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Short Takes

The Lost Diary Has a Happy Ending

July 17, 1988

"It's so incredible!" Jan Teller Wahl said. "My heart is beating a thousand times a minute. It's better than the first time I saw 'Gone With the Wind.' It's like a Hitchcock movie, only it's real and I'm starring. . . ."

Nowadays, Wahl reviews films and runs a movie memorabilia shop in Sausalito. Twenty years ago she was a feisty, idealistic, opinionated 16-year-old on a tour of the Soviet Union with a group from L.A.'s University High School. Wahl kept a diary on the trip--detailed, perceptive, sensitive. On her arrival home, the diary was missing. "I thought the Russians had taken it," she said last week. "I was heartsick. I'd named names: Jews I'd met, dissidents. I'd written down everything, and even though I was only trying to help, I felt tremendous guilt. Until Colin's call."

Colin is Colin Bryant, a Briton who found Wahl's diary near an airport outside of London in 1968. For 20 years he tried to return it, though diary clues were sketchy--writer unnamed, school unnamed. Last month he enlisted the aid of The Times. A friend of Wahl, Ron Silver, who was mentioned in the diary, read the article. Silver, now with the Justice Department here, called Bryant, now a civil-aviation official in Turks and Caicos Islands, British West Indies. Bryant called Wahl in Sausalito. Wahl "almost fainted."

Bryant mailed the diary. Contacted in the islands, he said he was still "very excited. It's been a long quest. The diary wasn't something you throw into the dustbin. It's not your normal last-night-I-went-to-the-pictures diary. Everything she saw, everyone she met was described, analyzed. . . ."

Wahl went into TV in L.A., wrote an Emmy-winning documentary, married, moved on. The diary's return, though, was the apogee of her life: "The love in that phone call from Colin!" she said. "The wire just crackled with it.

"I feel like there's a higher power involved in this. Maybe God is really an overweight Jewish woman."

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