Fourth of July weekend. Time to think about America, hot dogs, burgers with everything, pie, fireworks and a day off to chill (even in L.A. where it’s going to be trip digits). We’ve already had some reflections on the 4th of July
here at TKZ. I wanted to add another.
On the Fourth of July, above all else, I think about my parents. Mom and Dad were part of that Greatest Generation. They gave me and my brothers the best possible start in life. And for that I will be eternally grateful.
Arthur S. Bell, Jr., grew up in Hollywood, next door to Joel McCrea and around the corner from Alan Hale (whose son was about my Dad’s age and would grow up to play the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island). He went to Hollywood High School and UCLA, where he was catcher on the baseball team. Oh yeah, and he had a teammate there by the name of Jackie Robinson. (Dad’s in the middle of the first row, Robinson far left)
During summers, Dad was an extra in the movies, making numerous appearances, one of which was as a wounded Confederate soldier in the Atlanta train station scene in Gone With the Wind. We’ve never been able to spot him, though.
But here is the thing that really blows me away. At the age of twenty-three, Dad was an officer in the United States Navy aboard a Patrol Craft, hunting subs around the Solomon Islands during World War II.
My mom, Rosemary, was born in Maryland. Her father was with the Roosevelt administration and went down to oversee projects in Puerto Rico. That’s where Mom grew up. She graduated from Syracuse University in 1944.
While living in New York she met a dashing young Naval officer and the rest is Bell family history.
Dad and Mom settled in Woodland Hills, part of the booming, post war San Fernando Valley. Dad went to USC law school and Mom was active in the community. She helped start the Women’s Club and worked on a local newspaper. She served on the Chamber of Commerce and as honorary mayor of Woodland Hills. Mom was the writer in the family and I first learned about stories from her.
From Dad I learned about hard work. He was one of the most respected lawyers in Los Angeles and a devoted champion of the Bill of Rights. He helped start the federal indigent defense panel in the city, so the poor facing major raps would have access to competent criminal defense counsel.
This explains, I think, why my books all have a quest for justice in them. I learned to respect that quest from Dad.
Here’s the way I remember him best––sitting in his home office reading advance sheets with the latest case law. He was the leading search and seizure expert in California. Judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, police and more than a few prisoners all sought his advice over the years.
Fourth of July was always big time fun when I was a kid. Mom would host a potluck for the neighborhood. All the baby boom progeny would be running around or swimming or eating or playing games. Then we’d sit on the front lawn and watch a local fireworks display.
Dad would sometimes take that occasion to recite a poem or two. With his ever present cigar, he would orate in the same voice with which he argued to many a jury.
One of his favorites he learned from his father, as I learned it from Dad. To me, it sums up what my American father was trying to instill in my brothers and me. I think he succeeded. It’s called The Victor:
A toast to the man who dares
No matter how dead his trade;
Who can win his luck
By his own good pluck
When the rest of the world is afraid.
Another to him who fights
When the trade is a whirlwind lure,
And who jumps right in
With a will to win,
Though rivals are plenty and sure.
So here’s to the man who dares,
Though fortune blow low, blow high,
And who always knows
That the conquest goes
To the man who is ready to try.
Happy 4th of July, everybody!