Charles Webb: 1939-2020

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Our Dinner with Charles

Regarding the death, on June 16, of Charles Webb, 81, talented and enigmatic author of The Graduate.

Charles was in England when he died, where he and his wife, Fred, had lived until her death in 2019.

What may not be well known is that this unique couple, who repeatedly eschewed the trappings, financial and otherwise, of their affluent families, and, especially, the fruits of Charles’s celebrity, also had some history in Santa Barbara and Carpinteria.

The obituary for Charles Webb yesterday in the New York Times said, as was often said, that he grew up in Pasadena. That’s not quite true. His family actually lived in South Pasadena, a separate city, just south, not surprisingly, of Pasadena.

I know this because my brothers and I grew up in that same town. My brother David, one year older than Charles’s younger brother Sidney, was a teammate of Sidney’s on the South Pasadena High School tennis team.

My mother, in her protracted battle with cancer, was treated by Charles and Sidney’s father, Dr. Richard Webb, and she adored him. Some years later, my sister-in-law, Louise, felt ill and remembered my mother’s words, and she, too, sought his care. He diagnosed the minor kidney problem that was ailing her, and, in the process, also diagnosed her major pregnancy. (There’s no such thing as a minor pregnancy, is there?) This was the first that she and Dave learned of the coming of their first child, Kara.

Fast-forward 25-plus years to the early 1990s: I now lived in Santa Barbara with my wife, Nancy, and our children, and Dave and Louise lived, as they still do, in Carpinteria with their children.

At that time, I worked for Homes for People, a nonprofit housing developer in Santa Barbara, a wonderful job for a wonderful organization. My colleague, Joann Miller, informed me that I would be meeting a couple who hoped to become homeowners through our program — Charles Webb and his wife, Eve, who went by the name Fred. We had a very pleasant meeting in which I explained how our program worked. Living in the Motel 6 in Carpinteria at the time, they were quite interested. Ultimately, they were not able to become owners in one of the Homes for People projects.

We also shared some enjoyable conversation about Charles’s creation of an American cultural icon, as well as our shared history in South Pasadena and the relationship his father had had with some of our family.

Meanwhile, in Carpinteria, the Webbs attended a demonstration opposing the expansion of the oil company Venoco, also attended by Dave and Louise, at which David spoke. Afterward, Charles approached Dave to express his appreciation of his comments. They quickly identified the various threads, geographical and personal, connecting our families.

The two couples became good friends, and over time they touched on the estranged relationship that had developed between Charles and Sidney. Somehow, Charles expressed an interest in reconnecting with his brother, and asked Dave and Louise if they would host a dinner for them to get together. They eagerly agreed, and not long afterward Sidney and his sons, David and Tom, came to Carpinteria for this occasion, to which I was also invited.

It was a very sweet event. I don’t know how they had become so distant, but on that evening, there was a wonderful affection expressed among all of them, and in that moment, at least, they were truly joyful in being close again. I don’t know what the longer-term course of this relationship was, but it was certainly a great pleasure for all the Moores to share that evening with them.

The only disappointment I am struggling with is the inability to put my hands on a print of one of the photographs I took that evening of these five Webbs reunited. Perhaps at another time.

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