When Popa mentioned he had also done this on windy, precipitous mountain roads, I had a vision of a wiry, redheaded kid with a huge smile and a constellation of freckles across his face, loving the fresh mountain breeze through the windows and Death not able to catch up with him.
In my previous post, I thought I heard a whisper, I featured my grandparents’ relationship and the vastly different backgrounds they had come from.
Mitzi was a niece of Louis B. Mayer and daughter of his older sister, Ida Mayer Cummings, a passionate and active fundraiser who hosted some of America’s most famous people at her gala events. As a young woman, my grandmother was a stunning beauty, very elegant and a Hollywood reporter for Variety and Photoplay magazines through which she met and interviewed mega stars like Harlow and Hepburn. She was used to the film business’ edginess and moved effortlessly through very glamorous circles. Her brother, Jack Cummings, became a noted MGM producer, and her sister, Ruth, worked as a writer and composer and married a director, Roy Rowland.
Sol, on the other hand, was raised in Denver with the majestic Rocky Mountains as his neighborhood’s backdrop. His father was a tailor and mother a homemaker who were blessed with three healthy children, Sam, who was born in Russia, Sol born in New York City after the family emigrated, and their youngest child, Esther, who was born in Denver, where they eventually settled with other related families.
Though I’m sure they all worked very hard, I think life was fairly stable and perhaps even idyllic for these new young Americans. “Popa” Sol once told me that as a boy he could happily eat an entire loaf of his mother’s challah and a quart of fresh milk. He roamed throughout the city and loved the hustle and bustle. I can only imagine Denver’s streets in the early 1900s with their nail-biting combination of horse teams, foot traffic, bicyclists and hundreds of cars, trucks and delivery vehicles with drivers still learning how to drive and no road rules per se.
I remember Sol telling me that he had learned to drive his father’s Model T as a kid and was probably no older than 12. To change gears he had to dive down to the clutch, push it down, then pop back up in a heartbeat to look out of the windscreen, hoping a head-on collision was not imminent. When Popa mentioned he had also done this on windy, precipitous mountain roads, I had a vision of a wiry, redheaded kid with a huge smile and a constellation of freckles across his face, loving the fresh mountain breeze through the windows and Death not able to catch up with him.
From what I know, Sol started off at the Denver Post probably as a messenger boy, then displayed a talent for cartoons and graphic design. At some point he designed the Yellow Pages’ first logo, and was also kept busy illustrating and designing a huge variety of ads, some of which I have. But at his heart he was a gifted fine artist and in an effort to pursue this as a career, he headed down to Mexico for a year or more. During this time he produced some very beautiful paintings and line drawings and met a handful of other young first generation American expats. But his closest friend, and whom he always hoped to be reunited with, was Mexican artist Ben Hur Baz, known for his racy but technically perfect pin-up girls.
Perhaps his travels through Mexico gave him itchy feet and he may have gone straight to Los Angeles where he eventually met Mitzi. I have no idea how their circles intersected – it seems so unlikely. Nevertheless, they fell in love and married in 1942. Sol would join the family business and become a film producer with MGM including Harry Belafonte’s debut movie Bright Road and a handful of wonderful films with Barbara Stanwyck. But the film business wasn’t for him and I am sure he longed simply to paint and draw.
Once he married Mitzi, life would never again be as simple as those days in Denver peeping over the steering wheel of his father’s Model T, his eye on the road but his heart bursting with the beauty around him.
As I covered in I thought I heard a whisper, my grandparents were mostly likely mismatched, but sitting here on this fine spring evening in Sydney – a million miles away from LA and Denver – I am tremendously grateful that they found each other.
Copyright Alicia Mayer 2012.