Friday, June 13, 2008

Police Blotter

You know what I love about the past? Even when it's sordid, it's picturesque. Bygone scandals, tawdry magazines of yesteryear, Weejee photos and Wisconsin Death Trip - you name it.

Therefore, I was thrilled beyond measure to find that the Los Angeles Public Library has done the world a great service and presented two galleries, from a photo exhibition curated by none other than Diane Keaton, of pictures from the morgue of the defunct Los Angeles Herald Express.

In their way, the images are perfect, and all the more so in being accompanied by what seems to be the original captions, deadpan and assuming that the reader fully understands fully the context, the moment's gossip (or horror) that made having that photo taken and run in the newspaper necessary.

Since now, in fact, we don't, mostly, they are like postcards from some alternate universe.

July 1949 - "Lady in Gold Gives Up in Shooting": Beverly Bennett, 25, assertedly told police: “I asked him for money. When he refused I shot him.” Makes sense to me. More sense than a gold lamé day dress in July, that's for sure. That's what 25 used to look like.

March 26, 1948, Friday. "Mike Page, arrested on drunk charges, had on women's clothes in West L.A. jail. Got skinned knees in trying to escape police." I can't imagine the sequence of events that inspired Mike to get drunk, don a shirtwaist and flats, and end up evading capture on his knees. Actually, I can, but I'd rather not talk about it. That was years ago.

Nope, not another drag arrest, believe it or not. From 1948, this is Mrs. Melba Karnes, captioned simply "Cult member." It was apparently a cult that entailed dressing like Barbara Stanwyck in "Double Indemnity." Memory is vague, but I think I did a stint in that particular sect 'round about 1986.

From 1949: "Policewoman Audre Davis gave false testimony at the trail of ex-madam Brenda Allen." This is a policewoman? Since when do they wear peplums?

And here's the Madam that she lied about: "Brenda Allen sat calmly in court as she faced superior Judge William R. McKay, who had sought to bring Brenda and policewoman Audre Davis "face-to-face and eye-to-eye" before he would rule on a plea to "spring" Brenda from jail on the ground Miss Davis had given false testimony at the ex-madam's trail. Audre failed to show up."

How do you suppose they got acquainted, lady cop and madam? And what did Brenda's lies entail? We'll never know.

It was a time when cops and procurers looked like film stars. Almost as much as film stars did, it turns out, even the biggest Film Stars of them all:

Joan is getting her divorce from Philip Terry. It's like an outtake from "Mildred Pierce," but with better hats.

The riches are endless; these treasures barely scratch the surface ("Brink Children Watch Mommy Go to Jail"; the glory that is Mrs. Letta Briggs; the strange tale of Gladys Grady, found wearing marines' trousers). Discover for yourself.

I can't leave you, though, without one final, haunting image:

"Layton Clark, released from Whittier in 1939, showing how he claimed he had to eat off the floor while other boys watched."

If that doesn't give you something to think about for the next few days and nights, you're even more jaded than I thought.


  1. Darling, if I wasn't your slave before, I am now. These are genius. And so are you.

    I do love that hat.

  2. I just checked out the full gallery...I don't wish to make light of the subject, but what's with the 9-time male rape victim? Seems remarkably composed!

  3. Geez - him I missed! I'll have to head over and have another look...