• Pied Pipering the Past •
BY ANNE SOBLE
There have been dozens of obituaries acknowledging the death of former longtime Malibuite and iconoclastic entertainment icon Larry Hagman.
Hagman cultivated outrageousness as an art form, even when he gave free rein to its destructive side. His eccentricity was able to take many forms from the spontaneous to the contrived. He effortlessly could commandeer the actions of a small crowd or hone in on an unsuspecting individual to disarm or shock.
Some of us in Malibu who have had the opportunity—most often pleasurable, occasionally puzzling, and, once in a while, downright strange—of chatting with Hagman, or the Larry Hagman that we perceived at that point in time, have been exchanging recollections.
Having listened during the week to dozens of loosely interwoven vignettes that may or may not reflect who the real Larry Hagman was, I was struck by the childlike wonder that often permeates the oft colorful tales.
Not all of those stories can be shared in a family newspaper, not because they are objectionable, but because they don’t translate well onto the two-dimensional page. Many recollections are of the “you-had-to-be-there” variety, such as an hour-long monologue on saving the planet or discussion of a mind-altering experience premised on better living through chemistry.
Hagman’s collections of hats and flags reflected the childlike enthusiasm he brought to everything. Even when he became the face of an anti-smoking campaign and carried a battery-operated handheld fan to blow cigarette smoke back at the smoker, there was a playfulness to the serious message.
A description often applied to Hagman when he lived in the Malibu Colony was community Pied Piper. This might involve leading an impromptu parade down the length of the sand, wearing bizarre and colorful garb that might have originated with his beloved wife Maj’s creative talents, or wandering long gone mid-Malibu haunts, enthusiastically expounding on his solutions for the world’s woes—sometimes accompanied by biker buddy Peter Fonda—with anyone who would listen.
Hagman cared about the environment. This writer last visited the Hagmans’ spectacular home in Ojai—before Maj became ill—when they hosted a local environmental fundraiser. The Hagmans supported organizations and political candidates that shared their environmental and social concerns. The voices of people eager to make a difference resonated in the expansive house that appeared to emerge from crevices in the terrain.
The unbridled enthusiasm that fueled Hagman’s experimentation with all that life offered was regularly counterbalanced by a need for silence. While others might opt to spend sound-free time in solitude, Hagman’s silent spells were public theater at its best.
The Hagmans’ exodus from Malibu in the ’90s coincided with what some describe as the beginning of major changes in the community. Ensconced in his new mountaintop retreat, Hagman said the Malibu he knew was a haven for the idiosyncratic, if not the downright eccentric, and he hoped it always would be.