Santa Barbara’s favorite emcee has helped raised millions of dollars for local causes. But Larry Crandell can’t be outbid when it comes to community service. He sits down with Noozhawk’s Leslie Dinaberg to wisecrack about life in his 80s.
Leslie Dinaberg: What’s a typical day like for you these days?
Larry Crandell: I’d say that the demand for my services is dwindling. At first I thought it was the price, but since I don’t charge and I agree not to eat, that’s not it. There seems to be a tolerance point beyond which the party planners will not go. I used to do 100 events in a year.
LD: It sounds like a lot.
LC: On the other hand, 25 or 30 of them were the Channel City Club. ... I resigned after 25 years and 600 luncheons.
LC: I enjoyed it, introducing the head table, and the audience was so conditioned, whether I was particularly funny or just smirked, if I anticipated a laugh I got it. And it was a senior audience as you might guess, but the caliber of speakers was great. (When I resigned I wrote a letter) to the chairman of the board and I said I would always cherish the love affair that existed between the audience and me but that I was resigning. I was shocked to find that they flourished in my absence.
LD: (Laughs) But I know you’re still quite busy as “Mr. Santa Barbara.”
LC: I think I’ve cut down on events and I’ve picked up some new ones that I’m excited about. One is called — they ruined it by changing the name — AllforOne (Youth & Mentoring).
LD: What was it before?
LC: Hoods in the Woods. They take 35 kids on the brink of trouble or up to their elbows in trouble and take them to Mammoth and they see snow for the first time. They have to do a bunch of things. Matt Sanchez, a Montecito barber, runs it. He says things like, “Could you be at the barbershop at 11:40?” I’d say, “Why 11:40?” and he says “That’s when so and so’s haircut ends and I’d like you to come and ask him for $25,000 or $35,000.” I’m delighted to do that because — it’s such a cliché — but if you can change a kid who is in trouble by one degree and he sees good behaviors rewarded, that’s a great thing. They’ve been doing it for about a decade so the kids who were originally in trouble are now mentors.
We’re going to do an event in the first quarter for pediatric cancer. I always associate cancer with people more my age than kids, but Dr. Dan Greenfield, who is in charge of pediatric cancer for Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, says that in 25 years they’ve gone from losing three out of four kids who have cancer down to one out of four.
LD: That’s amazing.
LC: Yeah, it’s amazing. I remember, I don’t know if you remember, but I used to be a dance teacher years ago and I had a video of me dancing with this little 7-year-old girl and we all knew she wouldn’t make it to her 8th birthday. That’s what I call psychic income.
... In spite of my best efforts to achieve Chapter 7 of the bankruptcy code, I have a little more than I need so I don’t think I do anything for money. I have Social Security and made an investment with a real estate guy I know named Michael Towbes, and he seems to have done well for himself.
LD: He’s got a good eye.
LC: I’m in just one tiny part of one of myriad projects. So I have more than I need and in these times that’s pretty neat. I do odd jobs like Grandparents’ Day at Cate School ... I’m a co-chairman of Grandparents’ Day. It consists mainly of showing up and being pompous, which I have an affinity for.
The third of my son Michael’s children is going there.
Michael and I did a company; I get a big laugh when I say with his money and my brains and computer skill. (Laughs) I have a great deal of trouble once I get past e-mail and mailing lists, but he’s quite gifted and he took the company public and that was the makings of him. And he’s doing it again.
LD: Another startup?
LC: Yeah, it’s called RightScale and I memorized what they do. I have no idea what it means but they lease servers. Now I know exactly what leasing is and I have no idea what servers are except at McDonald’s — I understand that kind of server.
This is kind of funny; I don’t think they’d be embarrassed because I think I know their motive. My 50-year-old son, Larry Jr., and my 44-year-old daughter, Leslie, both live at home with me and Michael lives two blocks away and Steven lives in Goleta.
LD: Does Michael still have an office in the same building as you?
LC: No. RightScale has about 50 employees and they have a building on the corner of Canon Perdido and De la Vina streets. They have lunch for the employees every Monday and he invites me, and I sit down with the group where the oldest one is 30 years old.
LD: Computer guys have to be young.
LC: He comes out and joins us, and I’m very proud of him.
LC: I’ve finally decided I’ve become well-known for being well-known. It isn’t that I’m doing that much, it’s just that there’s a cumulative effect.
LD: And you’ve done a lot. Absolutely.
LC: When you do something, longevity creates a certain prestige. This spring will mark the 50th year of our being here. I had a nice arrangement with Marcy (his late wife, who died in 2008): she did all the work and I took all the credit. I tell people this because I was so shocked, either she had a boyfriend or was doing something illegal because she only taught one year at the university because she was a world-class grandmother and mother, but she left a CD for each of the four kids in the amount of $100,000.
LD: Wow, she must have invested something well.
LC: No, I think she was doing something illicit.
LC: It’s funny because she was so straight and so honorable. At the eulogy, the three boys and I spoke. Les (his daughter) was too overcome. My theme was I’ve been blessed by associating all my life with two great mothers, my own, who was almost the antithesis of Marc. Marc was super educated and beautiful, and I think I was prettier than my mother, but she had the greatest heart. She died on Oct. 19, 1963, and I still go off for about an hour or two and think about her.
... I want to make sure with Marcy — as you know, she passed away a year and six plus months ago — we’ve had three, maybe four Memories of Marcy meetings. ... I think it brings her to life for our grandchildren, three of whom are college graduates already and another three are in college, all the way down to the kids still living at home.
I think maybe I neglected the family a little when I was busy taking bows every third night, but that’s the basis of my function now. ... I’m three months short of 86. You’d be shocked, I’m a druggie; I take a handful of pills every morning.
LD: Do you remember 50 years ago when you came to town and you emceed your first event?
LC: ... I think it had something to do with the YMCA. The YMCA was on the southwest corner of East Valley and San Ysidro roads, and it was just a house with a little equipment in the back yard and I was used to big-city YMCAs, and my brothers and I were intense recipients. My mother worked in a department store on Saturdays so we went to the Y, and went to camp for free. We also got free clothes; you’ve heard that story.
So I began to work on the YMCA and they, with open arms, greeted somebody who asked what can I do to help. And I said, “Oh, public speaking. Well, I’ll suffer through it.” Because I’ve wanted the spotlight since I was 12. Thank God, I didn’t have a lot of talent.
That was the beginning because it wasn’t a debt, that sounds obligatory, but it was a desire. I just felt warmly toward the Y.
LD: And you live nearby?
LC: Near the Y in Montecito. Marcy instructed me to find a house in the right school district. Well, nine Crandells graduated from Montecito Union School. ... I was the only officer of the PTA who was male. I used to go out there at noontime and stand in the playground because there was always one of my kids there.
LD: You still do a lot of work for kids, like the auction for Harding School.
LC: I now regularly offer lunch for three with me as an auction item as my way of contributing. The principal of the school (Sally Kingston) is a bright young lady who used to be at Roosevelt. She bid $200 and nobody else bid so I said, “This is for men only. Is there anybody here would pay $100 not to have lunch with Larry Crandell?” And four hands shot up. Of all the things that I do for charities, I have the most ego tied up in that.
LD: That’s really funny.
LC: Congratulations, you stayed awake.
LD: I love hearing your stories.
LC: I still enjoy them.
LD: When you look back on your life, what do you feel is your greatest accomplishment?
LC: I think I have created roots that my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will benefit from.
LD: You definitely have. Do you still have that workout group?
LC: Yes. They call it Crandell’s Cronies, but I call it Tremblay’s Tramps. You know who Tim is?
LD: Yes, I know Tim Tremblay.
LC: He has very high PR exposure and we’ve been doing that for close to 10 years. We meet at 6:30 a.m. Sundays and this time of year it’s pretty cold. They’re all football players, and we do a little workout and a lot of posturing, and then the Jacuzzi. The steam room is something out of fiction, it’s so gorgeous. Then we usually have breakfast at Fresco Café because Tim’s office is out there.
... Early in December I realized that the 65th anniversary of my landing in the Adriatic was coming up — Dec. 11, 1944, 65 years. Back then that was a lifetime plus, so if someone had said to me then, “OK, you ditched in the Adriatic, it was dangerous, you got away with a bump on the head and they gave you a Purple Heart — probably the least damage done for a Purple Heart in the whole war — but we’ll give you 65 more years,” I’d have grabbed it.
Now that those 65 years have passed, I’m not making that deal. I want to hang around several more years, but this sense of euphoria came over me and I feel that demarcation somehow brought to the front of my consciousness that I ought to, you know, I would get down on my knees and thank God, except, one, I’m an atheist and, two, I’d have trouble getting back up.
LC: You’re a good laugher. I would pay to hear you laugh. But it was a sense of gratitude, euphoria, a real what Marcy would call “sloppy sentiment.”
LD: I like that. If you could be invisible anywhere, where would you go and what would you do?
LC: … I would probably attend my own funeral because one of my slogans, which you’ve probably heard me use before, is no one’s been able to plumb the depths of my ability to accept praise. I don’t think it’s a hunger anymore. I think I’m a little overweight ego-wise, but I guess somewhere in my mind I picked up sort of a good habit, something really doesn’t happen until someone verbalizes it.
I know that’s not logical but I’m going to tell one of my children about our interview because I found it, as I knew I would, very pleasant. Apparently, you can doze with your eyes open. It was what my kids used to look skyward and look ceiling ward and say “another trip down memory lane.”
... Well, you want to come back in five years and interview me?
LC: (Laughs) If I’m not here, my apologies.
Vital Stats: Larry Crandell
Born: April 5, 1922, in Newark, N.J.
Family: Wife Marcy (deceased); children Larry Jr., Michael, Leslie and Steven; nine grandchildren; two great grandchildren
Civic Involvement: Has helped raise more than $200 million for numerous organizations, including AllforOne Youth & Mentoring, Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table, Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, Arthritis Foundation, local schools, Channel Islands YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs, Hospice of Santa Barbara, the PARC Foundation, Transition House and the Douglas Family Preserve
Professional Accomplishments: World War II bombardier in the 15th Air Force and recipient of a Purple Heart; owner of an Arthur Murray Dance Studio franchise; successful investor in the real estate and software industries
Little-Known Fact: “My late brother, Martin C. Crandell, was national intercollegiate heavyweight boxing champion in 1949.”