Hollywood Professional School


By Tom Nolan
Los Angeles magazine, October 1980

School Days can be a little weird when you're a working child star and your classmates are the likes of sex kittens Tuesday and Yvette, Mouseketeers Cubby and Lonnie, and the oh-so-handsome Ryan and his brother Kevin

[This article is reproduced for reference purposes only. No copyright infringement is intended. The article is reproduced because of the scarcity of this magazine, the fact that it is not indexed, and back issues are not available from the magazine or on microfilm.]

I remember quite clearly the morning I realized there was something unusual about the school I attended.

It was 1958. I was in the seventh grade. For two years I had attended Hollywood Professional School, a private, accredited day school in a two-story white building at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Serrano Avenue. Classes covered nursery school through 12th grade and each grade numbered about 40 pupils. The school was dedicated to the needs of the "professional child"--i.e., kids trying to make it in show biz between classes. There was no special instruction in drama or dance or music, only the basic college-prep courses; but neither were there any sports, nor a newspaper, a cafeteria or any extracurricular activities. Sessions lasted from 8:30 to 12:30 each morning, leaving the rest of the day free for pupils to go on interviews, take lessons, go to assignments.

Unlike other schools, HPS knew how to deal with working kids' long absences, the need to give homework assignments days or weeks in advance, the necessity of cooperation between its own teachers and those at the studios. Not everyone attending Hollywood Pro actually was a pro; maybe a third of the students were. Another third were hopefuls who wanted the right atmosphere. The rest made up a fascinating collection of rich kids, problem kids, second-generation studio brats and the oldest and most diverse foreign students this side of the League of Nations.

I was a pro, a child actor, and that's why I was there, pros of all ages around me-singer Molly Bee; Mouseketeers Cubby O'Brien, Lonnie Burr and Tommy Cole; actress Sherry Jackson. And the school's famous alumni (Connie Stevens, Jimmy Boyd, Jill St. John, Yvette Mimieux, Debra Paget, Donald O'Connor) were well represented in the annuals and on the bulletin board.

I had never been to any other school. There was nothing to compare this with. (During my early working years, from kindergarten to fifth grade, my mother taught me the basics at home.) It wasn't until that quiet morning in the seventh grade, then, that something clicked for me, and I began to enjoy the place for the unique institution it truly was.

We were sitting upstairs in our home room when Mrs. Mann, the school's director, came into class leading the mother of one of the older pupils. The older pupil was named Jeanie Mack, and she was a country-and-western singer then appearing on The Spade Cooley Show, a local C&W revue on channel 5. The mother explained that the show's producers were thinking of dropping Jeanie, and she would really appreciate all of us writing to the station and saying how much we enjoyed and looked forward each week to her daughter's performances.

The mother wrote the station's address on the blackboard, and Mrs. Mann had us copy it down, and I said to myself, Oh, yeah! You bet! I get it!, and I knew for a fact I was well ensconced in a warm and bizarre cocoon that there was no need to rupture until graduation, a long and eventful half a decade away.

But, then, there was really nothing there not to enjoy. Everything was in its own way entertaining, which seems logical in an institution more or less devoted to entertainment. The most obvious celebrations of our special esprit were our assemblies-"aud calls" they were known as, and the pun did not go unmade. These were fantastic affairs where the best and the rest of the professionals did their specialties for the entire student body.

Usually there were two shows-just like Vegas-one for the little kids and one for the higher grades, with the latter going on as long as people wanted to stay. Some of the killer attractions from my early tenure included a great saxophonist named Whitey Haupt; the Collins Kids, Larry and Laurie, a country-rockabilly brother-and-sister duo; she with the poise and the powerful voice, he with the doubleneck guitar, the crew cut and the infectious Chuck Berry duck walk; the Steiner Brothers, three dynamite dancers who worked the top club circuits; and Dick and Don, the Addrisi Brothers, who were also Vegas vets.

Barry Gordon
Barry Gordon, the kid from A Thousand Clowns, did his Elvis impersonation. [Gordon would go on to become president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1988-1995.] The usual finale had everyone bunched on stage for as raucous a mass jam as Mrs. Mann would allow.

Gale Storm and Tom Nolan
I got into the act in my high school years by doing Shelley Berman monologues word for word, and inflection for inflection ("Oh, reeyullee?"); many people thought I wrote them myself, and that was jake with me. My buddy Pat Valentino played jazz on the same clunky upright the rock 'n' rollers pounded. Cubby O'Brien hung up his mouse ears to become a swell drum soloist who phased out orange juggling in favor of Joe Morello and Buddy Rich riffs. A brilliant, arrogant fellow named Angel brought in his brothers and father for wonderful concerts by the Romeros, "The Royal Family of the Spanish Guitar." Carl Wilson corralled his brothers and cousin and neighbor-and we got to hear the Beach Boys.

This was Fame minus the histrionics, the melodrama, the jive.

Sometimes famous alumni would show up for aud calls. Sometimes people we didn't even know would appear. Once one of Buddy Holly's original Crickets was up there and stage, and while we weren't exactly sure what his connection was to the school, hey, we were happy to have him. Debra Paget once startled us with an unannounced appearance that metamorphosed from a dance in ragged tramp clothes into a stunning turn in a glittering snakeskin-tight costume that proved to be, as Hugh Hefner says on every occasion when he's forced to speak in public, "the biggest thrill in this young man's life."

Debra Paget and Mrs. Mann
Visiting alumni, in fact, were a frequent diversion whether or not there was an aud call. Anyone special enough who dropped in on Mrs. Mann would be ushered into Miss Anderssen's English class (Miss Anderssen was also the principal) and made to give an impromptu accounting of recent activities. One fellow, a country-and-western guitarist, gave a bizarre talk in which he revealed that he had done a stretch in stir for "a crime I did not commit" (What could it be? We whispered furiously), but this had a happy ending as he invited us all to watch him playing his pedal steel each weekend on channel 13's Cal's Corral. Another creative period was spent with the handsome Jim Mitchum, the pouty image of his father Bob, as he described his active film career with an emphasis, as I recall, on South American productions.

Then there was Jackson Wheeler, Jr. His father was host of the channel 11 afternoon movie; Junior was a formidable overachiever who became the country's youngest Eagle Scout at 12, climbed the Matterhorn at 14, lived with a tribe of headhunters at 16 and took his Easter vacation senior year to swim across the Hellespont, prompting an enormous spread in Life magazine penned by a young Shana Alexander. And he was back in school t he following Monday, to give all the exciting details to Miss Anderssen's class.

Miss Anderssen was a woman of fascinating comportment and mercurial temperament. She lived not far from school and walked there each morning, sometimes early for the first class and sometimes late, sometimes exuding a giddy cheerfulness bordering on the manic (We'd sing "Happy Birthday" to Shakespeare, plan an aud call), sometimes sunk in an evil gloom that has us cowering behind our grammars lest we be singled out for extemporaneous grilling.

For years her enormous desk was covered with a formidable collection of miniature porcelain poodles. Sometimes she was very dreamy and would treat us to rambling stream-of-consciousness musings that might wander from etymology to cinema. "Have you ever noticed," she once asked us rhetorically, "how certain words would sound so beautiful if you didn't know what they meant? Garbage, for instance. Listen to it!" and she rolled the two syllables in her mouth like lemon mousse. "Garr-bahj…garr-bahj…"

Someone might then chime in with the observation that a single word repeated over and over loses all connection with its meaning and even with language itself. . .and in this way would we while away the day most pleasantly.

And why not? Another time, the fresh calla lilies she had brought sent her into a protracted Katharine Hepburn impression: "The cal-la lilies ah in bloom…"

She did teach us English, too, in a fundamental, unyielding fashion, pushing such basics as pyramid paragraphs. Every in-class essay assignment was prefaced with her rote direction: "Put your name in the upper right-hand corner--your name, your grade and the date." A visiting alumnus who'd graduated 10 years before cracked us all up by striding to her lectern, facing the class and reciting, "Put your name…" All in all she was a most remarkable woman, and similar in surprising ways to every redhead I have since encountered.

Then there was the ancient typing teacher who once pulled me aside and whispered that the middle-aged Japanese student in front of me was a spy. . . And the substitute typing teacher, a woman with a degree from the Florenz Ziegfeld School of Music, who insisted we all type in rhythm; she stood at the front and conducted a steady metronomic beat, gently chastening those who exceeded her pace.

Some of this must have seemed most peculiar at times to "outsiders." One Japanese student sat next to me for two whole weeks in one class or another before making his first and only attempt at communication. He wrote two words on a sheet of paper and handed it to me with his bilingual dictionary. Laboriously I looked up the translations. Sensay fuji, he'd written. "Teacher crazy."

We were not unaware, as we advanced through the grades, of our peculiar position in the academic scheme of things, and the only school song we had was an illicit one penned each semester from the collective unconscious by whoever was that year's cutup: "Let's all cheer for--Holly-wood Pro!" we'd chant furtively in the corridor. "You'll get the grades if--you got the dough" But it wasn't that way at all. It was weirder.

There seemed a tacit courtliness in effect that encouraged you to work within the system. The deal seemed to be that we wouldn't embarrass our teachers by doing badly in college and they wouldn't be picayune about the here and now. Sweetest of all in this regard was the blessed Mrs. Doss (most of these people have since "passed on"), who taught us math. "Students, geometry is more than a subject," she was given to saying in her cultured southern tones, "It is a way of life."

Shortly before our trig final she announced a one-time only combo offer. Anyone who came in the following day with the correct answer to an especially tough problem would get an "A" in the course no matter what. Disbelieving, we cross-examined her. Was this some cruel prank? Nope. Three of us solved the problem, took our "A's" and didn't have to sweat the test. What a system!

Then there was the beautiful girl who did terribly in math all through high school and had to pass a pretty simple remedial course in the basics in order to graduate. Despite special tutoring from Mrs. Doss, she still couldn't grasp any of it and was certain she wouldn't get her diploma. She knew she'd done miserably on the final and waited in terror for Mrs. Doss to read her score aloud. Mrs. Doss read all the scores but hers. She went up to the teacher's desk afterward and asked how she'd done.

"Darlin'," said Mrs. Doss with conviction, "I don't believe young ladies should be made to study mathematics." The girl graduated and is no less a fine citizen for having done so. I don't know what state her checkbook is in, but that's what they have pocket calculators for.

Lana Wood's professional page
Speaking of math, my most vivid memory from the year we all took trig is of a girl in Mrs. Doss' class who seemed to have developed a crush on Cubby O'Brien that coincided with her coming into her own physical charms. "Cubby," she'd ask, "what was that page number?" and she'd turn around and point these things at him. There could be no doubt about it-she'd kind of push her head back and contort herself into ungainly but fetching postures. She was Lana Wood, Natalie's kid sister, and although we razzed the Cubber about it, we were jealous, and I was still jealous 10 years later when she was doing that stuff to Ed and Johnny on The Tonight Show.

Lana clashed briefly with Mrs. Mann over her professional page. All of us professionals had these pages of our own in the school annual that we'd fill up with photographs and other documents of our career and accomplishments. If you were really something (Carl Wilson, Brenda Lee, Jackson Wheeler Jr.) you got two pages. So Lana had been in a movie called Five Finger Exercise in which she cavorted on a beach, and that was going to dominate her page, except Mrs. Mann thought glossies of this pneumatic pupil in the bathing suit might give the wrong impression to someone picking up the annual. Lana fumed and refused to back down, and then the movie came out. It starred Horst Buchholz, and Mrs. Mann said, "Oh, Horst Buchholz. All right." If the movie was a major release, it seemed more respectable.

It was a thin line Mrs. Mann had to walk. She was proud of our accomplishments, yet she had reputations to protect--ours, hers, it was all one. Year after year we had some of the most beautiful girls and handsomest guys in Hollywood in our student body. Tuesday Weld, for instance--absolutely stunning! No less so were Peggy Lipton, Sue Lyon, Patty McCormack, Melody Patterson and many another less famous model or actress. There used to be something called the Deb Star Ball, in which studio makeup men and photographers would present their choices for female stars of the future; they always included three or four of our seniors.

Ryan O'Neal
Ryan O'Neal hadn't made that much of a mark when he graduated, but he quickly went on to become maybe the most famous alumnus of all. [Ed. note: Tatum seems to think her father graduated from Venice High, and his IMDB biography lists him graduating from the American School in Germany. But those of us who were there know Ryan graduated from HPS and his girlfriend was Melantha Tatum and his friend was her brother Forbes, hence the odd name for his firstborn.] There were sports figures, too, at our school, most notably Peggy Fleming. And how many schools can lay claim to the likes of Joan Johnson, a professional contortionist?

Needless to say, this collection of talent and beauty in one little building on Hollywood Boulevard did not go unnoticed. We were ripe for celebration, even exploitation, and it was Mrs. Mann's constant task to protect us from those outsiders who would take advantage of our preciousness. She had strict rules of conduct, was omniscient in her vigilance and had firm ideas about the collective image we should present to an outside world that seemed fascinated by us. Life sent a photographer to try to snap pix of us smoking or something. A columnist in Teen documented our romances and aud calls. The same publication ran a column by one of our students, an ex-American Bandstand favorite [Pat Molittieri]. We'd read about ourselves over cherry Cokes at Thrifty's--which, I seem to remember, Mrs. Mann had declared off limits.

She downplayed the glamour aspect and emphasized instead the university honors won by an impressive number of alumni. Professional achievement was rewarded by those annual pages and Gold Key Awards at graduation. And, in the service of modesty, Mrs. Mann spent a certain amount of energy--especially in the 50s--altering the plunging bodices of the more sophisticated girls' senior photos by drawing in hilarious intricate patterns of lace and filmy veils with a fountain pen.

She moved with the times but was still not ready in 1962 to have Hollywood Professional School associated with the movie Lolita. Our pupil Sue Lyon, yes; precocious little Dolores Haze, no.

It was at our Senior Bruncheon at the Beverly Hilton that Mrs. Mann sent an emissary to tell Sue she couldn't have any photos of that film on professional page. Sue, impeccable in hat and smart tailored suit, saw the patent absurdity of this dictum. She stood there, right knee bent in perfect model pose, and said cooly, "Then I won't have a page in the annual." And she didn't! What a great girl! She was just as funny and tough and smart as Lolita, and we were proud to have her aboard; when she married Hampton Fancher III she proved herself, if not quite as precocious as Humbert's downfall, at least a worthy bearer of the HPS flame.

Someone else we were proud of--who also got married within months of graduation, come to think of it--was Brenda Lee. She was great; a wonderful raunchy Dixie growl coming out of her tiny frame. Like Sue and so many others, she was with us for her senior year only [actually, Brenda attended HPS for part of her junior year also], and she shocked Mrs. Mann by doing Ray Charles' "What'd I Say" at the Annual Dinner.

This was our yearly night out at the Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City. Our parents came, we all performed, and the annuals were handed out. There was adorable Brenda Lee singing "She knows how to shake that thing!" in front of the parents and everything, and a good scolding she got for it too.

Brenda's finest performing hour at HPS, though, was a bravura tour de force at one of the aud calls. She did rockers for us teeners and ballads for the tots, sang and played piano long after the final bell, and when she came downstairs and onto the street, who should be walking up, a little late but keeping his promise, but Paul Anka. Quite a sight were these two diminutive superstars as they embraced warmly, and Brenda rushed into Mrs. Mann's office with the news. "He came to see me!" she cooed, hopping up and down. And then Paul graciously arranged for a group of seniors to attend his show at the Cocoanut Grove.

When Brenda graduated with her class at the Wilshire [should be Riviera] Country Club, her parents were there from out of town and her new fiancé and a film crew from George Putnam's channel 11 news show; her fan club from England sent a huge floral replica of our own Gold Key Award, of all things (Miss Anderssen's idea, I suspect), and Mrs. Mann begged Brenda to sing just one song, but for whatever reason--the Annual Dinner thing, or simply wanting to remember her high-school graduation as a nonprofessional occasion-she wouldn't. Way to go, Brenda!

After Brenda, we had lots of rock 'n' rollers. Carl Wilson was probably the most famous and I must say, it was pretty neat to be going to high school with that falsetto at the same time those guys were cranking out American anthems like "Fun, Fun, Fun" and "I Get Around." Then there were the Rovells, Diane and Marilyn, who as the Honeys recorded novelties ("Surfin' Down the Swanee River") and Beach Boys background ("Push 'em back, push 'em back, waaay back!") before Marilyn married Carl's brother Brian.

Another bunch of our boys befriended Carl and before long his father was producing them as the Sun Rays, and they had their fair share of hits. Then a few years later a fellow named Scott Engel, who'd been expelled for allegedly tripping the fire alarm, went to England and became huge there as one of the Walker Brothers. And then the other Walker Brother, John Maus, married Kathy Young, who had had a big hit with "A Thousand Stars" when she'd gone to our school. And let's not forget Michael Lloyd, a red-headed guitarist who grew up to become Lieutenant Governor Mike Curb's right-hand record producer.

That's pretty much where it stood when I left in '64. I went back for a visit every year until the kids got too young and the building too small.

The school is still there [it closed in 1985, the building was torn down in 1994], and last year, my old pal Pat Valentino got in touch to tell me about a reunion of sorts. It was at the Sportsmen's Lodge, where we'd had our Annual Dinners, and I went out there on a balmy summer night to be confronted by a hastily assembled group from half a dozen different classes, most of them older than mine. Connie Stevens was there, and the Addrisis (looking very disco), and one of the Lettermen, and Tommy Cole, and drummer Allen Brenneman, Mike Lloyd was resplendent in a white suit, not a single engram in evidence. There was a fellow there who'd been my agent for a time in the '60s; he hadn't known me then, and he didn't know me now. There were people who had worked for each other since graduation-and still had hard feelings about what they'd been paid.

Whitey Haupt, known as Wyatt since the civil rights movement, sat at my table and I learned for the first time that we had both been in the same mob in the movie The Ten Commandments. "Oh, yeah," Wyatt told his date, "every kid in town with a SAG card was in that scene."

Everyone played and sang, danced and flirted. It was like a real good aud call. Mrs. Mann was there, one of the few "original" faculty left. I went up and introduced myself, and she stared dimly at her old favorite, trying to place me.

"Yes, yes!" she said at last. "I'm so proud of all of you; the ones who made it in the business, and-the ones who didn't!"

Okay! Way to go! No hard feelings, then!

"Tommy, what are you doing now? . . . Oh, then you must meet this man-he's a writer, too!" she said, and introduced me to the editor of Surf magazine.

Afterward, Tommy Cole invited a bunch of us to his house, to extend the party. We drank there to absent friends. There was a sense of anticlimax, as if we had failed o do the HPS experience justice, and Dick Addrisi stood in the kitchen rapping enthusiastically about the possibility of a truly ambitious reunion.

"Where is Donald O'Connor?" he asked rhetorically. "What's he doing now? Nothing. What about Debra Paget? These people haven't been heard from for years. This would be the greatest thing in the world for their careers, they'd jump at the chance to do something like this. We should start organizing right now for next year, do this thing properly

I said, "It sounds like you're talking about a Metromedia special," and Dick shot right back, "That's exactly what I'm talking about!"

That would be fine, I suppose, in its way; but I doubt that the crucial essence could be conjured up on tape. This was our youth, stranger and more exhilarating maybe than others', but just as fleeting. It was great and now it's gone. You had to be there!

I remembered what Mrs. Mann had said to me when she gave me my diploma in her office, six months after I'd gone through graduation with the rest of my class. It seemed to encapsulate all the events and sentiment of my years at the school and to complete a circle that had begun the day she came into class with Jeanie Mack and her mother.

"Tommy," she had asked, "did you have a good time?"

Mrs. Mann, you bet I did!

[This article reproduced for reference purposes only. No copyright infringement is intended. The article is reproduced because of the scarcity of this magazine, the fact that it is not indexed, and back issues are not available from the magazine or on microfilm.]