What is it with these 1960s and ’70s sitcom child stars ending up in jail? The latest in a string of former tot stars in trouble, including Diff’rent Strokes’ Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges, is Pamelyn Ferdin, the voice of Lucy in the Peanuts TV specials. Ferdin, who also played Tony Randall’s daughter on The Odd Couple, faces 30 days in jail for protesting alleged animal cruelty at a traveling circus. (And she was always so mean to Snoopy!)
Ferdin was cited for carrying a bull hook, a wooden stick with a hook on the end that elephant handlers use to keep their charges in line. Veteran civil rights attorney Hugh Manes, who is appealing Ferdin’s conviction, says that the law used against his client is vague and over-broad, and would bar the use of crutches or canes during protests.
"Pamelyn was trying to hold a stick up to show people how elephants are mistreated by handlers. It violates her First Amendment right to demonstrate for or against a particular event," Manes says.
The former child star, now 41, says she has a "naturally loud, weird voice" that attracts police attention. "Tony Randall would always say, ‘Project, Pamelyn,’" Ferdin recalls. "A lot of these police officers get pissed off because they feel they can’t control me and want to punish me."
Rebel is a new role for a woman who says her straight-laced upbringing was a far cry from the star treatment given kid actresses such as Family Affair’s Anissa ("Buffy") Jones. "She had dolls that looked like her. They would bring out wardrobe racks and ask her what she wanted to wear to a party," Ferdin says of Jones, who died of a heroin overdose in 1976. "I didn’t live that kind of a life. My parents didn’t overindulge me."
Growing up on TV, however — including two seasons starring in Lassie — did make her a bit of an outcast, recalls Ferdin. "I was an enigma to the kids. They would bark and make fun of me."
Perhaps that’s why she now identifies with the underdog, -cat, -elephant and -tiger. Dropping out of acting at age 17 or 18, Ferdin became an emergency-room nurse, eventually marrying surgeon Jerry Vlasak. They moved to Connecticut, where she began volunteering at an animal shelter. The defining moment in her transformation into an animal-rights activist came when she witnessed rows of dogs chained to the wall, waiting to be euthanized. "I didn’t realize that there was that much killing," she says.
Back in Los Angeles, Ferdin and her husband founded the Los Angeles chapter of the Animal Defense League in 1997. Its tactics are not subtle. The group’s Web site (www.animaldefense.com) features a "most wanted" list with photos of Bloomingdale’s managers and directions to the home of the head of the Fur Commission USA. There is also an appeal for a letter-writing campaign to Ferdin’s "cold-hearted prosecutor," Deputy City Attorney Christine Whitaker.
Whitaker, who at one point was seeking six months in jail for Ferdin, says the former actress could have avoided jail time by paying a small fine, but refused.
"My mission in life is animal-rights issues," Ferdin declares. "Even as a nurse the patients could talk for themselves and let us know how they were feeling. Animals have no voice to tell us."
Bunker Hill Bunkum
A Page One article in the Downtown News gushed last week about how a Community Redevelopment Agency vote had made "life a little easier for developers and middle-class residents" in the Bunker Hill Urban Renewal Project Area. Too bad it’s at the expense of Los Angeles residents who desperately need affordable housing.
Normally 20 percent of the units in a CRA-subsidized housing project must be set aside for low-income residents. But in the case of two proposed housing projects downtown, the CRA, goaded by Mayor Richard Riordan, voted March 2 to waive that requirement for the first time in the agency’s history. Under the old rules, 140 of the proposed 700 units would have been for low-income residents. If the Los Angeles City Council approves the CRA waiver in coming weeks, none of the units will be low-income.
"I was really surprised and outraged that the CRA would waive the requirement, especially because of the affordable-housing crisis we have in the city right now," said Robin Hughes, a member of the board of directors of the Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing, which says downtown L.A. has the highest rates of substandard housing and overcrowded units in the nation. "For one of our lead housing and community-development agencies to waive this policy sets a bad precedent."
The panel’s decision came after a memo from CRA administrator Jerry A. Scharlin advising that low-income people be left out of the "high-quality," and "highly visible, critical downtown location." The projects will be so highly visible in part because they will be located on Grand Avenue right next to the new Disney Concert Hall, which Riordan and business leaders hope will anchor a downtown renaissance.
Don Spivack, deputy administrator for the CRA, said the decision had nothing to do with keeping poor people out of an elite neighborhood. The project wouldn’t pencil out with anything but middle- and upper-income residents, Spivack said.
"There are some people that say if you want the area to be mixed you need to have more people that are middle-income," he explained.
The irony is that the project may generate new low-income housing — just not in the posh Bunker Hill location. City officials argue they will save millions by not investing in Bunker Hill low-income housing. The Bunker Hill land would be sold to developers and the proceeds dedicated to redevelopment projects in South Los Angeles. That’s right. Seems low-income housing doesn’t fit in on "high-quality" Bunker Hill — but it’s just fine for South Los Angeles.
It’s 9 p.m., and the brothers of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks are winding up their meeting, sipping cocktails in front of the TV. But over in the corner, someone is still hard at work. Who is it? Why it’s the first-ever lady Exalted Ruler of L.A. Lodge No. 99. E.R. Mary Wigton is stuffing envelopes for her own March 18 inaugural ball.
"Exalted ruler! They should call me Exhausted Roaster!" snorts Wigton, a solidly built legal secretary of a certain age ("39 and holding," she says). "It’s nothing but work."
Wigton’s odyssey of leadership began when the Elks, along with other service organizations (Moose, Lions and Eagles), began, in 1995, admitting women as full members after a spate of lawsuits. Wigton had to work her way up through the elaborate hierarchy — Esteemed Lecturing Knight, Esteemed Loyal Knight, Esteemed Leading Knight — before finally reaching the pinnacle of power.
She faced little opposition — flagging membership, not sexual politics, is the 132-year-old group’s biggest problem — but as a woman, she does have it tougher than most Exalted Rulers. You see, the Exalted Ruler usually has a First Lady working at his side. And at the moment, Wigton "doesn’t have a guy."
"I cook dinner Friday nights, and Sunday brunch — eggs any style, pancakes, chipped beef and toast," she sighs. "When a man does it, his wife helps him."
But Wigton, who joined the Elks through a boyfriend, hasn’t given up. She plans to start an Elks singles group.
Originally in the Elks ladies’ auxiliary, Wigton prefers full membership. Now she can take part in the initiation ritual, a rhyming-verse recital so elaborate members rehearse year-round. She can vote. The latest hot-button issue: a proposal (since dashed) to abbreviate the ritual.
"Ritual is so poetic. When it’s done right, it brings tears to your eyes," Wigton says.
She is proud to bring a woman’s touch to the lodge. All members are required to wear tuxedos for the ritual; hers will have a skirt, she promises.
"It’s gotten more friendly around here. Men can be so cold," she says. "But we do like to party."
"We’re excited about Mary being Exalted Ruler. She brings a new dimension . . .," Ed Pitman, the outgoing ruler, starts to say.
"Because I’m nuts," Wigton interrupts, laughing.
"That too," Pitman grins.