Murray Mack Gilkeson III

Profile Updated: March 2, 2023
Class Year: 1968
Spouse/Partner: Silvia
Occupation: retired teacher, free-lance writer, JFK and Frank Zappa researcher (See profile questions and answers).
Children: Xochitl born 1980
About me/us (Hobbies, interests, life philosophy, etc.) :

Who else in your family is a CHS Alum?

Sue '66
Jo Anne '72
Todd '75

Favorite School Story:

Defending the campus against Bonita,
Managing our intramural track team to victory for our class my sophomore year. The dirty tricks the Bonita Cross Country Team always played to try to beat our superior talent. Spending my junior year in Recife, Brazil

What teacher inspired you the most & how has it affected your life?

Nick Polos. Just a great guy when you were a senior. Dr. Forcinelli for his Philosophy and World Religions courses. Coach Lynn for his knowledge of track and cross country. I remember coach always saying, "You get tired mentally much sooner than you get tired physically."

Murray Mack's Latest Interactions

Apr 01, 2023 at 1:33 AM
Mar 02, 2023 at 12:37 PM

Congrats to Orlando Davidson on publishing his excellent crime novel set in our hometown and surroundings. Flanked by Orlando and Scott Reckard at the party celebrating the book's release. Thanks again to Orlando for the privilege of proofreading the manuscript.

Apr 01, 2022 at 1:33 AM
Apr 01, 2021 at 1:33 AM
May 10, 2020 at 1:34 PM

                A Mystery Wrapped In An Enigma:   A Journal of Local Frank Zappa Research


Long-time Claremont locals never get tired of talking about the great “Zappa Prank” over at Pomona College.  You will remember--how back in ’75, Big Bridges was scaled in the dead of night and Chopin was covered up with a likeness of Frank Zappa. The origins of this feat had remained steeped in mystery for almost forty years.   That is, until a commencement address by a U.S. ambassador sent tremors so far and wide that the mystique of silence was shattered.  It seems Cameron Munter’s (CHS ’72) take on the classic caper had the unexpected effect of compelling two former Pomona Math majors, now PHD’s, to finally come forward.

Mystery solved, right? 

Local columnist David Allen had initially accepted the ambassador’s version that local high schoolers had been responsible and that perhaps even Munter himself had been involved.  However, in “Diplomat Finesses Role in Zappa Prank,” Allen did point out certain factual errors in the speech:  how it was Chopin, not Shubert who was obscured, and how the prank took place in ’75, not ’72 when Munter was Claremont High’s class valedictorian. 

  No doubt Allen’s column was part of the zeitgeist that prompted the arrival of a digital dossier at the offices of Pomona College Magazine.  The Fall Edition went on to detail the perpetrators’ exploits in “A Carefully Calculated Caper,” but of course, up until that point, local high schoolers as culprits had remained the operative story.   This alone must have been incentive enough to set the record straight, but caught up in the spirit of the moment, Munter had gone even further:  

“It was the visage of Zappa, raised to the pantheon for all the world to see.  Frank Zappa, who attended Claremont High, I might add.  You had Kris Kristofferson, but we had Frank Zappa!”      

So clearly, in the ambassador’s own mind, the episode’s motivation had been to place CHS’ most notorious alum up there on Bridges between Beethoven and Bach, along with the rest of the immortals. 

Now, every college town has its friction between townies and invading collegians.  But even though authorship of the prank had been quite an enigma for nearly forty years, the deeper and more enduring mystery around town had always been:

But did the Wolfpack really have Zappa? 

Not according to Allen: 

“Lore has it that Zappa attended the school briefly, although no school records have been found to support that.”

Indeed, rumors of young Frank at CHS have been on the streets of Claremont since the mid-60’s when Freak Out was first released.  However, the educational establishment has been quick to point out a lack of critical criteria—the aforementioned records, no yearbook photos—thus no Zappa.   Allen is correct that such claims have been effectively rendered into the category of local lore.  So when the Claremont Courier listed Zappa among several notable alumni, the Alumni Society itself promptly added a disclaimer:  “Correction to the writer.  Frank Zappa did Not attend CHS.”

 Back in 1970, when I drove the Courier truck out to Riverside to deliver the paper to printer, and later pick up the finished product, I had significant down time between my runs.  Instead of waiting in the back room, I would wander across Harvard to American Records.  As fate would have it, an old classmate of mine, Doug Galloway, was store manager, so we would often discuss music.  We took pride in the artists who might have had roots in the area, such as Joan Baez, John Stewart, or Chris Darrow of the Kaleidoscope.  At some point, it was only natural that the Mothers of Invention would come up.

“Didn’t Zappa used to live in Claremont?” I asked.

“Oh, sure, my mom had him as a student.”

  It didn’t sound all that improbable either.  After all, Frank’s father, Francis, frequently had the family on the move as he worked for the defense industry in the 1950’s.  According to several bios, the Zappas did move to Claremont in 1953-54, the same year Convair became a division of General Dynamics in Pomona, and Mr. Zappa’s employer.  That would have put Frank in the 8th grade, the same level Mrs. Galloway happened to be teaching.  Back in those days, before El Roble, students went directly from Sycamore Elementary to the old CHS campus up on Foothill, for 7th through 12th grade. 

It wasn’t until I visited a popular social media site recently, that I realized Frank’s status at CHS was even still in question.  I had posted a picture of one of his earlier bands on a page called “Growing Up In Claremont.” Since the “Blackouts” were from Lancaster where Frank eventually graduated, I pointed out that he had once attended school in Claremont, “probably back when the junior high was housed on the old CHS campus.”

Almost immediately, this drew a “correction” from an alumni representative.

              “While the family did live in Claremont briefly in ’53,” it was conceded, “his brother Bobby (’61) has no ‘recollection of his ever attending school at CHS’ and the CUSD ‘does not have any records that show that Frank Zappa attended Claremont Unified School District.’”

            Now privy to inside information, I shared Mrs. Galloway’s recollection.

                        “Not to doubt her integrity, but why would she remember a kid who was in her class many years before he became famous?  There’s simply no documentation of any kind to back it up.  I’d like to know if any of his classmates remember sitting next to him.  I’m dying to add him to the roster, but not without proof.” 

Of course, if you had known Mrs. Galloway, there would be no reservation about her recollection.  The lady was definitely old school, without a fanciful bone in her body.  Ex-students have told me that she had something akin to a photographic memory when it came to her classroom.   I felt sure she would have been the last one to simply have imagined that she’d had Frank Zappa.  I called Doug and asked how the subject had come up with his mom.

“Well, right after the first album came out in ‘66, I was talking about the Mothers of Invention with a friend over at the house, and my mother suddenly exclaimed, ‘Frank Zappa?  I believe I had him as a student!”’

“The thing is, Frank would use vocabulary in his writing that my mom didn’t even know.  She had to consult a dictionary and found that he was using these words in the correct context.”

“Why do you think there are no yearbook photos of Frank?”

“He didn’t finish term.  He transferred out.”

But it wasn’t just a former teacher’s memory.  Back in August of 1970, Zappa himself had addressed the subject.  In an article from the Evergreen Review, entitled “50’s Teenagers and 50’s Rock,” he recalled:

“During the '50s, I went to four separate high schools.  I went, in chronological order, to Claremont High School in Claremont, Grossmont High School in El Cajon near San Diego, Mission Bay High School in San Diego, and Antelope Valley High School in Lancaster, where I graduated.”[i]

 I posted a link to the article on the “Growing Up In Claremont” page.  However, the Alumni Society was still not convinced.

 “Frank’s personal collection may have been shaded by other factors when he was interviewed.  We’d love to claim him as a member of the Pack, but lacking any credible first-hand evidence, can’t yet.  Keep digging—do any of his living classmates remember sitting next to him in 7th or 8th grade?”

Personal feelings aside, it was an excellent question and quite a challenge.  It’d only been sixty years.  How many of his former classmates would still be alive, or even have their memories intact? And where were they now?  

Despite dead ends the first week, I soon made a startling discovery on the Internet, that would open a crack in the door to a parallel universe—A speech to the CHS Class of ’58 at their Fiftieth Reunion. 

It was a fine speech overall, but for my mission the intriguing part was called “Memories of Claremont in the Fifties.”  At number one, the speaker had listed “Stinky’s,” a popular hangout on Route 66, but scrolling down to number sixteen, it read:

“Frank Zappa, Johnny Peek and I competing in the afternoon T.V. talent show (hand puppets and Spike Jones’ rendition of ‘Chloe’).”

It seemed surreal, the first tangible evidence of young Frank in a school setting in Claremont. The speech was simply signed “Nelson.”  I didn’t know if it was a first or last name.   I checked the class roster and found there were three Nelsons in the class of ’58, and one of them had a Florida cell phone number on his profile.  I let it ring about six times, then hung up, leery of waking anyone from an afternoon nap.  Five minutes later my phone rang.

“You called me?”

“Sure did.  Are you the Nelson who gave the speech at the 50th Reunion?”            

“Nah, I was more likely to get kicked out of school than give speeches,” Stan Nelson laughed. 

“I’m researching Frank Zappa before he became a celebrity, and I’m looking for the ‘Nelson’ who recalled being in a talent show with him and Jonny Peek.”

I later found out Stan had been quite an athlete at CHS and heavily recruited.  “I remember Frank,” he said.   “We didn’t hang out together, but I knew him.  You want Nelson Scherer.  He’s still lives in Claremont.  You’ll also want to talk to Toni Ebell and Alan Scriven.  They’re still in the area, too.”

I thanked him and later, pumped full of adrenaline, dialed Nelson Scherer’s number.

            “I believe we were in the 9th grade.  It was a talent show put More…on by Channel 9 and filmed at Paramount Studios,” he said.  “We came in second.”

            “But you remember Frank being enrolled at the school?”

            “Definitely.  He was there all right.”

            “Problem is, no yearbook pictures of him have been found.  What I need is something concrete like a school record or a photo.”

            “Sorry.  I threw them out, but you might check with Jonathan Peek, a retired vet up in Grass Valley.  He was in the talent show with us.  He might have some photos.  And Jerry Peairs over in Upland.”

             I reached Dr. Peek in Northern California.   

            “The show was called ‘Make Believe Ballroom.’  I had the Fran part out in front while Frank and Nelson worked the puppets.  It had kind of an adult humor that had the cameramen laughing.”

            “Frank was a brilliant guy.  He loved Mad Magazine.  I remember an incredible cartoon project he did of the Planets.  Venus was covered in smog and there was a sign that said, ‘Los Angeles—40 million miles or whatever.  Mr. Turner really liked it.”

“What grade was this?”

“It must have been 8th grade with Mr. Turner.”

            “Was Frank there the whole year?”

“I think so.  Barbara Norton probably kept track of Frank.  Say we’re having our 55th reunion down in San Diego next Saturday.  Why don’t you stop by?”

            “I just might do that.”

            Under “Favorite School Memory,” Barbara Norton recalls: 

      “I took Speech class with Mr. Farley. Frank Zappa sat next to me. We put on a play, just for the class, and I had to kiss Frank on the cheek. This was a thrill?!?  He also played the drums with Mr. Denes.  Frank has never acknowledged attending CHS that I am aware of.”

            It was pure gold, another unsolicited memory.  I contacted Barbara and she, too, urged me to come to San Diego.

            That weekend I made the trek down I-15 to the San Diego Area.

            “Are you the Zappa guy,” John Bedford asked as I popped my head into the Holiday Bayside.  I had felt awkward about crashing the festivities and here I was expected.   Barbara introduced herself, and went up to the podium to explain my mission.

            “Murray Gilkeson, of the class of ’68, is here researching Frank Zappa before he became a celebrity.  If you have any recollections of Frank, please talk to him.” 

            A few alumni gathered around me, and began recounting memories faster than I could record them on my notepad.

“Frank was here,” Chuck Luettgerodt assured me.  “I remember him fixing up his garage for Halloween.  He did an excellent job.”

“I lived around the corner from Frank on Alexander (now Indian Hill),” Stu Holmes said.  “We hung out over on Oak Park Dr.  I think it was 9th grade.  He was light years ahead of everybody.”

“Frank had to recite a poem with the rest of us in Mrs. Noble’s English class,” Diann Irvine Burnim said. “It was in10th grade.”

            “Frank was in the orchestra with Mr. Denes,” Jackie Singer Pulliam recalled.  “I played bass drum next to him.”

            Her husband Jim Pulliam and Linda Morse remembered Zappa from Art.  “He dressed in black, had longer hair, was very talented and ahead of his time,” Jim said.  “I mean, he could finish a project in five minutes.  My dad even told Jon Peek and me ‘you better give Frank space because he’s going to be very successful someday.”

I don’t remember who it was, but someone in the group summed up how it was back in the Fifties: “It was a ‘dry town’ back then.  Claremont Cadillacs could drive anywhere.  It was very conservative with cliques.  Frank didn’t really fit in.”

After that group dissipated, I made my way over to a table to sit down.

            “Do you know who that is?” someone asked, nodding at the fellow next to me.

            I shook my head.

            “That’s Jim Beck.  He designed the Captain America bike Peter Fonda used in Easy Rider.”          

“It’s in the Guggenheim Museum,” Jim’s wife said, “and if you go to the Harley Davidson site, it’s the first thing you see.”

 “I grew up in North Pomona,” Jim said, “but Pomona High burned down (May, ’56), so I went to Claremont High.  I was an underachiever and Frank was a loner.  We used to sneak smokes together.  I couldn’t understand a thing he was talkin’ about.  He may even have been messin’ with me.”

At least twelve people that night, confirmed that Frank had been part of the CHS class of ’58.  After I got back from San Diego, I called Al Scriven, and told him of the disparity between classmate memory and school records.

“That’s crazy.  I went to school with Frank!   We had Art together in either 8th or 9th grade.  I can tell you this:  He was different from every other student.  Later, around 1961, I was driving down Arrow Highway and saw a sign that said, ‘Frank Zappa Performs.’  Tell you what, I’ll email you the class contact list and highlight anybody that might be able to help you.”

One of them was Catalina ”Junior Alba”:

“I knew Frank because we were both into music, he said.  “You know the Padua Hills Players?  My family was involved in that.  In fact, my brother’s Joe Alba, Jessica Alba’s dad.”

 “A lot of people think Frank may have been here for part of 8th grade and part of 9th grade?”

“That sounds right.  You know, Frank was a really funny guy.   You should talk to Toni Ebell.”

Toni Ebell Carrion has run the Village Dance Studio in downtown Claremont for over forty years.

“Frank caught a ride into LA a couple of times with me when I took ballet lessons, so I know I had to be at least sixteen. I went to his house once.   It was kind of a beatnik time.  He probably hung out at the Folk Music Center.  He wrote my friend, Tiiu Reimo after he moved away, but she doesn’t have the letters anymore.”

 When I asked if she remembered anything distinctive about his personality, she said, “It’s hard not to read into the past what he became later.”

Next I called Bill Colby in Madison, who’d been ASB President and fullback on the varsity.  He remembered sitting next to Frank at an assembly in the 8th grade.

“He was doodling these Mad Magazine characters.  I found him very personable, a delightful guy.  Years later I asked him to play guitar for a fraternity initiation at Pomona College and he did.  I used to run into his dad when he taught part-time out in Alta Loma.”

Steve Thorne ('58) regularly ate lunch with Frank and was shown his puppet setup out in the Zappas' garage on Oak Park Dr.  He told me he moved to Claremont in the 9th grade, and he and Frank were in the same class.  "I tried to duplicate Frank's puppet setup in my own garage and almost burnt it down!"

Jerry Peairs’ family once owned the famous Pitzer house, a fabulous rock structure up on Baseline Rd. and Towne Ave.  He still has vivid memories of young Zappa.

“Frank was here for the 8th grade and part of the 9th grade,” he said adamantly.  “I remember him telling me after the football game at Puente, that he was going to move.  He was in the marching band with a uniform and everything.  You know, Frank had an incredible imagination, great creativity.  He did an art project on butcher paper about SPACE.”  This sounded like the Planets project, Jon Peek had mentioned Frank presenting in Mr. Turner’s Science class.

Then down at the Village Grill one Saturday, it all came together—how Frank’s paper trail could have vanished like a lead in some cold case.  At a monthly alumni breakfast I met Dennis Skelton, who shed light on its probable fate.

“My parents used to run Boulevard Market down on Foothill and Indian Hill before Stater Bros. bought us out.  Frank would stop by the store on his way home to Oak Park Drive.  We had science together.  For his end of semester project, he gave an ad lib speech for thirty minutes in a German accent.  Mr. Bookhout loved it.”

“The records used to be housed in an older home up on (905) Harvard where the Sycamore playground ends.  There was a major plumbing problem there.  It resulted in flooding that damaged some of the records.  People working up in the district now probably just weren’t around then, and aren’t aware of that.”

It seemed like a perfectly logical explanation, more like an act of God than bureaucratic incompetence.  The next month, Al Scriven and Stu Holmes were at the alumni breakfast.  They told me Stu had approached the district to obtain class records so they could contact people for their 50th reunion.  However, the district confirmed what Dennis had told me, that the records were unavailable due to water damage. 

New leads were starting to develop.  I got an anecdote from John Hardy about a rock fight with Frank over on Brooks Street in the East Barrio.  He apologized for not having any relevant school information about Frank, but suggested I contact Armando Bustos (’59), who had been on the football team and pursued a career in the military.

  “Frank was eccentric and liked attention.  Claremont was more conservative back then.  They had more cliques, but everybody got along.  Frank was a loner.  I never saw him with anybody.  He was here about a year and a half.  Robert Palos (’59) told me he played the trumpet next to Frank on the drums his senior year in Mr. Denes’ Orchestra.

 However, Frank had graduated from Antelope Valley in ’58, so I discounted the time-frame as too late.   Even so, I was intrigued by Armando’s description of Bob Palos as a bit of a recluse, so I went to the ’59 El Espiritu to get a look at this cat. 

 I was floored by what I discovered.  On page 63 was the Orchestra photo.  Bob Palos was there, but underneath the group was the name “F. Zappa,” standing in the third row, third from the right.   Staring down at the floor, obviously uncomfortable and intent on not giving away a straight on headshot, was Frank.  His slender cheekbones were evident even though you could barely see his face.  To his left were Terry Hodges and Dick Barber.  If I could get somebody to validate the picture, here was undeniable proof that Frank was at CHS.

 “I didn’t remember Frank from school, so much as the neighborhood,” Terry Hodges said. “He was a puppeteer who made his own puppets and put on wonderful puppet shows out in his garage.  One time I saw him dancing the Bop over there with a pretty blonde (Kay Sherman, Frank’s first wife whom he met at Chaffey).  He had a crew cut, and was wearing white bucks.  I thought he was the coolest guy I’d ever seen.”

The only trouble was Terry had no yearbook or Internet Access to analyze the yearbook photo.  He did have Dick Barber’s (Mothers’ road manager, CHS ’61) number, but warned me I’d better call him quickly as he had his own plane and could take off any minute.  Dick lived in a remote area of Nevada, right on the border with Utah. 

According to Barry Miles in Zappa, A Biography , Frank graduated from AVHS twenty units short.   Frank: “They didn’t want me back there for another year and neither did I.”  He did attend Antelope Valley Junior College for one semester. 

That same day I got an email from Dennis Skelton in response to a question I had asked him about the first alumni breakfast.

“Yeah, that was me who mentioned the talent show.  Look on page 80 of El Espiritu ’54.  Frank is in the middle left photo, standing in front of a microphone and next to a board.”

Sure enough, decked out in a reporter’s hat and trench coat, dark hair and brow a sharp contrast against a pale facial complexion, was thirteen year-old Frank Zappa.  The Talent Show photo was untagged, and not a close up, so identification was not easy for the casual observer.  But fortunately, Dennis Skelton had been there with Frank and could identify him in the 8th grade photo.   I asked him whether it could have been Bobby Zappa in the ’59 Orchestra instead.

“No.  Bobby was never in the Orchestra.”

So now we had Frank in the Talent Show of the ’54 El Espiritu, and in the Orchestra in the’59 El Espiritu. Why there were only extracurricular activities, remained unclear.  Except for his senior year at Antelope Valley High School there appeared to be no other class photos, even down at Grossmont and Mission Bay.   Ever the outsider, Zappa may have failed to show for those photo sessions by design.

An email to the Claremont Unified School District struck further paydirt.

According to Assist. Supt. Mike Bateman:

“It is true that records were destroyed many years ago on Harvard.  No idea on exact dates.  I had never heard this but confirmed it with a former employee.  We only have records of people who graduated from CHS in 1958.  There are no records of people who attended, but did not graduate.  I have heard from a few people that Frank Zappa did attend for some time but no specifics.”

 Whether Frank’s records were damaged by faulty plumbing or simply deleted per district policy remains open to speculation.  But to say he never attended because the records aren’t available, is missing the point.  After listening to more than twenty-five first-hand accounts from former classmates, the evidence is undeniable.

My search for the truth about Frank’s school status, has never been about lobbying to have him included in an alumni society.  The greater question was why he had been stuck in a time capsule, largely forgotten in a town where he’d spent part of his youth.  Why were there no school records or class photos? 

I believe I have answered those questions.

It is unequivocal--Frank did attend school in Claremont. This is proven by numerous eye witnesses who sat next to him in class or interacted with him on campus.  My research has produced two photos, one on a tip from Dennis Skelton and another triggered by a call from Armando Bustos.  School records are unavailable.  But thanks to Dennis Skelton, Stuart Holmes, and Al Scriven, all former classmates, we know about the faulty plumbing at the original storage location over by Sycamore school, and the testimony of Assistant Superintendent Mike Bateman about record policy back in the Fifties.

At long last mystery solved.

Now as I take my walks out on the Quad at Pomona College and behold the majesty of Bridges, I can well appreciate the spirit of those midnight pranksters. 

They thought Frank belonged up there.



Sep 25, 2019 at 6:49 AM

This was from back in March, but sad news personally, nonetheless:

Dec 11, 2018 at 1:33 PM

The Zappa siblings (Frank, Patrice, Carl, and Bob) down on Oak Park Dr. in 1959.  The Zappas had just moved back to Claremont, and Bobby was a sophomore on the old campus at CHS.  Photo taken by Kay Sherman, Frank's first wife whom he met at Chaffey College. 

Dec 08, 2018 at 5:33 PM

Murray Mack Gilkeson III has left an In Memory comment for Profile.
Jul 08, 2018 at 1:33 PM

Back in 2013 I was trying to settle a local controversy about whether Frank Zappa had attended school on the old CHS campus.  There were no school records or class photos, so it was quite a challenge.   After several dead-ins, I finally ran across a speech delivered at the 50th reunion of the Class of ’58, which mentioned a memory of being on a TV Talent Show with Frank Zappa and John Peek.  It was simply signed “Nelson.”  This was the first real lead I had, so I went searching for the writer of that speech.  Stan had left his cell phone number on his profile on the alumni site, so I gave him a call.

He really cracked me up, because the first thing he said was, “I was more likely to get kicked out of school than give a speech.  You want Nelson Scherer.  He still lives out in Claremont.”  As for Zappa, he said, “I remember Frank.  We didn’t hang out together, but I remember him.”

I will always be grateful to Stan for being the first member of the Class of ’58, to confirm that Zappa was indeed present on the old campus. That really set the ball rolling, and without his help, I may have been less successful.   I also  found out that Stan had been a star athlete at CHS and fondly remembered by all of his classmates.  I could tell he was a very friendly, and warm person just by our conversation over the phone.  Clearly he was a great guy who will be missed by all.

Jan 14, 2018 at 6:46 PM
Jan 13, 2018 at 1:33 PM

Although our paths crossed numerous times over the years (plenty of mutual friends and former roommates, even two schools--CHS and Pitzer), I never really knew Jeff that well.  I did have several conversations with him when he had his video store over on Foothill.  I felt a lot of sympathy for what he was having to go through physically with that bad hip.  He deserves a lot of credit for his taste in film and leaving a legacy that evolved into Video Paradiso down in the Village.  A very enriching contribution to future generations and the Claremont community.   RIP

Dec 10, 2017 at 1:33 PM

Although we knew each other since the 7th grade, it wasn't until the last ten years that we actually became friends.  Weird that it would take all those years to find someone as meaningful as you became in my life.  I will remember the concerts which were almost a religious experience with you, your love of live music.  Like Roland says, Film Noir in the desert just won't be the same without you.  I will especially miss all those breakfasts at Keedys in Palm Desert after driving the backroads from Escondido, down in the valley to meet with you my friend.  Your humor was always right on even though we both were going through some down times.  We talked about health and similar family histories when it came to some serious conditions.  But all through the past year, you barely let on, the stage of your illness, and all I can say is you were tough as nails, and courageous.  I miss you more than you'll ever know.

Dec 05, 2017 at 9:33 AM

An early clue that Frank Zappa was a member of the Class of '58.  See number 16 of "Memories of Claremont in the Fifties."  It led me to track down the "Nelson" who delivered this speech at their Fiftieth Reunion, and find out his memories of Frank when they were in the 8th grade and appeared in a Talent Show on TV together with Jon Peek.

(My 1% memories)

  1. Stinky’s: screened dining room; picnic tables; greasy smoke.
  2. Mel’s Drive-in: deep-fried mushrooms
  3. Henry’s Drive-in: Whetherby’s “T”; Randy Hargrave’s ’57 Chevy; Robert Mitchum in the bar (his son went to Webb School)
  4. Dancing classes at Sycamore School
  5. Naming Sycamore School
  6. 9th Street with Pepper Trees and Music Building at Sycamore School
  7. Mrs. Condit, Principal
  8. The house across from Barbara Norton’s where the murder occurred.
  9. Orange Julius across from CHS
  10. A & W Drive-in on Holt; pretty carhops.
  11. Scrap metal drives; paper drives; canned food drives.
  12. Iron lungs; polio
  13. Refugees from Europe: “DP’s – displaced persons”. I especially remember Hardu Keck at Norton School for Boys. Hardu went on to Webb and then to Rhode Island School of Design where he earned a BFA and MFA and taught for nearly 40 years before he died in August, 2003.
  14. The Class of 1956 performing “The Machado” on the center quad lawn at Sycamore School
  15. “Bicycle Bittler” - 4th Grade teacher trainee
  16. Frank Zappa, Johnny Peek and I competing in the afternoon T.V. talent show (hand puppets and Spike Jones’ rendition of “Chloe”)
  17. The orange grove at the location of Memorial Park
  18. Mrs. Noble
  19. Miss Bindewald. My mother had me transferred to Mrs. Noble’s English class (for the uninitiated, Miss Bindewald was a “fox”).
  20. Jim Putnam and the cherry bombs. (Everyone remembers this one)
  21. Donahoo’s Fried Chicken
  22. The three-day rainstorm in 1957: 11” of rain; closed school after the third day and we all went to the snow on the fourth day.
  23. Mr. Gates and his puppets.
  24. Lance Newman – cutting a hole in the bus barn with a machete
  25. Mr. Papstorff and the new wood shop; the old shop classrooms in the bus barn
  26. Jack Rains reading “The Power of Negative Thinking” in Mr. Booth’s geometry class.
  27. The rapid decline of Stevie Plummer because of his brain tumor.
  28. The charity of the Plummers to take in the Streich sisters to keep that family together after their parents were killed in an auto accident. Mr. Plummer and Terry Plummer came to a 1956 Reunion gathering at my house a few years ago. Heidi Streich Balch was a 1956 CHS graduate.
  29. Janice Boggess collapsing while running to catch the bus on Mills Avenue and then dying from an unknown heart defect.
  30. Parking my 1948 4-door Ford on the hill behind the shop building so I could jump-start it after school.
  31. Cruising Indian Hill in Wagy Hendricks’ 1953 Corvette while delivering prescriptions for Hendricks Pharmacy.
  32. Digging Bob Pieters’ pit in his garage.
  33. The friendship of Curt Butler, Jim Manley and Johnny Peek the summer of 1952 when I was bed-ridden for the entire summer because of a ruptured appendix. Jim is now a retired minister living at Pilgrim Place.

Nelson Scherer '58

Murray Mack Gilkeson III has left an In Memory comment for Profile.
Jan 09, 2017 at 1:33 PM

It ended up being a long goodbye because you fought the good fight to the very end.  Along the way you enriched so many lives with your spirit.  Whenever you were around, on your frequent trips to SoCal to visit those wellness centers in desperate attempts to keep going, your presence made me feel like it was still all those years ago when we were roommates on Blanchard in Claremont in that house with no heat and the giant avocado tree in the front yard, and then out in Northern New Mexico where I followed you upon graduating from Pitzer..

Feb 04, 2016 at 1:33 AM


Progress-Bulletin, Pomona, CA, March 9, 1962


A 21-year-old Ontario musician, Frank V. Zappa, scored arrangements for a movie, "The World's Greatest Sinner," to be released in April.

The music was recorded by the Pomona Valley Symphony Orchestra, directed by Fred E. Graff, and augmented by other instrumentalists.

[...] Zappa began composing for the film last June. "The score is unique," he said, "in that it uses every type of music."

A small rock-n-roll group—eight musicians—recorded last November. In early December a 20-piece chamber ensemble recorded. The 55-piece orchestra recorded Dec. 17, putting in a 12-hour stint at Chaffey auditorium.


Frank's collaborator, Fred Graff, is the father of CHS alum Sue Graff (Class of '68)


Fred Graff  Music Teacher  Pomona High School 1958 Yearbook

Jan 24, 2016 at 1:33 PM

Regarding Frank Zappa's timeline in CUSD:  Frank did attend the old campus in '53-'54 when 7-12 were housed in the same building and El Espiritu was the yearbook for all.  Per Karl Hertz ('58), Frank had Eleanor Galloway for 8th grade English. The following year, Marjorie Noble started teaching ('54-'55) English on the campus.  Diann Irvine ('58) recalls Frank reciting a classical poem in front of Mrs. Nobel's class.  This would have been in 9th grade since Mrs. Nobel was not on campus the year before.  Frank also had two science teachers:  Mr. Turner and Mr. Bookout.  Steve Thorne ('58) regularly ate lunch with Frank and was shown his puppet setup out in the Zappas' garage on Oak Park Dr.  He told me he moved to Claremont in the 9th grade, and he and Frank were in the same class.  Jerry Peairs ('58) vividly remembers Frank (dressed in his band uniform) telling him after the game at La Puente, that the Zappas were moving.  

He is shown below in the talent show from 8th grade.  Traditionally, talent shows are in the spring semester, so if he left after the football game at La Puente, (the following fall) that would have put him in 9th grade. 9th grade is generally considered to be high school (as it is today at CHS).  Frank's classmate,  Bill Evans ('58) was a four-year letterman and on the varsity tennis team as a 9th grader.  However, in '56-'57 El Roble opened and 7-9 moved there until the fall of '64 when 9th grade returned to the high school.   I think these changes in grade alignment, added to the confusion of Frank's actual school status. For example, when the Zappas moved back to Claremont in '59, brother Bob began CHS in 10th grade when it was a three-year campus.  Frank had spent all of his time on the old CHS campus before transferring to Grossmont.  Frank himself, was quoted as saying, "I went, in chronological order, to Claremont High School in Claremont, Grossmont High School in El Cajon near San Diego, Mission Bay High School in San Diego, and Antelope Valley High School in Lancaster, where I graduated." (Evergreen Review, Aug.,1970)

Jan 18, 2016 at 5:33 PM

Vic Mortensen, quoted by John French, Beefheart: Through The Eyes Of Magic, 2010, p. 21

1955—Mortensen Meets Zappa:

"I went to Claremont High, and that's when I (first) met Frank Zappa, when I was in the marching band in seventh or eighth grade, I don't know which. We had to go out and play (at) a football game, and in those days, the (drum) skins were literally skins. You would get out and it would start to "mist up" a little bit, and you'd keep tightening your heads, otherwise, you'd play the national anthem and it would sound like a funeral dirge, because everybody's playing a tom-tom. OK, then you get back on the bus and you kept loosening up and loosening up and loosening up. I've heard drums explode. So, I had gone up to the band room, to make sure that the drumheads were still loose enough. There was this crazy guy in there who had taken all of the band drums and lined them all up and had tuned them down to tom toms. He was going "bump bump a diggy bump bump a diggy bump bump." I said, "What the . . . are you doing?" He said, "Wow, man, I don't have a drumset and I just wanted to try out some different sounds." I asked, "How'd you get in here?" and he said, "Well, I know the guy" (probably referring to the janitor). I was fascinated. He was doing some pretty good things. Didn't see him again until I was a freshman in high school. Never forgot him—that's how we got together years later. [...] He was about a year older than I was. He couldn't have been much older. I had never seen him around the school. I said there were five hundred kids and there was "a dude in the band room that I had never seen at school."

Note: Vic Mortensen played drums with Captain Beefheart before getting drafted to Vietnam. He met Beefheart through Frank Zappa in a club out on Route 66, and proceeded to hang out at Frank's Studio Z in Cucamonga. He plays drums on some tracks from Mystery Disc and The Lost Episodes.  His annecdote points out how Frank used to come back to CHS and hang out in the Band Room after moving away.

Jan 17, 2016 at 1:33 PM

The Zappa Family first lived in Claremont in 1953-54, while Frank was in 8th grade and part of 9th grade.  Mr. Zappa worked for General Dynamics in Pomona.  He was transferred to El Cajon in the fall of '54.  Jerry Peairs (58') remembers Frank telling him he was moving.  Frank was in his band uniform after the football game at La Puente when they were in the 9th grade.  So the timeline is rather concrete that Frank completed 8th grade and transferred to Grossmont High in the fall of his freshman year.  Below is a photo of the CHS Orchestra from El Espiritu '59.  The Zappas had moved back Claremont that year and Frank would visit George Denes in the Orchestra room in the old auditorium on the old campus..  He is pictured third from the right, in the back row, staring down at the floor, next to Terry Hodges and future road manager, Dick Barber.

Jan 17, 2016 at 1:33 PM

Dr. John Peek of Grass Valley, CA, who along with Nelson Scherer, partnered with classmate Frank Zappa in a puppet show on Channel 9's "Make Believe Ballroom."  Photo from 55th class reunion of CHS class of '58.

Jan 18, 2015 at 1:34 AM

I remember Bill as one of the best athletes I'd ever seen.  He was well-known for doing flips down at El Roble and peroxiding his hair. Like a lot of students, I was a bit intimidated by him, but then we happened to meet behind the Youth Center over at Memorial Park.  I went out there and he was shooting baskets alone, during one of his frequent suspensions.  He invited me to shoot with him, and we became friends.  Since he was the best pole vaulter during 8th grade, and I was going out for track, I bought one of those old aluminum poles and invited him down to CMC to practice. I had hoped he would get his act together and go out for sports like his older brothers had done with much success up at CHS, but it was not be.  Unfortunately, he got into trouble and ended up going to Boys Republic down in Chino,  Steve McQueen's alma mater.  A few years later I ran into him down in the village one night and he was extremely proud to show me the baby he was carrying in his arms. I guess I've always liked people who walked to their own beat.   Bill was one of the real characters of Claremont over the years, and I'm glad I got to know him.

Posted: Dec 16, 2013 at 10:26 PM
Dr. Jon Peek, of Grass Valley, CA, who along with Nelson Scherer, partnered with classmate Frank Zappa in a puppet show for Channel 9's "Make Believe Ballroom."

After an interview with me at the Class of '58 55th Reunion in San Diego.