Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sausalito Californa and Sterling Hayden

Glen Ellen, California

 News flash. I am writing a book soon to be named, maybe Land & Sea A Memoir. Over the past year and half while attending Dominican University of California, I've done a substantial amount of experiential writing. This is the reason has suffered a little bit. I love maintaining this blog, and am kind of bummed I don't have as much time write blog posts. I'm graduating this coming May, and must complete a "Senior Project" to satisfy my humanities portion. I have wide latitude on what to do for the project, and have decided to write a book with the intention of publishing to iPad, Kindle, Nook, ePub, and old school book format as well. Adobe's InDesign is the incredible software that allows one to format properly, and Amazon is/has revolutionized the book publishing world. Any shmoe like me can publish a book, and disseminate it widely with a push of a button. The electronic versions will contain picture and video. While researching the portion my life spent in the awesome town of Sausalito, situated just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, I was reminded of the actor Sterling Hayden. Hayden called Sausalito home for many years, and died there in 1986 at the age of 70. Like I always say, I have a soft spot for odd ducks. Mr. Hayden was a very eccentric fellow, and lived a really interesting life. Many things he did one can only shake their head. 

To get this rolling, here is one of many great quotes from Sterling:

To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea... "cruising" it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.

"I've always wanted to sail to the South Seas, but I can't afford it." What these men can't afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of "security." And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine - and before we know it our lives are gone.

What does a man need - really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in - and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That's all - in the material sense, and we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention for the sheer idiocy of the charade.

The years thunder by. The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed.

Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life?

- Sterling Hayden (Wanderer, 1973)

Sterling would NOT have approved of my sailing adventure. He rightly would have leveled the "security blanket" charge squarely at me! And he would have been correct! He'd say "Your a cruiser not a voyager." He was a bit class conscience for a commie. That's ok. I don't endorse Hayden's lifestyle, I just find it interesting.

In the late 90's I was on active duty stationed at Lake Tahoe, California. I'd grown tired of being inland, and desperately wanted to be transferred to south California so I could sail and enjoy the Channel Islands. So Cal was not in the cards receiving orders to San Francisco. I'd pretty much had a provincial attitude about San Francisco, and was not all that stoked about living in SF. How wrong I was. My first recon mission to SF Bay Area after receiving orders was an unintended breakfast stop in Sausalito. I was immediately sucked in. Sausalito is a beautiful Mediterranean style town, both in its geography, and climate. Beautiful mansions cling to the hills overlooking the San Francisco Bay meshing nicely with the bustling waterfront. It was Sausalito's deep and rich nautical heritage that attracted me, indeed, I had no clue of San Francisco's nautical history. I figured it rained all the time, everyone must be gay, and a bit freaky. Who wants to go to a place with no chicks? I was really narrowed minded, and the bay area has turned out to be nothing like I grew up believing. Once I moved aboard Christa, and started living at the Sausalito Yacht Harbor and the Travis Sailing Center did I start to notice the eccentric social conditions that has always existed in Sausalito.

Sterling Hayden in Dr. Strangelove
Hayden was a fixture along the Sausalito waterfront. Hard to miss a six foot five barrel chested wild haired Nordic. He created a stir where ever he went. I'll quote from a website named from a writer named Chris J Robinson. He wrote this about Hayden:

"Hayden, as it turns out, was an interesting fellow off the screen.   In life, Hayden had sailed around the world by the age of 20, ran guns for Tito, ratted on fellow commies during a HUAC hearing, headed out to sea again, against court orders, to Tahiti with his four kids, wrote two acclaimed books, was an alcoholic, got busted for weed possession in the 1980s, all the while beginning to resemble a Greek god with his long white hair and freakish moustache-missing beard."

This accurate description really could depict any number of people skulking around Sausalito. In fact the fellow that Jimmy Buffet's song "A Pirate Looks at Forty" was loosely based upon, was a Sausalito native who's dead body was plucked out of Sausalito's Richardson's Bay. In fact Mr. Buffet has spent time along Sausalito's waterfront where he owned two restaurants.

Hayden grew up in a dysfunctional family with a stepfather name "Daddy Jim" who was a real loser. Old Sterling (not his original name, which was Montaigu Relyea Walter, just another bizarre chapter in his life) started hanging out along harbor waterfronts on the U.S east coast. He eventually shipped out, and had sailed around the world by his early 20's. He was quite the seaman. He won a sailboat race in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and was interviewed by a local newspaper afterward. The paper subsequently ran a story on him mentioning his Nordic Hollywood good looks. He eventually parlayed this into a screen test with Paramount Pictures and scored.

He did two movies initially, fell in love with his leading lady, and to woe her he joined the Marines at the start of World War 2. He did all kinds of crazy things overseas behind enemy lines earning a Silver Star. During the war he developed some sympathy for communism, and the passion of those trying to assert this economic model. Eventually his involvement with communism would land him in from of congress where he ratted out his Hollywood friends during the Red Scare. 

He eventually married three different women. But, in 1947 he met a random woman on Laguna Beach in southern California. They lived on ships in harbors, drifted, and eventually had 4 children. In fact, he married and divorced this same women three times in one decade. This was wife number two. Hayden acted sporadically during the period, always on the edge of financial ruin, or actually in total financial ruin. In the 50's his acting career picked up, and he played several memorable parts including Clay in Stanley Kubrick's 1956 picture The Killing

Sterling was a hard drinking harbor rat his entire life. By the end of the 1950's he was in the throes of financial ruin, in a nasty public custody battle with his soon to be ex-wife for his four children. Here is where it really gets fun. He won the custody battle for his children, and had planned on dumping Hollywood and taking his children on a sailing voyage to the South Seas aboard Wanderer, his 98 foot schooner he was living on in Sausalito. However, his wife filed to prevent Hayden from taking the children. Sterling, not really stoked about task direction, promptly borrowed money, and sailed out San Francisco's Golden Gate and turned south with his children aboard heading for Tahiti. He was now a fugitive.

This adventure was the basis for his for his autobiography named Wanderer which was a smash hit. He wrote it in the pilot house of a docked San Francisco ferry in Sausalito years after his South Seas sojourn. Pretty wild that he rented the pilot house of a ferry as an office space. Later still he would buy an abandoned railway car and use it for an office. However, broke as usual, the repo man took it his railway car.

The stories of Sterling Hayden go on and on. His drinking eased up just slightly when he discovered the joys of marijuana when he was in his early 60's. But, he was drunk for most of his life. I'd say not a real great template on how to conduct a life. I can say though, this was his life to live any way he saw fit and this type of uniqueness is something to admire. 

Sausalito has so much history, I wish I could type it all right here. Jack London rented a room for awhile in town while building his beloved Snark in nearby Oakland. All the crazy Haight-Asbury beatnics in the 60's used to come over and hang out. Indeed Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix jammed a number of times along the waterfront in a joint that is now called On Dine Restaurant. Hope you enjoyed a slice of Sausalito.

Capt Chris


The Gremlins Hammer said...

We will enjoy following you with your book progress. Good luck!

Anonymous said...


If this blog entry is a taste of the writing style that will be used in your Senior Project, then I assure you it will be a success. I have read the Wanderer and this is an excellent summary of Hayden's life.

Good luck with the book. I'll buy it!


Anonymous said...

Good stuff, Sterling lead an interesting life for sure and one that put him in an early grave, being 70 now myself seems much to young to pack it in at this stage, much more life to live going forward, but the years sure are going by quickly.


Christian Allaire said...

Thanks Dad for following along on the blog, dare I say four years now!

To the Gremlins and Allen, welcome aboard, and thank you for your readership! I appreciate your time!


Anonymous said...

Very interesting, best of luck with your book, we look forward to reading it

Anasazi6 said...

I always thought that Hayden should have written a second autobiography about his life after "Wanderer". He led a strange and unique life and was a fascinating character. I would love to see a new book about him.