Sunday, July 31, 2011

Celebrity Grave: Gangster Tony Cornero, "Mr. Lucky" 1955

Anthony Cornero Stralla also known as "the Admiral" and "Tony the Hat" (August 18, 1899 - July 31, 1955) was an organized crime figure in Southern California from the 1920s through the 1950s. During his varied criminal career, he bootlegged liquor into Los Angeles, ran gambling ships in international waters, and operated casinos in Las Vegas.

Early life

Born in Lequio Tanaro, a small village in Cuneo Province in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy, Cornero and his family immigrated to the United States after his father lost the farm in a card game and a fire destroyed their harvest. Cornero's father died a few years later and his mother married Luigi Stralla, a former suitor from Italy. After their arrival in San Francisco, Cornero used the aliases Tony Cornero and Tony Stralla as he signed on to merchant ships bound for the Far East.

At age 16, Cornero was arrested for robbery. He pled guilty and was sentenced to ten months in reform school. He would accumulate a lengthy criminal record during the next ten years, including two counts of bootlegging and three counts of attempted murder. By the early 1920s, Cornero was driving a taxi cab for a living.


In 1923, with Prohibition in effect, Cornero became a rumrunner. His clientele included many high-class customers and night clubs.

Using a shrimping business as a cover, Cornero started smuggling Canadian whiskey into Southern California with his small fleet of freighters. One of Cornero's ships, the SS Lily, could transport up to 4,000 cases of bootleg liquor in a single trip. Cornero would unload the liquor beyond the three-mile limit into his speedboats, which would bring it to the Southern California beaches. His fleet easily evaded the understaffed and ill-equipped U.S. Coast Guard. By the time Cornero turned 25, he had become a millionaire.

However, in 1926 the law caught up with Cornero. Returning from Guaymas, Mexico, with an estimated 1,000 cases of rum, Cornero was intercepted and arrested. Sentenced to two years imprisonment, he jokingly told reporters he'd only purchased the illegal cargo "to keep 120 million people from being poisoned to death." While being transported by rail to prison, Cornero escaped from his guards and jumped off the train. Cornero boarded a ship for Vancouver, British Columbia and fled the U.S. Eventually reaching Europe, he spent several years there in hiding. In 1929, Cornero returned to Los Angeles and turned himself in to law enforcement.

In 1931, shortly after his release from prison, Cornero established the Ken Tar Insulation Company in Southern California. However, federal authorities soon discovered it was a cover for a large scale bootlegging operation and raided it. Cornero then moved his operations to a location in Culver City, California. Soon he was producing up to 5,000 gallons of alcohol a day. Federal authorities raided the Culver City site, but found no evidence of bootlegging; Cornero was probably warned about the raid.

Las Vegas

With the repeal of Prohibition, Cornero moved into gaming. He and his brothers Louis and Frank moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, and took an option to purchase a 30-acre (120,000 m2) piece of desert land outside the Las Vegas city limits. Cornero soon opened “The Green Meadows,” also known as The Meadows, one of the earliest major casinos in the Las Vegas area. As the Meadows started making big money, Cornero began investing in other Las Vegas casinos.

However, Cornero's success soon brought unwanted attention. Charles "Lucky" Luciano, boss of the New York Luciano crime family and his associates, casino owner Meyer Lansky and mobster Frank Costello, demanded a percentage of Cornero's gaming profits. Cornero refused to comply and a gang war briefly took place. After the New York mobsters torched the Meadows, Carnero sold his Las Vegas interests and moved back to Los Angeles.

Floating casinos

In 1938, Cornero decided to open a shipboard gaming operation off the Southern California coast. Sailing in international waters, Cornero would be able to run his gambling dens without interference from U.S. authorities.

Cornero purchased two large ships and converted them into luxury casinos at a cost of $300,000. He named the ships the SS Rex and the SS Tango. Cornero's premier cruise ship was the SS Rex, which could accommodate over 2,000 gamblers. It carried a crew of 350, including waiters and waitresses, gourmet chefs, a full orchestra, and a squad of gunmen. Its first class dining room served French cuisine exclusively.

The two ships were anchored outside the 'three mile limit' off Santa Monica and Long Beach. The wealthy of Los Angeles would take water taxis out to the ships to enjoy the gambling, shows, and restaurants.

In October 1939, the Los Angeles Zoo was facing a financial crisis. Always the good citizen, Cornero offered the zoo a day's proceeds from the SS Rex. Considering that his ships were earning $300,000 a cruise, this was no idle gesture. Although zoo officials seriously considered the offer, pressure from state politicians forced them to decline it.

The end of the fleet

The success of Cornero's floating casinos brought outrage from California officials. State Attorney General Earl Warren ordered a series of raids against his gambling ships.

On May 4, 1946, after Warren became governor of California, he issued a public statement declaring his intentions to shut down gambling ships outside California waters; Warren said he intended, "to call the Navy and Coast Guard if necessary." During his address, Warren specifically denounced the newly-built gambling ship owned by "Admiral" Tony Cornero. Warren stated "It's an outrage that lumber should be used for such a gambling ship, when veterans can't get lumber with which to build their homes."

The Battle of Santa Monica Bay
Despite battles with authorities over the legality of their entering international waters, the State of California found a way to circumvent the 'three mile limit.' The state refigured the starting point of the 'three mile limit' off the coastline and determined the ships were indeed in California waters. Without wasting any time, police boarded several U.S. Coast Guard craft and sailed out to Cornero's ships to close them down and arrest Cornero. However, when the police reached the ships, Cornero would not let them board. Reportedly, Cornero turned the ship's fire hoses on the police when they attempted to board and declared they were committing "piracy on the high seas." A standoff ensued for three days before Cornero finally surrendered.

Cornero eventually closed his floating casinos. He later tried to reopen land-based illegal casinos in Los Angeles; however, he was thwarted by mobster Mickey Cohen. Instead, Cornero returned to Las Vegas.

Murder attempt

In Las Vegas, Cornero contacted his friend Orlando Silvagni, owner of the Apache Hotel. Cornero made a deal with Silvagni to lease the hotel casino and rename it the "SS Rex" (after his former floating casino in California). The Las Vegas City Council, aware of Cornero's history with the Green Meadows casino and his floating casinos, voted 'no' on approving his gambling license. However, one councilman then changed his vote, the motion passed, and Cornero got his license. However, in a later vote, the Council revoked Cornero's gambling license, and he then closed the SS Rex.

Cornero and his wife left Las Vegas and moved back to Beverly Hills, California. Cornero made plans to invest in Baja California in Mexico. On February 9, 1948, two Mexican men came to Cornero's home in Beverly Hills. When Cornero answered the door, one man gave Cornero a carton and said "Here, Cornero - this is for you" and shot him four times in the stomach. Gravely wounded, Cornero underwent surgery that night and managed to survive the shooting.

The Stardust Resort and Casino

As soon as Cornero recovered from his wounds, he returned to Vegas to build a new hotel and casino, the Stardust Resort and Casino. He bought a 40-acre (160,000 m2) piece of land on the Las Vegas Strip and filed an application with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to sell stock in the hotel corporation. When the stock was issued, Cornero bought 65,000 shares for 10 cents apiece, giving him majority control of the corporation at 51% of all stock. Cornero then sold the remaining shares. Finally, he applied to the Nevada Gaming Commission for his gaming license and was turned down. The Commission rejected Cornero's application because of an old bootlegging conviction and the trouble that Cornero was having with the SEC. This rejection meant Cornero had invested his money in a half-built casino that he was not allowed to operate.

Not to be stopped, Cornero came up with a new plan. He asked his friend Milton B. "Farmer" Page, another Las Vegas casino owner, to take over the project. Page agreed on the condition that he be able to run it. In 1955, Cornero made the first of several presentations seeking loans from Moe Dalitz, owner of the Desert Inn hotel and casino, and Dalitz' partner, New York mobster Meyer Lansky. Dalitz decided to initially loan Cornero $1.25 million. This loan was followed by a second and third loans, with Cornero using the unfinished Stardust Hotel as loan collateral. Loans with United Hotels were then nearly $4.3 million. Despite these cash infusions, Cornero ran out of money again as the hotel construction was finishing.

Suspicious death

On July 31, 1955, Cornero told an investors' meeting in Las Vegas, "We need another $800,000 to stock the casino with cash and pay the liquor and food suppliers." Later that day, Cornero was playing craps in the Desert Inn Casino.[1] All of a sudden, he just dropped to the floor and died.

Rumors soon arose that someone had poisoned Cornero's drink. The rumors gained creedence when Cornero's body was removed from the casino floor before anyone contacted the coroner or the Clark County Sheriff's Department. Cornero's drinking glass was taken and washed; sheriff's deputies never had the chance to examine it. No autopsy was performed and a coroner's jury in Los Angeles determined that he died of a heart attack.


Cornero's mob role in Las Vegas was taken over by Jake "The Barber" Factor. Cornero was buried at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California. In 1958, the Stardust Resort and Casino finally opened and became the largest hotel in the world. The Stardust would remain a huge success until its demolition by implosion in 2007. Cornero is also credited with the lucrative concept of putting slot machines in the hotel lobby to lure guests as they passed by.

In popular culture

In the 1943 film Mr. Lucky, Cary Grant portrayed '"Joe 'The Greek' Adams," a character loosely based on Cornero.

In 1959, the film was adapted into a U.S. television series of the same name, starring John Vivyan, Ross Martin, and Pippa Scott. "Mr. Lucky" aired during the 1959-1960 season on the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) network.

Further reading

Henstell, Bruce. Sunshine and Wealth: Los Angeles in the Twenties and Thirties. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1984. ISBN 0-87701-275-X

Wolf, Marvin J. and Katherine Mader. Fallen Angels: Chronicles of L.A. Crime and Mystery. New York: Ballantine Books, 1988. ISBN 0-345-34770-6


Capeci, Jerry. The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Mafia. Indianapolis: Alpha Books, 2002. ISBN 0-02-864225-2
Reppetto, Thomas A. American Mafia: A History of Its Rise to Power. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2004. ISBN 0-8050-7798-7
1.^ Moe, Albert Woods.: Nevada's Golden Age of Gambling, Puget Sound Books, 2001, ISBN 0-9715019-0-4

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Celebrity Grave: L.A. Times Publisher Harrison Gray Otis 1917

Harrison Gray Otis (February 10, 1837 – July 30, 1917) was the second publisher of the Los Angeles Times.


Born near Marietta, Ohio, Otis was part of the Republican National Convention that nominated Abraham Lincoln for president. After the American Civil War, he worked as a publisher before moving to Los Angeles, California in 1876, where he would eventually become affiliated with the Los Angeles Times. He wrote editorials and local news there before buying a half interest in the paper. He then named himself president and editor-in-chief.

He was married to Eliza A. Otis, "patriot, poet, philanthropist." [1] Mrs. Otis was a member of the staff at the Times working at such departments as "Woman and Home" and "Our Boys and Girls."[2] A daughter, Marian Otis, married Harry Chandler, the son-in-law who succeeded Otis as Times publisher. Otis was known for his conservative political views, which were reflected in the paper. His home was one of three buildings that were targeted in the 1910 Los Angeles Times bombing.

His support for his adopted city was instrumental in the growth of the city. He was a member of the San Fernando Syndicate, a group of investors who bought land in the San Fernando Valley based on inside knowledge that the Los Angeles aqueduct would soon irrigate it.

Military service

Otis volunteered for the Union army during the Civil War—entering as a private—and fought in William McKinley's regiment, the 23rd Ohio Infantry. He was wounded twice in battle, was "twice breveted for gallant and meritorious conduct," and promoted seven times[3]—ultimately receiving the rank of Brigadier General. When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, Otis asked his former commander, then President McKinley, for an appointment as Assistant Secretary of War. But Secretary of War Russell A. Alger did not want the conservative Otis serving under him. Otis thereupon again volunteered for the Army and was appointed brigadier general of volunteers. He served in the Philippines. He did not see any action against the Spanish, but commanded the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, VIII Corps during the Philippine-American War. He died on July 30, 1917.


1.^ Photo of Mrs. Otis' burial inscription at Find-A-Grave
2.^ "Eliza A Otis." Magazine of Poetry: A Quarterly Review Oct. 1892: 375. Print. Vol. IV No. 4.
3.^ "Eliza A Otis." Magazine of Poetry: A Quarterly Review. Oct. 1892: 375. Print. Vol. IV No. 4.

Harrison Gray Otis and his wife Eliza are buried together at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Deathday in L.A.: Gangster Mickey Cohen 1976

Meyer Harris "Mickey" Cohen (September 4, 1913, in Brooklyn, New York City, New York, United States – July 29, 1976 in Los Angeles, California, U.S.) was a gangster based in L.A. and part of the Jewish Mafia from the 1930s through 1960s.

Early life

Mickey Cohen was born on September 4, 1913, of a Jewish family. His mother Fanny had immigrated to the U.S. from Kiev, Ukraine. At age six, Cohen was selling newspapers on the street; his brothers Sam or Isiack would drop him off at his regular corner. Soon Cohen and his brothers became involved in crime (Cohen's brother Paul, an Orthodox Jew, was an exception). In 1923, at age nine, Cohen was delivering alcohol to customers from a gin mill operated by his older brother in the drug store. Cohen was arrested that same year for this activity, but avoided prosecution due to his brother's connections.

As a teenager, Cohen began boxing in illegal prizefights in Los Angeles. He eventually moved to the East Coast to train as a professional boxer, doing fights in the Midwest along the way. His first professional boxing match was on April 8, 1930 against Patsy Farr in Cleveland, Ohio. This was one of the preliminary fights to the Paul Pirrone/Jimmy Goodrich feature event. On April 11, 1933 he fought against Chalky Wright in Los Angeles, California. Wright won the match and Meyer was incorrectly identified as "Mickey Cohen from Denver, Colorado" in the Los Angeles Times sports page report. His last fight was on on May 14, 1933 against Baby Arizmendi in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. On June 12, 1931 Cohen fought and lost a match against World Featherweight Champion Tommy Paul, having been knocked out cold after 2:20 into the first round. It was during this round he earned the moniker "Gangster Mickey Cohen." Cohen lived first in Cleveland, where he met Lou Rothkopf, an associate of Moe Dalitz. Cohen moved later to New York, where he became associates with Tommy Dioguardi, the brother of labor racketeer Johnny Dio, and with Owney Madden. Finally, Cohen went to Chicago, where he ran a gambling operation for the Chicago Outfit, Al Capone's powerful criminal organization.

Prohibition and the Chicago Outfit

During Prohibition, Cohen moved to Chicago and became involved in organized crime working as an enforcer for the Chicago Outfit, where he briefly met Al Capone. During this period Cohen was arrested for his role in the deaths of several gangsters in a card game that went wrong.

After a brief time in prison, Cohen was released and began running card games and other illegal gambling operations. He later became an associate of Mattie Capone, Al's younger brother. While working for Jake Guzik, Cohen was forced to flee Chicago after an argument with a rival gambler.

In Cleveland, Cohen again worked for Lou (Louis) Rothkopf, an associate of Meyer Lansky and Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel. However, there was little work available for Cohen in Cleveland, so Rothkopf arranged for him to work with Siegel in California.

From syndicate bodyguard to Sunset kingpin

Mickey Cohen was sent to Los Angeles by Meyer Lansky and Lou Rothkopf to watch Bugsy Siegel. During their association, Mickey helped set up the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas and ran its sports book operation. He also was instrumental in setting up the race wire, which was essential to Las Vegas betting, a Nevada attraction perhaps only second to the Hoover Dam. In 1947, the crime families ordered the murder of Siegel due to his mismanagement of the Flamingo Hotel, most likely because Siegel or his girlfriend Virginia Hill was skimming money. According to one account which does not appear in newspapers, Cohen reacted violently to Siegel's murder. Entering the Hotel Roosevelt, where he believed the killers were staying, Cohen fired rounds from his two .45 caliber semi-automatic handguns into the lobby ceiling and demanded that the assassins meet him outside in ten minutes. However, no one appeared and Cohen was forced to flee when the cops arrived.

Cohen's violent methods came to the attention of state and federal authorities investigating the Dragna operations. During this time, Cohen faced many attempts on his life, including the bombing of his home on posh Moreno Avenue in Brentwood. Cohen soon converted his house into a fortress, installing floodlights, alarm systems, and a well-equipped arsenal kept, as he often joked, next to his 200 tailor-made suits. Cohen also briefly hired bodyguard Johnny Stompanato before his killing by actress Lana Turner's daughter. Cohen bought a cheap coffin for Stompanato's funeral and then sold Lana Turner's love letters to Stompanato to the press.

Stompanato ran a sexual extortion ring as well as a jewelry store. He was one of the most popular playboys in Hollywood. Singer Frank Sinatra once visited Cohen at his home and begged him to tell Stompanato to stop dating Sinatra's friend and ex-wife, actress Ava Gardner.

Later years

In 1950, Mickey Cohen was investigated along with numerous other underworld figures by a US Senate committee known as the Kefauver Commission. As a result of this investigation, Cohen was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to prison for four years.

When he was released, he started again, and became an international celebrity. He sold more newspapers than anyone else in the country, according to author Brad Lewis. His appearance on television with Mike Wallace in the late 1950s rocked the media establishment. He ran floral shops, paint stores, nightclubs, casinos, gas stations, a men's haberdashery, and even an ice cream parlor on San Vicente Blvd. in Brentwood, according to author Richard Lamparski.

In 1961, Cohen was again convicted of tax evasion and sent to Alcatraz. His heavily armoured Cadillac from this period was confiscated by Los Angeles Police and is now on display at the Southward Car Museum in New Zealand.[1] During his time on "the Rock," another inmate attempted to kill Cohen with a lead pipe. In 1972, Cohen was released from the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, where he had spoken out against prison abuse. He had been misdiagnosed with an ulcer, which turned out to be stomach cancer. After undergoing surgery, he continued touring the U.S., including television appearances, once with Ramsey Clark.

As an elder statesman, Cohen even appeared on The Merv Griffin Show. Cohen knew everyone in Hollywood, from the entire Rat Pack to Marilyn Monroe. In politics, he befriended Richard Nixon. His pal Billy Graham once asked him to appear at an evangelistic rally in Madison Square Garden.

At the time of the abduction of Patty Hearst, Cohen claimed to know facts about Hearst's abductors and other circumstances of the case. However, journalists at the time dismissed this as way for the "gentleman mobster" to put himself back in the limelight. Mickey called Patty's father "Randy" (Randolph Apperson Hearst), and met with him and his wife at Gatsby's, a restaurant he controlled. Mickey had known William Randolph Hearst, with whom he maintained a long respectful friendship.

Cohen's girlfriend Liz Renay herself spent three years behind bars for refusing to squeal on him. One of his many other girlfriends, Candy Barr, served prison time for marijuana possession. Two of his other favorites were Tempest Storm and Beverly Hills, the former having her breasts insured with Lloyd's of London.

Mickey Cohen died in his sleep in 1976 and is interred in the Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California.

Cohen has cousins who reside today in New Jersey, New York, Florida, Washington and Vermont.

In popular culture

Cohen appears as a character in some of James Ellroy's L.A. Quartet novels, especially the last three. He features prominently in The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz.

In the 1990 film The Two Jakes, Cohen is fictionalized as Mickey Weisskopf, played by Rubén Blades.

In the 1991 film Bugsy, the highly-fictionalized story of Bugsy Siegel, Harvey Keitel plays Cohen.

In the 1997 film adaptation of Ellroy's L.A. Confidential, Cohen is played by Paul Guilfoyle.

In the 2005 novel The Lincoln Lawyer, by Michael Connelly, the lead character is a second-generation defense attorney whose father was Cohen's lawyer.


1.^ "Cadillac Gangster 1950". Southward Car Museum. Retrieved 2009-09-04.
Kelly, Robert J. Encyclopedia of Organized Crime in the United States. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2000. ISBN 0-313-30653-2
Phillips, Charles and Alan Axelrod. Cops, Crooks, and Criminologists: An International Biographical Dictionary of Law Enforcement, Updated Edition. New York: Checkmark Books, 2000. ISBN 0-8160-3016-2
Sifakis, Carl. The Mafia Encyclopedia. New York: Da Capo Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8180-5694-3
Sifakis, Carl. The Encyclopedia of American Crime. New York: Facts on File Inc., 2005. ISBN 0-8160-4040-0

Further reading

Ed Clark, "Trouble in Los Angeles", Life Magazine, 1950
Mickey Cohen and John Peer Nugent, In My Own Words (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1975)
Steve Stevens and Craig Lockwood, King of the Sunset Strip: Hangin' With Mickey Cohen and the Hollywood Mob (Cumberland House Publishing, 2006)
F. Murray, "The Charmed Life of M. Cohen", Front Page Detective, 1966, 30(3):44-45, 63.
George A. Day, JUANITA DALE SLUSHER alias CANDY BARR (ERBE Publishing Company, 2008 ISBN 978-0-9818220-0-6)
Kelly, Robert J. Encyclopedia of Organized Crime in the United States. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2000. ISBN 0-313-30653-2
Phillips, Charles and Alan Axelrod. Cops, Crooks, and Criminologists: An International Biographical Dictionary of Law Enforcement, Updated Edition. New York: Checkmark Books, 2000. ISBN 0-8160-3016-2
Sifakis, Carl. The Mafia Encyclopedia. New York: Da Capo Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8180-5694-3

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mad Mel Gibson's 2006 Malibu DUI Tirade on PCH

Ultra conservative Roman Catholic and Malibu resident Mel Gibson spent the night drinking at the Moonshadows Restaurant and Blue Lounge at 20356 PCH in Malibu. In the wee hours of July 28, 2006, Mel closed down the bar and limped to his car.

Moonshadows Restaurant and Blue Lounge

According to witnesses, as he passed the valet station, he mumbled something about being "all fucked up." After he crossed PCH and started his car, he took a u-turn in front of the restaurant and headed southbound.

Moonshadows Restaurant and Blue Lounge

Moonshadows Restaurant and Blue Lounge

Moonshadows Restaurant and Blue Lounge

Unfortunately, Deputy Sheriff James Mee witnessed this and clocked him going 85 mph in a 45 mph zone. He also found an open container of Cazadores Tequila in the car. Mel failed the breathalyzer test miserably. When the Deputy arrested him, Mel became belligerant and began his anti-Semitic tirade.

Moonshadows Restaurant and Blue Lounge

The incident gave the media something to chew on. Mel made his big apology. He told Diane Sawyer that he was ashamed of his remarks.

On August 2, 2006, Mel Gibson was formally charged with misdemeanor drunken driving, setting an arraignment date of September 28. On August 18, 2006, Gibson's attorney, on his client's behalf, entered a plea of no contest to one count of driving while having a blood alcohol content higher than .08. The other charges were dropped. Judge Lawrence Mira sentenced Gibson to three years probation, 4 1/2 months of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings 5 times a week, followed by 7 1/2 months of meetings 3 times a week. Gibson also volunteered to do public-service announcements on the hazards of drinking and driving, and to immediately enter rehabilitation. He was also ordered to enroll in an alcohol-abuse program for three months, fined a total of $1,300 and had his license restricted for 90 days. At a May 2007 progress hearing, Judge Mira praised Gibson for complying with the terms of his probation, saying, "I know his extensive participation in a self-help program - and I should note he has done extensive work, beyond which was required."

Mel Colm-Cille Gerard Gibson, AO (born January 3, 1956) is an American Australian actor, film director, producer and screenwriter. Born in Peekskill, New York, Gibson moved with his parents to Sydney when he was 12 years old and later studied acting at the National Institute of Dramatic Art. After appearing in the Mad Max and Lethal Weapon series, Gibson went on to direct and star in the Academy Award-winning Braveheart. Gibson's direction of Braveheart made him the sixth actor-turned-filmmaker to receive an Academy Award for Best Director. In 2004, he directed and produced The Passion of the Christ, a controversial but successful film that portrayed the last hours of the life of Jesus Christ. The movies he has acted in have grossed more than two billion dollars in the U.S. alone.

Moonshadows Restaurant and Blue Lounge

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Celebrity Grave: "Ben-Hur" Director William Wyler 1981

William Wyler (July 1, 1902 – July 27, 1981) was a leading American motion picture director, producer, and screenwriter. He was regarded as second only to John Ford as a "master craftsman of cinema."

Notable works included Ben-Hur (1959), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and Mrs. Miniver (1942), all of which won Wyler Academy Awards for Best Director, and also won Best Picture. He earned his first Oscar nomination for directing Dodsworth in 1936, starring Walter Huston and Mary Astor, "sparking a 20-year run of almost unbroken greatness."[1]

Film historian Ian Freer calls Wyler a "bona fide perfectionist," whose penchant for retakes and an attempt to hone every last nuance, "became the stuff of legend."[1] His ability to direct a string of classic literary adaptations into huge box-office and critical successes made him one of "Hollywood's most bankable moviemakers" during the 1930s and 1940s.

Other popular films include Funny Girl (1968), How to Steal a Million (1966), The Big Country (1958), Roman Holiday (1953), The Heiress (1949), The Letter (1940), The Westerner (1940), Wuthering Heights (1939), Jezebel (1938), Dodsworth (1936), A House Divided (1931), and Hell's Heroes (1930).

Early life

Wyler was born Wilhelm Weiller to a Jewish family, a Swiss father and a German mother,[2] in Mulhouse in the French region of Alsace (then part of the German Empire).[3] His mother was a cousin of Carl Laemmle, founder of Universal Pictures. His father, Leopold, started as a traveling salesman which he later turned into a thriving haberdashery business.

During his childhood Wyler attended a number of schools and developed a reputation as "something of a hellraiser," being expelled more than once for misbehavior.[2] His mother often took him and his older brother Robert, to concerts, opera, and the theatre, as well as the early cinema. Sometimes at home his family and their friends would stage amateur theatricals for personal enjoyment.[2]

After realizing that William was not interested in the family business, and having suffered through a terrible year financially after World War I, his mother, Melanie, contacted her distant cousin about opportunities for him. Laemmle was in the habit of coming to Europe each year and finding promising young men who would work in America.

In 1921, Wyler found himself and a young Czech man, Paul Kohner (later the independent agent) on the same ship to New York. Their enjoyment of the first class trip was short lived as they found they had to pay back the cost of the passage out of their $25 weekly income as messengers to Universal Pictures in New York. After working in New York for several years Wyler decided he wanted to go to Hollywood and be a director.

Film career

Around 1923, he arrived in Los Angeles and began work on the Universal lot on the swing gang, cleaning the stages and moving the sets. His break came when he was hired as a 2nd assistant editor. His work ethic was uneven at best with Irving Thalberg nicknaming him "Worthless Willy". After some ups and downs (including getting fired) Wyler became focused on becoming a director. He started as a third assistant director and by 1925 he became the youngest director on the Universal lot directing the Westerns that Universal were famed at turning out. In 1928, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

He soon proved himself an able craftsman and in the early 1930s became one of Universal's greatest assets, directing such solid films as The Love Trap, Hell's Heroes, Tom Brown of Culver, and The Good Fairy. He became well-known for his merciless (some would say sadistic) insistence on multiple retakes, resulting in often award-winning and critically acclaimed performances from his actors. After leaving Universal he began a long collaboration with Samuel Goldwyn for whom he directed such classics as Dodsworth (1936), These Three (1936), Dead End (1937), Wuthering Heights (1939), The Westerner (1940), The Little Foxes (1941) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).

Laurence Olivier, whom Wyler directed to his first-ever Oscar nomination, for Wuthering Heights, credited Wyler with teaching him how to act for the screen, despite clashing with Wyler on multiple occasions during the making of the film. Olivier would go on to hold the record for the most nominations in the Best Actor category. Bette Davis received three Oscar nominations for her screen work under Wyler, and won her second Oscar for her performance in Wyler's 1938 film Jezebel. Charlton Heston won his only nomination and Best Actor Oscar for his work in Wyler's 1959 Ben-Hur. Barbra Streisand co-won 1968's Best Actress Oscar for her screen debut as entertainer Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. Audrey Hepburn won an Oscar in her debut performance in Roman Holiday.

In 1941 Wyler directed one of the key films that galvanized support for Britain and against the Nazis in an America slow to awaken to the threat in Europe, it was Mrs. Miniver (1942), a story of a middle class English family adjusting to the war in Europe. Mrs. Miniver won Wyler his first Academy Award for Best Director, as well as another five Oscars.

Wyler was such a perfectionist that he earned the nickname 90-take Wyler. On the set of Jezebel Wyler forced Henry Fonda through 40 takes of one particular scene, his only guidance being - ”Again!” - after each take. When Fonda asked for more direction, Wyler responded, ”It stinks”. Similarly, when Charlton Heston quizzed the director about the supposed shortcomings in his performance in Ben-Hur, Wyler dismissed his concerns with a simple, ”Be better”.[4]

World War II

Between 1942 and 1945, Wyler served as a major in the United States Army Air Forces and directed two documentaries The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress (1944) and Thunderbolt! (1947), with Lester Koenig and John Sturges, the story of a P-47 fighter-bomber squadron in the Mediterranean. Wyler filmed The Memphis Belle at great personal risk flying over enemy territory on actual bombing missions in 1943; on one flight, Wyler passed out from lack of oxygen. Wyler's associate, cinematographer Harold J. Tannenbaum was shot down and perished during the filming.[5]

Wyler also directed a film which captured the mood of the nation as it turned to peace after the war. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), the story of three veterans arriving home and adjusting to civilian life, dramatized the problems of returning veterans for those who had remained on the homefront. Wyler's most personal film, taken from his experiences away from his family for three years and on the front, The Best Years of Our Lives won the Academy Award for Best Director (his second) and Academy Award for Best Picture.

Postwar career

During the immediate postwar period, Wyler directed a handful of critically acclaimed and influential films, The Heiress which earned Olivia de Havilland her second Oscar, Roman Holiday (1953), which introduced Audrey Hepburn to American audiences and resulted in her first Oscar nomination and win, Friendly Persuasion (1956) which was awarded the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) at the Cannes Film Festival, and Ben-Hur (1959) which won 11 Oscars (equalled only twice, by Titanic in 1997 and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003). Ben-Hur won Wyler his third Academy Award for Best Director.

Wyler's films garnered more awards for participating artists and actors than any other director in the history of Hollywood. He received twelve Oscar nominations for Best Director in total, while dozens of his collaborators and actors won Oscars or were nominated. In 1965, Wyler won the Irving Thalberg Award for career achievement. Eleven years later, he received the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award. In addition to his Best Picture and Best Director Oscar wins, thirteen of Wyler's films earned Best Picture nominations.

Wyler's style is (among auteurist critics) notoriously difficult to perceive. He did not build a stable of players like most directors, although frequent collaborators included composer Alfred Newman, and editors Daniel Madell and Robert Swink. He directed varied types of films without any trademark shots or themes, but in his choice of lighting, blocking and camera distance, and in the serious liberal tone of his work, a continuity of worldview is detectable.

Other Wyler pictures that appeared at this time include The Children's Hour, The Collector, Funny Girl (which earned Barbra Streisand the Best Actress Oscar), and his final film The Liberation of L.B. Jones. He planned other films, but bad health forced him to drop out of the movies and he spent more time with his family.

On July 24, 1981, Wyler gave an interview with his daughter, producer Catherine Wyler for Directed by William Wyler, a PBS documentary about his life and career. A mere three days later, Wyler died from a heart attack. Wyler's last words on film concern a vision of directing his "next picture...Going Home." Wyler is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.

Wyler was briefly married to Margaret Sullavan (November 25, 1934 - March 13, 1936) and married Margaret Tallichet on October 23, 1938. The couple remained together until his death; they had five children, Catherine, Judith, William Jr., Melanie and David.


Wyler is the most nominated director in Academy Awards history with 12 nominations. In addition to that, Wyler has the distinction of having won the Academy Award for Best Direction on three occasions, for his direction of Ben Hur, The Best Years of Our Lives, and Mrs. Miniver. He is tied with Frank Capra and behind John Ford, who won four Oscars in this category.

William Wyler received the 4th AFI LIfe Achievement Award in 1976.

Academy Awards

1936 Dodsworth Best Director Nominated
1939 Wuthering Heights Best Director Nominated
1940 The Letter Best Director Nominated
1941 The Little Foxes Best Director Nominated
1942 Mrs. Miniver Best Director Won
1946 The Best Years of Our Lives Best Director Won
1949 The Heiress Best Motion Picture Nominated
Best Director Nominated
1952 Detective Story Best Director Nominated
1953 Roman Holiday Best Motion Picture Nominated
Best Director Nominated
1957 Friendly Persuasion Best Motion Picture Nominated
Best Director Nominated
1959 Ben-Hur Best Director Won
1965 The Collector Best Director Nominated
Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award Won

Directors Guild of America

1952 Detective Story Outstanding Directorial Achievement Nominated
1954 Roman Holiday Outstanding Directorial Achievement Nominated
1957 Friendly Persuasion Outstanding Directorial Achievement Nominated
1959 The Big Country Outstanding Directorial Achievement Nominated
1960 Ben-Hur Outstanding Directorial Achievement Won
1962 The Children's Hour Outstanding Directorial Achievement Nominated
1966 Lifetime Achievement Award
1969 Funny Girl Outstanding Directorial Achievement Nominated


1.^ Freer, Ian. Movie Makers: 50 Iconic Directors, Quercus Publ., London (2009)
2.^ Wakeman, John. World Film Directors: Vol. I, 1890-1945, H.W. Wilson Co., (1987)
3.^ Madsen 1973, p. 3.
5.^ Kozloff, Sarah. "Wyler's wars." Film History 20.4 (2008): 456 pp.


Anderegg, Michael A. William Wyler. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979. ISBN 0-8057-9268-6.
Herman, Jan. A Talent for Trouble: The Life of Hollywood's Most Acclaimed Director. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1995. ISBN 0-399-14012-3.
Madsen, Axel. William Wyler: the Authorized Biography. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1973. ISBN 0-491-01302-7.
Marcus, Daniel. “William Wyler’s World War II Films and the Bombing of Civilian Populations,” Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television 29 (March 2009), 79–90.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Joaquin Murrieta Killed by Rangers? 1853

Joaquin Murrieta (sometimes spelled Murieta or Murietta) (ca. 1829–July 25, 1853?), also called the Mexican or Chilean Robin Hood or the Robin Hood of El Dorado, was a semi-legendary figure in California during the California Gold Rush of the 1850s. He was either an infamous bandit or a Mexican patriot, depending on one's point of view.[2] Murrieta was partly the inspiration for the fictional character of Zorro. His name has, for some political activists, symbolized resistance against Anglo-American economic and cultural domination in California. The "Association of Descendants of Joaquin Murrieta" is devoted to putting forth that Murrieta was not a "gringo eater," but instead that "He wanted to retrieve the part of Mexico that was lost at that time in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo."[3]

Life and career

Bitter dispute surrounds the figure of Joaquin Murrieta, who he was, what he did, and many of his life's events. This is well summarized by the words of historian Susan Lee Johnson:

"So many tales have grown up around Murrieta that it is hard to disentangle the fabulous from the factual. There seems to be a consensus that Anglos drove him from a rich mining claim, and that, in rapid succession, his wife was raped, his half-brother lynched, and Murrieta himself horse-whipped. He may have worked as a monte dealer for a time; then, according to whichever version one accepts, he became either a horse trader and occasional horse thief, or a bandit."[2]

Early life

The place of Murrieta's birth is disputed. He was either born in Álamos[2] in the northwestern state of Sonora, Mexico, or in Quillota, Chile (near Valparaiso). He came from Mexican and native American lineage. His mother's side of his family came from California long before it was claimed by the United States or Mexico.

The citing of his birthplace as allegedly being in Chile seems to be a result of reports that Murrieta sided with Chilean miners during the "Chilean War." A portion of Ridge's novel was reprinted in 1859 in the California Police Gazette. This story was subsequently translated into French, and the French version, with a Chilean Joaquín Murrieta, was translated into Spanish by Roberto Hynne, who claimed to have been in California during the gold rush.

Becoming an outlaw

Some alleged he went to California in 1849 to seek his fortune in the California Gold Rush. But instead of opportunity, he encountered racism and discrimination. While mining for gold, he and his wife supposedly were attacked by American miners jealous of his success.[2] They allegedly beat him senseless, then raped his wife. However, the source for this series of tragic events is disputed as it was a dime novel written in 1854 (The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murrieta by John Rollin Ridge).[2] Historian Frank Latta, in his book Joaquín Murrieta and His Horse Gangs contended that the band was made up of family and friends, and that they regularly engaged in illegal horse trade with Mexico, after helping Joaquín kill at least six of his tormentors.

Orders for arrest and his supposed death

Historically, Murrieta was one of the so-called "Five Joaquins" listed on a bill passed in the California state legislature in May 1853, whereby a company of 20 rangers were hired for three months to hunt down Joaquin Botellier, Joaquin Carrillo, Joaquin Ocomorenia, Joaquin Muriata [sic] and Joaquin Valenzuela, and their banded associates.

On May 11, 1853, Governor of California John Bigler signed a legislative act creating the "California State Rangers," led by Captain Harry Love (a former Texas Ranger). The California Rangers were paid $150 a month and stood a chance to share the $1,000 governor's reward. On July 25, 1853, a group of Rangers encountered a band of armed Mexican men near Pacheco Pass in San Benito County, 50 miles (80 km) from Monterey. A confrontation took place, and two of the Mexicans were killed. One was claimed to be Murrieta, and the other was thought to be Manuel Garcia, also known as Three-Fingered Jack, one of Joaquin's most notorious associates.[4] A plaque (California Historical Landmark #344) near the intersection of State Routes 33 and 198 now marks the approximate site of the encounter.

Murrieta's head

The Rangers severed Three-Fingered Jack's hand and the alleged Murrieta's head as proof of the outlaws' deaths, and preserved them in a jar of alcohol.[2] The jar was displayed in Mariposa County, Stockton, and San Francisco, and later traveled throughout California; spectators could pay $1 to see them. Seventeen people, including a Catholic priest, signed affidavits identifying the head as Murrieta's, alias Carrillo, enabling Love and his Rangers accordingly received the reward money.

However, 25 years later, O. P. Stidger claimed that he heard Murrieta's sister say that the head was not her brother's.[5] At around the same time, numerous sightings of old man Murrieta were reported. A few people claimed that Capt. Love failed to display the head at the mining camps, which was not true.[6] It was even alleged by an anonymous Los Angeles based correspondent to the San Francisco Alta California Daily, in August 1853, that Love and his Rangers murdered some innocent Mexican mustang catcher and bribed people to swear out affidavits. The preserved head was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.


Murrieta's nephew, known as Procopio, went on to become one of California's most notorious bandits of the 1860s and 1870s, and it was said that Procopio wanted to exceed the reputation of his uncle.

Joaquin Murrieta in media

Joaquin Murrieta has been a widely used romantic figure in novels, stories, and films, and on TV.

Joaquin Murrieta is depicted as a largely sympathetic character in the 1936 William A. Wellman film The Robin Hood of El Dorado [1].

The fictional character of Zorro was in part inspired by the stories about Murrieta. In fact, a character with his name appears in The Mask of Zorro, as do Three-Fingered Jack and Harry (here Harrison) Love. In the film, after Joaquin's death, his (fictional) brother, Alejandro (Antonio Banderas), becomes the new Zorro and later kills Captain Love in revenge. Joaquin was played here by Victor Rivers.

Throughout the Mother Lode region of California, there are dozens of saloons, bars, hotels, and places where Murrieta is said to have robbed, slept, or been.

Novel by John Rollin Ridge, "The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murrieta" published 1854, a year after his supposed death.

Book by Walter Noble Burns, "The Robin Hood of El Dorado" published by Coward-McCann, Inc., New York, 1932

Book by Sid Fleischman

He makes an appearance in a novel by Isabel Allende, Hija de la Fortuna (Daughter of Fortune).

In 1954, the actor Rick Jason, later of ABC's military drama Combat!, played Murietta in an episode of Jim Davis's syndicated western television series, Stories of the Century.

His story is told in a play, Fulgor y Muerte de Joaquín Murieta (The Splendor and Death of Joaquin Murrieta), by Pablo Neruda.

The first Soviet and Russian musical (rock opera), Звезда и смерть Хоакина Мурьеты (Zvezda i smert’ Khoakina Mur’ety — The Star and Death of Joaquin Murrieta), 1976, by Alexei Rybnikov and Pavel Grushko, is based on the play. Published as double LP (1978) and movie (1982). Now available on CD and DVD, respectively.

A tribute song to this Chilean rebel can be heard in Premonición de la Muerte de Joaquin Murieta, performed by Quilapayún

Víctor Jara, Chilean singer-songwriter assassinated by the Pinochet regime in Chile, also wrote the song Así Como Hoy Matan Negros taken from Neruda and Sergio Ortega's collaboration "Fulgor y Muerte de Joaquín Murieta."

Both Víctor Jara and Quilapayún recorded the "Cueca de Joaquín Murieta" in the style of Chile's national dance, the cueca.

The Sons of the San Joaquin included a song called The Ballad of Joaquin Murrieta on their Way Out Yonder album.

Bob Frank & John Murry included a song called Joaquin Murrieta, 1853 on their World Without End album.[2]

The corrido version of Joaquin Murrieta's ballad states "... no soy chileno ni extraño en esta tierra que piso, de Mexico es California..." (I'm not Chilean or stranger to this land, California is Mexico...)

In The Mother Hips song 'Time-sick Son of a Grizzly Bear' : "Were you out in Monterey/ In Joaquin Murrieta's day/ Adobe huts in the cypress groves/ Is where the rich man now builds his homes" from the album Kiss the Crystal Flake

The story (and, supposedly, the actual severed head) of Joaquin Murrieta are featured in the 1980 film Faces of Death II

Writer T. Jefferson Parker casts Murrieta as the great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather of one of the main characters in his novel L.A. Outlaws and its sequel, Iron River.

The Fortune & Spirits song 'Archangel, the Murderer' is in large part a retelling and exploration of the morality of the legend of Murrieta [3]

Joaquin Zihuatenejo tells the story of Murrieta in his poem titled "This Is A Suit" presented on HBO's Def Poetry series (Season 5, Episode 4)[7]

Singer/Songwriter Dave Stamey performs "The Bandit Joaquin" depicting the life and death of Joaquin Murrieta, and questions the validity of his capture.

He is also immortalised in George Sherman's " Joaquin Murrieta" (Spain , 1965). Played by Jeffrey Hunter

Referenced in the movie "Blood in Blood Out" (also known as "Bound by Honor") a 1993 film directed by Taylor Hackford.


Vida y Aventuras del Mas Celebre Bandido Sonorense, Joaquin Murrieta: Sus Grandes Proezas En California, by Ireneo Paz, Mexico City, 1904; first English translation by Francis P. Belle, Regan Pub. Corp., Chicago, 1925. Republished with intro. and further translation by Luis Leal, Life and Adventures of the Celebrated Bandit Joaquin Murrieta: His Exploits in the State of California, Arte Publico Press, 1999.


1.^ Burns, Walter Noble, The Robin Hood of El Dorado Coward-McCann, Inc., New York, 1932.
2.^ Roaring Camp: The Social World of the California Gold Rush (Review). American Scholar January 1, 2000. Pg. 142 Vol. 69 No. 1 ISSN: 0003-0937.
3.^ Bacon, David (December 15, 2001). "Interview with Antonio Rivera Murrieta". Retrieved 2010-06-16.
4.^ "California State Rangers". California State Military Museum. 1940. Retrieved 2010-06-16.
5.^ See The Pioneer, Sat., Nov. 29, 1879. Also see History of Nevada County (Oakland : Thompson & West, 1880; rprt Berkeley: Howell-North Books, 1970), 115.
6.^ Democratic State Journal, Oct. 17, 1853, Calaveras Correspondence from W. C. P. of Mokelumne Hill; San Joaquin Republican, Oct. 20, 1853, correspondence from Sonora, Tuolumne Co.

Further reading

Roaring Camp: The Social World of the California Gold Rush by Susan Lee Johnson. Norton.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Week Ago the Yellow Tape Blocked the Grave (Is Columbo Buried Here?)

Is Columbo Buried Here?

Photos on this page taken 7/14/11 at Westwood Village Cemetery.

Is Columbo Buried Here?

Is Columbo Buried Here?

Notice the fresh green grass.

Hey, that's my side of the bed too.

These photos taken today, July 24, 2011 at Westwood Village Cemetery.