Bob Emrich shares memories of Jan Berry as a teenager in Bel Air in the 1950s.
Jan used to broadcast from his garage on Saturday mornings. He had a microphone, and you could hear him around the ‘hood, which was Linda Flora and Orum Road.
I remember hearing “Jennie Lee” and “I Need Some Gas Money” [by Jan & Arnie] on my crystal radio set in 1958.
Jan used to hike the hills with some of us around the neighborhood, and he would always sing songs. One of his favorites was “Side By Side” [a 1927 song covered by Kay Starr and many other artists].
He was a prankster, and one time he pulled up next to me and some friends, and he held a bottle out the window and sprayed water on us with a high powered nozzle.
He and his brother Ken used to play football on the grass field at nearby John Thomas Dye School [known before 1959 as the Bel Air Town and Country School], usually on weekends. About ten of us would choose sides, and Jan would always choose Ken first. They were both really good athletes. Jan was QB [quarterback] and he always found Ken open. Their team always won because of its pass/catch combination, but we all looked forward to playing.
Jan and Ken had a printing press in their garage, and they used to print cards for school clubs with the name of the club in the center, and members’ names around the sides. They’d sell them to kids at Emerson Junior High. I bought some different colored ones with “Girl of the Month” [printed] in the center, and I think he charged a dime apiece.
Jan used to cut pages in half from a Life magazine and stuff the ends in his belt. The rest of the pages would hang down outside. He would take one half-page out and twist it in such a way to make a dart out of it. He would wet his fingers and twist one end to a point. He would tear off a little of the other end. He loaded it into a small aluminum pipe about a foot long, with the open end of the dart next to an end of the pipe, and he could blow it at least a hundred yards away. [See also Ernie Wiley’s story about the darts in The Jan & Dean Record, p 17].
My favorite story about Jan happened in the summer of 1955. So he was probably 14. There were about five of us playing catch in the street, when Jan came running down to us and whispered, “Follow me!” So we dropped our gloves and ran after him up the street. He turned into a vacant lot and turned around with his finger to his lips. Then he climbed down a small hill above a house we just passed. There was a bamboo fence about halfway down the hill, which was the property line. He went down to it, looked through it, and quietly turned around and waved us down to see what was on the other side. So we all climbed down to the bamboo fence and took a look. Mrs. Crawford had fallen asleep naked on the cot next to her pool. None of us had ever seen anything like that before. We were staring at her for a couple minutes, when the fence broke, and we all went tumbling down the hill to exactly where she was sleeping. She jumped up, quickly wrapped a towel around herself, and ran to her house. She opened the door, turned around and said, “Bobby, you should be ashamed of yourself,” went inside and slammed the door. Some things you never forget!
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