We knew this day would come but you’re never really prepared to accept it, no matter how inevitable it is. My wife’s father, Michael Harris, passed away on December 29. To call him just my father-in-law doesn’t do justice to the role he played in my life. You’ve gotten to know him a bit through his monthly columns in this newsletter. He loved history and thought our neighborhood would benefit from learning a bit about the past. Growing up in the area, he was deeply rooted in Cheviot Hills and knew it was rich in worthy stories, if only someone would mine for the nuggets and share them with the community. In fact it was his idea to actually do this newsletter and relished his role in providing a column month after month. A grammar fanatic with an eagle eye, he generously proofread all the other articles and offered editorial comments and other helpful notes if pieces veered off track. Providing this service was his joy and recreation. His 9-5 job was that of an attorney in the longest running law partnership in Los Angeles (“Rogers and Harris”) that was never added to or detracted from. He was a real old-fashioned lawyer and handled pretty much anything and everything that came across his desk in a quiet, non-flashy way. He cut his teeth in the business in the early 1960’s by being in-house council for the Mirisch Corporation, handling contracts for big movies and movie stars of the day. That led him to open his own firm with his partner Stan Rogers, a friend he met while they both attended UCLA Law School. Though he was never boastful, I know it was a source of pride that he was named editor of the UCLA Law Review when he was a student there. He also enjoyed his time at Stanford University, however, having felt guilty at the hefty price tag, he made it a point to graduate in three years. None of his higher learning could compare to the glory days he felt while attending Hamilton High School. He loved the friends he met, the classes he took, the wholesome/rah-rah blue jeans and bobby socks image that going to school in the early 1950’s provided. I think to a British family living in Los Angeles, he was living the ideal American dream.
My father-in-law loved this neighborhood. He moved to a home on Glenbarr Avenue in 1944 when he was nine years old and his parents continued living there until they died in 1986 and 2008, respectively. Every Sunday the extended family would gather on the back patio, sometimes friends or neighbors would join, and they’d have a proper British tea-time. If a relative started to seriously date someone, that new person would be invited to come by and that was always the ultimate test of a potential suitor: could he/she withstand the family scrutiny over a hot cup of tea? Pleased to say, I believe I passed that crucial hurdle many decades ago although who knows what kind of gossip was said about me behind my back afterwards (my wife will never admit to this, still).
My father-in-law was my friend, my lawyer and one of my most trusted advisors in all things business. His way of giving advice wasn’t so obvious- he’d never definitively tell me what I should do if faced with a complicated decision or fork in the road. But sometimes just figuring out what HE would do if in the same position was enough to steer me in the right direction. He was not a fan of drama or controversy or prolonged disputes. Early in his career he referred to himself as a “pioneer” because he prided himself on being an “early settler.” Ironic for a lawyer not to be a fierce fighter but he always got the job done and in a way that endeared him to friends and foes alike. I recommended him to everyone who asked for an attorney because he literally knew and handled every facet of the law. The sheer outpouring of condolences from so many of you who used him speaks volumes to his character and what a good guy he was.
I think he got into the law because it was expected of him but if he had asserted himself or followed his dreams, he would’ve been a farmer or a writer. He respected honest and hard work in one of what he deemed were the three essential fields: food, clothing or shelter. A staunch yet non-preachy vegetarian, he took great pleasure in growing a few vegetables and proudly showed off his fledgling backyard crops to his three impressed grandsons. He lived a simple, very unshowy life. The only thing he ever bought for himself that he really, really wanted was a 1961 Morgan convertible. Even though he passed away in December, I think a part of him died the day he gave that car to the boys and me a few months earlier. He loved driving it and treated it like it was a temperamental child: it needing his attention and his cajoling with it to get it to perform appropriately. He watched our excitement at receiving this prized possession, pleased that he was bringing joy into our house but also sad knowing that his failing health didn’t allow him to drive it any longer. I think it gave him peace knowing that we would care for it and love it as much as he did (which we do) and it provided us with plenty of things to talk about the last few months when he was stuck at home in bed.
I guess when it’s all said and done, he lived a great and honorable life. He had a proud and loving family- two doting daughters, a devoted son-inlaw and three fantastic grandsons who adored him. He achieved a dream that was hatched ever since winning the Bank of America award for English while at Hamilton: he became a published author of two books about the Westside of Los Angeles and was working on the 3rd with his brother when he passed away (it will be published posthumously). He was an ideal role model, and great example of someone who knew the difference between right and wrong and always chose the former (but got a kick out of the latter). There will never be another like him and his passing has created a void in this family that will never be filled. Love ya, Mike. Hope there’s a Morgan up there for you to zip around in. We’ll be waving from the one you left behind.
Happy New Year! Here we are, beginning another trip around the sun together. I hope you had fun and festive holidays last month and are gearing up for a happy and fruitful 2022. Our December was subdued which was actually a nice change from the usual chaos and heightened tension of battling LAX to go anywhere. We stayed home this year due to the fact that my father-in-law has been ill and we wanted to spend as much time as possible with him. Also, our eldest son is in the thick of college applications and if any of you have been through this journey with your own children, you’ll remember that while you may be more desperate than ever to get out of town (and maybe leave them behind), Winter Break is prime time to get those supplemental essays wrapped up and ready to ship. But our holiday time wasn’t all work and no play. We saw some friends, ate healthy amounts of unhealthy foods and visited festive spots around the neighborhood.
One thing I did that I’m excited about was performing in a Playing for Change video that aired during an online event called: “Peace through Music.” Playing for Change, an organization co-founded in 2002 by director Mark Johnson and producer Whitney Kroenke, has a mission to connect the entire world through music. The videos take musicians from all across the globe; some street performers, others world-renowned, and stich together footage of these artists from every imaginable culture, playing the same song on a variety of instruments. One of my oldest friends, Sebastian Robertson, was tasked with co-directing their latest video. Seb and I met in elementary school. In high school we formed a band and played music together off and on for years. As adults, we found ourselves living in the same neighborhood with sons of similar ages on the same little league baseball team at Rancho Park. So, when this lifelong friend needed a serious and soulful harmonica player, I was excited that he called on me to do the honors. Not only would I be featured with such esteemed musicians as John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), Steven Perkins (Jane’s Addiction), Derek Trucks, and Susan Tedeschi (Tedeschi Trucks Band) but we’d be playing, “When the Levee Breaks,” a tune from one of my favorite bands of all time, Led Zeppelin. It was truly a thrill of a lifetime to pull out my old harp, practice for weeks to get it just right, and then roll into Venice Beach to film my segment. The video premiered on the Playing for Change YouTube channel last month and dozens of environmental charities benefited from donations made during the program. You can see it here: BenLeeProperties.com/Playing-For-Change and I make my appearance at about 20 minutes in. So, not only did I enjoy participating in this special project, it felt great knowing that I played a small part helping the environment in a creative, collaborative way.
It was equally fulfilling flexing my musical muscle for the first time in years. I’ve tried of late to make more time for activities that used to bring me great joy. It’s so easy, especially when you’re just starting out professionally or in the early days of starting a family, to be all consumed with that which keeps either endeavor going. You can be myopic in your focus on acquiring the most clients, closing the most deals, being available at every hour of the day for whoever is having an emergency at that exact second. You can be so competitive not just with yourself but with colleagues, too. Back when I was first starting out in this business, I was relentless in my pursuit of every possible opportunity that came my way. It became such that I resisted ever leaving town because if I did, I’d either lose out on potential deals or spend the bulk of the time on the phone handling problems that would spring up from problematic transactions I had left behind. Thank goodness that with the benefit of time, hard work and practical experience, I now know that living and working that way is not sustainable. These days, I surround myself with the expertise and professionalism of a fabulous support staff that help me in countless ways. They assist with the intricacies and details that make all the difference between a deal that runs smoothly and one that is fraught with headaches. I’m still competitive but have worked hard on not taking rejection personally. My skin has thickened significantly over the years and now if a potential client chooses other representation, I may be disappointed and think it’s a regrettable decision, but I won’t take it as personally as I might have in the past.
And, most notably, I’ve managed to strike a balance between work, family, health and fun. Sometimes all four miraculously converge at once but usually that’s not the case. It takes some extra effort to make time for each thing in the spirit of achieving a happy, well-rounded life. It isn’t always doable and most days I’m lucky if I can make time for a little exercise or a healthy meal in addition to the work commitments that come my way. But here’s the truth: no matter how busy I am, I’ll drop everything for the chance to play music alongside some of my idols. So, if you happen to meet Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger, please put in a good word for your friend and neighbor Ben Lee. Whether they’re looking for a house or a harmonica player, please let them know I’m their guy!
One Beverlywood mother, Juli Shamash, has turned the unimaginable tragedy of losing her son Tyler into a tireless pursuit of activism to make sure everyone is aware of the horrors of an accidental Fentanyl overdose. Tyler died when he was only 19 years old and living in a sober living house. According to the CDC, Fentanyl is now involved in more deaths of those aged 15-24 than all other drugs combined. Fentanyl, considered 80-100 times stronger than morphine, extremely cheap and highly addictive, is currently being slipped into everything from pills to heroin, cocaine and even marijuana. Dealers are targeting our children on Snapchat, Instagram, Craig’s List and are so brazen they are often coming to our homes to deliver in person.
Through community outreach and her nonprofit organization MomsAgainstDrugs. com, Juli is hoping to make parents aware that this insidious and harmful drug is easily accessible and to caution them to be extra vigilant to prevent another tragedy from happening. She suggests parents follow their kids on social media, money exchanging sites (Venmo, ApplePay) and have access to their phones/devices. The only way Juli was able to hunt down and get her son’s dealer arrested and sentenced to federal prison was because she had the passcode to Tyler’s phone. Juli didn’t think her child would accidentally overdose and steadfastly believes that if it could happen to her, it can happen to anyone. She implores you to talk to your friends and children about the danger of this sneaky, highly addictive and lethal drug. Juli never would’ve imagined her life would have taken this turn but if sharing what happened to Tyler can help prevent another parent from losing his/her child, it doesn’t take away her tremendous pain but it does mean something positive can come from such a terrible tragedy.
In the early 1950’s I was a very inadequate trombone player but nonetheless qualified for my Stanford University marching band. It dawned on me as a band member that the uniforms we were required to wear which included a military brass tunic topped with a large hat and feather on top were inappropriate. I complained that we were not a Prussian military organization which the band in its uniform seemed to emulate. I told the band management that I thought uniforms more appropriate to a California school of general humanism would benefit from what I suggested to be a uniform of slacks and blazers. It was a few years later that the Stanford band abandoned the look of a middle European military organization. Although now the laissez faire Stanford Band may have gone a little far overboard as they appear to be completely unstructured. However, the uniforms of the local high schools and colleges should be addressed as they contrive to suggest an unjustified military history.
After Sanford Adler successfully developed the Cheviot Hills Country Club Estates, he turned to the area where Krim Drive and Anchor Ave are now located to develop a separate group of homes there which he called “Hillcrest View.” Those homes were built on a vacant but prized area of Cheviot Hills known as “Hamilton Hill.” A boy and girl might go for a date to a movie and malt shop. To complete a romantic evening they’d drive to Hamilton Hill to see the view and further their romance with what was known as a make-out. The Hamilton Hill view was spectacular and certainly fulfilled the dreams of many a couple. Alas, Mr. Adler spoiled those dreams for the future when he developed the homes of “Hillcrest View.