The Midshipman was an Inventor Roswell Evander Morey

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This time out I am writing about another appointee from the state of Maine, Roswell Evander Morey. The last time I wrote about a midshipman who hailed from the Pine Tree state (L. B. Foster), he was one who turned his back on his state and the Union, went south and became a rebel. Roswell left the state also, though he took a different direction. He went west and became an inventor.

Though the 1860 US census lists Roswell was born in Maine, other records (the earlier 1850 one and then all the later censuses) indicate he was born across the US border in St Stephen Canada. Had this fact been known, his appointment to the Naval Academy would have been null and void. I have run across another midshipmen, who was born in Canada and kept that fact secret also.

If it’s any consolation, both of Roswell’s parents, his father Gibeon and his mother Abigail Sarah Farnesworth, were born in Maine and hence American citizens. According to that same 1860 census, Gibeon was a machinist in Machias, Maine. The area was known for machinery that processed one of Maine’s major crops – converting pine trees into lumber. These circumstances may explain Roswell’s later interest in machinery and invention.

Roswell’s career at the Academy got off to a rough start, with his academic standings hugging the bottom of the class. However, he did follow the regulations closely, indicated by his extremely low accumulation of demerits in his plebe year (1857-58). They totaled only 38 on the year  – nearly half of them involving a two day contretemps with a fellow midshipman – upon whom he had thrown water from an upper window. He was sent on the summer cruise on the USS Preble and would continue as a plebe.

There is a noticeable improvement the next year (1858-59), academically speaking – perhaps because he repeated all the plebe classes. His standings jumped to the top third in his class, but so did his demerits, almost tripling to 92, officially. He shipped aboard the USS Plymouth for the 1859 summer cruise, and reported for the 1859-60 school year as a third classman.

Come the end of his third year at the academy, a mystery crops up.  In the official record for the year most of his classmates – 42 out of the 45 total were continuing on to the next year, 1860-61. Roswell would not. He was listed 44th, two below those passing – this despite placing well in 5 of the 7 classes. And it seems particularly odd given that his standing in Seamanship was number three. Such a high mark would carry a lot of weight when it comes to one’s standing in the naval service. The number of his demerits also declined (down to 74).

So what kept him from continuing at the Academy? Why was he forced to resign?

Looking back on other correspondence there is one severe sounding reprimand from the Superintendent in January of 1860. Was this the camel back breaking straw that resurfaced to haunt him?

“Naval Academy
 Annapolis Md
Jan 3 1860

Sir
You are reported to me for
breaking the lock of a trap door in the
quarters & opening the same.-  You will
please reply in writing through the
Commandant of Midn to this most serious
charge.-

I am respectfully
Your obt servt
G S Blake
Sup’t’d’t

Acting Midn
R E Morey USN
       Naval Academy
       Annapolis Md”

I could find no reply from Roswell to the charge. His conduct roll states only that “No excuse” was given for this infraction, for which he received ten demerits.

Yet, he was still at the Academy five months later with no sign of a problem. In fact, his name was put on a list of midshipmen granted leave for the summer to commence on 6/16.  But a few weeks later (7/6), he was notified by Superintendent Blake that because he had failed to tender his resignation, as so directed on 6/19, his appointment was revoked. What happened between those two dates in June?

The only clue I have points to a matter of timing. The June examinations closed on 6/16, so perhaps his standings were not known at the time his name was included with those allowed a furlough.

In any event one way or another Roswell was going home. He was back in Machias with his family just in time for the (already cited) 1860 census on 7/17, in which he was listed as a sailor. The draft registration records for 1863 indicate that he still followed the sea in the merchant marine, but curiously lay no claim to prior military service.

After the war, he moved out to Lake Valley near Tahoe in California, bringing his parents with him, and remained in the state for the rest of his life, moving to San Francisco, then Alameda, and finally, Oakland, along the way working as an engineer, a bookkeeper and finally the manager at the Union Box Factory in Oakland.

Something about the Box Factory inspired his creativity. He applied for four separate patents over a period of 15 years.

1879 – for a return-crate

1880 – an improved fruit and berry basket

1892 – for a machine to form berry baskets

1894 – for a fruit basket and a crate.

As far as I can ascertain Roswell’s family was not aware that he had been at the naval academy. In the obituary for his son Charles, it only mentions that Roswell was a pioneer in Oakland, and had a box making plant.

Perhaps the stigma of dismissal, like that trap door in his academy room, was something better left unopened.

The 1977 California Trip: Paramount Guns, Grease, and Little House

Paramount Guns Grease and Little House

And not necessarily in that order.

Our itinerary for this trip started with a visit to Disneyland. (I was a little nervous after locking the car and leaving it in the Donald Duck section of the parking lot, having it fresh in mind what had happened to us in San Francisco. No one bothered it. Passersby evidently had more things on their minds than our little Plymouth Arrow).

While Disneyland is always a highlight, I found my excitement building at the prospect of our pending tours of Paramount and 20th Century Fox.

Our destination the next day was Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. This was the era of Barry Diller, Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg at Paramount. I was not acquainted with any of them (and they sure didn’t know me). Our entree into the studio was courtesy of Joe Vigil, recently promoted from booker to branch manager of the Seattle/Portland exchange, working out of Paramount’s San Francisco office. (I mentioned Joe in my Zefferelli post).

After passing the gate we were remanded into the care of an ancient security guard. (He reminded me of a skinny old codger from Central Casting. You know, the one you see in all those old westerns). We three made up our own little tour group.

Our route mimicked a big square, circling the inside perimeter in a clock-wise manner. First stop was a small set in its own little building. It was a western jail. And since it’s use was ubiquitous it may have been a permanent structure. The guard had us walk before him, and straight through the iron doors into the jail cell. With a chuckle he slammed the door behind us and locked it. While thus incarcerated he reminisced about other past denizens of the premises. He assured us emphatically that John Wayne himself had spent time on this set.

We journeyed over into the western end of the lot that had one time belonged to another film studio – RKO Radio Pictures. A whirl of activity had its epicenter in one of the sound stages along its main street. The stage was given over to a small film project just getting its start, Allan Carr’s production of “Grease,” being directed by Randall Kleiser. Judging by the size of the group crammed onto its floor, some kind of tryout or rehearsal was taking place.

At the end of this street an open sound stage door greeted us. Inside all was quiet and deserted. And cool, for not a single light was on. Farm tackle and wagon wheels were the order of the day. This sound stage was dedicated for interior work on the TV series “Little House on the Prairie.” Filming for the fourth season was then underway, but more than likely all the action was transpiring somewhere off on one of the movie ranches for exterior work.

Our guide walked us through the “New York streets.” Nothing was shooting. So we got a good view of the various locations each street represented – SoHo, Greenwich Village, Brooklyn, Upper and lower East Sides, etc.

Next he led us through an alley alive with flying sparks and the sounds of hammers on metal. I could call it “gasoline alley,” for several cars were being restored and fitted for use in the Grease production. Tail fins flashed their stuff.

Last stop – or the last thing I remember at Paramount – was a small building stuffed to the rafters with guns. Gatling guns galore hung from the ceiling; hand guns, rifles and machineguns were arrayed about the walls, (with firing pins removed, if recollection serves). On a return trip to the lot at a later date, I learned that this armory was no longer there, but had been moved off site in 1979.

We did not run into any “stars” on our journey, but we were nonetheless satisfied at our look behind the scenes.

Our aforementioned return to the Paramount took place in the fall of 2006, and I will cover that trip at its appropriate time, sometime in the future, so stay tuned, and Watch This Space.

Researching Myself

Researching Myself

When I was working on my most recent Memories post, I wanted to check some details, and possibly push past the haze to discover some of the places about which I was writing. In particular I tried to locate the precinct to which we drove in order to make our report about the robbery, and hence perhaps find out the name of the night club next door.

A Google search with the words “San Francisco Police precincts 1977” landed me on the Internet Archive site – and the SFPD annual report for the year of 1977. I was rewarded with a plethora of statistics and even some useful info in the thickets.

Our request for police service on that Saturday night in 1977 was one of 424,368 that year, and became more specifically one of 105,374 criminal incidents reported. Curiously the report we gave them was one of a grand total of 140,979, so I guess 35,605 of those they took in, were non-criminal. (I wonder what constituted a non-criminal report back then).

They did some comparisons to the year before and were happy to report that the incidents of robbery in 1977 were down in the city by 17.8% – (from a total of 6640 in 1976, down to 5456). Seeing that made me feel better, too.

Then I saw the category entitled malicious mischief.  I briefly considered this designation, as I thought our broken window might have fallen under that rubric. Its incidents were down only 1.5%.

There was a map included with the annual report showing the various police districts in the city. And wouldn’t you know it, Market Street makes up the boundary of two, the A and B districts.

So, in which district had our car break-in been reported? With no guidelines to go by, it was difficult to make a determination. If it had been presented to Solomon and he asked me which side of Market Street we had parked on, he would have gone with the B District. But I have a suspicion that we made our report to a station somewhere in the A region, and they should have gotten credit for it.

So armed with these pertinent facts, I found a SFPD records website, and filled out a PDF request form to order copies of the police incident report. After a four day wait, I received an email back from their clerk, who reported that all the records from that time, had been “purged/destroyed.”

I guess just like Vegas, what happened in San Francisco, stayed in San Francisco, except for the official reports about what had happened in San Francisco.

Aside – I discovered some years after this incident that the stolen 8mm Bell & Howell movie camera had been to San Francisco before. It had been in my Mom’s family from at least the 1940’s. Among the footage is a shot that clearly was Coit Tower and a couple more scenes were taken in Chinatown.

Aside aside – Two police TV shows set in San Francisco – McMillan & Wife, and The Streets of San Francisco finished their runs in 1977. Coincidence?

The 1977 California Trip: We left a few things in San Francisco

The 1977 California Trip: We left a few things in San Francisco

Not our hearts.

It was the summer of 1977 and we had plans. Plans to hit the road again for a vacation down California way.

Instead of flying this time we took our orange Arrow. With me driving of course.

We made the trip in stages, stopping the first night at the Mallory Hotel in Portland OR. We didn’t see much of the city. It was dark out, and on our quest to find a place to eat, we settled on a familiar name – Benihana’s Japanese restaurant. So that section of Portland and whatever was viewable from the off ramp to the hotel and the streets to get back onto I-5 were all we saw of the city.

We made good time from Portland through the rest of Oregon and into Northern California. We reached Vacaville in time for lunch at a restaurant in an olive orchard. My wife remembered this particular restaurant/tourist spot from a family vacation when she was growing up. She carries with her the memory of her dad grimacing when sampling a rather green olive. This time around she was the one grimacing – over my choice from the menu – gazpacho. I guess the thought of cold tomato soup put her teeth on edge. I thought it wonderful (the soup, not the fact that it made her grimace).

From Vacaville we made our way down to San Pablo Bay, skirted around towards San Rafael, and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to our next destination – San Francisco. We checked into a motel somewhere along route 1, unloaded our luggage (except a couple of items) and went in search of dinner.

The Hyatt Regency at the Embarcadero Center was only four years old at the time, and a prime night spot. It had a revolving restaurant, the Equinox, on the top of its tower. We parked the Arrow a few blocks away up on Market Street, and were mesmerized by the impressive lobby of the hotel (like being in the interior of a pyramid) which we passed through on the way to the restaurant. [My wife is a great disaster movie fan, and shots of this particular lobby were recognizable, as it had been used in The Towering Inferno, three years before.]

We had a enjoyable meal. I can tell you that much, but don’t ask what it was, for what happened next completely overshadowed all else.

We each had had an adult beveridge with our meal, so we were a little fuzzy as we walked up Market to our parked car. We were puzzled by the sight of a loaf of bread sitting on the sidewalk beside the Arrow. My wife wondered out loud why our groceries were outside the car. We didn’t notice the broken glass under the bread, and were slow to realize that our car had been broken into and robbed.

We found a phone and called the cops. After giving them the rundown on our plight, they informed us that they could not come out to the scene of the crime, but if we wanted to come in to fill out a report we were welcome to.

We followed their directions to a small precinct house further uptown and made our report. Besides our groceries we were missing a couple other items: an 8mm Bell & Howell movie camera and dirty laundry in a paper sack. Sometime in the midst of this ordeal I asked urgently if they had a restroom. This sent me on another surreal sidetrack, as they had no public facility and referred me next door to a seedy bar/nightclub. I felt I was sleep walking through the rest of our time there. It was real “trippy.”

The next day was a Sunday and the memory of what transpired is all a hazy black cloud. Reality was settling in. Was our vacation over before it had begun? We needed a replacement for that backseat side window and where would we find one?

We had to wait until Monday. That’s when we raised a Chrysler dealorship, but they did not have that part in stock. Nor did any of the auto glass companies. Hope was offered, in that they could order it in – but it would take a couple of days. Desperate to save our vacation, I asked if there was something we could substitute, say something plastic. That set a light bulb off in the imagination of the auto glass specialist, and he referred us to a shop that dealt in plexiglass. On parting he suggested that we tell them to use the other window as a template to cut a replacement.

Which is exactly what we were able to do. And we were on the road again before lunch. With only an occasional whistling noise from our replacement “window.”

Fixing Walt Coy’s Timeline Part 2

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I had to laugh when I realized that this Research post had its reference point centered in 1928 San Francisco, a time and a place about which I have written five other posts.

This time around it is a starting point for unraveling a timeline problem in the life history of Walt T. Coy, the stagehand whom I knew at the Fifth Avenue Theater in Seattle, Washington. Occasionally during the 11 month gig (June 1927 to May 1928) that the Herb Wiedoeft Band put in at the Trianon Dance Hall, Walt filled in for their drummer (Walt spelled his name as “Weidoff”). Herb got an offer from a major studio in Hollywood to score a picture. He did not have a regular place on the band for Walt just then, but dropped a hint that he might be able to use him if he happened to find himself down south.

Walt did pick up a job that would serve to that end. He joined the band on the H. F. Alexander, a passenger liner that sailed up and down the West Coast, making calls at Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Once the ship was beyond the three mile limit out came the booze without limit. When the ship called at San Francisco, Walt bought a San Francisco Examiner in which he learned to his dismay that Herb Wiedoeft had died as the result of an automobile accident.

I looked up the details about this event. Herb Wiedoeft died in Medford, Oregon on May 12th 1928, the day after the car accident. So, this places Walt in San Francisco, most likely in a seven day window after the accident. After this news Walt says he decided to try his hand at acting down in Hollywood. This seems logical because as I established in last week’s post, he already had some experience as an extra on the production of “The Patent Leather Kid,” the year before.

After the news in San Francisco, Walt records :

“Finding myself eventually in Los Angeles with a few extra nickels in my pocket, I decided to take a fling at being an actor. This turned out to be a rather short-lived adventure.

One of the studios I was in was called the Chaplin Studio – later changed to United Artists – and a Charlie Chaplin picture was in the process of being filmed. For a young fellow to be there, it was a big deal. Charlie Chaplin was a meticulous artist. The same scene was reshot hour after hour until it was perfect in Chaplin’s eyes. As young as I was then, I classified him as a perfectionist.” (from My Uncle Sam Don’t Like Me, page 67).

I confess I was really curious to know which Chaplin film this could be. According to his filmography, “The Circus” seemed to be closest in time, but it was released in January 1928. The next film in order was “City Lights” which was not released until 1931. I remembered that “City Lights” did have a longer than normal production period, so that seemed the logical place to start. (This Chaplin film is one of my all-time favorites, and in my opinion a masterwork).

One online source listed that it was in production from 12/31/1927 to 1/22/1931. This seemed to fit the bill easily, but what if the scenes employing extras were all before May 1928? So, I did more checking.

Variety gave the negative to that question, for it reported in their 1/29/1929 edition, that the Chaplin Studio had remained dormant for the first five months of the preceding year (1928).

Production reports for the studio indicate that Chaplin was working on the story for that time period, clear up to August of 1928, when set construction began. Another source confirms the construction month:

“Charlie Chaplin’s unit is building sets for “City Lights.” (from the Daily Exhibitors Review for 8/20/1928).

This very same article mentioned that Gloria Swanson’s “Queen Kelly” was to enter production after September 1st.

This gave me the idea to look into the Swanson picture. I thought that whatever time Walt spent as an extra on that film, might shed some light on his Chaplin Studio tenure.

“Queen Kelly” did not start on September 1st. In the trades there are articles showing it moving back and back. Finally Variety on 11/7/1928 (p 4) reported:

Los Angeles 11/6 – “Erich Von Stroheim’s second day directing “Queen Kelly” was a long one. During the day he worked on exteriors. In the evening, he came into the studio to kill one sequence with certain actors. There was a little delay in getting going, but the original plan was adhered to. It was 6:30 in the morning, when the troupe was dismissed. The call was for the following evening when the company again worked during the night.”

In the same edition of Variety (over on page 7) there is another short article that identifies the exteriors noted in the above quote.

Los Angeles 11/6 “…While the schedule calls for 10 weeks’ shooting it is deemed doubtful if this will be observed on account of the large number of mob scenes to be photographed out of doors – and the sun at this season is not dependable.”

Therefore, it would seem that Walt gained work as an extra on Von Stroheim’s “Queen Kelly,” before he was at the Chaplin Studio. Variety reported that the silent version of “Queen Kelly” was finished before Christmas. They then moved over to the Pathe Studios to work on the sound version, one for which they would not be needing extras, as only the leads had speaking parts. Things fell apart for Von Stroheim with the new year (1929), he was fired off the production and another director brought in for the dialog version. It was all a big mess after that. In fact, “Queen Kelly” was released in Europe and South America but never saw the light of a theater projector in the US (it was televised in the 1960s).

[Aside – with one exception – there was a clip from “Queen Kelly” that was inserted into Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard,” whose cast included Gloria Swanson and Erich Von Stroheim.]

This dovetails nicely with the start of filming for “City Lights.” I could not find any proof that Chaplin had ever pointed a camera at any extras in 1928. But once 1929 rolled around, (and Walt would have been looking for extra work after “Queen Kelly”), I found some substantial proofs. Variety again (for 2/6/1929, page 7):

Los Angeles 2/5 – Charles Chaplin after many delays has started “City Lights.” Previously he had done some work alone, but now he is surrounded by Virginia Cherrill, leading woman; Henry Clive, Henry Bergman, and Harry Crocker.

There are two sequences in the beginning of “City Lights” that called for lots of extras. Both, I believe, were filmed in the first two months of 1929.

The first was a scene where the Tramp character (“working alone” – i.e. not with named performers) fidgets with a stick that is stuck in a sidewalk grate. A ton of extras pass back and forth in the background. The sequence was cut from the release print, but you can view it in the Kevin Brownlow limited series, “The Unknown Chaplin.”

(The cut sequence from “City Lights.”)

The second scene covers the meeting between the Tramp and a blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill). I like to think that Walt was present for this segment. It does seem to fit his description above (“The same scene was reshot hour after hour”), for Chaplin famously took 342 takes on this very scene.

I watched both sequences with an eye to catch a glimpse of Walt, but I could not make him out anywhere – but I guess that is the purpose of an extra, to be an unrecognizable presence.

The Chaplin Studio shut down production on “City Lights” from mid-February until April 1st. Illness in the cast was the main cause, including Chaplin himself who was sent home with ptomaine poisoning (Variety 2/27/1929). When Charlie returned he again tackled the meeting scene with the blind flower girl (a scene that he would revisit in December, and again in 1930).

It is my guess that Walt left Los Angeles when production halted in February, and went back to Seattle. And his future involvement in film making was from the other side of the camera.

1928 San Francisco Research: Taxis

1928 San Francisco Research Taxis

I was at the point that I needed a character to support my protagonist, to transport him from point A to point B. Besides some unique and interesting qualities – (a) dwarf – and (b) an Italian (of which there were a large number living in sections of 1928 San Francisco, of note the North Beach section of the city, its Little Italy), I wanted him to be a cab driver.

But for what company?

Or for that matter, a more basic consideration, did cabs exist in San Francisco at that time? As it turns out, there was no problem on that score. The answer was yes. In fact, I found mention of taxis as early as 1909. (As elsewhere in the U.S., stables and horse rentals and hackney cabs gave way to garages and car rentals and taxis).

Searches within the Internet Archive turned up ads for many different cab companies:

These first six I show operating in 1928, (I’m not sure how long they’d been in business):

United Cab Company

Union Cab Company

Green Top Cab Company

Cadillac Taxi Cab Company

California Cab Company

Club Limousine Service Company

Then those whose beginnings I can document:

DeSoto Cab Company (founded 1923)

Luxor Cab Company (founded in 1928) [fielded a total of ten cabs, all ordered up from call boxes located on street corners in the city].

And of course the Yellow Cab Company which had been doing business in San Francisco since 1922. When they merged with Checker mid decade, they were the most powerful cab company in town, controlling all the best cabstands, i.e. situated where travelers came into the city – the wharf, rail stations, and the airport; and at the hotels in the city where they stayed.

[Aside – John Hertz (of Hertz-Rent-a-Car fame) was the Chicagoan behind the Yellow Cab company and its subsidiary the Yellow Cab Manufacturing company. He sold the companies in the mid twenties and put his gains to work in other firms, notably Lehman Brothers. Hertz was also a major stockholder in the Paramount-Famous Lasky Corp, and thus was the logical choice for the Lehmans to be their rep at the film company to carry out the reorganization they prescribed in 1931. Hertz was the chair to the finance committee at Paramount and did bring down costs at the studio. But evidently Hertz was better in the car business than the film business, for he was forced to resign when Paramount went into receivership in 1933].

Back to my character.

So I had all these taxi companies in San Francisco from which to choose, but couldn’t settle on one. Then I read that San Francisco had gypsy cab drivers, independents that didn’t work for a company. They were allowed to answer calls for service via the telephone, but were unlicensed to cruise the streets for hailing customers.

Perfect for my character – Donatello.

1928 San Francisco Research The Cars

1928 San Francisco The Cars

One piece of advice pitched to writers entails tailoring a character part for a particular actor or star. It indeed can be helpful, especially if you intend to approach that actor later.  But what if you have a comedian in mind for a serious part? It’s hard enough as it is to keep your character reined in to your purposes without losing it all to ensuing wackiness.

But that is not the subject of this post, thankfully, rather I had a different question.

What kind of cars should I include?

This was a question I tackled in my background research for my script set in 1928 San Francisco. I definitely wanted a Duesenberg as one of the “players.” But was it available in San Francisco at this time?

The Internet Archive to the rescue again. A search there turned up scans of a weekly publication that proved helpful – the San Francisco News Letter. In its January 28th edition for 1928 there was an article about the Twelfth Annual Pacific Automobile Show set to run from that date through February 4. It lists what the attendees will see – Haughty limousines – sporty racing models – family cars – roadsters – sedans and sedanettes – coupes and couplets – broughams and landaulets. Or as it more prosaically describes them – “Shining things of steel that are the magic carpets of modern transportation.”

I gleaned some interesting facts from the article. Rather than extolling the virtues of the mechanics of their operation, as had been the past habit, they were now touting the comfort for the people within – seats that conformed to the body’s curvature – lighters, mirrors, match safes, vanity cases – and some items switched from the accessory category to standard – bumpers, shocks and headlights. And San Francisco itself was being praised for its climate as being perfect for year round motoring. It went on to add that a coastline highway from British Columbia to Mexico was then underway, and of particular note – San Francisco was not yet directly connected to Santa Cruz in that manner. A good fact to know.

Flipping through the pages I came upon a Duesenberg. So that was in. The main antagonist gets that one. But what about the rest of the cast?

I’ve always wanted to include a vehicle that had this capability:

1928 San Francisco Research The Cars2

The arsenal behind the front seat back. An online search alerted me to Al Capone’s car of choice, the 1928 Cadillac. Seems like an apropos choice.

(Aside – I was checking on the magazine’s next edition to see if there was any follow up and found this headline – Street Murder – from which I take the following excerpts – “our first taste of the thing which is disgracing Chicago…a man shot in the public streets of San Francisco by an assassin from a closed car…in connection with the liquor trade…the similarity to the Chicago affairs is very marked”).

So I was on the hunt for a Cadillac in San Francisco.

Here is a list, regrouped into their “families” and their points of origin. First, those outside of Detroit and Michigan:

Franklins (of Syracuse NY.  Luxury car. It had a radiator grill that was for looks. It actually was a dummy and functioned as the air intake for its air-cooled engine).

Chandlers (from Cleveland OH, medium priced cars).

Stutz (of Indianapolis, IN).

The Kissel (made in Wisconsin. Amelia Earhart drove one of these).

The Kleiber (of San Francisco, CA. A truck firm that built some passenger cars, a five passenger Brougham went for only $1950. Sold only on the West Coast).

Locomobiles (of Bridgeport CT, originally a steam car, but converted to internal combustion shortly after the turn of the century, at this time part of Durant Motors).

And switching to Michigan, we pick up with the Durant Company again:
The Star
The Durant
(both built by the Durant Company (1922-28). William C. Durant was the founder of the General Motors Holding Company, but at this time was out of GM and looking to duplicate the philosophy he had created there with a range of offerings for various tastes and pocket books).

Hudsons
Essexes
(both by Hudson)

Chryslers
(With some interesting omissions – Plymouths, DeSotos and Dodges. The Plymouths and Desotos were new for 1928, and perhaps not yet available. And the troubled Dodge company was bought by Chrysler this year, so maybe their deal was not yet consummated).

Lincolns
(at this time part of the Ford company, though operating separately. There are no other Fords listed, which I thought odd).

GM products (in order from cheapest to most expensive).
Chevys
Pontiacs
Oakland All-Americans (not from the community across the bay, but of Pontiac MI; bought by GM in 1909; absorbed into Pontiac in 1931)
Oldsmobiles
Buicks
LaSalles (recently introduced to fill the gap between the Buick and the Cadillac).
But NO Cadillacs.

For that matter there are no Packards and Pierce Arrows mentioned either. But my mind is made up, I want a Cadillac, and a Cadillac it will be. So there!

If anyone complains, I can always build a backstory.

1928 San Francisco Stage Screen and Radio

San Francisco 1928

1928 San Francisco Stage Screen and Radio

Sometimes when you research you come up with more than you were looking for; some little fact that is odd or interesting and usually completely off topic.

Recently I was trying to find out what film titles were gracing the marquees of the movie theaters in 1928 San Francisco. I found a San Francisco publication that covered the weekly cultural events in the city. A treasure trove.

Garbo, Jolson, and Barrymore (Lionel) were some of the big names on the marquees in that time period. Jolson was in the Jazz Singer, of course. Vitaphone is listed prominently for it, so you knew it was a sound picture (the first as you may know). Gloria Swanson was in Sadie Thompson (try saying that three times fast, and try not to say that Sadie Thompson was in Gloria Swanson). And Rin Tin Tin was starring in the film “Dog of the Regiment,” and also making a personal appearance with his trainer Lee Duncan.

And speaking of personal appearances I was blown away to see that Fanny Brice was performing on stage in San Francisco that year. (Barbra Streisand portrayed the entertainer twice, once in Funny Girl [1968] and the other time in Funny Lady [1975]). And I was amused to see that the Marx Brothers were on the boards, cutting up in their play Cocoanuts.

But there I’ve went and gone off-off topic.

What I wanted to get around to was this, the publication included schedules for the radio stations broadcasting in the area. So I have a list of these stations and their call letters [KFRC, KPO, KFWI, and KJBS] should I need them for my writing project. But what was really surprising were the two radio stations that were completely out of the area, yet received in San Francisco.

They were KJR in Seattle, Washington, and KGW in Portland, Oregon. I knew KJR as a Top 40 station from my high school and college days. Back in 1928 it carried dance orchestras and concert music. I am familiar with the KGW call letters as I live near Portland. Its call letters have disappeared from the radio scene, having morphed into KPOJ (operating now as a sports radio station, a fate that KJR has also suffered).

I am wondering if the denizens of 1928 San Francisco tuned in to KGW Portland to catch Mel Blanc on air in those days before Warner Brothers snatched him up to do voices for their Looney Tunes (Bugs, Daffy, et al).

Bridges and Phone Numbers

I love research. So I am jazzed that my writing gives me many opportunities to do so. Usually I do all my research upfront before starting a script. For instance, I had to rule out using the Golden Gate Bridge as a location for it did not exist in 1928. It was being debated then, but construction didn’t even start until five years later.

But sometimes in the midst of writing I get stopped cold until I can answer a pertinent question.

That happened just recently (on this same project). I was typing along creating the dialogue for one of the characters. He was picking up the phone to make a call – and he has to speak the number he wants to the operator. Phone numbers in those days required an exchange that you would state upfront. So I needed one that would pass muster.

I opened my browser and went over to the Internet Archive, and there did a search in their text holdings, using the terms “1928” and “San Francisco.” Among the returns to this query was a city directory for San Francisco which was perfect for my need. I flipped through several pages and noted down several exchange names (Sutter, Kearney, Mission, Market, etc.), from which to choose later and just in case I need more than one.

And I ran across this one listing that seemed to shout, “Pick me! Pick me!”

Bridges and Phone Numbers

Howard in the Middle

Howard Kazanjian was all set for the first day of shooting on “Finian’s Rainbow.”

His director Francis Ford Coppola had fixed on an idea for the opening title sequence. He wanted to shoot his two main stars on the Golden Gate bridge. At that time no one shot anything on the Golden Gate Bridge, for the simple reason that you could not even get a permit to do so.

Not to be deterred, Francis set out to do it anyway. He and Howard took a rented station wagon, picked up Fred Astaire and Petula Clark, then headed for the bridge.  Francis dropped Howard and the two stars off at the San Francisco end of the bridge. From there the threesome pretended to be pedestrians out for a stroll, sightseeing. (Of course, Howard kept out of range of the camera). With the tailgate on the station wagon down and the camera set there to shoot, Francis had the key gaffer drive the vehicle past them and then slow down to a crawl, while he and his cameraman caught his stars as they walked the pavement.  By the time they got to the end of the bridge the police had arrived to investigate what was going on. They pulled them over into the scenic turn out on the Marin side.

The production manager from WB for Finian was waiting for them in this parking lot when they pulled in. And he just so happened to know the officer that was threatening to arrest them. Another fine mess they avoided. [Aside – you won’t see a hint of this bit in any of the DVDs. Howard remembers that in the roadshow release a section was used, including a distant glimpse of the flashing red light of the cop car when it came after them.]

A couple of days later they mounted a larger expedition. Again they held on to the station wagon, but added a truck, and a car. They used the car to transport Fred and Petula. With Francis driving, Fred sat in back on the right and Petula on the left, with Howard on the hump in the middle. Their route was all planned out as they headed south out of San Francisco. However, Francis was soon off the route when he spotted some sheep off on a hill. They soon lost the other vehicles in pursuit of their bucolic shot. Once they were up by the sheep, Francis had Howard get out and herd the fleecy critters past their one camera.

By the time they loaded up the station wagon, Howard knew he had to do something to head off the possibility of a meal penalty. It was already late afternoon, so he put the question to them.  He stated did you want to have your meal here, gesturing to the passing scenery with no eatery in site, or wait for the hotel where they had scheduled to stop before their day began.  Fred spoke up and said, “No, let’s wait for the hotel.” And Petula nodded her agreement. So Howard had it on the record that they had declined his offer. The stars had graciously played along with the AD to save the production from the cost of the meal penalty.

[Aside – this sheep footage also did not make the DVD cut.]