I miss Hollywood!

- John Coker




Hollywod and Chelsea


Although we didn't realize it at the time, wasn't it a great place to be growing up, to be a young teen. Those golden, warm summer days when we would gather at Hollywood Park and play paddle tennis, box hockey, and left field ball. (The latter because many times there were not enough players to have a regular nine on nine softball game.) You could ride your bike or walk all over the neighborhood, and there were plenty of vacant lots or fields to play a pick-up game of football, or many variations of what we called chase.

Adult softball was still pretty much a spectator sport, and Hollywood Park was a popular diamond for the city's adult leagues. (Remember Buck Miller ?)

And weren't we naive and innocent about things!! The Hollywood girls usually wore shirts, short, and sneakers. Those good lookin' legs kept our male hormones working overtime. But we never would have engaged in the kind of talk and behavior that seems common place now. Just the sight of a little skin was something! I think about how we used to play "spin the bottle" in someone's back yard and we thought we were being so exciting. And, to us, we were! I think it was a better time to learn about sex and love and lust, and especially respect.

There were many places to have an adventure; the Hollywood Dump, the Wolf River, and hitchin' a ride to Raleigh,( which seemed a lo-o-ng way out ) so that we could swing from a tree and drop into the river. One of my buddies swung out and, just as he let go he thought he saw a snake in the water below. I never say anybody try to fly, or at least levitate, the way he did before he hit the water.

There were the Saturday matinees at the Hollywood Theater, with Mr. West patrolling the aisles to make sure that we behaved ourselves. He really always fought a losing battle there. I remember leaving school at lunch to eat at Well's Cafe, although we weren't supposed to. And later, when Ma and Pa Sandlin bought the old Four Buddies Cafe we would eat lunch there instead of at school. (Ma and Pa would let us guys run up a tab through the week, just as long as we paid our bills on Saturday after we got paid from places like Hogue and Knott ,Craddock's Drug Store or Russell's Pharmacy. My favorite lunch was tamales, crackers, and a coke.) Of course another reason why Sandlin's was so popular was that Joy Sandlin was pretty cute and popular!! And I'll bet that, at times, the Craddock's wished that we would congregate someplace else after school instead of the corner in front of their store.

It was a place where we could play out until the street lights came on with no thought of any harm coming to any of us. We went to church to learn about God, we fumbled through learning about sex at the movie and in the back of our parent's cars. Ms. Jaffee taught me enough English to get me through high school and two years of college. She also taught a lot of us to write a little and to appreciate reading.

Remember Mr. Bailey's bakery, where you could watch the do-nuts being cooked right before your eyes? Because of his gruff nature we called him Bulldog Bailey, but he was O.K. I felt bad when the H & M bakery came on board and, eventually, forced Bailey to close his place. ( I didn't feel so badly that it kept me from leaving school and eating lunch from the H & M, however.)

We knew the names of the police officers who patrolled Hollywood and they knew most of our names, and where we lived!!! A few times they would cruise by the street corner that we were gathered on and suggest that we go home. And we usually did.

Hollywood was more like a small town than a community within a city. And the friends that we made then are still friends now. I still remember that Buck Thomas' mother made cornbread that I liked better than cake. And Mrs. Riddle who lived across the street from my family had a cow and churned her own butter.

We learned to play sports without the benefit of some frustrated adult trying to live out their fantasies all over again. We also learned that losing wasn't the end of the world, just the end of the game. And we knew there would always be another game.

Guys that I remember, Buck Thomas, Howard Henry, Bobby Whitaker, Red Strickland, Hoot Johnson, Jimmy Baker, Thomas Graham, Marvin Sanders, Frank Davenport, Bubba Phifer, Bill Greenslade, Tommy Lemmons, Bobby Koch, Ralph Doyle, Bobby and Jimmy Moore, Richard Pilgrim, Richard Martin, Pat and Gene Tartera, Ace Cannon, Martin Willis, Larry Cresswell and there are many others.

And all the girls I've known, Dottie Taylor whom I have loved for over fifty years, Claudia Riddle, Shirley and Rena Mason, Sue Hall, Virginia Hatch, Elaine Brademeyer, Shirley Sullins, Irma Phifer, Pat Caudell, Doris Brown, Betty Livingston (who used to play the organ so well ) Shelby Coleman, Joy Carden, Delores Duckworth, Joyce Brandon, Patsy Shoemaker and many others.

And whatever happened to Billy Gatlin, Robert Brown, or Rena Gallina? ( Robert Brown used to pop Rena's bra strap in Ms. Jaffee's English class and never got caught!!)

But Hollywood was more than a place, it was an attitude, a time in history that's long gone. Where you could hitch a ride to Dave Wells or National Cemetery without worrying about getting shot or whatever. Where, on Halloween, people would invite you in when you went trick or treating and would give you caramel popcorn balls and hot chocolate. It was the Hollywood Canteen where many of us painfully learned to dance.

A time before air conditioning closed all windows, and you could smell what the neighbors were cooking and, sometimes, wished you were having dinner with them. When us boys would begin to go barefoot as soon as school was out and, by the end of summer, the bottoms of our feet were probably as tough as shoe leather. And the music, ahh the music. No rap, no vulgar lyrics, even Elvis was a few years away.

Whimsical songs like Johnny Ray's "Little White Cloud That Cried" and Nat Cole singing about " Nature Boy". And, one of my favorites, Kitty Lester singing "Love Letters Straight from The Heart." And there was Dewey Phillips and his "Red Hot and Blue" program, remember? And what station was "Sleepy Eyed John" on?

And is it just my bad memory but weren't race relations better then than now? Do you suppose it's because there were a lot more functional families, both white and black? I do. And the black families had more to be angry about then, everything was segregated!!

We were lean and active. No watching TV six or seven hours a day. And most of the mischief we got into was mild, no guns or gangs.

It was before we started building backyard patios and fences; you could walk down the sidewalk and people sitting on the front porch or steps would speak, inquire how your parents were or why weren't you in church last Sunday.

Wasn't it great when you could save up enough money to go to the fairgrounds? The Pippin was always popular, but I also liked a ride called "The Whip".  And there was always the story about snakes being in the water in the "Old Mill".

Black and white TV burst on the scene and only a few people I knew had one. There was a guy, Earl Ramsey, his family had one. They lived on Hubbard, I think. And they would invite me over to watch wrestling, (from the downtown auditorium). The only problem was that it didn't come on until 9 P.M. and I could hardly stay awake until then. Sometimes I would fall asleep on the Ramsey's living room floor.

Yeah, we did a few not-so smart things, too. The railroad ran just across the street and one lot from my front door. Several of us boys thought it was really exciting to hitch a ride on one of the boxcar ladders and drop off when the train slowed as it crossed Hollywood Street. The only problem was that sometimes it didn't slow very much and there were some bunged up knees and ankles. (Could have been worse.) Almost the same scenario- some guys used to hop in the back of the seed trucks leaving Buckeye Cotton Oil Company with the idea of getting off at the intersection of Hollywood and Chelsea. But, again, sometimes the trucks didn't have to slow or stop and every once in a while it was a long walk or a hitch-hike back to Hollywood.

Just think how corny the kids of today, with their Ipods, video games, and cable TV, would think of us. We played "mumbelty" peg with dull knives in the park, we played kick the can in the middle of our neighborhood streets, and girls and boys played hop-scotch drawn out on the sidewalks with a big piece of chalk that was thrown to us from one of the passing train engines.  

No, we didn't realize it then, but it was a time of charm and grace and innocence that is no longer with us. But I'm glad I was there and can remember some of it, aren't you?

And I'll bet some of you remember a lot more that I have left out.

- John Coker




- with thanks to John Coker

Bobby V. Whitaker



John, your essay of a couple of years ago,"I Miss Hollywood", took me back – as it must have many others – to a very special time in our lives. I was reminded recently of those days, and I wanted to say a belated "Thank you" for reminding us that there was a time and a place when the world was pretty good.

My memory of the Hollywood days - and your writing of it - was refreshed this past week when the older son of one of my good friends and neighbors from the Hollywood days, Lynn Stokes, Gene Stokes’ son, got in touch with me. Lynn lives here in Mobile, in fact, and we had a good, long telephone conversation Thursday night about his dad and family, and some of my recollections of those Hollywood days. Gene died in Dothan, Alabama in 1988, and it turns out that he, too, had great memories of those old days, which he apparently related to his sons as they were growing up.

My first thought when I initially read your recollection was to go on-line to check with Mapquest to see exactly where Hollywood was…or more accurately, to remind myself of just what constituted what we remember as "Hollywood." You’re right, of course…it was more than a place, it was an attitude, and a feeling. But the attitude and feeling parts never really left us, did they? Or the people…each name you mentioned brought to mind a good memory or two, and each reminded me of a couple more. What did slip away from the memory were street names, locations of who lived where, the route to "go to the river", where my paper route was, etc.

But the internet helped, of course, and the first thing I noticed when I saw the map was how small "our" Hollywood actually was…easy bike rides in any direction. My block was Standridge Street, between Chelsea and Peres, which I shared with Carlos and Joyce Brandon, Gene Stokes, Gene Ronsberg, and Tommy Graham (my next door neighbor and good buddy), among others. I think we moved there about ’47…I remember starting school in the middle of the 4th grade...Mrs. Anton?

In the next few years, the entire place – the school, the strip malls along Chelsea and Hollywood, the theater, the park…and of course, the people – all put a stamp on me that I’ll never lose. The school played an especially important part in all the rest of my life. That’s where I first developed what would become lifelong interests in music, baseball, and to some extent, academics; it’s where I joined the Boy Scouts and started to learn about community and where I got my first taste of "management" as Captain of the Safety Council one year! And it’s where I got one of my first and most bitter put-downs! It was in boys’ gym class early in the 7th grade, and Coach Spray lined all us new Junior High guys up along the sideline in the gym…by height! Like some others of you, I had not reached my full height by then, so I was about number 7 in the line. The coach was recruiting new players for the basketball team, and, starting at the "shortest" end of the line, proceeded to move along the line, tapping each of us on the head and saying "too short, too short, too short…" until he was well past me! I don’t know how many potential sports careers Coach ruined that day, but I struggled on and learned to love sports anyway, and to have enough success to realize that I wasn’t "too short" after all.

The school also brought into my life some of the people whose impact on me can’t be described, especially Mrs. Anton, Mrs. Bourne, Mrs. Jaffe and the music teacher (forgive me…I can’t recall her name…someone please help me out!) My daughter is a teacher now in York County, Virginia, and I hope that she cares for young people like those ladies did...and in the process, gave each and every student all the self-confidence that the coming years would demand of us. What a joy – in retrospect, of course! – to have had the opportunity to be one of those young people they helped to mold.

The park was probably the "Mecca" for Hollywood, particularly in the summer. Your thoughts about softball reminded me of a lot of evenings sitting in those bleachers watching Buck Miller and the Goldcrest Beer team play ball. Later in my life, I was to play some pretty competitive softball – in places like Long Beach, West Covina, North Hollywood (the one in California), Saigon, and about a dozen or more military bases around the world – and I don’t think I ever took the field without a passing thought to Hollywood Park. Whatever we do in life, I think, we’re constantly reminded of the "first time", and I first learned competition there on those summer teams. Those of you who played in the summer baseball league – there was no Little League or Pony League or Babe Ruth League then – will recall the four teams: one with red uniforms, Hollywood Theater; one with green, S.C. Toof (does anyone remember what THEY did?); one with blue, Kemmons Wilson (the folks who built and started Holiday Inns); and one yellow that I don’t recall. What a thrill it was to "suit up" in those bright uniforms and take the mound for a game on a hot summer afternoon. Over the few years that we were in the right age bracket, I played for a couple of the teams – red and green – and I loved every sweat-soaked minute of it! I found out years later at a tryout camp for the Baltimore Orioles in Warsaw, Indiana that I had probably thrown my arm away during those years trying to throw curve balls on almost every pitch!

It was like a city unto itself, "our Hollywood", wasn’t it? We had "street teams", where a group of guys who lived on one street would take off on a summer day with all the bats, gloves and old tape-wrapped baseballs we could find, to see if we could get up a game with the guys (and some of the gals) from another street…we almost always found a game somewhere. Remember the balls we used? A hard rubber core, most if not all of the original leather cover either gone or re-stitched, and varying amounts of black tape. The bats were pretty special, too…remember the "handle factory" where we bought new bats for a quarter apiece? Tommy Graham will remember it, I’m sure. It was at the south end of Standridge, where it dead-ended into Matthews near the Norfolk Southern tracks. I’ve always recalled it as Hartwell, but maybe I saw that name on bats later in life. We played neighborhood football, too, full contact tackle without ANY padding…I recall being knocked out once while trying to tackle someone on the sideline, and I recall Tommy getting a rusty wire in his knee during one of those games. At the time, there was a double vacant lot connecting Standridge and Merton where we played.

I remember that our collective enthusiasm for sports extended to following the big leagues as well…do you recall the exhaustive (for young guys without a computer!) analysis you and I did once to prove why the Boston Red Sox couldn’t possibly lose the AL pennant the next year? They did, of course, but that didn’t dampen my support for them. In those days, there was only one baseball hero for me - Ted Williams – and I tried to copy everything he did, even to wearing my pants down low to the ankles like he did. Everyone does it now, of course…I guess ole Teddy Ballgame and I were sort of trendsetters…LOL!

Many of us also became "Chickasaw Buddies", remember? We got in free to the Memphis Chicks games, but we had to sit in the left field seats, and we had to wear those little beanie caps. Both the games and the companions (the girls joined, too!), made the trips to Russwood Park worth the effort, however. I remember having to change busses at the Fairgrounds sometimes…times have changed, haven’t they?

A lot of what I recall from those days involved the unique times in the late ‘40’s and early ‘50’s…I recall going with my Mom on the old Chelsea Avenue streetcar to someplace downtown where she received the monthly "ration stamps" we all had to use during and immediately after the war to buy sugar, coffee, meat, etc.

I remember the first television set on our street, at least among the people we knew. The Brandons, who at that time lived almost directly across the street from us, got one, and their family life must have changed forever…until we all caught up with them and got one for ourselves, there was a crowd of most of the neighborhood kids in their living room for the Howdy Doody Show almost every afternoon! I recall the Monday night wrestling you mentioned, also…Spider Galento was my particular favorite.

And I will never forget my first big purchase from my very own money – a record player from the hardware store on the NE block of the Chelsea-Hollywood intersection, bought on time with earnings from my paper route. It cost $27, and I paid for it, in person, with $1.50 each week until it was all mine. That was a real kick!

My job delivering the afternoon Press-Scimitar (my "paper route", back in the day) was both financially rewarding and an adventure, the latter especially on Fridays when I did collections! The route was four blocks long, and included Maplewood and Trezevant Streets, between Peres and Heard Streets. It also included a block north of Heard (a street now listed as W. Belmont Circle on Mapquest), which may have made it one of the earlier integrated paper routes in the area. The Pilgrims’ grocery was on the latter part of the route, and I invariably stopped there for a Nehi Strawberry and (yes, you guessed it!) a Moon Pie. Friends who lived on the route included Kermit Martin, Jimmy Baker, Glenn Rainey, Jo Ann Savage, and (I think), Carole Beatty...all good customers!

And I’m sure you’ll remember our "Stamp Club" meetings at my house. I still have my collection, which has grown over the years but which has been a little neglected while I pursued a life…you’ll recall the definition of "Life", I’m sure: it’s what happens while we’re making plans. But I digress…we were a bit unsophisticated then, at least I was, about the care with which stamps should be treated. I recall that, in order not to get my stamps mixed up with yours, Baker’s, etc, I decided to mark mine. The method I used was to place a small "W" on the face of each of my collection with an inkpad! I learned later that process MIGHT negatively affect the value of a stamp, and I’ve since stopped!

One last thought I have of "our Hollywood" was that it was such a special time for my family. Dad would be unprepared educationally in today’s world, but back then, he could fix any car we ever had, or sewing machine, or vacuum cleaner, and he made himself into a great salesman, and later, a good manager and businessman. With the help of my uncle Ross (you may recall him…my Aunt Janie’s husband), Dad completely renovated our kitchen and the front room of the house, putting in the requisite "picture window". He was beginning to see the results of his efforts in the post-war years, when resourceful people were starting to make some money again, and buying the property on Standridge Street was a real monumental achievement for him and Mom. It was the first home they ever purchased and they were very proud of it, and of the neighborhood in general. They applied the same work ethic with which they had grown up in the hills of North Mississippi, and our time there in that place, in the late ‘40’s and early ‘50’s, was the best we ever knew as a family. My aunt Corella came to live with us during that time after her graduation from High School in Tishomingo, along with her and our good friend Veda Borden…and my younger brother Don (Dr. Don, MD, now) started school there at Hollywood. In those first years, we had three lots, with the house on the center one. Mom’s gardens were great, and we had 20 fruit trees in the back of one lot. I, of course, was counted on to help, and I still carry two scars on one finger from trying to finish some work that involved sharp things too quickly so that I could get to a ball game! But there were sunny days, good friends with whom to share anything and everything, and a whole big world waiting for each of us. Who would have thought that it might not last…

John, please excuse my ramblings…I truly started out to thank you sincerely for your nice remembrance of a time and place that all of us cared for, but it looks like I’ve rambled on a little longer than I planned. All of us who shared the time there – buddies and pals, boy and girl friends, teachers, coaches, shopkeepers, families – worked a little, played a little, and generally enjoyed a fullness of life there in that special place that we haven’t really known since then. Thanks again for refreshing my memories of it.

Best regards,


Bobby V. Whitaker