By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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With fairy's help, girls learn to fly

Photo courtesy of Josh Kaplan: Lonnie Lardner dons wings to promote her documentary “Angel in the Hood,” in which two inner-city girls are fascinated with Tinker Bell.

Woman's film tells story of inner-city hope

Ventura County Star
Sunday, April 19, 2009

As a former TV news reporter in Los Angeles, Lonnie Lardner has covered hundreds of thousands of stories, from radical AIDS treatments south of the border to the benefits of feng shui.

But it wasn’t until she met two tough girls from a gang-infested neighborhood with a secret obsession with Tinker Bell that she found the assignment of a lifetime.

“My fascination with this story started out as a quirky observation about these two girls,” recalled Lardner of her program for inner-city kids, Hope’s Nest, run by teacher Paul White of Ventura at West Valley Leadership Academy in Canoga Park.

Lardner, a Thousand Oaks resident, founded the critically acclaimed Hope’s Nest program after covering a story for KABC-TV News on hard-core kids who sell drugs in South Central Los Angeles.

“I had been shooting Mr. White’s classes for months on my own, documenting the dramatic transformations he seemed to be inspiring in LAUSD’s rejects,” said Lardner, who initially was going to produce a 10-minute short on the girls’ obsession with Tinker Bell. “But as the story began to unfold, I got sucked into its vortex with no way out.

“No one had assigned this story to me; it had found me,” the filmmaker said. “Or, maybe more accurately, Tinker Bell had officially flown into my life.”

‘Angel in the Hood’

Three years later — after taking a break from her corporate workshops and burgeoning business to follow the girls exclusively — Lardner produced the 49-minute documentary, “Angel in the Hood,” about two girls struggling with drug addiction, truancy and abuse at home who turn their lives around.

Lardner is still showing the film on the festival circuit, so duplication for sale has not begun. However, the DVD will be available through her Web site, at

“What I learned from this adventure is most of us are looking for something, and just maybe our circumstances might determine where we look for inspiration and a guiding hand,” Lardner said. “If I had grown up in the same harsh reality of the gang-infested neighborhood Noemi and Ashley did — fighting for their lives, identities and basic survival — I might find a glowing spirited sprite of my own to emulate.

“Hey, if it’s Tinker Bell who teaches the girls how to buck up and accomplish things, then more power to them.”

Always ruffling it up

Born and raised in Great Neck, Long Island, N.Y., Lardner moved to L.A. in 1985, after news reporting gigs in Little Rock, Ark., Nashville and Chicago, to work at KABC-TV as a general assignment reporter and anchor.

“I guess you could say I made local news headlines that year by producing a 12-part series called ‘Lesbian Nuns,’” she said.

Her talent for storytelling was inspired at a young age while growing up in a family of writers, including her father, the head writer for “The Ernie Kovacs Show” in the 1950s and a staff writer for Sports Illustrated; her great uncle, legendary short story writer Ring Lardner; and her cousin, Ring Jr., whose screenwriting and Oscar credits include “Woman of the Year” and “M*A*S*H.”

Her fascination with people and their individual stories sparked in high school, when her mother, with no experience or education, managed to land a job with Pan Am Airlines. “Within five years, she worked her way up to manager of personnel at JFK Airport in New York.”

The gift to Lardner was an opportunity to travel the world — at a moment’s notice.

“I remember one day she came home and said, ‘How about next weekend in Tanzania?’ So off we went. And there began my immersion into and fascination with new cultures and people’s personal stories.”

Early career goals

Lardner went on to graduate from the University of Denver with a double major in English and French; right after college, she became an NBC page in New York City.

“Both of my brothers had done the same. My goal at the time was to become an illustrator for Scientific American. That meant creating a killer portfolio of work to present to the magazine. I thought I could make a living at NBC while I worked on my art. Well, the news business sucked me right in during a writers strike, and I never finished the portfolio.”

For months, she worked eight hours a day in network radio, then another eight at WNBC-TV News. “I had a crash course in newswriting and loved it,” she said.

Once the strike was over, she stayed with NewsCenter 4 as a desk assistant.

“One day, the assignment editor said one of his news reporters had called in sick, and they needed someone to go ambush the mayor of New York, whose city was on financial fire — poised on the brink of bankruptcy,” she recalled. “Microphone in hand, my competitive streak emerged and I lunged through the gaggle of reporters to have my question heard. I charged in with a follow-up, and seeing the top political dog of the nation’s No. 1 city actually take my rookie questions seriously, I concluded this is what I want to do.”

Coups in many markets

Over the years, Lardner has earned a reputation for her award-winning news and feature reports on ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX stations in L.A., Nashville and New York.

She has covered a countless range of topics, from lesbians willing to share their stories with the world at a time when most kept the news to themselves to the underbelly of steroid use in college sports and bodybuilding. She followed Olympic swimmer Tracy Caulkins through months of dedicated training and ultimate heartache when the U.S. boycotted the Olympic Games in Moscow. She also covered the O.J. Simpson civil trial, the death of music legend Frank Zappa, and the vandalism trial of football star Jim Brown.

She particularly remembers the time she profiled an 11-year-old boy, Keith Stanislawski, who desperately needed a heart transplant and needed the viewers’ help to make it happen.

“I ended up crying on set, but I have no apologies for that,” Lardner recalled. “Five years later, I received a

letter from Keith’s mom, Kathy, thanking me for the report, saying Keith had just passed on but the story allowed the family to enjoy him until he was 16.”

Of her “Angel in the Hood,” documentary, she said, “In the end, it’s the universal search for something to believe in.

“I found a story that moved me and gives me hope. It may be a reminder that belief alone may be the catalyst for change.”

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