MR. SANTA BARBARA, REVEALED

Enter the front door of Moby Dick restaurant on Stearns Wharf and take a hard right. On most weekday mornings you'll see longtime Montecito resident Larry Crandell, 83 and, as he puts it, “grateful to be vertical,” seated against the window amongst various framed documents about him. He's been a fixture there for over 10 years.

“If you look over your head, someone gave me the B-24 I flew in as a bombardier in WWII,” Crandell told me recently, referring to a small model airplane suspended from the ceiling. “If someone displeases me, I press a button and the bombs drop.”

Crandell is a fundraiser and famous kidder who has been making crowds laugh, as the new biography coming out in November about him claims, for 70 years. I met with him the other day over breakfast at Moby Dick to discuss the book, which one of Larry’s two sons, Steven, wrote.

”By the way,” Crandell said at one point about his son, “I always thought he was a wonderful guy and a lousy writer, until he wrote about me.”

He was joking, but I have to admit that when Steven had earlier given me a copy of “Silver Tongue – Secrets of Mr. Santa Barbara,” I did have a flash of self-published prose panic. Fortunately, I was relieved to discover he can write.

The book is tight and story-driven and meant to be a fundraiser, with all profit from book sales going to charities operating in Santa Barbara.

As the title implies, the book teaches Crandell's fundraising methods with each chapter centered around a trade “secret.” Happily, however, “Silver Tongue” is just as much about Larry Crandell’s life and philosophy as it is a guide to fundraising. This makes for a far more pleasurable read for those of us not in the business; anyway, fundraising mainly comes down to personality – you either have it or you don’t.

Larry's first secret is called the “Brad Pitt Stratagem,” which involves surreptitiously paying middle-aged ladies’ lunch bills and then having the waiter inform them it was a gift from the famous actor.

“There follows a delicious moment when the women consider the possibility that this could be true,” Steven Crandell writes. He said his father “does things for people that they enjoy and he enjoys. In this way, he is both giver and recipient.”

Steven Crandell obviously cares deeply about his subject, as does the subject, which makes for good reading and, for that matter, breakfast conversation. To their detriment, most people like to talk about themselves, but with Larry Crandell, it’s actually a strength, for he is at once self-aware, self-deprecating and amusing.

“I once found my wife at four in the morning sewing the lining of a coat, not that belonged to the child, but that belonged to the doll of the child,” he laughed. “That's not me.”

Add to the funny self-referential comments Crandell's fear of boring conversation and sitting with him for over an hour, as I did, is fun. My guess is it’s also his key asset when it comes to asking people for money: donors actually like being around him. And that, unfortunately, you can’t learn from book.

“I don't think I have any secrets for how to raise money,” he said. “There have been libraries written (on the subject) ... A bunch of clichés ... I'm willing to tell stories if they’re illustrative. I’m willing to tell fourteen minutes worth of stories to create the right climate for my ask.”

From the Book

While a great portion of “Silver Tongue” deals with insider information on fundraising, a lot also concerns insider information on Larry Crandell’s life. What follows is an excerpt from the book about Larry moving to Montecito, before he became Mr. Santa Barbara and before real estate prices were so daunting.

Montecito – Love at First Sunlight

Larry has a standard line about the house in Montecito where he and Marcy have lived for more than four decades.

“We paid forty-eight thousand five hundred dollars for it in 1960,” he says. “Since then, we’ve poured at least a hundred-fifty bucks into maintenance and improvements. Now, forty-six years later, we owe more than two hundred thousand dollars. That’s what I call appreciation.”

The humor hides a long-term love affair he has had with the house and with Santa Barbara itself.

With four children in tow, Larry and Marcy moved from Pennsylvania to the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1950s. They then decided to move to Santa Barbara. Larry purchased the Montecito house in June of 1960 – in the Hedgerow area off San Ysidro Road. Larry now refers to the neighborhood as “Baja Montecito.”

“It was very much an adventure because I selected the house without Marcy seeing it. It was built in what was called a ‘contemporary style’ – about twenty-four hundred to twenty-five hundred square feet, with cathedral ceilings and large window walls. I must confess I loved it then and I love it now. But if someone gave me truth serum and made me talk of its weaknesses, I would say that the heating system was designed by someone who spent his whole life in equatorial Africa. The bedroom portion of the house has regular height ceilings, unlike the entry, the dining room, and the living room. The thermostat, unfortunately, is in the living room. So when it’s sixty degrees in the living room, it’s usually eighty degrees in the bedroom.”

Larry’s main reason for buying this particular house actually had nothing to do with its heating or style. He was under strict instructions from Marcy to make sure the house was in a good school district. On that account, he did very well. Larry is proud to point out that nine of his children and grandchildren have graduated from Montecito Union School.

“I like the sense of roots,” Larry told a local newspaper in 2003. “Nothing is more fun than a sense of belonging, being attached. As long as I’ve been here, I still want to grab people by the lapels and tell them what a wonderful place this is. It’s the same reason I never travel. Where could I find any place better than this?”

When Larry first got to Santa Barbara, he felt that any time the sun was out it was a “mortal sin” to be indoors. “I just couldn’t work. In Harrisburg it was sunny maybe six days a year. Here, even when the day dawned foggy, by ten or eleven am, it would be beautiful. Solid hours of perfect weather. I got the first tan of my life.”

Not bad for the former first lieutenant who was so pale-skinned that during World War II he was sent to see a medic after suffering a severe case of sunburn. Of course, in those days, exposing your skin to the sun was thought to be healthy. In the 1980s, however, Larry developed what he calls a “slight case of melanoma.” He stays out of the sun now if he can, but he is far from disappointed. “I never wanted my skin or my teeth to outlast me,” he says. “And I’ve been pleased a thousand times that we moved here.”

For the boy from inner-city Newark, sunny Santa Barbara just may be the dream fulfillment of the song he learned in Sunday school as a boy. It’s a song he has never forgotten and still performs – with hand gestures – for his children and grandchildren.

Climb, climb up Sunshine Mountain,

Heavenly breezes blow.

Climb, climb up Sunshine Mountain,

Faces all aglow.

Turn, turn your hearts from doubting,

Looking to the sky.

Climb, climb up Sunshine Mountain,

You and I.

Release Date

Steven Crandell’s “Silver Tongue – Secrets of Mr. Santa Barbara” is to be published in late November, with all sales going to Santa Barbara county non-profits (paperback $14.95; hardcover $24.95). A discussion of the book will take place on September 30 in the Townley room of the Santa Barbara Public Library, with former News-Press editor Jerry Roberts serving as moderator. The Crandells will also talk about the book during an October 10 breakfast at Moby Dick on Stearns Wharf, where they’ll also introduce the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.