January 20, 2022

6. Connie Schurr, Design Director


Golden living dreams of visions…

And the mind’s true liberation…

In 1976 there was a practicing Sikh living up Cheney named Sid Francis. He taught yoga, slept on an elevated deck outside his main house and had a sheet-fed printing press in his backyard that he used to make prints of the artwork he created. Without Sid the paper would not have been created.

Sid and an artist named Wallace Berman had gotten a bunch of Topanga folks together sometime in 1974 or 1975 with the idea to start up the Topanga newspaper once again. Nico Van den Heuvel was one of them. Nico was a Dutchman who lived up Keller and had worked as an artist in the military during the war in Europe. He painted and made robots among other things. Nico had a bed in his house that could be raised up via rope and pulleys and when it was lifted up, two robots, quietly asleep under the bed, woke up and began having very squeaky sex. Nico delighted in showing his creation to guests.

At the first meeting of what would eventually become the new Topanga newspaper I remember Merrick Davidson, Jim Erickson, Alice Vickers, Nona Weiner, Nico Van den Heuvel, Flavia Potenza, Susie Walczak and Judee McBride. Forgive me if I’ve forgotten anyone. We sat in a circle on the hardwood floor in Sid’s living room while everyone introduced herself or himself—most of us didn’t know each other and had only Merrick as a common link. Sid produced articles and images collected for the issue of the paper that he, Nico, Wallace and a few others had started putting together the prior year along with a sign-up sheet. We each listed our credentials, phone numbers and the duties we were able and willing to perform.

During that meeting Sid became the printer, Judee McBride agreed to advertising sales, Jim Erickson and Alice Vickers signed up for circulation, Nico and Susie for advertising design, Nona for anything needed, Flavia for editor and I signed up for design, layout, paste-up, and retouching negatives.

As I recall, that first meeting was in February or March, and it took many meetings and a lot of networking by Merrick Davidson throughout the spring, summer, and fall to get the full crew assembled. Some meetings were at Elysium. Its owner, Ed Lange was very supportive and offered office space and equipment.

One day while I was working in the Elysium office Flavia called saying she feared the paper was waffling and would never get printed. I suggested we pick a deadline to publish the first issue, even though we didn’t have a name yet, and stick to the deadline. A meeting was called and it was agreed that December 1 would be the day we published our first paper and that we would hold a contest to name the paper.

Panic set in.

And then along came Mary. I don’t remember Mary from the first meeting at Sid’s but I do remember Merrick bounding up Neil Shaw’s stairway one afternoon to tell me that Mary had agreed to help type, proofread and handle the bookkeeping of our meager finances—something between $13 and $33 depending on who you talk to. The most notable thing about Mary was that she was organized and kept her cool, no matter what. She also had a son simply called “Boy” and lived in a house on Old Canyon that had one corner of its foundation supported by a car jack. Those were the days! Mary typed the first issue of the paper in my bedroom at Neil’s on an IBM Selectric typewriter. She was the nurturing mother to the paper.

Judee McBride’s contribution to the paper was crucial. She went out and sold advertising in a non-existent paper that had no name run by a bunch of hippies no one knew. She convinced Tom DeSpain, then owner of the Fernwood Market, to buy a full-page advertisement on the back cover! She also convinced Tom to feed us—for free. Since he was conveniently located across the street from Neil’s house, we designated Nona and Jim as runners and were never disappointed in the food and drink he supplied. The paper would not have gotten off the ground without Judee and those first advertising dollars.

Judee lived with Chris Brunt on Colina. Some production of the early issues of the Messenger was done in the living room Judee shared with Chris during the times Neil Shaw and his living room needed a break. Chris Brunt, a British music engineer/producer, knew Colin Penno from England. Colin was living in his faded blue station wagon that he had decorated with plastic grapes. He parked it in various driveways throughout the Canyon and often parked in ours (I say “ours” because after my trip to India I moved into the guest house next to Chris and Judee’s pool).

Colin showed up one day shortly before the publication of the first issue and became the photographer by virtue of taking the photo for the front page of the first issue. He ended up learning how to make negatives and printing plates from Sid. The two of them rigged up a darkroom from equipment Sid had and an enlarger, timer and processing trays I had brought from my days working on six community newspapers in Michigan that were owned by Anne Frahm. The negatives and plates were hung on the clothesline to dry. We were in business.

When the deadline for the first issue drew near and we needed a production facility, I confidently offered Neil Shaw’s living room. I rented from Neil at the time and knew full well he was going skiing that weekend. Unfortunately production took a little longer than we anticipated, and when Neil came home and climbed up the stairs he entered the kind of deadline chaos only newspaper people know and appreciate. I had laid out the paper in printer’s flats and they were taped to every available window and glass sliding door so they could be proofread without being handled too much. Susie Walczak was frantically rubbing down lettering for headlines, and when we needed something drawn Nico pulled out pen and ink and drew it on the spot. The two of them put together all the ads for the first issue. Lamar Hawkins and Flavia sat in the middle of the room finishing up last minute articles. Remnants of food and drink were everywhere along with scraps of paper, tape, glue, ink and the mess that came with pasting up a paper in the pre-computer age. Neil took it all in with a sense of humor and complimented the printers’ flats.

We were so late getting the paper pasted up that we had to work through the night to meet our deadline of 8:30 a.m. Presses began rolling around 10 p.m. and we cheered and drank champagne as the first sheet rolled off the press. But the exuberance did not last long. We had so many misfed and over-inked sheets that we soon ran out of ink! Where do you get ink at 2 a.m. in Topanga? Not in Topanga! A phone canvass started until a printer was located in the Valley who would open his doors and sell us ink in the middle of the night. Colin drove to the Valley to pick it up. Once more the press started cranking out what would become the Topanga Messenger .

Sid’s press did not cut or fold, so every sheet needed to be trimmed, collated and folded. We were exhausted when we finally drove in a convoy to the Post Office to deliver the papers for mailing. It was 8:30 a.m. We made our first deadline.

Jim Erickson had secured some newspaper stands for us and we proudly stacked the paper in the stand outside Everybody’s Mother, a restaurant in the Center owned by Cathy and Khaki Hunter. Food was on the house, but more reading than eating was done at that breakfast. Topanga had a newspaper once more!

Connie Schurr, a licensed mediator and private pilot, is a freelance designer, illustrator and animator for major entertainment clients. She also teaches Photoshop, Flash, Illustrator and web design. She lives in Malibu with her thoroughbred horse, another ex-Topangan, and an assortment of house pets.