THE IMPERATIVE OF THE SANTA MONICA MALIBU SCHOOL DISTRICT DIVORCE

Talk about a divorce, no matter how amiable the negotiations, reasonable the settlement, and the mutual agreements for the sake of the children, as the split nears, there is always something.

Who will get to keep the wedding gifts? Who pays for the additional legal costs? Anybody who has gone through the proceedings has a story to tell of a last minute demand.

As I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites, usually it’s the money. Hence the classic joke of: Why does a divorce cost so much? The answer being: because it is worth it!

In the divorce of the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District versus Malibu, the proceedings have become sticky, and the majority representing Santa Monica heretofore magnanimous in their stance as liberals, has morphed into ingenuous conservatives; parochial and greedy, and sanctimonious.

The Santa Monica majority on the school board is now said to wants $100 million as the price to let Malibu have its freedom. And just leave the jewelry and credit cards on the nightstand.

This no doubt will be discussed Tuesday night when the school board meets in the Malibu City Hall. It should attract a big turnout of Malibu residents, many who feel the construct of a local district is being held as a hostage by an avaricious Santa Monica contingent, and the monies just the first payment of a ransom.

But beyond the money, is the question of power, not what is good for the kids, but what do those involved win or lose.

We’re talking here of the district’s bureaucracy, the loss of jobs, cuts in salaries, and, god forbid, greater workloads.

So what if the communities are separate and distinct, Malibu a rural seacoast village; Santa Monica, a bayside city ten times larger, and increasingly urban, the last stop on a transit rail line, and the first stop for socializing millenniums.

Obviously from its origins the district has been a marriage of convenience. There might have been early moments of a youthful fling, a tumble on the sand, if you will, but not any more.

This makes it all the harder to face the truth, and in the case of the divorce of the school district, to do the right thing.

And it prompts the thought if Santa Monica was in the position Malibu is, and an appendage to the L.A. Unified School District, and wanting to break free. No doubt Santa Monica would then most likely argue that as a distinctive city its needs its freedom, while L.A. would counter it needs Santa Monica’s money, to bolster the less affluent communities it serves, such as Compton and South Central.

And Santa Monica would answer that its independence is a democratic imperative, and frankly ethical. Therefore, for Santa Monica to contend anything different in its relationship to Malibu, I feel, would be hypocritical.

 

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A LOOK BACK AT THE 60s ART SCENE IN LA

My catching fleeting exhibits at the Los Angeles County Museum continues, with an absorbing look at the legendary Dwan Gallery, that celebrated the avante garde first in L.A. and then in New York during the art consciousness raising years of the 1960s.

Founded by Virginia Dwan, fresh out of UCLA and blessed with a love of art and an inheritance, she opened a storefront in Westwood. Not only was it a few miles away from the then established gallery row, on La Cienega Boulevard, but more significantly it was artistically very much off the beaten track.

As I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites, the exhibits at the Dwan featured pop, minimalist and conceptual art that challenged the staid critics of the day and the conventional collectors.

Among the young and bushy tailed artists displayed were many who in time would become quite celebrated. These included Edward Kienholz, Franz Kline and Robert Rauschenberg. Think of seeing for the first time Andy Warhol’s brillo soapboxes and Claes Oldenburg’s playful sculptures.

Their creations might not have sold well then as they would in later years. But they certainly stirred the art scene and beyond in those days, such as when Dwan rolled out Kienholz’s grungy assemblage know as Back Seat Dodge 38. Talk about a timepiece.

Featured in the LACMA exhibit today, it is just topical fun, as it was meant to be when first seen, a found and fabricated tableau of backseat sex. But in 1964 it sparked public and legal allegations of obscenity, drawing the attention of the LAPD, which took on the mantle of critic.

The exhibit persevered, but only after much debate and publicity, and with agreement it could be displayed, though with the back car door closed, to be only opened upon an adult’s request of a museum guard, and then not in front of anyone under age.

For that alone the exhibit is worth seeing. But this is also on display a wealth of paintings, sculpture, films and drawing by challenging artists of a half-century ago. For me, it was a diverting trip back in time.

Of local interest, Dwan had a beach house in Malibu, where then struggling select artists, young men to be sure, could stay at least until their works sold, which could be a very long time.

As the lyrics of a popular song echoed, “they were the days, my friend, I thought they’d never end.”

 

 

 

MALIBU CITY COUNCIL STUMBLES

Can we talk? Really, for it seems nearly everyone with a passing concern for Malibu wants to talk, specifically and not humorously, about the last City Council meeting,

“Exasperating” was the one of the kinder word heard to describe the meeting. That was in reaction to the words upon words that flowed from the dais past Midnight, from what appeared to be conflicted and confused councilpersons and servile city staff.

The votes recorded and the actions notwithstanding, the deliberations I and others witnessed was marked by rambling remarks, self-serving statements, and contradictory comments. In a word, embarrassing, and so I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites.

Those who actually attended the meeting to or near the bitter end left disappointed, even those who seemingly got the vote they wanted concerning preserving Bluffs Park.

Those watching it at home, as I was, said they turned it off at some point, or fell asleep, as did their pets. Mine did.

For political observers, the meeting also was a vivid demonstration of that infamous mathematical formula being cited more and more these dog days, from the White House to State Houses, to local Civic Centers, which is: Public service equals megalomania divided by paranoia.

Here in Malibu, the lame ducks on the council need to lower and limit their quacking, and the so-called reform slate frankly needs to be reformed, or simply better prepped.

Perhaps their comments should be limited to 3 minutes, at the public meeting, as they do for residents in the audience wanting to speak. That also should apply to the many lawyers and lobbyists that haunt City Hall who seem to talk on and on.

Meanwhile, isn’t there some sort of instructional orientation offered to neophyte office holders by one of Southern California ‘s many academic institutes? For City Hall personnel as well?

If not, there certainly should be, staffed by astute former legislators, enlightened educators and experienced journalists. There should be a few around. This I feel could be a legitimate expense, as opposed to, say, the many self congratulating, glad handing good government association get-a ways that several of our council members seem to love to attend.

As had been suggested previously, perhaps it is time for the city to consider an independent ombudsman, for oversight, or some sort of ad hoc citizens committee to monitor the city’s governance. Formation might be tough.

But expressing hope over experience. I like to think there are some knowledgeable residents who would come forward to volunteer their expertise. But can City Hall handle it?

I note that our big city sister to the south, Santa Monica, recently created an ad hoc committee of residents to review the cost and effectiveness of the city’s government.

Talk about poking a hornet’s nest with a stick.

 

THE BAUHAUS COMES TO L.A. COUNTY MUSEUM

 

Finally made it to LACMA, having twice before been discouraged by weekday traffic. But last Sunday the freeway was relatively open and parking on the street available, and so I persevered.

And I am very glad I did, for there are several exhibits that have been at the top of my must-see list for months now, and one of them approaching a closing date.

The retrospective on the pioneering Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, ends June 18th, and if you are at all interested in the evolution of art in the twentieth century, it is a must exhibit, educational and engaging, as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites. .

Do art and technology work together to elevate humanity, asks the museum, and then suggests you find out at its Art of the Americas building. The answer, of course, is a resounding yes, as demonstrated Moholy exhibit, the first comprehensive retrospective of his art in nearly 50 years, with more than 250 works in all media from collections from the world over.

After the trauma of World War One, Moholy found solace in the famed Bauhaus school in Germany, embracing modernism with unabashed passion, pursuing it as a resolute, utopian everywhere, and in every endeavor.

This included painting, sculpting, photography, filmmaking, and when pressed to earn money for his family, graphic design, stage design and as an advertising art director.

He eventually ended up in the United States, where he founded the Chicago Institute of Design, teaching, writing and forever, enthusiastically experimenting.

Included in particular is a large-scale installation, entitled the Room of the Present, a contemporary construction of an exhibition space originally conceived by Moholy-Nagy nearly century ago.

Though never realized during his lifetime, the room at long last has been fashioned at LACMA to illustrate Moholy’s belief in the power of images and the various means by which to disseminate them. And as the museum comments, it is a highly relevant paradigm in today’s constantly shifting and evolving technological world.

It is an absorbing exhibit, taking you back to Moholy’s Bauhaus days, and conveying some of the excitement and joy students must have felt back then witnessing the emerging, challenging world of modernism, and then the sadness when the school was closed in the rise of Fascism.

 

WALLIS CENTER ACCESSIBLE, ENTERTAINING

Once again I’m braving the traffic on the dreaded PCH, and weaving my way through a congested Santa Monica, and Westwood, to Beverly Hills, and to what is becoming one of my choice cultural venues.: the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.

Upcoming on the center’s schedule is a dance program by the celebrated British choreographer, Mathew Bourne,, entitled Early Adventures, running Wednesday May 17th through Sunday the 21st.

Having heard much about Bourne but never having seen him, I am looking forward to a singular program that features his early works, said to be witty and spectacular. It will be Bourne’s only U.S. appearance this spring, happily in \an inviting venue .

The former Beverly Hills Post Office has been imaginatively recycled into two distinct theatres: the Bram Goldsmith, containing 500 seats but with a rake that leaves no seat more than 50 feet from the stage. Sight lines are great, complemented by pitch perfect acoustics, making it particularly suitable for dance.

More intimate is the Lovelace Studio Theatre, with flexible space and traditional theatre seating and also cabaret style seating.

The parking at the Wallis is also accessible and reasonable , and being closer to Malibu, you do noy have to take the terrible 10.

As for the Wallis’ laudable commitment to dance, the Bourne troupe follows a classic program, last weekend that celebrated the Paul Taylor Dance Company.

Featured was three familiar favorites under the direction of the master himself, now a venerable 86. It was a trip back in time for his many fans.

The program opened with the 1987 work entitled “Syzgy,” which is an astronomical term for celestial bodies at opposite points in an orbit. As one can imagine, the choreography was energetic and athletic, the dancers pliable and playful, lots of squiggly arms and legs, singularly and in chorus, exhausting and entertaining. Loved it.

It was followed by the more somber 1998 piece,“The Word,” a dark score and grim. It sent shiver through me.

In contrast, the last piece was more joyful, entitled “Esplande, created in 1975. ” a celebration of everyday movement in a public space teeming with dancers, echoing with the music of J.S. Bach . You left the theatre uplifted and smiling.

 

 

CITY SEEKS QUESTIONABLE LOBBYI$T

Amid the daily circulation by the city of Malibu of mostly self aggrandizing, press releases there recently was a brief announcement that city is seeking the services of a highly qualified government relations and lobbying firm .

According to the brief item was that the city needs a firm to serve as “the conduit for communications with elected officials and other agencies.” No specifics were listed, whether this meant making introductory calls, chaperoning meetings , or just going to long lunches and charging the city.

That just may be revealed in the “six printed and bound” proposals the city is soliciting from lobbyist firms registered by the state, due in a few weeks.

But don’t expect wide distribution, for our city suffering as it does a passive aggressive institutional mindset, likes to keep these matters in house and quiet.

And whatever might be submitted by the gaggle of glad handing firms in the political swamp that is Sacramento, is the more germane question of whether modest Malibu really needs to spend $10,000 or more a month –my informed estimate of a range of expected bids – for an archaic service?

The answer here by someone familiar with fleeting legislative friendships and obsequious bureaucratic associations, and also my opinion of Malibu’s questionable benefits of past relationships, is a resounding NO.

And that also should be the city council’s judgment when the city manager Reva Feldman slips the recommended winning proposal under the door.
Perhaps in the bad old day of backroom politics when a pricey password was needed into a smoke filled room, but not now, in this age of the Brown Act, pledges of transparency, the social media and the internet, as well the open door policy of the area’s county, state and congressional representatives.

If access is needed, and if you are doing the job for which you were elected or appointed –I note here that our city manager is paid about $50,000 a year more than our congressman and U.S. senator– you really don’t need to pay someone outside City Hall to make the calls, draft emails , and arrange meetings.

Indeed, I recall a city press release of a few months ago announcing that council members Lou La Monte and Laura Rosenthal and City Manager Feldman had garnered a bevy of honorific posts and were headed to the state capitol to –quote ensure that Malibu’s concerns are heard.”

And in expense reports viewed in Freedom of Information request filed with the assistance of KBU, it appears they have been making quite a few of these trips, and others, presumably to benefit Malibu., with no mention of a lobbyist whom the city paid nearly $2 million over the last dozen years. .

 

 

GOING TO MUSEUMS DOWNTOWN, IF YOU DARE

I’ve been musing recently about the difficulty getting to many of the cultural attractions blossoming this Spring across L.A. like the magnificent wildflowers that have followed the blessed, long awaited rains. So near, yet so far.

Well, there comes a point where you have to say the hell with the traffic, and try to ease on down PCH to the 10 and hope it is not too bad heading downtown, and to the museums there.

And as I urge in my commentary on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites, do try. Always inviting is The Broad museum, indeed most times challenging, as is the current exhibit. Entitled Oracle, it features the works of some 20 artists exploring the tumultuous world of today, though perhaps probing would be a better word.

Across Grand Avenue, there is MOCA, where on display are the figurative painting of Black America by Kerry James Marshall I’ve been meaning to get to for a month now.

And actually, you don’t even have to go into the museum to enjoy its latest attraction, a bold, colorful Jonas Wood mural that wraps the Grand Avenue building.

I had always bemoaned the fact that there were no windows along the street façade, to look down into the sunken museum; that the blank facade of red Italian granite was a deadening affront to the not-so Grand Avenue streetscape. The mural is therefore quite welcome, and engaging.

You might want to combine the viewing there with a visit also to the MOCA Geffen in Little Tokyo, where added to the permanent collection has been a large scale installation of stuffed fabric sculptures by Sterling Ruby.

Also on display there is the newly acquired collection of photographs by Catherine Opie. Entitled the Inauguration Portfolio. it is a portrait of the million persons who descended on the National Mall in Washington for the swearing in of President Obama.

The photos for me are particularly poignant, for I can say proudly I was there that day, enduring the frigid weather to cover the event for public radio, and with my accompanying family also celebrate a historic day in the country’s evolving democracy.

The joy that day was infectious, the crowd in good spirits, exultant. Who could have even imagined that eight years later Washington, indeed America, would be under the threatening cloud of a thundering Donald Trump.

How will artists such as Catherine Opie depict these depressing days and our pinhead president? Let us hope we all survive to find out.

 

REMEMBERING BILL: ON WILLIAM McPHERSON (1933-2017)

By Sam Hall Kaplan

The recent death of book editor and writer William McPherson prompts heartfelt memories of a moment in a bygone East Coast literary Elysium that he shepherded — incidentally changing my life.

No doubt Bill, editor of the Washington Post’s Book World, would caustically comment that, as a first sentence to a remembrance, the words above were too sophomoric and sentimental. Especially because they reflected on him. I can see him looking up with a friendly smile and calling the sentence self-aggrandizing and “schmaltzy,” which I would take with a grain of salt as a waggish nod to my roughhewn New York ethnicity.

But then, back in the late ’70s, Bill might haughtily approve of the campy lead as something that would appeal to our typical maudlin readers. And off we’d go, along with whoever else was standing in his book cluttered office at the time, into the eternal debate over who the reader we were writing for actually was.

I might have cited such self-anointed authorities as my former editor at The New York Times, A. M. Rosenthal, whom I remember declaring that the archetypical reader was a precocious nine-year-old. But of course Abe would say that, Bill would retort; he himself having the disposition of a nine-year-old. Bill was wonderfully witty and judgmental, which made him a beloved editor among us bitchy scribes.

Or maybe the reader was the bright, bookish special assistant to a calloused congressman, as Bill’s quick-with-a-quip boss Ben Bradlee might suggest. Jane Howard, my then companion, would remind us that the reader was likely a she — and she’d be right.

Jane was a best-selling author (A Different Woman) and close friends with Joan Didion, with whom she’d been celebrity writer for a celebrated Life magazine. Jane was also a longtime friend of Bill’s. She and I would visit him in D.C., as would other writers, in effect forming a floating salon.

Wanting to end the blather about our readers, Bill would offer up a remark from the comic strip Pogo: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Bill had spoken, a second cup of coffee or glass of wine would be poured, and we’d move on to the next topic or personality to be skewered.

One day at the Post in the fall of 1978, as I stood in Bill’s office looking through a stack of recently published books to chose one I would review, the topic he casually introduced was the possible end of his tenure as the editor of Book World. My immediate concern, of course, was that a new editor, as is their wont, would have his or her friends and favored reviewers, and my assignments would therefore diminish, if not end. But then my thoughts quickly turned to friend Bill.

As Bill told it, that morning Ben Bradlee had, almost off-handily, asked him whether he wouldn’t rather be a writer or book critic, rather than editor of Book World. This would give him time to work on that novel he wanted to write; besides, he himself had always contended that writers had more fun than editors. We writers agreed, even though we thought editors were paid more for being less creative while sitting in a comfortable office protected from the elements, with an intern close by to get them a coffee. What did they do, really?

Apparently Bradlee had already offered the editor’s job to Book World’s dependable deputy, Brigitte Weeks, who had received an offer from the then ascending Los Angeles Times. Bradlee did have the reputation, in those haughty post-Watergate warrior days, of atabbing employees in the heart with a sharp rapier, which, we all felt, was better than being stabbed in the back, as is the style of most senior editors.

It might be of interest to nostalgic readers that the man overlooking the “soft” news and Book World at the time was the smarmy, smiling Shelby Coffey III, who would later become the unctuous executive editor of the Los Angeles Times. Try as he might, Coffey could never exude the spirit and style of the benevolent Ben, and it would have been easy for Bill to stand his ground.

But it was hard for Bill to argue with the august Bradlee, since it was the Post that hired him in 1958, at the age of 25, as a raw copy boy, despite him having dropped out of college twice. And after becoming a reporter a few years later, Bill impetuously left the Post for a job in book publishing, but Bradlee had lured him back with the book editor position. Not only that, he signed the checks. And if you were nice, he and his glamorous wife Sally Quinn might invite you to their storied dinners.

There would be no discussion among friends and associates that day, for Bill declared he had accepted the new assignment. He looked forward to being a journalist again, and, in time, a writer. He added that he actually had the beginnings of a book on paper, with the story shaping in his mind, though would say no more.

It was this jumping from rock to rock in the merging currents of journalism and literature that made Bill a kindred soul, for I too had a fractured career. Among questionable pursuits, I had worked on New York’s waterfront as a “shtarker” and upstate as a seasonal farm laborer; Bill had been a merchant seaman. But I had eventually graduated from Cornell University, which, after a forgettable stint in the army, had no doubt helped me score a job as a copy boy with the New York Times, also in 1958.

Thus we became confiding friends, in the spirit of strangers sitting next to one another on a long sleepless flight, sharing confidences. Except that Bill and I would meet again for years to come, sporadically, especially after I left the New York Post, where I was briefly an editor for Rupert Murdoch, to take a position with the newly minted Carter administration in Washington.

And so, that day, while friend Bill was talking about his new job and reassuring me Brigitte would make a fine editor, and, presumably, be pleased to continue to use me as a reviewer, he stopped and smiled broadly. Then, after a pause for dramatic effect — 40 years later, I remember this distinctly — he suggested I should immediately apply for the book editor post that Brigitte was, at that very moment, calling LA Times editor Jean Sharley Taylor to turn down.

He declared I would be perfect for the rising LA Times, having written reviews for the New York Times under the tutelage of Eliot Fremont-Smith, and for the edgy Village Voice under editor Dan Wolfe and infamous publisher Norman Mailer. And, of course there were the pieces I had written for him at the Post. He noted that, thanks to my Ivy League education, I dressed British, but, being from Brooklyn, thought Yiddish.

Bill handed me his phone, and I got through to Taylor, who said, yes, Weeks had just turned down the job, but the paper had a second choice in the wings, their columnist Art Sidenbaum. He had accepted just minutes ago. Then Taylor mentioned that the cover the paperback of my book The Dream Deferred had prominently quoted a rave L.A. Times review — and asked whether I’d be interested in coming to the coast and discussing Sidenbaum’s former job as an urban commentator.

My hand over the phone, I relayed the query to Bill. He nodded yes enthusiastically. Bill was, of course, right. My professional job in government was mostly bullshit, a divorce was pending, my fickle friend Jane was researching another book and had sublet her apartment, at my suggestion, to former colleague Syd Schanberg, who was returning from the tragic killing fields of Cambodia to become city editor of the N.Y. Times. For those of us who had climbed on the journalistic wagon in the late ’50s, it was a small world.

What the hell, I thought, flew out to Los Angeles the next weekend, loved what I saw, and moved a month later. My thought was that the assignment was, in effect, a generous travel and study grant to Southern California, and I’d probably return to New York in a year or two. That was nearly 40 years ago.

I never saw Bill again. We were going to have drinks, but instead said our goodbyes by phone, promised to keep in touch, and didn’t. I did send him a note in 1984, congratulating him on the praise for his novel, Testing the Current. He never answered, and when his second novel, To the Sargasso Sea, came out in 1988, I didn’t send a note, but I was happy for him.

Bill left the Post a few years later, more or less when I left the L.A. Times. I heard he had gone to Romania as a freelance writer, which would not have been my choice. I became a creative consultant to Disney Imagineering, while continuing to write. When I asked John Gregory Dunne, whom I had met through Jane, why he thought Bill had become an ex-pat correspondent, he had no answer. This was soon after the great success of John’s True Confessions. Changing topics from Bill to me, John asked, ruefully, why I had stayed in Southern California. “It’s comfortable, “ I said. “Corrupting,” he added. And, for the literary world, “corroding.”

Then, inevitably, mortality began taking its toll. First Jane passed, then Art, John, Sydney, and Dick Eder. Others. Not having heard from or about him for years, I thought Bill had also passed, only to read in 2014 that he was back in Washington, his health dwindling, and his finances worse. He chronicled his ill fortune in an essay for The Hedgehog Review, titling it “Falling.”

It was a sad, indeed tragic, tale. But the topic was substantive. As an editor, Bill would have approved. It was worthy of a novel, or at least a long discussion at a salon.