Happy Birthday, Aggie


Aggie drinking a beer.

It’s December 17, 2015 — the 113th anniversary of Aggie Underwood’s birth.

Aggie was a general assignment reporter with a gift for covering crime. Like many Los Angeles social historians I first ran across her because of her coverage of the January 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short—the Black Dahlia. I bought a copy of her 1949 autobiography, Newspaperwoman. in which she included a partial list of the headlines she had generated.  They were a revelation; not only had she written about the Dahlia case she had reported on nearly every major crime case in the city from 1931 through January 1947.

The more I learned about her the more I admired her. I created her long overdue Wikipedia page, and she inspired me to create this blog. I’ve lectured about her, and at the time of this writing I am curating an exhibit of photographs at the Central Library entitled: The First with the Latest!: Aggie Underwood, the Los Angeles Herald, and the Sordid Crimes of a City.  If you haven’t visited the exhibit yet I urge you to do so before it closes on January 10, 2016, and if you can’t get to the exhibit please pick-up a copy of the companion book, available on Amazon.

In 1936, the Herald’s city editor, John B.T. Campbell, wrote: “Aggie Underwood should have been a man. A rip-snorting, go-gettum reporter who goes through fire lines, trails killers… using anything from airplanes to mules to reach the spot that in newspapers is… marked with an arrow or an X. Favorite occupation is following a good murder. What a gal!”

What a gal, indeed.

Film Noir Friday: The Second Woman [1950]



Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open! Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is THE SECOND WOMAN starring Robert Young and Betsy Drake. Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

In flashback from a ‘Rebecca’-style beginning: Ellen Foster, visiting her aunt on the California coast, meets neighbor Jeff Cohalan and his ultramodern clifftop house. Ellen is strongly attracted to Jeff, who’s being plagued by unexplainable accidents, major and minor. Bad luck, persecution…or paranoia? Warned that Jeff could be dangerous, Ellen fears that he’s in danger, as the menacing atmosphere darkens.

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid [1982]


Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open! Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is a comedic homage to noir: DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID starring Steve Martin, Rachel Ward and Carl Reiner.  Enjoy the movie!

IDMB says:

When a famous cheese maker dies in a freak car crash, his daughter (Rachel Ward) is convinced that it was no accident. She thinks he was murdered for his top-secret cheese recipes. To prove her theory, she hires detective Roy Reardon (Steve Martin). His quest to find out what happened to the missing man brings him face-to-face with movie legends, actors such as Humphrey Bogart, Alan Ladd and Burt Lancaster, via footage from classic film noir and crime films.


Film Noir Friday: I Killed That Man [1941]


Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open! Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is I KILLED THAT MAN, starring Ricardo Cortez, Joan Woodbury and Pat Gleason.  Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Assistant District Attorney Roger Phillips, various reporters and other officials, gather at a prison to witness the execution of convicted killer Nick Ross. Before being strapped to the electric chair, Ross makes his first public confession, and says he has been protecting the identity of the man who ordered the killing. As his boss has reneged on his promise to free Ross, Ross intends to identify him, but suddenly dies when he is hit by a poisoned dart.

Film Noir Friday: The Most Dangerous Game [1932]


 Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Tonight’s feature, THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, isn’t a film noir but it is a fascinating film starring Joel McCrea, Fay Wray, Leslie Banks, and Robert Armstrong. The premise calls to mind real life serial killer Richard Hansen who, from 1973-1983, abducted women (prostitutes, topless dancers, etc.) turned them loose in the Alaskan wilderness and then hunted them down with his rifle. It is estimated that he murdered between 17 and 21 women.

TCM says:

While sailing through treacherous shark-infested channels, the yacht carrying Bob Rainsford, a noted big game hunter, strikes a coral reef and sinks. Bob swims to the shore of a tiny island, the only survivor of the wreck, and locates a mysterious fortress, which is owned by the Russian Count Zaroff. A gracious if intense host, Zaroff introduces Bob to Eve Trowbridge and her brother Martin, who are also recent shipwreck survivors. Zaroff, finding Bob a kindred spirit, reveals his obsessive passion for hunting and refers obtusely to his favorite island pastime, the pursuit of “the most dangerous game.” As the evening progresses, Martin becomes more intoxicated, while his sister tries to warn Bob to be wary of Zaroff. Later that night, Zaroff invites Martin to his “trophy room,” which boasts several mounted human heads, and informs him that his head will soon be joining the others on the wall.


Film Noir Friday: Caught [1949]

caught_1949_poster+01Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Tonight’s feature is CAUGHT [1949] starring James Mason (in his first American motion picture), Barbara Bel Geddes, and Robert Ryan.

Enjoy the film!

 TCM says:

Leonora Eames, a young woman from Denver, and her roommate Maxine, a gold-digging model, share a modest Los Angeles apartment and the determination to move up in the world. To that end, Leonora, who works as a carhop, has enrolled in Dorothy Dale’s charm school. After graduating from the school, Leonora gets a well-paying job modeling fur coats at a department store. One day, while modeling a coat, a man named Franzi Kartos introduces himself to Leonora and invites her to a party aboard millionaire Smith Ohlrig’s yacht. Leonora rejects the invitation because she does not approve of rich men sending scouts to find pretty young women to attend their parties. Maxine, however, convinces Leonora to attend the party, calling it an “investment” in her future.


Film Noir Friday — Sunday Matinee: Michael Shayne, Private Detective [1941]

michael-shayne-posterWelcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open for a Sunday matinee. Your faithful proprietor was otherwise engaged this past Friday night at ’53 Fest at the Los Angeles Police Museum! The special event featured James Ellroy and Glynn Martin reading from the museum’s new book “LAPD 53”.  Also on the bill was Nathan Marsak, architectural historian and all around swell guy. Nathan introduced and discussed a film from the museum’s archives, narrated by none other than Chief William H. Parker, about the Police Administration Building which would later bear his name. Yours truly introduced and discussed a crime scene walk-through film on the “Croquet Mallet Murder”, also from the archives. The film was originally shown to jurors at the trial of Edward Richard Fredericks–the case is featured in “LAPD ’53”.

Now it’s time to grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Today’s feature is MICHAEL SHAYNE, PRIVATE DETECTIVE based on the novels by Brett Halliday. The film was directed by Eugene Forde and starred Lloyd Nolan, Marjorie Weaver, Joan Valerie and Elizabeth Patterson.

As the movie poster suggested: “Laugh and thrill with fiction’s favorite new sleuth.”

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Hiram Brighton, the racing commissioner, hires detective Michael Shayne to watch his daughter Phyllis, a compulsive gambler, while he is away in New York. Shayne is also offered a job by Larry Kincaid to collect money from Harry Grange, a gambling racketeer who welched on a bet, but Shayne declines his offer. Soon afterward, Shayne comes face to face with Grange when he finds him feeding Phyllis money to play the roulette wheel.


Film Noir Friday: Frenzy [1972]

FRENZY2Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Tonight’s feature is FRENZY, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Jon Finch, Alec McCowen, and Barry Foster — it also features Billie Whitelaw, Anna Massey, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Bernard Cribbins and Vivien Merchant.

Enjoy the movie!

Rotten Tomatoes says:

After several years of uneven efforts like Torn Curtain and Topaz, Alfred Hitchcock was back in form with 1972’s Frenzy. The plot concerns a rapist-murderer terrorizing London. The audience is unknowingly introduced to the killer early on, though suspicions are redirected to a more “obvious” suspect. Once viewers know which is which, the suspense lies in the fact that the police continue to suspect the wrong man.



Film Noir Friday: The Lady Confesses [1945]


Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Tonight’s feature is THE LADY CONFESSES, starring Mary Beth Hughes and Hugh Beaumont.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

After she is paid a surprise visit by a woman claiming to be her fiancé Larry Craig’s long-lost wife Norma, Vicki McGuire makes a desperate call to Larry at the Club 7-11. Larry shows up at the club a few minutes after Vicki’s call, roaring drunk, and has a drink in club owner Lucky Brandon’s office. Larry then is cajoled into lying down on singer Lucille Compton’s dressing room couch and soon passes out. Two hours later, Larry is roused to answer a second call from Vicki, and on his way to the phone, he sees Lucky, a notorious playboy, slipping in through the back door. Despite the late hour, an anxious Vicki meets Larry to discuss Norma, who had disappeared almost seven years before, on the day that her divorce from Larry was to become final. After Larry assures Vicki that Norma’s threat to refuse him a divorce is merely a jealous whim, they drive to the house where Norma now is living. They find the house swarming with policemen and are told by homicide detective Capt. Brown that, earlier that evening, Norma was strangled to death.



aggie_bad dame

Aggie interviews a bad dame at Lincoln Heights Jail.
Photo courtesy CSUN

Novelists from Raymond Chandler to James Ellroy  have consistently turned to the corrupt history of Los Angeles for inspiration, and there is good reason. The wicked in Los Angeles have had few peers, and their stories have been so outlandish that they demanded to be told by people who were up to the task.

One of the reporters who proved  time and again to be the match for any wayward youth, homicidal wife, or monstrous child killer was Evening Herald and Express reporter, Agness “Aggie” Underwood.

Read about some of the most unhinged stories Aggie ever covered.