Alley Mills Bean runs for Venice Neighborhood Council
By Kamala Kirk
Alley Mills Bean was not only the beloved TV mom on “The Wonder Years” for seven years, but she is also a 30-year resident of Venice and has seen the community go through major changes over the years. She and her late husband, actor Orson Bean, tirelessly dedicated their time and efforts to keep the spirit of Venice alive, and were both recipients of the prestigious Spirit of Venice Award, which recognizes people that are actively involved in the community and serve as inspirational role models.
“One of the things I have always loved about Venice is its diversity,” Alley said. “When I first moved here, there were people from all different backgrounds and walks of life. As developers rushed in, it became less and less affordable. The unique character of Venice was disappearing at a rapid pace. Longtime community members were being displaced. At the same time, the drug cartels that had been dissipating began expanding and dealing more hardcore drugs like Meth and Fentanyl. I love Venice and the people so much, and Orson did too. I’ve been involved in many different projects and causes over the years, bringing neighbors together and taking a stand against oversized developments and other issues that have negative ramifications on our community and its residents.”
As crime rates have soared in Venice (up 187% this year), Bean has seen many close friends and neighbors move away. Tired of losing sleep for years over the ongoing issues around her including the homeless crisis (5,700 souls died on the streets of LA in 2020) and worsening drug problems, Bean knew it was time to take action and be part of the solution. She decided to run for Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) and is currently a candidate for the position of At-Large Community Officer.
“I’m running on a slate called 1Venice and our major focus is uniting Venice into a strong, loud, unified voice,” Alley said. “The great thing about our community is our history of economic, racial and creative diversity. Uniting that body into a strong voice that fights for our rights with the city is a daunting challenge though, exactly because we are so diverse and creative. It’s a crucial moment for us and we really need to unite more than ever, given our homeless crisis and because we are in the process of developing a brand-new Local Coastal Program that could change Venice forever. It’s a crucial moment for us. Even though Orson would always say to me, ‘Not now, Sweetheart’, I know that he would agree that now is the time. It can’t be put off any longer.”
Among the many possible solutions for the homeless situation in Venice, Bean supports the idea of more cost-effective and immediate innovative housing and shelter possibilities to be shared all over CD11 and the entire county.
“LA voted on billions of dollars’ worth of supportive housing when Proposition HHH was approved, but the situation has gotten so much worse now,” Alley pointed out. “There are a lot of much less expensive housing options than the permanent supportive housing that the city is trying to push onto this 3-square mile community. One unit in the Reese Davidson Permanent Supportive Housing Project, proposed in Venice for example, would cost approximately $750,000 if you include the parking. A tiny home costs as little as $17,000. The developer’s fee alone (a whopping $7.15 million dollars) could house one thousand people now! Implementing other innovative housing options would allow that extra money to be used for desperately needed mental health services and help get people back on their feet, off of drugs, and give them a chance in life. Another thing that I feel is important is to mend our tattered relationships with our city council and the city.”
Helping the homeless has always important to Bean. Since the ‘70s, she has been involved with Union Rescue Mission, the oldest nonprofit rescue organization in Los Angeles.
“The organization’s president and CEO, Reverend Andy Bales, runs an amazing program and helps a lot of people, including women and children,” Alley said. “He’s a dear human being and I trust him with my life. Right after college when I moved to LA, I lived a block from Skid Row and worked in the Union Rescue Mission’s soup kitchen helping to feed people. I’ve walked the streets with Andy and spent Thanksgiving washing people’s feet – it was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. I could feel the sadness caused by the situation that everybody was in, but when I looked into their eyes and talked to them, I felt this love for them and could sense their desire for wanting to get their lives back on track. Love goes a long way.”
During Bean’s 13-year run on the CBS soap opera, “The Bold and the Beautiful”, the cast and crew filmed multiple episodes on Skid Row, even taking home a Daytime Emmy Award for one of the homeless storylines.
“Many of us got very involved with the people we met down on Skid Row,” Alley said. “We created a café on the show which my character was part of, and the actors that were running the coffee shop were actually people that were living on Skid Row. We’d have these awesome parties with them, then I would drive people home. I got to know everybody.”
Another goal of Alley’s is to unite the different neighborhoods of Venice, which she said are separated despite having the same common issues.
“It used to be that the VNC had a representative from each neighborhood and that’s what I think it needs to get back to,” Alley said. “I’ve tried really hard to form a coalition of people from all the different neighborhoods. We’ve got to hang onto the history of Venice and what makes it so unique and vibrant. It’s in danger of losing that vibrancy if we don’t fight, and the only way that we can fight is by joining together to have a strong voice. My greatest desire is to be a unifier.”
When asked what Orson would think about her running for VNC, Alley said, “He was always really proud of me and I know he would be laughing right now, but he’d be proud. Orson really had the spirit of Venice and everybody loved him. Since he died, I’ve gotten so many letters and emails from people about him. I feel like he’s here all the time with me, I have not felt him leave yet and I hope he never does.”
Orson’s incredible impact on the Venice community and local theater scene continues to live on in his memory. A veteran comedian, film and stage actor who performed on Broadway for almost 30 years, he appeared on “Dr. Quinn”, “Desperate Housewives”, “Modern Family”, “Being John Malkovich”, “Equalizer 2”, and more than 100 other roles.
He and Alley were longtime company members of Venice’s Pacific Resident Theater (PRT) and appeared in many productions together over the years, including “A Christmas Carol”, which ran every Christmas for over 15 years. Alley became involved with PRT after she met Orson in the early ‘90s when he was starring in a play called “The Seagull.”
“Orson loved to perform and we enjoyed doing play after play together,” Alley said. “It became part of our lives and we knew how lucky we were that we loved to work together.”
On February 7, 2020, Orson died after being struck by two cars while crossing the street to PRT where Alley was working at the time. After his death, Councilmember Mike Bonin named Pisani Place “Orson Bean Way”. James’ Beach in Venice, Orson and Alley’s favorite spot, named their Mai Tai after Orson. On the one year-anniversary of Orson’s death, PRT hosted a Zoom event and more than 800 people were in attendance to share their stories and favorite memories about Orson.
“Shortly after Orson died, COVID happened. Gratefully that allowed me to just sit at home in my garden every day,” Alley shared. “I just talked to God and Orson, and I didn’t feel guilty about not doing anything else. I’ve never been through grief like this before. It’s still a very new time to me and I’ve just been taking it day by day since he passed away. We were joined at the hip and were always together. I keep the scarf that Orson was wearing on the day he died in my room. But at least I know that he was so happy during the last week of his life – he had no regrets. He’s probably up there telling jokes to everyone in heaven.”
Alley has participated in several plays to help raise funds for PRT including Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory”. She also recently signed on to do a movie where she plays the mother of a boy who commits suicide.
“I’ll probably keep acting because I love it, and when you’re working on the right project, it’s an amazing way to tell a story and reach a lot of people,” Alley said.
Giving back was very important to Orson, who was known for his extreme generosity and willingness to help others, and it’s a philosophy that Alley continues to live by every day.
“Orson taught me the value of giving things away,” Alley shared. “He was always helping others, whether it was someone living in their car or putting someone through school. He had a very tough childhood but he had so much love in his heart. He fought his entire life to love and not be hampered by the fear that kind of childhood trauma induces. His goal was to be happy and he believed it came from generosity. He wanted to be free, and he made it! My goal is to be as free as Orson was before I go to join him.”