So there I was, sitting at my computer one evening a week ago Saturday, working on what I consider to be the pivotal chapter of the Chet Helms story, when my phone rang.
As is my habit, I let the machine answer, picking up only after I heard a familiar voice. The caller was Marilyn Jones McGrew, an invaluable source with whom I have developed a deep friendship during the past few months. She had been friends with Lorraine Hayman, Chet’s wife, in high school in Los Angeles and they had been roommates when they landed in San Francisco. Consequently, she also had a long friendship with Chet that began well before his involvement with Family Dog.
Now what you need to know about Marilyn is that she is, in the increasingly ancient vernacular, a real ‘trip.’ She’s very smart, very high energy and tends to be a bit excitable and exuberant in conversation. It’s like she’s always about three or four steps ahead of me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to her, “M-a-r-i-l-y-n… I’m getting there.”
(You can read more about Marilyn and see a 1940’s, Hollywood-style photograph of her here: http://ponderingpig.wordpress.com/2008/09/08/oh-you-groovy-haight-ashbury-girls2-marilyn-jones/)
Marilyn, who lives on a sprawling, non-producing (if you know what I mean) compound in Northern California’s Mendocino County, was calling from Berkeley. She had come to the Bay Area to spend the weekend with a friend. Earlier that Saturday night she and her friend had attended a show at a local art gallery and that’s what prompted her call to me. Well, not the show itself, but rather someone she had met there. Back in the day, Marilyn had an interest in clothing design and her eye was caught by a dress worn by a fellow gallery attendee whose artwork was among those on display. (Actually, ‘fellow’ is probably the wrong word; “a beautiful woman” is how Marilyn described her. But of course you knew what I meant.)
Marilyn approached the woman and asked if her dress was vintage. The woman said she had no idea because it had been a gift and the two of them soon fell to chatting about one thing or another. At some point during their conversation, the name Chet Helms was mentioned. Turns out that although they hadn’t known each other, they had both known Chet. Marilyn then told me a great Chet/Luria Castell story, circa January ’66, the woman in the vintage-or-not-dress had related to her. She told me the woman was researching and writing a book about the women of the Haight Ashbury during ‘That Time’ and had fairly recently spent some time in New Mexico with Luria, one of the four Family Dog founders. She also told me she had mentioned that I was writing Chet’s biography and the woman had said she’d be more than happy to talk to me about Chet.
“And then Lucy said…”
“Lucy?” I said, interrupting Marilyn for a change, rather than the other way around. “What’s her last name?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Is her name Lucy L.?”
“Maybe. That sounds familiar. I have it written down. It’s in my purse.”
I asked Marilyn if she’d mind checking. She put down the phone and was back a few moments later.
“Yes, her name is Lucy L.”
OK, so who is Lucy L.? I mean, besides an allegedly beautiful woman with a certain fashion sense who knew some of the S.F. originals and is writing a book?
I had no idea.
I did, however, know the name because a gentleman named Christopher Newton, a San Francisco native who writes a wonderful ’60s-oriented blog called The Pondering Pig, had published a Lucy L. piece many months earlier about a dream he’d had, a dream in which she was the centerpiece. The writing of this piece was brilliant and it, along with the name Lucy L., stuck in my mind.
Naturally I was anxious to talk to Lucy L. about her memories of Chet, but that would have to wait awhile because Marilyn said she was going out of town on vacation. So I contented myself with calling Luria Castell, with whom I have spoken many times during the past two-and-a-half years, and asking her about the story Lucy L. had told Marilyn a few nights earlier. Although a minor detail or two divurged from Lucy L.’s version of an incident that occured more that 42 years ago (imagine that), Luria confirmed the story. She also told me that Lucy had spent some time with her and they had done an extensive interview for Lucy’s book.
The point of all this is, that more than three years into the Chet bio, I have, thanks to Marilyn Jones and her curiosity about a dress, found a new source.
A miracle? Hardly.
But still very cool and I can’t wait to see where it all leads.