HAWTHORNE, NJ - Hawthorne native and "Blondie" frontwoman Debbie Harry recently released her autobiography, Face It, which has been in stores since last fall.
Hawthorne has been home to several notable residents over the years, including TV actor Ivan Sergei, former Senator John Girgenti, former Giants running back Maurice Carthon, ESPN co-host Don La Greca, and Orange is the New Black actress Beth Fowler.
But none have ascended to the heights of 70's and 80's rock icon Debbie Harry.
TAPinto Hawthorne took a look at Face It to see if our town was mentioned and, if so, how she portrayed her early years and her impressions of growing up in our leafy suburb.
Harry didn't disappoint, using a fair amount of ink to give readers an idea of her views on our hometown.
"Hawthorne was the center of my universe back then," Harry recalls. "We never left."
Born in Miami, Harry's family moved to Hawthorne when she was very young. For the first five years of her life, Harry writes, she lived "in a little house on Cedar Avenue" by Goffle Brook Park. "When they'd cleared the land to build the park they'd built these temporary migrant worker houses - think two little railroad flats with no heating except for a potbelly stove." Harry's family eventually moved to Oak Place.
She wrote that she lived near the woods of the park, where she was told as a girl not to go into, describing "some scary folk skulking around in those bushes." She recalled the "abandoned shacks" with crumbling foundations along the brook and "swampy, old, overgrown, moldy piles of brick" where she would sit and daydream.
A witness to the transformation of Hawthorne from a rural town into a proper suburb, she recounts how the woods were infested with rats, and the town's response under Mayor Louis Bay--with its dire consequences for her dog.
She writes that Hawthorne "really was the sweetest place to grow up: real American small-town living," before strip malls became a common North Jersey development. She recalls the "main street" and the "cinema where it cost a quarter to go to a Saturday matinee." There was a lot of farmland and rolling hills back then, which eventually "faded away" as "housing developments sprung up." She writes of the town, a "bedroom community" as being in "transition" while she was growing up.
There was at least one startling incident, though.
She recalls a time she was on her way to the municipal pool, when a car rolled up beside her and a man exposed himself. She "freaked and fled to the pool," went to her teacher, then ran back home and told her mother, who called the police. "They came screeching up to the house and my mother and I rode around town in the back of the squad car trying to spot the pervert."
Harry attended Lincoln Middle School and, afterwards, Hawthorne High School. "I can't say I liked it any better than the others," though, like many high schoolers, she did like the "sense of freedom and independence that came along with going to high school."
It was while she was at Hawthorne High that she was "still trying to discover who I was, but I knew even then that I wanted to be some kind of artist or bohemian." She writes that she didn't "make trouble at high school and my grades, although not straight As, were good" and that she "actually liked the classes in which we were given literature to read." She graduated in 1963, and from there, went on to Centenary College. She got involved in the New York music scene, eventually formed the band "Blondie", and the rest is history.
Mayor Richard Goldberg recently told TAPinto Hawthorne that the borough has attempted to contact Harry in the past, and even offered to name the Boro Bandshell for her if she would be willing to give a performance. While Harry has not done so, "Blondie" did get a tribute from her hometown at the 2018 Hawthorne Day when the Debbie Harry Look-A-Like Contest was held at the bandshell which could, potentially, bear her name.
While much has changed in our town since Debbie Harry's childhood, as lifelong Hawthorne natives can attest, one thing hasn't changed: Hawthorne is still the "sweetest place to grow up."
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