October 24, 2014

Sweet Goodbye To the Kellys

 

PHOTOS BY KATIE DALSEMER ©

Sweet Goodbye To the Kellys

Mike and Frank Kelly seen here with son Michael came back to Topanga to see old friends at the Canyon Sages Chinese New Year dinner.

On February 1, more than 60 folks turned out for the Sages Social to honor Michelene (Mike) and Frank Kelly, who moved away after more than 40 years in Topanga. Mike was Topanga Elementary’s school secretary for 23 years, serving generations of kids. She was a welcome face there, known for her sweet smile and eminent sense.

Frank built the cabin at the Kellys’ storied eight-and-a-half-acre property near the Topanga Grill, dubbed Kelly Gulch, a picturesque spread that became a landmark in Topanga and a setting for many films and television shows.

Sweet Goodbye To the Kellys

Karen Dannenbaum tempted Dan Kirby with a tasty dessert.

Frank and Mike moved from L.A. to a 700-square-foot Topanga cabin in 1970. “It was either going to be Venice or Topanga, which was the lesser of two evils,” joked Mike, referring to the counter-culture reputation both places had in the late ‘60s. They were looking for a rural setting like the Long Island farm country where Mike was raised. At the time, she was an executive secretary for AAA in downtown L.A., “taking notes at the board meetings;” Frank drove a semi delivering Frito-Lay products throughout Utah and Arizona. Their children, Michael and Mia, were nine and five, so to have more time with them, Mike worked as a teacher’s aide. When a spot opened up in the office, she tested for and won it.

Mike found their property in the L. A. Times Classifieds and they bought it, later adding a neighboring property. The land is “just beautiful,” Mike said. “It encompasses the creek and a lovely hillside view.”

Starting in 1978, on his free weekends, Frank and a buddy began building a traditional log cabin from a kit.

Sweet Goodbye To the Kellys

Tireless Canyon Sages’ coordinator Gabrielle Lamirand stands between two of her favorite guys: pal Henry Smith (L) and husband Roy Miles (R).

He continued working through the years on the property, adding a barn and extensive workshop.

Mike loved working at Topanga Elementary. “I tell you – those were the happiest years of my life. It was a new adventure every single day.” She shared the office with Arlene Plotkin, the office manager. Together they dealt with every kind of situation. “Often we were the nurse, taking care of cuts, bruises, head lice and chicken pox.” One time a child had a serious head injury. When they couldn’t reach the parents, they called for an airlift themselves. When everyone was evacuated in the fire of 1993, Mike and Donna, the cafeteria manager, stayed behind “to answer the phones that were ringing off the hook.”

Sweet Goodbye To the Kellys

Old friends Norman Karlin (L) and Ron “RD” Dennen (R) shared a laugh.

“I had hysterical [funny] times with the moms. That’s why I stayed there so long,” Mike remembers. “I could write a book. Sometimes I’ll see a very familiar face of a mom and it will all come back.”

The Kellys started their second career in 1978 when a location manager stopped in at a realtor’s office looking for a cabin setting. That first film was Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. They hadn’t even heard of the grisly franchise, but they were game. The three-week shoot turned into a grueling three months. “First we were worried about the horror movies and that we were starting to get a reputation.”

Eventually, more than 200 films and TV shows featuring actors such as Joanne Woodward, Pierce Brosnan, Alan Alda, Charles Bronson and Arnold Schwarzennegger (Eraser) were shot there. But, says Mike, “The only thing that ever impressed me was the check.”

Sweet Goodbye To the Kellys

Michelene (Mike) and Frank Kelly moved away after more than 40 years in Topanga. Mike was Topanga Elementary’s secretary for 23 years, serving generations of kids.

Will they miss all that? “Not really. There were 14- to 16-hour days and Frank and I could never leave the property during a shoot. As we’ve gotten older, we couldn’t do it anymore.”

Maintenance on their large property also became too much. Frank had continued to do almost all the work himself—fixing the driveway and the slopes in the creek. He and his buddies recently cut up a tree. “I had to watch that none of them got a stroke,” laughed Mike.

The Kellys are seeking “a slower pace. We’ll travel a little more, go up and down the coast.” They moved to nearby Camarillo, so they plan to stay in touch with all their Topanga friends. Their place still has a rural feel. “I’m looking out my kitchen window on a beautiful golf course,” Mike recently described. “There are pine trees with squirrels running up and down.”

Sweet Goodbye To the Kellys

Henry Smith fills his plate at the buffet which had all sorts of dishes celebrating the Chinese New Year.

But, says Mike about her farewell speech at the Sages Social, “I was telling the truth when I said I’d leave Topanga [feeling]depressed, because it’s still home to us. We left part of us up there.” Their son, Michael, still lives in Topanga on Rose Wiley’s Trujillo Ranch.

As for Topanga, Mike says, “It will always be the biggest part of our lives.”