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Matt Weinstock

October 19, 2007 |  7:00 pm

Matt_weinstockd Oct. 19, 1957

Edwin Anthony Browne, playboy newspaperman of another day, is revisiting L.A. after 20 years and he is aghast.

Perhaps aghast is too strong a word. Let's say amused or mildly interested.

Brownie, an innocent-looking cherub but a deadly man in his day in running down a story or a bottle, is not given to emotional expression. In fact, his indifference to what most people consider important is colossal.

"I walk along a street looking for places I used to know and they've all disappeared," he said. "It's uncanny. You fellows who have been here all the time don't realize what has happened to this town."

Brownie's escapades as a reporter are legendary and mostly unprintable. Suffice it to say he was a terror with a diabolic technique for leaving his friends, his enemies, strangers and local authorities in the lurch, holding a great big bag and wondering what happened.

Brownie was glad to see a murder case on the front pages--l'affaire L. Ewing Scott--but he finds it rather tame in terms of the lurid stories of his era--William Desmond Taylor, William Edward Hickman, Roscoe Arbuckle, Wallace Reid.

Brownie's greatest fame came indirectly from two books about Hollywood, "Queer People"* and "Whitey," written by his playmates, Carroll and Garrett Graham. They evoked wails of anguish from movie people who were depicted without very much disguise.

Brownie was depicted as Theodore Anthony White, a picaresque character, which he is, but looking back, he isn't sure it was a good idea.

"Being famous in a book may win friends and influence people but it keeps you off the payroll," he said. "I was wined and dined while the books were bestsellers but I was finally thrown out of Hollywood. The book, and its inferences, also lost me a wife, not necessarily a bad omen, but a plea for the defense."

Furthermore, the notoriety lingered. He was on the verge of landing a big publicity job with Major Bowes in New York when a secretary came in to take down a short letter of agreement.

"Major," she said, "I don't care if he says he's Browne, this is that Whitey. He'll ruin your amateur hour."

1957_1019_movies You'd never guess what Brownie's doing here, besides holding continuous reunions with friends, including those other bearers of Hollywood scars, Jack and Max Wagner, Eddie Hart, Rowland Brown, Jay Strauss and John Arrington. Yep, he's writing a book about the tempestuous Hollywood of the '20s and '30s. He intends to show that without the vivid foundation he helped establish it would be as dull as Tombstone, Ariz.

IT WAS BOUND to happen. An elderly lady in Independence, Calif., recently complained of stomach distress. When asked if she knew what caused it, reports Lucile McNeil, she whimpered, "I think it's that Russian thing!"

WITH ALL THEIR know-how, auto designers have not come up with a very good ash tray. While driving, a person can never be sure the cigarette he snuffs out is really out.

Today the problem is solved. You know what John Sherwood does? He fills his ash container almost to the top with sand into which he dunks his cigarettes when finished.

Next week, how to fly a kite.

ONLY IN L.A. -- A young man in a car parked on Beverly Boulevard alongside Wilshire Country Club near Rossmore was intently playing a saxophone accompanied by the music from his car radio as Norman Dash passed last Saturday morning.

Landlady trouble, no doubt.

MISCELLANY ... Bob Speck, Daily Trojan sports writer who this week blasted the football team, the coaches and student apathy, has been relieved of his writing job... A man just returned from the High Sierra wishes to put in a few nasty words about deer hunters who shoot holes in road signs. Irresponsible vandalism, he calls it... Lee Shippey has moved back to Del Mar, where he started life in California 35 years ago. Lee was known as the sage of Sierra Madre... Fascinating exchange Raul Rodriguez overheard between two young men at a riding academy: "And she was what I'd call all dressed up." "Gee, did she have a dress on?" "I don't know--I didn't notice."

*[Note: The Graham brothers' "Queer People" is absolutely hilarious, as I recall, though I haven't read it in years. I believe Horace McCoy called it the best book ever written on Hollywood. The sequel, "Whitey," is not so great but in a similar vein.--lrh]