The Daily Mirror

Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

Category: 1959

From the Stacks – 'In the Wrong Rain' (1959)





  Wrong Rain Title  


Hope died in the opening lines of “In the Wrong Rain,” and optimism succumbed a few pages later. Duty ground stubbornly ahead for a chapter or two before collapsing as well. Curiosity thumbed randomly through the book and then tossed it aside with a sigh of regret. It is often said -- at least by me -- that failure is sometimes more interesting than success, rather like reassembling the wreckage of a jetliner to determine why it crashed, killing everyone on board. 

This is not one of those times. 

“In the Wrong Rain” is dismal union of two musty themes of the 1950s. Think of it as “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit Meets Lolita.” If this were to be made into a film, it would star Jeff Chandler, Laurence Harvey or some other wooden leading man of the era as the inwardly tortured postwar executive; June Allyson or Donna Reed as his two-dimensional, cardboard wife; and Sandra Dee as the teenage jailbait daughter of an old college friend who comes to town.

ALSO

Robert R. Kirsch on Raymond Chandler

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From the Vaults -- 'Fires on the Plain' (1959)





  Fires on the Plain  


So far in my ramble through old foreign films, I have done the Holocaust (“Yiddle With His Fiddle”) and incest (“La Mujer del Puerto,”) so imagine my surprise when this week’s entry, “Fires on the Plain,” turned to cannibalism.

Directed by Kon Ichikawa from a script by Natto Wada based on a novel by Shohei Ooka, “Fires” is set on the Philippine island of Leyte in 1945 as the Japanese are fleeing the advancing the American forces. Private Tamura (Eiji Funakoshi, above), a hapless soldier who is too ill to fight but too healthy to be hospitalized, shuttles between his unit and the hospital, and after being rejected by both, roams the island, encountering other equally desperate soldiers and a few natives.

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Rock Stars Die in Plane Crash, Feb. 3, 1959


[Note: Here's a repost of an item from two years ago... lrh]

1959_0203_mirror_cover


Ritchie Valens' Roots


Los Angeles Times, July 19, 1987



Ritchie_valens_color_crop Los Angeles Times file photo

Ritchie Valens, 1941 - 1959

By GREGG BARRIOS

WATSONVILLE, Calif. -- "I still remember the first time we heard Ritchie sing on the radio," the mother of the late Latino rock 'n' roller Ritchie Valens recalled about that distant day, almost 30 years ago.

"I told his brother Bob, come on, let's go to Saugus. I had some business there. I had a 1950 Olds then. The body wasn't too good, but I paid $50 for each tire and I bought five. I pulled over to the side of the road when 'Come On, Let's Go' came on the radio. We just sat there looking at each other amazed."

In those days, before son Ritchie became a star, the family lived in the San Fernando Valley. Mrs. Consuelo (Connie) Valenzuela would often take her kids to the Spanish-language movies, especially to the Million Dollar Theater in downtown Los Angeles where they would see master comic Cantinflas and Mexican charro/singer Tito Guizar. "I always thought you had really arrived when a film made it to that theater," she remembered.

Connie Valenzuela said she plans to return soon to the Million Dollar Theater with her now grown daughters. But this time they'll be seeing the Spanish-language version of "La Bamba," the new movie about her son's all-too-brief singing career and her family.
  Buddy_holly_1958_crop Los Angeles Times file photo

Buddy Holly, left, Jerry Lee Lewis and Joe Mauldin in 1958


The Valens family now lives in the Central California farming community of Watsonville (south of San Jose). Over the July 4 weekend, "La Bamba" had a "hometown" preview for Valens' family and neighbors at the Fox Theater here, a typical Art Deco-styled movie house from the '30s that usually plays Spanish-language films today. The preview was given by Columbia Pictures to herald the nationwide opening of the film in English and Spanish this week.

1959_0203_runover The Valens family's on-screen counterparts were also at the screening: Lou Diamond Phillips, who plays Ritchie; Rosana De Soto, who is seen as Connie Valenzuela, and Esai Morales, who portrays the jealous half-brother, Bob Morales--the role that is pivotal in the film. But away from the excitement of the screening, Connie Valenzuela, 72, sat in one of her daughters' homes, surrounded by her several children and grandchildren. The two-story tract home has a wall devoted to photographs of Ritchie. One hand-tinted studio portrait shows a grinning teen-age Valens in a sport coat and bow tie, another of him standing next to a black-and-chromed '57 Thunderbird.

She was reflective, if a little dim, about memories of her son, who died Feb. 3, 1959 in a plane crash during a snowstorm in Iowa. That crash also killed two Texas rockers, Buddy Holly and J. P. (The Big Bopper) Richardson.

Connie Valenzuela said many of Ritchie's early songs came from things around his barrio when the family lived in the San Fernando Valley community of Pacoima. " 'That's My Little Suzie' was about a crippled neighbor girl. 'She rocks to the left, and rocks to the right' described her." Another, "Hurry Up," came from an expression that Valenzuela said she used to get her kids to do chores. (Her memory falters here, since the song wasn't actually written by Valens but appeared on his first album.) However, "Come On, Let's Go" did indeed come from an expression used by both Ritchie and his mom whenever they went somewhere.

Ritchie_valens_1958_crop Los Angeles Times file photo

Valens with Bob Keane. Notice Valens' Gibson f-hole guitar.

"Later, when he started going out to play at different places, I would worry. After all, this 16-year-old kid was often out until midnight. So I'd call up one of the deejays, because at that time they would sponsor dances. Once, I called Art Laboe and told him it was time to get the guys home. Laboe never listened to me. But whenever I'd call up and ask to speak to Jerry Wallace (of "Primrose Lane" fame), he'd see that Ritchie would be back before I knew it." As she remembered, Connie Valenzuela, seated by the kitchen table, smiled.

Her children listened to her recollections, some for the first time. One of Valens' favorite songs, Mrs. Valenzuela said, was a child's lullaby he called "The Paddi Wack Song," which he sang accompanied by his guitar to his young sisters in the family's backyard.

In the summer of 1986, New Visions (Taylor Hackford's film production company) began filming the story of Ritchie's life, as written by Luis Valdez. Ritchie's grown up and married sisters Connie Jr. and Irma had small parts as farm workers in the opening sequence. Their own daughters, Gloria and Kristin, played their mothers (Ritchie's sisters) as young girls. (Mrs. Valenzuela and Ritchie's brother Bob also have small roles in the film.) Having seen the film several times now, both sisters have mixed emotions about the movie.

1959_0204_valens_crash

"I was too young to really know my brother," Connie Jr., 36, admitted. "He died when I was barely 7. I never knew all the problems poor Bob went through or all my mother had to put up with him at the time. After the film was over I just wanted to hold on to both of them. It's brought us all so much closer."

Irma, 35, nodded in approval of her sister's evaluation. "I wanted to see more about my brother Ritchie's career. I guess we didn't realize that it was going to be about both Bob and Ritchie. I remember calling New Visions one day and asking if the film was still about Ritchie. And they said, 'Well, more or less, but it's a story about two brothers now.'

Ritchie_valens_1992_crop Los Angeles Times file photo

The graves of Concepcion and Richard "Ritchie Valens" Valenzuela, San Fernando Mission, 1992.

"I guess I was disappointed in some ways by that focus, but if it brings my brother's music to the world, then I'm for it." Irma pointed to her young son Eddie, whose light skin and hazel eyes reflect what his uncle Ritchie must have looked like at 12. "He's my own little Ritchie," Connie Jr., his aunt chortled, as she hugged the embarrassed youngster.


Waylon Jennings' first professional gig was playing bass with Buddy Holly (Jennings gave up his seat on the ill-fated flight that took the lives of Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens in 1959). He still has a tremendous amount of admiration for Holly and enjoys reminiscing about the old days with one of rock 'n' roll's founding fathers.

"I learned the rockabilly thing from him. He was one of the first people who ever had any confidence in me. If he had lived, he probably would have owned studios because he loved creating. He really did, and he was really good at it.

"He always understood what he was doing and what he wanted to do. He was almost like a teacher. I'd hear him talking with Dion & the Belmonts and everything; he had some great ideas. He was going to do an album of blues-type stuff that he was writing. He loved Ray Charles, and he was gonna do the kind of riffs that Ray Charles did at the piano on his guitar.

"He was very, very smart--that's the only way to describe him. He was always thinking, and he didn't compromise in any way when it came to his music."
--Waylon Jennings,
May 18, 1996

Bob Morales, Ritchie's older stepbrother, interrupted. "Even though Luis Valdez (the film's screenwriter and director) used his own interpretation of what happened, it couldn't have been any closer for me. . . . It was almost too close."

Morales, 50, who has lived in Watsonville since the early '70s, once wanted to be a fireman and, later on, an illustrator. He saved many animated gels from Walt Disney's Buena Vista's studios when he worked briefly as a garbage collector, he said. (The film, however, shows him finding Woody Woodpecker and Buzz Buzzard gels at Columbia Pictures--"La Bamba's" distributor.)

After many family difficulties and some trouble with the law, he finally matured and settled down. He worked as a counselor in a drug/alcohol abuse program in the '70s and today is married with eight children and is self-employed as an upholsterer-mechanic.

"I rejoined the family in 1952 because Ritchie was real upset over my (step) Dad's death." It was Bob's turn to recall his half-brother's memory. Dressed in black leather pants with a colorful jacket and Indian jewelry, he was undeniably an older version of the rebel and womanizer portrayed in the film.

Morales reluctantly admitted, as his younger sisters teased him, that his mom beat him up one night when he arrived home in a drunken state. However, in the film this incident is colored by Valdez who allows Morales to escape his mother's wrath with his machismo intact.

Another real-life incident handled differently in the film is when Morales takes Valens to a Tijuana brothel where Ritchie pays little attention to the ladies, but is fascinated by the musicians performing the traditional Mexican folk song, "La Bamba." Valens was later to electrify and immortalize "La Bamba" in 1959 as the first Spanish-language song to make it onto the top 10 pop charts. The song peaked on the charts a few weeks after his death.

Ritchie_valens_poster "I never took Ritchie to that brothel. We had gone to Tijuana several times on a family trip with all the kids. We still have pictures in an album of the kids posed with a typical donkey. I, of course, was the one that had wound up in the red-light district on several occasions," he smiled mischievously.

(Actually, Valens' inspiration for the creation of "La Bamba" as a Latin rock song took place during his childhood when he would listen to it at family gatherings where Mexican music was played, according to his sister Connie. She said his mentor and "uncle" Dickie Cota taught the boy how to strum a guitar and how to sing it in Spanish. Connie Valenzuela said: "Ritchie never spoke in Spanish because his dad never did. I of course still speak it, but when I was around his father I never would.")

Ritchie Valens' mother shook her head. The conversation seemed to have put her in a jovial mood.

Asked why her personalized license plates on her late model Cadillac bear the words "Hi-Tone," Mrs. Valenzuela confessed it came from one of Ritchie's songs by the same name. "You know in the movie, some of the kids call him 'Hi Tone,' but that wasn't actually his nickname. It was sort of a slang expression for something or someone that was fancy or stuck-up. Latin people would say, ' Eso es hi-tone' (that's real fancy). And since Ritchie would dress up real sharp, they'd refer to him as 'hi tone' when he did."

Not all of the Valenzuela family's memories are quite as pleasant. One incident involved the house that Ritchie bought his mother months before his death. The house was heavily damaged by fire in 1967 and Ritchie's gold record for "Donna" and one of his guitars were destroyed, along with other mementos.

Dealing with Ritchie's former manager and promoter Bob Keane (who spelled his last name "Keene" until 1970) hasn't been so simpatico, either.

Surf_ballroom


The Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, is hosting 50 Winters Later, a tribute concert Feb. 2, 2009. The concert is sold out. However there is a guest book with readers' commentsThere is also a video.

"You know Bob Keane has controlled Ritchie's music for all these years. Oh, I get a bit of money now and then. BMI sends me a statement. But do you know that Keane presented me with a bill of $4,000 for Ritchie's funeral? And that '57 black and silver-chromed Thunderbird (it's blue in the movie) that Keane gave Ritchie? Well, he kept it in his garage after I lost Ritchie. We went over to his house one day to get it away from him"--Connie Valenzuela's voice was stern as she continued--"but he kept insisting it was his."

Keane, an L.A. big band leader and record producer, has just released a 12-inch Latin dance cut--"La Bamba '87"--using an alternate take of Valens' vocal track recorded during the original 1958 session). He said Valenzuela's charges are "ridiculous."

"She was in worse financial condition than I was," he said in a Sunset Boulevard Mexican food eatery. "I put up over $7,000 so they'd ship the kid's body back and put him in a decent coffin. I still have the check somewhere."

As far as the Thunderbird, Keane said: "I may have told Ritchie at one time that if he kept doing as well as he was, I might get him a car. But I never really promised him one."




"Chantilly Lace"


"That'll Be the Day"



"American Pie"


Somehow, Connie Valenzuela seems more resigned than angry about these incidents. At the end of 1987, all music publishing rights to Valens' compositions will revert to her. The recordings, however, are another matter. The masters of Valens' recordings are owned by Keane "in perpetuity," according to Keane, and he has licensed the rights to Rhino Records.

Unprepared for the sudden fame that Ritchie's music generated, Connie Valenzuela was also completely unaware of the world of contracts and music rights. When Keane's partner, the late Herb Montie, contacted her about a managing contract for her son, Ritchie was already playing clubs and being recorded by Keane. "One day Herb called me and said to sign a contract just in case anything might happen to Ritchie; otherwise, I wouldn't get anything. So I did. I got an insurance policy on his life." (Later, she collected double indemnity on that policy.)

When Valens died, his first album hadn't even been released yet (though the film shows Keane giving them out at record hops). "It took them eight days to send Ritchie's body back from Iowa. They didn't send him to me by plane. Instead, they sent him on a train to San Fernando. When they (Keane and associates) came in to the mortuary, they brought copies of the album. It had been released in those eight days since his death. I originally wasn't going to play the album because it was too painful. But I finally put on a brave front and said to myself, 'I'm going to play them before I bury him,' and I did."

The years after Valens' death were lean ones. "We didn't want the memories brought back. Everyone wanted a contract for Ritchie's music. 'Mrs. Valenzuela, would you sign this contract on your living room table and send it back to us.' That's what one promoter wrote me."

She then tried to manage an Asian-Mexican singer, Chan Romera, who gained some regional recognition in California with his version of "Hippy Hippy Shake." After attending a Ritchie Valens memorial dance here, she decided to move from Pacoima, which harbored many unhappy memories.

In the '70s, the Valenzuela families were approached by Walter Ulloa, who was preparing a screenplay of Ritchie's life. The family gave him two years to come up with something. "He never was able to sell it. In fact, when Donna Ludwig (Ritchie's teen-age girlfriend whom he immortalized in the song "Donna") read the script, Ulloa had to change it because he had portrayed Donna's parents as bigots." Actually, Connie Valenzuela explained, Donna's mom liked Ritchie, it was her father who didn't. "I ultimately told him to forget about it," she said.

When Danny Valdez (Luis' brother and associate producer of the film "La Bamba") finally connected with the Valenzuelas, they weren't interested in another film project. Valdez lives 15 miles away in San Juan Bautista (home for El Teatro Campesino, of which he and Luis are founding members). Ultimately, the Valenzuelas gave him five years to get the project together. It was completed two years ahead of the deadline.

"He (Danny) plays my brother in the film," says Mrs. Valenzuela. "But they got it wrong. My brother was blond. Danny is dark. Oh well, that's Hollywood, I guess," she added, shifting her attention from the film "Jaws," which her grandchildren were watching in the living room. "I was a little nervous the first time I saw the film. I've gotten used to it now. I tire easily from a recent operation I had. But everything seems to be coming up real nice now."




Guitarist Tommy Allsup describes flipping coin with Ritchie Valens for a seat on the plane.


Ritchie's sister Irma, who is a preschool teacher in Watsonville and the mother of three kids herself, beamed as she talked about a brother she barely knew. She feels the film will be an inspiration for today's Latino youth. "They don't have to be macho or mean or cuss or take drugs to be a man. They will also see that it's OK to be sensitive, tender and care for their families, too."

Connie Jr., a customer service rep for a local insurance company and the mother of two, summed up how she will always remember her brother Ritchie. "He was never too busy for us. Bob was out there with women and booze; Mom worked a lot, and my dad had left us. But we had Ritchie. He was like my mom, dad or best friend. He was always there for Irma and I. That's all we had. It was him."




Paul V. Coates – Confidential File, Dec. 17, 1959



 
Dec. 17, 1959, Mirror Cover


We Have Living Dead Living in Red China


Paul Coates    Historically, war is a cold fact of life.

    And one of its most terrifying aspects is that some men conscripted by their nations to fight are swallowed up and lost in its grisly shuffle.

    They're not among the known dead.  They're not among the known living.

    They're just gone.

    After the war in Korea, The U.S. counted its casualties.  Among them were 5,866 missing. Slowly, since then, it has whittled the number down. 

    There were 715 who were later located in prison camps and returned.  An additional 1,550 bodies, less than half of them identifiable, were sent back to us by the Chinese.  Others, evidence definitely indicated, had died either in action or prison camps.  Still others were eventually written off by the U.S. government as "presumed dead."

    And it's the last group which has kept the United States talking out of both sides of its mouth ever since.

    The government finds it morally and diplomatically embarrassing -- in view of what little is being done -- to admit that more than 3,000 of the missing members of our Armed Forces might today be captives or slaves in Red China.
   
So it states to the kin of those still unaccounted for that it has no reason to believe they're alive.

Dec. 17, 1959, Nixon

    
Then it complies its own list of 450 missing where there is evidence that the men were taken alive by the Chinese and demands information from the Reds as to their whereabouts, or fate.

    U.S. Department of Defense and State Department negotiators are still meeting with Communist representatives at Panmunjom and Geneva.  They're still going through the inane formality of questioning an accounting.

    The formality's inane because the Chinese don't answer polite requests.  They don't speak that language.

    Among the cases which the Chinese repeatedly deny knowledge of:

Dec. 17, 1959, Men     -An Air Force major, shot down on Sept. 9, 1950.  The U.S. has proof that he was taken prisoner and held, at one time, in a jail in Pyongyang.  Later, the agency "Soviet Picture" released a photograph of him stating that he had been taken prisoner.

    -An Army captain whose plane was shot down in October, 1952.  Statements from other prisoners of war established that he, too, was captured.  He lost one leg when shot down and had his other leg amputated in a Communist hospital a month later.

    -An Army private taken prisoner in August, 1950.  Several months later, a Communist radio station broadcast a message from him to his mother.

    Across the bargaining tables, the Reds denied all knowledge of ever having held these and hundreds of other men with similar documented stories.

    They still do today, with the exception of the double-amputee captain.  After months of denying his capture, they changed their story to say that yes, they had him and amputated both his legs but he escaped.  The double-amputee got out of his hospital bed and escaped.

    At a 1957 hearing of the Committee of Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, strong evidence was brought out that the Chinese Reds had held, and possibly are still holding, the 450 on the government list.
Dec. 17, 1959, Touhy
   
Rep. Clement J. Zablocki (D-Wis.) charged that the U.S. was taking the easy way out by ignoring the possibility that the Chinese were still holding some of these men. He pointed out that the Chinese have denied holding other prisoners, only to release them when certain pressures were applied, or when they felt it would be to their political advantage.

Rendezvous With Oblivion

    "How can the United States sit still while 450 Americans are imprisoned behind the Bamboo Curtain?"  Zablocki demanded in a floor speech after the hearings.  "We can't forget our fighting men or consign them to oblivion . . . 

    "It would almost appear as if the administration was more anxious to keep news of Communist foul deeds away from the world than to broadcast the fate of these men as a  somber warning . . . "

    Tomorrow I'll talk to a retired Army man who charges that the number of "GI slaves" the Communists may be holding today is 3,141, not 450.
  
   

Paul V. Coates – Confidential File, Nov. 28, 1959



 



Mash Notes and Comment


 Paul Coates   "Dear Paul,

    "You might remember me.  I'm Memphis Weed's singer friend from Hollywood.

    "Memphis wrote to you once about me and the songs I recorded.  You printed his letter and then you printed a letter I wrote you after that. 

    "I've been reading you regularly ever since.

    "You seem to write  a lot about the problems of people who end up in jail for one reason or another, what it's like and the things that happen to them.
   
"I remember when I was in the City Jail on a traffic warrant for two days once. 

    "How different it is and how quickly you are forgotten by the public!"

(signed)  Kirk Atello, P.O. Box 233, San Clemente.

image     --You know how it is, Kirk.  Out of sight, out of mind.

::

    "Mr. Paul Coates:
   
"In last Saturday's paper, you stated that you knew who was president of the United States in 1875.

    "If you are that well educated and brilliant, why do you stay in the newspaper business?" 

(signed)  Gordon Stuart, 1015 Galloway St., Pacific Palisades.

   --It's that damn printers' ink.  It gets in your blood.

::

    "Dear Paul,

    "Ho!  Without looking it up or asking somebody, who WAS President in 1875?"

(signed)  J. Farrell, 20452 Ruston Rd., Woodland Hills.

    --Ho, yourself!  Zachary Taylor.

::

    "Dear Coates:
   
"In your smug answer to the poor lady who lost the stove, you told her you knew who was president in 1875.

    "But conspicuously absent from your answer to her was the NAME of the man who was
president in 1875.
 
  "Being the suspicious type, I immediately deduced that (1) you didn't REALLY know who was president in 1875, and (2) you were too lazy to go look it up.
 
  "After reading your column, I got curious and not being the lazy type, I DID look it up.

    "I'll give you a clue.  He's buried in Grant's Tomb!" 

(signed)  Big Billy, Long Beach.

    -Zachary Taylor?

::

    "to Paul Coats, the Mirrow News,

    "California 20, Stanford 17.

Nov. 28, 1959, Abby

    "Paul this was big game day at Stanford.  I was with my wife at a greek bar in Palo Alto but I got rid of her, she was giving me a bad time and I jumped in my Taxi and drove in front of the Yellow Cab office Palo Alto.

Looking for Custermer
  

    "I was looking for a custermer, there was fifty people in front of the Yellow Cab office waiting for a cab, the big game was over, but the Yellow Cab dispatcher wouldn't give me any of his custermers.

    "But there was a party of six from the Mirrow News L.A.  One was John Hall boxing sports editor.

    "He said thats Parkey Sharkey, lets take his cab.

    "They did Paul and took me to a bar on Bayshore Highway for a beer and dinner.  John Hall Mirrow News tipped me a dollar plus two beers.

    "You never gave me any money Paul even though we known each other for years, how come Paul?"  (signed)  Parkey Sharkey, Palo Alto.

    --I don't want to cheapen our friendship by making it commercial.


Paul V. Coates – Confidential File, Nov. 21, 1959



 
Nov. 21, 1959, Mirror Cover
 


Mash Notes and Comment


Paul Coates    "Mr. Paul Coates, dear friend:

    "About 2 1/2 months ago you called me at 12 a.m. and asked me if I could tell you who was President in 1875.

    "I didn't know and I didn't win the stove.  I'm not too sorry because I don't like stoves.

    "You told me, however, that I would get some prize but for the life of me, I can't remember what it was.  So far I haven't got anything from you.

    "My neighbors claim that I never heard from you, so please answer this to straighten things out." (signed) Mrs. Theresa Herron, Glen Ellen, Calif.

   --It wasn't me who called you at 12 a.m.  I know who was President in 1875.

::

    "Dear Paul,
   
"I feel silly writing this letter, but the boss is out and I've got nothing else to do so why not?

    "I'm a secretary with a problem.  A funny problem, maybe, but it's beginning to get to me.  It's about -  you suggested it -- my BOSS.

    "He's one of these practical jokers.  Tacks on my chair.  That kind of thing.

    "One time he pinned a sign on the back of my coat and I didn't discover it until I got back to my apartment.  It said, 'Danger Explosives,' and boy did he get a kick out of razzing me on that one.

Between the Cheese and Ham

    "I've been putting up with this for about two years now, so the other day when he sent me out for his sandwich, I decided to get even.  I typed on a little slip of paper, 'Help! I'm locked in the icebox,' and stuck it in his sandwich between the cheese and the ham.

Nov. 21, 1959, Abby    
"From my desk I can watch him eating, and I kept waiting for him to find it to watch his expression, but he didn't.  He ate it!

    "Everyday for  a week I kept putting the same note in but the jerk kept eating them.  Finally, I wrote it on a piece of cardboard to be sure that he'd find it.

    "He ate that one, too!

    "Now I can't help laughing when he's eating and he keeps calling out to me what am I laughing about?  Then I get hysterical.  Naturally, I can't tell him because he's eaten so many notes now if he gets sick he'd blame me.

Time for a Change

    "I think I better start job hunting.  Every time I look at him I break out in giggles. 

    "Incidentally, I type 60 words a minute, take Gregg shorthand like a whiz and have a VERY presentable appearance.  If your secretary is worn out, why not give me a call????" (signed) Mitzi, L.A.

    --I would, Mitzi, but cardboard repeats on me.

::

 image   (Press Release) "Ask and ye shall receive!!!

    "Ira Cook, KMPC's genial disc jockey, found out that there is more to this saying than meets the eye.

     "Last week Cook lamented on the air that one of the toughest chores he is faced with daily is finding a pen to sign the KMPC log.

    "He asked his listeners to send him a pen if they might have  a spare around their desks.

    "To his amazement, Ira received more than 1,500 pens since his request.

    "Largest shipment of more than 200 came from Standard Brands, Inc.
   
"Ira is wondering now if he asked for  a trip to the moon whether one of his listeners would come up with it." (signed) Publicity Dept.,KMPC, Hollywood.

   --I can't swing the moon, Ira, but I'll give you bus fare out of town.





   
   

Errol Flynn Dies!


Errol Flynn, Robin Hood  

Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn in “The Adventures of Robin Hood.”


Oct. 15, 1959, Errol Flynn Dies!

Oct. 15, 1959: Errol Flynn collapses and dies in a Vancouver apartment where he had stopped for a drink. Mrs. George Caldough, who was accompanying the star and Beverly Aadland, his 17-year-old "protege," says: "He died laughing."

Oct. 15, 1959, Errol Flynn

"Errol Flynn lived high and hard from the moment he was old enough to walk until
the time he died. He could never step aside from a fight or a cause nor could he turn his back on a pretty woman...

Oct. 15, 1959, Errol Flynn
...At the flick of an eyebrow he would charge into court to sue and on his way out was just as often brought back as the target of a suit."

 

Revisiting a tragic rogue


* In a documentary and a lineup of his films, Turner Classic Movies presents the life and work of Errol Flynn.

April 05, 2005


By Susan King, Times Staff Writer

Michae Curtiz, Erro Flynn, 1939 Errol Flynn, the swashbuckling actor who came to fame in the 1930s, seemed to have everything going for him. "He had a face and a charm and ability," says his widow, Patrice Wymore Flynn. "He was just made for the camera."

But there was a self-destructive side too. Flynn was a womanizer who stood trial in 1942 for statutory rape, for which he was ultimately acquitted. He drank, shot morphine and began finding it difficult to remember lines. He was felled at age 50 by a heart attack.

"He was his own worst enemy, in many ways," said film historian Rudy Behlmer, co-writer of "The Films of Errol Flynn." "He thumbed his nose at convention, and he probably felt he could have it all. He wanted to try everything and I am sure he did. I think he thought he had the strength to stop."

"The Adventures of Errol Flynn," a new documentary airing at 5 and 8:30 tonight on Turner Classic Movies, examines the life and career of this paradoxical, charismatic man who was born in Tasmania in 1909.

In addition to interviews with Wymore, daughter Deirdre Flynn and frequent costar Olivia de Havilland, the documentary is filled with delicious clips from his movies, including the swashbucklers "Captain Blood," "The Adventures of Robin Hood," "The Sea Hawk" and "Adventures of Don Juan," as well as "The Dawn Patrol," "Gentleman Jim," "Objective, Burma!" and "That Forsyte Woman."

TCM is airing several of these films in conjunction with the documentary. And on April 19, Warner Home Video will release several Flynn films on DVD, including "Sea Hawk" and "Captain Blood."

Wymore, who met Flynn when they co-starred in 1950's "Rocky Mountain," said her husband's career was unfortunately "overshadowed by the public's playboy image. He felt he was never taken seriously as an actor, I don't think. So I think it's nice to know that he is being recognized as a talent. Nobody has been able to do what he did."

The Flynn she knew wasn't a madcap partygoer. "He loved to have people at the house," she said. "To get him to go to a big soiree was not easy."

But Wymore couldn't save him from himself after a series of misfortunes in the early 1950s.

First, Flynn was dropped from Warner Bros. in 1953.

Then he sank money into an ill-fated film version of "William Tell" that was never completed due to insufficient funds. A lawsuit filed by a former friend, actor Bruce Cabot, due to the film's demise, wiped him out.

"He just lost his way," said Wymore. "It was all too much all at once. His whole world was crumbling around him."

In 1957, Flynn caused a scandal when he left Wymore and ran off with 15-year-old actress-showgirl Beverly Aadland, whom he described as his "protegee."

Wymore says that before his death in 1959, she and Flynn were making plans to reconcile.

In the documentary, Deirdre says she caught her father one day with a syringe of morphine. "But you have to understand, I never saw him drunk though he drank all the time. I never saw him stoned, even though I knew what he was doing. I knew it wasn't right and I knew it wasn't good, but I thought he had been doing it a long time, I guess he can handle it."

She was 3 when her father divorced her mother, Nora Eddington. She says he remained close to her and her sister Rory. "Every time he was in town, we were with him," she recalled. "He was strict but fun-loving. He taught me to ride my pony when I was very young and years later he went horseback riding with me."

Her father, she says, would always lobby studio chief Jack Warner for more serious fare. "When he first started out in theater in England, he had his mind set on being a serious actor," she said. "But Jack Warner kept him in tights. I think that bothered him and he started to walk through his films."

But he certainly didn't walk through 1949's "That Forsyte Woman."

Warner loaned him to MGM for the Technicolor adaptation of John Galsworthy's novel, in which he beautifully underplays the role of a repressed British aristocrat obsessed with his wife (Greer Garson) but unable to express his love.

"He went against type," said his daughter. "It was his favorite picture. And I love that picture too."

Los Angeles Times file photo: Michael Curtiz and Errol Flynn, "The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex."

Oct. 15, 1959, Fire
Air tankers are used to fight the La Canada fire, including B-25s, PBYs and helicopters.

Chavez Ravine Revisited



May 9, 1959, Chavez Ravein Photograph by George R. Fry Jr. / Los Angeles Times


May 8, 1959: Councilman Edward R. Roybal meets with the Arechiga family at Curtis Street and Malvina Avenue, where they camped out in their fight against being evicted from Chavez Ravine.


Sept. 18, 1959, Chavez Ravine
Photograph by Harry Chase / Los Angeles Times

Sept. 16, 1959: Groundbreaking for Dodger Stadium.

Eric Avila is an associate professor of Chicano studies, history and urban planning at UCLA. His book, "Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight," deals in part with the Dodgers’ decision to move to Los Angeles and the construction of Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine. He answered questions about the Dodgers and Chavez Ravine in an e-mail interview with Keith Thursby.


Aug. 9, 1950, Chavez Ravine 1. How did you start studying Chavez Ravine and the Dodgers' move?

I realized that Dodger Stadium was another component of this new suburban culture that was taking shape in L.A. during the postwar period. Along with shopping malls, television, theme parks, movies, Dodger Stadium emerged as one of the new cultural institutions that defined the identity of Los Angeles during the 1950s. Thus, I saw the need to include it in my book.


2. There's a wonderful passage in your book from a former Chavez Ravine resident describing life there before many of the residents were moved out for a housing project that never happened: "There were dances in the churchyard. Pageants held in the streets. Weddings in which the whole community joyously participated." Reading The Times' coverage in 1958-59 provides no idea what the community was like at that point. Can you describe life for the remaining residents. How many people were still fighting the Dodgers' planned move?

Jan. 9, 1952, Chavez Ravine

Photograph by Hackley / Los Angeles Mirror-News

Jan. 9, 1952: Homes being cleared from Chavez Ravine.

 

It's not surprising to me that the Times didn't cover the conditions of community life in the Chavez Ravine during the 1950s, except to emphasize that the ravine was a worthless piece of land -- a "junkyard," I think it called that neighborhood -- in need of redevelopment. But it's important to remember that by the time the Dodgers had agreed to move to Los Angeles, most of the residents of the ravine had already moved out, based on an earlier promise from the city that public housing was going to be built in the area. I can only speculate on their disappointment when they learned that the project was canceled, fueled by the later discovery that the city was going to subsidize O'Malley's bid to build a stadium on the site.  And that was the crux of the opposition to the "Sweetheart deal" between O'Malley and City Hall: that the city reneged on its promise to build housing for poor people because government-subsidized housing was "socialistic," then turned around and subsidized (Walter) O'Malley's bid to build a stadium in the area (I spell out the terms of that deal in my book).  Many Angelenos saw that as pure hypocrisy (and it very much reminds me of current accusations of "socialism" in the U.S.).


3. How would you describe the role of The Times?

April 14, 1959 The Los Angeles Times wholeheartedly endorsed the plan to build a stadium in Chavez Ravine, and mocked the plight of the Arechiga family as staged theatrics. Over and over again, the LAT emphasized the imperative to build Dodger Stadium in the ravine -- this was after it denounced public housing as a "socialist scheme" -- and it played upon local fears that if the public did not approve the construction of Dodger Stadium, that the Dodgers would pack up and go back to New York. Basically, The Times initially played upon local Cold War anxieties to defeat the proposal to build public housing in the ravine, and then became the biggest cheerleader for bringing the Dodgers to Chavez Ravine.


4. The campaign for the stadium included the passage of Proposition B, which approved the Dodgers' deal with the city. How did the city leaders approach that campaign and what did you think of the tactics that were used?

The city and The Times used scare tactics to the effect of "if you don't vote for Proposition B, then the Dodgers will leave L.A. and find another city more willing to accommodate their interests." No evidence of this, of course, but that's how The Times advocated its side of the controversy. What many people don't realize is that Proposition B passed by a narrow margin: Many people did not approve of the deal between the city and the Dodgers, as they felt that the city was giving away too much to bring the Dodgers to L.A. In other words, the Dodgers arrived amidst a great deal of controversy and by no means was there any kind of consensus about their arrival in Southern California.


5. You linked the building of Dodger Stadium to the development of high culture in neighboring Bunker Hill. Can you explain the connection?

May 23, 1960, Chavez Ravine As far as I can tell, the Times -- historically a major proprietor of downtown real estate and business -- was invested in boosting the centrality of downtown, especially in light of the rapid suburbanization that was occurring in the larger urban region.  Thus, both the Music Center and the stadium were central to downtown revitalization -- one would attract wealthy elites and the other would attract middle and working class consumers.  It was all about their geographic proximity to the downtown core.


6. We're approaching the anniversary of the Arechiga family evictions. What were the longer-term implications of those evictions, which many people outside Los Angeles saw on television?

The long-term reverberations of the evictions left a residue of bitterness among many local Mexican Americans, who remember a much longer history of displacement and dispossession in California and the U.S. West.  For many of these people, the televised spectacle of this Mexican family being forcibly evicted from their homes resonated within a larger historical context of the American conquest of Mexico and the subordination of Mexican Americans within a new political, economic and racial order.


7. How did the Dodgers' move to Los Angeles fit in the cultural changes happening in the region in the late '50s and early '60s?

This essentially is what my book is about, so I can't recite the entire argument for you here, but basically, Dodger Stadium was another component of a new suburban culture that took shape in Southern California that catered to white middle class suburban consumers who sought safe, convenient and controlled cultural experiences that were removed from the historic diversity and perceived dangers of the city.  Disneyland, shopping malls, freeways were all part of this new suburban culture.  True, Dodger Stadium was in the heart of the city, but it was a self-contained island of sports entertainment (defined at the time as "wholesome family entertainment"), lodged upon a hilltop ravine, insulated by a massive parking lot and easily accessed by the new freeways.

May 2, 1964, Chavez Ravine
Photograph by Steve Fontanini / Los Angeles Times

May 2, 1964: A large crowd packs into Dodger Stadium for a Sunday afternoon game. It looks like every parking spot is taken.

8. Let's talk about another scenario. What do you think the Dodgers would have done if they were somehow not able to play in Chavez Ravine? What might have become of the area and the people still living there? And would the Dodgers playing somewhere other than Chavez Ravine been better for the region in the long run?

Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight Before Walter O'Malley announced his decision to move his team to L.A., he quietly purchased some 11 acres of land in South-Central L.A. which included, I believe, an old baseball diamond known as Wrigley Field.  Initially, there was some speculation that O'Malley would build his stadium there.  And in fact, the African American community--loyal fans of Jackie Robinson and the Dodgers -- expressed its great hope that the Dodgers would settle somewhere in the vicinity of South-Central L.A.  The city, however, boosted by the cheerleading of the L.A. Times, proposed what was essentially a gift of the Chavez Ravine (since it had already been cleared initially for a defunct public housing project) to O'Malley, which O'Malley accepted in exchange for the 11 acres in South-Central, much to the chagrin of the black community.  The huge irony of course is that now there is some talk about moving the Dodgers out of the ravine somewhere closer to downtown to build one those retro ballparks that are in fashion now, which likely could have been Wrigley Field in South-Central LA. All the makings were there, but instead the city and The Times opted for the Chavez Ravine.  As for the community that occupied the ravine prior to its clearance for public housing, I suppose it may very well have become gentrified in the way that Echo Park has become in recent years.  Imagine a craftsman home in the heart of Elysian Park!

Barbie Turns 50!



1959_1126_barbie



Note: In honor of Barbie's 50th birthday, here's Elaine Woo's obituary on Ruth Handler, the doll's creator, from 2002.

Ruth Handler, Inventor of Barbie Doll, Dies at 85


Sunday April 28, 2002

By ELAINE WOO, TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ruth Handler, the entrepreneur and marketing genius who co-founded Mattel and created the Barbie doll, one of the world's most enduring and popular toys, died Saturday.

Handler, 85, died at Century City Hospital in Los Angeles of complications following colon surgery about three months ago, said her husband, Elliot.

The longtime Southern California resident defied prevailing trends in the toy industry of the late 1950s when she proposed an alternative to the flat-chested baby dolls then marketed to girls.

Barbie, a teenage doll with a tiny waist, slender hips and impressive bust, became not only a best-selling toy with more than 1 billion sold in 150 countries, but a cultural icon analyzed by scholars, attacked by feminists and showcased in the Smithsonian Institution.

Although best known for her pivotal role as Barbie's inventor, Handler devoted her later years to a second, trailblazing career: manufacturing and marketing artificial breasts for women who had undergone mastectomies.

Herself a breast cancer survivor, she personally sold and fitted the prosthesis and crisscrossed the country as a spokeswoman for early detection of the disease in the 1970s, when it was still a taboo subject.

Recognizing the continuity in her evolution from "Barbie's mom" to prosthesis pioneer, Handler sometimes quipped, "I've lived my life from breast to breast."

Born Ruth Mosko, she was the youngest of 10 children of Polish immigrants who settled in Denver. Her father was a blacksmith who deserted the Russian army. Her mother, who was illiterate, arrived in the United States in the steerage section of a steamship. Her mother's health was so frail that Handler was raised by an older sister.

When she was 19, she left Denver for a vacation in Hollywood and wound up staying. Her high school boyfriend, Elliot Handler, followed her west and married her in 1938. She worked as a secretary at Paramount Studios while he studied industrial design at the Art Center School of Design in Los Angeles (now Art Center College of Design in Pasadena).

When Elliot made some simple housewares to furnish their apartment, Ruth persuaded him to produce more for sale. They bought some workshop equipment from Sears and launched a giftware business in their garage, making items such as bowls, mirrors and clocks out of plastic. With Ruth showing the product line to local stores, sales reached $2 million within a few years.

In 1942 they teamed up with another industrial designer, Harold "Matt" Mattson, to launch a business manufacturing picture frames. Using leftover wood and plastic scrap, they later launched a sideline making dollhouse furniture. Within a few years, the company turned profitable and began to specialize in toys. It was called Mattel, a name fashioned from the "Matt" in Mattson and the "El" in Elliot.

Early successes were musical toys, such as the Uke-A-Doodle, a child-size ukulele, and a cap gun called the Burp gun, which the Handlers advertised on the new medium of television. It was the first time a toy had been sold on national television year-round.

In the late 1950s, Elliot was so preoccupied with the development of a talking doll--eventually marketed as Chatty Cathy--that he was of little help to Ruth when she came up with an idea of her own.

Noting their daughter Barbara's fascination with paper dolls of teenagers or career women, she realized there was a void in the market. She began to wonder if a three-dimensional version of the adult paper figures would have appeal. Why not sell a doll that allowed girls, as she would later say, to "dream dreams of the future"? This doll, she mused, would have to be lifelike. In other words, Handler believed, it would have to have breasts.

When she took the idea to Mattel's executives, who were men, they sneered that no mother would buy her daughter a grown-up doll with a bosom. "Our guys all said, 'Naw, no good,' " she recalled. "I tried more than once and nobody was interested, and I gave up."

Inspired by German Doll

She let the project idle until 1956 when, during a European vacation, she spied a German doll called Lilli in a display case. It had a voluptuous figure, reminiscent of the poster pinups that entertained soldiers during World War II. Handler brought the doll home to Mattel's designers and ordered them to draw up plans and find a manufacturer in Japan who could produce it.

Handler's dream made its debut at the 1959 American Toy Fair in New York City. Named for her daughter, "Barbie Teen-Age Fashion Model" had a girl-next-door ponytail, black-and-white striped bathing suit and teeny feet that fit into open-toed heels. Mattel sold more than 350,000 the first year, and orders soon backed up for the doll, which retailed for $3. "The minute that doll hit the counter, she walked right off," Handler said.

By the early 1960s, Mattel had annual sales of $100 million, due largely to Barbie. The company, then based in Hawthorne, annually turned out new versions of Barbie as well as an ever-expanding wardrobe of outfits and accessories befitting the new princess of toydom. Soon enough Barbie sprouted a coterie of friends and family. Ken, named for the Handlers' son, appeared in 1961; Midge in 1963; Skipper in 1965; and African American doll Christie, Barbie's first ethnic friend, in 1969. The first black Barbie came much later, in 1981.

Other dolls were named for Handler's grandchildren, including Stacie, Todd and Cheryl.

Under pressure from feminists, Barbie evolved from fashion model to career woman, including doctor, astronaut, police officer, paramedic, athlete, veterinarian and teacher.

Over the years, the toy inspired Barbie clubs, conventions, magazines and Web sites. Barbie was immortalized by Andy Warhol, preserved in time capsules and inspired conceptual artists who spiked the doll's hair or posed it in pickle jars to make statements.

M.G. Lord, author of "Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Living Doll," called Barbie the most potent icon of American culture of the late 20th century.

"She's an archetypal female figure, she's something upon which little girls project their idealized selves," she said. "For most baby boomers, she has the same iconic resonance as any female saints, although without the same religious significance."

The National Organization for Women and other feminists targeted Barbie in the 1970s, arguing that the doll promoted unattainable expectations for young girls. If Barbie was 5 foot 6 instead of 11 1/2 inches tall, her measurements, would be 39-21-33. An academic expert once calculated that a woman's likelihood of being shaped like Barbie was less than 1 in 100,000.

(Ken was shaped somewhat more realistically: The chances of a boy developing his measurements were said to be 1 in 50.)

Handler said she did not take offense at the feminist broadsides and often noted that successful women had played with Barbie and told her the doll helped them enact their aspirations. Even artists' tortured interpretations of Barbie didn't bother her. "More power to them," said Handler, who kept a gold-plated Barbie in her Century City high-rise.

"My whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be," Handler wrote in her 1994 autobiography. "Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices."

Rare Achievement for Woman of Her Era

Handler herself must have bedeviled feminists. Although Barbie was mocked as a bimbo, her creator was ahead of most women of her generation, juggling career and children in the 1950s when the ideal woman was someone more like the cheerful and industrious television housewife Donna Reed.

By 1966, Handler was 50 and Mattel ruled the highly competitive toy world: It controlled 12% of the $2-billion toy market in the United States. "I had my career, my husband, my children, Barbie and Ken, and I was on top of the world," Handler recalled.

By 1970, however, her world began to unravel. Handler was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy. New corporate managers began to diversify Mattel away from toys, and their machinations ultimately resulted in the Handlers' ouster from the company they had founded.

To make matters worse, in 1978 Handler was indicted by a grand jury on charges of fraud and false reporting to the Securities and Exchange Commission. She pleaded no contest and was fined $57,000 and sentenced to 2,500 hours of community service.

She later attributed her downfall to her illness, which she said caused her to be "unfocused" about a massive corporate reorganization she had begun. When she returned to work after her mastectomy, no one mentioned the reason she had been gone but many gave her sorrowful looks, which reduced her to tears.

"I'd been opinionated and outspoken. I had strong leadership skills. I had been running a company making hundreds of millions of dollars a year. We had 15,000 employees. I had a big job. But suddenly," she said, "I was supposed to whisper about what I'd been through."

The experience was so unnerving, she told USA Today in 1994, that "I was never able to get back in and grab hold of things as I should have."

In 1975, she and her husband were forced out of Mattel. The following year she founded a new company, but not to make toys.

Ruthton Corp. in Inglewood was the result of the humiliation Handler experienced when she sought to restore her appearance to its pre-mastectomy state. Her doctor told her to stuff the empty side of her bra with a pair of rolled-up stockings. The effect was so awful that Handler went to a Beverly Hills department store and asked a saleslady for an artificial breast. She was taken to a dressing room and with no explanation was handed a surgical bra and a couple of gloves. She eventually figured out that she was supposed to stuff the bra with the gloves.

A New Concept for Artificial Breasts

She finally found someone who made prosthetic breasts, but they were little better. "I looked at the shapeless glob that lay in the bottom of my brassiere and thought, 'My god, the people in this business are men who don't have to wear these.' " She decided she should manufacture one herself.

The Nearly Me prosthetic breast was made of liquid silicone enclosed in polyurethane and had a rigid foam backing. Handler sold it in lefts and rights according to bra size. Her goal was to make an artificial breast so real that "a woman could wear a regular brassiere and blouse, stick her chest out and be proud."

She led a sales team of eight middle-aged women, most breast cancer survivors, into department stores where they fitted women and trained the sales staffs. She fit former First Lady Betty Ford after her mastectomy. Her aggressive tactics included talk-show appearances and handwritten invitations to breast cancer patients. She also had what she called her "strip act": She would remove her blouse to demonstrate that no one could feel or see the difference between her real and prosthetic breast. She was pictured in People magazine yanking open her blouse to flaunt her bosom.

By 1980, sales of the Nearly Me artificial breast had surpassed $1 million. In 1991, Handler sold the company to a division of Kimberly-Clark.

She went on the lecture circuit to promote her product and tell women about the importance of early detection and regular mammograms.

"I didn't make a lot of money in it," she said of the prosthetics business. "It sure rebuilt my self-esteem, and I think I rebuilt the self-esteem of others."

Her son Ken died of a brain tumor in 1994. She is survived by her husband of 63 years; her daughter, Barbara Segal; one brother, Aaron Mosko of Denver; five grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.


Grocery store of tomorrow, January 4, 1959

1959_0104_grocermat
Hey, look! It's the 7-Eleven from "The Jetsons!" Actually, it's not. Instead,
The Times published an artist's concept of grocery shopping in the years ahead. The "futurism" of the past always fascinates me. Notice that cars will still have tail fins.   
1959_0104_ads In the 1950s, Westerns such as "Gunsmoke," above, filled the airwaves and men like Bob Bowman, below, brought quick-draw contests to real life.

1959_0104_bowman



You won't see stories about African Americans in The Times or the other mainstream newspapers of the 1950s, but you can find them and other minorities in the classified ads.
1959_0104_sfv
A typical San Fernando Valley page: One feature with lots of art, surrounded by government stories.
1959_0104_sports
Football coach Earl "Curly" Lambeau says the split-T offense is dead. He also thinks college ball should put the goal posts back on the goal line!   
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