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George Skelton CAPITOL JOURNAL

Hall of Fame Leaves Out Major Leaguers

August 10, 2006|George Skelton

Sacramento — Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of Clint Eastwood movies. Surfing TV late at night, if I click on an old "Dirty Harry" flick, I'm hooked. "Well, punk...."

But Eastwood doesn't belong on the inaugural list of new California Hall of Fame members any more than, say, Alice Walker or Frank Gehry.

In case you missed it, First Lady Maria Shriver and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last week established a new California Hall of Fame in the state history museum.

First, some background: Two years ago, Shriver attempted to eviscerate this museum by persuading board members to switch its focus entirely to women. Big flap. Three directors quit. Finally, a compromise: Women would merely get more emphasis. The place would be called the Museum for History, Women and the Arts.

Now comes the Shriver Hall of Fame, which she said was designed to highlight Californians "who really started from nothing and who changed the world." Right off, this smacks of reverse-classism that would exclude even members of her own Kennedy family.

She also said the idea was "to honor the dreamers of California, the innovators." She missed a bunch.

It just seems to me that any California Hall of Fame -- especially one housed in a history museum -- should include in its initial membership those legendary figures who have had an indisputably large influence on shaping the state.

Such figures as these, who didn't make the cut:

* "The Big Four": Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, Collis P. Huntington and Mark Hopkins. Their epic construction of the Central Pacific railroad over the Sierra opened the continent and paved the way for California growth.

* Reform Gov. Hiram Johnson, 1911-17. He gave us the initiative, referendum and recall, nonpartisan local elections and a Public Utilities Commission that crushed the railroad monopoly. Without the recall, Shriver wouldn't be first lady.

* Amadeo Peter Giannini. He founded the Bank of Italy -- later renamed the Bank of America -- and revolutionized banking by lending to the working stiff, not just to the wealthy. He helped finance the rise of California agriculture and the Hollywood movie industry.

"He's one of the two or three most important persons in the history of the state," says California historian Kevin Starr.

* Earl Warren, governor and U.S. Supreme Court chief justice. He was the only California governor elected to three terms, a Republican so popular he once even won the Democratic nomination.

* Industrialist Henry J. Kaiser. Starting virtually from scratch, he built 1,490 ships during World War II, better than one ship a day. He also created steel mills and pioneered HMOs.

* Gov. Pat Brown, 1959-67. A builder and visionary whom Schwarzenegger would very much like to emulate.

The list of renowned rejects goes on:

Father Junipero Serra, founder of California's missions; John Charles Fremont, explorer, military leader in the "Bear Flag Rebellion" against Mexican rule, U.S. senator; the gold rush guys: John Sutter and James Marshall; Helen Hunt Jackson, author of "Ramona," the classic about Spanish Southern California; John Steinbeck, whose "Grapes of Wrath" arguably is the most famous novel ever set in California; and Ishi, the last Native American to survive in the wild. He walked out in 1911.

Schwarzenegger had the final say on who would be admitted to the California hall. But the selections were made mostly by political lackeys of the governor and first lady.

Starr, a former state librarian, was brought in for credibility. He nominated roughly 120 people. Some were selected. Some who he did not nominate also were selected.

The final 13 picks: Eastwood; writer Walker ("The Color Purple"); architect Gehry (Walt Disney Concert Hall); Walt Disney; Gov. and President Ronald Reagan; farmworker union leader Cesar Chavez; naturalist John Muir; aviator Amelia Earhart; pioneering AIDS researcher David Ho; tennis star Billie Jean King; astronaut Sally Ride; and the Hearst and Packard families.

I'd have chosen only Reagan, Chavez and Muir as inaugural inductees.

The plan is to name roughly 12 every year.

"You have to start somewhere," Starr says, adding that the historic giants "will all begin to show up as time goes on. They wanted to start with more contemporary, recognizable figures."

I suspect they also wanted to start with some friends, or friends of friends, and personal heroes.

Eastwood? He's chummy with the governor and dabbles in politics. But if you want a historic California actor, how about John Wayne?

Or Marilyn Monroe? She seems to fit all of Shriver's criteria. Monroe really did start from nothing, bouncing around L.A. foster homes and orphanages, and was discovered by a photographer -- old Hollywood style -- while working in a World War II aircraft plant.

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