The Black Dahlia: Last Seen January 9, 1947

About 12:20 p.m. on January 9, 1947, Elizabeth Short and Robert “Red” Manley left the motel where they had spent the night.

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Robert ‘Red’ Manley. Photo courtesy LAPL.

What did Beth and Red talk about during the couple of hours that it took them to drive back to Los Angeles from San Diego? Red had noticed some scratches on Beth’s arms and asked her about them. She spun a tale of an “intensely jealous” boyfriend – an Italian “with black hair who lived in San Diego”, and claimed that it was he who had scratched her. In truth the scratches were probably made by Beth herself, the result of itchy insect bites. Beth lied to Red a few times more before their day together ended.

Because Red and his wife had been having some problems, he had wondered if they were meant to be together. In the way that only a spouse on the verge of cheating can do, he had justified his relationship with Beth in his own mind by considering it a “love test”. If he remained faithful to his wife, despite the temptation of being near Beth, he would conclude that his marriage was meant to be.

Following a platonic night in a motel room, Red’s marriage was certified as made in heaven after all. But he had a problem; he’d been out of touch with his wife for a couple of days. How would he explain his lack of communication to his wife? Any guy capable of devising a ridiculous love test like Red had done could easily come up with an excuse for being incommunicado for a couple of days.

studebaker

In my mind’s eye I see Beth and Red seated across from each other on the bench seat in his Studebaker, each lost in thought. Beth may have been wondering what she’d do once she hit L.A.  Maybe she’d go to friends in Hollywood. If she was lucky someone would have an empty bed for her. Her immediate difficulty was Red. How would she get away from the well meaning guy for whom she felt nothing?

Once they arrived in the city, Beth told Red that she needed to check her luggage at the bus depot. He took her there, and Beth was ready to wave good-bye to him and be on her way – but he wouldn’t leave. He told her that he couldn’t possibly leave her in that neighborhood on her own. She insisted that she would be fine, but he wouldn’t hear of it.

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Biltmore Hotel and part of Pershing Square. [LAPL Photo]

Beth had a few minutes while she checked her bags to conjure up a plan to ditch Red. When they returned to his car she told him that she needed to go to the Biltmore Hotel to wait for her sister. It was another lie. The sister she referred to was in Oakland, hundreds of miles to the north.

Red drove her several blocks back to the Biltmore Hotel.  The main lobby was on Olive Street, directly opposite Pershing Square. Beth thanked Red.  He had been a gentleman. He’d paid to have taps put on the heels and toes of her pumps, and of course he’d paid for meals and the motel room. She thought that he would drive off and leave her, but once again he said that he didn’t feel comfortable just putting her out of the car.

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Matchbook cover — Crown Grill

He parked, and the two of them waited in the Biltmore’s exquisite lobby for quite a while. Finally, Beth managed to out wait Red. He said he had to go. She told him she would be fine and that she expected her sister to arrive at any moment.

Red left her in the Biltmore at approximately 6:30 p.m. Beth watched him go – gave him a few minutes, and then she exited the Biltmore and turned right down Olive Street.

Beth may have been headed for the Crown Grill at Eighth and Olive.  She’d been there before and perhaps she hoped to bump into someone she knew; after all, she needed a place to stay. Some patrons of the bar later told cops that she’d been there that night, but no one had seen her leave.

No one who knew her would ever see Elizabeth Short alive again.

NOTE:  For a glimpse into Los Angeles as Beth Short would have seen it, here is some amazing B-roll from 1946 shot for a Rita Hayworth film, Down to Earth, via the Internet Archive.

And here’s a screen grab of the Crown Grill [thanks to Richard Schave of Esotouric Bus Adventures].

crown-grill-screen-grab_richard

Film Noir Friday: Passkey to Danger [1946]

passkeytodanger

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 PASSKEY TO DANGER staring Kane Richmond and Stephanie Bachelor.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Perplexed by a new advertisement designed for his company by advertising man Tex Hanlon, New York fashion designer Malcolm Tauber asks Hanlon to explain how the ad, which contains little more than the words “The Three Springs,” represents his company’s product. Hanlon, however, reminds Tauber that their contract stipulates that the mystery can only be revealed in the final installment of the ad campaign. Gwen Hughes, Tauber’s assistant and Hanlon’s sweetheart, helped design the Three Springs ad, which consists of three pictured models, each wearing a different fashion, with captions reading “Palm Springs,” “Saratoga Springs” and “Colorado Springs.” While Gwen and Hanlon admire their creation, a threatening note is slipped under the door of Hanlon’s office, but Hanlon believes that it is a hoax. Just outside his office, Hanlon walks into the path of a mysterious woman named Renee Beauchamps, who asks for a job with his firm and tries to abscond with his portfolio.

In the Line of Duty, Conclusion

adams-and-john-lawOn October 24, 1946, Tony Adams limped into Judge Leroy Dawson’s courtroom and was formally charged with the murder of California Highway Patrolman Steve Sodel. He was also indicted for grand theft of the Chevy sedan which belonged to Jeanne Trude. Adams was manacled to Lieutenant John Law of the sheriff’s department, presumably to prevent him from making another escape attempt. Adams’ attorney, William E. Turner, waived reading of the complaint and Judge Dawson set a hearing date.

Adams, an occasional artist’s model, had at least one person in his corner. Beverly Lounsbury, 23, ex-cashier at a Sunset Strip night club that was one of Adams’ regular night spots. Lounsbury visited Adams in the County Jail on the morning of his arraignment. She said that Adams had broken a date with her for the night before Sodel’s murder. Lounsbury told Lieutenant Law, “I feel sorry for him and wanted to tell him so. He told me you fellows didn’t believe him when he said he threw the gun away but he swore he was telling the truth.”adams-cuffed

A jury of nine women and three men was selected to determine Adams’ fate. Attorney William Turner must have worked hard to get nine women on the jury. There was no doubt that Adams was a handsome guy, referred to in the newspapers at the Playboy Killer. Perhaps, if he was lucky, the women jurors could be swayed by the defendant’s good looks. Adams was going to need all the luck he could get. He had drawn Judge Charles W. Fricke.  The judge was a former prosecutor with a reputation for being a tough on lawbreakers. For their part, the prosecutors John Barnes and Fred Henderson didn’t care what Adams looked like, they made it clear that they intended to seek the gas chamber for the alleged cop killer.jeanne-louise-smith

Beverly Lounsbury found a seat in spectator section of Fricke’s courtroom. She told reporters “I’m not sure myself that Tony is guilty of the crime they charge him with. He needs a friend and I’m going to stick by him.”

One of the prosecution witnesses was a former girlfriend of Adams’, Jeanne Louise Smith. The car hop testified that she and Adams had dated briefly while she was separated from her husband. On the evening of September 14, Adams had shown up at her workplace to show her something. “He called me to the rear of the drive-in stand and showed me this gun. I asked him what he was doing with it, but he didn’t answer. He merely stood there, holding the gun in one hand and jingling a bunch of cartridges in his other hand.” Unfamiliar with guns, Smith was shown several different types of firearms but she was unable to say whether Adams had shown her a revolver or another type of gun.

Frances Sodel, the slain officer’s widow, took the stand and, wiping away tears, she identified a photo of her husband and articles of clothing which were discovered in the shallow grave with Steve Sodel’s bullet riddled body.

Frederic D. Newbarr had performed the autopsy on Sodel and he testified that the officer had been shot in the chest five times.

Jack Singleton identified Adams as the man who had stopped him and asked for help in extricating his car from sand alongside the road. Singleton said he had a feeling that the car was hot, so when he saw Officer Sodel he flagged him down and reported his suspicions. Sodel took off after the black sedan.

In his testimony service station operator John Rose said “I heard sounds of automobiles traveling at a high rate of speed and then a black Chevrolet zoomed east on Jefferson closely followed by a California Highway Patrol car. Neither car made the boulevard stop and I think they were going about 65 or 70 miles an hour. I knew the Highway patrol car was Sodel’s because I had seen it many times before.” Rose said he watched both cars disappear from view, then he went back to work.

Jeanne Trude and Elyse Pearl Brown

Jeanne Trude and Elyse Pearl Brown

Jeanne Trude told the court how Adams had introduced himself to her and a girlfriend, movie extra, Elyse Pearl Brown, at the Jococo Club. She said Adams accompanied them to Dave’s Blue Room on the Sunset Strip where, “Miss Brown and myself ordered dinner at Dave’s but Tony just asked for a cup of coffee. He said he was suffering from malaria. Then he excused himself and left. I didn’t see him again, but when I went to get my car I discovered it was gone. I saw it again two weeks later and instead of being gray it was painted black–and not very well, at that.”

The hat-check girl/former cashier and reputed girl friend of the defendant testified that he had visited her a couple of days prior to the slaying. He had a gun, a handful of cartridges and an electric razor he claimed he had won in a poker game the previous night. Adams wanted her to hold the gun for him but she refused. He then told her to “keep quiet about the whole thing.”

One of Adams’ neighbors, Gordon Briggs, testified that he had seen him wearing a paint stained work shirt late in the afternoon of September 17. When Briggs asked about the stains Adams told him,  “I’ve been helping a friend fix some pipes.”

Adams’ explanation for the paint was refuted by Police Chemist Ray Pinker. Pinker said he took samples of paint from the stolen car and matched them to the paint on Adams’ work shirt. They were identical. Pinker had also examined the undercarriage of the stolen car for evidence and had found weeds similar to those found near Sodel’s shallow grave.

Adams’ defense opened their case with two alibi witnesses. The first was Armand Martinez who worked at a cafe at 219 N. Vermont Avenue. He told jurors that Adams couldn’t have committed the murder because he was in the cafe lunching with a beautiful blonde at the time of the crime.

Next on the witness stand was Alvin Faith, a bartender. At 3 p.m. on the day of Sodel’s disappearance he said that Adams was in his bar. “Adams had a nosebleed. So I got him some ice and told him to go back to the restroom.”

Fletcher Herndon, an employee of the Studio Club at 3668 Beverly Boulevard, said that Adams was a frequent customer and had been in at about 11 p.m. on September 17 and asked whether a woman named Selznick had been in looking for him. Selznick?! At the mention of the name name Adams grimaced at Herndon and began to shake his head vigorously back and forth. Herndon didn’t get the message fast enough. He said it was his understanding that the woman was married to a “movie man”. Is it possible that Irene Mayer Selznick, wife of producer David O. Selznick, was seeing pretty boy Tony Adams? In Hollywood, anything is possible.

Adams’ attorneys decided to put their client on the stand to testify in his own defense. Under direct examination by William Turner, Adams denied being Sodel’s killer. Once Turner had finished Prosecutor John Barnes grilled Adams in a blistering cross-examination.roosevelt_sodel

The only thing Adams would admit to was that he had accompanied Jeanne Trude from the Jococo Club to Dave’s Blue Room. He claimed that he left the table when he realized he didn’t have funds sufficient to pay for dinner. Rather than face the embarrassment, he left.  In the parking lot Adams claimed he met a “Mr. Cudahy”–a guy he knew from one of the bars in town–and they’d driven downtown looking for women to pick up.

According to Adams, the mysterious Mr. Cudahy told him he as leaving for New York the next evening and offered Adams a ride. They arranged to meet the next day. Adams said they drove to Las Vegas, but he discovered Cudahy was carrying a box filled with guns. Adams said he “ditched” Cudahy and went on to New York by bus. He told the court “The first time I knew I was wanted for any crime was when I heard it over the radio on a murder program. When my name was mentioned you could have knocked me through the floor.”

Adams claimed the statements he’d made to New York City detectives, in which he had copped to stealing Jean Trude’s car and getting rid of two guns the day following Sodel’s murder, had been made under duress. Adams said he was questioned continuously by a group of at least 6 detectives. One of them, he said, kept slamming a blackjack on the table and  telling Adams that he was a candidate for Harts Field  (a local pauper’s cemetery in).

In closing arguments the prosecutors wove together all of the circumstantial evidence that linked the defendant to the murder. They made a compelling case.

The Defense Attorneys John Irwin and William Turner weren’t left with much. All they could do was maintain that the State had failed to prove its case. They said that there was no definite link between Adams and the murder of Steve Sodel.

The jurors would have to weigh the evidence and testimony and make up their own minds.

The jury deliberated for four hours before notifying Judge Fricke that they had reached a verdict. Frances Sodel said beside another CHP widow, Mrs. Loren Roosevelt as they waited for the verdict to be read. Adams, dressed in a brown pin-striped suit, sat at the defense table with his head in his hands. Jury foreman Edward A. Mohr handed the decision to the court clerk, who then handed it to Judge Fricke. Adams was found guilty of the murder of Steve Sodel. But rather than the gas chamber the jury recommended life without parole.

Why hadn’t the jury handed Adams, a cold-blooded cop killer, a ticket to California’s gas chamber? Evidently the verdict was a compromise, reached when one of the female jurors declared that she would, “sit in the jury room for six months if if necessary” rather than condemn Adams to death.adams-pic

After hearing the verdict, Adams posed for news photographers and said, “I am satisfied with the jury’s verdict. My attorneys, Richard Erwin and William Turner, have given me a fair shake. I’m very lucky.”

Certainly luckier than Steve Sodel and his family.

Epilogue —  According to records, Tony Adams arrived at San Quentin on February 1, 1947.  Adams’ prison register indicates that he was married with one child. His marital status never came up at trial, although his numerous girlfriends and other female acquaintance did. It is entirely possible that he abandoned his wife and child, likely in New York. One wonders if his wife and child ever knew where he went or what happened to him. Adams didn’t spent much time at San Quentin before being transferred to Folsom Prison on April 17, 1947.  As far as I know he remained there until he was paroled. I haven’t been able to discover the date of his parole, but I sincerely hope his looks were long gone by the time he was released. He had a reputation for using women by trading on his looks.  Several women to whom he owed money came forward to talk to sheriff’s department detectives. I prefer to believe that by the time he left prison he had nothing left to trade. Albert Anthony Adams died in Huntington Beach, California on August 15, 2000.

A bronze memorial plaque honoring Steve Sodel was set in cement at the base of a tree at the Sheriff’s Honor Farm (known as Wayside) in Castaic by Sheriff’s Department American Legion Star Post 309.

Note: Many thanks to my friend, Mike Fratantoni,  for sharing this story with me.

In the Line of Duty, Part 3

sodel_house

A search of Tony Adams’ residence yielded a few clues, but not the .32 caliber murder weapon.

While the search for Tony Adams, suspected of the kidnapping and murder of CHP Officer Steve Sodel continued, detectives dug into the background of the wanted man.

Adams had served time in New York for grand larceny and he had been AWOL from Camp Rucker, Alabama, since May 1944.  He was obviously a crook, but was he a killer?

sodel-body

Based on the forensic science evidence there wasn’t much doubt that Adams had pulled the trigger of the gun that ended Patrolman Sodel’s life.  A bullet removed from the dead officer’s body was a match for a slug found in the abandoned, bloodstained sedan discovered near Las Vegas.   Tire impressions taken at the location where Sodel’s patrol car was found corresponded to tire tracks found at the place where his body was hastily buried. The most damning evidence against Adams was verified by the Sheriff’s Department—they said fingerprints taken from the left door of the impounded death car belonged to wanted ex-con and Army deserter.

Twelve days after the murder there were several reported sightings of the fugitive in LA.  Cops thought that Adams had fled the state, but someone answering his description was seen one or two blocks from the West Los Angeles Police Station.  None of the leads panned out.  If Adams was in LA he was proving impossible to find.

sodel_patrol-car_portrait

In the photo on the left, Detective Marty Wynn (left, who would later become a technical advisor for the TV show, DRAGNET, is show with Inspectors Mark Benson (center) and William Yonkin (right) examining Patrol Sodel’s official car. On the right is a photo of fallen officer Steve W. Sodel.

Within a week of the LA sightings of Adams he was busted in New York City. He may have been running home to his mother, Josephine, a resident of the city.  In a bone-headed attempt to evade capture the fugitive jumped from a two-story window and injured himself.

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Tony Adams, flanked by an FBI agent and a NYC detective, limps to a waiting patrol car.

He was in a wheel chair when he appeared before a U.S. Commissioner in New York on October 8.  Adams denied everything.  Accompanied by Captain Gordon Bowers, head of the Sheriff’s bureau of investigation and Inspector Mark Benson of the California Highway Patrol, Adams was returned to LA to stand trial.

Adams was also suspected of the June 5, 1946 slaying of CHP Officer Loren Cornwell Roosevelt. The murder had some similarities to Sodel’s murder.  It wasn’t until six months later that Roosevelt’s real killer, Erwin ‘Machine Gun’ Walker, was apprehended. Walker was tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Due to some legal twists and turns Walker was released on parole in 1974. He legally changed his name, became employed as a chemist, and vanished from public view. He died in 1982 without ever showing remorse for the cold-blooded murder of Officer Roosevelt.

When Adams arrived at Union Station downtown he was immediately shackled to the aptly named Lieutenant John Law of the Sheriff’s Department.

Adams told detectives that he had run across the country in a panic after he  came to from black-out drunk episode to find Sodel’s patrolman’s cap and service weapon in his hands.  The story was likely a pathetic attempt by the suspect to lessen his responsibility.  And, in my opinion, his tale of being too drunk to recall the murder further unraveled when he managed to  remember enough about the immediate aftermath of the crime to direct a car full of deputies to a vacant lot in which they found a charred fragment of the plaid seat cover from the stolen black Chevy sedan.

The deputies drove Adams around until they reached Alameda Street between Seventh and Third Streets.  It was in that area, the suspect contended, that he had ditched the guns (his and Sodel’s).  Unfortunately no trace of either weapon was found.

On October 23, 1946, Adams told reporters “I have confessed to nothing.  I’m innocent of the charge and with God’s help the world will soon know it.”  His attorneys said “Adams told us that he has been in a daze since his arrest, but that he has admitted nothing to the officers.”

For a dazed man Adams had managed to accomplish a lot. He’d successfully evaded arrest for weeks following the murder, and he had had the presence of mind to dispose of evidence in such a manner that detectives had been unable to locate it some of it.  Imagine what he could do if he wasn’t in a daze.

Next time:  Will a jury believe Tony Adams?

Note:  Watch HE WALKED BY NIGHT, based on the Erwin ‘Machine Gun’ Walker case. It is one of my favorite films noir.

In the Line of Duty, Part 2

sodel_blimpEquipped with binoculars, the observers aboard a Navy blimp piloted by Lt. A. J. Slack skimmed the treetops of Palos Verdes, Playa del Rey, Hollywood Hills and Topanga Canyon searching for any sign of missing CHP Patrolman Steve Sodel.  The terrain yielded nothing.

Detectives attempted to piece together a plausible scenario for Sodel’s disappearance from the scant clues available.  They believed that the officer had the misfortune to meet up with one or more so-called “cop-haters” who then forced him at gunpoint into the Chevy sedan.   Tire impressions found at the scene showed that the sedan had backed up and then “dug out” past the parked CHP prowl car.

sodel_headline2Late on the fourth day of the search a bloodstained sedan, riddled with bullet holes, was found abandoned near Las Vegas, Nevada.  A private plane owned by a member of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Aero Bureau flew members of the CHP and the Sheriff’s department to the scene.

The search of LA’s environs was a bust, but the car in Las Vegas was a treasure trove of useful information.   The car was sitting in a Las Vegas police impound yard when LA detectives and criminalists arrived to examine every inch of it.  The car was stolen, just as they had thought.  There was a bullet hole in the trunk and something that may have been blood was discovered on the front fender.  Tests were needed to determine whether the stains were human and not animal blood.  The vehicle was dusted for prints inside and out.  Paperwork, routinely carried by highway patrolmen, was also found in the car.sodel-death-car

The evidence was flown back to LA and they got a hit on the fingerprints—they belonged to Albert A. (Tony) Adams, a house painter in his mid to late 20s.  They also traced the owner of the stolen car.  It belonged to Jeanne Trude, 10540 Cushdon Avenue, West Los Angeles, and was stolen from the parking lot of a Sunset Strip nightclub early on the morning of Sodel’s disappearance.  Trude said that she and her friend, Elyse Browne, met a man named Tony Adams at a local night club.  When he suggested that they drive to another, they agreed. Once they arrived at the second night spot, Adams excused himself from the table saying he would return in a few minutes.  He never did.  When Trude and her friend went out to get her car, it was gone.

An all-points bulletin went out for Adams.

A search of Adams’s home led by Sheriff’s Detective Captain Gordon Bowers turned up a photo which he showed to Jack Singleton.  Singleton recognized the man as they guy he had helped with his car on September 17th.   What didn’t turn up in the search was the .32 caliber revolver which acquaintances of Adams’s said he often flashed at bars and night spots. adams_pic

Five days after Sodel’s disappearance, a 35 man posse on horseback convened at dawn to conduct a search for the missing man.  Under District Inspector Walter P. Greer of the Highway Patrol the posse was divided into three groups and set out to search the hills near Loyola University for Sodel but, once again, they failed to find him.

On that same day three young boys—Robert Freyling, 9, Robert Irvine, 8, and his younger brother Blair Irvine, 5—were playing near a new subdivision in Baldwin Hills when they found Steve Sodel’s body.  It was partly covered with dirt. His service revolver and handcuffs were missing but his identification papers and uniform were intact.

The autopsy revealed that Sodel’s skull had been fractured—three .32 caliber slugs were lodged in his chest and two other bullets had passed through his body.   At least now there was physical evidence to support the original theory of the crime—that Steve Sodel had been kidnapped and murdered.

Steve Sodel’s brother officers assisted his widow with funeral arrangements.  The rites were scheduled for 2 p.m., Wednesday, September 25, 1946 in Patriotic Hall, with interment in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale.  Star Post No. 309, of which Sodel was Junior Past Commander, officiated.

As Steve Sodel’s family grieved, law enforcement continued their search for Tony Adams.

 NEXT TIME:  A killer is captured.

In the Line of Duty, Part 1

About 2 p.m. on Tuesday, September 17, 1946, Jack Singleton, an employee of Central Airport, was driving down Sepulveda Boulevard near Lincoln Avenue when a man flagged him down. The man’s car was stuck in the sand, so Singleton pulled over to offer aid. Singleton noticed that the Chevy sedan had a fresh coat of paint. Singleton hooked a rope over the bumper to free the car. As Singleton was securing the rope he saw something that struck him as odd– the license plate had been partially painted over. Together Singleton and the stranded man were able to pull the car out of the sand. As Singleton drove back onto Lincoln he saw a Highway Patrol car approaching from the opposite direction. Singleton signaled to the officer.  They pulled next to each other and talked for a few moments. Singleton told the officer he thought that the car that he’d just helped pull out of the sand was stolen. The cop agreed the painted license plate sounded fishy and sped off in pursuit of the suspicious car

sodel-picSeconds later John A. Rose, the operator of a service station at 328 Lincoln Boulevard, saw a black Chevy blow through a stop sign at Lincoln and Sepulveda. Rose’s best guess was that the driver was going roughly 65 to70 mph–and right behind him was a Highway Patrol car. Rose recognized the car as the one always driven by officer Steve Sodel. Rose knew it was Sodel’s car because it was kind of beat up–more so than some of the others he’d seen around. The pursued and pursuer disappeared down the highway and Rose went back to work.

George Osborne, an aeronautical engineer, was headed to his W. Imperial Highway home when he noticed that a 1941/1942 dark colored Chevrolet was parked alongside the road. Right behind it was a Highway Patrol car. Like most of us, he was likely relieved that it was some other poor clown getting a ticket.

Sixteen minutes after Osborne saw the Chevy and CHP car at the side of the road, Sodel’s black and white radio car was found abandoned on Jefferson. sodel-jeepThe next day over 100 CHP officers combed Venice and Playa del Rey for Sodel, but they didn’t find a trace of him.  Even a blimp took to the air in an attempt to find the missing man. Dozens of tips were phoned in, but none of them panned out.

sodel-family-waitsSteve Sodel was not only a dedicated lawman, he was the former Commander of the American Legion’s Star Post No. 309. In an effort to get a lead in the case the post offered “a substantial reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a person or persons responsible for his disappearance.”

While the massive search continued the 48-year-old missing patrolman’s wife, daughter, and son-in-law anxiously waited at home.

NEXT TIME: The search for Steve Sodel concludes.

Shame on You, Part 1

Donnell Cooley was born in Oklahoma on December 17, 1910 to Emma and John Cooley. The family was dirt poor and by 1920 they had moved to Oregon in pursuit of a better life.  John worked in a saw mill so the family still lived from hand-to-mouth. They were fortunate in one way, John had inherited his family’s musical abilities and was a decent fiddle player.  He passed  along his passion and talent to his son, in fact by the time he was 8-years-old Donnell was performing professionally with his father at local square dances.

Spade Cooley

Spade Cooley

Following in the footsteps of many musicians before him, Donnell moved to Los Angeles in 1930. He worked as an actor–he was Roy Rogers’ stand-in; and toured as a singer with the Riders of the Purple Sage. He also picked up the nickname Spade, thanks to his prowess as a poker player. He may not have known it them but, lucky in poker, unlucky in love.

In 1942 Spade took over as the leader of Jimmy Wakely’s group, the house band at the Venice Pier Ballroom. The band was large and often had multiple singers, one of whom was Tex Williams. The band was extremely popular and pulled in huge crowds every weekend. When Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys moved West, Cooley found himself with some serious competition. He’d had a disagreement with the Ballroom’s promoter, Burt “Foreman” Phillips, and was fired. Prior to his departure from the Ballroom, Cooley demanded a ‘Battle of the Bands’ to be held over two weekends. Never known to be shy or retiring Spade announced,  in advance of the battle, that he was the winner. Then he coined the term the ‘King of Western Swing.’ It would be used ever after to describe both Cooley and the musical style.bob wills

He was still married to his first wife, Anne when, in 1942, he met Ella Mae Evans. Bobby Bennett, Spade’s band manager, declared that “She had no voice,” but Cooley was smitten with the petite blonde, who was 13 years his junior, and hired her anyway. The pair married in November 1945, just a couple of months following his divorce from Anne.

Over the next couple of years Spade became even a bigger star. He’d had a hit with “Shame on You” in 1945 and six more chart toppers followed in succession.

Ella Mae’s singing career ended when she became pregnant. She gave birth to their first child, Melody, in 1946.

Spade & Ella Mae

Spade & Ella Mae

Wearing a cowboy hat instead of a crown, Spade took the appellation of King seriously and he ruled Ella Mae with a iron first. Not long after the marriage, and shortly before Melody’s birth, Ella Mae found her husband with another woman in their home. She packed her bags and told him he could find her at her sister’s. Spade told her that if she ever left him he would find her and kill her. Ella Mae believed him and stayed.

Spade had always had a bad temper. He’d run through musicians and singers by the dozen and those he didn’t fire often left of their own accord because they couldn’t deal with the boss. Spade was a heavy drinker; but drunk or sober he was capable of throwing a world class tantrum. Could he kill?

NEXT TIME: Spade’s career peaks and his marriage hits bottom.

Film Noir Friday: Somewhere in the Night [1946]

SomewhereintheNight_WBWelcome! 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 SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT, 1946, starring Lloyd Nolan and Richard Conte.

TCM says:

A U.S. Marine recovering from a combat injury in a Navy hospital in Hawaii suffers from undiagnosed amnesia, and while others call him George Taylor, he has no memory of that man. Upon recovery from his wounds, George is transferred to the hospital at Camp Pendleton, California, and is eventually discharged, even though he still has no memory. He returns to his old civilian address at the Martin Hotel in Los Angeles, but no one recognizes him there. At Union Station, he exchanges a bag check he found in his sea bag for a briefcase, which contains a gun and a three-year-old letter to a man named George stating that $5,000 has been deposited for him in a bank account by Larry Cravat.

Amnesia, guns, and money. Sounds interesting to me!  Enjoy the movie!

 

Film Noir Friday: Angel On My Shoulder [1946]

 angel-on-my-shoulder-movie-poster-1946-1020207329

 

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. We’ve been closed for a couple of weeks to scrape the gum off the floor and refill the soda machine. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Tonight’s feature is ANGEL ON MY SHOULDER, starring Paul Muni, Anne Baxter and Claude Rains. Directed by Archie Mayo who also directed The Man With Two Faces and The Petrified Forest among many others.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Soon after his release from prison, gangster Eddie Kagle is killed by his longtime friend and associate, Smiley Williams, and wakes in Hell. When Eddie realizes what has happened, he immediately attempts to break out of Hell and avenge his death. His actions draw the attentions of Nick, the Devil, who notices Eddie’s close resemblance to Frederick Parker, an incorruptible judge who is running for governor. Nick offers to help Eddie escape and get even with Smiley, if he, in turn, will help Nick destroy Parker’s reputation. Eddie readily agrees and, accompanied by Nick, returns to earth.

Film Noir Friday: The Dark Mirror [1946]

darkmirror

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 DARK MIRROR [1946], directed by Robert Siodmak and starring Olivia De Havilland and Lew Ayres.  Who doesn’t enjoy an evil twin tale?

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

A woman suspected of murdering her doctor boyfriend has an identical twin sister. When both twins have an alibi for the night of the murder, a psychiatrist is called in to assist a detective in solving the case. Through a series of tests, he discovers which twin actually committed the crime and in the course of his investigation he falls in love with the normal twin.