In early 1976 long-time friend Merrick Davidson dropped by. Do you know how to type? he asked. Of course, was my reply. (He didnt lead with We are thinking of starting a newspaper.) He got the right answer and I was hooked. I was a new mom with son Chris and daughter Mary Jeanette, looking for a part-time job that I could do at home. Working 24/7 in and out of Canyon living rooms was not exactly what I had in mind but then, young, dumb and very enthusiastic was a path well chosen. And little did I know this would become a 30-year career and still going.
With classified ad revenue in the amount of $33 and staffed by a talented motley crew, the Messenger was born. We didnt have equipment, we didnt have an office and we didnt have a telephone. Flavia Potenza, editor, cranked out reams of copy on a manual typewriter. I borrowed an IBM Selectric typewriter and typed, and typed, and retyped our first edition. Wite Out was not an option, the copy had to be perfect. Why I didnt kill her, Ill never know.
Our art departmentConnie Schurr, Susie Walczak and Nico Van den Heuvelhad their own art supplies and pasted up the first edition on Neil Shaws coffee table. Colin Penno, photographer, had his own camera but film was expensive. Sid Francis had an old Harris press in his goat shed on Cheney Drive. What more did a newspaper need?
Judee McBride and Jim Erickson sold ads and scored a major advertiser. Fernwood Market, the Friendly Alternative, was now our new back page. Jean Francis always fed the team while the presses were rolling. Alice Vickers was in charge of circulation as well as childcare. The Cheese & Coffee Express Oh!, another advertiser and actually a Topanga-style Starbucks that was well ahead of its time, provided cheese and goodies for collating parties at the Community House. The parties lasted all night because we only received four wet pages at a time off the press. We couldnt collate until the ink was drynot easy in chilly Decemberso the wine flowed. Among the dedicated collators were Dan Larson, Gail McDonald and Russell Tune. Our no-name paper was mailed free to everyone in the Canyon.
After our first edition Jan Moore and the Womans Club let us use the upstairs of the Community House as an office for a few issues. We then moved to trailers at Ole Gunsts place on Grand View Drive. We had a real office and our own telephone with an answering service, Teddie Speaking. Since Teddie was the only answering service in town she also provided great tips for news, gossip and you name it. Our little staff was growing with the addition of Emily Karnes, Judith Knopp and Pam Auer.
In 1977 Ian Brodie, the West Coast correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph who was living in the Canyon, was reading the paper and watching our progress. He, being a newspaper junkie himself and perhaps a little nuts, made a sizeable investment in us and became our publisher. His wife Bridget became our proofreader. The Messenger was growing up. I continued as typesetter and bookkeeper. My youngest daughter Christina was born in November 1977 and another Messenger kid was on the staff. Colin never really appreciated the kids going through his desk and finding film canisters. These were fun toys because you could pull the undeveloped film out. I think the first Easter Egg Hunt that he shot at the Community House became playpen toys.
A youthful Mary Colvig works the phones at the Messenger office in the early 1980s.
On March 1, 1978 we rented our current office space in the Topanga Creek Shopping Center. The office was originally a jewelry store operated by Michael Horse. We purchased used typesetting equipmenta refrigerator-sized Compugraphic with no screen and an indescribably awful wet processing system that we had to keep at the right temperature by rigging up a fish aquarium heater in a large tub of water. We did this so that the copy would be black instead of gray.
In 1979 Flavia had to find a real job. Colin Penno begged Ian to allow him to take over as editor. Colin couldnt type but was willing to learn, and oh, what a writer! Colin still took all of the photos, made the halftones, shot the negatives and opaqued, removing all of the cut lines. Every page had to be perfect, not an easy task. There was only one job he would not do and to this day I am sure he remembers: I do not take classified ads over the telephone.
Michael Cregar of Topanga Construction, who shared our front office space and was in charge of circulation, built a darkroom and we graduated from printing on book stock in a goat shed to a newspaper printer in the Valley. Michael would hire Colin to dig ditches during the day and then Colin would come back to the trenches to edit the paper.
Our covers usually featured one of Colins beautiful photographs. Colins style was local, with a global flair. He considers covering the fight against development of Summit Valley, from 1977 to 1994, one of his greatest accomplishments. Al Martinez nominated the Messenger for a Pulitzer Prize for Colins coverage. Unfortunately you had to be a weekly newspaper to qualify. The nomination itself was quite an honor.
On February 1980 we had just finished putting our paper to bed when Topanga Creek broke loose and flooded our office in the Center. Jeanne Mitchell was the art director and her husband Tom was helping out with photography. The flood had destroyed the boulevard but we made it out of the Canyon to hand-off the rescued paste-ups and negatives to the printer. The next day, the printer met our crew on Mulholland to deliver the finished product. We were the only paper delivered in the Canyon on timeeven the Los Angeles Times could not get through.
After the creek subsided, Colin, Michael Cregar and I were shoveling out the office. All three of us covered in mud were sitting out back on a sandy beach enjoying a beer. Out of nowhere a news crew arrived with a reported. She was so pristine, perfectly dressed, wearing beautiful black boots, tiptoeing through the sand. It was Connie Chung covering the aftermath of the flood, interviewing the Messenger stafffamous at last.
One of our most amazing staff members was David Norwood. We called him Wonder Boy. David lived across the street and when he was a teen asked me for a job. There wasnt any task too large, and he was our graphic master. Colin was afraid he would soon take over his job. We tried to persuade David to stay and not to go to college, but all good things come to an end.
Ian Brodie also gave us one of our most valuable staff membersLee Kelly. Ian hired Lee as his office assistant and one of her jobs was to put together the Dateline for the paper. Little did she know this would become a life-long career. She is also one of our most valued writers.
Colins lovely wife, Carol Pelosi, joined us and became our proofreader extraordinaire and later learned paste-up. She, Colin and I produced the first 455 Directory and it remains a very important publication for the Canyon. Another very talented lady, Sandy Bell, joined our staff and was our paste-up person. Sandy was an award-winning graphic artist for the L.A. County Art Museum and just wanted a little extra something. We were very lucky.
In 1986 the Brodies moved from Topanga to Bethesda, Maryland. Ian was still with the London Daily Telegraph, but he later moved to the Washington bureau of the Times of London. The boss moved, but has never been farther than the phone, fax or e-mail. He remains a very active member of our paper.
In 1987 I joined the real world and moved on to a job in the city. Jane Hamburger became the typesetter and I continued on with the bookkeeping and advertising sales.
Lynda Pasco joined on as a paste-up artist. She continues to help us with the 455 Directory.
In 1989 Tom Byrnes took over as editor, with Colin taking a break from writing while continuing as photographer. Colin was supposed to train Tom, but