Let me tell you about a little monkey. His name was Jerry. He lived right in Fullerton and Anaheim in the 1940s and '50s. Jerry's was a typical Orange County success story.
Though Africa had been his home, it was in OC that Jerry was able to reach his potential. It was here that Jerry learned he could wait tables, pound nails, work a wrench and do other tasks that people, even white people, did then. He came to be known as "the world's most human chimpanzee."
Jerry's owners were also OC success stories. Anaheim native Jack Dutton was an early county millionaire, having made his fortune selling rags to service stations, oil companies and other people who were greasy. Later, as a civic leader, Dutton was instrumental in building the Anaheim Convention Center and Anaheim Stadium and in convincing the Angels to locate here. Dutton became the mayor of Anaheim from 1970 to 1974. His wife, Dorothy, had been Miss Anaheim in 1930.
Into this ascendant life came Jerry, bought as a baby by the Duttons and raised as one of their own, kind of like Tarzan in reverse. Jerry learned to dress himself and to use a toilet. He supped at the dinner table and even slept in the same bed as the Duttons.
Jerry and the Duttons' menagerie of other animals started drawing complaints from their Fullerton neighbors. So in 1951, the couple bought a five-acre orange grove in Anaheim, planted palm trees and created the Jungle, a zoo/amusement park/restaurant/bar/gift shop where Jerry could cavort and pound nails all day for throngs of adoring humans. The place was a huge success, and nobody enjoyed it more than the merry chimp.
But like a furry Icarus, Jerry had dared too much, and he was doomed to plummet. In 1955, Disneyland opened in Anaheim, stealing the Jungle's thunder. There were also lawsuits over the animals biting people. The crowds stopped coming, and there is no fury like a human chimp scorned. Jerry became unmanageable and went bananas when he had to be caged. He had become too humanized, and no zoo would take him. He needed round-the-clock supervision.
Finally, as related in Charles Phoenix's superfine book Southern California in the '50s, it came to this:
When Jerry became more and more impossible, Dutton took Jerry into a nearby orange grove and gave him a shovel. "I had him dig a deep hole," Dutton said. "When he was finished, I told him to jump inside. Then a policeman friend of mine shot him in the head."
I'm sorry. I'd forgotten to mention this is the saddest goddamn story in the world. "Oh, by the way, a cop shot him in the head. Like a human, right to the end," I should have said at the outset.
Famous one day, notorious the next, and dumped in a hole. Christ knows what stands above Jerry's grave. A condo? A K-Mart? I wonder if chimps loved the smell of orange blossoms, as long-gone now from this county as the Jungle and anything else that smelled of innocence.
What's the moral? It could be engraved on a headstone:
Don't dare to be different, don't dare to be more, Don't dare to be anything, if you know what's in store, For the shiny and gifted and stalwart and brave, Will see dreams built high, then toppled and paved, Once driven mad, what once was the rage, All is vanity, once said Ecclesiastian sage, You can call it a jungle, but it still is a cage, Just ask the most human chimp, in his most unmarked grave
Dreams go awry: look at Dutton's legacy. You make riches from rags. You make a jungle, and the animals bite people. You build a convention center, and hippies riot there (outside a Grand Funk Railroad concert on Nov. 1, 1970, in case you were thinking of holding a reunion). You lure Angels to Anaheim, and they tank for decades.
As long as we're talking about Anaheim, consider Leo Freedman: the guy had a dream that musical theater should be presented as God intended it—in the round—so in the 1960s, he built the Melodyland Theatre near Disneyland, where musicals on its rotating stage were a dizzying failure, so they booked rock acts and then sold the building to a church that specialized in turning gays straight, further diminishing the audience for musical theater. Undaunted, decades later in 1987, Leo opened the Freedman Forum, which presented exactly two musicals—utter dismal failures in the round—before Leo threw in the towel. Under new management and renamed the Celebrity Theatre, it became a notorious theater after a shooting outside a rap show there. It wasn't Kismet, baby.
This issue celebrates the best and most notorious things this county has to offer, as there is often only a hairsbreadth of space between the two. It's like William Tell. Whether his arrow went through the apple or his son's forehead, either way, he was going to stand out and be remembered.
It takes daring, and vision and a bunch of other stuff to be the best. Whether you're in a band or a bakery, you have to care passionately about your craft, the people you do it with and the people you serve.
I used to work at The Orange County Register, and, in the arts section at least, it was then a pretty adventurous and vital paper despite the chronic overwork that went into it and the fact that tree squirrels had a better benefits package. After the paper won a Pulitzer and everyone was feeling all warm and fuzzy, the paper's editor announced monthly meetings where we could discuss workplace issues with him. At the first meeting, so many staffers asked when we might ever expect some basic respect and benefits that finally the editor bluntly announced, "Look, we are not a destination newspaper."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
To me, that meant they weren't going to go out of their way to make it a place anyone would want to be at. We were just cogs to them, to be bought on the cheap and replaced once they wore us out. Not surprisingly, a drove or two of us quit around that time. We weren't missed.
The event comes to mind because the places in OC that are special to me are destinations. They are places you want to go to, and once you have, you sure know you are there. That's because the people who created and maintain them have the cognition that we aren't just cogs, but individuals deserving of their best expressions of individuality. You can tell when a place was birthed from a dream instead of a business plan. This is an issue full of dreams.
As Jerry the Chimp's Jungle, the Golden Bear, Safari Sam's and so many other buried OC legends attest, dreams are precarious things. Soulless machines can rumble on forever, but dreams require your active support. It's not enough just to believe in Tinker Bell; you've got to stuff some money into her bustier once in a while.
It is always a little weird to be essentially anti-consumerism and then to advocate that you go out and spend money on stuff, which so many of the picks herein entail. But even if you live the purest life, growing your own food and cooking it over goat droppings in a yurt, you still need to get out and find some inspiration once in a while, to see what your fellow humans are up to. And, as my wife is fond of reminding her barbershop customers, money makes the monkey dance. Please, go forth and nurture such dreams as we still have here.