Just a half a fortnight (minus a day) from Christmas, the Hollywood Museum invited roughly 200 students from L.A.’s Dolores Mission School for an morning/afternoon of inspiration, exploration, and gustatory celebration! Commencing with cookies and a slew of rousing speeches, these 6th-8th graders were subsequently invited on a guided tour of the museum, followed by a luncheon to beat anything Potsie, Richie, Ralph and The Fonz ever experienced, at the Mel’s Diner adjacently attached to the old Max Factor Building-turned-Museum.
Hosted by Hollywood Museum President and Founder Donelle Dadigan, along with Hollywood Museum Manager Steve Nickelmoe, featured guest speakers included a near parade of city officials, and child actors circa 1957 to the present! Among those in attendance, and as part of the welcoming committee were, Brandin Stennis from The Young & the Restless, Brianni Walker of Mani and The Cool School, Brooklyn Robinson of Ministry of Evil and Pineapple, Bryson Robinson from Mani, Chalet Lizette Brannan of Wicked Enigma and Dystopia, Conner Dean from 9-1-1 and Cool Cats, Hunter Payton of Raven’s Home, Isabella Leon of BITS, Jaheem Toombs from 100 Things To Do Before High School, Jax Malcolm of Conversation Invasion, and Sean-Ryan Petersen of Victor & Valentino and Clique Wars.
But the icing on the cake for both children and adults alike would have to have been the presence of two of the longest running child/adult actors known to nearly every generation: Jerry Mathers aka “The Beev” of Leave it to Beaver fame, and Jeremy Miller, best known as Ben from Growing Pains.
90% Latino and comprised of 60% English learners; deriving predominantly from families earning 10%-30% below the median income, and/or 75% below the poverty level, many Dolores Mission School students seldom partake in the enjoyment of restaurant dinning, let alone the pleasure of engaging in a traditional Christmas celebration featuring all the customary trimmings and gifts, hence the reason for the seventh annual Christmas party inspired and hosted by Dadigan.
A celebration truly commensurate with a visit to a winter wonderland, every floor of the old Max Factor building was decorated to the hilt boasting Christmas trees of all shapes, colors and sizes, courtesy of Bob Pranga. Following the museum tour, and 1950s Mel’s-Diner-Style lunch, the children were all bestowed gift bags, put together, in part by the child stars, to take home and share with their families!
Photos by Bill Dow; Courtesy of The Hollywood Museum:
A feel-good tradition some lucky seven years now, past participants could only sing its praises:
According to mom of child stars from the movie E.T. (and mother and grandmother to all additional child co-stars to this day) Dee Wallace had the following to impart, “My family was very poor, when I was growing up in Iowa. I understand the importance of helping our children take those first steps to truly loving themselves, so they can then truly love others!”
~As a fun aside, it was Wallace who bestowed her very own invention BuppaLaPaloo Bear to the Mission Students Christmas circa 2015. BuppaLapaLoo (or Buppa for short) utters healing and confidence-building affirmations, along with affording the additional option of recording your own declarations to add to the furry creature’s esteem-enhancing repertoire (and/or list of vocal impersonations, with an option of a career in stand-up comedy, should the toy animal, in turn, develop its own emboldened self-esteem in the process and choose to go that route… What – “it could happen?!?” as comedienne and Hollywood Museum frequenter herself Judy Tenuta would say…)~
“It’s really all about the kids and history. Today (Today — a fortnight before Christmas 2015 that is…) was a fabulous pairing of both. It is an honor to be at the Hollywood Museum,” according to (circa 2015 time traveler), and A Minor Consideration founder, best known for his role as Jeff on The Donna Reed Show, Paul Petersen.
Aside from a festive and moving experience, the students themselves are almost always first to impress the celebrities before the celebs impress them. According to Romi Dames aka Tracy Van Horn of Hannah Montana, “I was really impressed with the kids–they were such a polite audience! And they seemed like they were having a blast touring the museum. I think it’s wonderful that the Hollywood Museum donated their time and resources to the children of the Dolores Mission. I’m a huge believer in having the arts as a part of school programs, because it helps contextualize historical events.”
And Ilene Graff of Mr. Belvedere fame, a mom who knows whereof she speaks, particularly after having to raise a one, Wesley T. Owens (oy vey!!!) could only agree on that same front: “I had the best time with these kids. It must have to have something to do with the good cheer in the room. Just lovely…” Regarding her advice to the school children that self-same day, Graff could only impart, “Enjoy being children while you can,” (unless, of course, you are Wesley T. Owens). “The realities of an adult life will come soon enough,” (which for Wesley T. Owens was as soon as he turned 6 years old as Wesley T. Owens was already an adult of the most enterprising and opportunistic kind I tellya!!! – Aye Carumba!)
Speakers in da house for 2019 included Hollywood Museum and Founder Donelle Dadigan (natch). While customarily feeling compelled to admonish adult showbiz types to “be quiet” in that all-too-gently authoritative tone adding that she “used to be a schoolteacher” (at most swank nighttime functions hosted at The Hollywood Museum), Dadigan hardly felt the need to mention this fun fact, let alone instruct these better-behaved school children, how to…I don’t know… “not-talk-when-others-are-talking”. (As a matter of fact, as soon as the primary guest speaker alighted the podium and uttered a hearty “Buenos Diaz” to the audience, so transfixed were they by Dadigan’s professorial mannerisms, it took two tries for them to speak up and answer back!)
On that note, and first guest to speak: Senator Maria Elena Durazo of District 24, the same as that of the students’, of whom Dadigan stated “She knows all about you,” (an intriguing divulgence which might just fuel any enterprising student’s imagination pending the screenplay-of-a-lifetime involving local gubernatorial surveillance. (Naturally, the LA Beat muses upon the above notion all in jest. However, it too, has an ambient writer’s imagination.)
Photos by Bill Dow; Courtesy of The Hollywood Museum:
In light of that, the above pertains somewhat to Ms. Durazo’s message wherein she encouraged students to think about what cinematic career might best suit them as they toured the museum, adding that keeping film production alive and well in L.A. is nothing but advantageous for all local communities. Swiftly and enthusiascially thereafter Durazo admitted that she would “report back to Father Brendan and Father Ted [that the students] were all very well behaved,” (thusly solidifying the notion in that of the burgeoning screen writer/student’s mind pending a District Fueled Surveillance flick!)
Hollywood Deputy Marisol Rodriguez, District Director for Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, was next to the hot stand. Echoing all actual and imagined inspiration in light of Durazo’s speech, Rodriquez encouraged students to think about becoming a “writer, producer, musician, sound stage [employee], or maybe even actor because we have a lot of actors here today who can inspire you!” Rodriguez then highlighted her own path to success: Having grown up in Pico Union as one of four children to a single mother who worked as a housekeeper, it was instilled in her that “education planning and patience was the key to success.” Around the time she turned thirteen (the age of many of the Dolores Mission students) she decided on attending U.S.C. Rodriguez admitted to studying hard, winning a scholarship, graduating college, and getting a good career which would eventually lead her to gool ol’ Mitch O’Farrell’s office. She now owns her dream home in Boyle Heights. Her closing sentiments: “Dream big [get an] education, [exercise] patience — respect, kindness and working together is the most important!”
LAPD Captain Elaine Morales, an employee with the LAPD for 32 years encouraged all to spend time with family and friends, all the while staying in school and surrounding oneself with “folks that bring out the best in you” up to and including the people who nag you i.e. parents, guardians etc… She concluded by reminding us that, irrespective of the experiences in our lives, “good, bad, indifferent…if we maintain the values of our parents and our support groups, that will make us successful. Having passion for what you do will also carry you through!”
From the Hollywood Division of the LAPD Officer Tim and Officer Brian rebelliously ignored alighting any podiums all together as they rocked us all out to their very own versions of Run Run Rudolph and Feliz Navidad; the more closely shorn of the two (Officer Tim I believe) sounding just a trifle bit like Jon Bon Jovi as he jammed!!!
All this for the purpose (according to Officer Tim, the ostensibly more closely shorn of the two) providing us “with a different look at what we see from our law enforcement officers”!
A fascinating, gentle, and soft spoken-to-zen Jerry Mathers was next to the podium. But he rocked it irrespectively bereft of any guitar or harmonica action. Mathers expressed not only his gratitude and excitement in partaking of the day’s festivities, but also provided a few fun facts and anecdotes from his wildly colorful life belying his most famous black and white childhood portrayals:
“It’s certainly nice to be here today. For any of you that don’t know I’m ‘The Beaver’ from Leave it to Beaver… but that wasn’t the first thing I [did]. I actually started as an actor in 1950… I was an actor on live TV… I used to come out to do PET milk commercials when PET Milk was used in Baby Food, and I would come out, and there was an entertainer named Ed Wynn. He was a very, very big Vaudeville actor…and he’d be talking, and I’d come out in a diaper with six guns, and an empty bottle and say, ‘I want my PET Milk!’ He would then go into a commercial for PET Milk. So that’s how I started. I then went on to do many movies. I worked with Alfred Hitchcock. I worked with Shirley MacLaine in her very first movie… I did two movies with Bob Hope. In one of them, Bob Hope saved my life… It was The Seven Little Foys and Eddie Foy was a Vaudevillian actor and he had saved many people…dancing onstage. Because in Vaudeville instead of having lights, they used to have gasoline lit flames that actually lit the stage, and one of ‘em caught on fire while we tried to recreate that. It actually did cause a fire and I was supposed to be sitting up in the balcony. And of course they said, ‘He’ll be perfectly safe.’ Well, they put too much gasoline on the curtains, and all of a sudden the stuntman who was supposed to get to me, couldn’t, and the only person who could get to me was Bob Hope! And he came through the flames, and he got me down and I was all right. But there was so much smoke that the next day we had to do it again. But that time it worked. After that, I did many other movies and television shows, and in 1957 I did Leave it to Beaver, I did the pilot, and it is now the longest running show in television history. It’s never been off the air since 1957. (audience applause). It plays in 80 languages all over the world… And [concerning] how…American children [grew] up, that’s how people learned about it… [They would say] ‘Oh life is like Leave it to Beaver!’ I only wish, right? …I’ve had a wonderful life, a wonderful career. Do any of you have any questions? Well if not I would just like to tell you thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here. Feliz Navidad and have a Merry Christmas. Thank you!”
Jeremy Miller, best known as Ben from Growing Pains but also having been featured as the voice of Linus Van Pelt in Happy New Year Charlie Brown along with appearing on Sesame Street and Where in the World is Carmen San Diego along with voiced roles in Family Guy and Not All Dogs go to Heaven had some interesting anecdotes and observations all his own:
“This is amazing. As they said, I used to be on Growing Pains. I was on many other shows you guys would be familiar with as well. Um… Growing Pains was a little bit before your time. Is there anybody who is familiar with the show, who’s seen it…? Any of the kids…? Well we have some of the adults.”
At which point Donelle Dadigan could only encouragingly call from the side shell peanut gallery: “Marisol and I have seen it!” (And of course, so had the LA Beat.)
“I think I can still impress you kids though,” continued Miller as he soldiered on in most good-natured fashion. “This is my claim to fame: I worked with Leonardo di Caprio and Brad Pitt on my show before they were ever anybody. I used to help Leo run his lines and work on his performance. So, there we go!”
Miller then went on to describe his childhood: “I grew up in a single-[parent] home… My mom and dad divorced when I was 2 ½ and I was raised by my mom who was a school teacher, and we struggled. We were supported by our local church, and our food banks, and we lived hand to mouth a lot of times and didn’t know where our next meal was coming from. [But] I was very blessed to have an opportunity to pursue something I really loved that helped bring my family out of that… I…at five years old didn’t know this would be a career for me… I didn’t know that pursuing acting would be something I’d end up doing at 43… But it helped support my family. It helped bring my family out of that situation we were in before, and I know a lot of kids look at singing, and the entertainment industry, and they look at all the big glamorous jobs — and those are awesome. As I told you before: Dream big. Go for what you really want to do. But, if you want to be involved in this industry, there are so many things you guys could do. There are so many different positions. There were over 250 people working on our sound stage and on our show that you guys never saw. There were another 100 people working in the office – behind the scenes. You guys could be filmmakers, you guys could be music makers, and you don’t have to be the star. Everybody wants to be the star, but, trust me, even if that’s not your path, you guys can still be a part of this amazing, amazing industry. So, don’t let anybody tell you what you guys can do or can’t do. If you guys can dream it, you guys can get it! Chase it! Go after it! Have a really wonderful holiday! Have a Merry Christmas!”
Other speakers of note followed:
Brianna Walker, best known as Jenna on Mani, bravely admitted to being a former victim of “bullying and suicide”. She further imparted that bullies come from broken homes and need love too, and that without love, they don’t know how to give it! All this as an astute buildup to further inspiring any and all related conversation by encouraging kids to tell someone if they had been bullied.
Child actress Chalet Lizette Brannen founder of Beads of Courage, a worldwide organization for children which supports cancer victims, had the following to impart: “I had cancer when I was ten and I just want to say: Never give up and just keep following your dreams ‘cause they will come true and just be true to yourself!”
Athletic and wise-beyond-his years, child-turned-teenage actor Hunter Peyton from Funny or Die and most famously known for A to Z, had this to say: “Never give up. I do a lot of parkour and American Ninja Warrior so I’m very used to falling, and it’s very hard to not give up sometimes. We’ve all had tough times in life… Or we’ve seen something and said, ‘I can’t do this’… But honestly, moments like that are what make a person. It’s what proves that you’re strong enough to keep going, and I just want to say ‘never give up,’ and ‘follow your dreams’!
Singer, actress, and teenage beauty queen Isabella Leon of Ghost Girl and Good Church steered us all toward the notion of perfect perfection by way of her new song entitled Perfectly Perfect imparting the message that we are all perfectly perfect!
Sean-Ryan Peterson of The Cartoon Network’s Victor and Valentino prefaced his career talk by admitting that he had been at his profession about 11 years, but had not worked all, or most, of it, but still kept at it. He then closed out his speech by proclaiming: “You guys are the future and whatever you choose to do is going to build the future!”
A ten-year-old Brooklyn Robinson best known for her lauded lead role in the short film Like Me, in keeping with the film’s title, reminded everyone to “always be yourself. ‘Cause there’s no one quite like you-than you.”
Bryson Robinson aka Timmy in Class Dismissed simply wished everyone, “Happy holidays, and never give up on your dreams ‘cause you all are the next generation!
Brandin Stennis of The Young and the Restless wished us all a great holiday and reminded us to “always remember to give back” and follow our dreams!
Connor Dean, best known as Butch the Bully in the Cool Cat movies, and Jax Malcolm of Jason, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fame spoke together in (Christmas) light of their new cinematic collab: Jingle Trail! They encouraged everyone, “like everyone else is doing” to follow their dreams, along with not listening to anyone who tells you otherwise: This message rendered even more sweet by merit of the fact that Jingle Trail is the very first film produced by Dean’s film company: all at the ripe old anniversary of Dean’s seventeenth year on this planet no less!!!
All in all, a morning of cookies, cheer and goodwill, followed by an afternoon of cinematic intrigue, gustatory delight and gift giving via receiving! Truly spec-package-ular!!!
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