All right, how's this for a new TV series? A family of clean-living, close-cropped, superathletic beautiful people living in Southern California, in contrast to all those degraded hippies and degenerate Hollywood types. Dad was All-America in college—basketball and soccer, let's say—and then played pro ball (get this) while earning a medical degree in pediatrics. Mom is a former Miss America who was also a swimming star and a Broadway show girl, a blonde version of Esther Williams, you know, with that swish-swish backstroke style and that haughty but healthy bod. Mr. and Mrs. All-America. And they have these four groovy kids, two boys and two girls, all of them ultra bright students and kiddie superstars in any sport they try. The kids have those kookie-cutesie names—Kiki and Tauna and Heather and Br�k—and because their daddy, the doc, thinks America's teachers have gone soft on physical education, he sets up his own private school and day camp, and he concocts his own supervitamins for young athletes and is even writing a medical manual for juvenile sports—a sort of Spock for the jock. Then this hippie moves into their backyard....
Well, here the plot breaks down, for there is no hippie in the backyard of the Vandeweghe home at 275 Bentley Circle, Bel Air, Calif. Just a long-haired Irish setter named Sidney, a flower child only in that he eats the gardenias whenever he's left alone. In every other astonishing particular, though, the scene is as described above. Not that any Vandeweghe (which rhymes with Mandalay) would have the time to star on a TV series. They're all far too busy.
Dr. Ernest Maurice Vandeweghe Jr., formerly of Colgate and the New York Knickerbockers, spends 11 hours a day with his pediatric practice at the Prairie Avenue Medical Group, in which he became a partner eight years ago, near the Los Angeles International Airport. Ernie devotes the rest of his time to education (the Carl Curtis School, which he bought for his kids in 1964), day camping (All American Village in the canyons above Beverly Hills, which he founded in 1962, along with Jerry West, Don Drysdale and Les Richter), skiing (at Mammoth Peak, where he owns a large chalet) and sundry other sports, ranging from golf through water polo (at the Eldorado Country Club in Palm Desert, where he owns a modest $60,000 "cottage" just down the fairway from the one Dwight Eisenhower occupied).
At 40, Ernie is a brisk and bouncy 6'3�" by 204 pounds, with salt-and-pep-per hair topping a face frizzled in laugh wrinkles. Despite a torn cartilage in his left knee, which knocked him out of basketball in 1954 after five seasons with the Knicks, Ernie still has enough jump to harass a jackrabbit from horseback on the High Desert, drive a golf ball 300 yards, whip his eldest son at tennis (no mean feat, as you will see) or spike a volleyball down the throat of any contending teen-ager. Naturally, Ernie can still swish a basket from 30 feet with disgusting ease—and only a few years ago, while serving as medical consultant to the L.A. Lakers, whipped Rudy LaRusso (ex-Dartmouth) for the " Ivy League Championship of Los Angeles" in a casual shooting match. So much for dad.
Mom is Colleen Kay Hutchins Vandeweghe, 41, who was Miss America in 1952 before undertaking a short-lived acting career (Almanac on Broadway with Hermione Gingold,
Boston Blackie on the tube with Dick Kollmar). Colleen's major publicity during her "Miss A" year centered on her height (she stands 6'2" in her four-inch heels) and her intellectual prowess in a field that previously demanded none (she was studying for a master's in dramatics at the University of Utah at the time of her coronation). Of course, there were a few news hens who had to be catty about Colleen. Judith Crist, then a women's page reporter for the late New York Herald Tribune, wrote thusly: "Miss America of 1952, the nation's newest, biggest and oldest beauty queen to date, breakfasted with reporters at the Waldorf-Astoria yesterday and, in the true tradition, discussed men, marriage and her future—and wore a sweater." Colleen, who admitted to being (in Crist's phrase) "unmarried at the venerable age of 25," was already dating Ernie Vandeweghe, whom she'd met through her brother, Mel Hutchins of the Fort Wayne Pistons. They were married in 1953, and there went Colleen's acting career. She more than compensates by being an exemplary mother to four extraordinary kids. "I'm the activist," says Ernie, "and Colleen's the teacher. That's the way it should be with dads and moms." Colleen frankly admits that she prefers the tennis court to the kitchen but when in the mood can outcook the Henny Penny Chicken Parlor or garden with the greenest of thumbs (hers are longer than the thumbs of most men). A fervent Mormon and a bit of a mystic, she reads in the occult and practices the power of positive thinking. "You've got to have a commitment," she says. "Mine lies with my children.'
First among them is Kiki—actually Ernest Maurice Vandeweghe III, a name any self-respecting 10-year-old would abhor (shades of the prissy sissies the Katzenjammer Kids used to bug in the funny papers). Kiki got his nickname in Germany, where his dad served for 3� years in the Air Force as a medical officer and basketball coach near Wiesbaden. The name comes from the German kikilo, meaning cockscomb according to Colleen, and derives from infant Ernest's Afro hairdo during the days of his babyhood. Today Kiki would have nothing to do with anything Afro: watching the Mexico City Olympics last summer, he vowed that when (not if) he wins his gold medal he'll raise a white-gloved fist in challenge to Tommy Smith and John Carlos.
When (not if) Kiki wins his gold medal, it will be in swimming. It might have been in almost any other sport, but a year ago he sat down with his dad and they went over his talents, one by one by one by one, etc., and decided that he was farther ahead of his age group in his ability to "move water" than in anything else. In opting for swimming, Kiki chose perhaps the toughest of disciplines: long hours of arm-heavy laps in the practice pool, where the only view is a shadowy blue blur that may be another swimmer or one's own imagination; the greedy slap and gurgle of arms (reach, grab, recover, reach, as the late Matt Mann rationalized it); the ring around the eyeballs, endemic to the competitive swimmer, caused by chlorine, which makes the whole wide world glow with halos on the way home from practice. Kiki responds well to the discipline—better, in fact, than any other 10-year-old. During a Southern Pacific AAU meet he swam a 57.5-second race in the 100-yard freestyle at Cal State in Long Beach. He had broken the existing record earlier in the year with a 58.8, only to see it lowered by Scott Spann of Greenville, N.C. to 58.2. Kiki stands 5'4" tall, weighs 110 pounds and is growing in size and strength every day.
After Kiki comes Tauna, 9, named for the Taunus Mountains of West Germany, and No. 1 daughter in the Vandeweghe household, not only by virtue of age but by competitiveness. Indeed, Tauna may be the No. 1 Vandeweghe on that score. "She's something else," says Colleen. "After a swim meet she goes around and checks all the times—I mean all of them. 'Oh, I beat you by four seconds,' she tells one child. 'Two seconds for you,' to another. She's really something else." Beyond that, Tauna is as nubile a nymphet as you'll meet this side of Humbert's fancy. All blue eyes and sun-streaked hair, she is graced with legs as shapely as her mother's (her father's are crisscrossed with old soccer and basketball scars) and can charm any man in her presence—including Actor Randolph Scott, who has a nearby cottage at Eldorado. "It's interesting to see what kids want to be when they grow up," muses Ernie from beneath his pediatrician's hat. "Three of the kids want to be doctors, and one wants to be a movie star. Guess who?" Tauna, of course.
Then comes Heather, 7, a happy and husky little chick who demonstrates the independence common to third children. An ardent tree climber, bike rider, feeder of birds and catfish (the water hazards at Eldorado swarm with them), she much prefers to sleep in an old T shirt than in a nightgown. She's also an accomplished grapefruit snatcher. Eldorado is built on an ancient grapefruit orchard, and every morning the kids are sent out with golf clubs and baskets to harvest the day's breakfast. With her daddy's five-iron and a bit of a leap, Heather can snag sun-ripened grapefruit the way Bill Russell pulls down rebounds, catching them as they drop. They call her Heather-Feather, and she floats on the currents of the intrafamilial competition just as lightly as a tuft of goose down. In common with all of the Vandeweghe kids, she rides like an Indian, shoots a hard, straight game of golf and can hold her own with any of her peers on the tennis court. In the Cal State meet she won the 50-yard backstroke for 7- and 8-year-olds.
Lastly comes Br�k, 5, whose name is pronounced "Brook" but quickly mutates into Brooksie or Boogie. He's a remarkably well-adjusted last child in a family with such highly developed competitive skills. "Brooksie knows he can't beat any of the other kids just yet," says Ernie, "so he simply works hard at acquiring the skills and bides his time. He knows they can't keep growing forever and that he'll catch up." During a recent "breakfast ride" out of Smoketree Stables near Palm Springs, Brooksie showed the stuff of future victories. He'd drawn a mean-tempered horse that seemed to be practicing for the Calgary Stampede. It snorted, stamped, bared its choppers and sun-fished all over the desert. With the stirrups barely reaching the cinch buckle, the boy rode out the upheaval without once reaching for the saddle horn. "You know what?" he said later. "From now on this horse is a no-no."