Well not quite Miss Minnesota, but she would certainly have been a contender. Janet Pederson arrived at Breezy Point about two weeks after I joined the staff. She just seemed to appear out of nowhere in the lodge dining room that first night, a curvaceous vision in her little waitress uniform. Now, we had some really cute college coeds waiting tables that summer at Breezy Point. In fact I had been interested in a pretty little U of M Theatre Arts major since the Tri Gamma ladies had left the resort.
Not to digress but, there’s an unwritten code at most resorts that discourages anything more than casual fraternization between guests and the “hired Help”. At Breezy it was the law. The situation with the Tri Gamma ladies was for that one week an essential exception to that rule.
It was unusual for staff members to play the field among themselves at a summer resort like Breezy. Ours was really a small community, so it made sense to pair up so to speak. There were a couple of other fellas interested in the little actress, so I was still unattached when “Miss Minnesota” walked into the Grill that first night. Actually it was the Pro who saw her first when she arrived on her break with a couple of other waitresses.
“Well now how about that one?” said Bob. “She has to be Miss Minnesota, Miss America or Miss Something. What is she doing here at Breezy Point waiting on tables?” he asked, as he and a couple of other guys moved in to find out. Introductions followed.
Though equally intrigued but traditionally a slow mover, I sort of hung back, waiting until the crowd thinned out before introducing myself. It wasn’t a big thing, no bolt of lightning. I said “howdy”, and she asked “what do you do here?” and that was it.
At least ‘it’ until the next afternoon when she came out to the beach during her break. She was wearing a one-piece baby blue bathing suit. I guessed her height maybe 5’7” but her erect posture made her appear taller. She walked out on that dock as though she were modeling on a fashion show runway. I won’t say the music stopped, because there was no music. But certainly all eyes turned and most conversation stopped for a few seconds, and then proceeded in a murmur.
Janet Pederson had officially arrived. Doc of course was the first to greet her. Doc introduced her around to his staff and showed her off to some of his big-tipping guests. What a beautiful pair they made at that moment, right out of Gentlemen’s Quarterly.
All heads followed her as she walked down to the end of the dock where I was teaching a 12 year old boy.
“Hi” she said, “any problem if I swim out?”
“No” I replied, “This is a fairly shallow lake. You could probably walk out another 50 or 60 yards.”
She dove off the dock and swam out about twice that distance. Obviously she was a trained swimmer. I didn’t have to worry about the necessity of coming to her rescue, though I thought about it for a while… wishful thinking I’m sure.
Was there a magic moment? I don’t remember. I guess it was just supposed to happen. As I said, people tend to pair up in situations such as what we experienced that summer at Breezy Point. She was a nice girl from a nice family whose grandparents on both sides emigrated from Norway in the last (nineteenth) century. She shared an apartment with a girlfriend in Duluth, where they were freshman at the University of Minnesota branch in that city. Janet took modeling classes on the side and actually appeared in several fashion magazines. She knew what kind of impact her mere appearance, clothed or semi-clothed, made on people, and she played it and loved it. On the other hand, up close and personal, she was just an all-American coed, no affectations and great company.
The word spread quickly. It had only taken a matter of days before it became obvious that we were going to hook up. Sure, she would flirt with the guests, which bothered me a little bit, but at the end of the day, she went home with me.
We faced only one difficult experience together. The problem was with one of Jack Beringer’s weekend guests from Chicago. He was a pal of Jack’s in his late forties or early fifties. The guy was on the make for Janet right off the bat. It started in the dining room when he grabbed her arm while she was serving his table. He asked her name, etc and what she was doing after work. He obviously had too much to drink. She told him she was engaged and politely unhooked his hand.
That wasn’t enough however. The guy approached her the following day on the beach during her afternoon break. On both those initial flirtations Janet handled him well. This was not the first time she had been the target of a direct pass. However, this guy was very aggressive. He followed her out on the dock where he attempted to make small talk. In response she tried to be polite and show interest. That the guy was on the make was obvious to everyone around and certainly to me. I was in the water with a swim student at the time. We had discussed the previous evening’s flirtations, and Janet had seemed confident that she could handle the guy.
She excused herself and dove off the dock for a swim. Luckily he didn’t follow. It seemed that he was not a swimmer, or at least lacked the skills to keep up with Janet. I took a break and swam out to her. We talked and hung out in the water together for about ten minutes until we were satisfied that he had returned to the lawn and his Chicago buddies.
The next incident occurred in the dining room that evening. He had manipulated his way into a table in her section and was pretty “juiced up”. In addition he was being urged on by his buddies at that particular table. Someone said Jack Beringer himself came by and did nothing to stop the flirtation, which at the moment was bordering on harassment. Janet started to lose her calm and quietly asked one of the other waitresses to switch stations. This attracted the attention of the Maître D who suggested she take a break.
She found me at Johnny’s piano in the Lounge. I suggested she go back and just try to keep away from the guy. I promised we would go see the manager the next morning. She returned to the dining room, and actually had no further trouble with the man. Maybe he found another waitress to hastle.
We found no sympathy at our meeting with Walsh the next day. He all but accused Janet of coming on to the guy, explaining that Mr. Beringer’s guests were his first priority, in essence telling Janet to deal with it or find another summer job.
I was disappointed. In fact I was pissed. So pissed that I decided to take the problem to my swim student’s dad, George, Jack’s brother. George was sympathetic, and said he would deal with it. However, he explained that this kind of thing was not unusual. Jack’s buddies were not used to being rejected by Chicago area waitresses, though he agreed that Breezy’s girls, being just college kids, should be treated with respect.
I guess George’s conversation with his brother did the job, because that particular guy kept his distance during the rest of his visit. On the other hand the word got back to Janet that there were people who thought she should bear some degree of responsibility in the matter. To me that thought was ridiculous. Was she supposed to pay a penalty for being beautiful? However, from that day on Janet wore her hair back in a ponytail, reduced her use of make up while at work and wore a sarong on the beach when not swimming, much I must add, to everyone’s disappointment. None-the-less she was still a conversation stopper whenever she appeared. And most important, she was mine all mine for the rest of that great Whizbang summer.
Not much more of note happened during the balance of that season. However, I don’t want to overlook the Hell’s Angels incident; which made a great finale. It started in late August one night at Bar Harbor.
As I understand it the Hell’s Angels motorcycle club meets every summer at some remote venue for something akin to an annual convention. I know a little bit about that tradition because my niece Debbi is a Hell’s Angel and has been one for many years. In fact, there was a big group of Hell’s Angels at her wedding in Lake Tahoe a few years ago.
Back to Breezy 1949: The Pro and I and our ladies arrived at Bar Harbor that particular night at about 9:30. There must have been 500 motorcycles in that parking lot. Back in the 40s and 50s before the beautiful people discovered Harley Davidson, the Harley bikers were known for living up to their reputation. They were indeed a “Wild Bunch”; made famous in 1953 by the movie of the same name, starring Marlon Brando. As in that movie where a biker gang took over a town, this group had chosen the Brainard, Minnesota lake area for their big get-together, and their destination that particular evening was Bar Harbor.
Unlike in the movie, however, these guys and their biker girls were a happy lot. Filling virtually every table and chair in the place, they cheered the entry of any new arrival, bikers or non-bikers. Though some of the new non-biker visitors seeing what was going on, turned around at the door and headed for a quieter spot on the other side of the lake. Not our little group however. Led by the Pro and his date we, Janet and I, just plunged into the crowd.
Recognizing the big change in demo, Percy Hughes passed on the South America/Cuban stuff, and to everyone’s delight began alternating country with west coast swing and some of the new Harlem jazz dance music.
Bob and I ordered Scotch and the girls chose Gin Fizz. The drink of choice among the bikers was something they called a ‘Boilermaker’ (Recipe: one shot of whisky chased down by a 10 oz glass of beer.) In those days you could order a bottle of whiskey for the table. Old Fitzgerald, Four Roses and other popular bourbons were the booze of choice. Grainbelt and Hamms were the big Minnesota beers in my time, and the empties were prominently displayed in the center of every table.
As soon as we walked in, a group of bikers moved over and made room for us at their table. Naturally we all got acquainted. They had come from all over the country. We explained who we were, and where and how we were spending our summer. They showed a lot of interest in Breezy Point and our jobs. We exchanged stories and dance partners and had a great time. As it got late, we finished our night caps, said our goodbyes, and drove back to Big Pelican satisfied that we had shared a very interesting new experience.
However, that wasn’t quite the end of the story. I guess the bikers were taken with our tales of resort life with the rich and famous, because at about three in the morning Breezy Point Lodge was buzzed by hundreds of Hell’s Angel Harleys. I will never forget the noise and the vibration created by those motorcycles. Everywhere guests and staff came out of their cabins or rushed to their lodge balconies. We think the ‘Angels’ made more than one circuit through the place because it seemed to go on for ten minutes or more. And then suddenly they were gone.
Well… I looked over at Bob Crown standing on his little porch with a big grin on his face. Then I figured it out. There is no way those bikers could have found their way from Bar Harbor to Breezy Point in the dark through the forest on those narrow roads without a lot of coaching. Later that day when the bikers were the talk of the resort, it was apparent that our dates that night had come to the same conclusion: It was the Pro’s doing.
I never did return to Breezy Point as its waterfront director. Though Janet and I promised to spend the rest of our lives together, she went back to Duluth and I to Minneapolis. We talked regularly on the phone, and even visited each other at our respective colleges. I paraded Janet around my Minnesota campus and dragged her to fraternity parties. Needless to say she wowed everybody she met, except maybe my parents, for obvious family reasons.
I met her very nice very hospitable Lutheran folks, and even stayed at her place overnight, sleeping in her recently drafted brother’s room. We continued to talk on the phone at least once a week or now and then, and whenever either of us needed a heart to heart.
Janet came down to Minneapolis the following summer and was elected Queen of the Minneapolis Aquatennial, that city’s big annual summer Mardi Gras-type event. And she actually was a Miss Minnesota finalist. She went to Hollywood for a screen test which turned into a modeling career.
It was many years later, when on a visit to Minneapolis with my wife Elayne, we ran into Janet at Lord Fletcher’s, a popular restaurant at Lake Minnetonka where she was the manager. She looked great. She was married to a very nice Lutheran husband who worked in aerospace, and they had two kids in college. I gave Janet a big hug and introduced her to Elayne. She took a break. We had a lot to talk about. Yes, the years had changed us both, but neither of us could ever forget that great summer at Breezy Point Lodge.
I kept in contact for a while with my old golf buddy, Bob Crown, who got his PGA card and after an unproductive year or two on the tour, took a job as an assistant and later head Pro at some fancy country club outside of Milwaukee.
My roommate Johnny Davis continued to play for the ladies at the Breezy Piano Bar for a couple more summers, but ultimately got his PhD, married a grad student, who coincidentally was a flautist, and continued on the faculty at Northwestern as a full professor. You know the Bill Veeck story and Sammy Shore’s rise to the almost famous.
Jack Beringer sold the place to a Brainard Coca Cola owner followed by another owner or two including the singer Ginnie Sims and her husband. Today, the present owner calls the place ‘Breezy Point Resort’. The celebrities are long gone, but it’s still a popular recreation destination.
My wife Elayne and I drove up there sometime in the late 1980s. I was researching a story on Captain Billy Fawcett and the glory years at Breezy Point, which I thought would make a great Broadway musical. We met with the new owner, who loved the idea and referred me to a couple of old-timers who had a portfolio full of Breezy Stories.
I pitched the idea to a couple producer friends of mine, proposing that we give the show a Roaring 20s theme. My characters fit beautifully into that era. Captain Billy would be the resort owner/manager. The Chicago guys would be bootleggers, the dancers would be teaching the Charleston instead of the Mambo. The Sammy Shore character would be what he was, a Borsht Belt comedian. The love story would be the romance between the waitress and the lifeguard. If it fits, we could include the sorority girl convention.
Add the piano player in the lounge, a gay beach boy and the golf pro with his convertible. Forget Bar Harbor, but bring in some local Temperance Society ladies, a Percy Hughes-type Orchestra and of course the Hollywood stars of the era, and you have a sure fire hit. Call it “Whizbang”, and it will run for years.