The Greatest Show on Earth

December 29, 1927
Los Angeles

Angelenos have stellar opportunities for entertainment this week—the Brothers Marx are performing in Sam HarrisThe Cocoanuts at the Biltmore Theatre (why, and future Marx cohort Thelma Todd can be seen on screen in The Gay Defender at the Metropolitan!), and Jolson’s Vitaphone picture The Jazz Singer, whose thrilling sound production presages a new era for motion picture sound effects, had its magnificent grand opening last night at the Criterion…but where was everyone this week?  At the Pantages.

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Round ’em Up!

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October 28, 1927
Los Angeles

hotmammaThe vice bulls had a titillating time on Main Street tonight as they swooped down on the scantily-clad hot mammas of “Hot Mamma” at the Follies Theater, grabbing twenty-seven of the tiny-leaf’d gals and loading them into paddy wagons.  Also arrested were twelve chorus men of the Hot Mamma show; further pinched were four tattooed women in their work clothes, and of course Ili Ili, the untamed tree-climbing South African pygmy (this last group in violation of Ordinance 6859, aka barking a show on the sidewalk, outside the Dreamland Palace at 539 South Main).   

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fightinpriestsWhat gives?  Well, it’s 1927, and saucy soubrettes kicking up their heels (oh you kid!) in the undesirable theaters of Street Main was too much for the dogooding Men of the Cloth, who remembered a time when there was no such flapping, before ladies in their runabouts had bathtub gin on the breath of a mouth slathered in kiss-proof lipstick and the men who love them, and so forth, and it was time to put a stop to it.  On October 27, pioneering radio evangelists Dr. Gustav Briegleb and the Rev. Robert P. “Fighting Bob” Shuler took in the show at the Follies, and called in the coppers to shut it down tonight.  On November 29, Shuler and Briegleb were called to the stand to testify as to the show’s indecency.  Follies showgirls put on a good show at the Hall of Justice, too, as they loudly hissed the ministers.  (Of course they hissed!  Are they not serpents leading men astray as She did at the Fall of Man?!)

blushingIt’s a good thing counsel made a point of selecting an all-male jury, as the vivid descriptions of indecent dances, songs, jokes and costumes brought blushes to the faces of jurors, court spectators and court attaches during the trial.  The highlight of the trial was Rev. Shuler himself, who read from his copious, filthy notes, which recounted a lewd performance between two girls playing the parts of deserted wives looking for their husbands in the barroom of a ship.  And Shuler’s dead-on imitation of a “licentious smile” which he asserted to be part of the dancers’ repertoire brought such an outburst from the crowd of spectators (and the Hot Mamma girls) that the bailiff threatened to clear the courtroom.

Preacher Briegleb minced no words:  “They didn’t have enough clothes on to flag a handcar,” said he, and described the activities of the chorus as “a moving sea of contortions of all that was low and vile.”  Defense counsel asked that the good minister confine himself to the facts, but what fun is that?  In the dancers’ defense, Dorothy Walton, the blonde “Cleopatra” of the play, described her dancing as being “combinations of modern and classical steps” in which, she admitted, did in fact move every part of her body.  

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Which seemed hunky-dory with the aforementioned all-male jury, who set the lot free, save for four defendants—Tom B. Dalton, Robert Whalen, Harry Graves and Charles B. Dameron—found guilty based on their admitted connection with the management of the show and their writing of the dialogue.  These Hot Papas were sentenced by Municipal Judge Frederickson to serve 150 days in the City Jail in addition to $500 ($5,515 USD2006) fines each:  “It is my clearly defined duty to impose the severest sentence possible upon these defendants in order that such performances will not continue in this city…certainly the dances staged with their help were not artistic as claimed by them.  The defendants have had a fair and unbiased trial and convicted of a most serious offense to society.”

folliesad1939Needless to say, the Follies soldiered on.  It was remodeled by S. Charles Lee in the 1930s, and thereafter saw many decades of shimmy-shammyin’ by Lili St. Cyr, Ann Corio and Betty “Ball of Fire” Rowland.  Eventually girlesque went the way of vaudeville, and the Follies became a skin-flick house.  In 1968 Eleanor Chambers, executive assistant to Mayor Yorty, led the fight to have the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Board add the Follies to its list of culturally significant buildings (who had just added a theater and something art deco).  The board nixed that idea as beneath them (rejecting the Burbank/Burlesk at 548 South Main as well). 

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And then, in May of 1974—the month that the House of Representatives opened its impeachment hearings against President Nixon, the Follies was razed, and now, in its place, stands the Ronald Reagan building:

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And oh yeah, for more on Revenend Shuler, go here

…of course, they leave out all the obvious stuff…

The Monkey Trial

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June 9, 1927
Hollywood

brandingstoryReaders may remember this recent post about an animal-mauled Hollywood boardtreader.  Now, encounter another actor attacked by beast—just as Bela Lugosi would one day meet a Brooklyn gorilla, 21 year-old actress Doris Williams (known on the stage as Doris Dore) has met her own New Yorker.

The anthropoidal New Yorker in question, all simian of structure and with “arms like a gorilla," broke in and attacked Doris this morning at her 1924 North Argyle apartment, who when she fought back, began slashing at her.  She fainted, and awoke in a pool of blood, to find the prehuman had carved seven examples of the letter “K” on her person.   

 

Ms.Doris

Doris met this preadamite character at a wild party in New York, where he forced her to sign some sort of “mysterious paper.”  Mr. Missingus Linkus then followed Doris across the continent, annoying her with threats and anonymous letters.

Doris had come to out West to portray Hester “Pregnant Out of Wedlock” Griffiths in Dreiser’s “American ‘Filthy Bedroom Scene’ Tragedy” in its Hollywood premier at the sunarc-laden January 17 grand opening of the Wilkes’ Vine Theatre.  

stumpspoliceWhich she did, her monkey-man close at heel, and after the show ended, knocked around and did whatever it is young ladies do in Hollywood.  Captain of Detectives Slaughter has been busy trying to piece the events of the evening of June 8/early morning of June 9 together:  Doris had been out with two married men (now sought for questioning), drinking it up at a local Italian place—she admitted to “feeling pretty good” when she returned but denied that these gents came back to her apartment with her—although other residents had complained to building manager Mrs. A. C. Black that they were disturbed by the loud noise and laughter emanating from within.  Doris’ neighbor describes that later, she heard Doris telephone in a local Western Union call:  “Come on over in a hurry.  Door unlocked.”  Said neighbor then recounts assorted door slammings, water runnings, medicine cabinet openings, and:  “I heard her put down the folding bed.  I next heard her walk out of her apartment and go down the stairs and open the front door.  A few minutes later I heard her running very fast back to her apartment.  Within a short time I heard a man talking with her.  His voice sounded to me like he was angry with her.  They remained there for a while and finally went out together.  I went back to sleep.”argyle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                               

 

(Above, Doris’ apartment building, top center, across from the Castle Argyle.)

All grist for Detective Slaughter’s mill—the only thing lacking being corroborative evidence regarding Doris’ New York Gorilla story.  Compounding Slaughter’s doubts thereof is information received from Doris’ friend George Lamont, who told detectives that last week, out-of-work Doris wished to arrange some daring publicity stunt (which George had sagely advised against).

Despite his misgivings, Detective Slaughter declared “We are giving Miss Williams the benefit of the doubt until it is proven otherwise.  If she was attacked as she says she was we will do everything within our power to bring the guilty party to justice.”  

It is of course not our place to judge whether she was in fact visited by a penknife-wielding primate from the Empire State, or this was a case of Morton Downey swastika prefiguration.  Rather, we will leave it to our able readers to gaze at Ms. Williams’ visage and discern for themselves probable likelihoods.

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Belles Are Ringing


March 6, 2007
San Francisco (VIA Associated Press)

The Irish of San Francisco are furious over a play at the Davis Theater called “The Belle of Avenue A,â€Â which features a character named Mrs. McCluskey who drinks a glass of beer in the first act.

“Three times, about 40 people charged the stage and the actors and actresses feared they were about to be attacked,â€Â The Times says.

“Indignant because the woman’s part in the first act called for the drinking of a glass of beer, two score men, members of the Irish societies of this city, charged the stage and for half an hour refused to allow the play to go on.â€Â

The riot was reported to the police and the protesters were eventually thrown out of the theater.

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E-mail: lmharnisch (AT) gmail.com

Bonus shot:

Los Angeles, before the days of Google Earth, at the junction of Main Street, Spring Street and 9th Street, 1873.




Fire Threatens Orpheum

Oct. 15, 1907
Los Angeles

On a rainy night in Los Angeles, a fire broke out in the four-story brick office building at 235 S. Spring St. housing the Orpheum Theater and the Elks Hall, which was engulfed in panic as visitors at a Japanese festival rushed for the exits. The second-floor hallways were so jammed that members of the Elks Club rushed to the rear of the building to use the fire escapes.

At Orpheum, on the floor above the Elks Club, veteran actress Minnie Seligman calmly made the smoke and the sound of fire engines part of her skit. Rushing offstage for a moment, she returned covered with soot and announced:

A Theater Rises on Broadway


June 2, 1907
Los Angeles

The Hamburger Department Store announces plans for a theater just south of its new building on South Broadway at 8th Street, designed by the architecture firm of Edelman and Barnett.

According to plans, the horseshoe-shaped theater is to seat 1,600 people, with a balcony and a gallery. The stage is to be 40 feet by 80 feet, with a proscenium 36 feet wide and 32 feet high.