When scarecrow creators Loree Parral and husband Walt Andrus arrived for their interview on Moonstone Drive, Monday, Sept. 23, the sun’s direct rays — and those shimmering off the steel blue Pacific — were so blinding you removed sunglasses at your own peril.
But they agreed to go sans eye protection for a photo with their “Last Ride” skeleton scarecrow on a surfboard (at the entrance to the Little Sur Inn), closing eyes until the photographer counted down from three.
Once the interview moved to the shady benches beside the Sea Chest parking lot, the reporter learned that the talented two are retired Hollywood professionals: Loree, a costume/wardrobe designer, and Walt, a camera operator/cinematographer — mainly in television.
Indeed, as part of the team on the “Lou Grant” television series, even with their eyes and minds wide open, Loree and Walt could not have forecast that 30-plus years later they would embrace the imaginative endeavor of scarecrow-building.
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Nor could they have known that they would fall in love and in 1996 be wedded on a gorgeous piece of open space about 215 miles north of Hollywood, known today as the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.
Asked how many were on hand for the seaside nuptials, Loree smiled and said there were five: a local minister, the bride and groom, and two sea otters (witnessing from the waves just below the ceremony).
While employed on the “Lou Grant” production team in the early 1980s, they rode an old studio-owned school bus each workday at 4:45 a.m. to the location where the shoot would take place.
“We started sitting together and chatting,” Loree explained. “Then we went to lunch, and that was it.”
But why get married in Cambria — and why on the Fiscalini Ranch? Lorre’s parents had brought her to Cambria as a girl, so she had a fondness for this setting. Walt had also been charmed by this little community with its inspired culture, Monterey pine forest, stunning ocean vistas and healthful environment.
But before deciding on Cambria, the couple scoured the entire West Coast of the U.S. — driving as far north as Vancouver and back to Southern California on three occasions — in search of the picture-perfect place to retire and settle in.
“Cambria just seems to have it all,” soft-spoken Walt explained. “The weather’s perfect, the scenery, the nearby resources that we’ll probably need someday — and in the 21⁄2 years we’ve been here, my cholesterol is down 30 points.”
Prior to last year’s festival, Loree had never been around scarecrows, albeit she “decided what people wore” on the Hollywood sets she worked, including “L.A. Law,” “Ally McBeal,” “Boston Law,” “The Practice,” “The Mentalist,” “Remington Steele,” “Doogie Howser, M.D.” and “Picket Fences,” among others.
In those TV shows, Loree “did a lot of suits, but I never dressed a scarecrow,” she laughed, pointing out the strategy she employed in dressing their skeleton scarecrow in a shredded wetsuit.
Upon returning to his office following the interview, a simple Google search directed the reporter’s attention to the particulars of the couple’s Hollywood careers: She won two Primetime Emmys and was nominated for nine others. Her Emmy statues were awarded for “Outstanding Individual Achievement in Costuming for a Series” for the TV show “Picket Fences” in 1994 and 1995.
Boom, the scarecrow logic sank in: If Loree provided costuming services at the highest level of entertainment for 477 television shows (source: IMDb), winning a pair of Emmys in the process, her creative competency when outfitting scarecrows comes as no surprise.
To wit, the couple’s “Sea Shaman” scarecrow (at the Allied Arts Building) is decked out in a mystical, madcap theme: it is windswept, salt-encrusted, peppered with flotsam and jetsam, wide-eyed, mysterious and frankly exceptional.
Their third scarecrow presentation is “A Walk in the Park” (a dog and a bird), also at the museum.
Walt, meanwhile, is credited with camera work and cinematography for numerous films and television shows such as “Sisters,” “Judging Amy,” “Hyperion Bay,” “Murder One” and “The Sopranos,” among many others. He also used his camera skills on the noted 1979 documentary “The Late Great Planet Earth” starring Orson Welles.
Speaking of Walt, little could he have known when he and Loree were married on what is now the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, that 17 years later, he would be serving on the Friends of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve (FFRP) Board of Directors. Nor could Loree have foreseen becoming active in FFRP fundraising, including helping with the Great Kitchens of Cambria Tour, among other activities.
“The Ranch is a very powerful place,” Loree made clear. “It is important to us, really important to us.”
“It’s a very special place,” Walt offered. “It’s a gem.”
But then so are their scarecrows — and so is the Scarecrow Festival. And while we’re on the subject of gems, so too is Cambria-by-the-Sea.