Archive for April 4th, 2009

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The Sunday, Sept. 7, 2008 edition the San Francisco Chronicle had an obituary for Charles O’Brien, lawyer and for some time, Chief Deputy Attorney General for California who died September 3.

Charles O'Brien - Chief Deputy Attorney General, California

Charles O’Brien – Chief Deputy Attorney General, California

I was acquainted with Charles exactly fifty years before and the occasion for that acquaintance and associated events have some historical interest. The fabric of the story involves a number of threads which I will take up one at a time and try to weave together: Marianne Evans, Leo Dardarian, my time at Mount Zion Hospital, Bert Feinstein, the 1958 California Democratic Convention, Stanley Mosk and Dianne Berman.


Marianne Evans was born in June of 1928 in Longview, Washington, an interesting variant of a classical mill town on the Columbia River. She grew up there and attended local schools through her sophomore year in high school. She then entered the University of Chicago under the early entry program started by Robert Maynard Hutchins who felt most high schools were simply a waste of time. She was housed in Kelly Hall and was part of a loose clique that included Terry Flambert and Molly Bower (see the post about Satish Gujral). After Terry and I married in 1948 we had less association with Kelly Hall and lost touch with other women in the dormitory. During that time Marianne was dating Leo Dardarian.

After graduating from the U of Chicago, Marianne went back to the west coast. She took a job teaching for a year or two in an elementary school in Dunsmuir, California on the upper Sacramento River, a situation somewhat similar to Longview.

Marianne Evans Dardarian in the 1950s

Marianne Evans Dardarian in the 1950s

Leo Dardarian was born December 23, 1926, in Buffalo, New York. His Armenian father was a child refugee from the Turkish attempted genocide, sent from his village by his parents under the cover of darkness in 1915.  In Niagara Falls, NY he became the owner of two restaurants and his son grew up learning the trade from early childhood. Leo was drafted toward the end of WW II, taught basic Japanese by the Army and served a year and a half in Occupied Japan. At the U of C he was associated with a group whose members I barely knew (one of them was Charlie Einstein, son of “Parkyakarkas” of Eddie Cantor Show fame, and prolific sports and mystery writer; Charlie’s son David writes a very nice technology advice column in the San Francisco Chronicle; Charlie’s half-brothers Albert Brooks and Dave Osborne are famous Hollywood actor/writers).

I am rather vague on the next part of the story. I believe Leo went out to Dunsmuir and proposed marriage (or, perhaps, it was done long distance), that Marianne and Leo lived in Niagara Falls while he managed his father’s restaurants and had their two daughters, Wendy and Nancy there. They moved to Allston Way in the West Portal District of San Francisco in late 1954 or early 1955. (I remember one cute story about their move: when five year old Wendy first saw their new home she said, “This is a nice neighborhood, Daddy”; when Leo asked why she said that, she replied, “No dog doo”; apparently she had a penchant for stepping in it.)

Almost as soon as the Dardarians moved into the West Portal neighborhood Marianne got involved with the local Democratic political club which served the west side of San Francisco. There was a young woman who was prominent in that group that earned considerable admiration and praise from Marianne: Diane Berman, wife of a well known lawyer, Jack Berman (who subsequently became a Superior Court judge, appointed by Jerry Brown).

Not long after arriving in S.F. Leo took the position of Food Service Manager at Mount Zion Hospital. It is likely that arrangements for him to take this job had been made before the family moved here. It was then that Marianne and Terry got together again and I first met Leo. I had been having a rough time trying to find employment in San Francisco so Leo arranged for me to start at the bottom in Mount Zion’s food service department.

Leo Dardarian in a publicity picture for a staff art show

Leo Dardarian in a publicity picture for a staff art show

(This photo is from a Mt. Zion Hospital staff newletter page about an annual art show. This show was installed by Barbara Ruthman an accomplished artist herself {Chicago Art Institute} who is at the left in the top right and lower left pictures below. About three years later she became my wife – our fiftieth anniversary was March 2, 2009.)


My time at Mount Zion began on April 18, 1955 which was the forty-ninth anniversary of the Great Quake and Fire and the date of Albert Einstein’s death. I was assigned to the dish room in the kitchen, working the cleanup from all three meals. The small chamber with limited ventilation contained a huge, thunderous, steam belching machine – it was the ante-chamber to Hell. I learned a lot about the social workings of people in such agonizing situations and came to have deep respect for their way of dealing with hopeless lives and prospects. Some time I will try to describe the people and how they lived in another post.

After about a year I was “promoted” to manager of the employees’ cafeteria which was in the basement down the hall from the kitchen. As manager I was really a fill-in for all the other employees when they had their days off or were absent for sickness or whatever. Leo would come in and shout down the length of the service line, “Roger, who are you today?” and I would answer, “Charlie” or “Helen” or “Iola”.

In this position I became familiar not only with all the employees of hospital and all the residents and interns but also with nearly all the visiting medical staff. One oddity was that I grew to know all the medics names, mostly from the announcements over the PA system, and I knew all their faces from seeing them in the cafeteria but often did not know which name went with which face.

The job was just as dreary as the previous one, just not as physically punishing, so I did little things to lighten the atmosphere. Sometimes, when I was Charlie, the cashier, I would paste little bulletins on the side of the cash register designed to pull medical legs. In one case I wrote “Proctology is not a medical specialty, it is a point of view” (this in the best tradition of medical humor which is often fairly crude, especially for proctology; for example, “what is the definition of a proctoscope?” “a long tube with an asshole at either end”; some others: “what’s the difference between an enzyme and a hormone? An enzyme is quiet”; a variant on that is, “what is the definition of a hormone? if you can make one you don’t need one”).

Once, after Terry and I had made a Sunday visit, our first, to the Stanford University campus, the old main building of which I thought uncommonly ugly, I made up a mock petition filled with whereas-es asserting that the school was a depressant of local property values, an aesthetic atrocity, a blight on the landscape and so on, followed by a be-it-resolved that the buildings be torn down forthwith. I put this on a clip-board and the next day that I was Helen (steam-table server) I handed it to each doctor coming through. Most took it in the right spirit, some even agreeing, but to my surprise some thought it was serious. Many of the psychiatric residents had some connection with Stanford (they “did” women and children at Mt. Zion and did men at the VA hospital in Palo Alto which served as a Stanford teaching hospital) and one of them, after reading the petition said, “Are you crazy!?”, which still breaks me up (psychiatrists are not supposed to use that word).

Bert Feinstein Returns:  A year or so after I started working at Mt. Zion an excited buzz went through all the halls with people in all sorts of jobs telling others “Bert is back – go to the Post Street side of the hospital”. I did as instructed and found what seemed to be the entire staff on the steps and the sidewalks with much laughing and chattering going on. It was a remarkable sight: the entire block of Post Street between Scott and Divisadero had been cleared of cars and the traffic blocked and there, in the middle of the street, in the middle of the block, was a fire-engine-red Mercedes 300SL with its gull-wing doors up.

A 1955 Mercedes 300SL

A 1955 Mercedes 300SL

The background to this incident to the best of my recollection was this. Bert loved cars. He was steeped in the 1950s English sports car craze, little plaid peaked cap, long scarf wrapped around the neck, the whole bit, but he didn’t drive a trite MG, he had an Aston Martin convertible.

A 1954 Aston-Martin covertible driven by Tippi Hedren on a street in Bodega Bay in Hitchcock's "The Birds"

A 1954 Aston-Martin covertible driven by Tippi Hedren on a street in Bodega Bay in Hitchcock’s “The Birds”

Bert had converted from his previous profession, experimental neurology, to neurosurgery under a famous master in Sweden (see the Ben Libet pages at the end of this post). A short time before I started at Mt. Zion Bert was sent on a federal grant back to Sweden to learn about their continuous monitoring neurosurgery suites. At the time there was only one like it in the United States, at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Bert learned about the design, construction and operation of the facility and the neurosurgical methods that were required for its use. This surgery was then constructed at Mt Zion. The entire facility was mounted on springs to protect it from earthquakes and more ordinary vibrations. It had a separate monitoring room where a technician observed the readouts from a number of diagnostic instruments and relayed his findings to the surgeon – a very advanced facility in its time.

Bert had a partner in his practice at that time named Grant Levin. The story goes that Grant said to Bert when he left for Sweden, “Don’t you dare come back without bringing me a chick-wagon like yours” (Bowdlerization provided by the author) – hence the scene at the beginning of this section.

Grant Levin (in Army uniform - from a WW II photograph)

Grant Levin (in Army uniform – from a WW II photograph)

There is one small incident involving myself and Bert that sticks in my memory. The medical staff at Mt. Zion was broadly divided into two large groups, an older, politically and medically conservative set and their younger, liberal opposition. The big face-off came every year with the election of the Chief of Staff. The hospital hosted a medical staff dinner and the voting followed dessert. On the occasion in question, after years of frustration, one of the young liberal group, Jack Gordon (an internist and my own primary), won the seat. Although Bert was older than most of the liberals, he was firmly with them. That night I was working swing shift and came across Bert in the hallway. He was carrying a paper cup of whiskey, spilling a little, and was, as they say, feeling no pain (this calls to mind all the old burlesque routines of the brain surgeon with a hangover). He raised his cup as in a toast and said, “See? Once in a while the good guys can win”.

The Middle

{In the process of trying to fill in the gaps and correct the errors of my previous account of the 1958 Democratic campaign for Atorney General I learned several disconcerting things in adition to how erroneous my account was. First the transcripts from the State’s oral history interviews for Mosk, O’Brien and Zirpoli almost seem to be about different sets of events. Mosk doesn’t mention O’Brien in remembering the campaign; O’Brien doesn’t mention Leo and Zirpoli also doesn’t mention Charles. This has more to do wih the vagaries of memory (and, perhaps, some clandestine motives) than anything else. In addition to those frustrations, there is a baffling lack of documentation about the ’58 AG campaign everywhere. When I am able to produce a more coherent account I will update this section.}

From the days of Hiram Johnson, almost from the inception of direct primaries in California, the rules had allowed candidates to cross-file, that is, run on several parties’ tickets without even stating their own party affiliation. As things worked out, from 1940s on this arrangement favored the Republicans. Earl Warren won three terms starting in 1942 running as both a Democrat and a Republican and Goody Knight did the same for the election of 1954. The Democrats had gotten comfortable with Republicans running on their ticket because the Republicans tacitly surrendered the Attorney General’s election to the Democrats.

In 1959, after the election, cross-filing was finally ended.

Stanley Mosk
Charles was selected to run Mosk’s campaign in Northern California, a job for which he was preeminently qualified not only by his Harvard Law degree but also by his Boston ward politics schooling – there was no greater master than James Curley. Leo put in a lot of time, effort and a knack for politics, pretty much co-leading with Charles in San Francisco. One of their practices for garnering both votes and funds was the old-fashioned coffee klatsch in supporters’ homes. As often as possible, Mosk would make an appearance and give a five minute speech at these affairs. I went to only one, at the Dardarians’ Allston Way house. Bert was there adding his charm and enthusiasm (and, I might add, good looks) to the mix, which I believe he did quite a few times. I do not know if Diane was there – she very well could have been.

Stanley Mosk

Stanley Mosk

Charles and his Southern California counterpart must have done an excellent job: Stanley Mosk won by the largest margin of any state level contest in the entire United States that year.

Now I do not know this for a fact – that is, no one has told me this was how things went – but it seems likely. I believe Bert and Diane became well acquainted during the campaign. Of course, they probably moved in several other common circles: Jewish High Society, which is very influential in San Francisco; medical groups (her father was a prominent surgeon at UCSF), supporters of Mt. Zion and the SF Symphony and so on. In any event, she divorced Jack Berman in 1960 and married Bert in 1962.

Charles was appointed Deputy Attorney General for Northern California by Mosk and later became Chief Deputy Attorney General.


Leo left Mt. Zion a year or two later and started a food and liquor service consultancy (imitating my then father-in-law, Richard Flambert whose firm Flambert and Flambert was well-known). One of the biggest contracts Leo landed was with Leonard Martin developing The Cannery. Leo was in charge of designs and installations not only for the several restaurants but other food merchants as well. In the course of this he became involved with a young French woman who was opening a kitchen supplies store. This led to separation and divorce.

Marianne went back to teaching, this time English at the high school level. I don’t remember whether this was before or after the break-up. One of her assignments was to McClymonds High School in Oakland, a school filled with tough, demoralized black kids. She viewed her job as helping her students break out of the confines society and background had built around them. She felt that mastery of standard middle-American speech was essential to those ends. In other words, she anticipated the Ebonics controversy, which centered on this very school, by thirty years. She also believed there was no point in pussy-footing with her kids – they needed straight talk and they respected her for giving it to them. She wrote across the top of the front blackboards “People who aks for a job don’t get it!”

The last time I spoke to Marianne and Leo was from her hospital bed in Mt. Zion. She was to undergo a biopsy the next morning on a lump in one of her breasts. Marianne’s mother had survived breast cancer for some years at that point and I guess we all felt she would too (the girls called their Evans grandparents Noc and Papa – I don’t know where that came from).

I guess Leo was there to provide some sort of support – I believe he was living with (married to?) the French woman by then. I was angry with Leo for his shabby treatment of Marianne (still am). His business was not going well at the time and I rubbed it in a little. He told me to do something to myself that I don’t think is possible. Those were the last words we exchanged.

Marianne woke up the next day after the surgery having undergone a radical mastectomy. I don’t know if her doctors had deliberately misled her about what was likely to happen or that she simply misunderstood what was possibly going to happen or that it was unforeseen by the doctors as well. In any case she was shocked, horrified, felt betrayed and was furious. She discharged the surgeon and, with the support of her primary, refused follow up radiation treatment (I should note that I know the names of all the doctors involved but see no point in offering them).

All of this was going on at about the time Barbara, Alex and I had moved to Bolinas and I started a daily commute to Berkeley. We lost touch with all of the Dardarians. About a year later Barbara was taking one of her customary walks with her dog across a pastureland belonging to the original Niman-Schell ranch on her way to Agate Beach when she bumped into Wendy coming back from the beach. Wendy tearfully told Barbara that Marianne had died a year before, two months before her forty-second birthday. What an awful loss!

Leo and his new wife moved to Southern California where he started his consultancy anew. I heard somewhere that he was involved in the creation of Spago but that doesn’t seem possible chronologically. Around 1980 Barbara said she saw Leo in Stinson Beach, but I now think she was mistaken, that it was somebody else who seemed to resemble Leo. Marianne and Leo had one of the early houses in the Seadrift development which was for a time the northernmost one on the sandspit. Perhaps that property remained his. Some recent searching on the Web revealed that Leo was divorced from Jeaniene, his French wife, and that he died a month before his fifty-sixth birthday in 1982. His father, Sarkis, born in 1901, outlived him by 12 years. I don’t know the cause but when I knew him he smoked too much and drank too much, factors that could very well have played a part.

The last time I saw Bert was in the small parking lot of the small neighborhood Safeway (yes, they existed) that I think was between Lyon and Presidio on California (?). At that time Bert and Diane were living a couple of blocks up from us on Lyon, around Washington or Jackson. The very nice house had belonged to one of them prior to their marriage – I think it was hers. Diane had not yet been elected to the SF Board of Supervisors so I think the date was around 1967 or 8.

Bert was a very happy man at that time. As I have said, Bert loved cars and he was the proud owner of a mid-1930s coffee-colored Rolls Royce, with  very unusual wicker work on the sides, he brought home from England – which was right there in the supermarket lot. He went on and on about the glories of the car.

I haven't been able to find a picture of a Rolls just like Bert's - his was "regular" Phantom (not open in the front) with the basket-work on both front and rear doors.

I haven’t been able to find a picture of a Rolls just like Bert’s – his was “regular” Phantom (not open in the front) with the basket-work on both front and rear doors.

He also went on and on about the glories of his wife, how brilliant she was, how talented, how dedicated to her career and that she would go far (he got that right), how beautiful, etc., etc., etc. They had been married five or six years by that time and he sounded like they were still on their honeymoon. Seven or eight years later he was diagnosed with colon cancer and two agonizing years after that he died.

About five years or so ago Diane and husband Richard Blum and her daughter Katherine, herself a Superior Court judge like her father, were in a local restaurant in Stinson Beach, where they had (have?) a Seadrift weekend house, when Barbara and I were there. I went up to their table and out of the blue asked the Senator “Do you remember Marianne Dardarian?” She looked nonplused for a second (well, wouldn’t you be?) and then said, “I certainly do.”

Postscripts and footnotes

If you have been paying attention, you might have noticed a curious omission: there is no photograph of Bert Feinstein. The explanation is simple enough – I haven’t been able to find one, not a one anywhere. Apart from being frustrating to the point of infuriation it is also very baffling. How could anyone who became as famous in San Francisco as he did (he even conducted a brain surgery, live, on KQED television) not appear somewhere on the Web? Let me know if you know of one.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Obituary for Charles O’Brien

Charles O’Brien, prominent S.F. lawyer, dies
      Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, September 7, 2008

      Charles O’Brien, a longtime San Francisco lawyer who was second in command at the state attorney general’s office in the 1960s and narrowly lost an election for attorney general in 1970, died at his Danville home Thursday, two days after he turned 83.

      Mr. O’Brien, born in Lawrence, Mass., enlisted in the Army at 17 and was  an infantry machine gunner in World War II, where he earned five European theater battle stars and a Purple Heart. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and took part in the liberation of Nazi concentration camps, family members said.

      After the war, he graduated with honors from Harvard College, got his law degree from Harvard and began a law practice with a San Francisco firm in 1954. He joined the attorney general’s office in 1959 and stayed through   1970, leaving for brief stints as a top aide to Gov. Pat Brown in 1961 and     campaign manager for Attorney General Stanley Mosk’s re-election in 1962.

      Mr. O’Brien served as chief deputy attorney general under Mosk and Thomas Lynch, who became attorney general after Brown appointed Mosk to the state Supreme Court in 1964.

      Mr. O’Brien was the Democratic candidate to succeed Lynch in 1970, but  lost to Republican Evelle Younger by 86,000 votes out of more than 6.2 million votes cast. Mr. O’Brien campaigned against Nixon administration measures to expand police search and detention powers.

      As a state lawyer, Mr. O’Brien led the legal team against Chevron in a       suit over cleanup costs for the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, said his son       Brennan O’Brien. He also advocated gun control and warned in a 1969 speech that the nation would become an “armed camp” unless would-be campus revolutionaries were persuaded that change was possible within the law.

      After his defeat, Mr. O’Brien returned to private legal practice with his       own small law firm, where he remained until his retirement in 2004. He was the attorney for physicians who founded the Doctors Co., which became one of the nation’s largest doctor-owned providers of medical malpractice insurance, his son said. He said his father also helped to draft landmark California legislation in 1975 that limited doctors’ liability for malpractice.

      He also became a breeder of Arabian horses on a Gilroy ranch.

      In 1954, Mr. O’Brien married Marie Fox, a Radcliffe honors graduate and  schoolteacher whom he had known since the eighth grade. He is   survived by his wife, sons Devin O’Brien of Moraga and Brennan O’Brien of Wallnut Creek, daughter Erin O’Brien of San Jose, and nine grandchildren.

This article appeared on page B – 6 of the San Francisco Chronicle

The Wikipedia entry for the California Democratic Party has this on the end of cross-filing:

Near the end of the Warren era in California, a measure passed requiring cross-filing candidates to list their party affiliations passed. This enabled the Democratic Party to reclaim its nominating process and Democratic registration increased. At about the same time, Democratic activists were organizing into clubs and the powerful association of these clubs, the California Democratic Council (CDC) was formed. Consequently, in 1958, the California Democratic Party rode back into power. The Party captured a United States Senate seat, control of both state houses, and all executive offices except the Secretary of State. Victory that year is often credited to the decline in cross-filing, the power of the CDC, and the personal popularity of the newly-elected Governor, Edmund G. “Pat” Brown.

In 1959, a law to prohibit cross-filing was adopted. The Democratic Party swept the 1962 elections, with Pat Brown being re-elected Governor over former Vice President Richard Nixon.

Feinstein excerpts from  Neurophysiology of Consciousness  By Benjamin Libet: 






An Arthur Krock NY Times article on the national significance of the California primaries:






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