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Celebrities Find a Haven of Beauty, Peacefulness

North / South Which Side Are You On?

August 27, 1989|DENNIS McLELLAN | Times Staff Writer

When syndicated newspaper columnist Bob Greene flew into Orange County from Chicago recently to spend a few days in Laguna Beach, he was surprised to learn Harriet Nelson lived there and did her own shopping in the local grocery store.

The idea that you could go into a supermarket and actually see "America's Mother" wheeling a shopping cart down the aisle simply floored Greene, a Midwestern native. "I was quickly learning that one of the ad hoc games of daily life in this part of California is Name the Neighbors," Greene wrote in his column. "People the rest of us only hear or read about make their homes here and hang out at the local restaurants and clothing stores."

Harriet Nelson: As Nelson told The Times in June, she does indeed do her own shopping at the supermarket on Coast Highway across from her beachfront home, which she and Ozzie bought in the mid-'50s as a weekend retreat. She said she enjoys the "village atmosphere of Laguna. I know everyone down here, and they are all such nice people."

Nelson, of course, is not alone in loving her particular neck of the South County woods. Since the 1930s when Bette Davis used to own a beach-front house in Laguna--and through the '60s and '70s when John Wayne hung his Stetson in his waterfront home in Newport Beach and Richard Nixon lived in exile in the former Western White House in San Clemente--South County has been a mecca for well-known names in a variety of fields.

Though some lament the passing of a more rural South County, they still have ample reason to be among the area's biggest boosters. Here are some well-known people with South County addresses--and their reasons for settling there.

Joey Bishop: Comedian Bishop and his wife, Sylvia, literally blew into Newport Beach 16 years ago on their 42-foot boat after 11 hours battling a 60-knot wind and 14-foot swells on their way up the coast from San Diego. Bishop, who lived in Beverly Hills at the time, docked his boat at the Balboa Bay Club and took a suite there for the night. The next day the Bishops saw a house being built across the channel on Lido Isle and decided to buy it.

Said Bishop: "I sit in my living room and look out on the channel with the boats going by, and someone once said to me, 'What makes it so interesting?' I said, 'It's like God sends me a picture post card every day.' The first thing I felt was I did not feel there was a rat race. I felt everybody had already survived their rat race and were enjoying their life."

Ken Norton: Former heavyweight boxing champion Norton lives with his wife, Jackie, and their four children in a large home in the exclusive South Peak section of Laguna Niguel. Norton, owner of Ken Norton's Gold's Gym in El Toro, suffered a near-fatal car accident in 1986. While he was beginning rehabilitation in their Marina del Rey home, Jackie Norton began house hunting in South County.

"I didn't know about it," Norton said. "When I got hurt I wasn't able to do anything for a long time. (She suggested) moving down here for quietness and recuperation. It was peaceful, the people were nice and the schools were good. It didn't have the drug problems, the gang problems and the racial problems, so I didn't have to worry about the kids so much. I like Orange County a lot. It makes me wonder why I didn't come before."

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