A Woman of Many Names—And Almost A New Face

June 26, 2007
Los Angeles

O! What a tangled web some weave when first they practice to deceive their spouses. A few days ago, Theodore A. Kocotis returned home to an empty house—his wife, Carrie, was missing. Five long days later, there came a telephone call:  Carrie Kocotis was desperately ill in a Santa Monica sanatorium, the result of a “face-lifting” operation. Kocotis made haste, but his wife died before he arrived.

The grieving widower hired Attorney Earl S. Wakeman to start probate proceedings. But instead of a few pennies’ worth of pin money squirreled away here and there, Wakeman discovered $10,000 in chattel (almost $120,000 in 2007 dollars). And then there were the aliases. As Carrie L. Brody, Mrs. Kocotis acted as a housemother in a sorority; she conducted other business under the names of Carrie Sullivan and Carrie L. Williams. Her safety deposit box was rented in the name of Carrie Wright, and it was there she stored her jewels and securities.

Wakeman announced today that he intends to see that the events surrounding Mrs. Kocotis’s untimely demise are fully investigated by the District Attorney.

Cough Syrup Fiend

June 22, 1927
Los Angeles

Ranch dweller Grace Haynes was in divorce court today, seeking her freedom from husband Amos on grounds of extreme cruelty.

He didn’t abuse her, per se, but she claimed to be terrorized by his habit of knocking back bottles of high-octane cough syrup, after which he’d commence to ranting and raving before wandering out to the pig pen and beating holy hell out of their swine herd. And that can’t be good for the pork chops.

Amos denied the accusation, countering that he’d be happy to take Grace back if she’d just stop running around all night. A fascinated Judge Bowron continued the case to hear more the next morning, but the papers failed to report if Amos was delusional or Grace an imaginative liar, and whether or not the pigs turned up seeking damages.

Sooooo-ey!

Drink to the Law of Unintended Circumstance

fredthechemistJune 16, 1927
Los Angeles

Chemist Fred Paguilnati had been minding his own business in his home at 1528 Redondo Boulevard when local law enforcement came by for a visit.  Which was understandable, since Fred’s chemistry business was less about mixing Bromos and more about tending to his 200 fredhouseabovecases of assorted liquors, at his home bootlegging operation (complete with full bottling plant).  Proprietor Fred had driven the coppers away with a gun but they’d come back with full force and broken down the door.  And so before Municipal Judge Stafford went Fred, where today he was told he could pay $500 ($5,975 USD2005) or take fifty days.  He took the fifty days.  Ah, this, just a day like any other, here in Volstead-era Los Angeles.

To our left, Fred’s house, center, as perhaps a Prohis Chopper might see it. 

 

In related news…yes, we all know that Prohibition turned ordinary people into criminals, and gangsterism left corpses stacked liked cordwood on our streets, but let’s discuss something serious for once—stick this in your if-it-ain’t-one-thing-it’s-another file:
icecreamncandy

The article notes, just as one example, that cigarette comsumption was up 400%.  Thanks a lot, Wayne Wheeler, for turning us into a nation of fat, toothless, wheezing, cancer-ridden sclerotic emphysemics.   

 

Kiss of Death

June 15, 1927
Los Angeles

When the peddler peeked into the back window of John and Lydia Kiss’ home at the defunct address of 1843 Woolan Avenue he found, not a likely prospect, but a pair of gently swaying corpses, result of the couple’s successful suicide pact. Beneath their feet were upturned boxes, suggesting they had stood together and kicked off into eternity.

Lydia, 53, had terminal cancer, and she and John chose to go out together rather than await her inevitable death. Lydia left several notes in Hungarian saying that she and John were tired of life, and their relatives, including a son in L.A., a daughter in Long Beach, and two sons in Chicago, would likely be happy to have their money. $1500 in cash was found in the home.

Whistle While You Work

June 12, 1927
Los Angeles

Is there anything more quaint than a peanut wagon, its operator on life’s downward slope yet cheerfully awaiting only a word from you to scoop up a paper sack of delicious, salty goobers? This was the face that 72-year-old Victor Tartas presented to the world—-until recently.

To the untrained eye, the steady stream of customers at the peanut stand bore testimony only to the elderly Tartas’s business acumen and pleasant personality. But Sergeant Adams of the Los Angeles Police Department detected something peculiar in the peanut vendor’s manner: if an approaching customer whistled once, Tartas responded with a single blast of the peanut cart’s horn. Two whistles were met with two toots on the horn. A quick investigation revealed several pints of whiskey nestled beneath a false bottom in the wagon.

Despite evidence to the contrary (twenty gallons of moonshine, a small still and a “quantity” of mash were found at the peanut vendor’s home at 2118-1/2 Brooklyn Avenue), Tartas pleaded not guilty. Jury trial was set for September 13, 1927. Bail was fixed at $1,000–which, it must be stated, wasn’t peanuts.

Dirty Books and Lost Films

June 7, 1927
Hollywood

Book dealer P. Gordon Lewis, 39, has been arrested on a charge of attempting to provide obscene works through the mail, following a correspondence with a rat fink in Lakeland, FLA named Mrs. Collins B. Whiting. Whiting initiated the exchange when she wrote to inquire if Lewis could provide certain "erotic works," to which he replied that he had "several excellent examples of amatory works." This was sufficient to bring down the hammer of the United States District Attorney, which charged Lewis with using the US mails to sell obscene literature. He was arrested at his home at 2033 ¼ Vista Del Mar Street and held on $5000 bail.

Two years ago, Lewis was arrested on a similar charge at his shop at 1817 Ivar for mailing a copy of his sister Gladys Adelina Selma Lewis’ (pen name Georges Lewys) privately printed The Temple of Pallas-Athenae (1924). The book, financed by subscribers and printed in a run of 995, is the story of an ugly Greek princess who establishes a human stud service by which to test her theories of eugenics.

While President Coolidge was a fan and she was decorated by the French government for her war poem on Verdun, Georges Lewys is perhaps more notable for her legal battles than for her literary achievements. In 1927 she was subject to an injunction from her one-time friend Erich Von Stroheim over a privately printed fictional volume closely based on his scenario for the film Merry-Go-Round, from which he was removed as director by producer Irving Thalberg (supposedly after he learned that Stroheim wanted his extras to wear silk underwear embroidered with the Austro-Hungarian crown). She responded to his $50,000 suit with one for $100,000, and also sued Universal for the entirety of the film’s $3,000,000 profits. Lewys’ book, dedicated to Stroheim and blithely noted to be "from the Austrian" is considered by Stroheim scholars to be the key to understanding the director’s intentions for his film of pre-War Viennese life and love, with its scenes of voyeurism and sadomasochism. The New York Times reported that Miss Lewis received an out of court settlement–perhaps to hush discussion of the book and its racy subject matter.

In 1929, then 30 and living with her mother in the Belnord Apartments at Broadway and 86th Street, New York, Miss Lewis unsuccessfully sued Eugene O’Neill in Federal Court for $1,250,000, charging plagiarism of her characters in The Temple of Pallas-Athenae for his play Strange Interlude. She said she wrote the story in 1917, and that it had sold for $20. O’Neill claimed never to have heard of the "crazy" authoress, who erupted with some unintentionally hilarious remarks about her artistic character while on the stand, and Judge Woosley declared that while there might be some similarities between the characters, character types could not be owned by any author.

“It is true that there are old and young people in both plots. It is true that there are fathers and mothers and daughters and sons. But, after having carefully read both books more than once, I think it is fair to say that in the plaintiff’s book the characters are merely types — the socially ambitious mother and daughter, the obtuse but successful American business man, the dissipated foreign nobleman, the middle aged English philanderer, and the fabulously rich Russian princess. None of these types is individualized sufficiently to make the characters of the defendant any possible infringement of the plaintiff’s copyright.”

In 1931 Miss Lewis was ordered to pay O’Neill and his associates $17,500 in damages that she did not have, and there the matter rested. Later, she wrote a biography of the coloratura soprano Adelina Patti, her godmother and her mother’s dear friend.

The Lewises are native Angelenoes whose late father Meyer was a leading shoe retailer in the 1880s at 101 and 103 North Spring Street, with a fabulous home on Grand Avenue (A.M. Adelman, 1890). Their mother is author Selma Lewis.

Daddy’s Little Girl

June 6, 1927
Hollywood

hollywoodfilmbrideAnother high-profile suicide today in Los Angeles.  Helen St. Claire Evens, the wife of writer and former bucket shop operator, Arthur Frederick St. Claire Evens ended her life by swallowing a quantity of antiseptic lotion following a domestic quarrel.

The Evens’s had quarreled a few nights earlier, and were encouraged by a friend of the family to cool their tempers at the Hollywood Police Station.  Captain Charles Knowles spoke with Arthur and Helen, then sent the seemingly reconciled couple home.  Today, Knowles was summoned to the Evens’s house at 2235 N. Cahuenga Dr. on a report that Helen had attempted suicide.  When he arrived, he found her dead on the bathroom floor.  Arthur had been working on a scenario for a new film when Helen asked him to take her to a motion picture theater.  Engrossed in his work, he refused, and Helen retreated to the bathroom where she consumed the poison.

Police were prepared to declare it a suicide until they received a wire from Albert T. Daniels, the father of the deceased woman, asking if there was anything suspicious about the death, and did they have anything on which to hold Evens?  Apparently, he had disapproved of the marriage, claiming to police that Evens had been previously married and that he had served time in prison for shady business dealings in New York City.  And Helen had seemed happy enough.  Just days prior to her death, she’d written an upbeat letter to her mother saying, "We want to make a success of life, to have a nice home, a few friends (real ones), and an unquestionable position in life."

Evens was further questioned, but his statement was not in doubt, and police had no basis for a charge to hold him.  Then Daniels switched his tactics, wiring that "frequent threats to kill Helen" had been made when she lived in New York.  An inquest was ordered; however, reports from both the police and the coroner maintained that all evidence was consistent with suicide, and custody of the body was granted to Evens.

Daniels continued to wire the police from New York, demanding that further investigation be made and that custody of the body be granted to him.  He even contacted James A. Blake, a relative living in Glendale, asking him to take over the burial, but Blake refused to get involved.  For days, Evens’s body lay in the R.C. Dellenbaugh funeral parlor at 630 Venice Blvd., until Evens finally relented, and agreed to send his wife’s body to her family in New York.

Ask the Dust… there’s certainly enough of it

On routing duty in advance of the June 16 John Fante tour, Richard and I zipped down to 826 Berendo, where the master penned his great Ask the Dust, only to discover it the most heartbreaking sort of eyesore, boarded up yet all too easy to access, home now to the sorts of miserable edge-dwelling citizens who were, after all, his particular interest. One of them has a talent for charcoal portraiture.
wall art and window in Fante's house
Richard returned with photog Meeno Peluce and documented the miasma, then began calling city agencies in hopes, not of delaying the inevitable demolition, but of at least getting a plaque or street sign to honor the author and the work. Sadly, it seems the city only provides plaques for buildings that have been designated historic, and the only designation this poor, abandoned place is likely to get now is "Pee-YOU!" But we’ll keep trying; Fante deserves as much.

Stephen Cooper, author of Full of Life: A Biography of John Fante says, "When Ask the Dust was published in 1939, the young novelist John Fante was living with his wife Joyce at 826 South Berendo.  Today the story of Arturo Bandini and Camilla Lopez is widely considered the starting point of Los Angeles literature. If the abandoned apartment building where Fante realized his masterpiece is torn down and hauled away, the neighborhood will be removing an eyesore but the city will be losing a piece of its history. I join with all who urge that this site be recognized in some concrete and permanent way so as to preserve the memory of the incandescent time when John Fante called South Berendo home."

Meanwhile, just a few miles north, a short portion of Berendo has been renamed for another notable L.A. author, L. Ron Hubbard. It would be sweet if the same could one day be said of the 800 South block and Fante.

Scarlet Letters

poison

June 5, 1927
Hollywood

The headlines turned her story into a cliché: a young woman from the Midwest commits suicide by swallowing poison after the Hollywood star machine chews her up and spits her out. But 22-year-old Patricia Marshall’s death today was a bit more complicated than that.

For one thing, though she took part in amateur dramatics back home in Missouri and worked as a film extra since her arrival in Hollywood three years ago, Patricia aspired to a career in business. Until recently she had been a student at the Hollywood Secretarial College.

Then there were the letters in her room. In one, written about a week before she died but never sent, the young woman made a declaration she was ultimately unable to keep: “There are so many suicides in Hollywood one must wear armor and make a vow against self-extinction—in suicide by poison.” In addition to this and a note addressed to her mother (“You are to forget me. Never think of me.”), there were several missives to and from various men. When police contacted one of them, insurance man Harry Rosenberg of Washington, D.C., he called himself an “old friend” of the deceased but insisted there was never a hint of romance between them.

This assertion was refuted by Patricia Marshall’s mother, who testified at a coroner’s inquest that her daughter and Rosenberg were engaged and planned to be married soon. Imagine Mrs. Marshall’s shock when it came out that Patricia’s “fiancé” was already married and the father of several children. Nor was that all—there were those damnable letters. In one, Rosenberg cut off his $15 weekly payments to Patricia; in another, his daughter threatened to have her arrested for blackmail and extortion if Patricia continued to annoy her father for money.

Perhaps with Mrs. Marshall in mind, the coroner discreetly concluded that Patricia committed suicide after a “disappointment” in love.

secretarial-school

All for Love

May 30, 1927 

murdersuicideThe troubled love affair between New York showgirl Evelyn Tatum and her estranged husband, artist Lawrence Mueller came to a violent end this morning at the Rosegrove Hotel at 532 S. Flower St.  Reunited for "one last week of happiness" before separating, Mueller strangled his bride while "All for Love" played on the phonograph, then hung himself with the hotel bedspread.  The events leading up to the tragedy were revealed through the stack of correspondence found alongside their bodies in the hotel room.rosegrovehotel

The couple met in Denver, quickly wed, and moved to El Centro where Mueller was employed as an artist for a sign company.  Tatum found life in El Centro stifling, and left Mueller for Los Angeles after two months of married life.  She was immediately cast as the lead in a Shelly Players Theater in Huntington Park, and was set to begin work ten days later.  Upon hearing Tatum’s news, Mueller sent a wire addressed to "My Golden Girl" that read, "Received you wire and at first I rejoiced with you.  It seemed that the solution to all our troubles was found and that at last we could be happy together."
evelynmueller
However, Mueller began to overanalyze the situation, and concluded that since he would work days, and she nights, it was only a matter of time before another man seduced her.  "The first one that did, there would be another murder," he concluded, and wired that it would be best to "take myself out of the picture."

Tatum apparently agreed wholeheartedly, writing back: "It is best you forget the past two months and me.  Go alone to Chicago.  Have new friends and work.  We both realize for the present we cannot have happiness together.  We tried and I alone failed… Sorry."  Upon receiving this missive, the passionate Mueller raced to Los Angeles where he and Tatum were briefly reunited.  However, when it became clear that a reconciliation was not in the cards, Mueller killed her.

The hotel maid found Tatum sprawled across the bed in a filmy pink nightgown, and Mueller’s nude body hanging from the closet door lintel.  Their parents later claimed the bodies.