The Daily Mirror

Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

Category: June 24, 2007 - June 30, 2007

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June bride



June 30, 1957

Mary and Leeland met while taking summer courses at Harvard and are so in love that they want to get married.

But while Leeland loves Mary, his parents hate her. She "shot holes through our heart," Leeland's mother says.

In fact, Leeland's family hates Mary and her parents so much that they have brought a $500,000 lawsuit against them for alienating Leeland from the Catholic faith. Mary's family, you see, are Lutherans.

Arnold J. Werner, a Milwaukee industrialist, and his wife presented Mary in a June wedding. The 165 guests at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church did not include Leeland Cummings Sr. and his wife, who said they wouldn't recognize the marriage "under any circumstances."

The Cummings family of Wyncote, Pa., accused the Werners of luring Leeland away from his religion by paying his Harvard tuition and offering him a job. Leeland denied all the accusations and said his father was trying to extort money from the Werners. Eventually, all litigation was dropped after the Werners filed a countersuit.

A rocky start to a storybook romance?

Sadly, no.

A year later, according to Time magazine, Mary filed for divorce, saying that in the month they lived together Leeland threatened her, quit his job at her father's business and said that if she didn't support him, he would find someone who did.

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Child beater



June 29, 1957
Los Angeles

1957_0629_mcnultyHere's a formula for disaster: Take an unemployed 19-year-old who was booted out of the Marines after going AWOL and slashed his wrists when he was caught. Hook him up with a 21-year-old girlfriend who's working a double shift as a waitress  in a cafe. Throw in her 2-year-old daughter and put them all in a trailer at 7025 Chanslor Ave. in Bell.

The ex-Marine's name is Girard Joseph McNulty, who said: "The way we had to live like animals just seemed to get me down. Half the time we didn't know what to do about rent or for food or anything else and it just hit me all at once."

His girlfriend was Laura Irene Donnelly and she had known McNulty about two years. They had arrived from Colorado about a month earlier.

The youngster is identified as Joyce Ellen Meyer in one story and Joyce Donnelly in another.

"I don't really know why I hit her but when I hit her she just hit the wall with her head and then I heard her crying and rushed her to the hospital," McNulty said. Joyce was hospitalized with a black eye, bruises on her abdomen and cheek, and a possible concussion.

McNulty was arrested on charges of felony child beating and arraigned, but The Times never pursued the story. He died in Texas in 1992, according to the Social Security Death Index. No further information is available about Laura Donnelly or her daughter Joyce.

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Matt Weinstock

Matt_weinstockd June 28, 1957

Rehabilitation can come in curious ways. Let a man who occasionally checks in here tell his story of self-appraisal and reinstatement in society.

One day he picked up a book, "Blood on the Boards," by William Campbell Gault, and read:

"Slopping through life with no discipline, no goal! And they find themselves 40 and empty, and go looking for what they missed in a bottle."

The words hit him, he says, with the impact of a sledge hammer. Nothing had ever made such an impression on him.

He stopped and reread them. He has reread them many times. He has made copies of them.

At the time he asked himself two questions:

"What have I lost that is so important to me?" "What do I want?"

Both answers came within seconds.

"I am now well on my way to achieving what I desire to do," he says, "and recovering what I lost. And I haven't had a drink from that moment to this."

IN THE MAIL Monday an employee at Gibraltar Savings & Loan Association of Beverly Hills came upon an envelope containing $5,000 in $100 bills with no clue to the identity of the sender.

On Wednesday, a customer appeared, claimed the money and directed that it be deposited in a savings account.

He explained he'd been in an all-night poker game and had been filling full houses and inside straights like crazy. At the height of his run of luck he'd stepped outside, stuffed his winnings in an envelope and mailed it to Gibraltar, then returned to the game.

Will all gamblers who wish they'd done the same at one time or another please bow their heads in reverence to the man who did.

MISCELLANY -- Note on the bulletin board at the Valley Elementary District Board of Education office: "I pledge allegiance to the City of Los Angeles and to the smog under which it stands. One city, invisible, with eye drops and cough drops for all."

Cold case file--the Pied Piper

Tyler Marshall's Column One (known at The Times as a "nondupe) on the Pied Piper is one of my favorites. And since the presumed anniversary of the incident is in late June, it seemed like a good time to share the story with a new generation of readers. As it appeared in The Times, June 22, 1984:

Part 1


Part 2

Part 3


Orchestra wives



1957_0628_barnet02 June 28, 1957
Los Angeles

It's a tough life for orchestra wives. Consider the case of Joy Windsor, bandleader Charlie Barnet's 10th wife. In May, Barnet had assured her that his days of touring were over. "I was on the road a lot in the old days," he said. "One-night stands. The way a musician travels on the road is tired, dirty and drunk. Doesn't make for a good marriage."

"The band business has changed now. There's not much road any more.... You don't have those one-night stands."

Maybe the band business had changed, but Barnet hadn't. Windsor's complaints echoed those of his previous wife Betty Reilly, who said Barnet left her for days at a time and refused to tell her where he had been. 

In fact, Barnet had been married so often that even The Times lost count, calling Windsor Barnet's ninth wife in some stories and 10th wife in others.

The wives of Charlie Barnet, with his comments, as listed in 1955:

    1. A showgirl--It lasted about eight months.
    2. A singer--Artie Shaw was the best man. "We had a horrible fight after the ceremony and she went her way and I went mine."
    3. A showgirl--Her divorce wasn't final, so the marriage was annulled.   
    4. A singer--"It lasted a couple of years."
    5. An actress. "She was my favorite. We were married about six years."
    6. "Just a plain li'l ol' gal. It only lasted a week."
    7. 1957_0628_reillyA singer--"A couple of years."
    8. An artist--"My divorce from No. 7 wasn't final, so that one was annulled too." 

Among Barnet's wives are:

  • Rita Merritt (1947), probably wife No. 5.
  • Harriet C. Barnet
  • Betty Reilly (1953)
  • Linda Joyce Johnson (1956)
  • Joy Windsor (1957)

Wife No. 5 said in 1955: "Sorry I married him? Not a bit. If I marry again, I'd like to marry a fellow exactly like Charlie. He's a fascinating man and certainly not a bore.  In fact you never knew what was going to happen next. But being a musician he was on the road a lot and we really didn't get a chance to establish a home. It just wasn't conducive to a good marriage."

Bonus fact: In researching Charlie Barnet, I stumbled across the sad story of vocalist Ann Richards, who married bandleader Stan Kenton in 1955. She won the Downbeat poll as the No. 1 band vocalist in 1956, but left her career to be a mother, rejoining the band in 1961. After divorcing Kenton, Richards married William Botts, although she later separated from him. It was Botts who discovered her body in the bedroom of her Hollywood Hills home in 1981. Unable to find work after she ended a 10-year engagement at the Bel-Air Hotel, Richards shot herself in the head, leaving two children, Dana and Lance Kenton. Richards was 46.

(You may recall Lance Kenton was arrested in 1978 in a scheme to kill attorney Paul Morantz, who won a lawsuit against Synanon, by putting a rattlesnake in his mailbox).

Here's some Charlie Barnet.

And some Stan Kenton.

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They said it

June 27, 1957
Los Angeles

"The Lord made distinctions between the races in the beginning of time. This idea of amalgamation of races and one world and all that is of the devil."

J.H. Seal, chairman of the board of trustees, Normandie Avenue Methodist Church, explaining why all the white members of the congregation were leaving to protest the appointment of an African American minister.

Nope, this was not the deep South. This was L.A.

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Sports Arena



June 27, 1957
Los Angeles

1957_0627_arena_modelHere's one plan that was actually built: The Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. Designed by the firm of Welton Becket, the arena was intended to be a 19,000-seat facility built for $5.7 million ($40,842,117.48 USD 2006).

"This is the greatest challenge my office has ever had," said Becket, whose firm designed the Capitol Records Tower, the Theme Building at LAX and the Cinerama Dome. "Although the plans exceed the limits in every case that was given to us, we still would have presented this same plan if we $11,000,000 to work with," he said.

The arena was opened by Vice President Richard Nixon on the Fourth of July, 1959. It hosted the Lakers (1960-1967), Clippers (1984-1999) and USC basketball (1959-2006) and was the site of the 1960 Democratic National Convention.

The arena is featured in the exhibit "Housing the Spectacle."

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Smog alert



1957_0627_smog_chart June 27, 1957
Los Angeles

Everybody knows that Los Angeles suffered terrible smog in the 1950s, but without statistics, all we have are stories and photos of toxic clouds obscuring the landscape.

In fact, for the unfortunate people living in Los Angeles in 1957, what was deemed a Stage 1 alert (0.5 parts per million of ozone) would be a Stage 3 alert today. (In a Stage 2 or Stage 3 alert today, all non-emergency driving is discouraged and schoolchildren are banned from outdoor activities).

Now for the really ghastly facts: In 1957, a Stage 2 alert was 1 ppm and a Stage 3 alert was 1.5 ppm. The Mirror notes that  no Stage 2 or 3 alerts had ever been issued, but that in a Stage 3 alert, the governor was authorized to declare a state of emergency.

One of the most polluted days in Los Angeles history was Sept. 13, 1955, when the city reached 0.9 ppm of ozone in Vernon and 0.85 ppm downtown.

Dr. Clarence Mills of the University of Cincinnati said: "The Los Angeles situation is so severe and so fraught with health dangers that any pollution control program should be put on compulsory basis." Mills urged that a Stage 1 alert be issued at 0.2 ppm, which is, in fact, the current level. Using that figure, Los Angeles had four Stage 1 alerts in the first six months of 1957.

When someone told Mills that his lower figure would have Los Angeles County at a Stage 1 alert for most of the year, he replied: "That's the way it should be."

The California Air Resources Board link is here.

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In Rome

June 26, 1957
Los Angeles

The late Art Buchwald always struck me as one of the least amusing humor columnists America has ever produced. But as this piece shows, he was a pretty fair writer when he wasn't trying to be funny.


Boxer dies

June 26, 1957
Los Angeles

I'm pleased to present the work of John Hall, a columnist for the Mirror, The Times and the Orange County Register. In this piece, he recalls the late boxer "Mexican" Joe Rivers and his fight with Ad Wolgast. (Note that Wolgast is in the International Boxing Hall of Fame and Rivers isn't.)


Lawyer drowns in pool



1957_0626_hahn_mug June 26, 1957
Los Angeles

The lawyer drove up to the cabin in Tick Canyon, north of Saugus, in his Cadillac. He should have been home in Beverly Hills by now, but he phoned his wife, Mary, that he was having dinner with a client.   

He parked the Cadillac next to the cabin and left his jaunty straw "boater" hat in the back seat. Maybe he sat in one of the chairs next to the pool for a while--perhaps all night. Then he put his glasses under the chair, took off his coat, with $109 in loose bills in the pocket, and laid it on the chair, along with his white shirt and tie, and a folder containing his identification cards.

Then he tied one end of a rope around his neck, threaded the other end through two concrete blocks and jumped into the deep end of the pool. That's where he was found by 17-year-old Bob Nelson, a neighbor who had been hired to do some chores around the cabin.

Sammy "S.S." Hahn, 68, a Russian immigrant, is an obscure figure today, but at the time of his death, he was a well-known attorney who handled some of the most famous clients in Los Angeles, including Aimee Semple McPherson and murderess Louise Peete, one of only three women to be executed in California. A graduate of USC's law school, Hahn was originally known for his defense work in high-profile criminal cases but later specialized in divorces.

He earned his nickname, "The Corporal," during a sharp courtroom exchange with Col. William H. Neblett, who protested when Hahn continually referred to him as "Mr. Neblett" instead of "Col. Neblett." "Your honor, Hahn said, "if my opponent insists on his military rank, so shall I. Henceforth, I respectfully request that I be addressed as Cpl. Hahn."

Hahn's apparent suicide puzzled his many friends and devastated his wife, Mary, whom he married in September 1954. Hahn's wife of 36 years, Teresa, had died in May 1954. Some people speculated that Hahn's death was not a suicide, especially because he left no note, but medical examiner Dr. Gerald K. Ridge found that his death was an uncomplicated case of asphyxiation.

Mourners attending his funeral at Forest Lawn in Glendale, conducted by Rabbi Samson Levey, included attorney Jerry Giesler and Judges Thurmond Clark, Henry Draeger, Larry Doyle and Mark Brandler. Pallbearers were members of American Legion Post 253 of Beverly Hills.

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I remember well the Paul Coates program on TV, Channel 11, when it was owned by The Times.  Never understood anything he was talking about when he was on, but I remember the stark blackness of the set behind him.   
I was born on a rainy February morning in 1950 in old Methodist Hospital downtown, on the 50th anniversary of Adlai Stevenson's birth, also in LA.  Throughout the '50s, 60s and 70s, lived in Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, Torrance (I walked to kindergarten and 1st grade on a dirt road bordered by tall eucalyptus and pastureland where we kids would slip thru the barbed wire fence to taunt the bulls hanging with the cows---yes, Torrance, CA 1955-57), Buena Park, La Sierra, Riverside, West Covina, Upland, Palm Springs, Panorama City, Simi Valley, Westwood (UCLA, History, 1972), then lit out for literally greener pastures in the late '70s to New England, Mass, NH and Vt, where I live now.  I visit L.A. occasionally, see no difference in the traffic flow (I always knew what time of day to take certain roads to zip thru traffic) and much less smog today---and the place looks cleaner, shinier even, and always try to coincide my trips with a game or two at Dodger Stadium.
What prompted me to write is your story on the dismantlement of the backyard incinerators.  I remember very clearly this first step in smog reduction.  As a 7 yr old in '57 i paid little attention to smog, other than how it stung and made my eyes water, and remember the haste with which my dad went from getting a notice some official was coming to inspect the fact the incinerator in the backyard would be no more.  This would be in Buena Park, where from the summer of '57 to '61 i enjoyed, no, deeply fondly loved the best 4 years of my childhood, as my friends and I would play with the horney toads which populated the looong-gone orange groves a couple of blocks away, and every Saturday morning I would walk to Knott's Berry Farm, when entrance was free and it was a quiet, wonderfully smelling place, of eucalyptus (again) and boysenberry, to stroll around in the ersatz-but-real Huck Finn environment, and jump the tracks and dodge the old steam train as it would chug by.
Anyway, I remember my dad burning stuff, paper and dry tree limbs, in the little cement incinerator for the last time before the official came to verify the thing was laid flat, the four sides of the object left lying where it stayed for years, and the talk that this would reduce the smog.  It did, but little did we know the magnitude of the problem from cars.
Nothing exciting, really, just another fond little memory you piqued from my childhood.  ~  Craig Hill / Montpelier Vt


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