A life among the stars

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A life among the stars

Posted on: February 16th, 2014 by tommyj

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When Shirley Temple, the iconic child star of the 1930s, died Monday, it stirred memories for Linda La Fleur.

Flooding back were thoughts of a childhood surrounded by stories of movie stars — and of a 1960s teenage life in the middle of rock ’n’ roll. La Fleur has lived in North Albany for 33 years. But before that, she was more than just an onlooker growing up in celebrity-studded Southern California.

“My mom used to live right next door to Shirley Temple when she was a child star,” said La Fleur, 65, who is retired from Albany Parks & Recreation.

La Fleur remembers the stories her mom told and TV and movie stars she rubbed shoulders with in what many call the golden age of Hollywood.

Her mom, Ann LaFaber, had escaped what La Fleur called a sharecropping life in Iowa to follow her six sisters west on the train to California. At 18 she was working for the silent film star ZaSu Pitts.

“When my mother worked for her she was doing comedy roles in the ’30s,” La Fleur said. “Mom was her maid and cook.”

Pitts went on to additional movie roles and a regular spot on the 1950s television program, “The Gale Storm Show.”

LaFaber was a live-in employee in Pitts’ lavish Brentwood home. La Fleur said her mother’s room looked into the backyard of Shirley Temple’s home.

“She would watch her grow up,” La Fleur said. “Mom said she seemed like a very normal little girl.”

La Fleur said her mother told her that children from the studio would come over to the Temples’ backyard.

“Mom never got to meet her but she watched her and friends ride her Shetland pony and have parties in the garden.”

La Fleur said that another neighbor was a preteen Robert Stack, who would go on to fame playing Prohibition agent Eliot Ness in TV’s “The Untouchables.” La Fleur said her mother used to make him peanut butter sandwiches when he would come to the back door of the kitchen at Pitts’ home.

“Mom had quite a life. She dated Ozzie Nelson and knew Max Factor and Harry Von Zell, who was on the ‘Burns and Allen Show,’” La Fleur said.

She said her mom and dad, Victor LaFaber, were like Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

“She was a fiery redhead and he was often mistaken for the actor George Raft, and they were always active,” La Fleur said.

‘Teen Topics’

With that kind of background it isn’t surprising that La Fleur was drawn to celebrities.

In 1964, curious to meet some of her favorite disc jockeys, she went to a local Top 40 station in the area. She ended up meeting DJs like Wink Martindale and Bob Eubanks, who both went on to fame as television game show hosts, and Roger Christian, who worked with the Beach Boys.

“I just kind of went there to see the DJs in person and started hanging around,” La Fleur said. “I was 15 years old and I didn’t seem to irritate them.”

In fact they were taken enough with La Fleur’s personality that she wound up with her own show. Sort of.

La Fleur was asked to share a 30-minute Sunday afternoon program with one of the DJs, a show called “Teen Topics.” She would get air time during the broadcast and a chance to interview acts that would be promoting shows or records. It turned out to be an impressive array of music royalty.

Bobby Darin, Sonny & Cher, Three Dog Night and Johnny Mathis were just some of the major talents that she met and talked with on the air.

It was the kind of job most 16-year-old girls in 1965 would have given their entire collection of Beatles wall posters to have. La Fleur didn’t see it that way at the time.

“I guess now I can see it was special, but then I thought everyone was doing this. It was no big deal,” La Fleur said.

She found it was a bit different when she moved with many of the DJs to television and a local “American Bandstand”-type show called “9th Street West.” Again, top groups would appear on the show to play, while high school students demonstrated the latest dance fads.

La Fleur said each high school would have dancers come once a week. She got to pick 12 couples from her high school for the live taping.

“I tried to pick people who I thought wouldn’t get another chance like that,” she said.

La Fleur got plenty of perks. When British Invasion duo Chad & Jeremy appeared, she told them she was going to their concert. They asked her to come along with them in their limo.

“It was kind of a taste of what those groups go through,” La Fleur said. “We turned the corner to the theater and there were mobs of kids. I didn’t imagine.”

Her gig on TV got her tickets to see The Beatles at The Hollywood Bowl. She sat in the fourth row and years later she saw herself on a national TV special on the Fab Four during a shot of the crowd.

She appeared often on TV shows of the 1960s like the Dick Clark-produced “Where the Action Is” and “The Steve Allen Show.”

La Fleur had other brushes with celebrities. She got to sit on stage with sitarist Ravi Shankar, saw Elvis Presley in concert, and met among others Neil Diamond, Joni Mitchell, Tony Randall and Lana Turner.

‘Great memories’

Some might say she had a charmed childhood. She wouldn’t entirely disagree.

Even her driver’s education teacher turned out to be famous. Larry Rozadilla was a boxing referee who officiated in the ring for bouts that featured Mike Tyson, Buster Douglas and Ruben Olivares.

La Fleur remained around the Hollywood scene until she was 18. Eventually she moved on and worked in the aerospace industry before finally moving to Oregon in 1981.

“It was changing down there and we were living in a small apartment on the edge of crime central,” she said. “I wanted to get to Oregon or Washington and settled here.”

She brought both parents and moved into her North Albany home as soon as they arrived. Her mom and dad have since died but she remains in the same home.

While working for the city, she became involved with River Rhythms, Albany’s summertime concert series, and helped bring acts to town.

Her celebrity contact list has grown since she’s been in Albany. She has crossed paths and talked with columnist and author Dave Barry, musician Mason Williams and singer Ian Whitcomb.

“I guess it’s a pretty interesting life when you think about who I’ve met over the years. It’s great memories,” La Fleur said.

Her mom and dad are gone, but the pictures she keeps from those days remind her that she and her family were in their own way a part of Hollywood history.

“I’m happy living on the ground I’m on,” she said. “It’s fun to see the pictures and relive that, but I’m good here just enjoying the birds and animals.”

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