11 Sept 1965 : Giant trees, film stars and cowboys : Malibu Beach, California

This continues the letter dated 3rd September 1965 which began:

Dear family,

Saturday 11th September

Malibu Beach 

As we were leaving this national park we went up high again and saw the giant Sequoia trees. These are commonly known as the Giant Redwoods due to their colour. They are the oldest living things on earth and some are nearly 3800 years old and still living. They are nearly 300 feet high (some of the big ones) and are fantastically impressive.

One very famous one has a road going through it. They cut this hole in 1892 and it hasn’t affected the growth at all. We drove the Volkswagen through it with no trouble at all.

Like all tourists we took a picture of this, and then met a fellow from Stroud. (Note: Stroud is 33 miles from Tony’s home city of Bristol)


California driving through giant tree.jpg
Tony’s photo of their campervan driving through the famous tree


Tony’s postcard, captioned: YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CALIFORNIA “WAWONA” OR TUNNEL TREE MARIPOSA GROVE OF BIG TREES. Wawoma Tunnel Tree in Mariposa Grove of Big Trees. The hole through the tree’s base, cut in 1881, has not impaired its life. It is 231ft tall, 86 feet in girth at its base.


The weather was pretty awful all the time we were at this park so we didn’t hang about and set off for Los Angeles. We drove until midnight and pulled off the road high up in the mountains to spend the night. We then dropped down into Los Angeles and went first to see the famous Hollywood Bowl where the Beatles appeared last week.

We were very lucky as there was an orchestra and a group called The Young Americans rehearsing, so we had a free show. It’s a fabulous place. It’s open-air and in front of the stage is a lake with fountains in it.


Tony’s postcard, captioned: FAMOUS HOLLYWOOD BOWL HOLLYWOOD CALIFORNIA. A large, natural amphitheatre in the Hollywood Foothills, where during the summer months “Symphonies Under The Stars” are given, under the baton of nationally known conductors. Easter Sunrise services are observed each year.


We then went on a tour of Hollywood and saw some of the many film studios here, and then on to Beverly Hills where all the stars homes are. Some of these homes are worth millions and they really look it too. We saw Glenn Ford‘s house and next door lives Maureen O’Hara. It must be one of the plushest areas in the world. It’s a very hilly area and they have terrific views of Los Angeles. We saw loads of Rolls Royces in the drives.

We then went down to LA Main Post Office to see if there was any mail (there was none) and as we were sitting outside the Post Office a fellow Englishman came up to speak to us. He has since turned out to be a real friend and a great guy.

He immediately invited us to his home and his wife invited us to stay the moment we arrived. He has a fabulous and very plush house. He is quite wealthy and is a partner in an electrical company. He is a real do-it-yourself fan and has made his house worth a small fortune. He can make $50 to $60 a day as an electrician.

So we moved in on the spot, and then later went out for a meal and a tour of the town. He took us all over the place and pointed out many of the stars homes, where he has done work and knows them quite well. We were out till 2 a.m. seeing all the night spots – and had a great time.

Yesterday (Friday) his wife made a terrific breakfast for us and we then went off to spend the day at a place called Knotts Berry Farm. This is a great place. It’s a small town of genuine buildings of the early West days, all brought here and rebuilt and kept exactly as they were.


Tony’s postcard, captioned: GHOST TOWN KNOTT’S BERRY FARM BUENA PARK CALIFORNIA No trip to the Ghost Town is complete without a ride on Old 41, a real narrow guade train that saw service in the early eighties. A ride on a genuine Stage Coach is also a popular and memorable Ghost Town experience.


Also they are operated in the same way and all the staff were wearing early western clothes. In the saloons they have girls dancing on the bar, and there is a show up on the balcony (it ends when a fight starts and the pianist gets shot).

There are stagecoach rides (it gets held up by highwaymen) and a real old western train. We went on this and it was good fun. Even on this there was a great ‘act’. We were all ‘held up’ by masked gunmen, who took all the money from the guard. Then at the station there was a big gun fight during which the bandits were all shot.


p33 DRY GULCH PACK TRAIN Knott_s Berry Farm, Ghost Town, California
Tony’s postcard, captioned: DRY GULCH PACK TRAIN, Knott’s Berry Farm and Ghost Town, Buena Park, California. The old prospector has just arrived at the pack station next to the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad Supply House.
Tony’s postcard, captioned: Knott’s Berry Farm, Ghost Town, California. Visitors on Main Street seem to be attracted by some activity back at the Town Jail.


Then the ‘doc’ comes up in his buggy and takes them away. It’s all good fun and as you can imagine the kids love it (as do the adults). It’s all so authentic you would swear you were back in the past.

We spent all day there and could have stayed longer. But we had to be back as our hosts were holding a dinner for us and had invited visitors. We had a delicious meal and then went off on more sightseeing.

This fellow John is about 33, and is really go ahead and ambitious, and was keen on our spin paint idea for New Zealand, and has very kindly given us a trailer which we need to build it on. We have to dismantle it and put it inside the van for the trip as we don’t want to have to pay for the shipping of it. We are hoping we can get it all inside. It should save us about £50 so we are quite lucky once again.

Yesterday he talked us into going to look at some land with a view to buying it. We were so inspired that today we went along to see it, and spent this morning driving around with an agent in a yellow Cadillac looking at plots of land. He then invited us to lunch and we spent from 1 p.m. till 5 p.m. eating and drinking. We all had about six whiskies each and got quite sloshed.

He started talking freely and more or less admitted that the land wasn’t too good, so we didn’t buy – but had a terrific meal and plenty to drink as well. He didn’t seem in the slightest concerned and we said goodbye and drove off.


Knotts Berry Farm, Los Angeles California
Tony’s photo: Knotts Berry Farm
Knotts Berry Park Farm, Los Angeles California 2
Tony’s photo – Knotts Berry Farm


We were feeling so sleepy we decided to go to the beach for a nap – but it was too chilly, so we slept in the van. We had been asleep about an hour when a knocking on the side of the van woke us up.  Outside there was an English couple who wanted us to go and have dinner with them. We said we had a hangover and had just finished lunch, but they argued us into going – so off we went.

He went to Clifton College (note: in Tony’s home city of Bristol, UK) and is now a real estate broker and is loaded. They have a permanent flat in London and seem to flit across the Atlantic like flies. They have three daughters and one of them skis for England.

They were very interested in our trip and all our experiences. We had a very pleasant dinner and then they really surprised us. They offered us a house on the beach at Malibu. It belongs to a friend who is away, they said we can stay in it for as long as we like. Naturally we said yes – and went with them to look at it.

First we went to their house which was amazing. Very large, with cars everywhere (waiting to be used by the daughters who live mostly in England). Their next door neighbour directs ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E‘- a TV series.

The house we have is fantastic – very big with three bathrooms, and in the lounge is a huge old-fashioned fireplace. At the front there is a very big veranda overlooking the sea, where we plan to have breakfast tomorrow. There are beds everywhere and the problem is which one to use! As the sea pounds on the beach below the whole house shakes.

There are one or two odd things about the house – the most odd being a boat which is in the middle of the living room, and the oars on the mantelpiece!! Instead of giving some explanation as to what it was doing there, they simply said that we could use it if we want to!!! So here we are in our fabulous beach House at Malibu.

We shall be in Los Angeles a couple more days yet as we have to see Disneyland, work on this trailer, and tomorrow are going to a barbecue at a fellow’s place, who we met in Monterey. So things at the moment are quite good as you can see.

Well I must get this off now or you will begin to wonder what has happened to us. I hope you are getting our mail alright, and I hope there will be some for me on Monday.

Look after yourselves,

All my love,

Tone xxx

Note from Tony: The estate agent later revealed that the house we were staying in belonged to the film star, Roddy McDowall! By then, he was already world famous – and just three years later, he would star in the 1968 smash hit Planet Of The Apes.

It really is quite incredible how open, friendly and trusting the people we met on our travels were. 


Roddy McDowall in Planet of the Apes makeup. By CBS Television


Note: Tony and Colin’s spin paint idea was to make a mobile studio with a spinning canvas, where people could pay to create their own art – like this brilliant example.  

Note from Tiffany: The Young Americans perform with Bing Cosby in 1965 in this video – with tons of topical jokes in the lyrics. They don’t look that young, though!!

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