California Authors


True Tales from Burbank

by Wesley H. Clark & Michael B. McDaniel, The History Press

Book Review by Craig MacDonald

"Beautiful Downtown Burbank" was a phrase that went "viral" before the World Wide Web was available to the public. Making it famous was Gary Owens, the deep-voiced announcer of the #1 Rated Television Show (1968-70), "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In." Fans imitated Owens' words across the country.

The historic words were so popular that some residents and operators actually answered the phone: "Beautiful Downtown Burbank," until the comedy sketch show left the air in 1973.

Helping to still keep Burbank in the limelight today are Wes Clark and Mike McDaniel, friends of 46 years, who met at Burbank Senior High School. These two historians/writers have just come out with a third book on their favorite town, "True Tales from Burbank."

They say "it's meant to be lighthearted and entertaining." The Burbank Buddies more than met their objectives.

Their work is chock-full of fascinating, insightful, largely-unknown stuff. The authors tell about Norma Jeane Dougherty's first job at Burbank's Radiophone Company Defense Plant in 1944. The woman, who later was known as Marilyn Monroe, helped the war effort as a typist and parachute inspector.

Walt Disney also lent his talent to the military in World War II. His company designs and cartoons were on U.S. tanks, torpedoes, bombers, minesweepers, warships and carriers. One showed Donald Duck on the side of a plane saying, "Let me have a quack at em'."

"The designs found a lot of favor because they helped knit a squadron or battalion closer together," said the inventor of Mickey Mouse.

Then there's the interesting story about Travis Bean, who began creating innovative guitars using solid aluminum for the neck and headstock (instead of wood) to improve string vibrations. The Burbank artist used heavy koa wood to improve the tone. From 1974-79, over 3,600 of Bean's guitars were manufactured and used by some of the world's top musicians, like Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones) and Jerry Garcia (The Grateful Dead). Garcia's Bean Guitar was auctioned off for $312,000 in 2007!

The popular Monkees TV Show was often filmed in Burbank. Even their "Monkees in Manhattan" episode (April 10, 1967) involved scenes at Burbank's fountains and pillars (substituting for Lincoln Center).

From 1920 to 1929, the town's population soared 672%. It became home to major companies such as, Lockheed, Disney Studios and the forerunner of Warner Brothers.

Readers will learn about Douglas "Speck" Greer, who appeared in Little Rascals episodes, as well as acted with Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney and John Wayne. Also, Bonnie Jean Gray, a well-known rodeo star and champion trick roper, who did phenomenal stunt work for Hollywood films, doubling for cowboy stars like Tom Mix and Hoot Gibson.

Her signature stunt in the 1920s and 30s was to jump a horse over an open car full of passengers. In 1988, Gray died in Burbank at 97 but her legend will live forever at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas.

Readers will discover many more interesting stories about the real characters, places and spirit that have made Burbank, as the authors say, "LA's Most Surprising Suburb."

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