I first interviewed Jule Lamm, one of Santa Monica’s most admired and respected residents, five years ago when he was just 93 years old. When Randy, Jules eldest son, recently asked his now 98-year-old father how he was doing, Jule giggled, “I’ll just keep going.” .)
As a transport pilot in New Guinea and the Philippines, Jules’ planes were often riddled with bullets, but miraculously, he was never hit. However, Jule has suffered severe cases of malaria and hepatitis and jokes: “The bullets never got me, but the mosquitoes never missed me.”
After the war, Jule attended UCLA and then Optometry School and earned his PhD in Optometry. He opened an office in Santa Monica and Culver City, but also graciously donated time treating economically disadvantaged patients. In addition, for many years he flew his own aircraft, including crew and materials, to remote areas of Mexico at his own expense to treat patients, including children, most of whom had never seen a doctor before.
Jules’ 98th birthday party took place on September 21st at his attractive home, attended by his three children, six grandchildren, other relatives and friends, some of whom had relationships dating back 40 years or more. Jules’ painful birthday wish was that he could continue to help others.
Jules Leben was born in Los Angeles in 1923 and is a living reminder of 20th century LA and Santa Monica, where he lived for the past 53 years. He and his beloved wife Judy had lived happily here for 57 years. Jule admitted emotionally: “The best day of my life is when Judy married me, the worst was when we lost her.” (Unfortunately, Judy passed away in 2013.)
Judy and Jule raised three wonderful and intelligent children, Randy, Brett, and Wendy, who all graduated from Santa Monica High School and College. (At Samohi, Randy even had a class with Bob Dylan’s daughter Maria.) In fact, the children grew up in the same house that Jule now lives in.
In the 1920s, Jule grew up in an area of Los Angeles now known as Echo Park, which overlooks the Chavez Gorge. A fascinating side note, because in difficult economic times Jules resourceful mother rented the floor of the house to the legendary modernist architect Richard Neutra.
The family lived across from Mickey Rooney, and Jule even attended one of Mickey’s lavish birthday parties. Jule was always energetic, curious, and inexplicably talented. In the middle school classes, he distinguished himself with skills that he would later even use to avert danger in World War II.
At the age of 12, Jule bought a Model A car for the whopping $ 7. With remarkable ingenuity, he restored the vehicle, converting it from gasoline to diesel, which was much cheaper at the time.
Even though he was near his home, he proudly drove it. Jule was an all-rounder and a master in many. As a little boy, Jule was fascinated by the new world of aviation. At the nearby Grand Central Air Terminal, he eagerly volunteered to clean the planes, including one that supposedly belonged to legendary aviator Amelia Earhart.
However, Jules youth came to an alarming end with the outbreak of World War II. Seventeen and deeply patriotic, Jule convinced his parents to join the Army Air Corps in the war to save world democracy. (A value that he still represents today.)
Jule and his family settled in Santa Monica because he and Randy often rode their bikes from WLA to the Santa Monica Pier. Blessed with an open-minded nature, one day Jule noticed Phil Hill, a famous racing driver from Santa Monica who was working on old Packard cars in his garage. The two talked amicably about how idyllic Santa Monica was and voila, the lamb clan soon made the move.
Skiing was one of Jules’ great interests, but there weren’t any ski lifts back then. A brave skier would be “dragged” by a car without tires. The rope would be wrapped around the wheel, and with the engine running, the wheel would spin and the skier clutching the rope would make his dangerous ascent. But nothing has Dr. Lamm ever put off, not even controversial political action.
In 1968, Jule joined Tom Bradley, Pat Brown and Ed Edelman to raise money for a subway under Wilshire, but the car lobby defeated them. As I mentioned, Jule’s life was supposed to be a book, but I ran out of space so please go to www.smdp.com and type in “Democracy is More Than Voting”.
Because they don’t like Jule Lamm anymore, I hope to be able to write about my girlfriend again next year. Knowing him as well as I do, I have the feeling that he humbly says, “I’m still doing this.” God bless Dr. Lamb.
Jack is at: facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth and [email protected]