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Winter 2004
Off the Wall
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Shot in 1976, it’s Baseman’s official photo from when he was on the Fairfax High School track team. Clad in running tank and shorts, he’s pale and spindly, small for his 16 years. But what you really notice is the hair — an enormous Leo Sayer-style Brillo pad that Baseman tried to pomade into submission with generally disappointing results. For Baseman, junior high and high school was one long bad-hair day.

"He’s very put together now, but back then he was a dork," Smolin says. "This whole thing of unobtainable beauty — that was a repeating pattern in his life. He would often fall in love with girls who would have no interest in him."

Baseman was born in 1960, the youngest of Ben and Naomi Baseman’s four children. His parents were Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust. (His father spent two-and-a-half years fighting with the Polish underground resistance in World War II.) In Los Angeles, the couple settled into the Fairfax-area fourplex where Baseman would grow up, less than a mile from where he lives today. Ben Baseman, now 88, was an electrician; Naomi, 82, was the head bakery salesperson at Canter’s deli for 35 years. Baseman says his parents instilled in him a strong work ethic and an appreciation for the American dream.

Baseman came along late in his parents’ lives. By the time he was 9, his siblings were mostly out of the house. Left to his own devices, the youngest Baseman started drawing, inspired by MAD magazine cartoonist Don Martin, as well as The Three Stooges, Warner Bros. cartoons and his beloved Marx Brothers.

"This is kind of nerdy and embarrassing to talk about," Smolin says, "but (in junior high) we had this book, Why a Duck?, that had stills from Marx Brothers movies. There were these bubble captions, and we used to perform them out loud at lunchtime in one little corner of the school. So when the girls were off hitting on guys, we’d be performing these little scenes."

 

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