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October 03, 2013
  • "Tales of Naughty Newport" by Judge Robert Gardner
"Tales of Naughty Newport" by Judge Robert… (Daily Pilot )

Naughty Newport

By Judge Robert Gardner

Newport Beach Historical Society Press; 181 pages

To place Judge Robert Gardner's book "Naughty Newport" in context, we can start by looking up "naughty" in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. That online source lists the archaic meaning of the word as "vicious in moral character," but the modern definitions as "guilty of disobedience or misbehavior" and "lacking in taste or propriety." In short, as negative adjectives go, naughty is pretty nice.

Likewise, "Naughty Newport," which the Newport Beach Historical Society released this year, doesn't offer the kind of scandal that an alliteratively titled book about a rowdier city — "Lecherous London," maybe, or "Chagrined Chicago" — might provide.

Leafing through this book, you'll find the occasional loose woman or bare-knuckle brawl, but mostly, it evokes a gentler time and place, one where kids learned their business acumen with improvised summer jobs and a local fisherman repaid a judge's kindness with a fresh lobster every Christmas.


"Naughty Newport" — I'm using the title as it appears on the spine and in press materials; the cover prints it as the mouthful "Tales of Naughty Newport Not to Mention Balboa Island, Corona del Mar and Maybe Even Lido Isle" — follows Gardner's "Bawdy Balboa," which came out two decades ago. The author, who died in 2005, completed "Newport" several years before his death, and his daughter, Councilwoman Nancy Gardner, copyrighted it in 2001. (She contributes some of the book's chapters as well.)

The elder Gardner was 93 when he died, which means that his recollections extend quite a ways back. It's almost a shock, in 2013, to read a newly published memoir that touches on the days of silent films and Prohibition.

While the book mostly aims for humor, it pauses at times to simply capture the flow of life — particularly in Nancy Gardner's chapters, which unpretentiously recount her school days and childhood love of horses — and to trace the history of Newport as its disparate neighborhoods meld into a city.

I didn't laugh out loud many times during "Naughty Newport," but I smiled often — the kind of relaxed smile that comes with anecdotes told over beer and chips, maybe on a patio overlooking the harbor.

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