Sat, Dec 03 2011 12:00 PM Posted By: Cynthia Robertson
Even though Eleanor Pratt has plaques, photographs and awards, including an Emmy, lining her walls and shelves, at 90 years of age, she does not intend to let life roll by like an unedited film.
The Emmy Award that sits in her living room is from her creation of the “Little Schoolhouse” TV program of the 1950s. She had walked quite a road to reach that award. While teaching first-grade children, Pratt developed her own method for instruction in reading. She used a tachistoscope, an instrument used by the military to help quickly recognize objects.
“With that instrument, I helped my children to recognize the differences in words. Soon my first graders were doing fifth grade work,” Pratt said.
From 1955 to 1959, “Little Schoolhouse” had thousands of children eagerly watching and learning.
“I’m proud that I won the LA Times Woman of the Year award for that program,” said Pratt, who eventually garnered over 25 major awards.
Pratt attributes some of her get-up-and-go attitude to her grandmother.
“She insisted I learn how to fly. I didn’t want to do that, but she said, ‘Oh, yes.’ So I flew. Single-engine planes,” said Pratt, who is now a member of the Ninety-Nines.
Probably the most challenging situation Pratt herself in was when she was in the Navy. “I was in charge of the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service down in Georgia. When they were all coming back from leave, it was like chasing chickens,” she said, chuckling.
After a while, all the whirlwind of parties and special programs honoring her became just so much noise.
On Sept. 19, in celebrating her 90th birthday, a mariachi band had played out by the pool, while servers carried out trays of canapés among the guests.
Like all of her parties, the event was worthy of a “Better Home and Gardens” write-up. Sitting in elegant repose in her wheelchair, Pratt was dressed as a queen, sipping from a flute of champagne. She received her guests, from her six-month-old great granddaughter to elderly friends.
“The hardest thing about being a queen is wearing this crown,” she said, reaching up to adjust it. “It keeps moving.”
So does Pratt—keep moving, that is. For years, she has been an active patron of the arts, particularly for Starlight Music Theater. As a member of the Starlight Society, Pratt attends regular benefits such as garden parties and galas.
Living well is an art that has never escaped Pratt. She has 24 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren from three of her four husbands.
“Obviously, I like men,” she said, smiling.
“I also like to read a book a day. Right now it’s a Nora Roberts novel,” she said. “It’s a nice change from the years that I had to read textbooks as a teacher.”
While she does enjoy a quiet breakfast or lunch at home, she throws lavish parties, which often have a theme. She also looks forward to dinner outings with friends at Mr. A’s downtown.
Pratt is a faithful follower of “Dancing with the Stars.”
“I’ve taught 2,000 young kids how to ballroom dance,” she said. “Mostly, it was just teaching them proper manners and the difference between their left foot and their right foot. They never twirled like they do on ’Dancing with the Stars,’” she said, chuckling.
When people remark to Pratt about her having accomplished so much, she says, “When you live to be 90, you end up doing a lot of things.”
Pratt thought for a moment. “I guess I was also very good at whatever I did.”
During her travels in Europe, she was once even knighted “Lady” in Italy. When asked how that came about, Pratt was coy, saying, “It’s a secret between me and the Italians.”
© 2009 The Star-News