Archive for September, 2017

James Waller Somers: “He knew Lincoln…”

Friday, September 15th, 2017

It’s surprising how many Hollywood Forever Cemetery residents have a unique connection to Abraham Lincoln. There is Senator Cornelius Cole, a close friend who visited Lincoln on the day of his assassination. And Joseph Hazelton, who as a boy, was present at Ford’s Theatre on that night. Now we profile James Waller Somers, who knew Lincoln in his boyhood in Urbana, Illinois, and continued that friendship into adulthood.

James Waller Somers, the son of Dr. Winston and Mary (Haines) Somers, was born at Mt. Airy, North Carolina, on January 18, 1833. His father was a physician, and in 1843, moved his family to Urbana, Illinois. Somers became friends with Abraham Lincoln while in Urbana, one of the towns of the Eighth Judicial Circuit where Lincoln once practiced law.

“My recollections of Lincoln,” Somers said, “date back to 1843 or 1844, when as a boy ten years old, I arrived in Urbana, Champaign County, Illinois, with my father’s family from North Carolina. Urbana was then a mere village, containing a population of perhaps 150 persons. The Courthouse was a double, one-story frame structure, unpainted, and of primitive architecture. It was in the center of the village, surrounded by about an acre of ground enclosed. It was in this court yard I remember first seeing Mr. Lincoln. He was tall and ungainly but of very striking appearance.

“It was court week, and he was striding across the yard toward the Courthouse, in that peculiar manner characteristic of him, a sort of meditative shambling gait, head drooped forward and his hands behind him. He was lank and angular, with a massive head, covered with a short, stubby, dark-brown hair, brushed up in front, without any pretense of parting in the middle or anywhere else. He had a high forehead, thick lips, cheek bones of an Indian-like prominence, and a wart on the side of his face near his large nose, which was eliminated from his later photographs by the retoucher’s brush. His face was smooth shaven. His ears, hands and feet were abnormally large and his arms unusually long.”

At the age of 21, Somers studied law in the office of his uncle, William D. Somers, with whom he became a law partner after being admitted to the bar in 1856.

“When I was studying law with my uncle, Judge Somers, Mr. Lincoln frequently came into our little one-story office, near the hotel, to swap stories with ‘Uncle William,’ who was himself a good story-teller, though Lincoln far surpassed him as he did everyone one else. He used to sit on a rush bottomed chair with his feet on the rung, telling stories, hour after hour. He frequently laughed more heartily than anyone else, but the laughter was neither boisterous nor vulgar. His whole body swayed with merriment, wholesome and infectious, and his eyes would sparkle with amusement, while he ran his fingers through his close cropped hair, always standing on end.”

Originally a Whig, Somers helped to organize the state Republican Party and actively campaigned for Lincoln in 1858 and 1860. Henry Clay Whitney called Somers “the promising orator of our Circuit of the young men.”

By 1860, Somers had developed serious hearing problems which made the practice of law difficult. He wrote to Lincoln seeking advice on his future career. Lincoln responded on March 17, 1860, recommending that he resettle in Chicago where Whitney had offered him a partnership. Lincoln closed saying that his advice was given, “with the deepest interest for your welfare.” A week later Lincoln wrote a recommendation:

“My young friend James W. Somers I have known from boyhood and I can truly say that in my opinion he’s entirely faithful and fully competent to the performance of any business he will undertake.”

In 1861, President Lincoln appointed Somers to a position in the Department of the Interior, which led to a distinguished career of 25 years of public service in Washington.

During the Civil War, Somers received news that two of his nephews, both minors, had been forced to join the Confederate Army in North Carolina and were captured as prisoners of war in Elmira, New York. Somers asked Lincoln to have them released and sent to Urbana, with the assurance that they would not take an active part in the war.

“I was cordially received at the White House,” Somers said, “in his old familiar way. After talking a few moments on home affairs I stated my errand and he at once wrote an order to Adjt.-Gen. Fry of the War Department, directing the release of the young men and upon their taking the oath of allegiance to send them to their uncle in Urbana. In a few days my cousins were on their way West and did not again take up arms against the North.”

When Somers retired from the Department of the Interior in 1895, he moved to San Diego where his brother resided. In 1903, he moved to Hollywood to live with his niece, Mrs. H. G. (May) Condee at her home on what is now Cherokee Avenue. The library was adorned with some of Somers valuable collection, which included various portraits, busts and autographed letters from Lincoln.

On June 6, 1904, at 7:25 pm, Somers was returning from the post office and was crossing Hollywood Boulevard at Whitley Avenue when he was struck and killed by an electric cable car. At that intersection there was a strong arc light, and it was supposed that Somers confused it with the headlight of the electric car and, not being able to hear the warning bell, crossed the track just as the car came upon him.

J. W. Somers funeral was held at the home of his niece and interment was at Hollywood Cemetery.

The grave of James Waller Somers at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. It is located in Chandler Gardens (Section 12), just a short distance behind the J. Ross Clark family mausoleum.

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L. Frank Baum — The Wizard of Cherokee Avenue

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

 

L. Frank Baum, the author of numerous children’s classics including “The Wizard of Oz,” left his impression on the world – in particular the literary and film world. Few people know that Baum spent the last nine years of his life living in Hollywood and was one of its earliest residents.

At his home, located at 1749 N. Cherokee Avenue (at the corner of Yucca), which he christened “Ozcot,” Baum wrote many of his best loved “Oz” books, including “The Emerald City of Oz” (1910), “The Patchwork Girl of Oz” (1913), “The Lost Princess of Oz” (1917) and many more.

Lyman Frank Baum was born in Chittenango, New York on May 15, 1856. After graduating from Syracuse Academy in 1880, he found newspaper work. Two years later, he married Maud Gage of Fayetteville, New York. Baum was the editor of the Dakota Pioneer of Aberdeen, South Dakota, from 1888 to 1890, and the Chicago Show Window from 1897 to 1902. During that time, he wrote books and plays. His first effort was “Mother Goose in Prose,” published in 1897.

Next, Baum joined forces on a children’s book with his friend and artist, W. W. Denslow. “Father Goose, His Book,” published in 1899, was a best-seller. One of the five books he published in 1900, also based on stories he had told his sons and illustrated by Denslow, was “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” which instantly broke sale records and made Baum a celebrity.

More Oz books followed, and over the next two decades he wrote over 35 non-Oz books under various pseudonyms aimed at various audiences. Always looking for new channels for his creativity, Baum became interested in films. In 1909, he founded a company to produce hand-colored slides featuring characters from his Oz books. These were shown while he narrated the story, and an orchestra played background music.

Frank Baum and his wife lived here at 2322 Toberman Street with their son Frank, when they first moved to Los Angeles in January 1910 (NOTE: This is a private residence, please do not disturb the residents)

In failing health, Baum and his wife arrived in Los Angeles in January 1910 to create his own fairyland. Their son, Frank, was living at 2322 Toberman Street. The Baum’s lived there before renting an apartment on Park Grove Avenue near downtown.

Wanting their own home, Baum found the sparsely settled village called Hollywood, which at the time, was mostly citrus groves. He bought a plot of ground and built a two-story frame house that he christened “Ozcot.” In 1910, the street was known as Magnolia, but was renamed Cherokee two years later.

On the second floor, he had a long enclosed porch with a view of the distant mountains, and downstairs there was a large sunroom where he grew flowers. He built a large bird cage, big enough for a zoo, where he had hundreds of rare and exotic song birds. In his garden he planted roses, dahlias and chrysanthemums. Before long, he was recognized as a champion amateur horticulturist in Southern California.

Even though Baum had traveled the world, he developed a great affection for his new home: “Travels through Sicily, Italy, or a winter on the Upper Nile, all have their attractions but from what I have learned by actual experience, none of these countries compares with Southern California. There is a charm in the very atmosphere, an indefinable something which attracts and holds,” Baum once said.

At the time of his move to Hollywood, he was working on what he hoped would be the last “Oz” book, “The Emerald City of Oz.” Baum continued to turn out children’s stories at an amazing rate. To avoid flooding the market with books under his own name, he did one series after another, for both boys and girls, under the pen names – Floyd Akers, Edith Van Dyne, Captain Hugh Fitzgerald, Laura Bancroft, Suzanne Metcalf and Schuyler Stanton.

Baum’s arrival in Hollywood, just a year before the advent of motion pictures, made it inevitable that he would be drawn into the fledgling industry. An earlier attempt at filmmaking in Chicago lost him a great deal of money, and in June 1911 he was forced to declare bankruptcy. However, with royalties coming in from his books, he was by no means a charity case. In 1914, a venture into the film business, the Oz Film Company, produced six movies but there were severe distribution problems and that effort also failed, though not as disastrously.

The Oz Film Mfg Co. located at the corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and Lodi.

The site as it looks today, only one block from Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Baum and his wife Maud lived quietly at Ozcot, gardening, writing stories, and answering the hundreds of letters he received from Oz-struck children.

In February of 1918, Baum took ill at Ozcot and was operated on at Angelus Hospital. Maud blamed his illness on the hard work of his newest novel, “The Tin Woodman of Oz,” which was due to be published in the fall.

Baum, now immobile due to his illness, was restricted to minor tasks throughout the day. The pressure and strain contributed to attacks of angina pectoris, as well as unpredictable gall bladder problems, and excruciating sharp pain jabs across his face.

In a coma for twenty-four hours, L. Frank Baum died at Ozcot at 7 p.m. on May 6, 1919, supposedly uttering his last words, “Now we can cross the Shifting Sands,” just a minute before expiring. Baum was survived by his wife Maud and four sons, Frank, Robert, Harry and Kenneth.

Baum’s funeral services were held at the Little Church of the Flowers at Glendale’s Forest Lawn Cemetery. Rev. E. P. Ryland, a close friend of the author, officiated and said of Baum: “He was a man who knew the heart of a child, and was a friend of men.”

The grave of L. Frank and Maude Baum and members of his family.

A quartet from the Los Angeles Athletic Club’s, Uplifters’, of which Baum was an organizer, sang several selections including, “Eternity,” with Harold Proctor as a soloist. The authors’ oldest son, Captain Frank J. Baum was in France at the time serving in World War I.

Two of Baum’s works, “The Magic of Oz” (1919) and “Glinda of Oz” (1920) were both published posthumously.

Maud Gage Baum continued to live at Ozcot and died there on March 6, 1953. After breaking her hip, she had been confined to bed the greater part of the last four years of her life. She was 91.

Ozcot was razed in the late 1950s and a non-descript apartment building replaced it. It’s doubtful that the current residents are aware of the literary history that occurred on this site.

Ozcot as it appeared in Baum’s life time.

 

The site of Ozcot as it is today.

NOTE: On August 15, 1939, The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland, premiered at Grauman’s Chinese Theater – only 3 blocks from Ozcot.

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Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel

Monday, September 4th, 2017

AVAILABE JANUARY 2018

UNIVERSITY PRESS OF KENTUCKY

Use discount code FS30 to receive a 30% discount through September 30, 2017

CLICK HERE: University Press of Kentucky

 

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Today at Cinecon… Friday

Friday, September 1st, 2017

Woman Chases Man (1937, Samuel Goldwyn Co.) Friday, September 1, 2017 – Egyptian Theater, 9:10am

Millionaire Kenneth Nolan (Joel McCrea) is sensible and careful with his money, but seemingly everyone else is trying to con him out of it. That includes architect Virginia Travis (the marvelous Miriam Hopkins) and his own father B.J. Nolan (Charles Winninger) who has lost all of his own money investing it in crackpot schemes and inventions. John Blystone, veteran director of Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton features, directed this romantic screwball comedy.

 

 

 

The Brat (1931, Fox) Friday, September 1, 2017 – Egyptian Theater, 8:20pm

From a 1917 stage play written by Maude Fulton and probably inspired by George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, this comedy was an early sound film for Director John Ford. In it a novelist (Alan Dinehart) is looking to find a subject for his next book when he comes upon an orphan (Sally O’Neil) who is appearing before a judge at a downtown night court, charged with stealing food. He pays her fine and brings her back to his family’s mansion so he can study her. She soon turns his dysfunctional family around by dispensing the wisdom she has learned living on the street.

Click HERE to see the entire film schedule for CINECON

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