Special to The Village News
Years ago, while I was still married to the children’s father, we lived in “The Valley.” That’s the San Fernando Valley for the uninformed.
The cool thing about living in Woodland Hills then was it’s tucked behind the exclusive celebrated enclave-of-wealth known as Hidden Hills, close to Thousand Oaks and across the 101 from Calabasas. I lived in the heart of Hollywood’s television stars who littered the freeways regardless of one’s driving direction.
Naturally, this was decades before ‘the paparazzi’ exploited the charms of Hollywood celebrities. Anyway, kindly remember this was more than 50 years ago, so while some things are a bit fuzzy, this one day is perfectly clear from all those years ago.
Let me fill you in on the background. This all took place in the spring of 1974. I was a 25-year-old Kansas farm girl, mother of two school age kids, and we lived in a 5-bedroom house with a swimming pool in the valley. Life appeared ideal from the outside.
If you aren’t familiar with the California State Highway 101, it is the main artery from ‘the valley’ into Los Angeles from the areas I’ve already mentioned. Stay with me or grab a map. Once known as the El Camino Real, it runs from L. A. north to Tumwater, Washington.
Naturally, this was years before anyone ever heard of the Kardashians. Chances are they couldn’t afford to live “South of 101” then, unlike the many movie and TV celebrities that could and did.
But, for this story just know the 101 runs past Hidden Hills, the very private horse-riding mecca for the Hollywood set. Here’s an aside, one sunny day I actually met Edward Albert, Eddie’s (Green Acres) son at the horse show arena. As it happened, I made a costume for my neighbor’s daughter to ride in the horse parade. Edward was so nice and flirty.
Okay, enough about that.
Any celebrity living at the ocean commuted to the studios through Malibu Canyon Road. This two-lane scenic route tees off the Pacific Coast Highway (CA Highway 1) right where Pepperdine University was built. The canyon road wiggles through a tunnel ending up just south of Thousand Oaks where it intersects the 101.
After moving from Houston, Texas to Los Angeles, it soon became my sport to peek into passing cars to catch glimpses of the celebrities driving by.
My first sighting was Dennis Weaver. Back then he was starring in his own television series “McCloud” even though most folks still remember him for his break-out role as Chester, Marshal Dillon’s trusty deputy on “Gunsmoke.” During that time, Weaver was also the Screen Actors Guild President from 1973 to 1975.
Another actor I saw frequently was Richard Widmark. He commuted regularly in a sporty gold Mercedes Roadster. Unfortunately, I can’t recall any of the other personalities I used to see.
On this one spring day. I was headed home after a tennis lesson at Pierce Jr. College. And then it happened on this ordinary morning that a sleek black limo with opaque windows whisked past me in the fast lane. What caught my eye were the plates. They read “Elvis 4”! (Like, did he own Elvis-1, Elvis-2, and Elvis- 3? Three other limousines, too?) I will never know.
In a knee jerk reaction, and clearly without forethought, I banged down on the gas and swung in behind the stretch. It was pedal-to-the medal and in no time at all I closed in. Surging up the fast lane, I wanted to grab a look inside.
The driver must have spied me as I gained momentum because he accelerated again. Well, driving my V8 Mercury Monarch, he couldn’t shake me. I was in full chase mode.
I admit that for a brief space in time, it was a war of wills for about two miles. And then my brain finally kicked on. Flash! I was crashing the federal double-nickel speed limit by more than 30 miles per hour and the fines would be doubled.
Yikes, I jammed on the brakes and slid back into my lane as the limo pulled away and sped out of sight.
I would never be able to squeeze enough money out of the grocery budget to pay the heavy fine for exceeding the new national speed limit.
The fastest anyone could drive anywhere in this country was 55mph which is why it was called the “double-nickel.” The United States was facing a petroleum shortage because of the Middle East’s oil embargo us.
Goodness, we were forced to slow down because a gallon of gas cost 54 cents.
Elizabeth Youngman can be reached at [email protected].