Saturday, October 21, 2006

Toward a Better Los Angeles

Oct. 21, 1907
Los Angeles

There’s no shortage of opinions on how to improve the quality of life in Los Angeles. Most people advocate better roads—paved roads that connect the city with Pasadena and the beach. Others suggest more schools, hospitals, better jail facilities, enforcement of blue laws and closing the saloons.

And then there’s Dr. E.O. Sawyer—who wants to kill all the cats in town. Look at it this way, Sawyer says, any good cat loves to hunt rats and mice (no argument there). Of course what happens is that the cats feast on these diseased rodents and then come home to be babied by families laboring under the misguided notion that they somehow “own” the cats.

“Stray dogs in this city are caught and killed,” Sawyer says, “because of the belief that dogs sometimes have hydrophobia. But cats are let alone and they are so thick in some sections that you can see them on every vacant lot. Every one of them may have been feasting on diseased rats.”

The Board of Supervisors fired Sawyer as public health officer in 1915, and Southland felines napped just a bit easier.

Shout out to Evil, you are in safe hands!

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Friday, October 20, 2006

The Imp

Oct. 20, 1907
Los Angeles

Windsor McCay and his cartoons never completely go out of fashion and are periodically rediscovered—as in the current Taschen anthology. He was a fabulous artist and his Sunday panels remain a marvel of fantasy and rebellion against the tyranny of pigeonhole boxes. Living as we do in the era of legacy comics (Charles Schulz has been dead since 2000); bland, humorless writing; weak drawing; and panels shrunk to the size of postage stamps, it’s easy to think that comics aficionados 100 years ago were fortunate to get strips that ran a full page.

And then there’s Imp.

Imp is a caricature; McCay’s notion of an African cannibal who speaks in nonsense words that the other characters interpret, and he runs through much of “Little Nemo in Slumberland.” Whenever McCay’s strips are discussed, there’s usually some sort of passing reference to “unfortunate racial stereotypes” and something about “not uncommon for the period.” Those statements, although true (and the pages of The Times in this era are full of ethnic caricatures), gloss over material like Imp and turn it into nothing more than a slightly guilty pleasure.

So what to do? Frankly, no matter how much I know about the period and the cultural values of the era, Imp always makes me quite uncomfortable, especially in light of a post earlier this year about Elijah Washington being killed because he fought back after being called one of the most problematic slang terms in the English language. But one thing history is not about is sanitizing the past or ignoring uncomfortable issues. So here is Imp in all his finely drawn glory. And check out those lions.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

An American Education

Oct. 19, 1907
Los Angeles

On a visit to Japan, K. Tsuneda of California met an attractive young woman named Toku. Telling her family that he was a wealthy Stanford student, Tsuneda married Toku and they embarked for the United States so his new wife could get an American education.

Her education began the moment they arrived in San Francisco: Tsuneda revealed that he was neither wealthy, nor a Stanford student. In fact, they both had to go to work. They moved from Berkeley to Redlands, where they separated. After reuniting briefly in Los Angeles, Tsuneda vanished, Toku said in seeking a divorce.

In court, Toku told Judge Charles Monroe that her father wouldn’t let her return to Japan until she got a divorce. Monroe rejected her claim of desertion and took her claim of failure to provide under advisement.

The Times never followed up on what it called the first Japanese divorce tried in Los Angeles, so it’s unclear what became of Toku.

Judge Charles Monroe, who presided over Divorce Court for many years, and his wife, Ella, were married in 1880 in Kansas. At that time, the state did not require a marriage license.

As Quakers, they were required to stand up at a meeting one month before the intended wedding, hold hands and state their intentions to marry. “It they passed without objections being presented, then the principals themselves read their own service and the ceremony was duly sanctioned by a wedding certificate signed by all the witnesses present,” The Times said.

Monroe was appointed to the Superior Court in 1905 and retired in 1927, at that time, the longest service of any judge in the state. He died in 1937 at the age of 88.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

An Artist Makes His Point

Oct. 18, 1907
Los Angeles

For the last month, the pages of The Times have been peppered with pen-and-ink cartoons signed Gale—in fact some of them have already appeared in the blog, with Nathan’s post on Japanese hobos and mine on Marco Vessella. But that was only the beginning. By the end of the month, Gale’s cartoons have become a regular feature of The Times, usually paired with text by Harry Carr. Gale specializes in ethnic caricatures: Chinamen with long queues, bucktoothed Japanese, Mexicans with sombreros—and don’t even ask how he draws African Americans.

His name was Edmund Waller Gale, but he was known as Ted or “Cartoonist Gale” and he was an institution at The Times, drawing editorial cartoons for decades, on an irregular basis before they became a daily feature in 1922.

“I am not an artist,” he said in 1933.”I never thought I was and never tried to be one. The first work I ever did was cartooning and in this work it is the idea, not the drawing, that counts. Once I get my idea, my day’s work is practically done, for I put it on paper as fast as I can. I often spend six or eight hours figuring out my subject and one hour doing the drawing. I don’t think the actually task of transferring an idea to paper ever took me more than three hours.”

One of Gale’s more enduring creations was “Miss Los Angeles,” an attractive young Latina that provoked a great deal of criticism at one time, mostly for his inattention to detail.

“Funny how fussy people are about drawing, even in cartoons,” he said. “I really didn’t go through any brainstorms when I created Miss Los Angeles. I just dashed off a girl of a Spanish type to typify this part of the country and imagine my discomfiture when her appearance was greeted with a shower of sarcastic letters, informing me that no Spanish lady wore a bullfighter’s vest and a bolero and that the high comb was entirely wrong and the lady was just the same as nude unless I added a mantilla.” I’ll leave it to another historian to trace the history of Miss Los Angeles from Anglo to Latina. Here’s one version from 1929.

A left-handed Santa Claus (he claimed he didn’t even notice) and flags with the wrong number of stars and stripes were also Gale’s bugaboos. “Thousands of people seem to have nothing to do but count the stars and stripes and their ideas of what constitutes an insult to the colors is simply beyond belief,” he said.

Of his first cartoons, he said: “Times have changed a lot since those early days and the style of cartoons has altered too. Nowadays public opinion is molded rather than led and there is little or none of the vicious element that was deemed essential in the cartoons of former years.”

Gale quit The Times in 1934 in a disagreement over its editorial policies and went to the competing Examiner. He died in 1975.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Unsportsmanlike Conduct

Oct. 17, 1907
Los Angeles

Mr. Woolin, left tackle of the USC team, took great exception to be tackled by one of the black players on the Whittier State team (one of Whittier’s five black players) and voiced his displeasure, emphasizing his point with his fist.

Whittier’s coach, Mr. McLouth, rushed to intervene, whereupon Mr. Woolin further expressed his disdain by striking him in the face. Coach McLouth responded in kind. Peace was eventually restored until Whittier’s water boy came onto the field and retaliated against Mr. Woolin, and had the Whittier team not retreated from the field, the unpleasantness might have continued.

As the score was 37-0 in favor of USC and the visiting Whittier team needed to catch the streetcar home, the game was halted 15 minutes into the second half.

Here’s to Brice Union Taylor, who in 1925 became USC’s first All-American player. He was later a pastor at First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles. By the way, he only had one hand.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

A Man Ray Jigsaw Puzzle

The Detroit News has published an article on book dealer John K. King, who is offering “Man Ray: Photographs 1920-1934 Paris” inscribed by Man Ray to Dr. George Hodel. The book sold Sept. 14, 2006, for $4,600 in an auction by PBA Galleries.

King is offering it for $8,500. Not a bad profit. Of course it would be worth even more if Man Ray had said something incriminating like, “In fond memory of our murderous little rampage across Los Angeles, you evil genius, you.”

Solve this as a jigsaw puzzle.

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Matrimonial Accounting

Oct. 16, 1907
Santa Ana

George S. Best is a great believer in marriage and strongly opposes divorce, which is why he has three of one and none of the other.

His most recent troubles began when his wife Anita discovered that he had married young Cecile Fleming, the daughter of a prominent local businessman. Upon investigation, Anita Best of Los Angeles and Charles Fleming of Santa Ana discovered that Best had married Cecile in back of the county clerk’s office. After returning to Los Angeles long enough to get his belongings, avoiding his mother and his wife Anita, Best and Cecile left for San Francisco, where he was arrested for bigamy.

When Best went before the judge, he explained it this way: His wedding to Anita Best was actually invalid because he already had a wife, Bertha, whom he married in 1900. Bertha had died since then, Best said, so his marriage to Cecile was, at least in his mind, legal.

“My intentions were honorable, your honor,” Best said.

Bertha, however, was found to be quite alive and presumably well-rid of her husband, who was sentenced to a $1 fine and 10 years at San Quentin.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Test Posting

Fire Threatens Orpheum

Oct. 15, 1907
Los Angeles

On a rainy night in Los Angeles, a fire broke out in the four-story brick office building at 235 S. Spring St. housing the Orpheum Theater and the Elks Hall, which was engulfed in panic as visitors at a Japanese festival rushed for the exits. The second-floor hallways were so jammed that members of the Elks Club rushed to the rear of the building to use the fire escapes.

At Orpheum, on the floor above the Elks Club, veteran actress Minnie Seligman calmly made the smoke and the sound of fire engines part of her skit. Rushing offstage for a moment, she returned covered with soot and announced: “Oh the gasoline stove exploded. It will break up housekeeping for good!”

The audience was dismissed and except for a few people in the rear who called “fire!” theatergoers remained calm. After leaving the building, they stood across the street in a light rain to watch.

The Times noted that the toll could have been much worse. “Had the firemen allowed the flames to get through the ceiling of the [first-floor] store and get a hold in Elks Hall they would have swept along the second floor, cutting off the exit of the Orpheum gallery and might have made their way through that gallery.”

Assistant Fire Chief O’Donnell cut his hands and knees crawling into the jewelry store below the Elks Club, where the fire apparently started in the faulty wiring of an electric motor. He continued to fight the fire and only later was treated at the Receiving Hospital.

Two engine companies rushing to the fire also suffered accidents. One of the horses pulling an engine slipped while turning from 1st Street onto Spring and was dragged for some distance, nearly overturning the fire engine. Another horse pulling an engine was badly cut when it fell on the slippery pavement at 3rd Street and Spring.

The jewelry store, an optical shop and a clothing store reported significant smoke damage and a cafe in the basement suffered water damage.

Bonus facts: First Orpheum Theater--Main and 1st Street.
Second Orpheum Theater--229-235 S. Spring St. Renamed the Lyceum, demolished in 1941.
Third Orpheum Theater--630-636 S. Broadway. Renamed the Palace.
Fourth Orpheum Theater--842-844 S. Broadway.

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