Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Noir Fact Checker

Before I moved out of a house and on to my boat I had to do something with all the books I had. The really old ones went into boxes and storage, some were sold at our garage sale, some went on Craiglist. Space is limited on my sailboat and if I continued to sail it no more than a few books could be kept at anyone time. The marina here has a lounge and a book lending library so I started using it and then got a library card for Los Angeles then later a South Pasadena card .

When I first started this blog a few years back I added each book read on the sideboard. After leaving a secure DSL connection at the old  house and using  the unreliable WIFI connection from my boat made blogging difficult. To keep recording what I had read I started using Goodreads.

My spelling when writing is pretty poor but I can spot an error when  reading. Many years past I installed a computer typesetting system at Pacific Press in Vancouver. Part of the testing required that I check the spelling of the output tapes to make sure nothing was being lost in the translation. This meant checking the spelling of each classified ads placed in two of the dailies. The interface we designed was attached to the SAC channel on an IBM 1130.

It is not uncommon to find spelling errors in today's books even with all the spellcheckers available and editors don't seem to pay enough attention to fact checking in storytelling.

I started reading a lot of detective fiction as it was in ample supply in the marina lending library. Living on a boat in San Pedro, California and being born in Los Angeles I am aware of the geography here and have some knowledge of boats and tides.  Authors describing the tides and the warm winds here are often in error in many writings. I switched from reading the new book section of the local libraries and started Googling LA detective books. The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy was noted but it never seemed to be on the shelf then one day recently I found it on the shelf and started to read it.  At one time I was a daily reader of the Los Angeles Times and Jack Smith's column. Smith mentioned the Dahlia several times in his column but at that time the mighty search engines of the internet didn't exist butt today this information about Smith is easy to get:
 It was as a rewrite man for the Daily News in 1947 that Smith had what he later called "perhaps my finest hour as a newspaperman": his stories on the infamous Elizabeth Short murder case.
The police beat reporter phoned in the bulletin to Smith, who recounted the moment this way in his book Jack Smith's L.A.: "Within the minute I had written what may have been the first sentence ever written on the Black Dahlia case. I can't remember it word for word, but my lead went pretty much like this: 'The nude body of a young woman, neatly cut in two at the waist, was found early today on a vacant lot near Crenshaw and Exposition Boulevards.'" His editor added one adjective, making Short "a beautiful young woman."
"Our city editor, of course, no more knew what the unfortunate young woman had looked like than I did," Smith later wrote. "But the lesson was clear. On the Daily News, at least, all young women whose nude bodies were found in two pieces on vacant lots were beautiful. I never forgot it."
Smith also believed that he was the first to name Short "the Black Dahlia" in print. After a Daily News reporter learned that Short had frequented a certain Long Beach pharmacy, Smith phoned and spoke to the pharmacist, who said the kids at the soda fountain called her the Black Dahlia "on account of the way she wore her hair." But Smith acknowledged that Herald-Express reporter Bevo Means had also been credited with getting the name into print firs.
When I start to read a book I don't review it first or Google the author but check the cover printing, the publication date and scan the copy. Sometime I get a dud and sometimes strike gold. When I am reading and something strikes me as unusual it isn't a reference book that triggers me but it is my own personal memory. Can't remember the page in The Black Dahlia that mentions  Lick Pier in Venice but it set off my alarm. I had always thought it was in Ocean Park but I was wrong and Ellroy was correct. As kids we used to play on the Ocean Park Pier and never realized that the southern part of the pier was actually in Venice. Later when I started going to college I worked at POP as a cadet on the Flight to Mars ride.

Pages 44 and 52 seems to disagree about the rink on Van Ness. The tossed-up cats are being dropped off at the cemeteries and the roller rink "and the Hollywood roller rinks open to shines on Thursday". Both the Hollywood Forever Funeral home and the Polar Palace are located on North Van Ness. Bucky follows a suspect into the Polar Palace, a ice skating rink. The bad guy is captured in the basement men's bathroom. We used to skate at the Polar Palace on Sunday afternoon and I do not recall any bathroom basement. Climbing up and down stairs while wearing ice skates seem out of the question. 

Page 23, "KMPC disk jockey" KPMC was a popular AM radio station that we listened to early in the morning and late at night. We listened to the "Lucky Lager Dance Time" and it signed off at midnight with the Piped Piper's Dream.

Page 45, "39 La Salle sedan,...of 1349 Alta Loma Vista in South Pasadena" The Spanish words "alta",  "Loma", and "Vista" are quite common in the SG Valley. That name combination does not appear to be valid for the City of South Pasadena. Why would I notice that?: I ride my bicycle all over South Pasadena. Using a La Salle transmission in a hot rod in the fifties and sixties was a popular conversion.

Kay, Lee and Bucky like to go ballroom dancing and on page 55 "the Malibu Rendezvou" is mentioned then on page 57 they drive to Balboa Island to "catch Stan Kenton's band. Actually the Rendezvou Ballroom is in Newport Beach by the Balboa pier. Balboa Island is an island and the Ballroom was located on the ocean front beach. (Been there, done that). Malibu in 1947 had the pier and a claming area above where the surf spot is today. My parents used to go claming there. My father also had a boat in Newport about that time too.

Sorry that my pages are not ordered correctly.

 On Page 213 Bevo Means gets mentioned as the reporter and that is not fiction as he like Jack Smith covered the story.

There are two Army Camps mentioned in the book. Betty works at the PX at Camp Cooke by Santa Barbara.  The other mention is Camp MacArthur. When I am on my boat I can hear the loudspeakers at Fort MacArthur and the retreat at 4:30 each afternoon. On page 178, "I will be on the next transport flight out of Camp MacArthur." His intentions is to fly to Fort Dix in New Jersey to question Corporal Joseph Dulange an MP stationed there where he has admitted to the killing. I don't believe Fort MacArthur in San Pedro was ever an airfield and Camp MacArthur was a WW1 Army training camp in Waco, Texas. 

Page 216, "I took the coast road eighty miles south to Ensenada" (he is starting in TJ). Before the toll road was added the distance along the coast route was about 100 clicks or around sixty miles. The current toll road is more direct and shorter. I find is often that an author is very detailed in a mileage description and street by street route but has the compass direction is wrong or the distance off. 

Page 220, describes "The Club Satan" in Ensenada and on Page 216 Ensenda is described as "a sea breeze version of TJ catering to a higher class of turista". I would agree with that description but the "Club Satan" has a burro. I have had my picture taken on a burro in TJ when I was a kid but "Donkey Shows" seem to be part of the Urban Legend.

Page 220, "a little Mex was scrutinized incoming patrons while fondling the trigger housing of a tripod BAR"

Page 250, "squadroom dicks pack .45 automatics loaded with un-regulation dum-dums."
A BAR is a Browning Automatic Rifle and a 45 Automatic Pistol is the world’s most respected handgun, and has been designated by many authorities as the finest service pistol design of all time. The Browning 1911 was yet another revolutionary gun by one of the greatest gun designers of all time, John Moses Browning, the founder of today’s Browning Arms Company.

 Dum-Dum Arsenal was a British military facility located near the town of Dum Dum (near Calcutta) in modern West Bengal, India. The arsenal was at the center of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, caused in part by the suspicion of Indian soldiers that the cartridges distributed at the arsenal, which they were expected to bite open, were greased with pig lard (a problem for Muslims) or cow fat (a problem for Hindus).
It was at this arsenal that Captain Neville Bertie-Clay developed the so-called "Dum-dum bullet" (Mark IV cartridge), an exposed-nose bullet designed to mushroom in flesh. This was the first expanding bullet for military use, later banned from use in warfare by the Hague Convention.

Page 275, "there would be a record with Pacific Coast Bell". One interesting thing about Southern California is that two separate telephone providers connected the callers, one was Pacific Telephone and the other was General Telephone which was headquartered in Santa Monica. Various Central Offices were scattered across Los Angeles. Our home phone number in Santa Monica was ExBrook 43392 and we were General customers. Malibu was probably General and the Biltmore Hotel was likely  Pacific. Tracing payphone records was possible in 1947  but at a  time before computers technology allowed quick record searches obtaining the information would have likely take a long time.
Page 272, "I went out to the hall, got the Hughes Security number"....."I hung up and lead footed it to Santa Monica" This is in reference to Hughes Aircraft and Howard Hughes's connection with the movie business. "a Quonset hut at the end of long string of aircraft hangars."  In Santa Monica you would find aircraft hangars at Clover Field Airport where the Douglas Aircraft was located. Hughes Aircraft and their private airfield was located in Culver City.
Page 295, "only desolation accompanied by Santa Ana winds blowing down from the Hollywood hills." Lacking the time and space to cover the subject of these infamous winds that occur here in short I say that most television weathermen don't understand them and few locals really do but it is quite common in Los Angeles Noir to metion the winds.

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