Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history
April 21, 1957
I think about his hands. I don't know, but I would imagine that at the age of 78, they were old and worn from a lifetime of custodial work for Los Angeles County. Gnarled, maybe, with age spots. I like to think you can tell more about some people by their hands than by their face. This is mostly guesswork, but I wonder what story his hands would tell.
Were his nails all ragged or did he keep them neat and smooth? Were his fingers short and stubby or long and thin? Did he have a wedding ring or was he one of those men who didn't wear one for fear it would get caught in the machinery he used?
We just don't know.
He would have been born about 1879, and I picture him in school holding a pencil and figuring sums. We know he could read and write because of his last note.
It's fairly certain his hands gripped the reins of a horse and buggy; maybe he held the steering wheel of an automobile, or maybe he took the streetcar. I think of him as a young man in his 20s, filling out a job application. At that time, many county jobs were gotten through political patronage, but that's just a guess.
At some point in the next 28 years, he met a woman named Adelaide Houston, who was 15 years younger. I have no how they met, but I picture him holding her hand and putting a wedding ring on her finger.
Then I picture his hands holding his son, Roger, who was born about 1928.
Maybe he pitched a ball to his son and hugged him when he graduated from high school.
All along, those hands picking up a mop bucket and pushing a broom for the county. Washing windows and scraping gum off the floor. Shaking hands when he retired.
And then opening the door to the doctor's office for him and Adelaide. Comforting her when the doctor told them she had cancer, just like him.
Those worn hands, opening his wallet to get for medicine at the drugstore, and paying the rent for the apartment at 834 N. Huntley Drive in West Hollywood.
The hands, which figured sums in school so long ago, writing a three-page letter to Roger, sealing it in an envelope and leaving it on the coffee table.
Then dialing the telephone to the hotel in Hollywood where Roger worked the graveyard shift while going to law school at USC. There was a letter on the coffee table, be sure to mail it, he said.
Finally, the old, worn hands picking the gun as he walked into the bedroom where Adelaide was sleeping.
When Roger came home that morning, he found his parents' bodies on the bedroom floor.
The note said: "If we continue spending our money to keep ourselves alive, there won't be anything left for you to go to law school."
Note: The State Bar of California does not list an attorney named Roger M. Vivian.
April 21, 1957
Although Easter has passed in 2007, it has just arrived in 1957. One way Los Angeles marked Easter weekend was by arranging the lights in City Hall so that they formed a cross. I'll apologize in advance for the poor quality of the pictures, but take a look, because we are not likely to see this again.
The first example is from 1930, two years after City Hall opened. The practice continued at Easter and Christmas for more than 40 years. (Below, Easter 1957 and Christmas 1962).
In 1959, Mrs. Gordon L. Mann (remember, this is the era when married women had no first names) wrote a letter to The Times, invoking the Founding Fathers and a Christian nation in protesting plans to keep City Hall's windows dark because of construction work. Her argument prompted a rebuttal from John R. Goy on religious freedom.
In 1971, he wrote about the annual press release announcing that the Board of Public Works would present the cross in lights on three sides of City Hall. And yes, I'm quoting an official City of Los Angeles press release:
"In a world of war and unease, among people who pray and plead for peace, there will shine again this Eastertime the lighted Cross atop the three sides of City Hall as a herald of the day when died a man who was born to bring peace to the world....
"He died on a wooden cross he had carried himself up the hill of the skull--called Golgotha--and none was to help him save Simon as he stumbled and fell under his heavy burden. And they crucified him, the soldiers of Rome....
"Therefore, to illumine the story of his death and the lasting lessons learned from his life, the Board of Public Works, on a directive from Mayor Sam Yorty, today ordered the lighting of huge crosses on the high faces of City Hall ... to mark the advent of Easter and to bring a brightness into the hearts of men troubled by the times....
"And as he was outstretched and pinioned to the cross to form a living crucifix, so will the outflung arms of the lighted cross high above the city's strife serve as a sign of the universal appeal of the words he spoke in forgiveness of his enemies and of the love he bespoke for all mankind....
"And the lights burning bright on City Hall will grow dim and flicker and die as Easter morn again comes gently to the city with the message his believers form gratefully with their lips and repeat in their hearts as has been their wont for 2,000 years: He is risen."
Now that's quite an official press release and it's probably not something we would expect to see today.
But of course being Jack Smith, he's got a twist. And I'll get to that in a minute.
In 1976, Judge Norman R. Dowds barred the display in a preliminary injunction sought by S. Dorothy Metzger Fox, who said the cost of the lights was an illegal use of tax money. In 1977, the state Court of Appeal overturned the ban. The state Supreme Court took up the case, and in 1978 upheld the ban.
Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird wrote in a separate, concurring opinion: "It does not take foresight to see that this situation is fraught with dangers of political divisiveness."
In the dissenting opinion, Justices Frank K. Richardson and William P. Clark said: "The 30-year practice has passed unchallenged either by the general public or by any individuals or groups, religious or otherwise....
"The record before us totally fails to demonstrate that the display either encouraged or inhibited any particular religion in Los Angeles or anywhere else."
The decision generated its own dispute and figured in a 1979 investigation as to whether the high court delayed several controversial decisions until after the Nov. 7, 1978, elections.
A report by the state Commission on Judicial Performance found that another of the controversial decisions--overturning the "use a gun, go to prison" law--could have been returned five months before the elections if Bird had not decided to write a separate concurring opinion. The sensational investigation ended in November 1979, when the commission found no wrongdoing by the state Supreme Court.
And as for the author of the annual Easter press release, David Soibelman, who emigrated from Russia, spent his retirement writing for The Times, the Santa Monica Outlook and the Buffalo, N.Y., Jewish Review until his death in 1998 at the age of 94.
April 20, 1957
ONLY IN L.A.--A woman about to board a Metro 91 bus at Hollywood Blvd. and Vine asked, "Do you go on La Brea?" (Some turn on Fairfax). The driver said no.
She asked: "You don't go on La Brea?"
He said: "No, lady, I don't."
She got on, started to put her fare in the box when the driver said firmly: "Lady, I said I didn't go on La Brea!"
She deposited her fare and said pleasantly: "Oh, that's all right--I didn't want to go there."
Which is one reason bus drivers acquire that harried look.
April 19, 1957
Broadcasting live from the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium, and later in recordings made at a Hollywood studio, Fuller was on the radio for 43 years, until his death in 1968, preaching "salvation, personal conversion and the life hereafter," The Times said.
He was born in downtown Los Angeles, and his father, Henry, ran a furniture store. The Fullers moved to Redlands, where the family planted the first Valencia orange in 1886, The Times said. He graduated from Pomona College in 1910 and turned to religion in the 1920s after working as a manager at a citrus firm.
Fuller began his broadcasts in 1925 when he was at the Calvary Church in Placentia, with coast-to-coast transmission beginning in 1949.
The broadcasts featured Rudy Atwood, sometimes called the dean of gospel pianists, and the choir, male quartets and male and female soloists, with listeners' letters read by Fuller's wife, Grace.
"Its appeal is the universal appeal of the Scriptures," Fuller said of the broadcasts. "I preach a simple yet eternal message of the Gospel."
Fuller said he and Harold John Ockenga got the idea of founding a theological seminary after his encounters with other ministers across the United States.
"In traveling about the country, I met evangelists who themselves believed firmly in the Gospel and who were dedicated to their preaching of it. But they did not have the full understanding of theology and were frequently no match in theological debate. And, too, they could not meet with business and professional leaders on an equal footing."
Fuller, who lived at 1180 Oxford Road, San Marino, above, went to his heavenly home on March 19, 1968. The Old-Fashioned Revival Hour ended in October 1969 after 44 years.
"May we stand, please, and sing 'Heavenly Sunshine.' My what a privilege it is to send out this heartwarming, cheering chorus across the nation on 'Heavenly Sunshine.' As you do, sing through the first time, turn around and shake hands with as many people as possible. Glad to see so many here today at the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium. And now all together on 'Heavenly Sunshine.' "
April 19, 1957
We all know that the lease on Ebbets Field expires in 1959. How would you like a nice 78-acre parcel in Flushing Meadows, 12 miles from Midtown Manhattan, for the Dodgers?
Forget this Chavez Ravine nonsense, just a stone's throw from downtown Los Angeles. So what if California has freeways. Wouldn't you rather pay a 25-cent toll for using the bridge or the tunnel? And wouldn't you prefer a 5% amusement tax here in New York rather than nothing out there on the West Coast?
Look, we'll build you a nice, Space Age ballpark. With a dome. A really nice one.
Just keep an open mind, OK?
New York City Park Commissioner
ps. What's this I hear about some outfits called the California Baseball Club and the Dodgers Rookie Baseball Club incorporating in Los Angeles?
April 19, 1957
Jerry Giesler, one of the most prominent attorneys in Los Angeles, was chosen to lead the war against Confidential magazine during a meeting of the Beverly Hills Bar Assn. at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
Giesler, who handled the cases of countless celebrities, including Errol Flynn and Lili St. Cyr, bitterly attacked the studios for not protecting their stars but "running to cover" when any of them were accused of wrongdoing.
"They talk a lot, but they do nothing," Giesler said. "I know. So each individual will have to stand alone. No matter who, no matter how right he or she may be.
"When it's over, they may get a pat on the back. They are congratulated, and taken back into the fold. But while they're on the battlefield, they never hear a word."
In outlining Confidential's method for avoiding libel suits, Giesler explained that the editorial content was prepared in New York and but the magazine was printed in Chicago. The publishers sold the copies before they came off the presses and had no connection to the chain of printers, distributors, wholesalers and retailers that provided Confidential to all those people who claimed they only read it at the beauty parlor or the barbershop.
Giesler said he had brought lawsuits in California against Confidential on behalf Robert Mitchum, Lizabeth Scott and Doris Duke, but had to refile them in New York, where crowded court calendars kept them from being heard for years.
Because Confidential did not do business in California and couldn't be sued in the state courts, Giesler said the only solution was legislation and called on Atty. Gen. Pat Brown to go before the Legislature to get a bill that would allow legal action.
To be continued...
You were adopted at birth by a couple named Strickland: Jane and her husband, Edward, a fourth-grade teacher at the Isabelle Buckley School, 4477 Woodman Ave., in Van Nuys. There were other children in the home: Danny, who would be 61 now; Cynthia, 58; and Celeste, 52.
As far as your foster parents were concerned, you were an exceptionally bright youngster. "I defy anyone to find a smarter little boy than this one," your father, Edward, said. "He's really adopting us," your mother said.
There's one other thing we know: You were a little harder to place than other foster children because one of your biological parents was white and the other was Chinese.
The rest is guesswork, because I can't seem to find any trace of you. So I'm left to wonder what it was like for you growing up in the 1950s. Was it the standard baby boomer childhood with a coonskin cap, a hula hoop and trips to Disneyland? How was high school? Did you get drafted and go to Vietnam or have a student deferment? And how about a family?
Maybe someone reading knows the rest of the story. I'd like to know what became of that bright 5-year-old named Jay.
April 18, 1957
By Matt Weinstock
Dist. Atty. William O. Weissich of Marin County has announced that he plans to ask all persons with access to San Quentin's death row to take lie-detector tests to find out how Caryl Chessman smuggled out a book manuscript, his fourth.
Six persons already have taken the test, but one of the four prison chaplains has refused, saying, "If the word of a man of God is not enough, he might as well take off his clerical gowns and bury them."
A man now working in L.A. who served some time in San Q. is irked by the D.A.'s announcement. It is not only a grandstand play, he says, but silly and stupid.
And he told me how a man in condemned row when he was up there got out mail at will, without help from the prison staff. He is certain Chessman, who expertly writes Gregg shorthand, uses the same method.
Men on the row can buy tobacco, candy and cookies from the commissary out of their allowance of about $15 a month ($107.48 USD 2006).
The man in question wrote his letters on the inside of candy bar wrappers. These were swept out each morning with the other trash--cigarette wrappers, newspapers, magazines. A guard escorted it downstairs, where a trash cart worker picked it up and it was hauled to the incinerator and ostensibly burned.
But one of the cons, perhaps the one at the incinerator, would pick out the candy bar wrappers and give them to another con, perhaps a typist clerk. From this point it was no trick at all to smuggle a letter out of prison. Remember, several hundred men work outside the prison--at the hog ranch, doing road work, cleanup jobs. The trick was getting the letter out of condemned row.
To make it easy for his cooperative pals, the man in question always used the same candy bar wrapper--ironically, a Baffle bar.