Summer Memories of the Stars

Some of the most popular stars of the Sixties and Seventies recall their favorite summers.

Almost every summer when I was growing up our family would go up to Big Basin in California for a couple of weeks camping! What I loved most was the fact that it was a whole family affair! Even my grandmother came and she was a real groove to have along. She was a great one for the outdoor life too, and she was the one who always fried the fish over the big fire my Dad would build. She always packed lots of homemade bread and in the mornings everyone would toast a big slice over the fire and spread it with thick strawberry jam and butter! “Mamoo,” as we called her, was always scurrying around making sure everyone had enough to eat and in the evenings when we sat by the lingering fire she would tell all kinds of wonderful stories about her childhood. Those are the summers that will always remain in my heart!

Summer memories mean one special thing to me—camping! Living in Canada during my childhood, summer meant a time to break away from the tall skyscrapers, noise and bustling people and escape for two weeks to a wonderful boys’ summer camp! Here we went fishing, hiking, horseback riding, swimming and canoeing! It was marvelous for a city boy like me to see what the great out-of-doors was really like. Hot dog roasts over blazing campfires, sleeping bags and tents were all a part of it. What I mostly remember were the evenings, when all the boys would gather around the campfire. We’d tell stories, roast marshmallows and sing all our favorite cowboy songs—like “Red River Valley” and “Home on the Range.” I loved those two weeks so much that I’d have to say that the worst summer I ever had was when I had tonsilitis and couldn’t go to camp that year!

I wasn’t always part of a family act! I even remember one summer when I was very small that we weren’t involved with show business. That was the summer we decided to become stars! We’d reached the decision at dinner one evening. All summer, every hour in the daytime and into the night, we’d sing together. We wanted to show our parents that we were serious (until then, they’d thought we were just kidding). I remember singing for hours and sometimes it seemed like days. But we kids had made up our minds that we wanted to break into show business and it gave us a goal to work for. We wanted success worse than anything else in the world! And we found out that a tough summer of practice paid off!

The year was 1967, the month was July. I was feeling restless, bored and, though I hate to admit it, a little weary of life. Nothing seemed to be going right for me and my acting career was at a standstill. I had to get out somewhere alone and think things over, so I strapped my sleeping bag to my motorcycle and headed up north to a beautiful secluded forest called Cambria Pines. I spent the days hiking, exploring and fishing and that’s where I met a very elderly man one afternoon, fishing the same stream! Somehow we started talking and before I knew it I was telling him all about my problems. He said something to me I’ll always remember. “Life is like a tree. A man grows from a seed into an adult but in between there are seasons when things are barren and seasons when everything is green.” And you know, those words of his gave me the faith I was seeking. He was right too, for shortly after that I was selected for the role of Pete on The Mod Squad!

For me, summer was important because it meant time to be alone—wild and free like the wind. I used to get up early and pack myself a lunch and ride my favorite horse out to a little meandering stream several miles from our property. It was my own special secret place and I can’t recall ever seeing anyone else there at least not at the same time! There I would sit on the bank soaking my feet in the cold water and reading aloud from my poetry books! I think I was about ten when I discovered that stream and it meant the whole world to me! I visited it every summer until finally my family moved away. In the winter the little stream would all but disappear under the snow and ice but come summer that little trickle of water would be there waiting for me again!

When I think of summer, the first thing that comes to my mind is the beautiful memory of my mother. She meant the world to me while I was growing up and I wish she could have been here to share the wonder and joy of my career. My mother was herself a wonder and joy not only to me, but to lots of kids on the block. It seems like the day school was out for the summer was the signal for all the kids to gather at my house. Mom would be baking oatmeal cookies and everyone would gather around the big kitchen table as she worked. Mom loved children and everyone could feel that love in her voice, her touch, even in her smile! I was always proud to invite friends over ’cos in a way I was proud of my mom and I wanted to show her off! She was one of the most beautiful women I’ve known and loved and I only wish you could have met her too!

One summer in Washington, I guess I was about six or seven, I had a special wish. I wanted a bicycle. My summer wasn’t fantastic because I got a bike, a bright red one. It was fantastic because I couldn’t ride it! I had thought that all you had to do to ride a bike was get on and ride! Some surprise for ole Bridget! I’d fall off so many times I thought at one point I’d never get rid of all my bruises. For some reason, I just couldn’t get the knack of riding: Well, my bright red bike sat in the corner of the yard all summer. Day after day I’d try to ride it and day after day I’d fall off. I was getting nearly frantic because in my mind, at the beginning of the summer, I’d pictured myself riding up to my class in the fall on top of my bike. I didn’t think I was going to make it! Then one day, almost without knowing what happened, I found myself just cruising down the street on my bike: My hard work and persistence had paid off! I’d licked my problem (wobbly arms) and become a bike-woman!

The summer that I can always recall the quickest is the one before my senior year in high school. Being a senior in my hometown school was like being on top of the world! Seniors had all kinds of privileges like Bermuda day, ditch day, and during assemblies or pep rallies everyone had to stay seated until the seniors had all walked out first! Well, I was going to be a senior come fall and I wanted to have real groovy looking clothes, a darling figure and the deepest tan in the class! I really worked at it too! I sewed a lot of my own clothes and put on my own kind of decorations and trims and I exercised faithfully every night—well, almost every! Every opportunity I had I spent at the beach—sunning, swimming or playing volleyball. It was a groovy summer and one that kept me quite busy! I had something important to look forward to so it made everything even more exciting! I may not have had the best figure in the school when I finally walked the halls as a senior, but I did have an outasite tan, original clothes and an absolutely wonderful time!

Newport, Rhode Island, was the place of one of my grooviest summers! The Cowsills, as an entertainment group, hadn’t come about then and we lived in a large wooden house surrounded by an old picket fence. It had a big porch with a swing on it and the other kids and I used to sit out there in the evenings discussing what we would do when we were grown-up. I remember those years so much because we had more time then to be together as a family. Of course we’re together a lot still, but a good deal of it is during tour or singing engagements and now the summertime is when we travel the most. But back then, summer meant being free! Free from studying and going to bed and waking up to be on time for something, except of course on Sunday when we all went to Mass. But most of the time, we sat around on that old porch, laughing, singing, and talking like one big happy family!

I’ve had lots of wonderful summers but I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed a summer more than the one that’s happening right now! Believe me, meeting all my fans—really friends—is the grooviest thing that’s ever! crossed my path. I love going to a small town where I’ve never been before and walking down the main street and maybe going in to a drug store to buy a magazine and having someone come up and introduce himself. I like talking to all my friends and finding out what they do for hobbies or entertainment or in school. You just wouldn’t believe how the U.S.A. differs from one end of the country to the other! Then too, I’ve discovered that my friends all have several great qualities in common. Everyone wants peace and love—and that’s outasite! This is really my grooviest summer yet!

The summer I will always remember as one of the greatest was when I turned twelve years old! That was the day my parents gave me a beautiful, striped surfboard. Not a day went by that summer when I didn’t rise with the sun and hurry on down to the beach. A couple of my friends who already had boards for a while helped me along the first couple of weeks until I could get down the basics of surfing! I think I lived more than half of my life in the water that summer and I got such a deep brown tan I almost looked like an Indian! When I wasn’t in the water I was usually on the sand waxing down my board. I probably had the shiniest, waxiest board on the beach and I’m surprised now that I didn’t wax all the color off! Of course surfing is still my favorite pastime when I’m not working but now that I’m on “The Brady Bunch” I don’t have as much time as before. Surfing’s a beautiful sport and I’m grateful to my parents for giving me that first surfboard!

I’d never been a popular person with people my age until one summer when I was 13. I was feeling kind of awkward that year. It seems like my arms and legs would grow, but not the rest of me, then my body would pull a switch and it would be the other way around. I must have tripped over every couch owned by my parents’ friends—I was so clumsy with growing! But that summer I went to the seashore a lot by myself—and one day, sitting on the sand, I saw a girl. Her name was Barbara and she had long brown hair and exciting green eyes. I watched her every day for ages and finally I got up the nerve to say “hello.” I thought she’d laugh at me but she didn’t. I became braver and braver with her and towards the end of the summer we were going steady. I used to worry a lot about who I was and what I was and Barbara taught me two things: first, she taught me the meaning of love, for she was my first love. And secondly, when I would worry out loud about one person or another not liking me, she’d say, “Len, just be yourself. They’ll like you.” I never saw her after that, but she taught me the meaning of being true to myself. It was a glorious summer!

Cassius the Cat was cute and cozy and a big cad. He was a huge, furry black cat that Terry Melcher and I owned (or did Cassius own us?) one summer when we lived in the house where later the awful Sharon Tate murders took place. I don’t think about that, however. I just think about how I spent that summer sitting around in cut off Levis, no shirt and sang and wrote songs with Terry. I’d get up in the morning and sit down to a colossal breakfast fixed by Leslie, our housekeeper, and I’d walk into the living room and there would be Terry and Cassius—both of them sitting at the piano, composing a song. Now a cat doesn’t usually consider himself a musical star… except Cassius! He’d keep just one step ahead of Terry’s fingers, running up and down the little ledge just above the keyboard. If he heard something he didn’t like, he’d jump off the ledge and onto the keys, making the sound he thought sounded best. Cassius became father to about a hundred kittens that summer, at least it seemed so, and it must have been too much for him. He left about September! Maybe to make it on his own as a solo act?

Just imagine living in places where the highest temperature is 75 degrees on a hot day! Now you can see why I positively flipped out last summer when I arrived in sunny Southern California. Believe me, the swimming pool–barbecue life was always something I’d read about and never thought really happened—and suddenly, there I was, living night and day in a swimsuit, eating hamburgers, hot dogs and barbecued chicken from the Krofts’ big grill. I remember the first time someone told me to try a hot dog—I think it was Marty Kroft. Anyhow, I thought everyone was practically crazy. I kept asking, “What’s in a hot dog?” and everyone would just shrug their shoulders and say, “Just eat it, you’ll like it!” Well, the whole idea of a long, skinny bit of pork or beef sounded kind of strange, especially when I was told to slap it into a funny looking roll and splash mustard on it. Despite my misgivings, I tried your crazy hot dogs—and now I love them! And I love the memory of my first California summer!

My best summer memory? I’d have to say last year. That’s when I moved into Laurel Canyon and met the truly beautiful people that are my friends now. You’ve heard about the Canyon in a lot of songs, I know, but you probably can’t imagine what’s so beautiful about it. It’s not the nicest place you’ve ever been—it’s the attitude of the people who are there! Before, I’d worried a lot about material things and making an impression on people. Now I live in a small house, a Canyon place. I’ve got a mattress on the floor, covered with an Indian bedspread, and it serves as my couch too. I don’t have a lot of things but I’ve got my friends, my dog, and my Canyon. I don’t think I need anything more. Summer in the Canyon is the most beautiful time. I want to save up my Canyon memories to last me the rest of my life.

Magazine: Tiger Beat Super Special
Editor: Michael Edrei
Publisher: D.S. Magazines, Inc.
Pages: 58–60