The power went out in South Laguna the other night, a rare occurrence. Rare enough that I was uncertain how to respond. The Beautiful Wife, in succession, turned on her cell phone light, found a battery-powered lantern, and began producing candles from a closet. It was a virtuoso demonstration of emergency preparedness. There was a role for me: What candle scent did I prefer? I had to think about it.
I stumped the BW by asking her about “Slim Summerville.” “Never heard of him,” she stated. It seemed a shame, for she had eaten in his former Laguna home a number of times. You, the reader, may have also. What’s more, he acted in over 90 motion pictures and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And his birthday is July 10. Here’s the backstory.
A bit over a century ago, in a world-changing innovation, they started making movies up in Hollywood. A related event, with the 1926 completion of Pacific Coast Highway, was the arrival of Hollywood people to the art colony of Laguna Beach. One of these was the comedian George J. Somerville, who acted under the name of “Slim Summerville.”
Tall and gangly, Somerville was an unlikely character for Hollywood, but in 1912, he found a place as one of the original Keystone Kops, known for their frantic dashing about. Their movies are long gone, but the name has remained a catchphrase for bumbling incompetence. Slapstick comedy, with the pie-throwing and crazy chases, worked in the silent movies, but Somerville evolved with the technology to become a career actor and director.
In the early ‘30s, Somerville became ill enough to require a private nurse. A romance developed between Slim and the young nurse, Eleanor Brown. It may have been in 1932, for Somerville was in only two movies that year, down from six the year before. Perhaps it was the illness, but Somerville left Los Angeles for a beach home in Laguna, now 619 Sleepy Hollow Lane. For a guy who acted under the name “Summerville,” it all fits together. Slim and Eleanor married in ’37 and enjoyed life on the beach until his passing from a stroke in 1946.
After Eleanor’s passing in 1966, the Pike family converted the home to a restaurant, the iconic Beach House. With the waves breaking under the porch at high tides, it was as close as you could get to the water without getting wet. The Beach House, with its great sunset views, had a long run until it was replaced in 2014 by today’s Driftwood Kitchen.
And that’s a brief telling of the life of George Somerville, the comedian who made his fame in the early years of Hollywood, and a home on the beach for himself and his bride on Sleepy Hollow Lane. His birthday, I suppose, would have passed unnoted this coming Wednesday, without us remembering his story. Somerville made a lot of people laugh in his time. Perhaps there’s meaning in that.
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. 7 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.