Matt Weinstock, Feb. 22, 1960
February 22, 2010 | 4:00 pm
The Chessman Furor
Sometimes it is difficult to understand what motivates people. Example: Last week's frenzy over Caryl Chessman.
The case has been blundering around for 12 years, picking up a great deal of legal momentum. But except for zealots on the subject of capital punishment, pro and con, not many people seemed to care. A survey a few months ago doubtless would have shown the major reaction was boredom.
But as the execution date neared last week people were gripped with excitement. Would he or wouldn't he? They debated violently, mostly without knowledge of the legal intricacies of the case. Petitions were circulated in the universities. Bets were made in barbershops. The political implications and the international aspects of the case became known. It was almost as if the future of civilization hung on the outcome. It even knocked the Finch case off the main banner lines.
IT ALSO BECAME a gag, as dramatic events inevitably do. Someone kept calling the newspapers and saying in a sobbing voice, "This is Caryl Chessman -- help me!" -- and hung up. A wry fellow remarked, "I blame it on the Dodgers. They got people used to this cliff hanger stuff. Now people have to have it and they don't care where they get it."
Other more sincere people pleaded with powerless editors and columnists to "do something" to prevent a terrible injustice. The fact that criminals get the gas all the time and that Chessman is a relatively low bracket criminal made no difference.
Perhaps the best answer to the agonized conduct was a crime reporter's comment many years ago on this current phenomenon, characteristic of L.A.: "You can wake up in the morning and the sun will be shining and the birds will be singing and suddenly at 2:43 p.m. as you are walking through the Civic Center you get the feeling that the sidewalks are about to buckle and dead cats will be flying through the air and the leprechauns have taken over."
NOW AND THEN, when atmospheric conditions are right, or rather, wrong, police calls from Nashville, Tenn., or some such place can be heard over the police and fire radio, jamming local broadcasts.
Well, E.L. Montague sends along a clipping from his hometown paper, the Berrien County Record. Buchanan, Mich., with a complaint about us.
Every October the loud, clear voice of a woman broadcasting traffic conditions here starts overwhelming the Buchanan police frequency, sometimes for six or eight hours a day. The jamming lasts until May. And you know what the Berrien County Record calls this golden voiced lady? Los Angeles Rose.
ONLY IN MALIBU -- Every time the cleaning man stops to pick up or deliver clothes at a beach house a large collie viciously challenges him. He has barely missed being nipped several times.
The other day the lady said the dog had been given a rabies shot and was unhappy about it. "But at Least," she comforted, "when he bites you now you know you'll be safe!"
A SOUTHERN Pacific employee who was working nearby when an Army helicopter with six men aboard made an emergency landing in the L.A. River bed due to a partial power failure asks a posy for its pilot, Thomas Cruz. Afterward, Cruz was asked why he hadn't landed in a parking lot in the area instead of precariously clearing high tension wires. He said he was afraid there might be someone in a car.
AT RANDOM -- Did you hear about the Las Vegas schoolboy who was told by his teacher that he'd made 100 in arithmetic? "Let it ride on the next term," he said . . . Nothing is sacred. An East L.A. store has a picture of Michelangelo's "The Last Supper" on display and as two men walked by and glanced at it Al Diaz heard one say, "I wonder which one had the Diner's card?" . . . At SC's audio-visual department, pay TV is referred to as Fee-Vee.