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People in VIEW

Perfect Attendance Runs in the Family

June 20, 1986|Karen Laviola.

In the sixth grade Gary Miller began to think he could achieve something very few others have been able to do. Now, six years later he has done it.

Miller, 17, just graduated from Los Angeles' Eagle Rock High School with perfect attendance. Not only has Miller never missed a day of school through high school but he has never missed a day in his entire school career--from kindergarten through graduation.

"The biggest challenge has been to avoid the other students--they threatened to kidnap me," Miller said.

The inspiration began with his mother, Linda Valdez, who said she does not keep her children home "with the slightest sniffles" and reserves dentist and doctor appointments for after school. The determination began to take on a life of its own, however, when Miller began chalking up certificates year after year.

Now, it has become a family endeavor with Miller's 15-year-old sister, Julie Miller, in the contest. She just graduated from the ninth grade with a certificate for perfect attendance since kindergarten. A younger sister, Jodi Miller, 12, got zapped out of the race with chicken pox, but two others are waiting in the wings--David Valdez, 6, who just finished first grade with perfect attendance, and Jennifer Valdez, 4, not yet in school.

Salsa Secret to Long Life

Pauline Ramirez's secret to longevity is eating "mucho chili" and lots of Mexican food. Born in Aguas Calientes, Mexico, on June 22, 1878, the Highland Park resident will celebrate her 108th birthday at the Amberwood Convalescent Center Sunday.

Although Ramirez has led a clean and religious life for as long as her family can remember, son John does recall her telling about having one jigger of mescal--a liquor distilled from cactus--a day, for strength when she was a housekeeper in Mexico long ago.

Ramirez can also tell first-hand stories about the Mexican Revolution, having left Mexico with her husband in 1912. They rode the train--for two cents each--from Mexico to Lancaster where her husband worked for the railroad.

John Ramirez, 73, was born shortly after their arrival and is her only surviving child of nine. Seven of the children died in a diphtheria epidemic during a five-year period around World War I and a daughter died about five years ago. Ramirez's husband died in 1932. She has seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Ramirez lived at her home in Highland Park until 1983 when arthritis in her knees made it difficult for her to get around. Before that, she spent her time gardening and doing volunteer work at a Baptist church.

Ramirez says she is "getting tired now," but has often told her son, "If you don't watch out, I'll live longer than you."

Mystery Man Identified

"I think," wrote Lillian Spencer of Los Angeles, "that it's a photograph of the late Frankie Darro."

Wrong.

"I am sure," said Ted Booth of Huntington Beach, "that the man is Pat Buttram, who was Gene Autry's movie sidekick."

Nope.

"This has to be a picture of Yakima Canutt," insisted Fran Ray of Laguna Beach.

Absolutely right.

So ended the brief mystery of the unknown cowboy whose photograph recently appeared in People in View.

The studio still had been received by actor Rory Calhoun. It came from a fan, a U.S. Army chaplain in Germany, who asked Calhoun to autograph this "photo of you from the '30s." Unfortunately, it wasn't a photograph of Calhoun.

Although letters and telephone calls produced several cases of mistaken identity, the majority were quick to name Canutt, the former rodeo rider, actor, pioneer and doyen of Hollywood stunt men.

Ironically, Canutt, 89, died at North Hollywood Medical Center just two weeks before the photograph was published.

Members of Canutt's family and longtime friend and veteran actor John Crawford said the photograph likely was taken in the early '20s when Canutt was appearing in silent Westerns. That time-frame is firm, said widow Audrea Canutt, because her late husband is pictured with his favorite screen co-star, Boy the Wonder Horse. Canutt, five-time World Champion All-Around Cowboy, was a stunt double for Errol Flynn, Tyrone Power, Clark Gable, Henry Fonda, Roy Rogers, Randolph Scott, Tex Ritter and John Wayne.

Then why didn't Calhoun, star of more television and movie horse operas than Trigger, recognize Canutt?

"Because I worked with his son, Joe Canutt, and unfortunately never with Yak," Calhoun said.

A later, closer examination of the old photograph shows another oddity of the incident. The print is already autographed. A faint scrawl shows that Canutt signed the picture for Cliff Lyons, another stunt man of that infant movie era.

"What a coincidence," said Audrea Canutt. "From one cowboy to another cowboy to a fan of cowboy movies who sent it to another cowboy star."

The world of Western movies, she agreed, is much smaller than most.

Childhood Cancer

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