How race has affected my life & writing

Website & blogs © Louis Kraft 2013-2018
Contact Kraft at writerkraft@gmail.com or comment at the end of the blog


I saw and liked this image of Nuch (that is Pailin), and she gave it to me. It was taken at her work shortly before I met her, and more importantly shows a little of her world—a world I hope to enter. She created the border; all I did was prep it for the internet. (photo © Pailin Subanna 2013)

There is a new lady in my life. She has been a long time coming, and that is because I don’t look for women and I don’t chase women. We are getting to know each other, letting our friendship grow as we experience our cultures. She is charming, funny, bright, has a sensitivity that I have seldom seen, and is open to the world and all it has to offer. She is certainly braver than I have been (and I have pushed my limits at times). Oh, did I mention that I am thrilled to know her. My eyes devour her (no bad thoughts here; only good thoughts). We are both shy, careful, perhaps wounded, and have an exciting adventure in front of us as we seal our friendship and move into our future.

I have a wonderful friend in Massachusetts. We are in constant contact. When she learned of the new lady in my life, she raised the very valid question about race. Since my divorce in the dark ages I have had two long-term girlfriends. As they were Asian and this lady is Asian, she raised the question if I am only interested in women of Asian descent. I told her no, absolutely not (I can list a number of false starts with terrific women of other races, but won’t). I told her all three relationships just happened and had nothing to do with race.

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My good friend Veronica von Bernath Morra with an African American sailor in July 2013 during a cruise to Bermuda. Both have great smiles. (photo © Veronica von Bernath Morra 2013)

She countered with a great comment: “IMHO nothing ‘Just Happens.’ The fact that these women are Asian and not black, Native American, Hispanic, etc., has something to do with what you find attractive. You must meet many women; but I believe you gravitate in one direction more than others!!”

My friend’s name is Veronica von Bernath Morra, and she said something I want to not believe. Certainly I see a lot of African American and Latina ladies that are drop-dead beautiful, but her statement, and this is exactly why I’m quoting her here, has got to have a lot of truth to it. I’m not going to talk about why, for honestly I don’t know why. I am going to talk about race, equality, and how it has affected my life and writing.

A lack of racism in my life

As far as I could see my parents had no racist bones in their bodies. I never heard anything from them that even hinted at what could be considered a negative or derogatory view of other people. I think they were key to what would become my future.

I was born in New York, but while young moved to California with my parents and younger sister. Within a year my mother, sister, and I were back to New York while my mother fixed up our home that had been rented. By the time I was 7 (perhaps 8) we had returned to California. By then I had already been in five, six, or maybe seven schools. The list would continue to grow. For a couple of years we lived in a trailer park in Van Nuys.

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This image (which unfortunately was too small and too out of focus for me to do anything with) has been colorized. The fellow on the left is Rand Brooks; he played Corporal Boone on The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin in the 1950s. The fellow on the right is Kid Kraft, one of the most infamous gunslingers of the 1950s. I don’t remember how many notches he had on his Colt revolver, but there were many. Notice that his Colt is butt first on his left hip. Yep, he used a cross-draw. This image was taken at Corriganville Park in Simi Valley, California, in February 1956. (photo/art © Louis Kraft 2013)

My best friend in 1955 was Jesse Carrera. We were buds, and on all our days free of elementary school we climbed the huge (to us) man-made mountain that would eventually become the 405 freeway as it sliced through Van Nuys and explore the labyrinth of sand and waterways hidden by dense brush and trees. We were frontiersmen exploring a pristine world. Our imaginations went wild as we cautiously followed the bends of the river. Every so often we would meet strangers, but all was peaceful and non-threatening. Jesse was Latino, but I didn’t know that. All I knew was that he was my first real friend. After his family or mine left the trailer park (can’t remember which family left first) I never saw him again. At the time this was a devastating loss.

Van Nuys is in the San Fernando Valley (Los Angeles County, where most of the towns are part of the city of the Angels). In 1956 my parents bought a home on half an acre in Reseda. Rural, definitely rural (animals galore), and I would grow up in this house. My school years through high school consisted of mostly Anglo Americans. I had an Asian friend who I met in fourth grade and due to the constant splitting of school districts we were part of a small group of kids that went from one school (4th grade) to another (5th & 6th grades), all of junior high (although most of our classmates went to another junior high) and all of high school together (again separated from most of our junior high classmates). For him and me, staying together through school was a rarity, for every time a district divided we were on the small side and became outsiders in our new schools. His name was Brian Usui. Recently I had hoped to see him again, but it wasn’t to be for he had died. In junior high my best friend was David Koenig. He was half German and half Latino (we had three years together, and remained friends afterwards, but I haven’t seen him in years). Dave and I shared some adventures, including running for our lives when an irate father attempted beat the hell out of us or worse. Our legs and his lack of physical condition saved us.

As stated, Brian and I were on the short end of our final school border split as Cleveland High School in Reseda had recently opened. It was half a block from my house, which allowed me to spend time with my mother every lunch hour—heaven! (Yep, I was a mama’s boy.)

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lk w/Nina & Pete Senoff at a Cleveland High School birthday party on the evening of September 29, 2012. Pete gave me the image (and I don’t know if the image is from his camera or someone else’s). It was a duotone when I received it, and I like duotones. … Pete was the editor on the Cleveland HS paper, and during our final year he played a major role in me having a good life that last year. I know, that’s pretty damned obscure. I won an election I had no right to enter (two teachers and Pete made this happen–perhaps I’ll talk about this sometime). The past is long gone; what matters now is that we are friends. This includes Nina, and I look forward to our future relationship. This includes Nuch, who, thanks to Pete, has already become friends with Nina.

Memory says Cleveland HS was mostly Anglo American, some Latinos, and probably more Asians than Brian. I didn’t remember any African Americans in the school, but someone I liked during at least the last year of high school and who has reconnected with me—Pete Senoff (more about him and his pretty wife in the future)—last year told me that there were some African Americans at Cleveland. I didn’t meet the first African American person who would become a close friend until college. We were actors and we hit it off. His wife was white, and I had no problem with their marriage—they became good friends for years to come.

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Clay reacting to hearing that Liston cannot continue the fight. … Although I didn’t know it at this time, Muhammad Ali would become a major person during the 20th century but not for his boxing feats (which are legendary), but for his strength to stand firm for what he believed was right regardless of the consequences.

When Cassius Clay fought Sonny Liston for the heavy weight boxing championship on February 25, 1964, I was a member of a teen club. The fellow that led the group I belonged to laughed when I said Clay would win the fight. I had been following Clay on the radio and was certain he’d win. The counselor bet $20.00 against my pants on the outcome. I drooled over that 20 bucks, but damn how could I explain why I had no pants when my mother picked me up? Clay won, and soon after became Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest inspirations of the 20th century. (I would meet Ali twice a decade and a half or so later while working in the film industry—a thrill!). Let me put it to you this way: I was still an innocent, I never considered Ali’s race. It didn’t mean anything to me. Why? My mother and father.

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This picture was taken the night of my senior prom at Cleveland High School in Reseda, California, at Kathy Grossman’s parents’ house. And it does not do her justice, for she was gorgeous. ‘Course I was stupid, for when I moved on to college I didn’t look back. I did see Kathy one more time after my senior year ended when I bumped into her at the Reseda post office. I had seen my dad and was mailing a package for him. We had a nice talk. She had just returned from spending a year in a kibbutz in Israel, was visiting her parents, and was about to get married. She looked terrific; I never saw her again.

In my final year of high school I luckily had a pretty Jewish girl in my Spanish class. I actually had the guts to ask her out and she said yes. I should state here that during my visits to her home, her parents welcomed me. They were open, friendly, kind, and gracious—always. Never did I feel the outsider. A good feeling. Unfortunately she was younger than I was and I never made the attempt to continue the relationship after I moved on to college.

College presented me with four years of creativity, experimentation, and an introduction to the real world of racism. I was at school from 7:00 AM until 6:00 or 7:00 PM unless I was working on a theatrical production—then it would extend to 11:00 PM or later. I did almost all of my studying at school. I partied and lived the good life, including going to the beach whenever a good buddy named Steve Jacques and I decided to take the day off. I graduated in four years with 16 extra credits. I worked and paid for everything. My father wanted me to be like him; he wanted me to be a man for if not, I’d not survive in the real world. He paid for zero (although he did allow me to live at home for a good part of the time in a trailer in the back yard). I said, “F.U.!” I had begun working full-time in high school, for I knew what I wanted. Believe me, we had a number of knock-down fights and I always lost (and they weren’t by decision).

The Apaches during the end of their wars with the U.S. believed that if they couldn’t
win the fight (with little or no casualties) to run away to fight another day.
Unfortunately it took me years to learn this. I’ve been down for the 10-count more
than once. I have learned what the Apaches instinctively knew.

An eye-opening end to the 1960s

Robert F. Kennedy spoke at San Fernando Valley State College (now California State University, Northridge) on March 25, 1968, after announcing that he would seek the Democratic nomination for president on March 16th (and was warned by his brother not to run). At that time I was a registered Republican (I had worked for Ronald Reagan as volunteer during his first campaign to become governor of California) and could not have voted for RFK in the California primary election on June 4. I joined the crowd on that March day, and on that day I thought nothing of RFK. He meant absolutely nothing to me. During that hour or so when he spoke I was floored (read impressed). Had he not been murdered and had he won the Democratic nomination for president I would have voted for him (currently I’m registered as a Democrat, and have been since just before Bill Clinton’s California Democratic primary win in 1992, but have always voted for the candidate and not the party).

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In 1984 I worked on a mini-series, Robert Kennedy and His Times, that shot his final hours where they happened in the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles (evening of June 4-5, 1968). Brad Davis played RFK and G.D. Spradlin played Lyndon B. Johnson (first class performances). I had a small part in the TV film (a little over 5 hours), but luckily was employed during the entire shoot; up front and center with the key people in the production (learning about good and bad). I then realized what I didn’t know in 1968, how important RFK was to civil rights and how tragic his murder was to the future of our country.

By the end of the 1960s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the movement for racial equality dominated the news. My home was racial free, regardless of how few friends I had of race. During my college years I bought into Dr. King’s movement 100 percent, and marched for him (before and after his death).

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Martin Luther King, Jr., and his wife Coretta in 1964, at the time he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership and work in the civil rights movement. (art © Louis Kraft 2013)

In August 1963 Dr. King and a massive number of people marched in Washington DC, and on the 28th he delivered his “I Have a Dream” talk. I couldn’t be in Washington as I was too young, but I knew what happened. I had been working part time in high school, but during my last year I worked full time so I could enter college in fall 1965. In my first semester I took a speech class never dreaming that someday I would earn money speaking. I think there were two short talks and the final presentation. Mine dealt with Dr. King and his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Less than four years later while enjoying my last semester of college I took a Black theater class (that’s what African Americans were called then) on Sunday evenings. This class was outside the then-lines of mainstream theater and way outside college curriculum. I think my professor’s last name was Faulk (need to check). The Theater Department was small and I took a number of his classes, and they were always outside the box (or maybe he just allowed me to go outside the box). Four maybe five African Americans who weren’t in the Theater Department joined me in the class which was a round-robin discussion. Just us and Dr. Faulk sitting in a circle. Probably one or the most important classes I ever took. And it would influence my future, for it was still ongoing when Dr. King was murdered (two months before RFK) on April 4, 1968. In Los Angeles I marched in support of MLK Jr.’s views on peace, nonviolence, and racial equality. These marches, which were dominated by African Americans, were peaceful. It was probably at this time that I realized that people are people, and it doesn’t matter their race.

Post-college eye openers

The first eye opener took place while I was in training to become a member of Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) in Austin, Texas. One night during the wee hours of early morning (they rolled up the sidewalks at 10:00 PM, but not us), I experienced something I could have gladly missed. We were off by 6:00 or 6:30, and part of the training included how to position ourselves to work with American Indians (my desire–thanks to Errol Flynn Introducing me to Custer and Custer introducing me to the Indian wars), Blacks, or Hispanics. On that night (perhaps 2:00 AM) there were about 20 of us in one of the dorm rooms on the University of Texas campus. I said something that I perhaps should not have said to a white couple that I liked. Don’t remember what I said, but suddenly I had an arm wrapped around my chest and a knife at my throat. One of the Chicanos (as Mexicans whose parents were born in Mexico but they were born in the U.S. were then called) didn’t like what I said. He was present as he was looking for volunteers his delegation would choose to work in Mexican communities in one of the Southwestern states.

 I have been run over while riding a motorcycle and have
taken a motorcycle over a cliff. … I have been in car wrecks, car chases,
and more fisticuffs than necessary.
You’ve got to realize—and don’t laugh—I’m a man of peace.
I just have a knack of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
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An image taken shortly after lk left VISTA. (photo © Louis Kraft 1973)

Back to the knife. Let’s put it this way; I was frightened, but luckily in control of my thought process. I told the Chicano that if he killed me, he ruined his cause. I also told him that if he killed me he would have to kill everyone else in the room for otherwise his life would have no future.

These words were probably the most important of my life. He released me. Some four hours later when breakfast was served I was a hero. Pure bullshit for I was little more than a scared person who was thrilled to see the sun rise. Soon after the racial delegations chose us, similar to choosing sides for a sandlot football game. African Americans chose me. Although I was mad that I didn’t get to work with Navajos or Apaches or Cheyennes, I was lucky. There would be training in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, and more training in Austin before five women and two men (a Black woman from L.A. and a Black fellow I liked a lot—the rest were Anglo Americans) and I were assigned to Oklahoma City. Enough said, except to say that this was an important time in my life. I learned to live with and hang out with a race of people that had lived with and still experienced heavy racial oppression.

To this point in time I had no idea I would become a writer.

Acting, more racism, a daughter, & cold turkey

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lk as he looked for the first play at the Hayloft Dinner Theatre in Lubbock Texas; What Did We Do Wrong; a generation-gap comedy. (photo © Louis Kraft 1976)

After VISTA I spent as much time as possible with professional theater groups, I really learned how to act, and began to land some acting (and related) work. In the summer of 1976 I did dinner theater in Lubbock, Texas, and the racism I saw up close shocked me. The directors and lead actors came from L.A. Jim Reynolds played my best friend in the first play. We hit it off immediately and hung out together. He was African American. The actors lived at the theater, but the show running its last week while we rehearsed still occupied the rooms. That week before opening we lived in a motel with a restaurant. That first morning after our arrival the waitress gave me coffee, water, a menu, and ignored Jim. I not only had to ask for him—I had to order for him. As we didn’t have transportation, this restaurant was our only choice each morning for a week. And this was just the beginning of what I saw that summer of 1976; it was right out of films that featured racism in the South. To this day what I experienced in Lubbock has tainted my view of Texas; it still burns in my soul.

My mother’s death on January 4, 1980, ended my father’s
and my war. We spent the last weeks of her life, every
waking moment, together. My mother’s death gave
us a love that would be never-ending.

Years would pass, some good while others were bad. With the birth of my daughter Marissa in the early 1980s I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I had begun writing screenplays in the 1970s. By the mid-1980s I began selling magazine articles. Knowing that computers were the future I quit acting cold turkey and perhaps nine months later landed a job with a corporate insurance firm as a secretary under the condition that I teach myself the computer (to date I had never touched one). That was probably the biggest job I ever landed in my life for it gave me my future.

Defending my writing

My Indian wars writing and speaking has always dealt with racism—Anglo Americans, Cheyennes, and Apaches (someday also Navajos). My interest has always been a few white men that attempted to bring about the end of war, tried to not kill, and/or stood firm for Indian rights. I view Indian people that dared to stand up to the American juggernaut as patriots. In some circles this isn’t a popular viewpoint. Believe it or not, the Indian wars still sizzle with racism. It is as alive today as it was in the 1860s and 1880s. Add that I have always viewed this tragic conflict from both points of view, and at times I am not viewed in the best light.

For those of you wondering about Errol & Olivia and future books on Flynn,
worry not for this work will also generate controversy.
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Tanya Thomas as Mo-nahs-e-tah (how the Southern Cheyenne woman’s name was pronounced) and lk as Ned Wynkoop in Cheyenne Blood (2009). I chose this image as it gives you a physical view of how I approach the Indian wars (and unfortunately haven’t written any plays dealing with the Apaches). Tanya is a great actress, and I enjoyed working with her. My pal, the very talented Tom Eubanks directed Cheyenne Blood. (photo by Dean Zatkowsky)

During the time of the Gatewood/Apache books I constantly found myself defending Geronimo. I would ask those attacking me, what would you do if a superior force invaded the United States, took your homeland, killed your friends and loved ones, destroyed your religion, your culture, and your lifeway while making you a prisoner of war? What would you do? I know what I would do.

When giving a talk in Santa Fe, New Mexico, someone asked who in today’s world would I compare Geronimo to? I said, “Osama bin Laden (he was still alive and a threat to the U.S.).” The person who asked the question was outraged. I told her that bin Laden and Geronimo are/were the bogeyman, an embodiment of terror. I bring this up for one reason—there are two sides to every story. What was the U.S. military to Geronimo or bin Laden? Only they can tell you …

Trust me, Sand Creek and the Tragic End of a Lifeway
will be a special treat for those not in love with my writing. For those of
you that enjoy my writing, this book will be well worth the wait.

For the record: My writing requires no explanation. It is what it is.

Deadly intent?

More recently I appeared on LA Talk Radio. The host is someone I’ve known for years and someone I consider a friend. LA Talk Radio has two stations that are live at the same time, and I met the other host, a Jewish fellow, before the hour interview began (almost exclusively Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland).

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After the hour, the Jewish host, who knew we were going out, asked to join us. During our late-night dinner he began a monologue on Nazis that eventually included film actress Maureen O’Hara and her supposed heinous participation in WWII. He then moved on to Asians. The tirade bothered me. He had no justifiable reasons for his statements, and refused to substantiate anything. After a while I began to smile (probably my best Clint Eastwood smile). This bothered him and he said, “What’s your problem?” “You,” I replied. “You’re a racist.”

He violently denied my accusation, but offered no proof to back up his statements. I continued to smile, which unnerved him.

Me? I’m a pacifist and avoid violence whenever possible. I stand firmly for racial equality but at times in my past did not challenge racism when it stared me in the face. I heard more than my share of racist slurs in high school (but don’t remember any in college). I played 10 years on a ball team, and even though we had a Latino and a couple of Asians on the team, I saw hatred directed toward teams that were not predominantly white. I have also listened to racist comments from law enforcement personnel. Living has changed me. Where once I remained silent to what I considered offensive, I no longer do. For me, racism isn’t acceptable. The Jewish radio host sensed this, and made damn sure he kept his distance from me as he exited the restaurant. To repeat, I’m a pacifist—but he I would have gladly engaged. And I would have won.

What excites me … and what frightens me

You know what I find exciting? When people who don’t speak the same language, fear each other, are at war, but sit down to discuss peace. Now that’s exciting, but I’m talking about the 1860s and the 1880s. Race relations in our world is much-much more important today than it was during the Indian wars. Back in the 1860s or 1880s there was certainly the possibility of the elimination of a race of people. A heinous thought. Today the threat is greater, for today if mankind can’t work it out with people that have different beliefs, religions, cultures, and values, someday one of these groups of people will unleash weapons of mass destruction that will eliminate mankind as we know it.

Only time will tell

I like people and don’t care where they were born. I don’t care what color their skin is, what their religion is, or what their politics are. A good person is a good person. I’m open and I do get along with people. Always have. I don’t let too many people into my inner circle (and this group, although small but much larger than you think, is not limited to Los Angeles or California or the American West but includes people outside the United States). The reason is simple—time. I short-change my friends all the time, but it isn’t on purpose but rather because I must work long hours to survive.

There is a door that should not be opened, but it will be as I need to state something. And it is important for it goes right back to what initiated this blog. The new lady in my life. Where will our relationship lead? I know what I hope and she may hope the same. Only time will tell. One thing is certain; we must become good friends first.

Veronica and Marissa have questioned my choice in women (read Asian). I denied it, but as said above the question is valid. I have had three long-term relationships (a marriage and two ladies); one was Anglo American and the others were Japanese and Korean. But that’s not the full story, for there have been other women: Anglo Americans, African Americans, Latinas, Asians, Persians, Swedes, Greeks, Jewish people, and almost an American Indian. These ladies were special but for one reason or another the relationships were not long term and sometimes never moved beyond friendship. In my opinion only the long-term relationships count for they are the important ones when talking about love, which makes me a three-time loser.

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Nuch & lk on June 20, 2013. Nuch always has a great smile; this was the first time I smiled—really smiled—in years. There’s also the bonus that my hair is combed, which is a rarity. Nuch took this image.  (photo © Pailin Subanna & Louis Kraft 2013)

Or perhaps not. Maybe I’ve only been in training for my future.

My new lady is from Thailand. We have a fragile past with a lot of hurt, pain, and tragedy, and because of this we are very careful. We are seeing each other, exploring L.A., eating, learning language, sharing, laughing, dancing, enjoying each other’s company … and we have become friends.

Do I dare say good friends? Yes!

Will we move to love and intimacy? We don’t know. Only time will tell.

One thing is certain. … The opening of my heart to this lady is based completely on who she is as a human being and has nothing to do with race (and I’m safe in saying that this is also how she feels).

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