One Very Lucky Dog & Doris Day

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Doris Day died yesterday and that’s why I’m writing this post.

I wasn’t a friend, or a member of her family; just like everybody else, I knew her from the movies.  I used to be a tour guide at Universal Studios, and I got to meet a lot of big movie stars there, from Lucille Ball (who hated it when the tour guides leaned on her Rolls Royce to talk with her) to Paul Newman (whose piercing blue eyes locked with mine one day at the studio commissary, and my knees have been weak ever since). I never had a chance to meet Doris Day on the Universal lot.  But one rainy night in Hollywood she was a good friend to me and a  beautiful Golden Retriever named, “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.”

Golden Retriever

It was long ago, when I was a member of a struggling group of actors who worked all day at the tours at Universal, so we could work all night (for free) performing plays at a little theater on Hollywood Boulevard.  Seven nights a week, one block down from the Weird Museum, above a toy store and Fredericks of Hollywood Sexy Lingerie, overlooking the stars of Ann Margret, Gene Barry, and James Cagney, we practiced our craft and shared the Hollywood dream.

Hollywood Walk of Fame

We returned to our lives at 11 p.m. every night, as we gathered up our cars in the parking lot off the Blvd. We seldom went for coffee, or rarely met for a drink; none of us had any money, and all of us had tourists at the studio to herd early the next morning.  But on one of these nights, after a torrential rainfall, we arrived at the parking lot to find a mud covered and frantic Golden Retriever running around wildly without a leash.  

Through the rain-slicked and mud-caked fur we could see the golden-red beauty underneath, and luckily she was a friendly canine, jumping up on us as if she immediately recognized us as the saviors she hoped us to be.

Obviously, she was lost.

Her tags were missing and so was her collar.  But she looked well-groomed, well-fed, and eager to be with people. It was late.  After 11 p.m., at a time when Hollywood Blvd. was not a place where man or beast wanted to be – all alone and with no home in sight. 

Some of us were more eager to help the dog than others, who quickly bailed into the dark of night.  But for those of us who remained (we had dwindled down to four) those heroes of that night shalled be named:  Debra Frank, Sandy Silverthorne, and Suzanne Ulett.  All four of us knew that something had to be done and we were the ones who had to do it.  

“I can’t take her home!” “i don’t have any room!” “I have a cat who will kill me!” 

We stood there as the rain started again, trying to find a way to help this poor creature, who went from actor to actor, sniffing us out, licking us, and nudging her head against our bodies as if to say, “Do something!”

It was when I reached out to pet her, and my hand came back covered in red, that I realized that all of our excuses were futile.

“She’s bleeding!” We all gasped.

There was a gash on the top of her head, and her fur was matted with blood.

Now, there was no time to discuss reasons for not getting involved. We had to do something. The dog was injured and needed to be seen by a vet.  But none of us had any money, or credit cards, for that matter.  Where would we find a vet who wouldn’t charge us?

I don’t remember who said it first, but we all agreed it was true:

“I heard that Doris Day loves animals”

Three of us were tour guides, and we probably heard that from someone at the studio.  This was in the 1970s, before animal activism had a movement named after it.  But we all knew that Doris Day would do anything to help save animals.  

We were desperate, and this dog needed help.  Just looking down into her deep brown eyes gave us the courage to do what we needed to do: We had to find Doris Day.

Never underestimate the power of out of work actors who are also tour guides.  We knew that Doris Day’s house was on the Grayline Hollywood Tours of Movie Star Homes, and a quick look at one of those Grayline tour maps showed us her address.

We were standing outside Doris Day’s gate before we knew it.  The four of us and the damsel in distress, our wounded Golden Retriever.

Beverly Hills mansions don’t let you anywhere near the front door. There are gates.  Large iron gates.  But next to those gates are little speaker boxes and a button you can push.  I pushed it.  Although I wasn’t sure what I would say.

“Yes?” squawked the box.

What words came next poured out from all of us.

“We’re a group of actors…” “We don’t have any money!” “We found this dog and she’s hurt!” “She’s bleeding!” “She’s needs a vet!” “We don’t have any money!” “We need help for this dog!”

“What?!” asked the speaker box, incredulously.

“This dog is really hurt!” “We don’t have any money.” “Can Doris Day help her?”

We just kept talking.  Hoping for help. I can’t tell you who was at the other end of that intercom system, but I’m sure whoever it was must have thought we were crazy.  Until maybe they looked out the window and saw the four of us standing outside the gate with the most beautiful dog in the world, all covered in mud.  

And then, it started to rain.

“Just a minute…” the voice said, sounding tired and a little put out by our late night visit.

We waited for what felt like forever, as the rain pelted down on us there in Beverly Hills proper. We were certain no one would ever come back and speak to us again, and that the cops were probably on their way to arrest us.

Still, we stood and waited.  Not for us.  But for our four-legged new-found friend. 

“Take the dog to the all-night veterinarian hospital on La Cienega,” the voice told us through the speaker.  She rattled off an address and the name of a vet working there. Then, she clicked off before we could even say thank you.  

We said it anyway.

The animal hospital wasn’t very far and we hurried inside, with the words tumbling out of us.

“Doris Day sent us!” we announced to the woman behind the glass window.

“What?” she answered, sounding as confused as the woman at Doris Day’s house.

We all rattled off at the same time, pointing to the dog, pointing to the caked blood on her fur, and adamantly insisting Doris Day wanted the dog to be helped.

And just like that: the vet saw the dog.

Well, it turned out that the wound on the dog’s head was only superficial.  The vet gave her a shot and told us she’d be fine. “And the bill?” we asked him.  He smiled and said, “Doris Day is covering it.”

By now, we knew we were fated to keep this dog until we found her owner, so we agreed we’d take turns with her until she could be back home again.  I got her that first night and I named her “Mary Hartman” after a t.v. show about a woman who always found herself in so many dramas she never knew what to do.  It seemed to fit this dog.  That night, after I cleaned the mud off her with towels, I laid down on the couch to watch t.v.  The dog climbed up on the couch next to me, laid down face-to-face, and put her paws around my shoulders, in a hug.  It was her way of thanking me.

The next day we placed an ad with a pet finders organization and it didn’t take many days to find Mary Hartman’s family.  They lived in West Hollywood and they told me that one night they went out for the evening, leaving the dog at home.  Their house was robbed while they were out and Mary Hartman must have been taken by the burglars.  That’s why she had no collar and no identification.  But something must have gone wrong during the robbery because the wound on her head was from a bullet that grazed her scalp.  She was indeed one very lucky dog.

Thanks to Doris Day.

Doris Day

Getting to Know Howard

I didn’t know my mother’s father.  

It’s always been hard to call him what he was to me: grandfather.  I guess that’s because I never really knew him – Howard Joseph Graham died nine years before I was born. He was always just a memory – my mother’s memory, and she didn’t share that memory with us a lot.

I knew how he died – a fall from scaffolding while painting the downtown Los Angeles Greyhound bus station at night.  Mom had just had dinner with him, with her brother, mother, and her Uncle Jody, who was on the same job with her father.  The accident must have happened soon in their shift because it seemed as though they had just said goodbye and headed downtown from Highland Park before there was a knock at the door, and Uncle Jody was back, in tears with the news.  Why they were painting at night, I never asked, so I guess I will never know that answer – my mother took that with her when she passed away a year ago today at the age of 93.  

Mom and I had a lot of years to talk about Howard Graham, and I guess I could have asked her that question, about why he was painting at night, in the dark, but she was always a little quiet about him, teary-eyed at his mention, with a catch in her throat if she did share a little bit here and there.  I knew not to ask her too many questions, because it made her sad, and now today I’m left with no answers and so many whys.

Here is everything I know about Howard Joseph Graham:

He liked to drink San Miguel beer and smoke cigarettes. When my mother had earaches (and she had a lot of them) he would blow smoke into her ear, and the warmth would comfort her.  Other times, he could be strict, and if Mom and her brother didn’t clean the dishes properly, and Howard came home from a night out and found them not to his liking, he’d wake up his two kids and make them clean the dishes all over again, no matter how late it was. Howard was a house painter. The family was poor – my mother used to have to spray pieces of cardboard black and slip them into her shoes to cover up the holes at the bottom of her soles so she could walk to her Catholic School, even in the rain.  She grew up during the Depression and maybe that’s why Howard was out of work so much. I don’t know much more about the man except he couldn’t eat mayonnaise – it made him sick just as it does me.  He was Irish, proud of being a Graham, and that his mother was a Quinn, his grandmother a Cassidy.  His Irish roots must have meant the world to him because they did to Mom.  There was no happier day for her than St. Patrick’s when she would dress up all in green, send Irish-themed Hallmark cards to all of our family, with her signature, “Molly Malone.” Irish music played non-stop on our stereo while the scent of corned beef boiling on the stove filled our house.  Mom’s love for all-things-Irish was so strong I always wondered if Howard was from Ireland.

“Canada,” my Mom said. “He was born in Kingston, Ontario.”

More than those few facts she never told me.

There are photographs, of course, but only a few. This is the one I like the most:

Howie in 1928 Crop

He’s laying in the sand at one of the beaches near Los Angeles.  There’s something sad and brooding about him, introspective; it’s not the kind of look you might expect to see someone wearing who’s at the beach.  It makes me think he might have been creative – like me, a brooder, always thinking, and I find a commonality there in this photo of a stranger who was my grandfather.  Maybe he was a painter, not just of houses and businesses, maybe he was a real artist. My grandmother used to paint, I have some of her watercolors. She’s the woman in this other photo with Howard – Ursula Maloney Graham. Also Irish.

Howie & Plenty

Howard looks like a famous movie director, or screenwriter, with his aviator sunglasses and open vest.  But he’s still not smiling. There’s an uncertainty lurking there – about his future, maybe?  Or is he just a man lost in an alien country, not yet a citizen, an immigrant, a foreigner in a strange place he now has to call his home.

Susan Orlean writes in The Library Book, “…the sum of life is ultimately nothing; that we experience joy and disappointment and aches and delights and loss, make our little mark on the world, and then we vanish, and the mark is erased, and it is as if we never existed.”  

I read this passage in Orlean’s book the other night and it made me think of Howard Joseph Graham.  I underlined it because it hit me me so hard, such a bleak interpretation of what it means to be alive.  With no memories of my grandfather, how can I be sure that he ever made his “mark on the world”? Seemingly, he was an ordinary man, and how do those of us who live ordinary lives make any mark at all? And what exactly does it mean to make “our mark?”

If we’re lucky, maybe that mark means our children. They get to live on, and they take us with them, whether they like it or not.  You can’t fight DNA – in the line of an eyebrow, or the curve of lips, the color of our eyes, the shape of our body, or whether we can tolerate mayonnaise or not.  The memories of all those who lived before us are a part of us, ingrained somewhere deep inside or revealing themselves there on our face, even if we don’t recognize it; and those from the past, whether we have memories of them or not, become the future.  The future we will never see, except in our dreams, or if we’re lucky, in the faces of our grandchildren.

I know very little about who Howard Joseph Graham was, or who he wanted to be, but I still wonder. I still have questions. I still search. I’m curious and I want to learn more.  And maybe that curiosity and wanting to find answers is what my grandfather left me.

That’s his mark on the world.