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THE BEST YEARS : SENIORS : Many Chapters : "I like my years," says actor Jeff Corey. "I like my amassed experiences."

May 10, 1990|NORMA BARZMAN

Veteran film and TV actor Jeff Corey and his ceramist wife Hope Corey invite their three daughters, three sons-in-law and six grandchildren to stay with them at their Ojai vacation house as often as possible. Jeff and Hope call it "creating memories."

"Our twin grandsons Ben and Nat are going to remember making pots and baking them in Grandma's kiln," Hope says. Jeff Corey appreciates his role as paterfamilias perhaps even more than his acting roles. He claims one of the reasons he doesn't mind aging is that he's "building the future."

"I like my years," says the gaunt actor. "I like big books, long novels with many chapters. I have many chapters. I love my real age, but in Hollywood it affects getting a job. Therefore, you don't mention age."

"I like my amassed experiences," he says. "After all, I can remember when horse manure was an impediment to our games in the street. I studied by gaslight. And I listened to the Dempsey-Carpentier fight on a crystal set."

"My favorite memory is the first time I saw Hopie. I wooed her in New York. You could walk around Central Park freely in those days and not worry. Although it hurts, I like to remember when Evie, our oldest, was only 3 weeks old. It was the war, and Hopie drove me to the Pantages Theatre, where the bus waited, the bus that would take me to boot camp."

Jeff made me realize I like my years too, not only my memories, but how I've experienced life.

Forty-five years ago Jim Murray and I were cub reporters on the Los Angeles Examiner. Yes--the same Jim Murray who is now a veteran sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times and who just received the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary. He and I got our basic training from Jim Richardson, one of the last of the tough, angry "Front Page" city editors. It was World War II and Richardson had trained so many reporters only to have them drafted that he hired a girl. Me.

To be the only female in that smoky, jokey sea of macho wouldn't have been easy even if Jim Richardson and the Club Car Boys hadn't discovered my claims to newspaper experience were false.

The next to last night of my first week on the paper, I went to supper as usual. When I came out, I saw a boy and a dog, the only signs of life on dark South Broadway.

What was a little boy doing in downtown L.A. at night alone?

The boy said he'd just gotten his dog out of the pound. He'd come by bus from Santa Monica. He had a nickel for the return ride, but bus drivers wouldn't take the dog.

"My mother works in a war plant. Our neighbor was supposed to keep the dog for us. My father . . ." his voice trailed off. His father, a serviceman, had just been killed overseas.

On my way into the Examiner with the boy, I was stopped by Jim Murray. "I wouldn't bring that mangy dog in here if I were you," he advised. "You're already hanging by a thread." I took the boy and dog to the photography room. Abby, a photographer, the only one who had befriended me during that week, put them on a table and covered them with a blanket.

I wrote the story, put it on the desk of the night editor, and asked to leave early. I drove the boy and dog back to Santa Monica. The next day when I opened the city room door, I was greeted by Richardson's loud, angry bark. "You!"

He threw four telegrams at me: "Give the boy-dog story a by-line"; a second, "Give the reporter a bonus and tell him I'm watching his career"; a third, "Well, tell her I'm watching her career"; and a fourth, "Give boy and dog whatever they need." All were signed, "The Chief."

"I was going to fire you today," Richardson said gruffly. "With Mr. Hearst taking an interest in you, I can't. I'm stuck with you. But I can make your life a holy hell. And I will. I'll give you every damn boy-dog, girl-cat story--until you quit in despair!"

With that, he tossed the newspaper at me. On the first page of the second section was "The Boy and the Dog," Abby's photo of them asleep covering the top half of the page and beneath, occupying the whole bottom half of the page, was my story.

I didn't quit. I learned. Richardson taught me. And he finally gave me good stories: Mrs. Peete on Death Row; the Black Dahlia Murder Case.

Jeff Corey was right when he said, "Even if you don't remember where you left your eyeglasses, you can remember and enjoy what you were doing 40 years ago."

If Jeff likes his years, it's not just because he likes his memories. Everything he does and feels today is colored by the past. His experience as an actor and as a man is with him whether he's teaching, acting or bringing in the firewood. What gives us satisfaction is we're aware that our perception of the world is truer and richer because of our years. And there's the added pleasure of being able to pass this on.

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