In loving memory of my mother Anita Lundegaard Blichfeldt
August 8, 1925 – August 8, 2016
I grew up in the heart of Hollywood, just 150 feet north of Sunset Boulevard, across the street from the Chateau Marmont Hotel, in what was originally Agnes de Mille’s dance studio. I can say without hesitation that I did not have a typical childhood and I do have a story or two to tell.
I had a lovely friend who lived in the Chateau Marmont, Daisy Nichols. She and I shared a great sense of adventure and ran a string between her apartment and my home so that we could pass secret messages to one another. As I recall, she was on the fourth or fifth floor and that lined up just about right with my kitchen window.
The Chateau was our playground. I will never forget the occasion when the two of us stumbled into Robert De Niro’s apartment. Given the time frame, I am guessing he was in town to prepare for Raging Bull. We were playing some variation of hide, seek and explore. Usually, no one was in the penthouse and we knew all the secret ways to get in; but that day things did not go as planned, and there we were, horrified to actually be face to face with the tenant. He was grand about it, however, and just looked at us with a huge smile across his face (it told me something about him). It was Daisy’s mom who had to later explain whom we had transgressed upon.
Only a block away was The Source, the first celebrity health food restaurant on the planet, and the place where Woody Alan, as Alvy Singer, famously ordered “alfalfa sprouts and a plate of mashed yeast” in his film Annie Hall. It was owned by James Edward Baker the father of my schoolmate Bart Baker. He and I attended the local Waldorf (Rudolf Steiner) School my mother helped found.
Hollywood was actually a small town then, and growing up in it was definitely different; but, what made it different for me was not that everyone we knew was in the business, or that the Body Shop and the Whisky A Go Go were blocks away, but that we were different. My two brothers, two sisters and I were the offspring of the son of Montenegrin immigrants and the daughter of Norwegian classical music aristocracy; and my mother, Anita, though not a musician as her parents were, was a passionate, yet unremarked, figure at the forefront of everything alternative.
Anita explored world religions – every single one of them – in excruciating detail (we were Hindus for a spell). She was a vegetarian, used only homeopathic and herbal medicine, rejected chemicals anywhere in our lives, owned a Sanskrit English/English Sanskrit dictionary, read the I Ching with pleasure; and as I mentioned previously, helped found the first Waldorf (Rudolf Steiner) School in Southern California.
This is not unusual today, but she embarked on it in the 1950s.
I would like to say that I Namaste’d her every step of the way, but actually it was pretty painful, and I was mostly unhappy about it all. It was no social benefit to be the first family of alternative everything. Friends from my school were not allowed to have sleepovers with me because their parents worried that they would not survive a night without meat.
All I wanted was chocolate and a steak – and to fit in – but it was not to be. For years I resented my deprivation. I resented the grated apples, stewed prunes, brown rice, apple cider vinegar and milk compresses. I resented the discussion groups, meditations and mineral baths.
Admittedly, not everything was bad, I was devoted to my doctor, Sigfrid Knauer, a highly respected alternative physician, and now a legend. For some reason his approach to injecting (with needles) homeopathic remedies into the energy points of the body did not disturb me in the least, and I found my appointments with him to be the most peaceful moments of my childhood. I think it was him. He was such a clear energy in an often muddled movement. His wife, Indra Devi, Russian noblewoman, student of Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya and yoga teacher to Greta Garbo and Marilyn Monroe, was my yoga teacher from the age of 6.
As a child, I didn’t understand any of this. I didn’t realize who was touching my life. I didn’t realize how lucky I was. I just wanted to be normal and to eat tasty food. I wanted to stop having to hang out with all the different people.
When an issue hits your stomach and your social life simultaneously, things get rugged.
But, so much time has passed; I have walked in the shoes of a mother and am now reflecting on my story with the perspective of having lived a few not so simple years. In all honesty, upon looking back, I cannot thank my mother, Anita, enough for the wild ride she took me on. It was quite the exploration. She was unapologetically participating in the alternative movement before anyone had heard of it, before it had become associated with hippies and “commoners”. She was wearing glittering saris to cocktail parties before they were a twinkle in Elizabeth Taylor’s eye.
I realize now that no one knew what they were doing back in the day, but they were committed to figuring it out. And figure it out they did. At present, the alternative movement is a force to be reckoned with.
Admittedly I was a bit of a lab human, being made to try one thing after the other; but today I can say that I understand this business better than most. I was there when it took form in the United States, a country that does not take anything for granted, but tries everything on as if for the first time. I was there to benefit from all the mistakes, and I have more than profited from all of the successes.
My mother has made the transition now. I want to thank her for all the crazy she brought me and for giving me such a unique skill set, and to honor her memory by acknowledging the kind of spirit she embodied – that of courage, conviction, creativity and elegance; unafraid to embrace change and progress. And most importantly, unwilling to accept less than is possible.