Sunday, July 12, 2009

Long ago & far away, the first part

This is Hallowe'en.

This is where, and how, it all began for me.
My Grandmother's house, the home where my mother and all her siblings grew up, was the county seat of the October Country in Venica CA, for decades, and for your humble pubkeep, from 1969 until the mid 90s.

In the old neighborhood at Venice and Lincoln Blvds, on the corner of Harding and Naples, the pretty old lady (the house, not my beautiful grandmother) thrilled and chilled visitors for over 25 years.

The whole family truly loved (loves!) Hallowe'en and had always decorated for the occasion with real enthusiasm, finding ways to scare and trick and treat the neighborhood.

In October 1969 my uncles and aunts, along with some friends, put on a yard haunt. The family had suffered a terrible loss in August of that year, and were slowly beginning to shake off the dust and try to move forward; a haunted house for the neighborhood seemed to be the ticket.

In mid afternoon set-up, circa 1990

Very quickly, the Hallowe'en haunt became a Venice tradition. If you lived anywhere in the neighborhood and didn't visit the Lennon house on October 31st, it was considered bad manners. By the 80's, kids who'd visited since '69 were bringing their kids.

There have long been well-known gang areas in Venice (V13, anyone?) and I remember seeing serious gang types among the visitors each Hallowe'en... but in the midst of the many hundreds of trick-or-treaters, relatives and friends who attended every year, I cannot recall a single violent incident. No cops breaking up fights. No knife wieldings, no gun shots, punches, not even loud swearing.

I guess they respected my Grandmother, her home, and what the family had given to the community for so many years.

Maaaaake-uuuuuup! Aunts, uncles, Hallowe'en lovers all, early 70's.
Aunts Kathy and Janet were the main make-up artists, and spent long hours every Hallowe'en helping us look our worst. From simple creme or cake colors to full blown foam rubber/latex appliances, they were our saviours. "WAIT! Don't go out without coloring your hands...!" or "Your wig is crooked, here let me...!" were often heard a few seconds before we costumed ghouls headed out to prowl the yard and spook the visitors.

It was here, at the huge oak dining table in my Grandma's den turned into a once a year make-up department, where I started learning about fake hair, collodion, tissue, mortician's wax, foam appliances, glues and hairdryers, light and shadow, positive and negative space, color mixing... how to become a monster!
And become monsters, we did -- well, in this case (1976) I was the non-monstrous scarecrow on the lower right, kneeling as if in supplication to the far more monstrous figures behind me -- all with the invaluable aid of those aunts of ours. And maybe a little help from Don Post and Topstone:
Properly garbed, suitably scary, we'd head out to the yard to creep among the tombstones and dummies, skeletons and robots, and try as best we could to scare anyone brave enough to get close.
To this day I am astounded that a bunch of little kids, regardless of make up, could scare the visitors just as easily as our grown up family members did.

And speaking of grown up, I now give you
Dr. Insano!
For two decades Dr. Insano (originally family friend Terry, and later my uncle Dan) enthralled, amused and enlightened Venice CA trick-or-treaters with his 'Dr. Insano Show' from the second story side balcony, three or four times each Hallowe'en night.

The basic 15 minute formula for an Insano show was simple; the good Doctor has just returned from an expedition or similar adventure, bringing back with him some dead (or frozen) creature or other, and will attempt to bring it to life. 

He does, the creature turns on Insano, and a battle ensues which results in Dr. Insano and his assistant Eddie/Schnitzel (uncle Joe) tossing the creature over the balcony railing and seemingly into the crowd below. 

The monster is vanquished, the Dr. is vindicated, and Hallowe'en is once again safe for children and grown ups everywhere... until the next performance.

In this show, the good Doctor battled the Alien. Yes, that Alien. Their battle was epic, so like a classic ringside fight that it was announced (see previous pic) by our cousin, Jimmy Lennon, Jr. (still a well-known and busy fight announcer)... but Insano won the day. Or night, I suppose.

Dr. Insano was something we all looked forward to, whether we were involved in it or not (some of us were, some of us weren't, everyone had different 'jobs' and skills to contribute). The show was always loaded with inside jokes and family humor, sure, but it was always full of slapstick visuals and tongue-in-cheek wordplay ("Happy Hallowe'en to you all! And to our Spanish-speaking friends, 'Feliz Jalapeno'!").

Everyone stuck around to see each performance. They always added jokes as the night wore on, and the final show was always for 'us', filled with family jokes and references. Classic.

Boy I wish we were still doing these.

Spook around, there is much more to come-


  1. I soooooooooooooooooo dig this blog. I know it's time consuming but you must write more!!! Quit your job, become a shut-in... whatever you have to do. Just keep 'em coming, Mike. You're making Hallowe'en an all-year event.

  2. No wonder you are so good at what you do!

    Great pics and a wonderful story about your family tradition.

    Thank you for sharing it with us.


  3. First chance I've had to really dive into all the blogs. Music included of course. I am weeping with memories and joy, and a little bit of loss- but mostly just happy to be able to walk through the front yard for a few more minutes.

  4. I have been in the pub so long now I am starting to feel tipsy. I love the Dr. Insano story!!