The Daily Mirror

Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

Category: December 9, 2007 - December 15, 2007

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Company town II

 

2007_1215_craby_joes
Photographs by Larry Harnisch / Los Angeles Times

I ended up making two trips to 7th and Main to see if I could photograph the 50-year-old plaque commemorating the birth of the film industry in Los Angeles. Although I didn't locate the plaque, I at least found where it used to be (the story of so many historic sites in Los Angeles).

This intersection, which I have now named "Charles Bukowski Square," is home to Craby Joe's, apparently Bukowski's favorite watering hole. However, the Daily Mirror gave up bars that open at 10 a.m. many years ago, so there are no pictures of the interior.

At the northeast corner of 7th and Main, just south of Craby Joe's, is a shoe shop. Not a terribly likely candidate for a plaque.


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At the northwest corner is a large, old building that I'm not readily able to identify. Obviously the right vintage, but no plaque.


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At the southwest corner, there's a restaurant--and no plaque.

 


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Aha. Dearden's. The original Times story said the plaque was installed on a large furniture store, but there was nothing on the building's exterior.

I retired to the Daily Mirror HQ for further research and an examination of the Los Angeles street directory for 1956, thanks to the Los Angeles Public Library.

On my second trip, I roamed the store and I have to say that going through the doors at Dearden's is like stepping back to the department stores of my childhood: Toys, major appliances, kitchen gadgets and furniture (no clothing, however). And the store was packed.

 


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Finally, someone escorted me out to the corner to show me where the plaque used to be. Alas, it has either disappeared or is beneath a metal facade installed as part of the roll-down security doors.

 


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The former site of the plaque honoring the birthplace of the film industry in Los Angeles.

Ah well, at least I confirmed the location. 

While I was wandering the area, I got a couple of random shots.

 


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Here's some interesting figures in a shop window (yes, they also read Tarot cards here).

 


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And the back of the Palace Theatre, as seen from Spring Street.

What impressed me the most is how much this area is becoming gentrified. When I started at The Times, the current parking structure was under construction so we had to use a shuttle that took us to a huge parking lot at 4th and Main, which I considered the DMZ. I never thought I would see the day that there was an upscale pet supply store at 6th and Main in downtown Los Angeles.

And maybe one of these days, Cole's will reopen. Let's hope.

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Christmas past

Dec. 23, 1975
Los Angeles


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Photograph by Art Rogers / Los Angeles Times

A youngster held by Police Officer Bill Heim receives a present from Santa Claus as Officer Mike Peterson watches during a party at the Toland Way Children's Center given with help from the Northeast Division.

Women of the year

Dec. 15, 1957
Los Angeles

 

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When I started at the paper in the 1980s, The Times Women of the Year were treated as a quaint, horse-drawn practice of the pre-Otis Chandler era that provoked polite amusement.  Begun in 1950, the Women of the Year awards had been abandoned long before I arrived, so I never encountered the subject except when we ran an obit on one of the recipients (the Women of the Year always rated an obituary).   

Here we have 10 of them for the eighth annual awards, presented to readers in profiles that tend toward the superficial and light. I'm running the entire section, not because I expect anyone to read the whole package but because it's a time capsule. Except for Dinah Shore, very few of them are familiar today. You might remember that Madelyn Pugh Martin was a writer on "I Love Lucy" and wonder whether Mrs. Harry Francis Haldeman was related to the late Watergate figure (the answer is yes, she was H.R. "Bob" Haldeman's mother). Otherwise they are fairly obscure.

Unfortunately, most of the recipients are dead so we can't ask them how perceptions of women have changed since 1957. I would welcome thoughtful, insightful impressions about our award winners and on the larger question of women's changing roles over the last 50 years.

And if any former Women of the Year are reading, drop me a line.

Larry

The Women of the Year for 1957:

  • Mary Bowling (Mrs. James R. Bowling). Possibly deceased, but it's unclear.
  • Mrs. Ida Mayer Cummings (died 1968)
  • Margaret Ettinger (died 1967)
  • Mrs. Harry Francis (Katharine "Betty") Haldeman (died 1987)
  • Stella Hanania (died 1987).
  • Mrs. Leiland Atherton (Florence M.) Irish (died 1971)
  • Dr. Clara Szego Roberts (still living at the age of 92 as of May 2007)
  • Dr. Louise Wood Seyler (died 1998).

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--30-- revisited

 

Jack_webb_30_still02
Los Angeles Times file photo

Jack Webb, William Conrad and James Bell in a scene from "--30--".

Howard Decker, formerly of the Examiner, writes:

Regarding Jack Webb's film --30-- you are right. Webb made a copy of the Examiner city room at the film studio. I worked in this city room for years and knew it well.

There were two small mistakes in the film version. In the real Ex city room there was a spike where people put wire copy for the managing editor. In the studio set, the spike looks different than the one in real life. I forget the other mistake.

Otherwise, it is an amazing copy of the real thing. In the film David Nelson (Ricky Nelson's older brother) plays a copy boy. That could have been me (I was kind of a goof off at the time) although I admit Nelson has me in the good looks department. Such is life.

Dec. 15, 1957


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Christmas card

Time to do our Christmas cards at the Daily Mirror:

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Downtown rebirth

Dec. 14, 1957
Los Angeles

 

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I rarely read old editorials except for amusement. Here's why. In the middle of the San Fernando/San Gabriel Valley housing boom, The Times says the outlying tract home is dead and that more people are abandoning the suburbs for downtown apartment buildings. (The Westside and beach cities? O-ver!) I wonder if whoever wrote this ever looked at the real estate section.

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Christmas past

Aug. 13, 1952
Los Angeles
 

Harry_fremont_1952_0813_gordon_wall
Photograph by Gordon Wallace / Los Angeles Times

Police Lt. Harry Fremont denies mistreating a prisoner in the Dec. 25, 1951, "Bloody Christmas" police beatings.  Fremont was cleared of criminal charges, but suspended for 90 days for failing to stop the beatings by LAPD officers and for failing to enforce regulations banning liquor consumption at a police station.

Dec. 14, 1957


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Company town

 

1957_1213_elg_poulsonlat Photograph by the Los Angeles Times

Actress Taina Elg and Mayor Norris Poulson at Main and 7th streets in a photo published Dec. 13, 1957.

HOLLYWOOD'S GOLDEN JUBILEE
1907-1957

 

MAJOR MOTION PICTURE FILMING IN
LOS ANGELES BEGAN AT THIS LOCATION
IN THE FALL OF 1907 WHEN SCENES
FOR A FOURTEEN-MINUTE FEATURE,
"THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO," WERE
TAKEN. FROM THIS BEGINNING, HOLLYWOOD
BECAME THE WORLD'S MOTION PICTURE CAPITAL.

PLACED DEC. 12, 1957
 

Taina_elg_1955_0507_edward_gamer03 There was a mob "of holiday shoppers and idlers" at 7th Street and Main in 1957 as MGM actress Taina Elg and Mayor Norris Poulson arrived to unveil a commemorative plaque, which was fastened to the wall of a large furniture store. According to The Times, a Chinese laundry once stood on the site and some exterior shots for "Monte Cristo" were taken on the roof.

And then, a bit like Banquo's ghost in Macbeth, an "unidentified man with a scraggly mustache, wearing cowboy clothes and carrying spurs under his arm, came forward to insist that the location was wrong--that the shots in question were actually filmed at 8th and Olive."

"I was there. Talked to Bosworth himself," he said, referring to Hobart Bosworth, a popular stage actor who appeared in the early films of the Selig Polyscope Co.

Someone told the man that he was wrong and said that Thomas Persons, the cameraman on the picture, confirmed the location.

"The crowd listened with amusement to the argument for a while but then forgot it when Miss Elg appeared," The Times said. "That's a sight you don't see at 7th and Main every day." (Above right, Elg in a Times photograph by Edward Gamer; below, a scene from "Les Girls").

So I set out to discover which site is correct. Unfortunately, The Times failed to realize the historical significance of the occasion and never wrote a word in 1907 about filming these scenes on Main or on Olive.

Unlike the unidentified Times reporter from 1957, who didn't have access to ProQuest, we can easily find that the first reference to filming at 7th and Main was in 1926 when Persons, by then an executive with Biograph studios in New York, visited Los Angeles and returned to his old haunts.

Persons told Marquis Busby of The Times that he arrived in 1906 to shoot water scenes for "Monte Cristo" (the company filmed the interiors in Chicago).

According to the Nov. 7, 1926, story, Persons used the roof of a tinsmith's shop at 7th and Main, which "was considered an ideal location for a studio," Busby wrote. "It was quite a bit removed from the center of the business district of that day and, being upon a roof, nothing could interfere with sunlight upon which the producer was dependent."

The article also says that Persons shot several other movies on the roof of the shop, including "Carmen," with Lillian Hayward and "The Magician" with Francis Boggs.*

Taina_elg_1958_0105 That seems to confirm the Main Street site. But how did a tinsmith's shop become a Chinese laundry? And what about the unidentified man's claim that the film was shot at 8th and Olive?

In fact, he was right about the location (more or less) but wrong about the date.

Two years later, Persons moved to "a new studio at 7th and Olive, across from the site of the present Athletic Club building," Busby wrote. Instead of relying on direct, unfiltered sunlight, Persons had begun using overhead diffusers of unbleached muslin, apparently eliminating the need for rooftop filming.

"For this corner lot and the use of one or two decrepit buildings there was an outlandish rental to be paid of $25 ($541.14 USD 2006) a month," The Times said.

Aha! When we get to 1929, we find the first mention of a Chinese laundry in a story about actor Hobart Bosworth donating his early movie material to the Southwest Museum.  Citing a date of May 8, 1909, the story says Bosworth made a film titled "The Sultan's Power" at a Chinese laundry "near 8th and Olive streets."

A Feb. 4, 1929, story identifies the business as Sing Loo's laundry, "the present site of the Knickerbocker Building."

A ProQuest search for further information about Sing Loo, alas, is entirely unhelpful. Another search shows that the Knickerbocker Building was at 643 S. Olive  St. "just north of 7th Street." Hm. Sounds like shoddy research to me.

Fortunately, a May 5, 1929, story provides two first-person accounts.

Tom Santschi, one of the Selig actors, said: "We arrived in Los Angeles sometime between March 16 and 21 [1909] and began shooting almost immediately.... We found a studio in the backyard of a Chinese laundry on Olive Street, between 7th and 8th streets."

Bosworth wrote: "On May 8, 1909, I went over to a vacant lot behind a Chinese laundry on Olive Street between 7th and 8th streets. Here I found the quiet, exquisitely dressed gentleman who was James L. McGee. He introduced me to a still quieter little gentleman with the bright, smiling eyes I was destined to know and love so well. Francis Boggs, who made me comfortable and put me at my ease."

At last, determination pays off. There was a Chinese laundry (shown here in a clipping from 1895)! The reward for a diligent researcher.

1895_0601_laundry 
There is a famous story about the filming of a scene from "Monte Cristo," and like all Hollywood stories, it gets better with every telling. Here is the 1926 version:

The entire "Monte Cristo" company, consisting in toto of Tom Persons, the director, Francis Boggs, the leading man, a rented wig and prop beard, set forth for La Jolla.

Perhaps all might have been well but when Boggs got wet he suffered from sciatica shocks. So it was necessary to hire a double for the scenes wherein Monte Cristo emerges from the sea. Without much difficulty they persuaded a carefree La Jolla native to do the "emerging" for the munificent sum of $1.50 ($32.46 USD 2006) a day.

Everything was set for the shooting of the scene when the director looked up to see the pseudo Monte Cristo riding helplessly in the general direction of Honolulu on the crest of the waves.

"Save him!" yelled Persons.

"Save him, h--l!" returned the more practical Boggs. "Save the wig and whiskers."

But kind fate returned wig, whiskers, Monte and all, and the picture was completed without further mishap. The whole action transpired in 1,000 feet.


Next: Searching for a plaque at 7th and Main.

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* His name is frequently spelled Frances.

Christmas past

Dec. 18, 1964
Los Angeles

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But what is this? Don't tell me someone has turned this film into a play! Don't tell me it's at the Maverick Theater in Fullerton!

Don't tell me the poster looks like this:

 

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Mystery photo

 

 

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Photograph by the Los Angeles Times

Who is the brunette with Mayor Poulson? And what are they doing?


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  • Nancy Olson, the script girl in "Sunset Boulevard?" No.
  • Marthe Errolle? Interesting guess. But no.
  • Taina Elg? (Several people). Absolutely. I received this terrific message:

The lady is Tania [Taina] Elg and she's probably promoting the musical film "Les Girls" which came out in 1957. A friend of mine and I took a couple of young ladies to see an industry screening of this film in '57 and sat right behind Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner. The young ladies were very impressed. That, of course, was when the world was young.

That's exactly right. Taina Elg and Mayor Norris Poulson were photographed for a Dec. 13, 1957, Times story about the installation of a plaque at 7th Street and Main honoring it as the place where the first motion picture was shot in Los Angeles. (Exterior scenes for "The Count of Monte Cristo"). Was it really? Is the plaque still there? I'm going on a field trip to find out.

Stay tuned. This story is much more complicated that it sounds.

Want another clue, eh? Very well then:



Mystery_photo_071213_04
Los Angeles Times file photo

Here's our mystery woman, ready for Christmas, 1955

 

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Los Angeles Times file photo

Here she is in a publicity photo for a staged version of "Irma La Douce," 1962

 

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 Los Angeles Times file photo

Finally, here's the mystery woman with Lionel Barrymore in 1954 at MGM. Take a look at the head shots on the wall behind them: Clark Gable, Gene Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor... They had faces then.



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