"Tales of Naughty Newport" by Judge Robert Gardner (Daily Pilot / October 3, 2013)

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Naughty Newport

By Judge Robert Gardner

Newport Beach Historical Society Press; 181 pages

To place Judge Robert Gardner's book "Naughty Newport" in context, we can start by looking up "naughty" in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. That online source lists the archaic meaning of the word as "vicious in moral character," but the modern definitions as "guilty of disobedience or misbehavior" and "lacking in taste or propriety." In short, as negative adjectives go, naughty is pretty nice.

Likewise, "Naughty Newport," which the Newport Beach Historical Society released this year, doesn't offer the kind of scandal that an alliteratively titled book about a rowdier city — "Lecherous London," maybe, or "Chagrined Chicago" — might provide.

Leafing through this book, you'll find the occasional loose woman or bare-knuckle brawl, but mostly, it evokes a gentler time and place, one where kids learned their business acumen with improvised summer jobs and a local fisherman repaid a judge's kindness with a fresh lobster every Christmas.

"Naughty Newport" — I'm using the title as it appears on the spine and in press materials; the cover prints it as the mouthful "Tales of Naughty Newport Not to Mention Balboa Island, Corona del Mar and Maybe Even Lido Isle" — follows Gardner's "Bawdy Balboa," which came out two decades ago. The author, who died in 2005, completed "Newport" several years before his death, and his daughter, Councilwoman Nancy Gardner, copyrighted it in 2001. (She contributes some of the book's chapters as well.)

The elder Gardner was 93 when he died, which means that his recollections extend quite a ways back. It's almost a shock, in 2013, to read a newly published memoir that touches on the days of silent films and Prohibition.

While the book mostly aims for humor, it pauses at times to simply capture the flow of life — particularly in Nancy Gardner's chapters, which unpretentiously recount her school days and childhood love of horses — and to trace the history of Newport as its disparate neighborhoods meld into a city.

I didn't laugh out loud many times during "Naughty Newport," but I smiled often — the kind of relaxed smile that comes with anecdotes told over beer and chips, maybe on a patio overlooking the harbor.

The book has one uproarious chapter, though, in which the Gardners catalog the eccentric lifeguards who oversaw the beach throughout the years. One had such poor eyesight that bystanders had to shout directions to help him reach swimmers; one insisted on rescuing beachgoers whether they needed it or not; another simply relaxed and let the swimmers struggle to shore on their own.

This chapter would make wonderful fodder for a screenplay.

If so, perhaps it would be a nonfiction movie, and perhaps not. Nancy Gardner, in the afterward, acknowledges that she can't vouch for the truth of all the preceding pages and that her father was fond of saying, "Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story."

In terms of finessing the facts, just how naughty is this book? We may never know. But any volume willing to dedicate an entire page to the statement "Nothing very interesting ever happened on Lido Isle" probably isn't stretching too much.

*

Henry T. Segerstrom: The Courage of Imagination and the Development of the Arts in Southern California

By Bonnie Rychlak

Assouline Publishing; 128 pages

If "Naughty Newport" is a lightweight look at history, "Henry T. Segerstrom: The Courage of Imagination and the Development of the Arts in Southern California" is as heavy as they come.

I don't mean that the subject matter is somber — I mean that the book itself is heavy. When I casually pulled my review copy out of the huge delivery bag it came in, I used only one arm and nearly toppled over. Perhaps I should read more epic Tom Clancy novels to hone my literary biceps.

"Segerstrom," which is available for sale for $150 at Assouline in South Coast Plaza, weighs in at about 8 pounds and measures 14 1/2 by 17 1/2 inches. Only a fraction of it is text, though, with a few short chapters on Segerstrom's life and career and the rest devoted to lavish photographs of the legacy — sculptures, buildings, gardens — that he's left in Orange County.

That legacy, rather than the man himself, is the focus of the book; anyone seeking an intimate portrait of the subject will have to venture elsewhere.

For residents who hear Segerstrom mentioned now and then but know little about him, Rychlak's history will amount to a shock of institutional name-dropping. South Coast Plaza, South Coast Repertory, the Orange County Museum of Art, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts — yes, each one of them has a firm connection to the man whom the book quotes as saying, "Maybe the synonym for stubborn is determined."

That's one of the more offhand quotes in the book, which is formal to the point of often referring to its subject as "Henry T. Segerstrom" instead of simply a first or last name. Unlike some wildly successful entrepreneurs — Donald Trump, say — Segerstrom hasn't developed a media persona to compete for attention with his accomplishments. We can judge him by his works, and the images in "Segerstrom," more than anything, allow us to do that.

A few pictures show a thoughtful-looking Segerstrom, but for the most part, the book favors unpeopled shots of places: the undulating exterior of the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, the reflection-heavy lobby of the Park Tower, an Andy Warhol-like shot of identical red audience chairs stretching out of frame. It amounts to an impressive resume, and it's likely to last long after we — and Henry T. Segerstrom — have passed on.

—Michael Miller