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Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

Category: August 31, 2008 - September 6, 2008

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Movie star mystery photo

 


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Los Angeles Times file photo
OK, who are they?

Of course, it's Mickey Rooney on the left. His boxing partner is Art Aragon, as guessed by Kip Brown (who thought it might have been Mickey Knox), Howard Decker, Michael Ryerson and Lee Rivas. Information on the back of the photo says this is a scene from "Military Policemen" (also known as "Off Limits"). The date is difficult to read, but appears to be Jan. 29, 1953. Nice guessing, folks!



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Update: This woman is not Veda Ann Borg. Her photo was placed in that file by mistake. Any ideas?
Who is eating dinner with the Reagans? And who is the Reagans' mystery dinner companion?

Hint: Hoosier hoopster. NBA. Now ask yourself, does this gent look like an athlete? Someone said something about the Pacers.... You're red hot!

Portrait of the American stage in black and white



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On Aug. 20, 1938, The Times noted the passing of Thomas K. Heath, who was once one of vaudeville's biggest stars. A little research showed that he and his partner Jim McIntyre performed in blackface for many years after they teamed up in 1874. I'd never heard of them, so I wondered who they were. 

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Dec. 24, 1895.
Then in researching Heath and McIntyre, I ran across another team, perhaps not as well known: Bert Williams and George Walker.  But instead of two white comedians pretending to be black, Williams and Walker were African American. Better yet, according to The Times, they were from Los Angeles. These fellows sounded fairly interesting and worth investigating.



Once extremely popular, blackface minstrel shows vanished from the American stage decades ago, and only survive in a few jarring clips from old movies, like one of the sketches in "Yankee Doodle Dandy." So here's a brief history of minstrel shows from New York Sun, republished in The Times:
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Los Angeles Times file photo

Above, McIntyre and Heath in a publicity photo without makeup.

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Los Angeles Times file photo

And here are Heath, left and McIntyre in character. Personally, I find this photo grotesque and shocking, but this kind of entertainment was a sensation in its day.


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Los Angeles Times file photo

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to locate any photos of Williams and Walker as a team, but here's Bert Williams as a solo performer after Walker's death in 1911. And would I like to see him perform? Absolutely.

Both teams appeared many times in Los Angeles, almost always at the Orpheum (which would have been second Orpheum on South Spring Street). Curiously enough, in May 1898, in some quirk of booking, they appeared on the same bill: McIntyre and Heath, "the great Blackface Comedians," and Williams and Walker, "the real Colored Comedians."


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"The Ham Tree," Jan. 6, 1914.

McIntyre and Heath's most famous routine was "The Ham Tree," a sketch that was so well known The Times never described it.  The general premise is the misadventures of two men after one talks the other into quitting his job at a livery stable so they can go on the road in a minstrel show.


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Aug. 22, 1897.
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Above, Williams and Walker also had a popular saying that they turned into a song: "You Ain't So Warm." At left, in an 1897 Times interview, Williams describes how he explained the act to British audiences.

Click on the play button to hear "You Ain't So Warm" and other tunes of the era.
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Then, in 1898, the two teams shared the stage of the Orpheum. At left, the May 3, 1898, Times review of the show featuring the blackface act of McIntyre and Heath and the African American team of Williams and Walker.

"Williams and Walker, the two darky Angelenos, are back from triumphs in foreign lands and eastern cities to the scene of their initial success and were given an ovation," The Times says.

"They are as funny a pair of mokes as their race has ever given to the comedy sketch, and the cake walk which concludes their act, which comprises in addition to the two principals a pair of dusky damsels who are high-steppers, and a band master who twirls the baton with fine skill, is the very poetry of darky motion."

"As for McIntyre and Heath," The Times says,  "those who in other days have seen this pair of darky impersonators need be told but little.... Last night's audience laughed at these two until there was not a dry eye or a side without a pain in it upstairs or down; indeed, the audience did not simply laugh, it yelled and shrieked in its ecstasy of merriment and the curtain went down with the roar of its cachinations still echoing among the rafters."   



The Times interviewed the Williams and Walker again in 1898. It's wonderful to stumble across these first-person accounts. How about this quote from Feb. 14, 1898, the year before Scott Joplin published "The Maple Leaf Rag": "Ragtime has been overdone and the public is getting tired of it." Or the observation that many tunes by African Americans were written to a preconceived idea, presumably that of white publishers. 


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1911_0107_walker Although McIntyre and Heath performed for many years in vaudeville, Williams and Walker did not survive very long. George Walker died Jan. 6, 1911, in a New York sanitarium, having been ill for a year. The Times didn't even report his death; the above clipping is from the Chicago Tribune. According to the New York Times, he was buried in Lawrence, Kans. Born in 1873, he was 37 or 38.
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Egbert Austin "Bert" Williams died March 5, 1922, at the age of 48, and his obituary appeared on the front page of The Times. His father was a Danish envoy in Nassau, the Bahamas, and his mother was "part Spanish and part African," The Times said. He graduated from high school in San Pedro.

Williams obituary, part 1

Williams obituary, part 2

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In November 1938, Flournoy E. Miller, another famous African American performer who was one of the writers of "Shuffle Along," looked back at the days of Williams and Walker and said there was a need for "clean old real Negro shows."



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May 17, 1925: A review of McIntyre and Heath at Orpheum on their farewell tour. They also staged a final performance in Philadelphia in 1934. McIntyre died Aug. 18, 1937, at the age of 89. Heath died exactly one year later at the age of 85 without ever being told that his partner was dead.

Postscript: These performers may seem like nothing more than forgotten relics of an ancient past. But they shared the stage with actors who are influential even now. McIntyre and Heath, for example, signed the autograph book of young vaudeville performer Buster Keaton and wished him well in his career. McIntyre and Heath also appeared at the Orpheum in January 1902 with a young "eccentric juggler" named W.C. Fields. (Fields had previously performed in Los Angeles in 1900). 


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McIntyre and Heath and W.C. Fields at the Orpheum, Jan. 5, 1902.




Dodger quiz, 1958



1958_september_01_sports By Keith Thursby
Times staff writer

Quiz time: Who was the Dodgers' most valuable player of 1958?

You could make a case for several players. Gil Hodges and Charlie Neal tied for the team lead in home runs with 22.  Duke Snider, despite injuries and struggles adjusting to the dimensions of the Coliseum, hit .312 with 15 home runs.  Johnny Podres led the Dodgers with 13 victories, following closely by Don Drysdale (12) and Sandy Koufax (11).

The winner, according to The Times' Frank Finch, was infielder Jim Gilliam.

"Without Gilliam and with just another journeyman infielder occupying Junior's place on the roster, the Dodgers proably would be dead last or no better than seventh right now," Finch wrote. He added that his Mirror colleague, "Sir Charles Park," also voted for Gilliam.

Oh course, you can tell how badly a team is doing if the writers are discussing most valuable players at the start of September. But Gilliam certainly was a first-rate player. He was the National League's rookie of the year in 1953.

Finch credited Gilliam's durability and versatility on a team overwhelmed by injuries. "While operating with equal efficiency in the outfield, third base or second base, he has played in more games than any oher Dodger," Finch wrote.

Gilliam stayed with the Dodgers after retiring in 1965. In September of 1978, the first-base coach collapsed at his home and suffered a brain hemorrhage. He was only 49 when he died in October.

"He was a father to some of us, a brother to others and a friend to us all," Davey Lopes said at Gilliam's funeral.

keith.thursby@latimes.com

Woman kills husband as children sleep, Giants win over Dodgers, August 31, 1958




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1958_august_31_ed Lillian loved Ed. She loved him even though he beat her. She loved him even though he was on probation for beating her. And she loved him even when he lay dying on the kitchen floor after she stabbed him in the heart. "I didn't want him to hurt me anymore," she said.

On the night of the killing, Lillian and Ed had hired a babysitter for their two children and gone to a party in Sierra Madre. By the time they left, both had been drinking heavily.

On their way back to their home at 3843 Blanche St., Pasadena, Ed said he was going to drop her off and do some more drinking.

"I said, 'Oh, no you don't. You're not leaving me this time,' " she told detectives. So Ed, who was 6 feet tall, slapped Lillian, who was 4 feet 11.

"When we got home, he hit me again and again," Lillian said. "Then he started to leave.... I loved him so much."

He got her into the kitchen and backed her against the sink.

"I reached into a drawer and pulled out a knife. I don't know why I did, except that I didn't want him to hurt me anymore ... and I didn't want him to leave," she said.

"But I didn't mean to hurt him."

Lillian took the 5-inch steak knife and stabbed Ed in the heart. Then she pulled it out and threw on the kitchen floor.

"I embraced Ed. I asked him to speak to me," she said. "I didn't want him to die. I begged him to live."

"I didn't know what to do," Lillian continued. "I called the telephone operator and told her to get the police to our address. I woke up the kids and told them I hurt him. But I wouldn't let them see him."

On Jan. 28, 1959, Lillian Gloria Kella, 33, was convicted of second-degree murder in the killing of her husband. She faced a sentence of five years to life in prison, but The Times never followed up on the story.


View Larger Map

The Blanche Street neighborhood via Google maps' street view.
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Now here's some Frank Finch sports writing for you: "Willie Mays, who needs a rest like Israel needs Nasser, drove in all the runs for the Giants tonight as they completed a day-night double-header with the Dodgers."

The Braves beat the second-place Pirates, 9-1. Pitcher Lew Burdette (16-9) drives in four runs with a double and a triple. Eddie Mathews and Frank Torre hit home runs.

And college football is about to begin in the final year of the Pacific Coast Conference ... Sports Editor Paul Zimmerman notes that Street & Smith's Football Yearbook picks Ohio State as the nation's top team, followed by Oklahoma and Notre Dame. Best in the West is Oregon State (ninth) and ASU (10th).
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