Laughing Matters – Still Painting After All These Years
Paul Veglia of Santa Monica turned 88 in May and has three grown children, six grandchildren, and eleven great-grandchildren. That might wear some people down, but not Paul. Perhaps it’s because he’s had such an interesting life full of exceptional achievements, including as an opera singer touring the country with the Metropolitan Opera. Either way, it would take a book to do justice to its rich life. Indeed, charming but never shy, he asked me if I could write three columns about him. I replied, “I don’t do miniseries.” (But with Paul I’m almost tempted.)
Paul grew up in Santa Barbara County near Casmalia, a small town that became famous after the 2004 comedy road trip film Sideways. (Budget of 16 million US dollars, gross 117 million US dollars!) The main location was the restaurant “The Hitching Post”, which Veglia’s immigrant grandparents bought in 1920 for 2200 US dollars including the surrounding land. There, 10-year-old Paul peeled 15 to 20 pounds of potatoes every morning before school.
Two years later, she added another daily chore, sweeping the porch of a beautiful and often barefoot boarder and would-be movie star woman, Elizabeth Short. Tragically, fame briefly “found” posthumously in 1947 as the murder victim “Black Dahlia,” perhaps the most notorious in Los Angeles and the subject of numerous films. Paul’s interactions with Short are documented in Steve Hodel’s latest book on the former LA Homicide Detective’s Black Dahlia, which shockingly proved that his father, as a surgeon, was the real killer.
As a natural athlete, Paul was the Santa Barbara County Decathlon Champion in 1950. Soon when the Korean War broke out, Paul joined the Air Force ten days later and was shipped to Alaska. As fate would have it, he was named a base disc jockey, much like Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam. Not only was Paul a celebrity at the base, but he discovered and developed a remarkable singing voice that would lead to four decades as an immensely successful tenor.
So where does house painting come from? Well, Paul was married to Monika Henreid (daughter of the famous actor Paul Henreid) for ten years and they had three children. But when their marriage failed, Paul was so depressed after the divorce that the joy of singing seemed to have disappeared. As if by fate, a wealthy neighbor who knew Paul’s skills from his farm education asked if he would paint his house.
Paul reluctantly took the job, but found composure in painting and was extremely competent. It spread and other jobs followed. Given his fame as a singer, job vacancies from celebrities soon came up. For example, Paul painted Greta Garbo’s house and Sidney Poitier’s twice over a period of years. (After Paul chatted several times with Arnold Schwarzenegger on the promenade, he is determined to paint his house one day!)
That brings us to Santa Monica Pier on March 4, 1974. Arsonists set fire to the carousel building just below the home of Colleen Creedon, a liberal political activist whose friends included Joan Baez, Cesar Chavez, and Daniel Elsberg, to name a few. Colleen actually saw the two young men who started the fire and made the 9-1-1 call.
Fortunately, neither Colleen, her husband, or the family dog Thurber were injured. However, the damage was so great that city officials ordered the carousel apartments to be cleared within a few days. (Later, Colleen discovered that two other activists were also arson targets that same week!) Who was hired to repair and repaint the damage? The talented tenor Paul Veglia.
Amazingly, Paul continues to take painting jobs, but he’s also returning to music. And no wonder. After working with entertainment and music legends like Mary Martin in the “South Pacific”; Alfred Drake and Ann Jeffreys in “Kismet” at Lincoln Center; rave reviews in a concert version of Puccini’s “La Boheme” under the baton of famous personal conductor Antonio Morelli; and to appear in Vegas nightclub shows like “Funny Girl” with Mimi Hines and “Mame” with Juliet Prowse, “It becomes part of your heart and soul,” says Paul.
Interestingly, Paul is almost the most proud of his many entertainment talents of his creative invention of turning a restaurant into a musical super club, as he successfully did at the legendary La Strada in Glendale and the famous private club “Factory” of the “Rat Pack”. In the meantime he also sang in other restaurants like Verdi’s in Santa Monica, where he wowed audiences with his beautiful voice.
Even at 88, this brings us to Paul’s enduring dream of one day turning his fifth posh restaurant into a Broadway-style cabaret, where the waiters and even the chef amaze diners with singing as they sing and serve meals. (And if the restaurant happened to need peeled potatoes, Paul would love to do that too.)
Paul Veglia is always full of energy and is available for painting AND singing at weddings, anniversaries, birthdays and bar mitzvahs. Call (424-387-9148). After taking a nap, Jack is available at [email protected]