Life Style

She’s 86. She’s 28. The wallpaper queens of Los Angeles enjoy their hang time.

Ask Reita Green the Wallpaper Queen what makes a successful wallpaper hanger and she’ll tell you it’s practice, patience and believing in yourself.

“You can’t be upset if it’s not working right away,” said the 86-year-old, who has been hanging wallpaper in and around Los Angeles for more than half a century. “You just pull the paper back and put more paste on it. It’s not an art that is wham, bam, thank you, ma’am.”

Since 1960 the former dancer and actress has run her own wallpapering business — lugging buckets, ladders and a folding table from her car to her clients’ homes by herself, well into her 80s. But a few years ago, even the Wallpaper Queen had to acknowledge that eventually she might need some help.

“I was getting older, so I started keeping my eyes open for somebody,” Green said. “I knew the universe would help me when it was the right time.”

And then in 2020 she met Beverly Pate — a warm young woman 58 years her junior, who exudes patience, kindness and a can-do attitude. Within months Pate had become Green’s partner in wallpapering, her protégé and — most important — her best friend.

“Without Beverly I couldn’t have made it this far,” Green said on a recent evening after the two women had wrapped up for the day. “We respect one another and we bring the best out of each other.”

Pate said wallpapering with Green never feels like work.

“I think you keep me in more good spirits than I keep you,” Pate said.

“Oh, no, you keep me in very good spirits, Beverly,” Green replied.

Beverly Pate, left, and Reita Green are photographed at Green’s home in Burbank. It was wallpaper that brought them together. And power tools.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

It was wallpaper that brought them together. And power tools.

In October of 2020, Pate, a former dialysis technician who had recently moved from Hollywood to Burbank, was looking for someone to install the white marble wallpaper she had long dreamt of hanging in her living room.

A Google search led her to Green, whose business cards read, “Wallpaper Queen and Inspirational Leader.”

Reita Green rolls out wallpaper at a client's home in Newhall.

Reita Green rolls out wallpaper at a client’s home in Newhall. Ask the Wallpaper Queen what makes a successful wallpaper hanger and she’ll tell you it’s practice, patience and believing in yourself.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

“So we scheduled a meeting, and I mean, she’s what, 84 at the time?” Pate said recently, sitting in Green’s home in Burbank. “She comes in with her ladder, buckets, table, dropcloth — and she doesn’t want any help. I’m just in awe.”

Green, who wears her shoulder-length white hair pinned back in pearl-studded clips, got right to work. In the meantime, Pate was using an electric drill to install curtain rods in the bathroom.

“So I’m in the living room and I hear brrrp brrrp,” said Green, taking over the story. “And I say, ‘Miss Beverly, are you working with power tools?’ And she said, ‘Yes. I hung all the drapes in here.’ And I said to myself, ‘I’ve got to get to know this woman.’”

Reita Green, right, and Beverly Pate smooth out wallpaper at a client's home.

Reita Green, right, and Beverly Pate smooth out wallpaper at a client’s home. Even when they’re not hanging wallpaper, they see each other almost every day. And when they don’t see each other, they talk on the phone.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Pate was short on wallpaper (it happens a lot), and when Green came back a week later to finish the job, Pate insisted on paying her for her time, even though Green said there was no need. Green thought that showed real class and invited Pate over for lunch in her backyard.

Over pasta, salad and wine, Green posed a question.

Reita Green, left, gets help with her hair by friend and wallpaper partner Beverly Pate at Green's Burbank home.

Reita Green, left, gets help with her hair by friend and wallpaper partner Beverly Pate at Green’s Burbank home. “Without Beverly I couldn’t have made it this far,” Green says. “We respect one another and we bring the best out of each other.”

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

“I said, ‘I love your spirit, and you can do things like I can,’” Green said. “I said, ‘I need a wallpaper hanger and I would love to teach you how to do this.’”

“And you said you would like to learn, right?” Green said, looking at Pate.

Pate smiled. “Absolutely,” she said. “I thought it was so cool.”

Over the next year and a half, Green taught the 28-year-old Pate the art and craft of wallpapering: how to prepare the wall surface, make clean cuts with a razor blade and trust that any lingering air bubbles will disappear on their own, even if it takes a day or two.

Pate helped Green with scheduling the jobs they now do together and making the many inspirational signs Green places at the edge of her property with messages such as “Love with all your heart,” and “Doubt and fear hold you back.”

Reita Green, left, and Beverly Pate hang wallpaper at a client's home in Newhall.

Reita Green, left, and Beverly Pate hang wallpaper at a client’s home in Newhall. When Pate’s friends and family come to visit, she always takes them to Green’s house.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

“See, I want to help save the world, and so does Beverly,” Green said.

They co-host an occasional podcast called “Reita’s World” with episodes about finding strength and acceptance, and being happy with where you are in life. Their first episode together was titled “New Co-Host — Instant Connection.”

When Green broke her ankle in April, her son called Pate from the hospital. Pate slept on the couch at Green’s house for a week until Green made her go home.

Even when they’re not hanging wallpaper, they see each other almost every day. And when they don’t see each other, they talk on the phone.

“I hang out with her all the time,” Pate said. “We are like, best friends. I don’t care about the club, I don’t. I want to hang out with Reita. I love this lady.”

::

In Green’s kitchenette there’s a wallpaper mural she put up years ago, flanked by two fake plants. It’s a Mediterranean scene that features large, lilac-covered terra-cotta arches that open up to a calm blue sea.

“It’s so romantic and it makes me happy,” she said. “It also adds insulation to the room because the layer of paper keeps the heat out and the cool in.”

This interplay of romance and practicality is a theme of Green’s life.

She left her childhood home in Nebraska in 1950 when she was 14½ to dance with theHorace Heidt Original Youth Opportunity Program, a traveling talent show that performed one-night stands in towns across the nation and the world.

A photograph of Reita Green, center, as a young actress in 1957 is displayed at her home in Burbank.

A photograph of Reita Green, center, as a young actress in 1957 is displayed at her home in Burbank.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

The show ended in 1955, and in 1957 Green moved to Los Angeles to work as a secretary for Doodles Weaver — a madcap comedian and Stanford graduate she’d met on the road, who was hosting a children’s television show on CBS at the time.

Soon she enrolled in acting classes and landed an agent, getting small roles in television shows and films such as “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” and “A Stranger in My Arms.” She married Weaver and gave birth to a daughter in 1958. When their son was born two years later, a publicity still of Green, Weaver and the new baby ran in The Times.

The image was idyllic, but the reality of Green’s life was more complicated. She adored her husband, but he was an alcoholic and didn’t make enough money to pay the bills. Her acting jobs helped, but she needed to find steady work.

It was Green’s next-door neighbor and beloved mentor, Freida Beach, who persuaded her to start hanging wallpaper professionally. Beach — who was 50 years Green’s senior — had taught Green to wallpaper and saw that she had a knack for it.

Green worried nobody would want to hire a woman in 1960, but she followed Beach’s advice and placed an ad in the Van Nuys News and Valley Green Sheet: “Lady wallpaper hanger. Fair priced. Clean and responsible.”

The clients started calling immediately.

Wallpaper fell in and out of fashion over the next several decades, but Green always had enough work to survive.

“I always asked God for help,” she said. “I said, ‘I don’t want to be rich doing this, I just want to make ends meet, pay the bills and be happy.’”

Still, those years were often difficult. She quit acting when her son was 2 and started waitressing at night. She and Weaver divorced after he racked up three DUIs in one year, but even though they separated, they never stopped loving each other.

“He was my shining bright Doodles,” she said. “He loved me and he put me on a pedestal.”

Weaver’s health declined over the years and he became increasingly depressed — refusing all visitors and shutting himself away. One night in 1983, Green’s children called her at her restaurant job and asked her to come home. When she arrived, they told her that Weaver had killed himself with a bullet through the heart.

When she went to his house that night, Green found him wearing a robe she had sewn for him. It was blue and gray. She had made it out of the softest material she could find.

She was devastated by his death, and by the death of her daughter 25 years later from a drug overdose. But she never let herself fall completely apart.

“I’m an Aries and Aries are leaders,” she said. “I can’t just wallow in pity and feel sorry for myself. You have to learn to accept the good and bad in life.”

::

Pate never expected that she would become a wallpaper hanger when she moved to California from Philadelphia in 2018.

At first she landed in San Diego, baby-sitting for an aunt who was working as a traveling nurse, but when a friend from college asked her to share a small studio apartment in Los Angeles, she jumped at the chance. It felt like an adventure — the beginning of a new chapter in her life.

“You’re kind of stuck in a box in Philadelphia,” she said. “I’m broadening my horizons here and learning so much.”

Pate loves L.A., but it’s hard to be so far away from most of the people she knows. She’s tried to persuade them to come to L.A. too, but nobody wants to change.

When her friends and family come to visit, she always takes them to Green’s house.

She’s not sure what direction her life will take yet — but she’d like to get deeper into design or perhaps teach others how to wallpaper the way Green taught her.

“Seeing Reita at 84 with that ladder inspired me,” Pate said. “I thought if she can do it, I could do it.”

She started calling Green “Auntie” just a few weeks after they met. (Together, they like to call themselves Frick and Frack.)

Green thinks Pate can take the business to a higher level.

“I want to make her a star,” she said. “She’s already a star to me.”

::

On a recent Monday morning, Pate and Green were standing in a narrow staircase contemplating the wall in a townhome in Santa Clarita.

As usual they had driven to work together in Green’s 2006 silver Cadillac, splitting the cost of gas between them. They both wore the matching aprons Green had made them in the patriotic theme of red, white and blue.

When they arrived, Green chatted up the homeowner, a 70-year-old woman named Diane Hitchcock, while Pate lugged their gear inside.

“Diane’s a dancer, just like me,” she told Pate. “We’re practically sisters.”

Now Green and Pate were trying to match a sheet of wallpaper with a birch tree design to the one already affixed to the wall. It wasn’t easy.

“I’m wondering something, Beverly,” Green said, standing on a precariously perched ladder that did not seem entirely safe.

“I’m listening,” Pate said.

Green wanted to overlap the two sheets of wallpaper, but Pate thought it would look weird.

Working in tandem, they mushed the wallpaper against the wall for a few minutes — barely talking as they moved it up and to the right, then back down, then up again until the seam was almost invisible.

Green climbed down from the ladder, and Pate began smoothing the paper against the wall.

“There’s a lot of problem-solving in wallpaper,” Pate said.

As for the Wallpaper Queen, her philosophy about wallpapering is pretty similar to her philosophy about life. Challenges abound and you can’t get too hung up on imperfections.

“Nothing is really perfect in the whole world,” she said. “Sometimes you make a little mistake and you have to forgive yourself and keep going. But you always try really hard.”

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button