Veteran TV writer and former Santa Monica Evening Outlook reporter Allan Cole paints a picture of his long-time community in his latest book
By Michael Aushenker
Allan Cole has no shortage of stories to tell.
The son of a CIA operative who grew up in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, Cole had experienced an eclectic upbringing prior to 1968, when he arrived at Venice Beach. Then his life became even more colorful — “blue,” to be precise.
Cole would go on to be a novelist and a television writer, co-writing screenplays for “B.J. and the Bear,” “The A-Team,” “Magnum, P.I.,” “Quincy, M.E.,” “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century,” and “Walker, Texas Ranger.”
But his new memoir, “Tales of the Blue Meanie,” is an account of the years before he broke into showbiz, when he managed a Venice apartment building and wrote for the now-defunct Santa Monica Evening Outlook.
“My wife has been bugging me for years to do ‘Tales of the Blue Meanie.’ We were up to 4 a.m. and I had her up laughing at my anecdotes,” Cole said of what prompted the memoir impulse after selling more than 25 million copies of novels he co-wrote with late writing partner Chris Bunch.
Set in the summer of 1968 — “the worst of times and the worst of times,” as Cole describes a year that saw the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy as the Vietnam War spiraled out of control — “Blue Meanie” paints a vivid sense of Venice from the get-go, describing Cole relocating his family to “the bohemian paradise second only to San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury.”
One can picture that graffiti-tagged stretch of Lincoln Boulevard as he “saw more roach hotels, mushroom-growing hostels and termite-ridden lease options than seemed possible in such a small area.”
In another passage, he sharply describes a downbeat West Washington Boulevard — today upscale Abbott Kinney Boulevard.
Back then, Cole said, “milk cost $1.21 a gallon, pot was $10 a lid, hash was $10 a gram, and at 32 cents a gallon, gasoline was so cheap, if you got the dope munchies you could afford to cruise 112 miles to Santa Barbara for the best malt in the world.”
As an Outlook reporter and editor, Cole raked in $160 a week with his rent costing $135.
Supporting his pregnant first wife Carol, his 13-year-old brother and an 80-pound German shepherd, Cole made ends meet by managing a block of 32 units where Ocean Avenue met Washington Boulevard.
The book derives its name from the 1968 animated Beatles vehicle, “Yellow Submarine,” in which huge Blue Meanies threaten the good people of Pepperland. In Cole’s Venice, that Blue Meanie refers to an immutable “bigger-than-a-mountain” bully of a tenant nine months overdue on rent and too terrifying for even the police to get involved.
On the upside, Cole did not have to look far to secure work. As he writes in chapter four, “Newspaper jobs were easily acquired in those days. There were hundreds of independent newspapers up and down the coast of California. The bad news was they all paid like shit.”
Then the oldest continually published daily in L.A. County, the Outlook —covering a swath of the Westside from Malibu to LAX—was run by publisher Dean Funk and his managing editor younger brother, Ron Funk. The Outlook, started in 1875, was purchased by the Copley chain in 1983 and shuttered in 1998.
Cole lived in a corner house on Harrison Avenue, off Lincoln Boulevard, before relocating to 15th Street and Wilshire Boulevard, where he could walk to the Outlook’s offices on Colorado Avenue. Later, from 1989 to 1993, the Coles resided on the Venice walk-street Amaroso Place.
Cole said he entered journalism because “I always wanted to be a novelist since I was 5 years old” and Hemingway and other literary heroes all wrote for newspapers. “Newspaper ink is as addictive as tobacco or heroin,” he said of his 14 years of reporting.
Cole may be older and more opinionated now, but he is not above admitting that television writing has vastly improved since the 1980s. He currently enjoys “The Americans,” “The Vikings” and “Scandal” (“before it went downhill”) but hated “Breaking Bad” (“I thought it was stupid. I realize I’m in the minority.”).
Back in Cole’s day, “every show had to be solved within an episode” so a series could air out of order in syndication. Today writers have more freedom, with “The Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones” allowing lead characters to bite the dust.
“If any character is game, it makes for a more compelling story, as long as you don’t kill the wrong character off,” he said.
Cole, who retired to Boca Raton but revisited his old neighborhood in March, finds Venice similar to the way he left it.
“I did my best to tell it how I thought about it at the time. I really tried to look through it through the eyes of a 20-year-old rather than a 70-year-old,” said Cole, who becomes a septuagenarian in November. “The only thing I did [was change] the order of things for continuity. I’m good at remembering conversations. All the dialogue is pretty spot-on.”
Cole has packed “Blue Meanie” with his Venice vignettes and newspaper adventures in Santa Monica and Marina del Rey up to when he quit journalism to write novels and teleplays with Bunch, with whom he crafted a successful sci-fi novel series known as the Sten Chronicles.
As freelancers on such hit series as “Battlestar Galactica” and “The Incredible Hulk,” starring longtime Santa Monica resident Lou Ferrigno, Cole and Bunch were dragged through the Hollywood mud.
Naturally, Cole has myriad anecdotes: how Rock Hudson indirectly landed them an agent; when Ferrigno’s stuntman almost died shooting a water scene in Marina del Rey; the grand kerfuffle with “Battlestar”’s Lorne Greene.
But that’s a whole other book (“My Hollywood Misadventures”).
Read sample chapters and buy Cole’s books at acole.com.
*Editor’s note: This story was updated with the correct name of Cole’s first wife.