The Daily Mirror

Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

Category: August 12, 2007 - August 18, 2007

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Womanpower

 

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I'm always interested in what working women--in this case a group of women writers--have to say about other working women. I wasn't surprised to find some attitudes that are outmoded today and I'll try not to judge the stories or the writers too harshly. But to discover a working woman staunchly preaching against other working women, that was a surprise, especially under the guise of reporting.

 

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The first story, by longtime staff writer Dorothy Townsend, stands by itself and reports on a luncheon speech at the Ambassador Hotel by Dr. Horace B. Cates of Good Samaritan Hospital examining the health issues of working women.

The second two, which were paired in the feeble hope that they would make more sense that way, also deal with the future of working women.

Norma H. Goodhue, The Times women's club editor for many years, focuses mainly on older workers and tacks on women as an afterthought. This is, after all, the women's pages. Although the subject belongs on Page 1, that day is long in the future.

The final story, by Anne Norman, is about the most important subject--the future of women in the workplace--but editorializes so heavily against working women that I am shocked it was written by a woman.

We can quickly dispense with the luncheon speech. The Times says:  "Married or single, the modern businesswoman often finds herself playing a dual role in society: career girl-housekeeper. She's a lot more likely to spend Saturdays cleaning the house or apartment than the male is." (Plus ca change, etc.).

In brief, because of the stresses facing them, working women "are apt to fall into a chronic physical and emotional fatigue, suffer insomnia, muscle spasms, tension, loss of or increased appetite, headaches, temper tantrums--any or all of these."

Why aren't women keeling over at an early age, like men? The Times says, "Thousands of years of childbearing has produced in women 'built-in reserves,' physical and emotional. 'For example, women can take insults that men couldn't take.' "

The story (Part 1, Part 2) about older workers is interesting mostly because it doesn't present the now customary view of baby boomers. In 1957, the fear was that the Depression-era "baby bust"  generation (the U.S. birth rate declined in the late 1920s and early 1930s) was joining the prime employment group ages 24 to 44, and would have to support baby boomers (ages 5 to 15 born after World War II) as well as older workers being forced to retire at the age of 65.

"The economics picture: A small working force will be supporting the very young and the very old; either give the older worker a chance to produce or expect demands for more considerations in the form of pensions and relief--which spells taxes," The Times says.

And finally, the shock in coverage of a national study titled "Womanpower," prepared by the National Manpower Council with the philosophy: "Women constitute not only an essential but also a distinctive part of our manpower resources. They are essential because without their presence in the labor force we could neither produce and distribute the goods nor provide the educational, health and other social services which characterize American society."
 

Rather than any further reporting, the article (Part 1, Part 2) quickly becomes a critique of the 400-page study. Now keep in mind that this was written by a woman--and a working woman at that:

"But the council, with the exception of one or two fleeing mentions, seems to be unaware that as more and more women leave their homes to enter the labor force, more and more children are going to be deprived of the only truly adequate care available to them, their mothers."

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(My caption: Above, young inmates languish at a Los Angeles day-care center, callously abandoned by their irresponsible working mothers instead of being at home, where they could improve their minds by watching TV shows like "Mighty Mouse," "Queen for a Day" and "The Edge of Night," ensuring that the U.S. doesn't lose the space race to the Soviets).

But wait, it gets much worse. After conceding that some women, such as divorcees and widows, have to work, the story faults working wives:

"The council says that these mothers go to work because of 'the desire for a higher standard of living in a culture which encourages ever-rising consumption and material well-being.'

"That's a polite way of saying that the mothers of today put the latest appliances, modern homes and fin-tailed automobiles ahead of their children's welfare."
 
--snip--
 
"It means that as mothers leave their homes to earn money to maintain that 'higher standard of living' now considered so necessary, more places will be needed in which to dump the children they leave behind them."

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Imagine my surprise to encounter this attitude elsewhere in The Times' coverage of working women in 1957. A story by Times veteran writer Evelyn De Wolfe says that American working women "are primarily concerned with meeting the 'cost of high living rather than the high cost of living.' "

I will leave further exploration of these stories to someone working on a dissertation in women's history. There's lots of fertile material.

Here's a final quote from the "Womanpower" story:

"Uncle Sam seems to be the only one who is insisting that the child's welfare is more important than an augmented family income. Women in the armed services are permitted to marry but they are given a general discharge as soon as it is discovered they are pregnant."

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Bonus fact: The Times did away with its Women of the Year awards in 1977, deciding that "a women-only awards program [is] unnecessary in today's world."

You Have Got to Be Kidding Me

Aug. 15, 1957
Los Angeles

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Paul Coates

Paul_coates Aug. 13, 1957

SUBJECT'S NAME--Jack Pearson.

SUBJECT'S DESCRIPTION--Age, 41. Height, approximately 6 feet. Probably husky build. Blue eyes. Dark, possibly graying hair. Fingers of both hands, once frozen during childhood, have slight twist.

Any person with information as to subject's whereabouts is requested to contact Walter Pearson, 14720 Strathern St., Van Nuys.

Twenty-five years ago, Jack Pearson shot his 7-year-old brother.

It was an accident.

But Jack, then 16, panicked and ran away.

He thought, apparently, that his brother would die.

Yesterday, I detailed the events which led up to the shooting, the shooting itself, and Jack's disappearance a few hours afterward.

The accident occurred on their father's farm in Central Canada. After the younger brother was bundled onto a sleigh by his parents for the nine-mile trip to a doctor, Jack stood in silence at the door of the farmhouse, awaiting their return.

Then, without speaking to his other brothers and sisters, he walked out into a growing blizzard and disappeared.

I talked this week with the victim of the accident--Walter Pearson.

He's 32 now. He arrived in Southern California a few months ago with his wife and two children. He had been shot in the mouth, but no scar remains. 

The lasting scar, he fears, may have remained with his brother.

Plenty of confused 16-year-old kids have tried to meet the world with a bundle on the end of a broomstick--but few carried the extra burden of guilt which Jack took along.

1957_0809_ads And that's what bothers Walter most.

"I guess, to this day, he thinks I'm dead," he told me.

"And that he was the one who killed me."

How such a belief might have twisted Jack down a wrong path was pretty obvious to both of us.

"The whole family was aware of it," he said. Then quietly, he added:

"We've tried very, very hard, to find him."

The search, Walter told me, was started by the youth's parents when they returned from Grandview the day after the shooting.

"They went back to town immediately, and checked all the farms along the way."

They asked and received assistance from the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the police.

There were theories (the main one being that Jack hopped a freight to Winnipeg, 250 miles distant) but that was all.

Walter's personal theory was--and still is--that his brother went to sea.

"It's been a lot of years, but I can still remember how enthused he used to be with the little boats he'd carve for me."

The theory, however, was almost exploded a year ago--by a set of startling coincidences

Or maybe they weren't coincidences.

Jim, another of the eight grown Pearson children, wrote Walter about them.

In his letter, Jim--9 years old when Jack disappeared--related that he was watching television one night when a vaguely familiar face came on camera.

The man was being interviewed.

He said his name was Joe. He said he came from a large family. And he said that years ago, as a boy, he had run away from home. When asked where, he replied:

"From a farm in Central Canada."

He was one of several men interviewed, and that's about all he said.

The man conducting the interviews was a Vancouver (British Columbia) minister.

And the interviewees were the floaters and bums of that city's Skid Row.



The want ads

Aug. 13, 1957
Los Angeles

Swedish massages, photo models (they even provide the camera) and lots of lonely people. Take a look at the Daily Mirror's personals (click on the image for the full listings):


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The saga of Long Sam

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1957_0812_brown02 Aug. 4-12, 1957
Mooresville, N.C.

A reporter and a photographer from a small North Carolina weekly were hacking their way through the woods along the Catawba River for a story about a hydroelectric project when they came to a clearing and saw her. In that moment, Dorothy Brown's life was changed forever.

Writer Tom McKnight and photographer Fletcher Davis of the Mooresville Tribune found the 16-year-old drawing water from a well outside her family's two-room cabin.* She was barefoot, wearing a cotton shirt tied at the waist and her father's cutoff jeans.

"She is tall and lithe and willowy and very beautiful," McKnight wrote. He called her a "statuesque young girl carved from the classical pattern of a Greek goddess.... Her hair is deep brown like the rich earth and her eyes blue like the sea and her teeth are even and shine in the sun."

The third of nine children, Dorothy had dropped out after seventh grade to help take care of her younger brothers and sisters, and because she had no clothes to wear to school, the papers said.

"I want an education," she said, "because you have to have an education to be somebody. Knowin' leads to living."

Kays Gary, a columnist at the Charlotte Observer, read McKnight's story and visited Dorothy. On Aug. 4, 1957, his column, headlined "Will Long Sam Become Cinderella?," touched off a wildfire among American newspapers, fed by the Associated Press with stories datelined Mooresville, N.C.   

Nicknamed "the Backwoods Beauty," "Nature Girl" and "Long Sam," Dorothy became an overnight sensation.

"For six days now the area has been combed by promoters, wildly competing disc jockeys, moonstruck college boys and hundreds of others who just want to see her," The Times said. "She has been sought by professional baseball teams, by modeling agencies, a sweater manufacturer, fashion show directors and press agents for items ranging from an encyclopedia to pizza pies. She's received stacks of mail from Canada to the Bahamas."

For the first time in her life, Dorothy saw the ocean in a trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C. An anonymous benefactor--identified many years later as Ross Puette, a Charlotte paperboard manufacturer--offered to  put Dorothy through high school and college.

By the middle of August, Dorothy was on a train to New York with Kays, McKnight and their wives for an appearance on Ed Sullivan's TV show.

To Steve Allen, Dorothy said: "No." To "The $64,000 Question," Dorothy said: "No." To a part in the Broadway musical "Li'l Abner," Dorothy said: "No." In fact, to everything except an education, Dorothy said: "No."

It was hard for Dorothy to leave home, one observer said. "She was crying when she left her parents, but she said she had to get out,"  according to a friend of the McKnights. Dorothy said: "I will never go back to my parents' home. You see, my mother and I were never close. I had two older sisters she was closer with. I guess I was always different."


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In less than a year, Dorothy was making up for lost schooling at a junior college in Wingate, N.C., getting A's in English, math and French, a B in American history and a B-plus in biology. As a sophomore, she told one interviewer: "People seem surprised when they meet me for the first time. They look as though they expected me to be wearing a tiger skin and swinging across the room, screaming like Tarzan."

"If it hadn't been for the pictures and all, I never would have gotten to go back to school. I'd probably be babysitting and hoping and dreaming," she said. "I definitely want to further my education more than just high school. I don't think I'd be satisfied just being a secretary and sitting somewhere and typing."

And with that, Dorothy, "the Backwoods Beauty," vanished from the national news for almost 40 years.

In the intervening years, Dorothy graduated with a teaching degree. She moved to Charlotte and taught at an elementary school until she quit to raise the McKnights' daughter after the death of Tom McKnight and his wife, Marie.

She eventually married a salesman and when local reporters occasionally checked in on her, she seemed like any other Charlotte housewife.

Then in the early 1990s, Observer columnist Gary saw the Jodie Foster movie "Nell" and was reminded of Dorothy. He had lost touch with her over the years, according to a 1995 story by  Dannye Romine Powell.

Powell found Dorothy, then 54 years old, divorced and out of a job. She was surviving on part-time clerical work and severance pay from a rehab center where she was program secretary.

Dorothy told Powell: "I was the third girl of a family that wanted a boy. I don't why but I knew from the beginning I wasn't wanted." She added: "I thought my daddy drank because we were poor and, of course, I found out that because my daddy drank we were poor."

But she had no regrets about turning down the offers from TV shows, Broadway and product endorsements.

"I wanted the education. Had I chosen fame or fortune or whatever I could have and would have lost that," she told Powell. "The education--that's mine. Nobody can rob my house and take it. No matter what, it's mine."

In 2003, the Observer's Jim Morrill found Dorothy, by then 62, living on disability in a modest home in northwest Mecklenburg with a poodle named Daisy. Today, she would be 66. Let's hope that she's well.

*The Browns' home is described elsewhere as a dilapidated, five-room house with no indoor plumbing. The number of siblings also varies between stories. Such are the vexations of research.

 

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Jean Spangler

 

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I was listening to the prayers of the people during today's church service and was shocked to hear "Jean Spangler"  among the names. I told myself it could be a coincidence. Maybe it was someone else named Jean Spangler, or for all I know, it could have been Gene Spangler, not necessarily the actress who vanished without a trace.

It's not near the anniversary of her disappearance (Oct. 7, 1949) or her birthday (Sept. 2, 1923), so I'm at a bit of a loss.  But whatever the reason, I've added the Spangler family to my list.

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Four-time loser

 

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1957_0812_janet02 Aug. 12, 1957
Los Angeles

John Gordon Fawcett, 42, had enough. His last three marriages had ended with his wives getting boyfriends and so when he found his fourth wife in the bedroom with another man....

"This happens every time," he said. "I got just a little tired of it."

At 28, Janet Fawcett was 14 years younger than her husband. I suppose if she'd been more mature she could have asked John a few questions before marrying him. Something like, "Have you been married before?" or more to the point: "Do you keep a loaded .45 semiautomatic around the apartment?" (The answer to both those questions was: Yes).

But from what she told police about the shooting, she doesn't sound all that bright--or at least she didn't think through what might happen if her husband found her with another man in their bedroom.

John and Janet, who had been married six months,  moved out of their old apartment at 12835 Burbank Blvd. and into a new apartment at 13737 Oxnard St. There was a pool party that night for new residents and their guests, The Times said. During the evening, John discovered that Janet had disappeared. He went into their apartment and left a note on his pillow telling her that he was upset because he couldn't find her and that he was spending the night at their old apartment.

But John couldn't get to sleep, The Times said. And so he returned.

With the .45.

John went into the bedroom with his pistol and found Janet with Louis C. Spichtig, 25, 15635 Colbalt St., so John shot him in left shoulder. John called the police and when two officers arrived, he handed them the .45 and told them what happened.

1957_0812_johnSpichtig was taken to General Hospital after being treated at Van Nuys Receiving Hospital and apparently recovered as he can't be found in the California Death Index. In fact, The Times never published a follow-up on this case, so we don't know what happened unless we go to the Mirror for these details:

Spichtig told police: "I didn't know she was married."

And Janet asked John: "Why did you shoot him? It was all just innocent fun."

As bad as this is, it could have easily turned into a double murder or a double murder and a suicide.  With luck, these three people sorted out their lives and moved on. Maybe all of them learned something. Spichtig, by the way, refused to press charges, the Mirror said.

The real mystery, at least to me, is how Jerome Voelker, 23, who was lying on the sofa, managed to sleep through the entire incident. If you have ever been around a .45 when it's fired, you'll know it's loud.  I suspect, and this in only a hunch, that alcohol was somehow involved.

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