by David Kulczyk
This week we are sharing an excerpt from California Fruits, Flakes, and Nuts: True Tales of California Crazies, Crackpots and Creeps by California writer David Kulczyk. Details at the end of this post on how to win a copy of this book, also if you use the link below to purchase a copy a portion goes to help support KRL.
Quite possibly the first hippie in California, eden ahbez, better known as Nature Boy, was born on April 15, 1908, in Brooklyn, New York, to a Jewish family, but according to ahbez, he was adopted by a family from Kansas when he was nine years old. He moved to Los Angeles in the early 1940s, where he hung out at the raw-food restaurant and health-food store Eutropheon, on Laurel Canyon Boulevard.
First opened in 1917, Eutropheon was the place to be for free-thinking souls in Los Angeles and it attracted an almost cult-like following. In addition to catering for health food fanatics, it was a trendy place where the Hollywood scene could relax and eat. Many of the employees and regulars grew their hair long, wore beards and were tagged Nature Boys. They slept in the canyons and traveled to Northern California just to pick and eat figs.
Ahbez’s given name was George Aberle, but he started going by eden ahbez around the time he arrived in Los Angeles. He used lowercase letters because he believed only God was worthy of capital letters. He wore white robes and lived for a time under the first L in the Hollywood sign with his wife, Anna Jacobsen. Ahbez studied Asian shamans and could be found on Hollywood street corners giving lectures about mysticism to anyone who would listen.
The couple’s unusual lifestyle, especially for the 1940s, drew too much attention, so they stayed in the hills surrounding Los Angeles, most often living in the 4,210-acre Griffith Park, even after the couple had a son. The family traveled on bicycles and their possessions consisted of a juicer and sleeping bags.
In 1947, ahbez approached Nat King Cole’s manager with a song that he had written, called “Nature Boy.” Cole liked the song and wanted to record it, but nobody knew where to find ahbez. Legend has it that he was found living at the foot of the Hollywood sign. Whatever the case, the manager’s agents eventually did find ahbez and even though the song rights had been given away to his various friends, a deal was made and the song was recorded.
The song was No. 1 on the charts for eight weeks in 1948, and the media had a field day with the fit and tanned long-haired man. The nation was just starting to heal after World War II, and a character like ahbez was a nice, easy news story during a time when it looked as if war with the Soviet Union was imminent. He appeared in Time, Newsweek and Life magazines in the same week.
“Nature Boy” rose again in the charts later in 1948, with Frank Sinatra singing the vocals. Even though ahbez collected substantial royalties from the hit song, he and his family continued to live in the wild, riding bicycles and eating raw food. He continued to write for and sell songs to Cole, as well as to singers Eartha Kitt and Frankie Laine, but only Sam Cook’s version of “Lonely Island” cracked the Top 40, but money and possessions didn’t matter to ahbez.
Herman Yablokoff, a Yiddish composer, filed a lawsuit against ahbez, claiming that “Nature Boy” had the same melody as his song, “Shvayg mayn harts” or in English, “Be Still My Heart.” Ahbez claimed that the melody came to him in the mountains, yet he settled with Yablokoff for a substantial amount of money. Ahbez’s deeply held spiritual beliefs wouldn’t allow him to fight Yablokoff in court.
In 1961, Bobby Darin’s recording of “Nature Boy” peaked at No. 31 on the Billboard charts. Eventually, the song would be covered by more than forty musicians, from jazz instrumentals by Miles Davis and the dazzling Sun Ra to outright laughable versions by actor Leonard Nimoy and British crooner Engelbert Humperdinck.
Ahbez continued creating music and sporadically releasing records. He found many like-minded people once the hippie movement started in Los Angeles. He hung out with Brian Wilson during his infamous Smile recordings and English pop star Donovan searched for him, eventually finding him in the desert where they connected spiritually.
Ahbez continued to live out in the open his entire life. At the age of 86, he was hit by a car, dying from his injuries on March 4, 1995.
To enter to win a copy of California Fruits, Flakes and Nuts, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Fruits,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 11, 2014. U.S. residents only.