Have you ever felt you have lived a charmed life? I don’t mean a perfect life where nothing bad ever happens – that would not be possible, and probably not even desirable. I’ve lived what a friend calls a “rich life.” Looking back over seven decades, I see how so many things have worked together for good that sometimes I wonder how it all came about.
My first job after I left college was receptionist at the Hollywood Bowl. (I thought about saying world famous, but it seems that every little mom and pop café or doughnut shop titles itself “world famous,” so decided you either know it or you don’t.) It was a wonderful job. I’d been raised in a house full of classical music – my dad played his beautiful old Chickering grand piano every night – so to be working where the crème-de-la-crème of classical musicians performed was just like falling into a vat of cream. To answer the phone and find I was talking to Jascha Heifitz was enough to make me light-headed. For two years I attended every concert, ballet and opera that I could manage.
The only reason I left the Hollywood Bowl (which was part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic), was to join the U.S. Foreign Service. Good gracious – to work at an American Embassy somewhere in the world, what could be better? The first “tour” was 2-1/2 years at the American Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa. What a heady experience for a 23 year old girl.
After that I transferred to the American Embassy in London – wow, a dream come true! My dad was from Britain and I’d always wanted to see his home in Wales. How perfect was this? Even better, he came to visit and we took a tour, ending up at his magnificent old home together. In my backyard I still have the piece of slate he picked up from the courtyard by the stables.
When Cosmopolitan Magazine wanted to do an article on “Embassy Girls,” the Administrative Officer chose me to represent the Embassy in London. Strangely, by the time the article was actually published, I had left the Foreign Service, and returned home to North Hollywood to be with my parents.
The Foreign Service was the absolutely best life. I was living abroad on an American salary with servants at my beck-and-call, a dress-maker who could copy any design from Vogue Magazine and my own lovely one-bedroom flat. I bought a used car so I could go motoring in the countryside. From London I visited Europe on my vacations. I was living high on the hog! But there is a bit of wisdom in the Foreign Service that says if you stay in for more than two tours, you’ll never be able to leave.
There are many reasons for this – the life is intriguing and exciting, the American salary affords a standard of living that is way beyond what it would be back home, and even the lowly secretary moves in diplomatic circles meeting VIPS. Robert and Ethel Kennedy had come for a visit when I was in Pretoria and I was one of the two Embassy escorts to accompany Ethel Kennedy back to the airport in the limousine. How many other girls my age had done that? Yep, lots of perks.
But I didn’t want to be an ex-patriate. In spite of all the perks, found I was home-sick for America and Americans. I love my country!
So I made the jump from Secretary to the Administrative Officer of the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London, England to just plain old secretary looking for a job. I moved back home, to North Hollywood, California, and spent several months working for Kelly Girls (as they were called at the time). Finally I went to an employment agency to find a real job. The lady was impressed with my resume and delighted that I was a seasoned traveler and said she had the perfect job for me. She wrote an address on a piece of paper and told be to be there tomorrow afternoon at 1:00, and said, “when you get there ask for Phyllis Diller.”
Honestly, since I’d been living abroad for five years without benefit of television, I wasn’t sure exactly who or what a Phyllis Diller was. I found out fast enough, though, and for the next two years traveled with her all over the country and even on two occasions back to London to film television shows. Man, what could be better than that?
I moved out of the comfort of my parent’s home and shared an apartment with another Phyllis Diller employee, Ingrid. I loved all the traveling, but the trouble was that each time I’d come back from one of our gigs, Ingrid would tell me about the best party I had missed, or let me know that Russ and Judy’s wedding was going to be next month – right in the middle of the Puerto Rico trip. My life on the road was exciting, but my real life with my friends in L.A. was moving on without me. After two years of this, I decided I wanted to stay put.
After being an Embassy secretary and then Phyllis Diller’s personal assistant, I hated the thought of a regular 9-5 job. Surely something exciting would come along – and it did! One day Phyllis’s manager, Roy, called and told me his secretary had just quit – did I want to come work for him?
Roy ran the west coast office of a management company that handled big name stars – Alan Alda, Al Pacino, Diahann Carroll, Dyan Cannon, Raquel Welch, and a host of others. Candice Bergen was in and out of the office a lot, as were George Gobel and Jack Jones. It was fast-paced, high-powered, exciting and demanding, and best of all, at the end of the day I came home to my kitty-cat and my own place.
I eventually tired of the artificial show business and decided to move to Houston where my brother lived. My dad had died and my mother agreed to sell the old homestead and move to Houston as well.
I worked there for a judge which was a whole different dish of fish. One time I called back to L.A. to talk to Roy. I told him that I missed him and the office, but felt good about my job, and he said, “Well, what we do here is make-believe, but what you’re doing there is real life.” He hit the nail on the head.
The final, and longest chapter in my life (so far) was when I left Houston and moved to Las Vegas to marry Bob Smith (really), the stage manager at the Riviera whom I had met all those years ago when I was there with Phyllis. Bob and I had kept in touch over the years and I remembered the “take care” kind of guy he was. When he suggested we tie the knot, it sounded like a fine idea.
Moving to Las Vegas turned out to be another great chapter in my life. I learned to play golf and Bob and I played several times a week. His job as stage manager meant he was at the Riviera from 6 p.m. till 2 a.m. which left our afternoons free. I eventually went to work for the District Court in Las Vegas and from there went to the U.S. Attorney’s Office where I worked with witnesses and victims of crimes as well as local, state and federal law enforcement.
And now I’m retired. Bob is gone, but I still play golf, I throw pottery (no, not at the wall – on a wheel), take occasional trips to California wine country, volunteer during fund-raising drives for the local public radio station, and help with after-school Bible Clubs. You know how they say that being retired keeps you busier than working ever did? It’s true! And I love it!
I hope you’ll join me for some of my adventures here in “Fabulous Las Vegas” — and beyond.