A brief history of the Angelino man known as the Poet Laureate of Skid Row, who pulled poetry out from beneath itself in the 20th century. We’ll take a look at his life as partially told by the Esotouric bus tour, rolling through the neighborhoods in which he lived and created his greatest works, stopping by a bar or two in which he drank. Have a seat and bring a beer.
November 17, 1927
Charley Chase received a sentence of fifty days—suspended—from Judge Baird today, for while Chase admitted to taking a sip of whisky before crashing his auto into the back of a taxicab on Hollywood Boulevard last Monday morning, the magistrate judged Charley to be only reckless, not drunk.
Chase is today best known for his work in promoting the exclamation-mark’d picture. Long before 1947, the year which saw two noir exclamation-mark’d masterpieces—Railroaded! and Boomerang!—and long before little girls screamed Them! and everyone shouted Oklahoma! and then we all yelled Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Chase starred in Nurse to You!, Okay Toots!, You Said a Hatful!, What a Bozo!, Skip the Maloo!, and of course ¡Huye, Faldas!, to name but a few. He also asked the cinematic questions Are Brunettes Safe? and Is Everybody Happy? and Isn’t Life Terrible? and What Price Goofy? and Is Marriage the Bunk? and Should Husbands Be Watched? and Why Go Home? and while these aren’t exactly What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (or What’s the Matter With Helen? or Who Ever Slew Auntie Roo? for that matter) they sure beat the stuffing out of Where’s Poppa? and What’s So Bad About Feeling Good?
Anyway. The judge should have thrown the book at Chase for his whisky-sippin’, because his alcoholism killed him at the age of 47, in 1940. But then, what was Judge Baird to do? Send Chase to meetings? Bill Wilson wouldn’t get hot flashes for another seven years.
November 8, 1927
Oddities around town:
World class crumb-bum Joseph Peck returned from a trip to Fort Worth only to discover he was to be made an example by the City Council, seeking to alleviate the costs associated with relief payments provided to mothers whose husbands refused to support their families. Blanche Peck, 42, of 2939 West Avenue 37, has been raising five children, ages 1 to 11, without any help from Joseph since December 1925. Now she’ll be guaranteed $2 a day for a year. That’s Papa Joe’s pay for pounding on L.A.’s new rock pile.
In Griffith Park, camera operator Clifford Shirpser was shooting an exploding airplane for a new William Wellman picture when he stumbled over a stone and went ass over teakettle. The heavy camera went up, then brained the fallen technician. He came to after fifteen minutes. (Shirpser was likely shooting additional footage for Wings, which had debuted in New York in August, but which did not receive its Los Angeles premiere until January 1928.)
And wee, noisy Ill Ill the "untamed, tree-climbing pygmy" barker, recently arrested in front of the Dreamland Palace at 539 South Main Street, copped a guilty plea for violating the city’s anti-ballyhoo ordinance on two occasions, and paid $100 in fines, thus avoiding a tree-free stint in the Lincoln Heights callaboose.
October 15, 1927
Sheiks and Shebas…the Kinkajou and the Charleston are dead! Long live the Rooster Flap! The newest dance craze to take Hollywood by storm debuted at a dinner dance hosted by actress Molly O’Day. A rustic cousin of the Black Bottom, the Rooster Flap is danced to a tune reminiscent of “Turkey in the Straw”. Following a lively dance lesson, O’Day’s tinseltown friends were ready to greet the dawn with a cock-a-doodle-doo and a shimmy and a shake.
See YOU on the dance floor!
September 28, 1927
This is what we know: B.F. Boyd, of 1273 North Kingsley, is blind. He had a dog called Duke, and Duke’s been gone three months or more. Mr. Boyd believes his neighbor Mrs. Ada Blomquist snatched Duke, because when walking past her house he heard a whine he thought he recognized.
Unable to locate the animal along the property line, Boyd returned with his son Paul and knocked on the door, whereupon the Blomquist’s Belgian police dog "Max" knocked him down. But was it from love or blood thirst?
That’s for the court to decide, and by this afternoon, 18 people had taken the stand. Mr. Boyd seemed to sincerely believe Duke had been found, but two weeks later Mrs. Blomquist would be freed after testimony from a breeder that he’d sold her the dog when it was six months old. Boyd’s dog had been young, too, but that worked against him–the judge doubted he could possibly recognize his puppy’s bark when issued through an adult dog’s larynx.
As for Mrs. Blomquist, she got her dog back, but it cost her dearly. We don’t know what they were feeding dogs in the city kennel in 1927 save that there must have been plenty of it. The bill was $40, payable before Max could be returned to his mistress. Or perhaps that was a last bit of Solomonic trickery from Judge McConnell. In any case, she wrote the check.
September 3, 1927
If you’re planning to escape the heat this Labor Day by going boating on Lake Arrowhead, don’t forget to take along your radio!
August 27, 1927
Future dwellers, don’t think we can’t see you smirking. This computational device works both ways you know. Drag your minds out of the gutter and we’ll tell you a cute story about a girl and her…cat.
Lydia Dixon is a stage actress from New York with an unusual reason for coming to Hollywood – her 18 year old Persian cat. The elderly white fluff ball was finding Gotham City winters too harsh, so when Lydia wrapped up a show on Broadway she made arrangements to vacation in Southern California with her favorite feline.
Lydia hadn’t considered working here but after spending a short time enjoying our glorious climate she was delighted when she was asked to play a role in the stage comedy, “The Wild Westcotts”. She accepted the part and can currently be seen on stage at the Vine Street Theater.
Lydia has said that she sometimes gets homesick for New York, but until her cat breathes its last she plans to stay right here in Tinseltown.
See, we told you it was a cute story. Shame on you!
August 26, 1927
Frank Lloyd Wright was a favorite son of Los Angeles, where he threw off the Prairie mantle and began creating his kooky indigenous-flavored block houses (e.g., Storer, Millard, Ennis, Freeman) in contrast to the Spanish Colonial (or, say, Egyptoid Tudor Chateauxesque) prevalent in the Southland’s early 20s, before he said to hell with LA and lit out for his cursed home, Taliesin.
There was much architectural buzz about Mr. Wright in 1927, as he’d already designed a theater model for Aline Barnsdall, who announced in January that she’d build the structure as part of her eight-acre “city cultural center” gift to Los Angeles of her own FLW Hollyhock House and property.
When the Smart People of to-day tour FLW’s block houses and consider his play of light over form, and gauge its relationship between the zig of Meiji woodblock prints and the zag of Walter Burley Griffin’s green thumb, they probably aren’t informed that ol’ FLW had a lurid past fit for any tabloid-worthy favorite son of Los Angeles.
For example, while married to Catherine Wright, he fell in love with another woman, one Mamah Borthwick. Catherine wouldn’t divorce him, so Wright abandoned her and the six kids and went galavanting around Europe with Mamah. On his return, Catherine still wouldn’t divorce him, so Wright brought scandal to Spring Green, Wisc. by shacking up with Mamah. This was sorted out in short order when one of his domestics decided to utilize a Wrightian architectural principal—one door for all purposes—which made it easy to axe-murder seven people trying to flee a Taliesin you’d just set on fire. And Mamah was one of those so axed.
Catherine finally divorced Frank in 1922 on charges of desertion, so he could marry his new love, a morphine addict named Miriam Noel. They married in 1923, separated in 1924; Wright began seeing Petrograd Ballet dancer Olgivanna Lazovich Milanov (thirty-three years his junior) in 1925 and was thereafter arrested in 1926 for violating the Mann (White-Slave Traffic) Act. Oh, and Taliesin burned again, though this time without anybody being hacked to bits.
Frank getting popped by the feds, 1926
The lucky Wright-drama followers of 1927 were treated to tales of Frank and Miriam’s divorce. Today, Miriam was awarded $6,000 ($66,179 USD2006) immediately, $30,000 (330,889) in trust, and $250 (2,757) a month for life. The cash settlement and Wright’s promise that he "would lead a moral life" preceded the court decree.
With a cushy settlement like that, you’d think that’s the last we hear of Miss Miriam. You’d be wrong. She spends the next few years loudly proclaiming Wright’s brutality and repellant morals, with much effort expended in Washington attempting to get Olga deported. In a typical Miriam moment, July 14, 1928, she is arrested on a charge of malicious mischief after breaking into FLW’s rented La Jolla home while he’s up in Los Angeles: “So thorough was the wrecking that the colored maid in charge of the house in Wright’s absence collapsed from the shock and was taken to the Scripps Memorial Hospital. ‘About fifteen minutes more and I would have leveled the place,’ Mrs. Wright is said to have told police when arrested…damage to the La Jolla home is estimated at about $1000…Mrs. Wright smiling pleaded guilty and following the court action, swore out complaints against her husband and Olga Hinzenberg, also known as Olga Milanoff, charging them with being lewd and dissolute persons.”
Miriam finally expires in 1930.
We’ll keep you posted on all breaking FLW news.
I’d keep an eye on that Schindler character if I were you.
August 25, 1927
It was announced today that a plucky schoolmarm from Back East is cast as female lead in Paramount’s big western outing this year, “The Gay Defender.” She’ll be working with Richard Dix, who’s portraying Joaquin Murrietta in this colorful Gold Rush saga of ’48, filmed in our own Central California!
Well, that’s an exciting story, you say. But so began the acting career…of doom!
I was seven years old when I found my purpose in life—to chase braless, acid-tongued women. And what set me on this career path? I’d just seen Monkey Business, where I witnessed Lucille Briggs…as portrayed by Thelma Todd.
Thelma and me, 1931.
Thelma, you two-fisted, drunken, nymphomaniacal brainiac Yankee; the pinups portray her as syrupy kute, but those of us with Thelma in our blood know you as the sexier, smarmier Dorothy Parker. And whomever may have a penchant for Hollywood’s Babylonian side couldn’t do better than delve deep into the mysteries of Ms. Todd—did Roland West lock her in the garage, the Lincoln’s motor running? Was she whacked by Lucky Luciano over sex and gambling interests at her Thelma Todd Café on PCH? Was she killed by her ex-husband, notorious womanbeating, bootlegging pimp Pat DiCicco? For all the grime and gore you can shake a stick at, go here.
Though don’t believe everything you read there—like the repetition of that fictitious Luciano business from Hollywood Babylon—and while they mention Thelma’s funeral at Forest Lawn, true, her 3:30pm December 19 private service was at Wee Kirk o’ the Heather, remember, when you see images of her casketed, they’re from when she lay in state at the (recently closed) Pierce Brothers mortuary on West Washington that day from 8am til 1pm (the window behind Thelma is the window on the left).
The news of the day is not especially happy. Film director Josef Von Sternberg’s marriage to assistant director/actress Riza Royce has ended after a year following an disagreement over Miss Royce’s determination to have a nose job. Miss Royce had her nose straightened and collected cash and a car, while Mr. Von Sternberg kept their home at 6252 Drexel.
The first anniversary of the death of screen sheik Rudolph Valentino was occasion for a Catholic mass at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament attended by family and a few friends and fans, in stark contrast to the mob scenes that accompanied his burial. Following the service, the worshippers visited Valentino’s crypt in the Hollywood Mausoleum and strewed flowers around the aisles.
And down at a flophouse at 1104 South Main Street, after a day’s posting, the sign on a door warning the residents not to disturb the baby became an object of curiosity, and the door was opened. Inside, a tiny redheaded boy babe of perhaps 14 months, quite dead, with cotton stuffed in his mouth and nostrils, a bloody nightgown and signs of strangulation on the child’s neck. Police have taken fingerprints from the room and handwriting samples from the note and hotel register, and are searching for a Mrs. W. Howard of Los Angeles. The nameless infant now rests in the County Morgue.