One is the Loneliest Number (A Harry Nilsson song that fueled my teen angst, performed by Three Dog Night)

June 21st, 2017

 

 Me yearbook 1971

One is the Loneliest Number is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.

I sit alone for hours brooding. If you meet me, you’ll think I’m a happy-go-lucky kid. But sometimes I live in a darker world.

Two can be as bad as one. It’s the loneliest number since the number one.

The need to smoke my first cigarette is profound. I think it will give me that teenager lift I’m looking for. Smoking is camaraderie. I’ll be a comrade.   My mother isn’t around today — which is rare. She’s always a figure in motion around our house. Or she’s sequestered in her bedroom fighting her own private demons.

No is the saddest experience you’ll ever know. Yes, it’s the saddest experience you’ll ever know. Read the rest of this entry »

Angels and Devils

April 1st, 2017

 

IMG_0030me in hippie clothes headshot

When I was 18 years old I had an anthem.

At the time, two women, who seemed almost elderly, but were only in their mid-50s, were my feminist role models. They didn’t know it.

My own mother was a very independent woman and was already a pretty good role model. But she wasn’t as forthcoming and strong. I felt my mother’s strength was just the hand she’d been dealt. That’s another story for another time.

These two women, who had just entered my life, were fierce and unapologetic about their strength. Janet had a degree as a medical doctor and was a New York shrink on the Upper East Side. Ruth had an MSW and practiced therapy out of her duplex in Beverly Hills. She also happened to be the mother of my then boyfriend.

When these two besties got together, they wore matching (although in different colors) Lanz nightgowns to bed. They’d giggle all night during their two-week long, if not longer, slumber parties.

The headboard of Ruth’s bed was a spectacular mural of hand painted cherubs (angels) and clouds.  Their lives, their friendship, their headboards, their taste in music and books and film, all seemed fantastic to me. I was captivated.

Ruth and Janet turned me onto my anthem. I knew and recited the words by heart. I bought the album and played it more than some people were playing Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills & Nash. Over and over all day long, I pulled the needle back to start my favorite song again one more time. This was 1972. The album was released a year earlier. Read the rest of this entry »

Mi Casa es Mi Casa

February 12th, 2017

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If I am within blocks of my childhood home in Beverly Hills, like a homing pigeon, I make my way to 340 South Roxbury Drive. One night, more than 18 years ago, I asked my then boyfriend to turn left from Olympic as we approached the street I once called home. Home. The word. The symbol so loaded for me. Nearly two years before, I had purchased a condo. I didn’t think of it as home. It was all that I could afford. Small. Two bedrooms.   Dark and depressing. Both my parents had died, the small amount of money they left enabled me to finally buy real estate.   I hated that condo. I tried to decorate myself into loving it. I even hired the best craftsman to lay wall to wall Saltillo tile with colorful Spanish tiles as an accent. I was hoping that would give me the thing I was looking for.

What was I looking for? I know what it was. Security. I wanted the man I had been dating for seven years to marry me. To finally really take care of me. I got a lot of resistance.

“Stop. Pull over.” I stared into the barely lit home. It was late and dark outside.   I flashed on coming home at night as a teenager. Alone. Pulling up in the driveway and getting out quickly because the courtyard was dark and appeared menacing with the overgrown pepper tree casting ominous shadows.   My mother loved her tree. She admired every single detail in her home. From the beamed ceilings to the black wrought iron banister to the stained glass window.   My mother, now dead, wasn’t able to live her days out in her beloved Spanish home. When she could no longer afford it, she moved to the desert. Not in a home that she valued for it’s exquisite taste. Once she moved to Palm Springs, a place we vacationed and enjoyed when I was growing up, she became a recluse. I so did not want to live my mother’s life. I needed my own Spanish home. And a fresh start. And a ring on it. Read the rest of this entry »

Three Quick Stories

December 26th, 2016

yellow-robe-jim-dine

 

One: Party of the Year

In high school, this brother and sister I was friends with decided to throw the Party of the Year. They enlisted my help. “Fredde, will you invite a bunch of people and say it’s an open party?   You know everyone.   Our parents will be out of town. We want to make it epic.”

I don’t know if they used epic, that’s more of a word from today, but they did want it to be memorable. And it was. Sort of thanks to me. I spread the word. The house was full of rabble-rousers. The place was trashed. And now the kids would be in some deep trouble. So, what did they do? Blamed me. Yep. They said Fredde Duke told everyone to show up here and she threw a party. I did not.   But they were now out of trouble, and I was considered quite the shit stirrer.

I waited 35 years and decided it was time to set the record straight. I look the number up. Still listed. And, yes, I hear from a mutual friend that both parents are still alive. I dial the number. “Hi Mr. and Mrs. ______. I’m Fredde Duke. Do you remember me?”

I got a very lovely, “Yes, of course we do, Fredde. “ Read the rest of this entry »

Battle Scar

September 9th, 2016

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A few months ago, Oliver, my eldest son, walks into my bedroom, “I really like what you’ve done with the room. Very hospice chic.” Jimmy Kimmel might be blasting on my TV at midnight, and he will come in and say, “So, this is what it’s like at the end?” His humor and teasing are endlessly entertaining to me. I laugh until I cry at these bits poking fun of his mother – me. The newest bit is that he tells me I’m over- painting my eyebrows. “They’re too high on your forehead, you look like a scared cartoon character.”

Just tonight, while he playfully beat me up with his hilarious take on me, he thought he had me. “Wait” he asked. “How old am I?” In the middle of both laughter and tears, I answer Oliver. “I know how old you are.” The truth is, I really did have to think for a second. And he knows that. “You’re thirty-three, right?” I realize that adding the right will give him more fuel to make fun of me but maybe I feed him material sometimes.

There is one thing I might not have revealed to my son and that is the truth of his birth experience. But, one day while he was growing up, his father let the story slip. Oliver has never once made fun of it. In a way, it’s a relief. I hate secrets. But I would keep a secret if it kept someone safe. Actually, my friends know that I will go to the grave with their secrets if they ask me to. I just hate to be asked. Read the rest of this entry »

The Real Truth in Advertising

April 8th, 2016

My Do It Clairol ad

I was living the life in Malibu. Beachfront. On the water. Waves crashing, lulling me to sleep. On the street side, the monotonous drone of Pacific Coast Highway was its own kind of white noise. Everything was good in the world.

My agents phoned about an interview. They always called auditions interviews. Some director in New York wanted to hear a recording of my voice reading the script for a commercial. No on-camera audition required. I was the only actor in Los Angeles requested, not that I knew this at the time.

I landed the job and took off for Miami, Florida. Filming would be in Coral Gables. At the hotel, I was met by “it” director Melvin Sokolsky, who gave me the warmest hug. Sokolsky had been an award-winning photographer who, at the age of twenty-one was invited to join the staff of Harper’s Bazaar.  He also contributed to Vogue, Esquire, McCall’s & Newsweek. In 1969 he embarked on a new career in television commercials. He would eventually win 25 Clio Awards, the Oscar of the ad business. Read the rest of this entry »

Ode to 1973

January 11th, 2016

 

proof sheet me bettsie kayla 1309 promenade

Memories from when I lived in my first apartment — a beach cottage on the sand, just north of the Santa Monica Pier…

Cosmo, my beloved Siamese cat. Beach volleyball. Daily trips to Campos, on Pico, for taquitos. My surfer boyfriend decorating the courtyard cottage, all in red: red Persian rug, red picnic table. My must-have, wrought iron, decorative spiral staircase, adorned with ferns that I could not keep alive.

Dennis Schafer, the manager of the building, with his retro mustache. His incessant Sunday night listening, on a cranked-up radio, to Dr. Demento. And listening to Stan Freberg, too – so I told him I knew the family.  Speaking of cranked up – my boyfriend playing his favorite record Suffragette City by David Bowie over and over and over again, standing by our record player to turn up the volume as it builds at just the right part towards the end of the brilliant song — and then the lyrics “Ohh wham bam, thank you, mam.”

The postman, who was also an actor, who lived two doors north. Bob Englund, the actor who lived next to the postman, then out-of-work. Ed Carter, who toured with The Beach Boys, living a few doors south.  Jan Heininger actor from Michigan living in the same courtyard with his girlfriend Kerry — my doppleganger.  His best friend Bruce Pearn.   The Beverly High crew that moved into another bungalow, Alex Gamble and Jerry Smith. Their visitor, Steve, whose last name was the cigarette my mom smoked, and the first person I knew on Quaaludes – every single day. Read the rest of this entry »

Destination Wedding

December 1st, 2015

castle

Lately, almost everything is out of my comfort zone. Including items on my bucket list. If I have to drive across town here in Los Angeles, I feel like I’m a contestant on Survivor.

An invitation arrived in the mail. Come to a castle in Ireland, it said. Three days of food and board paid for by the wedding party. What to do? Are you kidding? Who could resist? I answered yes.

And then went into a panic.

Too many planes, trains and automobiles. Being in a car in LA is unnerving enough. Driving on the “wrong” side of the road in County Mayo? That’s my idea of terror.

I decided to be my own travel agent. This would give me some control and help me get used to the whole idea of the trip. A trip, as Rod Serling might say, to the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, to the pit of man’s fears: My Discomfort Zone.

I shot off an email to an Irish actor I know and begged for advice. He was very detailed about which hotel in Dublin to stay at and even suggested a visit to a second castle. Read the rest of this entry »

Mating Call

September 15th, 2015

eating salad at farmers market, 70's

He called me at home. A first call. He was stuttering. Perhaps asking me out. I helped him. “What are you doing tomorrow?” I asked, easing him out of his obvious discomfort. “I’m going to the Farmers Market for lunch. Want to meet me there for a really great Crab Louie?”

In those days, before traffic in Los Angeles, it was a quick drive from my Malibu Beach apartment to Hollywood. I had just come off a seemingly effortless run of landing national television commercials and was subletting from an actor who ran off to New York to work for Woody Allen. I could afford the high rent, and it was all I needed: an oversized bed — built by the actor for the small space, a fireplace, and a small kitchen with sliding glass doors that faced an unobstructed view of the Pacific. I couldn’t ask for more. Except a boyfriend. I was between boyfriends, which was rare for me.

We met in front of the fish market. I ordered a Tab and a salad with enough dressing for six or seven salads. I ate heartily. Manuel watched. His demeanor was nervous. Mine was overconfident. I couldn’t tell you if I was really confident or if I was faking it. I excelled at appearing sure of myself. Read the rest of this entry »

Screwdriver

August 15th, 2015

me in red mini van with augie and oliver

When new electronics fell off a truck and into my father’s apartment (don’t ask) he would place a call. “Screwdriver, come over and set this shit up.”

I don’t know how Kevin, AKA Screwdriver — so named by my dad for his skills at setting up sound systems and things — found his way into Duke’s posse, but this young hip black dude became a full-fledged member of the team.

Some nights I might call and ask my dad what he was doing. Okay, most nights I made that call.   I often crashed, the only chick allowed in an almost exclusively male-dominated club. The group consisted of ex-CBS president Bud Grant, a bigwig ornery PR guy (Sinatra’s and Michael Jackson’s) named Lee Solters, Screwdriver, my dad, his current “with,” and a few other hanger-ons. Did I hear you ask what a “with” is? Read here.

Everything in my life was freebie style. Free tickets to Disneyland. Comp’d seats at Broadway plays. Freebies to shows and hotels in Vegas.

And on one memorable night, Screwdriver hooked us up with the Greatest – and Hippest — Show on Earth: The Black Circus in South Central. This was not your Ringling Brothers, it was your Ringling Brotha. Read the rest of this entry »