BITS and PIECES #64

2

August 19, 2017 by palamow

Hello again from Luquillo,

I hope that all continues well with everyone …

A few weeks ago, as Pam was idly surfing Amazon Prime’s video offerings, she stumbled across a decade-old BBC version of the Sherlock Holmes stories, which, among other stellar British actors, featured my boyhood friend Edward Hardwicke as Dr. Watson, Holmes’ erstwhile alter ego. Regrettably, the series was not available to Amazon Prime viewing customers here in Puerto Rico. However, the result of Pam’s investigation caused me to ruminate (always a dangerous pursuit at my age), as I recalled details of my youthful association with ‘Eddie’ Hardwicke, whom I had met just as World War II began in earnest. When the Luftwaffe started dropping bombs upon his native London, Eddie and his ‘minder/tutor’ (at the ripe ‘old’ age of nine, he was far too ‘mature’ to require a ‘nanny’) had avoided German U-boats, while sailing across the Atlantic to New York on the President Adams, and then crossed the continent by train to reunite with his actor parents in Hollywood …

A recent e-mail message from Joe, an old USAF colleague and BITS and PIECES reader in Bedford, Massachusetts, reminded me of the awful conditions Londoners endured during the ‘Blitz’. His message served to nudge my always active ‘nostalgia glands’ a bit further in that direction …

The result? Yet another old memory, dusted-off and polished-up for your perusal, this one about a boyhood misadventure I shared with my pal Eddie, 75 years ago …

As always, I hope that you find the story somewhat entertaining …

THE INFAMOUS WATER-BALLOON INCIDENT

In the summer of 1942, I was seven years of age, and Eddie Hardwicke was nine. Eddie had been born and raised in London, England, while I was a native Southern Californian, born and raised in Los Angeles. Our fathers, who had known each other for years, were established English-born stage and film actors – charter members of Hollywood’s exclusive ‘British Colony’, alongside such notables as Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Cary Grant, Ronald Coleman, Leslie Howard, Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, and many other talented British-born film actors familiar to fans of that era …

Eddie had been evacuated to California by his parents just as the Luftwaffe began bombing their London homeland, at the start of what soon became known as the ‘Battle of Britain’…

We first met while Eddie was living with his parents at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, located at the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Rodeo Drive in the heart of Beverly Hills. I lived close by in our home off Benedict Canyon drive, a few blocks north of Sunset Boulevard …

Eddie was forced to spend a lot of time with only Miss Mills, his British minder/tutor as a companion, since his father, Cedric Hardwicke and mother, actress Helena Pickard were busy most weekdays performing before the cameras in separate Hollywood films. When my parents heard of Eddie’s plight, they called the Hardwickes and insisted that it would be good for both of us boys if we got together during the week, and became friends – the Hardwicke’s gratefully agreed, and plans were made …

It was summertime, I was on vacation, having just completed my second year of strictly supervised ‘grammar school’ education at BHCS (Beverly Hills Catholic School) under the indomitable Sister Eutropia and her loving coterie of eagle-eyed, knuckle-rappers known as the Sisters of the Holy Cross. Eddie’s formal schooling had been temporarily disrupted by the Luftwaffe, so the siren lures of California’s summer had conspired to reward us with a welcome respite from our studies. We both had lots of free time on our hands for a few glorious weeks …

On Mondays and Fridays, Eddie’s father would deposit him on our doorstep and we would spend much of the day cavorting like young dolphins in our backyard swimming pool until we were thoroughly waterlogged, always under the stern, watchful eyes of my non-swimmer mother. On alternate days, dad would drop me off  at the Beverly Wilshire’s front entrance as he passed-by on his way to the film studio in Culver City – I had been ‘vetted’ by the hotel doorman, so I was passed through with a cheery “Good morning young Mr. Mowbray” and was thus allowed to make my way unaccompanied to the Hardwicke’s eighth floor suite …

Eddie and I soon became good friends – we quickly discovered that we shared a mutual fascination with toy airplanes – we were both avid collectors of the popular ‘Dinky Toys’ – tiny metal replicas of military airplanes of that era (my favorite was the American P-40 ‘Warhawk’, his was the RAF’s Supermarine ‘Spitfire’) – I would bring along some of mine in a brown paper lunchbag (plastic bags were unknown back then), and we would spend the morning ‘dogfighting’ with them out on the balcony, mimicking the appropriate engine and machine-gun sounds, as I suspect young boys still do. In next to no time, we also discovered a similar affinity for getting into mischief – and that’s where balloons entered the picture …

The suite’s balcony perched above Wilshire Boulevard on the hotel’s north side, providing a panoramic view of Beverly Hills, including the boulevard and its sidewalks, from a vantage point eight floors (about 100 feet) above the street …

We had acquired a packet of multi-colored balloons while on a minder-supervised tour of the local Woolworth emporium, conveniently emplaced on ‘little’ Santa Monica Boulevard, a few blocks from the hotel. Putting our scheming heads together, we rapidly concluded that they would meet our nefarious desires when we filled them to their latex brims with water surreptitiously obtained from the sink faucet of the balcony’s wet-bar, nestled just out of sight in its far corner…

Once filled with water, we could then enthusiastically employ our soggy ordinance to bombard hapless pedestrians as they passed unsuspecting beneath our aerial perch …

The preparation process was more complex than we had anticipated – filling the balloons with water involved many false starts, in which we managed to soak ourselves and our clothes while struggling to insert the faucet into the elastic necks of each balloon, displacing the air within with water, and then struggling to tie-off its neck, while retaining its bulging liquid content. This was followed by the equally intricate task of transporting each soggy latex bundle from the sink to the balcony railing without rupturing it prematurely – Sisyphean tasks indeed for we two hyper-active apprentice miscreants …

Despite these setbacks, we finally managed to launch our first balloon barrage upon a trio of unsuspecting targets. Quickly ducking out of sight beneath the balcony railing, while giddily convincing ourselves that our innocent victims hadn’t tumbled to the origin of their hydraulic drenching …

In our haste, we had failed to consider two vital factors – first, we hadn’t appreciated the finely-honed investigative skills of Eddie’s ‘minder’, Miss Mills, a stern-visaged, eagle-eyed spinster, who had overheard our poorly stifled hoots of laughter. Abruptly arising from the chair where she had been quietly perusing a weeks-old London newspaper, she swept regally onto the balcony to discern what we were up-to. Swiftly assessing the situation, she seized us by our soggy, shirt collars and ‘frog-marched’ us inside to endure an extended inquisition, followed by an equally lengthy ‘dressing-down’ for our “dangerous and thoughtless actions”…

The second vital fact we had overlooked was soon revealed by a rapid and forceful rapping at the front door. When opened by Miss Mills, it revealed an irate, red-faced house detective (in today’s vernacular the ‘hotel security chief’) who stridently demanded “What were you two stupid kids thinking of, bombarding innocent Beverly Hills citizens with your miserable water balloons – Didn’t you realize that you could have seriously injured someone with your thoughtless prank?”…

We later learned that we had been undone by an eyewitness who had spied our activity from the opposite sidewalk, promptly reporting our hydraulic malfeasance to the hotel’s front desk …

Shamefaced, we suffered through an even fiercer inquisition replete with threats of arrest and detention if we ever again thought of balloons as anything but party decorations …

When the detective finally departed, as we were left fearfully shaking in our soggy socks, a worse fate awaited us – Miss Mills condemned us to spend the rest of the day under her watchful eyes. No amount of pleading would restore us to our beloved balcony, until we had served out our banishment in full …

As summer’s end drew close, the ‘balloon incident’ was forgotten. Eddie and I hurriedly crammed as many more youthful adventures as possible into our few remaining days of freedom. Too soon, I went back to school, and, since the RAF, in their ‘Finest Hour’ had repulsed the Luftwaffe, Eddie, his mother and the admirable Miss Mills) were able to return to London …

We exchanged a few letters and a Christmas card or two over the next few years, but regrettably, as so often happens, Eddie and I lost contact, and never connected again …

A year or so ago, I read that in the 1950s, before he had become an established stage, film and television actor and director in Britain, Eddie had joined the RAF, serving briefly in Korea during the ‘forgotten’ war. Since I had served in Korea as a USAF airman during that same long-ago unpleasantness, I wondered if chance had ever positioned us close enough to have renewed our past friendship – and if we had, would we have seen a subtle irony in our having graduated from toy airplanes and water balloons to modern aircraft employing deadly modern ordinance on not-so-innocent targets? Probably not, we were still too young and far too busy …

Eddie passed away in May, 2011, so I’ll never know for sure how close we came to re-connecting, this time as fellow strangers in a very strange land, sixty-odd years ago. Not in this life anyway …

 

© 2017 Alan Mowbray Jr.

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “BITS and PIECES #64

  1. mkhulu says:

    Lovely memory. Thanks and welcome back!

  2. Russell Cabeen says:

    Stay safe my friend. Our prayers and thoughts are with you. Regards, Russ Cabeen.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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