The Daily Mirror

Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

Category: July 13, 2008 - July 19, 2008

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The Drunkard


 
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I found this program from "The Drunkard" in a scrapbook that I bought years ago and rediscovered while unpacking a box of books today. "The Drunkard" was one of the most popular and long-running plays ever staged in Los Angeles. This particular program dates from the middle of 1934.
      
 
Here's a post I originally wrote for the 1947project that will give a bit of background:

Dropcap_i_baker n the summer of 1933, expecting nothing but a brief run and modest ticket sales, two theater people from Carmel, Preston Shobe and Galt Bell, hatched the idea of staging P.T. Barnum’s 1843 artifact of the temperance movement, “The Drunkard” by W.H. Smith. In keeping with the “meller drammer” atmosphere, the producers removed the theater seats and installed tables so the audience could drink beer and eat a buffet meal while hissing the villain, cheering the hero and singing "There Is a Tavern in the Town."

The men had more ambitious plans for the theater, including historic Italian plays and a Russian version of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” recast as anti-capitalist propaganda. But for reasons none of them understood, “The Drunkard,” which opened July 6, 1933, kept drawing huge audiences and was selling out weeks in advance.

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Strangest of all, people kept coming back to see the play, so that the producers abandoned the rest of the season. And not just regular theatergoers but movie stars, like Boris Karloff (who suggested old-time songs to be performed during the olios), Mary Pickford and John Barrymore.

W.C. Fields adored the play so much that he not only saw more than 30 performances, but he also built the 1934 film “The Old-Fashioned Way” around a production of “The Drunkard,” taking the role of Squire Cribbs and using many members of the Los Angeles cast. (That’s Jan Duggan “The Bowery Nightingale” with a ping-pong ball in her mouth getting whacked by Fields with a ping-pong paddle in “You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man.”)

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To everyone’s amazement, the play kept running week after week. The production marked its first year. And then another. Some cast members left for road shows of “The Drunkard.” Understudies took on leading roles and became stars of the show. As the years passed, actors who began as children outgrew their roles and had to retire. By 1940, there had been 16 weddings among the cast members.

On an unpainted cupboard in the women’s dressing room, someone tracked the number of performances and various historic events. On the night of the 2,245th performance, Hitler invaded Poland. On the 3,088th performance, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Through the war years, the Theatre Mart staged special shows for men and women in uniform. By its 7,085th performance on July 6, 1952, “The Drunkard” had been seen by more than 2 million people.

Finally, the Fire Department cut back on the size of the audience allowed per show from 340 to 260 and the play was no longer financially viable. On Oct. 17, 1959, “The Drunkard” closed with 9,477 performances.

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Neely Edwards, 76, who had been in the show since Christmas Eve 1933, said: “I was getting kinda tired anyhow. I can stay home now and relax for a while. Something usually comes along.”

In 1960, the theater where millions had booed and cheered the story of temptation and triumph over the evils of Demon Rum became the headquarters of Los Angeles Press Club.


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The neighborhood of 605 N. Juanita Ave., one block east of Vermont, one block south of Melrose, from Google maps' street view.
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July 19, 1908

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Above, details of the Gilbert B. Perkins home on Hillcrest in Pasadena.

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Dropcap_t_tarzan his was a fun little mystery, complicated by The Times using the wrong middle initial for Gilbert Perkins in the caption.

Perkins sold the home in 1914 to oil executive Frank W. Emery for a reported $125,000 ($2,591,561.05 USD 2007). After Emery died in 1920, the property at 1400 Hillcrest Ave. was sold to Mary Virginia McCormick, daughter of Cyrus H. McCormick, the head of International Harvester. (The Times originally identified her as his sister -- ahem).

Mary McCormick apparently planned to demolish the original house to build what The Times called the most expensive home in Pasadena at a cost of $195,000 ($2,289,010.35 USD 2007).  However, a 1927 story says that Mary McCormick had extensively remodeled and renovated the home, which contained about 50 rooms. 

In 1938, Mary McCormick hosted the wedding of her brother, Harold, the chairman of the board of International Harvester, and his private nurse, Adah Wilson. He was 66 and she was 31.

Mary McCormick died in 1941 at the age of 80 at her estate in Santa Monica, The Times said, and her belongings were sold at auction (at left).

She was something of a recluse, The Times said, who divided her time between her two large estates and kept three musicians on her staff of more than 30 servants. She occasionally hired great symphony orchestras to play for her privately, The Times said.

In 1945, after years of neglect, the 24-room mansion, 14-room guest house, two-story, 14-car garage and 26-acre estate was sold for $115,000 ($1,342,082.63) and divided into two parcels. Edward Tobin of Monrovia bought 12 acres and the realty firm of Smith and Son bought the 14-acre parcel.

According to Zillow.com, the present home at 1400 Hillcrest was built in 2004.

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Nuestro Pueblo

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Above, our artist's view of Bee Rock and below, Bee Rock courtesy of Google Earth.

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Below, suicide at Bee Rock, April 10, 1944.

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Pasadena Freeway

 
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A map from 1912 shows the plans for the Arroyo Seco Parkway. Note the Silver Lake Parkway, which was not built. The Arroyo Seco Parkway was actually proposed even earlier, as part of Charles Mulford Robinson's "City Beautiful" project of 1906-7. (He also advocated realigning Spring Street and putting City Hall there ... and he proposed planting jacarandas along the city's streets).
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Los Angeles Times file photo

This photograph of the Arroyo Seco Road, dated 1921, shows a pleasant country lane between Pasadena and downtown Los Angeles.
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Photograph by the Los Angeles Times

Construction on the river channel next to the Pasadena Freeway, July 1, 1935.
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Photograph by the Los Angeles Times

Construction is nearly finished, Oct. 17, 1940.
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Los Angeles Times file photo

Rose Queen Sally Stanton, Gov. Culbert Olson and Highway Patrol Chief E. Raymond Cato at the ribbon cutting of the Arroyo Seco Parkway (Pasadena Freeway), Dec. 30, 1940. This is in the general location east of Fair Oaks Avenue in South Pasadena where the sinkhole opened July 16, 2008.
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Photograph by the Los Angeles Times

And in a matter of months (Feb. 4, 1941) after the opening, the southbound Arroyo Seco Parkway (Pasadena Freeway) is backed up at the Figueroa Tunnels. If you ever wondered what a 67-year-old traffic jam looks like, this is your answer.
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Photograph by the Los Angeles Times

Emergency turnouts are added to the Pasadena Freeway in 1950 to ease congestion and prevent accidents.
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Photograph by Gil Cooper / Los Angeles Times

Workers install center dividers on the Pasadena Freeway, June 15, 1961. If you have ever seen the beating that these guardrails take from accidents, you can imagine what it was like when there was nothing but perhaps a little landscaping to keep cars from plunging into oncoming traffic. Email me

Below, the Orange Grove Avenue off-ramp on the southbound Pasadena Freeway via Google maps' street view.


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July 17, 1938

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Jack Benny gives a party for his daughter Joan and invites some little friends: Jack Haley Jr., Gary and Dennis Crosby, Dion Fay (son of Barbara Stanwyck and Frank Fay), Melinda Markey (daughter of Joan Bennett and Gene Markey), Al Jolson Jr. and Freddie Astaire Jr. Email me

July 17, 1908

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Don't get the idea these hats were cheap; wait till you see the actual prices: $219.87 and $186.89, marked down to $86.85 USD 2007.
Below, Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan gets more inches of copy but Republican candidate William Howard Taft gets the bigger headlines. Note: Although Taft was nominated at the GOP convention, he will make his official acceptance speech July 28. Email me
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President visits L.A.



 
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Photograph by the Los Angeles Times

President Roosevelt at Broadway and 7th Street, July 16, 1938.
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Photograph by the Los Angeles Times

Protesters along the parade route.

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Photograph by the Los Angeles Times

A crowd greets the president, who arrives in his personal railroad car.

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Photograph by the Los Angeles Times

A detail from the image above.
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Photograph by the Los Angeles Times

President Roosevelt delivers a speech, ignoring Los Angeles Mayor Frank Shaw, left. The president began his address without being introduced by the mayor, The Times said.
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Mystery picture

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This one's a bit different. Who's the artist?

Update: If you are a faithful Daily Mirror reader, you will recall posts about this artist....
  • Joan Rivers? Interesting guess. Alas, no.
  • Vincent Price? I'm afraid not.
  • Red Skelton? Sorry, no.
  • Henry Major? I'm afraid not.
  • Zsa Zsa Gabor? Alas, no.
  • Phyllis Diller? Interesting guess, but no.
  • Tony Curtis? Interesting, but no.
  • John Wayne Gacy? Ick! NO!!!!
  • Tony Bennett? Sorry, no.
  • Elizabeth Taylor? Alas, no.
  • Al Hirschfeld? Um, probably not.


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Setback for stadium

July 15, 1958

By Keith Thursby
Times staff writer

1958_0715_cover Los Angeles and the Dodgers lost a round in court in their efforts to build a baseball stadium in Chavez Ravine.

Superior Court Judge Arnold Praeger ruled that the contract between the city and the Dodgers was invalid. The deal had been struck when the team moved to Los Angeles, then voters narrowly approved it in a June 1958 election. Two local taxpayers then filed lawsuits trying to stop the deal.

The Times' main story led with a couple of painful sports metaphors, reporting that Judge Praeger "struck out the Dodgers' Chavez Ravine deal," which according to the paper was "a 32-page doubleheader decision."

The paper was a strong proponent of the ballpark and there were often clues in stories if you weren't sure where the paper stood. Deep in the main story on Praeger's ruling was this passage: "As for the voters who decided last June 3 that they were in favor of the Chavez Ravine recreational park--that doesn't count!" Interesting how the project was described.

In a story about city officials' reactions, Councilman John Holland was referred to as "perhaps the bitterest foe"  of the stadium plans. The ruling seemed certain to be appealed, but Holland instead hoped "that plans may be speedily revived to have the major league baseball stadium constructed near the Coliseum in or adjacent to Exposition Park."

Dodger owner Walter O'Malley remained confident that the ballpark would be built in Chavez Ravine.

"We came to California in the first place because we felt it was a fine country and because we wanted to build a new modern stadium," O'Malley said in a story by The Times' Al Wolf. "Chavez fits in perfectly with that plan--and we are not abandoning the program."

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July 15, 1938


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From The Times' editorial page, July 16, 1938. Note the Bible passage.
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Dropcap_w_1926 e can add this to The Times' editorials against a federal anti-lynching law (not necessary) and offering refuge to people fleeing Nazi persecution (they would just go on welfare and take jobs away from Americans): What's all the fuss with a recall election? One thing that's evident about The Times' editorial pages in this era is that they were staunchly in favor of the status quo.

Meanwhile, we seem to be in favor of a ballot initiative on working women that I don't entirely understand. Looks like some digging is in order.
 
At left, petitions are filed seeking to recall Mayor Frank Shaw. He says his opponents are a "disgruntled, discredited, hypocritical handful of politicians, racketeers and misguided zealots...." Los Angeles? Why it's the "white spot" of the nation!

And we'd be willing to host the 1940 summer Olympics after Tokio was forced to withdraw because of the war between Japan and China. 

Also ... Katharine Hepburn and Howard Hughes? Let me say that again: Katharine Hepburn and Howard Hughes?

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Note to Jaded: It's not such a bargain. Adjusted for inflation, $13.33 is $190.61 USD 2007.


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Prospect and Myra avenues ...  No, I couldn't make this up. I really couldn't.

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July 15, 1908


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Dropcap_h_lincoln ere's an update on the story of Joseph H.N. Longy, who was arrested on charges of sending threatening letters to local businessmen. The Times gives an elaborate description of his "oil gun" and a primitive hand grenade that was found in his room.

At left, Frank Leroyxez is badly injured during a Bastille Day celebration when his parachute becomes snarled after he jumps from a gas balloon at Chutes Park. Leroyxez landed on a building at 16th Street and Main (at left, the intersection), and was rescued by firefighters. 

In November, Leroyxez will be part of a balloon race with hopes of setting a distance record.

Also ... Chinatown gamblers target police officers for blockading their businesses ... Painters are trapped in a stockade being built to house the homeless ... Wilmington deals a setback to plans for laying streetcar tracks ... And the South Main Street and South Side improvement associations oppose bonds for improved roads.

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