Faces of Portola Valley

Growing up in Huntingon, West Virginia, author and film buff John Billheimer became a fan of Alfred Hitchcock. “I was an usher at the local movie theater, and the first Hitchcock film I saw was Dial M for Murder,” he recalls. “I still remember the gasp from the audience when the murder scene occurs. Hitchcock took a week to film that scene.”

While John is the author of two fiction series — a mystery series set in Appalachia featuring failure analyst Owen Allison and another featuring Lloyd Keaton, a Midwest sports writer with a gambling problem — he’s also written two non-fiction books, Baseball and the Blame Game, which examines scapegoating in the major leagues, and Hitchcock and the Censors, which traces the rise of movie censorship and  its impact on Alfred Hitchcock.

“When I’m on a book tour, as I’ve been for the last few months, it’s always Hitchcock that people want to hear about,” he says. “During the time his movies were coming out, he was the only universally recognized director.”

Authorship was not top of mind when John moved west to take a job at SRI. “I was educated as an engineer — and engineers aren’t supposed to be good at English!” he says.

John spent three decades as a consultant for a small firm that focused on transportation research. In that capacity he wrote a lot of reports. “I had a knack for writing and started taking creative writing classes,” he recalls. “I wrote a lot of literary short stories, all that were met with rejection slips. But I enjoyed reading mysteries, so decided I might as well try my hand at writing a mystery.”

His most recent mystery is Primary Target, which deals with bogus absentee ballots in a West Virginia election.

The Portola Valley resident’s passion for books and film is evident in a downstairs room filled to the brim with both, the latter in the form of DVDs, as well as lots of memorabilia.

It’s not surprising to learn that an author who writes about baseball is also a baseball fan. “The Cincinnati Reds were the closest team to us growing up but it was the Cleveland Indians that won my heart,” he says. “I’d take the bus to games starting when I was 10 or 11 to watch Bob Feller and Dale Mitchell.”

Today, he roots for both the As and the Giants. “And I still go to see the Indians when they play the As.”

Returning to Hitchcock, we asked if he could pick a favorite: “Rear Window” was his quick reply. “The plot is plausible and it’s perfectly made. It just hangs together so nicely.”

A complete list of John’s books is available on his website. He’ll be appearing at the Menlo Park Library on Feb. 19, 2020. We’ll send out a reminder!

Photos by Laura Hamilton (c) 2019


Megan Keely appears at fundraising event for Raices on Oct. 19

Portola Valley native Megan Keely and family will kick off the book launch of It Rained Warm Bread: Moishe Moskowitz’s Story of Hope by Gloria Moskowitz-Sweet and Hope Anita Smith with a performance of songs from her new album Bloom. Gloria will do readings from her new book, which is illustrated by Lea Lyon. Tickets are […]

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As retirement approaches, Tim Molak reflects on his years at Woodside Priory

The Woodside Priory has been central to Tim Molak’s life for the past 30 years. In June 2020, that will change when he retires as Head of School. “There’s a cool retirement app,” he said when we visited him at the combined middle/high school a few weeks back. “I have nine months, 18 days, 12 hours […]

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Lucy Neely on the intersection of land stewardship and the wine business

Of the 230 acres owned by the Neely family, which extend from the Portola Valley floor up 1,700 feet to just below Windy Hill, only 7% is planted in grapes. That’s just fine with Lucy Neely who heads marketing for Neely Wine. “Since I moved back and got involved with the winery, I’ve thought a lot […]

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Debra Meyerson chronicles how she discovered her new self following a stroke

As an academic, Stanford professor Debra Meyerson spent a career creating and sharing knowledge. Now following a severe stroke in 2010, she’s not only continuing to share knowledge but the book she co-authored with her son, Danny Zuckerman, Identity Theft: Rediscovering Ourselves After Stroke, also served as part of her therapy, particularly from an emotional standpoint. […]

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Marty Tenenbaum’s Cancer Commons provides help from a patient’s perspective

Marty Tenenbaum walked out of the Menlo Medical Clinic dazed. He’d just been diagnosed with metastatic melanoma and given just months to live. That was in 1998. In his search for medical treatment options, the doctors he consulted had different advice, but all agreed his condition was dire. “I got into a clinical trial,” the […]

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Talking berry varieties with Atlee Frechette at Webb Ranch with U Pick now open

The you pick ’em berry season opened this week at Webb Ranch, so we thought it was a good time to catch up with ranch manager Atlee Frechette, a third generation Webb who will give birth to a fourth generation later this year — her first child. “Olallieberries, loganberries and Prime Ark blackberries are the first […]

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Haydi Danielson carries on the family business at Boething Treeland in Portola Valley

Maybe we aren’t the only ones curious about what was down the long driveway off Alpine Road marked “Treeland.” Given that the sign says “wholesale only,” we never ventured down, at least until we met Haydi Danielson. Haydi, along with her sisters, are the daughters of Susan and John Boething, who started Boething Treeland Farms […]

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Portola Valley resident’s photo wins landscape category in Midpen’s photo contest

Portola Valley resident Jack Lucas’s image of a sunrise taken at Windy Hill Open Space Preserve won the landscape category in the MidPeninsula Open Space District’s annual photo contest. Jack is a fairly new resident of Portola Valley, although he lived in Menlo Park before that and attended Menlo School. His interest in photography was […]

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Becky Zeren continues a life filled with books by volunteering at Los Ayudantes

If there’s a thread through Becky Zeren’s life, it’s books. She inherited a library from her father that numbered in the tens of thousands. She worked for 30 years as teacher/librarian at Trinity School in Menlo Park. And among her retirement pursuits, she is volunteering with Los Ayudantes, a Redwood City-based non-profit that provides in-class […]

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Momentum builds in effort to buy Alpine Inn (aka Rossotti’s) with a initial deadline of May 31

After three community meetings led by Lucy Neely under the auspices of the Portola Valley Community Roadhouse, LLC, the opportunity for locals to buy the historical Alpine Inn Beer Garden — aka Rossotti’s — is moving forward quickly. At last week’s meetings, Lucy talked about the “emotional and historical importance” Zott’s has to the community and […]

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