The Little Old Lady From Pasadena
Every now and then an idea and an individual collide to create an icon. In 1984 Clara Peller propelled Wendy’s to the front of our consciousness when she asked, “Where’s the Beef?” Twenty years earlier, a 72 year old character actress was the inspiration for a top 10 smash for Jan & Dean.
In the mid 1950s, Kathryn Minner and her husband, Sam, followed their son from New Jersey to Southern California when his insurance job transferred him there. in 1957, at age 65, she made her first television appearance in the “Big Switch” episode of Dragnet. For the next decade, she played the archetypical little old lady in a wide array of television and movie assignments from “I Spy” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E” to Disney’s “Love Bug”. She came into her acting prime in the wake of a series of ten TV commercials for the Southern California Dodge Dealers, promoting their popular muscle cars with the tag line, “Put a Dodge in your garage, honey!”
It was the era of the hot rod and when Brian Wilson needed to add authenticity to his automotive lyrics, he turned to future KHJ Boss Jock Roger Christian. Together, they crafted “Ballad of Ole’ Betsy”, “Car Crazy Cutie”, “Cherry, Cherry Coupe”, “Don’t Worry Baby”, “In the Parkin’ Lot”, “Little Deuce Coupe”, “No-Go Showboat”, “Shut Down” and “Spirit of America.”
But Christian didn’t just write for the Beach Boys. The Wilsons were early supporters of the duo of Jan Berry and Dean Torrence, sometimes appearing on double-bills and covering one another’s hits. Christian’s pen contributed to six Jan and Dean hits, including their two biggest, “Dead Man’s Curve” and “The Little Old Lady From Pasadena”.
Christian was inspired by Minner’s Dodge commercials and, writing with Jan Berry, put her character on a hit record. “The Little Old Lady From Pasadena” peaked at number three on the Billboard charts. It became Keener’s Key Song of the Week on June 11, 1964, climbing to number eleven on the 2nd of July. A Beach Boy cover version appears on their “Beach Boys Concert” LP.
Minner continued to work prolifically until her death on May 28, 1969. Her final role was in the Andy Griffith vehicle, “Angel In My Pocket“. But her spirit lives every time we take out the Liberty Records 45 that she helped to create.