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THE SUNDAY PROFILE : Loyal and Hearty : Randy Skretvedt of Buena Park has spent most of his 36 years combing the past to chronicle the history of vintage movies, old-time radio, and dance bands of the early 20th Century. What started as a hobby has become his livelihood.


It isn't difficult spotting Randy Skretvedt in the throng of Laurel and Hardy fans gathered at the bottom of the famous flight of stairs in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles.

He's the one wearing the red fez--a fez actually worn in Laurel and Hardy's "Sons of the Desert," their 1933 parody of a fraternal organization's national convention. As Skretvedt says of his gold-embroidered headwear: "This is the crowd for it."

And the 36-year-old broadcaster and show business historian from Buena Park is the man for the crowd: members of the Sons of the Desert--the international Laurel and Hardy fan club--who are on a pilgrimage to the steep stairway where Stan and Ollie moved that recalcitrant piano in their Oscar-winning short "The Music Box."

A connoisseur of early 20th-Century-vintage entertainment, Skretvedt is a recognized expert on the legendary comedy duo and the author of "Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies," his recently updated book chronicling the making of their films.

Skretvedt, himself a member of the Sons of the Desert since he was 12, had been invited to be guest lecturer at the recent gathering honoring the 105th anniversary of the birth of Stan Laurel.

"Randy is certainly among the top authorities when it comes to film history, the history of comedies and especially the silents and comedies of the 1930s," says Don Northcutt, head of the San Juan Capistrano-based Fixer Uppers chapter of the Sons of the Desert (or grand sheik of the Fixer Uppers tent in the parlance of the Sons of the Desert, whose 150 chapters around the world are named after Laurel and Hardy movies).

But before Skretvedt shares behind-the-scenes stories of Laurel and Hardy during his 45-minute slide show at the nearby San Antonio Winery, he and more than two dozen chapter members stop by the stairway on Vendome Street just below Sunset Boulevard.

And, loyal Sons that they are, most walk--or run--up the famous flight of stairs, counting the steps as they go. Even Skretvedt, no stranger to the stairway, gets into the act--just to "verify" that there really are 131 steps.

"This is one of our few opportunities to do a little time traveling and actually be at a locale where Laurel and Hardy made one of their films," he says afterward. "You can literally walk in their steps."


Skretvedt has been walking in the steps of vintage American entertainers since he first encountered Laurel and Hardy on his folks' black and white DuMont TV set when he was 4.

Inspired by the background music in Laurel and Hardy and Little Rascals films, he began buying vintage 78s at thrift shops when he was 7. At 9, he started accumulating what has grown into a collection of 250 comedy films on Super 8 and 16 millimeter.

In high school, he screened comedy shorts for students once a week during the lunch hour and even wrote a term paper on "The Evolution of Laurel and Hardy."

By 19, he had a contract from St. Martin's Press for his first book--"Steve Martin: the Unauthorized Biography"--one of his rare literary forays into contemporary show business.

Except for a two-year stint clearing tables and serving as host at the steak house at Knott's Berry Farm in the late '70s, he has managed to avoid holding down a traditional job. Instead, the 1982 Cal State Fullerton communications graduate has succeeded in turning his hobby into his livelihood:

* He edits and publishes Past Times, a quarterly 36-page newsletter devoted to vintage movies, old-time radio and dance bands of the '20s, '30s and '40s.

* He hosts "Forward Into the Past" on KSPC-FM (88.7) (the Pomona College radio station) Sunday afternoons from 2 to 5 p.m. The 13-year-old program, he says, "is kind of the audio version of the Past Times newsletter," in which he plays musical recordings and old-time radio shows from the '20s through the '40s.

* He co-hosts and co-writes "The Sunset Review," a comedy program that precedes his KSPC show and is set in a fictitious California town called Merkis Palms, "the town that time remembers but people forget."

* He co-owns a mail-order business, Vintage Sound Works, which sells CDs, LPs and tapes of music from the '20s through the '40s.

* He has written or co-written three books: The 1980 biography of Steve Martin, which he co-wrote with former Orange County writers Jeff and Greg Lenburg; the Laurel and Hardy book, first published in 1987 and updated last year, and the "Nostalgia Entertainment Source Book," a 1991 entertainment directory co-written with Jordan Young of Anaheim that lists archives and companies that "have to do with all this great old stuff."

Locally, Skretvedt is known as the grand sheik of the "Unaccustomed As We Are" tent, the Buena Park-based chapter of the Sons of the Desert. He became chapter head when he was 15 and except for a couple of years off has "always been the guy who brings the films and puts the programs together."

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