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Wise Words with George Maupin

This is the complete transcript of the interview with George Maupin in the Wise Words in Troubled Times. An excerpt was featured in The Spokesman-Review Jan. 1, 2011.
  • My memories start in the late 1940s. I remember us moving from one neighborhood to another. I was born in downtown Los Angeles, which in that day was rare. We were the first generation. Everyone else, my family included, had come from other states. My father had been married before, so he had payments he had to make to his ex-wife. And my mother was one of those, in those days, who worked full-time. So I grew up in a family where they were gone all the time. I was an only child and now I’ve got an only child. It seemed normal to me. A lot of people can’t stand being alone. I like to be alone. I can remember us moving from one neighborhood to another and we were part of what was called “white flight.” My parents didn’t have much money. We lived in a poor part of town but it can became dangerous and we moved to another part of town, and then they finally were able to get a house built in South Gate, Calif. It was the first time we were really settled. I was probably in the first or second grade, about 7, and discovering a friend my age on the other side of the fence next to us and another friend my age two doors down. I had this group of young guys my age in this neighborhood with me. I look back on it fondly as having a home, having stability and having good friends my own age. I thought it was the best of times.
  • My dad drove a bus. He was an older man, just like I was when I had my son. I was 47 when my son was born. I was so busy with work. My wife was 37. Anyway, my dad became a supervisor where he stood on a corner and made sure everything was on time. My mother was a supermarket checker and she worked full-time there and she loved it. I became a box boy and worked there for a decade in the supermarket. You were always busy and I don’t want a job where you’re not busy. One of my best friend’s dads worked at a steel mill. We had a General Motors plant in South Gate. Another father worked there. They would all take their pail to work everyday and then come home. Most of the mothers stayed home. My mother was one of the few. I would come home from school and stay at a house across the street. We weren’t rich, but to us it was a fancy neighborhood. I had grown up in a couple of rentals in a much tougher part of town. And then we moved and had our own house. To me, it was spectacular. I think everyone keeps those core values. What worries me now is kids who don’t have roots of family and a job. What is going to happen to people who have lost their jobs and because of that they’ve lost their house and car? We have so many kids going to school now who are homeless and that’s where they are getting their meals.
  • My mother was born in Arkansas and my dad was born in Missouri and they met in Los Angeles and got married. He was 20 years older than her, I think. She had two sisters and two brothers. Their father died. What they did was literally like “Grapes of Wrath.” They got a pick-up truck and put all the kids in the truck and a few pieces of furniture and they drove to California like the “Grapes of Wrath.” I had that background going for me. I saw that we go through hard times and they can be awful and they can disrupt families and make you leave your home, but if you work hard and work honestly and stick to it and you have family and that love, you can survive anything.
  • My voice got real deep at a very young age. I would be boxing groceries at 14 and 15 and people over and over again would say, “You ought to be on the radio with that voice.” It stuck in my head. My mom said, “Do what you want to do.” I went to a little radio and television school and all I wanted to was get a job in a newsroom. This was Woodward-Bernstein era, and I thought “This is a job that can change the world.” It was called Don Martin’s Radio and Television School. It was in downtown Hollywood. You walked out of the building and saw all the young male prostitutes hanging out. I was there a year. I don’t think I learned much from that job but it was important for me because it got me my job.
  • Then, I got drafted. In those days if you had money or power, you were in the National Guard. If your dad was really important, he’d get you a slot in the National Guard, because you weren’t going overseas. Now they all go overseas. My family didn’t have any power. I dropped out of school and got immediately drafted. They were drafting everybody. Kids my age just disappeared. I was about 23 years old. When I got out of basic training, they had a board they put up and they tell you which area you’ll be in. I was infantry, and I started to cry, because I knew I was going to die. I was a flop in college and I knew I wouldn’t be in intelligence. A lot of people were running away to Canada, and I didn’t have the courage to do it, and I didn’t want to embarrass my family. So I just went. But then they send me to Fort Sill in Oklahoma. In those days Lawton, Oklahoma was three bars and a pawn shop. They put me in supply, probably because I’d worked in a supermarket and they figured this guy knows how to stack shelves. We were in two warehouses. One of my first images was opening up Conex full of stereos. The war was such a scam. People would just steal them and take them home. One time Lyndon Johnson came to Cam Ranh Bay, because it was the safest place. We had to button every button, it was 110 degrees, we had to rake the sand and here he comes and he comes by at about 60 mph and I was waiting for the beer can to come flying out. As long as I was in Cam Ranh, I was safe. We were surrounded by the ROC, the Korean soldiers. Every one of them was about 5 foot-8 and weighed 200 pounds of muscle. They literally didn’t take any prisoners. They’d wear ears around their neck or noses. Cam Rahn was important because it was the major supply thing north of Saigon. We were really safe there. I was there during TET. The only time I got close was with my friend Joe. He came from Bell Gardens, California. He was drafted one after me. We met on the bus being driven to Fort Ord. We were in the same squad in basic training. We were in the same company in Fort Sill. We ended up in the same place in Cam Rahn Bay. He was a truck driver and one day he said, “Why don’t you ride shotgun with me?” So I’m riding shotgun. And we got to a town a day’s trip away. But wherever you were going, you had to be before dark, because after dark everything belonged to Charlie, the Cong. We got there and we’re at the bar and I thought that wasn’t bad. We’d hear some gunfire but we were told the Vietcong weren’t very good shots. All of a sudden, lights and alarms go off and people said it’s red alert and that means they are inside the perimeter. We go out and get under our truck and put our rifle together. So we’re under there and there are some images I will never lose. They were shooting off these phosphorous flares to make light – and it was like some John Wayne movie from World War II –– there was this lookout post above the area made out of palm fronds and there’s this guy up there with a rifle. You’d see people running at you and they were wearing pajamas, men and women. You’d shoot. I was never afraid until it was over. I wasn’t proud of my country. I wasn’t proud of the war. I wasn’t proud of my effort. But I was proud that under fire, I did what I needed to do. I looked up, a mortar or grenade goes into that palm frond and blows this guy up and the whole thing disappears. When light came up and everything settled down, they came and dragged bodies away. My guess would be that Joe and I probably killed somebody. Like a fool, I went on one more trip with him.
  • What did I learn in Vietnam? Cynicism. I admired Johnson as a president because of all his civil rights things, that was very brave, but when I found out that he lied about the Tonkin Gulf, this alleged attack. I came out of it very cynical about my country. I think we have a wonderful country and we may be turning things around. When I got home from Vietnam in 1967, I got him just in time for the riots and the assassinations. I just got home and Martin Luther King was killed and then Bobby Kennedy was killed, and I thought: “You know, this may be worse than Vietnam. We’ve got so much here. Over there, people were trying to grow rice and living in the jungle.” That was frightening to come back to that. What did I learn about survival? Fickleness, as far as fate’s concerned. A few inches, it could have been me. If I hadn’t been put in supply, I would have been a grunt. I had a buddy I grew up with named Mike. He was a grunt out there everyday and he got shot in the butt and he was so excited because he was going home. It showed me that life is one of those things that you can persevere, but you can never account for that fickleness. You can walk across the street and get hit by a car. I can walk down the street and get shot by someone who is crazy who thinks I’m the devil. In general, if you stick to principles and work hard. 99.9 percent of us aren’t privileged. But you can survive. But you have to have inner strength and most people have it, but they need to find it. That day (under the truck) I found it. I went away thinking I can do this. I survived. I knew part of it was just chance. But I knew under stress I could be all right.
  • My first job at Palm Spring, I was doing everything. I loved it. I worked all day and night for no money. Our weather girl was a woman named Patty Beebee. She was glamorous and she did weather and we had little magnets and they’d fall off, it was a really cheesy operation. She met and married (actor) Tom Bosley and she quit. So I was doing weather, too. I wrote the show. I would go shoot. I would edit it. I would write it. Then I would do sports. And then when Patty BeeBee left, I did weather. This would have been early 1970s. I went to the restaurant after just being on the air a little time and this woman had me sign her autograph book and I was signing and right above me was Sonny Bono. Another time, I go to the record store and a girl comes in with her dad, and says, “Oh, Mr. Maupin will you sign my autograph book?” Just as I’m doing it, into the door comes Red Skelton. He’s a big guy. It’s not summer but it’s still warm, it’s Palm Springs, and he’s got this huge down-to-the-floor fur coat. And he’s got this big cigar. She sees him and grabs the pen and the book out of my hand and she’s gone.
  • A guy I worked with in Palm Springs got a job in Las Vegas and he had been recording me. He went to Las Vegas and they were looking for somebody and he showed this guy this tape he had of me and said you should hire this guy, he’s good. I did sports for quite a while in Las Vegas. I got cocky. I thought I was a big shot. I was announcing when big events were on “Channel 3” – the competition. We had a general manager, and he cornered me and said he didn’t want me to do that. He was angry and I walked away and say, “Yeah, well don’t tell me how to do sports.” About three of four days later, they said, “You’re gone.” What I learned is you have to understand who and what you are. Kind of know your place. Your reality is not just what you are living. Other people are working with you and going through this with you. I think that helped me, if I’m any degree of a success now, getting fired was important now. It made me focus on what was important in life. And that I wasn’t Mr. Big Shot just because I was on TV. I might have become an arrogant SOB.
  • When I first started doing sports in Palm Springs, I thought how am I going to do this? I’ve never really been on the air. The guy wanted me to wear an eye patch. He said, “We need you to be something different.” I said, “What if I forget and put it on the wrong eye? What if I’m driving around and I stop at a gas station to go to the bathroom, where’s my eye patch?” He wanted to change my name to Rock or Biff. He was crazy. In Southern California, he was Jim “Weather Eyes” Hawthorne. In the 1950s, he was kind of famous as a goofy weather guy and then he was running the station. I got out of it. I didn’t have to do it. I decided to approach TV like I was in a bar and talking to one person and they say, “You saw the game last night, what happened?” And I say, “Oh man, you should have seen it.” I still try to be as honest as I can. I try not to be an anchor. You’ve got people in every town where you look at them and know everything is choreographed. So I decided to be whoever I am and let it come out. And if it works, it works. I want to be myself, just a regular person who happens to be on TV. If you’re real, people spot it. I have a lot of people who come up to me, middle-age women and they’ll giggle and wiggle a little and their husband might be standing there and they say, “You know, you’re in my bedroom every morning.” Stop trying to be somebody you’re not. People want real people.
  • I got married in my late 40s. My wife was in her mid-30s. We’ve been married 19 years. My wife is beautiful, smart, she’s hard-working. Nancy and I worked together for a year or more in Las Vegas. She was the producer and I was doing sports. I faced a wall because I was too easily distracted. We got to know each other. I admired and respected her and she was a knock-out, too. We moved to Spokane when our son was 2. We had looked around. I was a producer at a station in Las Vegas, because I didn’t want to be on the air anymore. Anonymity is a wonderful thing. You go about your business. I seem to get a lot a lot of love, but you are in people’s home five days a week. They are naked sometimes. They got the kids around. You literally become part of their families. I’ve grown to understand the relationship with TV. I’m more comfortable with it now.
  • I came here for a producer job. And I did it for 10 years. I did all the shows — 5, 6 and 11. I was with Randy and Deb. I never thought about going back on the air. We were actually looking around to leave. I was getting a headache walking in the door, because I wasn’t that happy. I was putting resumes together. This was around 2000. I suggested I apply for the opening for weather. I went down and stood in front of the wall. They gave me a shot. So I was doing the weather on the weekend, plus producing the shows. We got some laughs. It’s close to 10 years we’ve been together (on the morning show). Shelly (Monahan) and I really clicked right away. I never knew I was the oldest guy on TV. But I feel like I’m so lucky. Everyone has got to go to work, except for that one-tenth of 1 percent that inherits money. I’m lucky to have a job I look forward to it. I work on it at home. I read science books because I want to know what I’m talking about and when I come in, we don’t get a lunch break. We work straight through. It’s 2 1/2 hours, which is a long time for a TV show. And it flies by, and I like and respect everyone I work with. I feel like I’ve gotten a gift from heaven here. We’re blessed.
  • I would say if you can afford to go to college, major in anything, but find something you like. Don’t worry about what you’re majoring in at first. You’ll find something you like. If you know what you want to do, fight for it. If you can find something you like, you are lucky. When you are young, you can mess up. I did. I got fired. I also went to work for a magazine and then that failed because it was family (owned) and there was sickness in the family and I had to go back to the Palm Springs TV station, and I was no kid then, and the guy there told me, “You are way overqualified for this job.” I said, “Look, I just lost my job. This is the only thing I know how to do. You don’t have to pay me any more. Give me the lousiest job you’ve got. I can do this.” He gave me a job, and I went out with a camera all by myself. I’d interview people and turn the camera around and do a cutaway. It worked and I got back in.
  • I get up at 1:30 in the morning. I’m down here at 2:30. I could walk in just before the show starts and have my coat and tie on and I could jabber. But I’d feel like I was faking it. If you have a job you want to do, you want to do it as well as you can. I need that extra hour to go through the computer stuff, look at all the videos. And then I feel comfortable. I’m allegedly off at 8:30. Then I go to schools or make a lot of personal appearances. I’ll go to a class and talk to kids. If they are little kids, we talk about TV and weather. If bigger kids, TV and weather and the science of it. If I don’t have a personal appearance, I might be home and in bed by 10 or 11 in the morning. I try to take a nap every day, if I can. I feel blessed. I get such a response from my audience. People come up to me all the time and say, “We love you.”
  • What do I hope our society learns from the downturn? It doesn’t seem like we ever learn a damn thing. But I hope that people learn to have a little respect for their fellow human beings. There are times when I feel like it’s people with money and then the rest of us. There are so many people out there struggling. Children should never have to suffer. If a child is sick, they should be taken care of. You heal the child. I hope this makes all of us more humble, because we’re all just regular people. Some have been luckier than others. Some have been more industrious. I hope out of this we get more stringent rules. I think most people are good, but I think avarice can overwhelm you. Too many of us will steal from another person. And you don’t have to have nothing to do it. You can have almost everything and you can’t help yourself, you go out and get more. I hope we have some rules. That’s what I feel government is for. Government lets everyone do as much of what they want to do as possible but makes sure we all play together within some kind of rules, just like a football team, just like a newsroom. I can’t go out there and say anything I want to or decide to come into work when I want to. We’re a society and if we could live up to that name, we’d all be better off. I hope we learn that this can happen again, so we have to keep an eye on things and not let people get away with stuff. We’re all in this together.
  • When people come up to me, they don’t talk about the weather much. They want contact. They want to size you up and see if you’re the person you appear on TV. But people are more interested in weather for a number of serious reasons. One, we’re more mobile than we ever were. We can get around, see the world. I remember when we got our first TV. I was 5 or 6 or something. My dad and his friend and my mother and the friend’s wife were there and Milton Berle was going to come on in a half hour. They were in front of the TV working on the Indian head test pattern. They spent a half hour getting it just right. And then Milton Berle came on and it was such a production. And now we have everything in our pocket. The world is incredible. We can’t screw it up. Just imagine what the future could be.
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