sisters from Boston, with Jimmy Durante; Music for Millions, with June Allison; Youth Takes A Fling, with Joel McCrea; Face in the Sky, with Spencer Tracy. He was an uncredited collaborator on Mr Smith Goes to Washington with his friend and neighbor Frank Capra.

Wonderful New Yorker cartoonist Leo Callum lived in Malibu for many years and left us far too soon. He once drew a cartoon on the wall at Tops gallery, but the soulless corporate chain that occupied the space after Tops was forced to close painted over it.

Malibu literary luminaries of the past include New Yorker cartoonist and writer Leo Callum; poet and essayist Emery Tang; Monsignor John Sheridan, who in addition to being Our Lady of Malibu's pastor for many decades, wrote numerous books, essays and radio broadcasts;  Melinda Popham, whose novel Skywater became a runaway best seller; Gidget creator Frederick Kohner; and actress and writer Julie Andrews Edwards, who wrote her second children's book The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles while she and husband Blake Edwards lived in Malibu in the 1970s.

alibu resident Melinda Worth Popham published her bestselling Skywater, a novel about coyotes, in 1990. This somberly beautiful novel appears to be her only published work.

Many Malibu actors have penned autobiographies. The list includes Ali MacGraw, Jill Ireland, Burgess Meredith, Patrick McNee, Paul Mantee, Dick Van Dyke, and Rob Lowe.

There are numerous other writers who also make—or have made—Malibu their home, but while this seaside community is a popular setting for movies and fiction, one has to search hard for realistic—and authentic—depictions of Malibu, and sometimes even in the realms of non-fiction, fiction, or at least exageration creeps in.

Peter Theroux, who had lived in Los Angeles for 10 years when he published his book Translating LA, obviously didn’t spend much time in Malibu. He dismisses Point Dume as “a small prominence of land sheltering a Marine station.”

Theroux seems to have been under the impression that the Point was still a U.S. Army outpost as it was during War War II, or he may have mistaken the Los Angeles County Lifeguard HQ at Zuma Beach for a “marine station,”  either way, Malibu doesn’t seem to have made much of an impression.

Mike Davis has much more to say about Malibu, although little of it kind, in his 1996 book The Ecology of Fear, which includes his essay titled “The Case for Letting Malibu Burn.”

Davis provides a succinct history of Malibu and a wealth of fire-related statistics, including a list of Malibu wildfires from 1930-96, a discussion of the mechanics that drive local wildfires, and an acerbic denouncement of development in the Santa Monica Mountains. 

Mike Davis' Ecology of Fear is a must-have for the Malibu bookshelf.

But Davis also perpetrates one of the most pervasive Malibu myths, the claim that in Two Years Before the Mast, Richard Henry Dana described seeing Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit engulfed in “a vast blaze” as his ship sailed from San Pedro to Santa Barbara in 1826. 

What Dana actually wrote concerning wildfire is not an eyewitness account and pertains to Santa Barbara, not Malibu:

 “The town is finely situated, with a bay in front, and an amphitheatre of hills behind. The only thing which diminishes its beauty is, that the hills have no large trees upon them, they having been all burnt by a great fire which swept them off about a dozen years ago, and they had not yet grown again."

British actor Patrick MacNee focused on positive aspects of life in Malibu. In his 1988 autobiography Blind in One Ear, he discusses the peace and tranquility he found in Malibu in the 1950s. MacNee laments that the ramshackle beach bungalows were already being replaced by expensive estates when he returned in the 1960s, but the tranquility remained. 

MacNee captures a different side of life in Malibu with an account of how he assisted a film industry animal wrangler by rescuing a carload of chimpanzees from a fast-moving wildfire in the 1960s. 

Author and screenwriter John Fante and his family moved to Point Dume in 1952. The author gave a piquant portrait of life in the community in his novella My Dog Stupid. He described the Point Dume that many longtime residents still remember, one with fewer fences and houses, more horses and open space, but also a dangerously wild surfing and beach party crowd and free-ranging dogs that were known to terrorize the wildlife and small children.

John Fante's novella My Dog Stupid, set on Point Dume in the late 1960s, can be found in the compilation West of Rome. Despite the name, it is most definitely not an amusing story for children, but it paints a memorable picture picture of the time and place. 

UCLA librarian Lawrence Clark Powell moved to the Broad Beach-area of Malibu at approximately the same time as Fante. His recollections, collected in a series of essays titled “Ocian in View” (a reference to the Lewis and Clark expedition’s creatively spelled journal entry commemorating their first sight of the Pacific)  are gentler, focused instead on the natural world and the pleasures of exploring the beach and the secluded canyons. Powell proves vivid descriptions of his home, the seasons, and natural phenomena, including the devastating 1956 Sherwood Newton Christmas Fire.

Our copy, purchased at a secondhand bookstore for almost nothing, bears an inscription by the authors presenting it as a gift to another local, Ronald Reagan. Apparently, Mr Reagan didn't think much of it, since his copy is now on The Malibu Post's bookshelf instead of someplace more significant.

In 1958, “Ocien in View” was published with a short history of Malibu by W.W. Robinson in a booklet called “The Malibu.” Much of Robinson’s material was culled from Fredrick Hastings Rindge’s 1898 book Happy Days in Southern California. 

This portrait of Frederick Hastings Rindge from the Adamson House archive  shows the businessman but not the poet.

Rindge’s first-person account of life in Malibu when the entire Topanga Malibu Sequit Ranch was his own personal terrestrial paradise has enduring beauty and captures a landscape that has changed in many places almost beyond recognition. He was a gentle soul, and something of a poet, infusing a luminous if occasionally overwrought beauty to his descriptions. Even the most rose-tinted passages preserve something rare and wonderful—the earliest known literary portrait of Malibu.

Here at the Malibu Post we have no illusions about aspiring to the league of Crichton or Didion, but November always brings the siren song of literary aspiration, as writers all over the world commit to 50,000 words during National Novel Writing Month, and this year we’ve decided to answer that call. 

See you in December, with either a newly hatched novel or a lot of scratch paper suitable for grocery lists and the bottom of bird cages.

"It was a dark and stormy night..."