It might have been a set for Grease 3 or a vision of heaven as choreographed by Pat Boone. First, a high school ROTC troop marched into the gym followed by a squad of cheerleaders, a drill team and a bevy of pompom girls, all decked out in red and white. Then hundreds of high school kids, clad in bobby socks and saddle shoes, jitterbugged to surf music played by a band called the Endless Summer. The occasion was the “Hart to Hart Hollywood High Homecoming Hop,” an alliterative affair that started as a public relations stunt to hype a Hart-y episode set at the school. But the publicity stunt soon developed into a Hollywood-style happening. Gazing wistfully upon the spectacle were such fabled alumni of the renowned school as Carol Burnett (Class of ’51), Linda Evans (’60), Stefanie Powers (’60) and Alan Hale Jr. (’38), who achieved a sort of immortality playing the skipper in Gilligan’s Island.
“I was a member of Beta Psi Delta, the ‘good girls,’ ” recalls Evans. “Stefanie was one of the ‘fun girls.’ ” Powers dressed the part in a letter sweater, plaid skirt and, of course, bobby socks and saddle shoes. Her date for the evening was Hart to Hart co-star Robert Wagner, who never attended Hollywood High but knew the school well from cruising by in his car. “I came by to look at the pretty girls,” he remembers. “There were a lot of them.” There were also a lot of nascent talents. The school is famous for producing more stars than Darryl F. Zanuck. Fay Wray went from the Class of 1924 to a place in King Kong’s paw. Following her into celluloid stardom were Sally Kellerman (’55) and Nanette Fabray (’40). The school also produced its share of leading men, including Jason Robards (’39), John Ritter (’66) and James Garner, who isn’t sure what class he was in. “I think I was there for my sophomore year,” he says, “but I don’t remember much about it.” By far the biggest head-turner among Hollywood High alumni, though, was Lana Turner. “Even the teachers stared at her,” recalled classmate Fabray. “We all knew she would be a movie star.” Turner’s attendance was short-lived—about a month and half. She cut a typing class one day in 10th grade and walked to the nearby Top Hat Café (not the legendary Schwab’s Drugstore) for a Coke and was discovered by Billy Wilkerson, publisher of the Hollywood Reporter. Students don’t slip across the street so casually today. The nearly 80-year-old school, once a Mecca for upper-middle-class white students, now sits in a depressed area. Until a month ago, when police chased them down the block, hookers in gold lame miniskirts propositioned students on the campus during lunch hours. The student body now is made up largely of children of immigrants, and English as a second language has become an important part of the curriculum. “I want out,” said English teacher Harry Major, who was John Ritter’s favorite instructor. “I don’t see a future for Hollywood High, and I don’t want to be here as it continues downward.” Other teachers disagree. One of them is Jerry Melton, a former character actor who now teaches in the Performing Arts Magnet Program, which draws 170 students from all over Los Angeles. “We have a crop of talented youngsters this year,” he says. “Who knows which of these kids may someday make it big?”
At the Homecoming Hop, eight of those “talented kids” regaled the audience with a performance of the Broadway tune Big Spender. By then the big spenders among the alumni were waxing nostalgic. Stefanie Powers recalled getting arrested after cutting down a campus tree as a prank. “There we were, all these lily-white kids with crew cuts and tennis shoes sitting down there like we were on a field trip, surrounded by kids who were in juvenile hall for robbery, assault, burglaries,” she remembered. “It was all pretty silly.” But even the memories of awkward adolescent misadventures were submerged in the spirit of the evening, best expressed by Carol Burnett. “I love this school,” she said. “It meant a lot to me.”