Everyday Living

Norm Skolnik by Peter Coogan

Norm Skolnik

Norm Skolnik :
Boyle Heights Boychik ; WWII Navy Radarman at 17
TV and stereo marketing pioneer; President of Century City Records
Venice Beach bicyclist into his 90s & the 21st Century.

Born Emanuel Norman Skolnik in Chicago on June 1, 1927, Norm wrangled his dad’s signature to join the US Navy early at 17 — during WWII. From June 1944, Norm served as a Radarman.

Norm left L.A.’s Roosevelt High School, before graduating, so he could train at the Fleet Radar Operator’s School at the Sand Point seaplane base on a lake in Seattle. But then, while the Navy built Norm’s first and only ship, a Patrol-Craft-Escort, the PCE-898, Norm stood guard at the hydro-powered shipyards on the banks of the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon.

Norm sailed the USS PCE-898 down to San Diego and across the Pacific toward Japan. Arriving after the liberation of Guam, Norm went ashore almost once a month. On the island, he used his electronics training to run the film projectors for R&R movie nights. In the waters around Guam, Norm rose in the ranks to Petty Officer 3rd class or RdM3c.

Returning home to Boyle Heights, L.A.’s big Jewish neighborhood, where Norm had started his teens dodging in and out of the candy shops, delis, and ice-cream parlors along Brooklyn Avenue, Norm left the Navy and joined the Navy Reserves in 1946, all before he turned 19.
Outside the gates of the L.A. Memorial Coliseum, Norm sold newspapers and programs at football games, meeting radio stars and movie legends Bing Crosby… Jack Benny. “My shipmate and I, we set up a roadside food stand, selling meat, burgers, tacos.” Outside the Westwood movie theaters, too. “We were veterans, we thought we were privileged.”

Norm started several careers with his Navy training in electronics, radar, and radio waves, first topping homes with antennas to catch the latest craze – television – broadcasting songs and shows – for free – over the air, right in a world capital of broadcasting, L.A., with Hollywood and not just three networks, but soon an unmatched five channels of TV.

Norm and his kid brother Irv climbed all over L.A.’s new post-war homes, down in Westwood Village and up in the hills, too, at the homes of the stars, like Fred Astaire. Also, Kirk Douglas, “a tough, action guy.” Norm recalls Kirk scolding him, “don’t get it dirty.”

Norm went back to school with the G.I.-bill at the still new L.A. City College founded in 1931. He studied broadcasting on Vermont Avenue in Hollywood. Soon, he joined one of L.A.’s brand-new TV stations, KNBC TV-4, on the air in 1946.

As consumers boomed and electronics evolved, Norm raced the early adopters of HiFi, pioneering how to market each advance, notably the first car radios with stereo sound. At United Tape &. Instrument, 5873 Rodeo Road in Crenshaw, UTI’s fresh General Manager Norm met lots of cops, LAPD’s finest, driving in for the hottest gear and coolest music. Norm aided Bill Lear of Learjet in marketing Stereo-8 tape players, soon known as 8-Track. Lear flew Norm along in an early Learjet, the icon for a lofty jet set of mile-high private luxury.

In 1969, Norm launched Century City Records as its president, publishing record albums on vinyl and 8-track. He promoted R&B singer Jimmy Preacher Ellis; late-career, jazz greats like Laurindo Almeida & Ray Brown; plus singer songwriters: Malvina Reynolds (already renowned for ticky tacky “Little Boxes”) and UFO-Jim Sullivan, who in 1975 would disappear from a desert-oasis town off Route 66 in New Mexico. Jim remains missing.

Norm remembers working two offices:
– the Whisky A Go-Go, a petri-dish, rock’n’roll bar, along the Sunset Strip;
– the Gateway West Building (1963-2015), 1801 Avenue of the Stars, a 14-story mod glass tower, now buried under the Westfield Mall. In L.A.’s freshest patch of office towers, “We were the first record company to get office space in Century City.”

Norm recalls that a movie friend brought him his first record, a 1969 novelty album by the TV stars of Gentle Ben, about child-star Clint Howard and a big bear, played by 8 or 9 real bears. On “The Bear Facts,” Clint and his TV dad Dennis Weaver sang as part of The Good Time People, an imaginary band made of session musicians from L.A.’s Wrecking Crew, such as Don Randi on keyboards.

[Relatives] Parents Sara and Joseph Skolnik raised sons Bernie, Norm, Irv, Jackie on Cummings Street, just off Brooklyn Avenue in Boyle Height, within walking distance of the Breed Street Shul. Joseph had learned tailoring in Chicago, and Norm remembers his father going to work for the military at the Long Beach port. The oldest son Bernie moved out first, but stuck close, moving in right across the street from the childhood home.

Norm brought his kid brother Irv into his electronics businesses, from putting up aerials to traveling to America’s thriving consumer-electronics markets and stereo conventions. Sadly, as Irv flew home from another electronics sales trip and into a Texas storm, the single-prop plane crashed in 1965, killing all four aboard.

When Venice Beach met Norm in the 21st Century, he still rode his bike like a kid, an 80-year-old boychik on a 10-speed, scattering the seagulls and pigeons along the Ocean Front Walk. Every morning, rain or shine, but mostly shine, Norm gathered his gaggle of guys and gals, the regular regulars at The Bench, in front of the Waldorf Hotel, Groundworks Coffee, the Fruit Gallery, the Wee Chippy, and Zelda’s on Westminster at Speedway. Locals say that Venice makes them go AWOL, Always West of Lincoln. But Norm’s regular regulars went further… Always West of Speedway (AWOS), practically awash in the Pacific Ocean sand and shore.

Norm in 2022, 94, going on 95, June 1st!

Categories: Everyday Living, History