January 20, 2022

10. Jeanne C. Mitchell, Art Director/Writer


In 1977 I moved into a great house with my boyfriend on Grand View Drive in Topanga with a fantastic view, and was working in an office at Wilshire and La Cienega. In 1978 I quit the office job and broke up with my boyfriend, so I needed a job and a place to live. I walked into the Messenger office in the Center to get a copy of the paper and check out the classified ads. With lots of time on my hands, Susie Walczak, the Messenger design director at the time, put my hands right to work. “Cut these folios,” she said. It was a small piece of photo paper with the paper’s date and issue number typed very close together many times.

The folio was typed by Mary Colvig using the new typesetting machine purchased by the new publisher, Ian Brodie, in their new office in the Center. Flavia Potenza was the editor, Colin Penno was the photo editor and Mary was also the manager. Mary had a crib in the office where her baby, Christina, played while we worked on the paper. It was a busy and exciting office and I immediately loved it.

The folio paper needed to be cut into strips and pasted on the paste-up boards of each page of the paper. I remember the only instruction Susie told me was, “Don’t cut the words.” It took a very steady hand and a very sharp Exacto knife. From that day on, I knew that I had ink in my veins and the love for this Canyon that would keep me working for the Messenger from that time on.

These days, my work with the Messenger is as the Topanga Symphony correspondent, but the first article I wrote for the paper was about Gumby, the green clay cartoon character created by Arthur Clokey, who lived in Topanga with his wife, Gloria. Tom, my husband of almost 28 years, and I fell in love while working together on the Gumby article.

10.	Jeanne C. Mitchell, Art Director/Writer

Jeanne and Tom Mitchell vamp for the camera.

The Clokeys were working on a new character called Moody Rudy. As a member of the design team of the Messenger, I was asked to go to their house to paint some prototypes of Moody Rudy along with Connie Schurr and Emily Karnes, the other members of the design team. While I was painting Moody Rudy’s black hair, I mentioned to my fellow painters that I had met a really nice photographer named Tom at the photo lab while I was picking up some proof sheets.

Meanwhile Ian, spotting a good story, asked me to interview Art and Gloria Clokey and write about Moody Rudy and his famous creator. Tom agreed to help me by videotaping the interview and taking some pictures for the article. I remember the interview as if it were yesterday; the four of us made a great connection that evening and we have been friends ever since. Gloria has since passed away and Arthur has moved north, but on that day, Tom and I found out that love was what Gumby, Arthur and Gloria were all about. The article, titled “Truth, Love, Gumby,” appeared in the Messenger on July 27, 1978. The Moody Rudy character never had the same international appeal that Gumby did, but he brought Tom and me together. We were married on March 17, 1979.

After we were married, Tom and I worked together on many more stories for the Messenger. We modeled clothes in a fashion spread for a vintage clothing store in the Topanga Center called Topanga Threads. We also worked on the incredible story written by Michael Cregar about our hometown celebrity, Lowell George. The Lowell George article was published on May 10, 1979, just before his tragic death.

We worked on the “Mud City” issue of February 21, 1980. The “Mud City” issue was famous because it was put together at Ian Brodie’s home on Croydon during the flood that ravaged the Canyon that winter. Tom remembers carrying the heavy machinery out of the flooded Messenger office. If you can get your hands on a copy of that issue you will see it is typed in American typewriter font. Mary typed the paper on a manual typewriter and the issue was written, typed and pasted up by candlelight. The S-curves on the boulevard were completely washed out, and the photos that appeared in the paper showed Topanga residents the massive boulevard damage and how much work it was going to take to repair it.

Tom and I had our first son, Buckley, in 1981. Peter Alsop was putting out his wonderful albums for kids around that time. Tom and I worked on many articles about the great music and songs by Peter. Taylor was born in 1984, and Julia was born in 1991. When the kids were at Topanga Elementary School we put on over a decade of musical productions at the school. Tony Morris wrote an article about Tom and me for the March 22, 2001 issue. My mom framed it and hung it on her wall.

Years ago, I was named the vice president of Phoenix Rising, Inc., dba the Messenger. For a Midwestern girl from Fargo, North Dakota, when I walked into the Messenger office in 1978, I knew I had found the center of what my mom calls Topanga—Camelot.

Jeanne Mitchell is an elementary instrumental music teacher with Los Angeles Unified School District, and her husband, Tom, still has his video business in Topanga called TCM Video. Tom has won two Emmys for his work in video and is involved with Tony Morris and the efforts of the Wildfire Research Network. Tom and Jeanne are still working together on a variety of projects.