Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history
"I killed nobody that didn't deserve killing. In all of these here killings there was no alternative. You couldn't call them cold-blooded killings.... It was either my life or theirs."Mickey Cohen
I suppose in hindsight it's easy to see why interviewing Mickey Cohen on live television was a bad idea. But at the time, as Mike Wallace admits, it seemed like a wonderful coup against the competition.
If you don't know anything about Cohen, you might not understand what an outspoken and profane man he was. But Wallace certainly knew. And those viewers who skipped Dr. Joyce Brothers on the "$64,000 Challenge" experienced an obscene tirade from the little mobster.
Unfortunately, the original newspaper accounts give very little of Cohen's remarks except to say they were unprintable. "Cohen was interviewed over a national ABC network show last night and admitted he has killed at least one man in self-defense," The Mirror said. "He hurled a series of unprintable charges against [Los Angeles Police Chief William H.] Parker.
" 'Gestapo tactics' was the kindest phrase he used. The laws governing libel and slander prohibit repetition of the charges in a newspaper," The Mirror said.
But some information can be gleaned from news accounts. In addition to claiming that he had killed a man, Cohen said his gambling operations once handled $600,000 in bets and that politicians needed him at election time and allowed him to operate with impunity.
He also said: "My sources of power were higher than former Mayor Bowron's and former Police Chief Horrall's."
Former Mayor Fletcher Bowron, who had returned to the Superior Court bench after being elected mayor in the 1938 recall of Frank Shaw, said it was beneath his dignity to respond to Cohen's allegations. Former Chief Clemence B. "Jack" Horrall, who headed the LAPD during World War II, said Cohen operated in the county rather than the city. "He tried to operate in the city and we ran him out," Horrall said. "Cohen's a liar."
But ABC-TV made a critical error. Recall that this was before the days of videotape. Instead, shows were preserved on kinescopes in which a movie camera filmed images on a TV picture tube, and these were shown on the West Coast three hours later. Although ABC executives had no idea what Cohen was going to say on the live show, they were well aware of Cohen's comments and decided to proceed with the West Coast broadcast three hours later.
Former Mirror reporter Cliff Dektar, who was handling publicity for ABC in Los Angeles, recalls watching the show with The Times TV critic at the network's studios:
"I hosted Cecil Smith, Times TV critic
at the ABC TV Center executive viewing room, Prospect and
"Outrageous, and the phone rang. It was lawyer in NY. l say nothing (there is a reporter sitting next to me).
"Parker and [Police Capt. James] Hamilton (the intelligence squad captain) gave ABC and WC head Earl Hudson opportunity to cancel WC repeat (kinescope) and get out trouble...Mr. Hudson declined and Hamilton won a major slander suit against ABC.
"It was a most interesting event...oh yes...took Cecil and his wife to dinner following."
Parker was furious, and turned down a network offer to respond on Wallace's show the next week. "That sort of thing is more insidious than Confidential," Parker said. "You have to go down to the newsstand to buy a magazine and you get this in your living room."
"As a police officer, I am used to being shot at. But how can a person like Cohen be allowed to assassinate my character?" Parker said.
ABC issued an apology the next week, but the controversy continued.
May 19, 1957
In only the second time such honor was bestowed upon a woman since it was established in 1932, the Asa V. Call Award was presented to Mrs. Richard M. Nixon for bringing the greatest honor to USC.
Not that the busy wife of the vice president could attend the ceremony. The 1937 alumna was occupied with official duties, so the award, named for the former USC trustee, attorney (Class of 1914) and president of Pacific Mutual Life Insurance was presented to Mrs. Mildred Younger, one of Mrs. Nixon's friends.
And what are Pat Nixon's duties? According to The Times, even though she's married to the vice president, she answers the doorbell of their modest, unpretentious home herself. In fact, she not only answered the door when the wives of some new congressmen came to visit, she was wearing an apron and carrying a broom since they caught her in the middle of house cleaning.
She's also a full-time housewife and mother, The Times says, although she gets babysitting help from Mrs. Clifford Moore (again, recall that this is the era when married women didn't have first names).
indignities mentioned in The Times? Protocol prohibits her from
selecting the color of her inaugural gown until First Lady Mamie
Eisenhower decides on the proper
hue. Life is full of challenges for the "perfect size 10" Mrs. Richard M. Nixon, The Times says.
The good news is that she gathered with some fellow (and they were all fellows) USC alums in Washington: Rep. James B. Utt of Santa Ana; Roger E. Johnson of USC's Washington alumni association; Sen. Thomas H. Kuchel; and Francis D. Tappaan, former football star and Kuchel aide.
Bonus fact: In 1952, opera singer Nadine Conner became the first woman to receive the Call award.
Here's the link to the Texas First Ladies Historic Costume Collection, where one of Mamie Eisenhower's dresses is on display.
Note: In early 1957, The Times sent UCLA professor Robert G. Neumann on a six-week tour of the Middle East. Neumann, who was later the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Morocco, wrote these stories upon his return. His son, Ronald, is U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.
Part 13, March 22, 1957
May 18, 1957
Gilbert M. Zaragoza, 21, of 3322 Oregon St. was led out of Federal court to serve the rest of his life in prison, presumably thankful that he escaped the death penalty.
His crime? He sold two caps of heroin to one minor and 10 caps of heroin to another juvenile, becoming the first man to be sentenced under the Narcotic Control Act of 1956 signed by President Eisenhower.
According to a 1973 article from Contemporary Drug Problems:
In Los Angeles one Gilbert Mora Zaragoza, a near-illiterate; epileptic Mexican-American addict, with an IQ of 71, was tricked into selling heroin to a 17-year-old bureau turncoat named Eddie Manguio. Zaragoza was 21 at the time. Bureau spokesmen later claimed they were trying to make a case against an older peddler for whom Zaragoza sometimes worked. But when the two youngsters botched the situation Zaragoza was put on trial for his life.
The jury which heard the case declined to recommend death; but on May 17, 1957, when Zaragoza came up for sentencing the judge [William C. Mathes], sometimes known as "Maximum Mathes," committed him for life without parole, commenting: "The jury gave you back your life. Now society should use your life to set an example for others." Subsequent applications to Judge Mathes to reconsider the sentence evoked only the comment that its severity "may have been some deterrent to others."
Five years later, President Kennedy commuted the life sentence to a 20-year term. The Times apparently failed to cover the story of Gilbert Mora Zaragoza's release from prison in 1970.
May 18, 1957
She was going to leave him, so she had to die. In fact, he killed all of them.
Marilyn Ockman, 25, and Sally, their 4-year-old daughter, were in the dining room of their home at 305 Date Ave., Alhambra, when Joseph T. Ockman killed them with a 14-gauge shotgun.
He went into the living room, opened the Bible to Exodus and left a note. Then the welder shot himself in the head.
"Sorry I must kill my wife because she is evil," he wrote. "All three of us are going to see the new world. I can't live without Sally and Marilyn because I love them too much. I hope the good Lord will forgive me for doing this.
"Let God be the judge and jury."
Anyone who does any downtown strolling can't help noticing the parade of shabby gentlemen lost in misfortune and alcoholism.
Most of them are obviously drifting aimlessly and hopelessly.
But many of them, beneath their ragged clothes, are bright fellows who, despite having taken a wrong turn somewhere, have retained their old sparkle. This select group is distinguished by a sharp awareness of the score and their own plight.
Not long ago one of them wrote in with some pertinent, if cynical, remarks about the desperate ironies of Skid Road. His return address, when I tried vainly to reach him, was the Midnight Mission.
Now, another writes:
"Mr. D.L. Tremens lurks alongside of me, although I thought I had dropped him when I lost the bottle on El Capitan in 1951. One of these days, without duress and inspired only by a drink, which I usually need, I will tell you about my many encounters titled 'Citizens Versus Panhandler,' 'Taxpayer Versus Intellectual Inferior' or 'How I Got the Money,' and other little things with which I often regale the few persons with whom I am acquainted on the Sordid Road to Oblivion or Who's Got the 23 Cents?"
His return address proved to be the Union Rescue Mission, and he wasn't there any more.
May 17, 1957
An otherwise unidentified author named James McLean writes a misty-eyed farewell to the passing of M-1 Garand, recalling the day in 1941 that his Army drill sergeant introduced him to the replacement for the '03 Springfield rifle, the standard weapon of World War I.
No, neither the troops nor the sergeant liked the M-1, McLean writes. The M-1's rear sight had a wider aperture than the Springfield's, which made it less accurate. The M-1 had less kick than the Springfield, but that was small compensation for the smashed right thumbs that soldiers suffered until they learned to keep them out of the M-1's operating rods, McLean said.
Praising the superiority of the M-14 rifle, which allowed automatic or semiautomatic fire, McLean says that although it may provoke grumbling and complaints, replacing the Garand with the M-14 is just as wise--and inevitable--as getting rid of the '03 Springfields in World War II.
If he knew, McLean certainly didn't allude to the tinkering of Lockheed engineer George C. Sullivan. Experimenting in the garage of his home on Lake Hollywood Drive, Sullivan began building a rifle that wouldn't be so heavy on his hunting excursions. Substituting plastic and lightweight metal used in aircraft whenever possible, Sullivan said, he drew the attention of fellow "gun nuts" and Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay. The AR-10 passed the Springfield arsenal's tests in February 1957, clearing the way for introduction of the rifle.
Rechambered for .223-caliber rounds from the original .308 ammunition, Sullivan's design eventually replaced the M-14, which was discontinued in 1964. The M-16 is still in use by troops that weren't born when it was invented.
"Courage" was an interesting book and well worth reading, Kirsch said. "But the Pulitzer Prize? What were the judges doing? Where were they when Bruce Catton's 'This Hallowed Ground' was published?"
"There was no more scholarship in Sen. Kennedy's book than one would find in a memorandum researched by one of his assistants or by a harried clerk in the Library of Congress. There was no more style than an editorial writer achieves on a dull day. Perhaps the judges were bemused by the sight of a senator writing a book and decided to award an A for effort."
In college, which was the last time I delved into Catton's civil war histories, I found them absolutely unreadable: thick volumes of impenetrable prose. And Kirsch failed to mention that Catton had already received a Pulitzer for "A Stillness at Appomattox." Don't take my word for it: Read the opening of "Hallowed Ground" courtesy of Amazon.com.
Now let's have some fun and see Kirsch had anything to say about, oh, how about Richard Nixon's 1962 book "My Six Crises"?
Hm. For some reason the review was turned over to veteran Times book critic Marvin Seid. His verdict: "Six Crises" is a story told by an unapologetic partisan; it will not, of course, please everyone. But here is a story no one else could tell. Few who read it will be able to deny that the Nixon who emerges from its pages is a man of dedication, intelligence, political skill and--above all--guts."
May 17, 1957
Let the record show that there was once a time in Los Angeles when something other than a backward baseball cap was deemed the height of fashion in men's hats. [I mean, guys, at least take them off in restaurants--unless it's a truck stop].
Although its origins are shrouded in the mists of fashion history, Los Angeles' straw hat season began in mid-May and ended in mid-September, when felt hats returned. It was a practice that was embraced with enthusiasm beginning by 1894 and lasted until 1967, when the last holdout--Bullock's--gave up the idea.
The fashionable chapeau, 1906
The ever-popular sailor, 1924
An array of straw hats, 1930
Love that puggaree band, 1935
Miss Foreign Trade helps pick a hat, 1942
Walter Slezak, 1953. Note the disturbing disappearance of a brim. This could get ugly.
Uh-oh. This is not a good look, 1960.
A dorky straw hat to accent the equally dorky wingtip loafers (are you kidding me?) from Bullock's. Fashion doom, 1967.