I somehow missed the cultural phenomenon known as Beverly Hills, 90210 when it first aired in 1990. My good friend Bart Leopold told me Gabrielle Carteris, one of the show’s stars, was his babysitter during the Seventies in Greenbrae. This gave me an excuse to check out the teen soap opera years later in reruns. It’s embarrassing to admit it (even today) but… well, I got a little hooked.
Carteris played “Andrea,” a bespectacled over-achiever and editor of her high school newspaper who lies about her address so she can attend the show’s prestigious West Beverly Hills High School. In reality, Carteris graduated from Redwood High School in 1979 and was 29 when the show began. Yes, kinda old for a high school kid…but reality was never one of 90210’s strong suits. (As I recall, West Beverly High students were pampered with campus valet parking.)
I asked Carteris if her friends at Redwood and her experience growing up in Greenbrae, 94904 was anything like the fantasy world and characters of Beverly Hills, 90210.
“No, not at all,” she says. “”I had a secondhand used Toyota Corolla. My parents were divorced and my mom raised my brother and I. I worked in the summers and after school. I definitely didn’t have that (90210) experience — although I did have a boyfriend who had a Corvette. He was like the ‘cool dude’.” (The Luke Perry of Larkspur, no doubt.)
As a child, Carteris went to Wolfe Grade School (now Bacich Elementary) in Kentfield and lived on Los Cerros in Greenbrae. She still has vivid memories of playing in the hills around her home in “The Forest,” an undeveloped wooded area at the bottom of Los Cerros. “We used to sleep out in The Forest,” she remembers, “And we’d get a big green plastic boat and ride it down the hill like a toboggan until we put a hole in the boat and got brown underwear from all the dirt.”
Suddenly, a flood of memories seems to overtake Carteris as she begins rattling them off quickly as though they might soon disappear:
“I remember when Petrini’s still existed (at the Bon Air Shopping Center) and the local drug store was there,” she says. “The biggest shopping center at the time was Larkspur Landing. I remember when they built it.”
“It was so different growing up then,” she says. “We could ride our bikes and be gone all day. We used to go on hikes at Phoenix Lake all the time.” Laughing, she recalls sneaking onto the floating logs atop Phoenix Lake, first attempting to balance and then purposely falling into the water.
“It’s a reservoir and you’re not supposed to do that,” she says. “We’d tell (the rangers) we didn’t know…”
After high school, Carteris moved to New York to study acting and then relocated to LA. She has been back to Marin numerous times over the years and says, “It’s so different (today) with all these malls. It blows my mind. It was just a different kind of place (when I was growing up).”
On one trip back to Larkspur several years ago, Carteris served as the Commencement Speaker at a Redwood
High School graduation ceremony. She focused part of her speech on one particular Redwood teacher, Tino
Lavezzo, who had taught her in the Seventies and greatly inspired her. “Everybody says there’s one teacher who leaves a mark for you,” she says. He was that teacher. I absolutely loved him.”
While many students in the audience were likely excited to have a celebrity speaker at their graduation, Carteris was moved for a different reason. As coincidence would have it, Mr. Lavezzo was in the audience that day and it was his retiring year.
“It was really an exciting time for me to be able to tell him how much I loved him,” she says, remembering how she grew very emotional while delivering her speech. The students, also enormous fans of Mr. Lavezzo, erupted in a standing ovation.
Today, Carteris is married with children and still lives in Southern California.