IN THE BEGINNING - 1964
By Gwen Florea

Al Ehringer and I used to have a beer at the Pitcher House, Hermosa Beach and enjoy the crazy décor and music. Al felt that he could open up a bar and do even better. The problem was finding a good location. We wandered around and looked at several possible locations.

This crazy man had a vision as to what he wanted. While I was out of town, he discovered a place in Santa Monica that used to be a shoe store. The location was in a very crummy part of town, behind Pacific Ocean Park. There was a homeless shelter across the street. All the buildings up and down the block were falling apart most of them empty. I could not believe that he wanted to own a bar in the area. The area was so scary that I would not walk to my car at night alone.

The Hal Roach Studios had gone out of business.  There was an auction to sell off all of the studio. Al bought the prop rooms. As far as anybody could tell it was just a bunch of junk. A lot of old posters, signs, pots and pans and movie props. JUNK!! He stored all this junk in my large garage while looking for a location. We also went to garage sales and he would buy stuff like old toilet seats????? I thought he was losing his mind but he had this vision.

While Al and his construction crew were building the bar my job was to try and figure out how to put together a sound system. Back then there was no sound systems that would create a sound that went from one end of the bar to the other. Al and I tried several ideas to make it work. I learned more about woofers and tweeters that I ever wanted to know.

Then the trick was what kind of music I should record. Al’s first thought was a combo of blue grass and jazz. We even had live music but that didn’t work. I spent a lot of time in music stores trying to come up with sounds that would work with the crazy décor. I found several sound effect records. I also went out with a tape recorder and recorded my own sound effects, including toilet flushes. I would create a tape recording
of music and sound effects, go down to the bar and see the customers’ reactions, then go home and change it to work better. I finally came up with the idea of including college fight songs.

Al wanted to hand out flyers to all the college kids to get the right mix of customers. He sent someone to UCLA, USC and El Camino College to pass out flyers. My next job was to create flyers, business cards, table tents and signs. Fortunately my major in school was art. To say the least I had a ball creating all this stuff, and was very appreciative of Al's confidence in my abilities.

In the meantime I was working at the bar at night as a cocktail waitress. I created a “Daisy Mae” very brief outfit for the waitresses. I liked to dance so when I created the tape recordings I would include songs like The Stripper or an Irish jig, and when those songs would come on we’d get on top of the bar and dance a fake stripper act or whatever. This generated lots more tips. The Oar House kept me very busy!


 
Anyway, one of the customers who kept bugging me about the tape recordings was this professor type with a weird squeaky voice. One day he came in with two talking dolls and wanted me to pick the one I liked best. Little did I know I was being interviewed by a Mattel Toys executive. A few days later Mattel called me and wanted me to come in for an interview. I was in the middle of painting the women’s bathroom and said I could in a couple of hours. No, they wanted to see me right away. So in I went wearing paint jeans and a sweatshirt. They offered me a job as a trainee creating talking dolls and sound toys. I thought it was a big joke. I thought I’d give it a week or two and I’d be fired. Several years later I was heading up the recording studio and had 16 people working for me. Thank You Oar House!!

The only other claim to fame is I was the voice of the first talking Barbie doll and wrote a book, Barbie Talks, about my crazy adventures.

In 1970 I married Al Duhaime. I had introduced the two Als and that's how Duhaime became the architect for the Oar House, meaning for the new bars that were being built. My only regret is I took my investment out of the Oar House while working at Mattel. More on that story in my book, Barbie Talks.

An Interview with Gwen -Brent

Do you remember names of others working at the Oar House when you were there?

I don't remember the names of the people I worked with, sorry. I was only working there in '64 '65 '66.

So you were there for three years? 

More like 2 years working there. Did extra stuff while working at Mattel.

Al once told me that in the early years they would go around to apartment buildings and put little notes in the mailboxes that said, "I think we should all get to know each other a little better, so let's all meet down at the Oar House this afternoon. (signed) The Manager." Does that spark a memory or two?

I created the notes.

How did things go after Mattel?

My work career has been very checkered. After Mattel I worked as an account exec for a company that sold equipment to Russia. Hated going there but loved going to their headquarters in Paris. Then worked as an actress and/or script supervisor in many movies and TV shows. Then became a professional fundraiser and raised millions for charities. All the time I was playing around with my art. Eventually created a form of letter art with animals in each letter. Did that in Maui and Las Vegas for 15 years. I am retired now. I live in Las Vegas.

We thank you, Gwen and look forward to anything else you want to share.

Can't think of anything else at the moment. Nice to hear from you. Cute web site. Hugs Gwen





Editor’s note: We invite you, dear reader, to enjoy Gwen’s book, Barbie Talks, available on Amazon.com, in book and Kindle form. There are 26 references to the Oar House in her book as well as details of those early years. If you would like to say hi to Gwen her email address is… gflorea@cox.net