Monday, February 29, 2016

Theodore Le Berthon (1892-1960)-Part Ten

The body of Elizabeth Short was found in Los Angeles on January 15, 1947. A little over a month later, on February 23, 1947, presumably in Boston, Helene Le Berthon married Franklin B. Pollock of Elmira, New York. Helene's father was by then cut loose from regular work as a journalist at the Los Angeles Daily News. I don't know his whereabouts at the time of the wedding. However, in September of that year, he was in Elmira and "in the midst of a nervous breakdown" when he received a visit from his friend J.F. Powers. Powers' visit was evidently a short one. "[T]he situation looked so bad," he wrote in a letter, "so unpropitious to camaraderie, I decided to go to Washington." (1) Powers was otherwise mum on the condition of his friend. When Le Berthon died in Fresno in 1960, Powers wrote, "God bless Ted. I hope to see him in heaven one day." (2)

Don Herold quipped, "Actresses will happen in the best of families." So did Helene Le Berthon's marriage have anything to do with her father's breakdown? Who now can say? The players are all gone from the stage. A decade before, though, Le Berthon had probably helped his daughter break into show business. She is supposed to have been on the staff of the Los Angeles Daily News, his same paper, when she started out in movies. The producer of her first (and apparently only) movie was Fanchon Royer (1902-1981), a woman with a very interesting life story and very probably a friend or acquaintance of Ted Le Berthon going back to the Famous Players-Lasky days of circa 1918-1920. (3) Fanchon started out as an actress. In 1920, she became assistant editor of Camera!, a movie magazine for which Le Berthon wrote the column "Screen Writers Forum." She produced her first movie in 1928 and in the 1930s formed Fanchon Royer Productions, specializing in what we would call quick cheapies. Religious Racketeers (1938) was one of those. Here's how The Film Daily saw the film:
"Religious Racketeers" with Mme. Harry Houdini, Robert Fiske
This is designed solely as an exploitation picture for the states rights market and achieves its purpose. Madame Houdini, widow of the famous Houdini, plays a role and demands that police war on fakers of all types who prey on the credulous. Robert Fiske enacts the role of a spiritualist, who dupes a wealthy heiress, who is anxious to communicate with her dead mother. Betty Compson, who is one of Fiske's followers, and who is also in love with him, gets her friend, Helen [sic] Le Berthon, the heiress interested in Fiske's work. On Fiske's advice, Helen accompanied by Betty goes to Egypt and India. Unknown to Helen, Fiske also makes the trip, and in Egypt and India, poses as a native spiritualist and is called upon by Helen, who is still seeking spiritual guidance. Arthur Gardner, a newspaperman, in love with Helen, trails Helen and Betty to Egypt and India, and finally manages to expose Fiske as a faker. Frank O'Connor furnished the direction, story and screenplay. Fanchon Royer rates credit as the producer. 
CAST: Madame Harry Houdini, Robert Fiske, Helen Le Berthon, Arthur Gardner, Betty Compson, David Kerman, Robert Frazer. 
CREDITS: Producer, Fanchon Royer; Director, Frank O'Connor; Author, Frank O'Connor; Screenplay, Frank O'Connor; Adaptation, Charles R. Condon; Cameraman, Jack Greenhalgh, ASC; Dialogue Director, Don Gallaher; Art Director, Paul Palmentola; Editor, George Halligan; Production Manager, Ray Nazarrd; Sound, Cliff Ruberg; Technical Advisor, Dr. Edward Saint; India Sequences, Bhogwan Singh.
Fanchon Royer Features 90 Mins. (4)
The reference to "states rights" is not political, at least I don't think it is. I didn't know what it meant until I read Fanchon Royer's biography on the website Women Film Pioneers Project:
The film [Life's Like That, 1928] was completed and ready for review by June 16 although it did not have a conventional national release through a studio's distribution network; instead Royer sold individual states the rights to it. (Emphasis added.)
Religious Racketeers, also known as The Mystic Circle Murder, opens on a precise date: October 30, 1936, one day short of the tenth anniversary of Harry Houdini's death. Madame Houdini is in the movie, but only briefly. Besides Betty Compson, hers is the only name viewers of today might recognize. Helene Le Berthon plays the female lead. She provides the twist near the end.

Religious Racketeers is now in the public domain. You can watch it on YouTube and other websites. It reminds me of The Amazing Mr. X (1948) and "The Hoax of the Spirit Lover" by Harry Houdini (Weird Tales, April 1924), both of which are about fake mediums and spiritualists. Houdini spent a good deal of his time debunking spiritualism. He arranged with his wife that if communication from the beyond is possible, he would, after his death, send her a coded message. She spent years listening at seances for the code. According to Wikipedia, her last seance was in 1936, the same year in which Religious Racketeers is set. By the way, Fanchon Royer converted to Catholicism in 1943. I wonder if Ted Le Berthon was any influence on her decision. In 1945, she moved to Mexico, where she lived out her life and where she died in 1981 at age seventy-nine.

So this brings to an end the story of Ted Le Berthon and his family, but not of another bit player in this drama.

Next: Was the Son of the Black Dahlia Murderer in Weird Tales?

(1) From Suitable Accommodations: An Autobiographical Story of Family Life: The Letters of J. F. Powers, 1942-1963 by J. F. Powers and Katherine A. Powers (2013), p. 101.
(2) Powers and Powers, p. 350.
(3) You can read more about her on the website Women Film Pioneers Projecthere.
(4) The Film Daily, Apr. 1, 1938. On YouTube, it runs to an hour and seven minutes.

Original text copyright 2016, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Theodore Le Berthon (1892-1960)-Part Nine

On January 15, 1947, Betty Bersinger of Leimert Park, Los Angeles, was on an errand with her three-year-old daughter when she saw, lying in a vacant lot, what she thought to be a department store manikin. A closer look revealed the truth. Mrs. Bersinger rushed from the scene to phone the police. They arrived shortly thereafter to find what she had found, a woman's body, neatly cut in two at the waist. That was the beginning of the infamous Black Dahlia murder case.

The so-called Black Dahlia was Elizabeth Short (1924-1947), a young woman from Massachusetts who had arrived in California at nineteen, and who, after having bounced around for a while, was murdered at age twenty-two in a yet unknown place. Her killer, also unknown, bound her, beat her, and cut her face and body. He further mutilated her body, drained it of blood, washed it, and carefully arranged its severed parts in the vacant lot where Mrs. Bersinger found it the next morning. The police questioned hundreds of people, suspected scores, and finally narrowed their list of suspects to about two dozen. About a third of those suspects were physicians or surgeons. One was Dr. George Hill Hodel, Jr., about whom Ted Le Berthon had written in 1925.

The murder of Elizabeth Short remains an open case, despite nearly seven decades of investigation by police, journalists, authors, and amateur detectives. After George Hodel's death in 1999, his son, Steve Hodel, began investigating the Black Dahlia murder. He is convinced that his father was the killer and has presented his investigations in Black Dahlia Avenger (2006), Black Dahlia Avenger II (2014), Most Evil (with Ralph Pezzullo, 2009), and Most Evil II (2015). (1) With his books, Mr. Hodel has convinced others as well, although there are dissenting opinions, especially about his later allegations.

Exquisite Corpse: Surrealism and the Black Dahlia Murder by Mark Nelson and Sarah Hudson Bayliss (2006) "presents the theory that Elizabeth Short's murder may have been informed by surrealist art, and that the killer was familiar with surrealist art and ideas." They, too, suppose that Hodel was the murderer, although they don't make an outright accusation. Their hypothesis is compelling, especially in view of images like those shown below. (2) There have been other books and theories as well. Some agree on the killer's identity. Others are more eccentric.

The idea that George Hodel was a murderer fits with themes I have written about on this blog:

First, the intellectual, very often a writer, artist, or philosopher, who sets himself above the world and all the people in it; who throws off traditional constraints, particularly moral constraints, and does or advocates to be done whatever he wills. Very often, that intellectual is strictly a man of words or ideas. He doesn't take any action, in which case he is sometimes seen as a comic figure or buffoon, as Hodel looked in Le Berthon's profile of 1925. When he does take action, however, he is very often deadly.

Second, and related to the first, a special kind of depravity that emanates especially from the middle class, from individuals with ambitions not so much to greatness as to be seen or recognized by the rest of humanity for their greatness; to be considered great thinkers or theorists, as great actors in society or history, as among the élite; to make their mark, often, if not exclusively, to make up for their sense of failure or their fragile sense of self-esteem; who see other people as mere objects or abstractions for them to use, manipulate, and, if necessary, destroy in their pursuit of recognition and the esteem of their fellows.

Third, the physician as a psychopath who, because he is himself a soulless machine--in other words a kind of materialist--believes that other people are machines as well, and yet is puzzled by the animation the unseen and unknown soul provides those people, and so cuts them open to find out what makes them alive and human.

Finally, the general effects of moral decay, dissolution, and chaos, and where they lead the individual and the society in which he lives.

No one knows that George Hodel was the Black Dahlia murderer, but even if he wasn't, we can still brand him a monster for what he did to his daughter.

To be concluded . . .

(1) The publication history of these books and their various editions or revisions is hard to puzzle out. We live in an age in which a "book" may not actually be a book and can be revised and republished and revised again without end, even several times a day if the author wants it. These are the titles and dates I have, though, and they'll have to do.
(2) I have not read the book, so I don't know the details of the authors' hypothesis. However, the online documents I have read supporting their case are measured, well argued, and well presented. See the authors' blog by clicking here. The quote is from that blog.

A young George Hodel (1907-1999), attending to a patient. 

Is that George Hodel on the left? No, it's actually Salvador Dalí (1904-1989), his near contemporary. On the right is Man Ray (1890-1976), who lived in Los Angeles from 1940 to 1951 and who was friends with Hodel. Dali is comic in his intensity. Man Ray is something else. This picture was taken in Paris in 1934 by Carl Van Vechten

Here is Dalí again in a photograph by Denise Bellon (1902-1999), perhaps from around the same period. In their book Exquisite Corpse: Surrealism and the Black Dahlia Murder, authors Mark Nelson and Sarah Hudson Bayliss make a connection between the Black Dahlia murder and surrealist art and photography. Note especially the breasts of the manikin on the left and the separated torso of the manikin in the middle. When you look at photographs like this one and compare them to photographs of Elizabeth Short's body, you begin to see that Mr. Nelson and Ms. Bayliss' case could be a strong one. 

Or this one, also by Denise Bellon.

More yet, this one, by the same photographer.

So why were surrealists so fascinated by manikins? By mutilation and dismemberment? By distortions and mutations of human anatomy? Was it the dehumanizing effects of world war and a decaying civilization? Was it a kind of materialism among the artists themselves? And if it was a kind of materialism, how is materialist surrealist not an oxymoron? The answer begins with recognizing surrealism not primarily as art but as an intellectual theory. André Breton (1896-1966), author of the first surrealist manifesto (Manifeste du surréalisme, 1924), was a Marxist, i.e., a materialist. Surrealism was--strangely and remarkably--a communist and/or anarchist intellectual movement. As we know, Marxists, communists, socialists, and other assorted leftists have no compunctions about murdering or otherwise inflicting violence on their fellow human beings. That, too, has been a theme in this blog. One more strange and remarkable thing: André Breton trained in medicine.

Original text copyright 2016, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Theodore Le Berthon (1892-1960)-Part Eight

On December 9, 1925, in "The Merry-Go-Round," his column for the Los Angeles Evening Herald, Ted Le Berthon wrote about a strange young man whose future would prove him to be not just strange but monstrous. The title of that particular column was "Clouded Past of a Poet." Its subject, described as "tall, olive-skinned, with wavy black hair and a strong, bold nose," was George Hodel. (1)

Born on October 10, 1907, in Los Angeles, George Hill Hodel, Jr., was a child prodigy. His IQ tested at 186. At age nine, he played solo piano concerts at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Hodel graduated from South Pasadena High School at fourteen and entered the California Institute of Technology to study chemical engineering. There his precociousness was expressed in a different way when he had an affair with and impregnated the wife of a faculty member. Things were kept quiet, but Hodel was forced out of the university. He faked his age, got a chauffeur's license, and started driving a cab at night. He also became a police reporter for the Los Angeles Record. "He was there to record the lurid details as pimps, prostitutes, and johns . . . were hauled off," wrote his biographer. "The precocious kid from Pasadena was now L.A.'s youngest crime reporter, rubbing shoulders with hoods, murderers, and corrupt officials." (2) He was then sixteen years old, making the year either 1923 or 1924.

As of 1923, Ted Le Berthon was also a police reporter, though I don't know for which paper in Los Angeles. Later, as a devout Catholic, he seems to have been drawn to the low life because of his concern for his fellow man. Nodel's motivations were likely far different, as events would prove. He might easily have been described as an aesthete and a decadent. "It's not George's gloom, his preference for Huysmanns [sic], De Gourmant, Poe, Baudelaire, Verlaine, and Hecht that pains us," wrote Le Berthon from the point of view of Hodel's friends, "but his stilted elegance, his meticulous speech!" (3, 4)
George drowned himself at times in an ocean of deep dreams [Le Berthon wrote]. Only part of him seemed present. He would muse, standing before one in a black, flowered dressing gown lined with scarlet silk, oblivious to one's presence. Suddenly, though, his eyes would flare up like signal lights and he would say, "The formless fastidiousness of perfumes in a seventeenth century boudoir is comparable to my mind in the presence of twilight." (5)
Based on those passages, not only aesthete and decadent, but also the phrase adolescent poseur might describe Hodel. That adolescence, along with the preference for fantastic and decadent authors, the name dropping, the evocation of the seventeenth-century past, and the florid language remind me of Lovecraft. Hodel even published his own avant-garde literary magazine called Fantasia. But again, his life went down a different path than that of Lovecraft.

At twenty, George Hodel became a radio host for Southern California Gas Company's Music Hour, a program of classical music, and enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, to study pre-medicine. From there it was on to the University of California, San Francisco, for medical school. Hodel also wrote a column for the San Francisco Chronicle called "Abroad in San Francisco." I don't know of any further contact between Ted Le Berthon and George Hodel after 1925. Maybe Le Berthon's father, John L. Le Berthon, crossed paths with the young doctor, writer, and music aficionado in San Francisco.

After working as a physician in New Mexico, Hodel returned to Los Angeles in the early 1940s. Still drawn to bohemianism and the avant-garde side of life, he was friends with Man Ray (1890-1976), Henry Miller (1891-1980), Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982), and Fred Sexton (1907-1995, the creator of the Maltese Falcon statuette). In the early 1940s, Hodel married John Huston's first wife. (He had been friends with Huston in the 1920s). In all, Hodel had eleven children by five women. In 1949, one of Hodel's children, Tamar, accused him of incest. The case went to trial, but Hodel was acquitted. In 1950, he left the country for the Philippines. He returned to San Francisco forty years later and died in that city in May 1999 at age ninety-one. After his death, one of his sons, Steve Hodel, began looking into his life.

To be continued . . .

(2) Hodel and Pezzullo, Ch. 1.
(3) Quoted in Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder: The True Story by Steve Hodel (Skyhorse Publishing, 2015), Online, "The Voice" (unpaginated).
(4) Poe (1809-1849), Baudelaire (1821-1867), and Verlaine (1844-1896) were published posthumously in Weird Tales. The others were not published at all in the magazine. However, I have written about Ben Hecht (1894-1964) and, in my article about him, a little of Joris Karl Huysmans (1848-1907). Remy de Gourmant (1858-1915) was an associate of Huysmans and a French Symbolist poet. Click on their names in the main body for links. Coincidentally, 1923, the year in which George Hodel got his start as a police reporter, thereby descending physically into the low life (I suspect he had begun a personal, spiritual, and moral descent by then), was also the year in which Weird Tales began. Despite the bustling Jazz Age in America, the 1920s were a time of decadence in Western civilization. The advent of Weird Tales was just one example of that. The prominence of the psychopathic killer was another. Stay tuned for more.
(5) Quoted in Hodel and Pezzullo, Ch. 1.

George Hill Hodel, Jr., South Pasadena High School Class of 1923, and the subject of "Clouded Past of  Poet," a column by Ted Le Berthon from 1925.

Original text copyright 2016, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, February 22, 2016

Theodore Le Berthon (1892-1960)-Part Seven

Several years ago Ted Le Berthon resigned his post as assistant editor of the Catholic Digest in order to devote more time to creative writing. . . . As general assignment reporter on New York, Brooklyn, Chicago, and Los Angeles newspapers, he developed as a writer through the discipline of journalism. Seeing the white man's injustice to Negroes as one of the gravest national problems, he has used his pen in various ways to help solve the race problem. His efforts in this direction include his work as contributing editor to the Negro Digest, his column, "White Man's Views" for The Pittsburgh Courier, the nation's leading Negro weekly newspaper, and his short story The Racist, recently published in The Sign
--from the introduction to "I Took Thee, Constance" by Theodore Le Berthon
in Many-Colored Fleece edited by Sister Mariella Gable, O.S.B.

Ted Le Berthon worked for the Los Angeles Daily News (or Evening News) during the 1930s. In the latter part of the decade, in about 1936-1938, he began a column called "Night Court." Initially he wrote about what went on at night at the Lincoln Heights Jail and Court. Soon he was writing--by some indications obsessively--about race, religion, poverty, discrimination, and other social issues. An article in the California Eagle, a black newspaper, from January 20, 1938, tells of a presentation he made to a women's club. Note that even by early 1938, his column was considered "widely-read" and "popular."
Ted Le Berthon, widely-read columnist and author of the popular Evening News feature, "Night Court," also spoke [to the club]. Mr. Le Berthon spoke against racial discrimination and dwelt largely on the theme of equality of all, because God created all. He advanced the belief that eventually discrimination as well as racial differences would disappear as an inevitable result of fusion of the races.
In an interview called "Paste Pots, Booze, Liberalism and BB-Guns: A Talk with L.A. Newspaper Historian Rob Wagner," the author Rob Leicester Wagner had more to say about Le Berthon:
One interesting character they [the Los Angeles Daily News] had was named Ted LeBerthon, and he's in the book [Red Ink, White Lies: The Rise and Fall of Los Angeles Newspapers, 1920-1962 by Rob Leicester Wagner (2000)]. He was what you'd call today the minority affairs reporter. His job was to hang around the Lincoln Heights Jail and Lincoln Heights Court---night court, back then---and just record the folks that came in and out of jail and court. Inevitably, there were a lot of blacks and latinos that went through there, and he started writing about their stories. He was largely responsible, in the late '30s, for writing about blacks and latinos, and their issues. And he had his personal phonograph record player that he'd haul from his apartment, over to the newsroom, and put up on the windowsill, and play black jazz all night. There were a lot of staffers who loved it, and a lot who hated it. After a while, he started writing more about religion issues, and I don't know if he became mentally ill or unbalanced or what, but he pretty much became a religious fanatic, and that's all he wrote. According to one staffer I talked to, he began to see the face of Jesus Christ in every homeless man that ever walked in looking for a handout, and they eventually had to let him go. But for a brief, shining moment for a five year period, he was the only man in town who took the time to write about the downtrodden and the folks that live on the fringes. (1)
In his more recent book, The Battle for Los Angeles: Racial Ideology and World War II (UNM Press, 2006), Kevin Allen Leonard looked more deeply into the controversy involving Ted Le Berthon, race, religion, and his firing from the Los Angeles Daily News. Mr. Leonard related the story especially to the Zoot Suit Riots of June 1943. Le Berthon was sympathetic to the wearers of zoot suits, seeing them as poor and underprivileged young men who "resented being treated as 'lower classes'." (2)

Three months after the Zoot Suit Riots, in late September 1943, Berthon was fired from the Los Angeles Daily News. The aforementioned California Eagle felt that Le Berthon was dismissed "because of 'too-frequent' mention of discrimination against Negro people in his writing." (3) Le Berthon provided his own explanation, writing that he had been let go "on the grounds that I had failed to heed repeated warnings against over-emphasizing my religious views and the inter-racial philosophy flowing from them." (4) A quote and a reference in Wikipedia suggest that Le Berthon's column of September 14, 1943, pleading for someone to rent or sell a home to black clarinetist Jimmie Noone, was the last straw. (5) However it happened, in September 1943, because of his writing on race and other controversial topics, Ted Le Berthon found himself out of a job.

I don't know exactly what happened after that or in what order. It seems that Le Berthon lost his anchor when he lost his job with the Daily News. He wrote a column called "The White Man's Views" for the Pittsburgh Courier in the 1940s. With Dan Marshall, his old college roommate, he founded the Catholic Interracial Council of Los Angeles. (6) Le Berthon was also involved in the Catholic Worker Movement and its newspaper, The Catholic Worker. And while living in St. Paul, Minnesota, and working as associate editor of The Catholic Digest, he shared a room with the Catholic writer James Farl Powers (1917-1999). In 1944, Le Berthon received the first annual Blessed Martin de Porres Award for his work in interracial relations. Then in 1947, while he was living in Elmira, New York, a deeper crisis came into his life.

To be continued . . .

(1) You can read the full interview at:
(2) Quoted in Leonard, p. 162.
(3) Quoted in Leonard, p. 194.
(4) Quoted in Leonard, p. 195.
(5) The reference: LeBerthon, Ted, "White Man’s Views: A Tribute to Jimmie Noone; Recalls Hardships Suffered by Celebrated Musician," from the Pittsburgh Courier, May 6, 1944.
(6) I don't know where Le Berthon went to college. Their founding of the Catholic Interracial Council of Los Angeles may have come before Le Berthon's firing. (I don't have a date.)

A zoot-suiter in happier times.

Text copyright 2016, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, February 19, 2016

Theodore Le Berthon (1892-1960)-Part Six

Theodore Le Berthon seems to have been a full-time writer, journalist, and/or publicity man all of his working life. I have found lots of credits for him. Some have dates attached to them. Some don't. I'll list them by bullets. These are in rough chronological order.
  • Manager?, Imperial Theatre, San Francisco
  • Editor, Orange (California) Daily Star (as of 1917)
  • Reporter, San Francisco Post and Los Angeles Evening Herald (prior to 1920)
  • Publicity, Famous Players-Lasky Corporation (ca. 1917-1919) (1)
  • Publicity, (Sid Grauman's) Strand Theater, San Francisco (ca. 1919)
  • Publicity, (Sid Grauman's) Million Dollar Theatre, Los Angeles (to Sept. 1920)
  • Publicity?, King Vidor (1920); Balaban & Katz theaters (1920s)
  • Editor, The Photodramatist (June 1921-ca. 1922)
  • Columnist, "Screen Writers Forum," Camera (ca. 1921-1922)
  • Police reporter (as of 1923)
  • Columnist, "Merry-Go-Round," Los Angeles Evening Herald (1920s)
  • Title writer, Arizona Wildcat, movie starring Tom Mix (1927)
  • Reporter on New York, Brooklyn, and Chicago dailies (dates unknown)
  • Reporter, managing editor, Los Angeles Record (as of 1930)
  • Reporter, columnist,  "Night Court," Los Angeles Daily and/or Evening News (columnist, 1936, 1937, or 1938 to Sept. 1943)
  • Contributor, AmericaMotion Picture, possibly other movie fan magazines (1920s on)
  • Columnist, "White Man's Views," Pittsburgh Courier (1940s)
  • Contributing editor, Negro Digest (1940s?)
  • Received the first annual Blessed Martin DePorres Award for his interracial work (1944)
Ted Le Berthon was a Catholic, and he wrote for Catholic publications. His credits there:
  • Association with The Catholic Worker (1940s?)
  • Assistant editor, The Catholic Digest (1940s)
  • Columnist and staff writer, The Tidings of the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles (dates unknown)
  • Contributor, Catholic MindThe Marianist, The Sign, and Commonweal, including for Commonweal:
  • "The Inner Forum," Aug. 7, 1942
  • "The Lights Went Out," May 17, 1946
  • "At the Prevailing Rate," Nov. 1, 1957
  • "The Bare Minimum," Mar. 14, 1958
  • "Trouble in California," June 20, 1958
  • "Vindication for the Nisei," Jan. 16, 1959
  • "Disappearing Dailies," Nov. 6, 1959
He was also an author of short stories, including:
  • "Demons of the Film Colony," Weird Tales, Oct. 1932
  • "I Took Thee, Constance," Story, May-June 1946; reprinted in Many-Colored Fleece, an anthology of Catholic fiction edited by Sister Mariella Gable, O.S.B. (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1951)
  • "The Racist," The Sign, Apr. 1949
In The American Catholic Who's Who, 1960 and 1961 (p. 260), Le Berthon was listed as being on the editorial staff of the Central California [or Fresno?] Register and residing at 3309 Grant Avenue, Fresno. He died of a heart attack in Fresno on January 31, 1960. So far in this series, Le Berthon has died at least three times. I think it will happen once more before I reach the end.

To be continued . . . 

(1) Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, formed in 1916, eventually became Paramount Pictures. Today, Paramount is owned by Viacom, also the owners of the Weird Tales property.

In the 1910s, Ted Le Berthon worked in publicity for Famous Players-Lasky Corporation. (I think it was sometimes called "exploitation" in those days.) One of the stars of that studio was Wanda Hawley. Here she is being levitated by Harry Houdini. The image is from a blog called Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence, by Joe, and dated July 27, 2014. Two recent entries (Jan. 10 & 17, 2016) are about Houdini, H.P. Lovecraft, C.M. Eddy, Jr., and Sonia Greene. You might want to have a look.

So here is an actress named Wanda Hawley. Ted Le Berthon's wife was also named Hawley, and he was involved in the movie business. Was there a connection between them? I was really hoping I would find something, but . . .

Wanda Hawley was born Selma Wanda Pittack on July 30, 1895, in Scranton, Pennsylvania. In 1916, she married Allen Burton Hawley (1895-Sept. 1925). She made her debut the following year with the Fox Film Corporation, but she went on to work with Famous Players-Lasky, King Vidor, Cecil B. DeMille, and other moviemakers. Ted Le Berthon worked in publicity for Famous Players-Lasky and King Vidor. It seems likely to me that he knew her. But was she related by marriage to his wife? In other words, were Frances Elizabeth Hawley Le Berthon and Allen Burton Hawley related? I don't have access to all the resources I might need to answer that question, but in my research, I haven't found anything to suggest a connection between them. In any event, Wanda Hawley divorced her husband in 1923 (not 1922 as sources on the Internet indicate). Her career pretty well ended with the first talkies, and she died on March 18, 1963, in Los Angeles. Look for her on Find A Grave, here.

By the way, Houdini will show again before this series is finished.

Text and captions copyright 2016, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Theodore Le Berthon (1892-1960)-Part Five

As a journalist, activist, and contributor to Catholic magazines, Theodore Le Berthon shared in his father's crusading ways. He was educated in the Catholic schools of Los Angeles. At the time of his marriage in Los Angeles in 1917, he was editor of the Orange (California) Daily StarAs of 1919, he worked at the Strand Theater in San Francisco, which was then only two years old and part of Sid Grauman's chain of theaters. (The Strand Theater reopened in 2015 after years of disuse.) In an article from 1920, Le Berthon was described as a former newspaperman with the San Francisco Post and the Los Angeles Evening Herald, as an employee of the publicity office of Famous Players-Lasky, and after that in the publicity office for Grauman's theaters. The same article suggests that he had begun his career with the Imperial Theatre in San Francisco, which opened in 1912 and was sold by Grauman's in 1919. 

Bruno David Ussher, the author of that 1920 article in Pacific Coast Musical Review, wrote: "[Ted Le Berthon] is regarded as one of the most able men among his profession." Despite that or maybe because of it, he resigned his position with Grauman's theaters in September 1920 in support of musical conductor Arthur Kay, who stepped down because of artistic differences with Sid Grauman. Le Berthon was in good company: organist Jesse Crawford resigned with him, also in support of Kay. (1, 2) 

After leaving the employ of Sid Grauman, Ted Le Berthon did publicity work for King Vidor and the Balaban & Katz theaters. In about 1921-1922, he served as editor of The Photodramatist. According to The Internet Movie Database, he wrote the titles for Arizona Wildcat (1927) starring Tom Mix. His connections to the movie business landed him interviews with Lupe Velez, Evelyn Brent, Charlie Chaplin, and other movie stars. His only story for Weird Tales, "Demons of the Film Colony" (Oct. 1932), came from his witnessing the first meeting between Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi at Universal City in March 1932. "For ten years," Le Berthon wrote in his introduction to the tale, "I have been writing about the activities of the motion picture colony for what are known as the 'fan' magazines." "Demons of the Film Colony" reads like a story from a movie fan magazine except for the macabre twist at the end. That twist seemed specially made for the Weird Tales crowd.  

I wonder now whether Theodore Le Berthon and Farnsworth Wright (1888-1940) knew or were acquainted with each other. Born in the same city four years apart, they were both journalists and publicity men. Both were also part of the cultural scene in San Francisco, even if Wright had vacated his home state in about 1920. As editor of Weird Tales, Wright seems to have recruited writers from California, perhaps in two groups, a San Francisco group and a Los Angeles group. Le Berthon called both cities home. In any event, you can read "Demons of the Film Colony," see photographs of the meeting between Karloff and Lugosi, and read the story behind the story at Vampire Over London: The Bela Lugosi Blog by Andy Brooks, April 7, 2015, here. Le Berthon's story has been reprinted several times since its initial publication in Weird Tales.

To be continued . . .

(1) Composer, conductor, and musical director Arthur Kay (1881-1969) went on to work in movies, including on Westerns, adventure films, and at least two titles based on comic strips, Tailspin Tommy (1934) and Dick Tracy (1937). Jesse Crawford (1895-1962), the "Poet of the Organ," is more well remembered. He played at the Chicago World's Fair in 1934, the same venue where Barbara Rockefeller was crowned Miss Lithuania. In later years, he made a number of records which you can sometimes still find at the secondhand store. 
(2) You can read the full story in "Arthur Key Resigns from Grauman's in Los Angeles" by Bruno David Ussher, Pacific Coast Musical Review, Sept. 25, 1920, p. 4, here.

"Demons of the Film Colony" by Theodore Le Berthon was reprinted in The Frankenscience Monster, edited by Forrest J Ackerman (Ace, 1969). The cover art is signed, but it's too small for me to read.

It appeared again in The Frankenstein Omnibus, edited by Peter Haining and published in 1994.

And previously in The Frankenstein File (1977), also from Haining. I don't know who created the cover art. Being an artist, I'm biased, but I like an art cover more than a photo cover.

Text and captions copyright 2016, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Theodore Le Berthon (1892-1960)-Part Four

Courageous Crusading Journalist
Native of San Francisco

That is the inscription (in part) on John L. Le Berthon's headstone. Although he was a native of San Francisco, Le Berthon was buried at School Street Cemetery in East Boothbay, Maine, about as far from his native city as you can get and still be in the continental United States. Our lives are full of mysteries. The reason for Le Berthon's burial in Maine seems to be one of them. I am reminded of Stephen King's book The Colorado Kid, which ends without an explanation as to why the title character--now a dead man--came to Maine.

Like his headstone says, Le Berthon was a crusading journalist. He began his career in 1883. In the early part of the twentieth century, he worked in publicity and published special issues of daily papers and magazines, souvenir programs, and booklets on subjects of local interest. One was a publication on the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. Another was on architecture in Los Angeles. If Theodore Morican Le Berthon (1833-1906) was his father, then the earthquake and his father's death came in the same year (though not at the same time). In 1907, J.L. Le Berthon was general manager of The Grizzly Bear, a periodical published out of San Francisco and Los Angeles. He was also a reporter for the San Francisco Call-Bulletin at some point.

In July 1935, Le Berthon acquired The Wasp News-Letter, which became, under his and his wife's joint ownership, the News Letter and WaspFounded in San Francisco in 1876, The Wasp was a well-known and long-running journal.  The Newsletter was older still, having started in 1856. To some it was and is also notorious, at least in its early days, especially for its treatment of Chinese immigrants. Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?) served as editor of The Wasp from 1881 to 1885. His Devil's Dictionary was drawn from its pages. 

John L. Le Berthon, who ran the News Letter and Wasp until it ceased publication on May 9, 1941, was, like Bierce, something of a gadfly. (1) Not long after acquiring the paper, he began raging against the composer Henry Cowell (1897-1965), who was jailed on a morals charge in 1936. In the late 1930s, Le Berthon launched attacks on and advocated the deportation of labor leader Harry Bridges. That cost the News Letter and Wasp when someone threw rocks through the front windows of its offices in January 1937. In early 1939, Le Berthon threatened to attack NBC for refusing "to sell him airtime during the political time period." A couple of months later, on April 8, 1939, he was fined $500 and sentenced to five days in jail on three counts of criminal libel. (I don't know who the offended party was.) Le Berthon may not have served his full sentence, as he had an attack in jail upon turning himself in.

Le Berthon also dealt in real estate. There is evidence that he lived in New York City and had holdings in New Jersey. In Los Angeles today, there is a street called Le Berthon Street. I don't know that it was named for him or for anyone else in his family, but about two or three miles west of there is a parcel of land once owned by the Annette Kellerman Rancho Realty Corporation, incorporated in 1925, and the Kellerman Ranch Club. That parcel and two others were recently condemned by the City of Los Angeles. According to a public hearing dated August 26, 2014, the intent of the corporation is assumed to have been "to promote properties using the name of the then popular Australian World Champion swimmer and film star Annette Kellerman." The document adds, "Nowhere in Ms. Kellerman's biography can be found mention of any affiliation with a club or real estate development in California." (2, 3)

The City of Los Angeles condemned the property after a fruitless search for any employees of the corporation or the heirs or assigns of its members. As it turns out, those members were John L. Le Berthon, president; Josephine L. Le Berthon, secretary; and a T.M. Le Berthon, whom the investigator in the case was unable to identify. He may not have looked hard enough: John L. Le Berthon's only son had those initials, lived in Los Angeles in the 1920s, and had connections to the movie business. (The investigator probably didn't have the online resources that are available now, even though that was only a year and a half ago.) Moreover, an article in the Los Angeles Times from 1925 clearly shows Ted Le Berthon's involvement and leading role in the Kellerman club scheme. (4)

Although her autobiography doesn't mention the proposed club, Annette Kellerman was aware of its existence and may have participated in its establishment. In 1925, she filed suit against the Annette Kellerman Country Club for wrongful use of her name, fraud, and other offenses. Ted Le Berthon defended the club against her accusations, asserting that "Miss Kellerman and her husband, James R. Sullivan, broke off with the defendants [the Le Berthons and their partners] when money did not flow to her as fast as she wished it." Le Berthon also got in digs against Sullivan, "whom he described as 'a Semitic person and not an Irishman as the name might indicate'," and against the mermaid queen herself, saying that "Miss Kellerman's fame as a beauty of youthful appearance was an exaggeration." (5)

I have nothing more on the case, but the fact that the property was still owned by the Annette Kellerman Rancho Realty Corporation and the Kellerman Ranch Club ninety years later and long after the deaths of all the people involved suggests to me that the Le Berthon family met with some success in the suit. In any event, long before his father died on February 26, 1952, Ted Le Berthon seems to have been a schemer, a crusader, and an activist. You might call him a chip off the old block.

To be continued . . .

(1) For links to articles about the announcement of the journal's end, click here and here. the second article mentions not only Ambrose Bierce but also Frank Norris (1870-1902).
(2) Annette Kellerman (1886-1975) was a swimmer, performer, actress, and author. She was the first woman to wear a one-piece bathing suit, the first to appear fully nude in a movie (in A Daughter of the Gods, Fox, 1916), and the first on film to wear what Wikipedia calls "a swimmable mermaid costume." All that swimming must have done her some good: she lived to be eighty-nine years old.
(3) It is incredible to me that a piece of property purchased ninety years ago and no longer held by any living person or existing entity should still sit on the books. Who paid the taxes in that time? Why did not a real estate developer look into acquiring the property long before it was finally condemned by the city? The questions could go on. Anyway, I have said it before and I'll say it again: sometimes the world is essentially weird.
(4) "Mermaid Queen Seeks Damages," Los Angeles Times, May 15, 1925, p. A1+.
(5) The quotes and quotes within quotes are from that same article.

The Wasp, May 26, 1882, then under the editorship of Ambrose Bierce. The cover, by the journal's regular cartoonist, George Frederick Keller (1846-?), shows "San Francisco's Three Graces": Malarium, Small-Pox, and Leprosy. Note that Leprosy is carrying a cloth reading "Chinatown." This is the first of three weird images from The Wasp shown here. I have chosen them partly because they are weird, but more because they show how weird imagery is used in popular culture and what its use could mean.

This cartoon, from 1882, shows as monsters those on the other end of the scale, "The Vampires[,] or the Landlords of San Francisco." The artist was once again Keller.

If you want to dehumanize another person and from there attack him, one thing you can do is to represent him as a monster or a demon. The unnamed cartoonist on this cover drawing from November 14, 1885, has done just that with "The Chinese," whom he calls, "Many Handed but Soulless." This was still a few years before the term "Yellow Peril" was invented (by Kaiser Wilhelm II of all people), but the image of East Asians as demons was an effective bit of propaganda and served well for many decades. The cover of The Wasp shown here isn't very much different from . . .

This one of Weird Tales from forty-four years later. The difference is that the villain here is a type and not overtly insulting, offensive, dehumanizing, or propagandistic.  The artist was C.C. Senf. (Like Keller and the Kaiser, Senf was a native of Germany.)

Finally, a cover of the News Letter and Wasp from John L. Le Berthon's years as owner, from November 24 (?), 1939.

Text and captions copyright 2016, 2023 Terence E. Hanley