Thursday, May 28, 2009

Just a nice shot of Redondo's pier

Because I really don't have much else to say...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Lt. Hunter in Long Beach

Another great photo from Shorpy! The caption on this is "October 1942. "Lieutenant 'Mike' Hunter, Army test pilot assigned to Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, California." 4x5 Kodachrome transparency by Alfred Palmer for the Office of War Information."

The contributors at Shorpy have id'd the plane as an A-20B Havoc, an aircraft that was used through VJ Day by the US and by the RAF and USSR as well. Wikipedia says the initial orders for the A-20 went to France via Casablanca, years before the US joined the fighting.

The discussion group pointed out that Lt. Hunter's name tag says "F.W. Hunter." They've also raised questions about his resemblance in stance and form to one Stephen Colbert.

According to Wikipedia, Douglas built 7,098 A-20 Havocs before ending production in Sept. 1944. Boeing built over 300 of them too. This particular model, the A-20B, comprised the first large order from the Army Air Corps: 999 planes. Of that, 665 were sold to the USSR. Per Wiki, but I'll leave it to someone else to vet that, if they want to.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Ray Bradbury Stars for 58 Consecutive Years

If the record keeping of the Southwest Manuscripters is right (and why shouldn't it be?), May 22nd, 2009 marked the 58th consecutive year that the ubiquitous author spoke before this writing group.

Ubiquitous. I just love that word.

Here's a write-up about a previous address in 2007. The Southwest Manuscripters began in 1949 in Hermosa Beach, meeting once a month to hear inspirational and practical speakers talk about the writing live. Bradbury says they were the first group to ask him to speak, since he was a relatively unknown young man back then. He took the big red streetcar for his first meeting with the group in 1949. In 1950, the Martian Chronicles came out and put an end to the "unknown" part of his career.

This link to will guide you to lists of his works, appearances, etc. Interestingly, his awards page has only three items: the National Medal of Arts, presented by the president in 2004, a Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation, and his star on Hollywood Blvd. Those are BIG, no argument. To see a more expansive list--though I doubt it's complete--your best bet is probably his Wikipedia entry. There you'll see that he even has an asteroid named after him.

"Do what you love and love what you do," was the theme. Bradbury's anecdotes (about Hugh Hefner, Fellini, John Huston, etc.) are absolutely wonderful, but I will not repeat them. Come to hear him NEXT MAY (check with the SW MSS for the date) and hear them fresh for yourself!

He did announce, though, that a new production of The Martian Chronicles will be out late summer, at the Fremont Centre Theater in South Pasadena. Chances are (IMHO)Mr. Bradbury will be at most performances.

Oddly enough, his own website says he doesn't make many personal appearances. What? Lessee, in the last year he's been signing books and shaking hands at the LA Times Festival of Books, Williams BookStore Centennial, the Fremont Centre Theater, the Warner Theater in San Pedro (which had a special weekend devoted to his movies), the Egyptian Theater (for Dandelion Wine), a dozen or so public library events launching his new book We'll Always have Paris... Honestly, if you are a fan and haven't seem him in person yet--well, you just aren't trying very hard.

The Southwest Manuscripters usually meet on a Monday at the Palos Verdes Library, but when Ray Bradbury comes, they move to a larger venue in Torrance and throw open the doors to everyone. Bradbury had a packed house, but did not begin his talk until someone could bring him a platform. "I want to be seen," he announced.

And when they brought the podium and he stood up (it was a meeting room, not a real theater), he announced, "Here I am, goddammit!"

The crowd roared. We laughed, we cried ... oh no, I'm in danger of running out of cliches.

Friday, May 22, 2009

War Dog Cemetery

There is a War Dog Cemetery at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro! How wonderful. And it's about to be rededicated, Saturday May 23 at 1 pm. The ceremony--which will include a working dog demo and bagpipes--will be at the Fort MacArthur Museum, 3601 S. Gaffey St. (Angels Gate Park)

Now for the history. Cecelia Rasmussen of the Los Angeles Times wrote about the cemetery in 2003 and the article is reprinted here. According to her, a Sgt. Robert H. Pearce established the "war dog" platoon on September 9, 1941, right at Ft. MacArthur. These dogs were different from other K9 divisions that trained dogs to sniff out explosives. The Fort MacArthur dogs--big and muscular--were trained to be used as weapons themselves.

One of the trainers was Carl Spitz, who trained Toto for The Wizard of Oz. And one of the trainees was a grandson of Rin Tin Tin. They were sent to military bases all over...but no one's sure where. The records are spotty (so were some of the dogs). Whether these macho dogs (Rasmussen called them "canine gladiators" and I think that fits) actually got to do any killing is not well documented. Until the end of WW2, the whole program was kept secret.

During the Cold War, the dogs were used to guard sites where nuclear weapons were kept, and they patrolled their bases ("Nike Sites") with armed handlers. When that duty ended...this is the sad part...the dogs were put to death. They had no social skills and could not be used in any other capacity.

The Museum launched a fundraising drive to repair the cemetery, because markers had been stolen and graves vandalized. This cemetery map shows how many doggie graves are still unidentified.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sarah Bernhardt's Farewell Performance!

May 19, 1906, at the Venice Auditorium, Mme. Sarah Bernhardt appeared in "La Tosca" as part of her Farewell, America tour--only five years after her first Farewell America tour. Of course, those who missed the 1906 tour could always catch the 1915 Farewell tour.

Hey, she was the greatest actress that ever lived, according to some. If she wanted to call her tours farewell performances, no one argued with her. (If I were really savvy, I'd figure out how to serenade you with "Time to Say Goodbye" as you read.)

Did you know that the opera Tosca was based on the play, written explicitly for the Divine Sarah? This picture is from her Wiki bio, and was taken by Nadar, before 1910.

Brokers in Los Angeles were selling a thousand tickets for $2 and $3--and that included the round trip to Venice-of-America from downtown. Of course, there were also the precious $4 and $5 seats.

On May 18th, the French residents of Los Angeles headed west to Venice and stormed the actress' private car (a railroad car, borrowed from the NY Vanderbilts). They were told by her press agent, "Madame never rises before 2 o'clock and is never visible before 3."

C'est la vie. Since it was after 3, the insistent fans got to meet with their idol and present her with roses. You can read the entire Los Angeles Express article, and a few others beside, at George Garriques' website. You can also read the Los Angeles Times' somewhat snarky review of "La Tosca" here.

This undated picture of the Venice Auditorium as from the Santa Monica Library archives. It sat on the Abbot Kinney pier, seated 3000, and had just been completed the summer before Mme's tour.

Garriques says that Mme. Sarah was brought to Venice by Abbot Kinney because Los Angeles theater owners had boycotted the famous actress. Why did they do that? Well, she dressed in men's clothing to perform men's roles. And not shabby little cross-dressing comedies mind you, but--Hamlet! Their prudish refusal to book the Divine Sarah resulted in a huge coup for Abbot Kinney, who dined with the actress before her shows and made big bucks from the performances.

Find out almost anything about Venice History at Jeffrey Stanton's website.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Coliseum History

The Coliseum is in the news today, as one of many sites that may end up on the international real estate market to help cut our state's stinkin' deficit. I've blogged about the building before--

  • As the place where Vin Scully announced his first game with the Dodgers

  • As the venue for JFK's acceptance speech when he won the Democratic nomination for president

  • The blighted grand opening in 1923, which was supposed to feature President Warren G. Harding as speaker. Harding was on a West Coast trip, but died of pneumonia a half hour before his scheduled speech

According to the Coliseum's own website as well as USC's, the first football game played there was on October 6, 1923--only two months after aforestated grand opening. USC v. Pomona College, with an audience of 12,836 people. Trojans won! The Coliseum now seats 92,516.

I started this thinking I had a 1923 picture of the Coliseum, but I didn't. The dog ate it. The picture here is from WikiCommons, and shows the building under construction in 1922.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Traffic Signals--the Vague Olde Days

Because of my post on the traffic study in 1926, The Otterman sent this copy of a postcard showing traffic at "Wiltshire" and Western, probably in 1924. Look at the signal device--the white stand with semaphore-style flags in the middle of the intersection. A comment to his post calls this an American Bobby. By 1926, the Bobby was gone and the intersection was clear.

Here's a cropped close-up. As the Otterman wrote, it looks like motorists treated the intersection as a roundabout:

In an October 1920 article from the Los Angeles Times, such a traffic signal is described. It had been tested on Broadway for a week "to howling success," so forty such signals were to be installed at congested corners (not intersections!) in the city.

The signal "behaves like a cross between a railroad semaphore and an alarm clock. The apparatus consists of a tall pole with a couple of semaphore arms which are operated from a central headquarters. As the arm moves them "Go" to "Stop" a bell jingles merrily in the crow's nest calling attention to the signal."

Huh? I got lost at crow's nest, but I guess that pillar is tall. This next paragraph tells us how traffic was controlled before these signals were installed:

"On Thursday the regular traffic officers left their posts in the center of the crossings and stepped off to one side to allow the things to run traffic all by themselves. Except for the inevitable fatheads who thought that the tinkling bells were part of our entertainment for tourists and proceeded on their way without looking at the semaphores the apparatus worked fine."

A police captain hoped these new signals could be combined with a device to control pedestrian traffic. Then, "we'll be far ahead of the rest of the country in traffic regulation." For the record, according to sites such as UC Berkeley's TechTransfer site, Detroit was way ahead of us and most other cities. They got their first "traffic tower" in 1917, and three years later in 1920, one of their officers, William L. Potts, invented the green-yellow-red four-way signals we obey today.

As for the "American Bobby," that showed up in a Proquest search too--in 1924, the first such signal was installed at Wilshire and Vermont. It stood five-and-a-half feet tall, and flashed red and green lights at drivers. The 1924 article is specific that lights are used instead of semaphore arms, and says one was to be installed at Wilshire and Western. Look at picture above: it definitely has semaphore arms. Was it the 1924 installation or an earlier model?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Houdini in Los Angeles

If you get to page 85 of the newish biography of Harry Houdini (The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America's First Superhero )(which is not hard to do; it's very readable) you find this reference to the Los Angeles Times. An article warned "that both California and the entire West Coast were being flooded with dangerous counterfeit coins manufactured using the hot-die process."

Oooh. The thesis of this new Houdini bio is that the famed magician worked hand in hand with the Secret Service and other organizations to spy and bust criminal rings, but I don't care much about the hot-die process or counterfeiters.

I was curious about the first mention of Houdini in the Times, though. I found the advertisement on the left in the June 25, 1899 paper. On the same date, in the "This Week's Attractions" section of "At the Theaters," we have:

"Houdini, styled the "King of handcuffs" and "mystery of mystery," is exploited as the star feature of the Orpheum's bill for tomorrow evening, and the remainder of the week. Houdini has created a furore by his performances on the stage and off it, as well. His trick of removing handcuffs from his wrists had puzzled the police from Gotham to the Coast, and we are promised that his illusions are of the most novel and unique character. He is assisted by his wife, and the pair are said to give a most edifying performance."

Edifying? Would that bring you to the Orpheum? Clearly, that word has changed its meaning over 110 years! Reviews in subsequent days point out that Houdini would free himself from four pairs of handcuffs locked into place by members of the LAPD--and he'd leave the handcuffs locked, but empty. All this was done in a cabinet, though later he changed the act so the audience could actually see him escaping. And the papers referred to him as a "youth" even though he was 25 and performed with his wife.

One of these buildings is the Orpheum on Main between First and Second, where Houdini performed. It had been the Orpheum since December 31, 1894, but was built as Child's Operahouse ten years earlier. People immediately began calling it the Grand Operahouse, which must have annoyed Mr. Child considerably. The place was the second major theater in LA, and the second-largest theater on the West Coast. Reputedly, up to 1200 people could be seated there.

In 1903 it became the Grand Theater when a new Orpheum (the second of four) was built on Spring Street. According to Cinema Treasures, the old Childs/Orpheum/Grand at 110 or 125 S. Main became a movie house in 1910, and by 1920 it was one of the cheap theaters showing second-run movies. In the Depression it housed Mexican vaudeville and Spanish language films, but it was torn down in 1936.

This picture is from the Los Angeles Library's Herald Examiner Collection, and was taken in 1935. The library says the Orpheum is here, but doesn't identify which storefront--I'm pretty sure it's the one with a vertical sign over the pediment, topped by a 10 cents symbol.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Birthday Bliss!

Yes, it's my birthday! Me, Alice Faye, Tyrone Power, Tammy Wynette, and a few others. But what year?

  • Was it 1961, on the day Alan B. Shepard, Jr. launched into space in a Mercury rocket, becoming the astronaut in the First American Manned Space Flight? Yuri Gargarin had flown in space for the USSR on April 12. Shepard reached an altitude of 115 miles and flew in space for all of 15 minutes. The Los Angeles Times figured that the space flight and all the research leading up to it had cost $2.25 for every one of the 180 million people living in the US.

  • Was it 1987, the day the Iran Contra hearings began? Ronald Reagan's Amnesty program started that day as well. LA social and religious offices, assisting the Immigration and Naturalization Service, expected about 25,000 people to show up. A few places did see a couple thousand people, but the turnout was lighter than expected.

Actually, it was the day that France and the Soviet Union decided to hold peace talks over IndoChina. VietMinh troops were advancing on Hanoi, and French Union paratroopers were dropping supplies for the besieged defenders.

Oh, wait, this is LA History, right? OK, it was the day that Mayor Poulson and Police Chief Parker clashed over the city budget hearings. Parker wanted $2 million more in his budget from the previous year, and argued about it so much that Poulson told him, "You talk like we were sticking our nose into something that wasn't our business. It is our business and there's no use you getting red in the face."

Parker was downright sulky after that. He said that he'd spent 27 years on the force trying to improve the department, but it was becoming evident that "my efforts were not satisfactory."

Oh well, he got Parker Center named for him. Guess somebody appreciated the guy. And of course, the date is in the picture above, which is of Elma and Gloria Peralta dancing at the Plaza Cinco de Mayo celebration in 1954. They've got bulls on their skirts, but it doesn't look like real embroidery. Did people use liquid embroidery or fabric paint back then?

Gee...I can move in to a senior condo now.