Finding Meaning

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The Summer of ’34

By Skip Hellewell

This is a true story dug from Laguna’s past. A story about love, and how it shapes our lives. In the summer of ’34, five people crossed paths in Laguna. Four were married, and neighbors. Gigi Parrish, an aspiring actress appeared in three movies that year. Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1912, she was orphaned at 6 and adopted by a well-to-do family whose children were privately tutored by G. Dillwyn (Tim) Parrish.

Tim Parrish, from a distinguished Philadelphia artistic family, studied at Harvard, drove ambulances in WWI, then became a writer and tutor. He taught Gigi, and though 18 years older, they fell in love and married when she was 15. Their honeymoon was an incredible adventure—riding motorcycles over the poor roads of the time to the West Coast. They made it to California where Gigi was determined to become a movie actress. In the summer of ’34 they rented a Laguna beach cottage next door to Leland (Al) and Mary F. K. Fisher.

Mary’s family had come west in 1911, settling in Whittier where her father published the Whittier News and acquired a beach cabin in Laguna. Mary later wrote of those Laguna weekends, the family escaping Whittier after the Saturday paper was done, buying fresh produce in the Canyon, fishing for dinner as the sun set, gloriously loving food and life at the beach. When Mary and Al married in 1929, they traveled to Paris and then Dijon, France, where he earned a PhD and wrote epic poetry. Mary studied art, but French cuisine was her real interest. They returned in ’34, living in her family’s Laguna cabin, next door to Tim and Gigi Parrish.

Tim helped neighbor Mary with her writing and a relationship grew between them. Long story short, the couples divorced and Tim married Mary. There was a trip to Europe to found an art colony on Lake Geneva. Sadly, a circulatory disease led to Tim’s death in 1941. Mary was devastated by her loss, thinking herself a ‘ghost’ without Tim. She later settled in California’s wine country and gained fame as the food writer M. F. K. Fisher, author of 27 culinary books.

And what of Mary’s first spouse Al Fisher? He became a professor at Smith College, teaching English and writing poetry. Though hapless at marriage, he did earn an obituary in the New York Times.

And the discarded actress Gigi Parrish? She met John Weld, a Hollywood stunt man turned screenwriter, who got his start at 17 by diving off a 137-foot cliff. In the ‘20s he tried journalism, working five years in Paris with the Herald Tribune. When John met Gigi, he thought her “the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.” After a complicated courtship, the couple settled down in Laguna Beach to a 66-year marriage ended by his death. He had been chief copywriter for the Ford Motor Co. and parlayed this into Ford dealerships in Laguna and San Clemente. From 1949 to 1965, John and Katy (done with Hollywood, Gigi had reverted to her birth name) published the Laguna Beach Post. For 18 years he wrote a column titled, “Our Town,” later compiled into a book. Now there’s a movie, just premiered, “The Remarkable Life of John Weld.”

It’s a unique story, but what does it all mean? It’s a reminder that it’s love that shapes our lives and gives meaning. And that Laguna has a fascinating history.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email: [email protected]

Places to worship (all on Sunday, unless noted):

Baha’i’s of Laguna Beach—contact [email protected] for events and meetings.

Calvary Chapel Seaside, 21540 Wesley Drive (Lang Park Community Center), 10:30 a.m.

Chabad Jewish Center, 30804 S. Coast Hwy, Fri. 6 p.m., Sat. 10:30 a.m., Sun. 8 a.m.

Church by the Sea, 468 Legion St., 9 & 10:45 a.m.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 682 Park Ave., 10 a.m.

First Church of Christ, Scientist, 635 High Dr., 10 a.m.

ISKCON (Hare Krishna), 285 Legion St., 5 p.m., with 6:45 feast.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, 20912 Laguna Canyon Rd., 1:00 p.m.

Laguna Beach Net-Works, 286 St. Ann’s Dr., 10 a.m.

Laguna Presbyterian, 415 Forest Ave., 8:30 & 10 a.m.

Neighborhood Congregational Church (UCC), 340 St. Ann’s Drive, 10 a.m.

United Methodist Church, 21632 Wesley, 10 a.m.

St. Catherine of Siena (Catholic), 1042 Temple Terrace, 7:30, 9, 11, 1:30 p.m. (Spanish), 5:30 p.m. There are 8 a.m. masses on other days and Saturday 5:30 p.m. vigils.

St. Francis by the Sea (American Catholic), 430 Park, 9:30 a.m.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 428 Park Ave., 8:00 & 10:30 a.m.

Unitarian Universalist, 429 Cypress St., 10:30 a.m.

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1 COMMENT

  1. This is a wonderful story that enriches our appreciation for this remarkable place we call home. It also is amazingly akin to the narrative in the same edition by Craig Lockwood about his mother Jane Calender. See my comment on the on-line Indy re Lockwood’s special report. Thank you both for these two powerful stories.

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