Friday, December 9, 2016

The First Lady of Modern Music: Boyle Heights' Hadda Brooks, Part 4

Introduction:  This concludes the four-part post on pianist/singer Hadda Brooks by Rudy Martinez, a member of the advisory board for the Boyle Heights Historical Society.  Rudy did a great deal of research and put together an interesting and informative history of a significant local musical figure.  We hope you've enjoyed reading this history of a remarkable woman, who was raised and lived for a long time in Boyle Heights.

Having left Modern Records, the Los Angeles-based label she put on the musical map, Hadda Brooks accepted, in late 1950, an offer to host a local weekly 15-minute television show (these were the norm in the early days of the medium) for 26 weeks. Beginning in the fall (the earliest listing found in the Los Angeles Times was on November 19), The Hadda Brooks Show aired live on Sunday nights from 9:15pm – 9:30pm on KLAC (now KCOP) Channel 13. 

Hadda would simply sing a few popular standards and chat between numbers during her time on the air. The show ran for its contractually obligated half a year, but the station might have rebroadcast some of the shows, as it continuously appeared in the Times television listings up to September 6, 1951. 

It should be noted here that Hazel Scott, an African American jazz singer and pianist is rightfully recognized as the first African American to host a television show. The Hazel Scott Show aired during the summer of 1950 in the east coast, but was canceled after two months. This would make the Hadda Brooks Show television’s longest running show hosted by an African American until 1956 when NBC debuted The Nat King Cole Show

Hadda Brooks with a group including the legendary singer Frank Sinatra, far right, and actor Red Skelton, far left.  From the Walter L. Gordon Collection, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.
The April 1951 issue of Ebony, the monthly African American magazine, published an informative article on Hadda's show, and reported it was re-broadcast in San Francisco as a half-hour show. Unfortunately, no kinescopes or tapes of The Hadda Brooks Show are known to have survived, and beyond the San Francisco reference in the Ebony article, no listings or other references for her show in that area can be found.   

Regarding her recording career, Hadda attempted a last shot at the R&B market in early 1952, when she signed with Columbia's Okeh Records (Okeh was formed in the 1920s as a "race" label marketed towards blacks).  Her first work under the contract was to record an interesting set of songs, such as a version of Johnny Ace's “My Song” and a rollicking, call-and-response number she wrote called “Jump Back Honey,” which ended up being covered by a number of other artists. But with the recordings again failing to make an impact on the charts, Hadda soon left the label. 

She then joined the Harlem Globetrotters during their first European tour in 1952 as part of the half-time entertainment program, giving Hadda the opportunity to perform in front of large and appreciative crowds all across Europe. Among her fondest memories was performing to thousands in a bullring in Spain and having an audience with Pope Pius XII at the Vatican.   Hadda occasionally continued as part of the Harlem Globetrotters entertainment revue for a year or so when they returned to the United States.  

In addition, she continued performing on her own in different venues around the country, including a return to the Apollo Theater in 1953. By this time, Hadda had pretty much stopped swinging, rocking, or ridin' the boogie. Making a final course correction toward jazz and pop, she started specializing in torch songs and romantic standards, increasingly singing to white audiences as she performed mostly in supper clubs and cabarets.  

A newspaper advertisement for the famed Apollo Theatre in Harlem, New York, for the week of October 30 through November 6, 1953.  Hadda had second billing below the great jazz tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons.  From
Surprisingly, she teamed-up with the Biharis again in early 1956 to record two albums as part of their budget line on their new Crown label. One was a collaboration with one of her musical heroes, legendary boogie pianist, Pete Johnson, and the other, released in 1957, was the balled-oriented album, Femme Fatale. Though it's now regarded as one of her best recordings, it was generally neglected by the public when it was released. By late 1956, Hadda left Modern Records for good. On Christmas Day, she married newspaper columnist Dan Brown in Las Vegas before starting a short stint at the Dunes Hotel, but they divorced before the end of 1957. 

The continuous lack of support for Hadda by the Biharis was reflected in a music column in the city's African American newspaper, the Los Angeles Sentinel, on June 6, 1957: 
Hadda has been one of those real good singers who never got that big break. One thing she's lacked is that “push” we've talked so often from record companies. I only came across this album thanks to her hard working hubby, ex-newsman, Don Brown.
 The Sentinel columnist gave Femme Fatale a “Superior Rating.”

In 1957, Hadda’s father, John Hopgood passed away and was buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights next to his mother. At the time, Hadda's mother Goldie, her sister Kathryn, and her own family still lived at the family property in Boyle Heights. 

However, playing to smaller audiences by the late 1950s, Hadda began to spend more time away from Los Angeles. She spent a good part of 1958 touring Europe, and, by 1959, was residing in Hawaii, even performing at its historic 1959 induction ceremony as the 50th state. But, during most of the 1960s Hadda lived primarily in Australia. She was immediately popular with audiences "down under", as the Los Angeles Sentinel reported on November 10, 1960.  The paper noted that Hadda was already settled in as the nightly house attraction at the 700-seat night club, The Embers, as well as again becoming a mainstay on television, doing five shows per week for GTV-Channel 9 in Melbourne. She continued, however, to make occasional trips back to Los Angeles to visit her family in Boyle Heights and perform at various events such as a local jazz & blues fest in 1965, where she shared the bill with a young Billy Preston. But, by 1969, Hadda was back living and performing in California.

This stunning photo of Hadda appeared in the September 29, 1960 issue of The Age, a newspaper in Melbourne, Australia as promotional material for her GTV-9 television show and appearances at The Embers nightclub.
 In 1971 she teamed with a small indie label called Rob Ray and recorded an album titled, “Hadda,” with the musical arrangements handled by Frank Sinatra’s long-time guitarist, Al Viola. The album, though, was not widely distributed and has never been reissued. But it had not gone entirely unnoticed that Hadda was still singing in top form. In a Times review on December 3, 1971, the late Leonard Feather, one of the country's most esteemed writers on jazz music, covered Hadda's performance at the Purple Lion in Beverly Hills: 
Despite the lack of a rhythm section and propinquity of talkative diners, she was able to weave some sort of a spell with her deep, resonant tones, jazz-rooted phrasing and intelligent choice of ballads. Hadda Brooks is an attractive link to a half-remembered phase in intimate cabaret singing.
Frustrated, however, by a new generation of mostly noisy and inattentive patrons, Hadda stopped performing in 1972 and quietly retired to her Boyle Heights home. By this time, Boyle Heights was no longer as ethnically and racially diverse as when she was an adolescent. By then, the community became predominately a Mexican American neighborhood. But as Hadda, one of the few African Americans remaining in Boyle Heights, commented in the late 1980s, “it's still Boyle Heights to me.” 

In 1987, the Los Angeles City Directory listed her as residing at 3018 Boulder Street, located about a block-and-a-half southwest from the Malabar Street home of her childhood. The Boulder Street home may have also been owned by her family, as well. Though Hadda never had children, she enjoyed the company of her extended family. For example, the August 10, 1972 edition of the Sentinel published a brief article on the celebration of her mother Goldie's 83rd birthday at the Malabar Street home of Hadda's sister Kathryn.  

Though long retired, Hadda received a phone call in 1987 from talent agent Alan Eichler, who recently started to track down and even coax back on stage new clients consisting of “long-forgotten” or retired nightclub chanteuses like Ruth Brown and Anita O' Day. Timing again favored Hadda, as Los Angeles was just then beginning to experience the resurgence of a cabaret scene among a new generation of patrons. Her first gig in sixteen years, at Periono's Restaurant in Beverly Hills, garnered her a rave review in the April 23, 1987 issue of the Times. Hadda was now “unretired” and newly discovered by a younger demographic that kept her busy performing in nightclubs, music festivals and occasional television appearances around the country for years to come.

The cover for Hadda's album, Romance in the Dark. The photo is a still from the film In a Lonely Place (1950), starring Humphrey Bogart, who is second from the left.  Co-star Gloria Grahame is next to Bogart.
It was only a matter of time before new music, films and awards would follow. In February 1993, Hadda was honored at a star-studded Hollywood ceremony with the Pioneer Award, accompanied by a $15,000 grant, by the Washington, D.C.-based Rhythm and Blues Foundation.  The foundation was formed in 1987 as a non-profit artist assistance organization in response to the fact that many pioneering black artists from the early days of R&B and soul never received royalties for the songs they composed and were experiencing financial hardships late in life.  One notable example was B.B. King, who went unpaid for the material he wrote and recorded for Modern Records. Presenting Hadda the award, singer Bonnie Raitt called her “an American treasure.” 

Another career highlight for Hadda came in August 1994 when she participated in a performance and discussion event at the Los Angeles Central Library's Mark Taper Auditorium with another talented R&B singer, Linda Hopkins. Writing about Hadda's portion of the show, the Sentinel reported, “the crowd was ecstatic and gave her repeated standing ovations.”

In 1995, a half-century after she released her first record and now in the digital era of compact discs, Hadda released a new album for the Virgin label titled, Time Was When.  This was followed later that year by the contribution of her original "LA Christmas Blues" on a holiday anthology, Even Santa Gets the Blues. The next year Virgin released That’s My Desire, a 25-track retrospective of her recordings for Modern during the 1940s and 1950s.

In 1996 Hadda celebrated her 80th birthday at Johnny Depp's Viper Room on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, performing two full shows. Moreover, she was not entirely done with films. In 1995 came the release of the Sean Penn-directed film, The Crossing Guard, starring Jack Nicholson and which featured Hadda in a brief cameo as (no surprise here) a singing, piano player in a cafe. In the next few years she appeared in small roles in two more movies, The Thirteenth Floor (1999), and John John in the Sky (2001). Hadda was also the subject of the documentary Hadda Brooks: Queen of the Boogie made by filmmakers Austin Young and Barry Pett. The film was screened locally at the 2007 Silver Lake Film Festival, but, as far as can be determined, it has yet to be commercially released or made available on DVD.  

In 1996, feeling her old neighborhood was less safe and perhaps not the best place for an 80-year-old who played late-night gigs, Hadda left Boyle Heights and moved to a large assisted-living apartment in Hollywood on Franklin Avenue (a friend and neighbor was singer Anita O’ Day). In the meantime, with help from her manager, she still performed locally at some of the city’s trendiest nightclubs.  She also gave frequent magazine and television interviews and was an honoree at the LA Pride parade in West Hollywood. Locally, Los Angeles Magazine proclaimed that Hadda had “once again cast her spell on Los Angeles.”  She also transfixed New York City, earning a rave review in the July 2001 Village Voice for an appearance at the noted jazz venue, Joe's Pub.

Hadda on the far right at the 1987 Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Awards, of which she was a recipient.  Presenter and singer Bonnie Raitt is to Hadda's left and musician Billy Vera is between them in the back.  From Vera's Facebook page.
Meanwhile, the Modern Music Company was essentially one label, the Kent imprint, by the time it ceased operations around 1980. From the time this trailblazing record label released its very first record in 1945 until it went out of business, it had amassed one of largest and most important music catalogs of any label in the post-war era, which included a considerable amount of R&B, blues, doo-wop, soul, and even some early rockabilly classics. 

In 1995, Ace Records, a large European label specializing in reissues, purchased the catalog of Modern Music and all of its subsidiary labels.  Ace even managed to find some of Hadda’s music that was thought to be lost decades ago, such as her heartbreaking rendition of "Why Did You Say We’re Through", which was on the reverse of an old Smokey Hogg acetate.

As well as reissuing much of the Modern Music archives in handsome packaging, which often included generous photos and informative essays on the artists, Ace's arrangements made it possible to pay artists royalties, including to Hadda Brooks. By the late Nineties, Hadda Brooks, the first lady of Modern Music, finally began to receive regular royalty payments for the music she recorded. 

The last nightclub engagement for Hadda Brooks was in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles in September 2002.   Just two months later, on November 21, after undergoing open-heart surgery, Hadda passed away at age 86 at White Memorial Hospital in Boyle Heights.  The hospital is only two miles from the home where she was born and lived for a large part of her life. Hadda was cremated and her ashes were scattered.  

Hadda Brooks' music, however, lives on and, hopefully, generations to come will enjoy a body work that demonstrates that she made a significant contribution to the development and production of a uniquely American music.

To see Hadda on film, check out this link to 10-minute 1948 movie featuring her called Boogie Woogie Blues.  Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the video, which was uploaded from the Hamon Arts Library of the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The First Lady of Modern Music: Boyle Heights' Hadda Brooks, Part 3

Introduction:  Boyle Heights Historical Society Advisory Board member Rudy Martinez is the author of this fascinating multi-part post on pianist/singer Hadda Brooks, who lived in Boyle Heights much of her life.  We pick up the story with Hadda becoming a recognized local performer on the new Modern Music record label.

Hadda Brooks, who was from Boyle Heights, signed to the new Los Angeles-based record label, Modern Records, and her "Swinging the Boogie" was a big regional hit.  The label quickly bestowed Hadda with the modest title, “Hadda Brooks – Queen of the Boogie.” 

An advertisement for Modern Music Distributing Company in 1945 touting Hadda Brooks as "Queen of the Boogie Woogie."  From the website
In quick succession other crowd-pleasing hits followed such as, “Rockin the Boogie,”  “Riding the Boogie,” and “Bully Wully Boggie.” As label chief Jules Bihari later put it, “the first disc was a hit, and we were in the record business.” Right after Hadda's first hit, the Biharis hired a young man named Lester Sill to assist with sales, but he eventually worked his way up to produce many of Hadda's Modern recordings; in 1961 he and music producer Phil Spector would form the Philles Records label.   

In the first two years of Modern Records’ existence, the Biharis recorded a number of other talented artists, but Hadda's output still made up a third of its releases. She was sometimes backed by a small talented trio, and on at least two recordings by the uncredited Count Basie Orchestra. Using her versatility, Modern Music showcased some of her classical training with a standard classical piece recorded for one side and a reworked “boogie version” on the other, such as “Humoresque Boogie.” Over the next few years she would occasionally play on recording sessions by other label artists. For example, Hadda soloed on Texas bluesman Smokey Hogg's seminal blues hit, “(Good Morning) Little Schoolgirl.” 

The 1946 "album" titled Hadda Brooks, Queen of the Boogie and featuring three 78-rpm discs, an unusual format of the time, especially for a black artist.  Photo by Rudy Martinez.
Though she visited a number of clubs, Hadda was never a performing fixture of the Central Avenue scene, which was fine with her father.  She told an interviewer for the Central Avenue Oral History Project:
When I went into show business, my father almost disinherited me. He thought I was working on Central Avenue. My father had a freaking fit. My daddy sort of calmed down and he came to accept what was going on. 
In 1989 she told the New York Times: 
When I first went to Central Avenue, it was really exciting. At that time, I was just getting away from home, and the whole atmosphere excited me. I was able to go see everybody without having to report back home.   
In mid-1946, Modern Music ambitiously issued its first “album” of 78-rpm discs. Simply titled, Hadda Brooks, Queen of the Boogie, it was a collection of three discs inside a flip-through album with her on the cover. The packaging wasn't unique in the record industry, but it was usually only distributed by the majors for established white artists. 

The inside of the gatefold of the Hadda Brooks album.  Photo by Rudy Martinez.
Hadda even made a promotional in-store appearance at the Good Housekeeping Shop in Van Nuys in June 1946. Like her previous releases, the album was a big seller for Modern Music. But, more significantly, the release had the distinction of very possibly making her the first black artist to release an album of 78s before the introduction of the long- playing (LP) format in 1948. 

Around the same time as her album release, Hadda was attending a Lionel Hampton show at the Million Dollar Theater in downtown Los Angeles when he invited her on stage. Though she'd been recording for almost a year, she had not yet performed for a live audience. But playing with full confidence, the young and talented piano-playing sensation was an instant hit.

A week later Hadda was hired to perform in a series of shows with Charlie Barnet and His Orchestra at the same venue, usually playing two obligatory boogie tunes per show. After a matinee show in late 1946, Barnet strongly suggested she sing a song. Hadda replied she wasn't confident about her singing ability, but would give it a try. She rushed over to a tiny rehearsal room the Biharis had down in Little Tokyo to work on a number. During that evening's performance she sang “You Won’t Let Me Go,” and according to Hadda, “the audience went wild!”

Hadda received second billing beneath bop superstar, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, at the New Million Dollar Theatre in Los Angeles, 1947.  From the Austin Young and Barry Pett Collection.
That performance altered the direction of her career. In a short while, the "Queen of the Boogie" transformed into one of the most alluring and unique singers of her time. In early 1947, Hadda recorded her R&B hit and signature song, “That's My Desire.” A few months later, Mercury Records released white crooner Frankie Laine's version of the tune and it shot to number one in the broader pop market charts, making his rendition the more commonly-known today. Nevertheless, by 1947, Hadda was established as one of the most talented new singers around. Later that year, she went on an eight-month cross-country tour with Count Basie and Artie Shaw, which included some east coast dates and a performance at Harlem's famed Apollo Theater.

With her talent, beauty, and air of sophistication, Hadda, was a natural for films and occasional fan-generated publicity. Over the next several years, she made cameos in a number of movies, such as the 10-minute short film, Boogie-Woogie Blues (1947), the all-black feature film musical, The Joint is Jumpin' (1948), Out of the Blue (1946) (with Hadda singing the title song), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) starring Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner, and In a Lonely Place (1948) with Humphrey Bogart.  She got the job in the latter when she was recommended for an audition by her friend Benny Goodman and beat-out Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald!  The cameos all consisted of Hadda performing as a piano-playing lounge singer. In addition, in 1947, Hadda was chosen by readers of the black-owned Los Angeles newspaper, The Sentinel, as one of the “10 Best Dressed Ladies” in the city.

Meanwhile, the grosses from Hadda's popular recordings were still contributing significantly to the growth of Modern Music. In 1947 the Biharis relocated their operation from Little Tokyo to the Hollywood area. Their operations included a new and larger pressing plant, which is believed to have been the first modern, self-sufficient independent record pressing plant in the United States.      

As busy as Hadda was during the late Forties, she continued to maintain her connection to Boyle Heights. She volunteered as the club adviser for a Boyle Heights social and charitable group made up of black women from the area. Called The Social Heighters Club of Boyle Heights, it was formed in October 1947 according to the newspaper, The Sentinel.

Hadda with the famed singer and bandleader Cab Calloway, 1945.  From the Los Angeles Public Library Digital Photograph Collection.
As Hadda evolved from Boogie-Woogie Queen to a primarily sultry R&B singer, the focus of Modern Records also changed. Joe Bihari began making trips to the south to find new artists to record. By 1952 he bought the license to recording masters from Sam Phillips, head of Sun Studios in Memphis (at the time, Sun was strictly a recording facility; they licensed their recordings to record labels.) 

Joe soon had an assistant scout accompanying him on these trips, a 21-year old musician from Mississippi named Ike Turner. In 1953 Joe and Ike recorded a newly-signed little-known blues singer and guitarist named B. B. King for Modern's new RPM label. The song was “Three O’Clock Blues,” and, as a #1 record, it was King’s first breakout hit making him Modern's biggest recording star throughout the decade. The Biharis would continue to find and record such artists as Lowell Fulson and Jesse Belvin, who scored big with his signature hit, “Good Night My Love.” Tragically, Belvin died at the age of 27 in 1960, and is interred at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights.

Hadda Brooks was one of the most prolific recording artists between 1945 – 1949. Modern Music eventually released about sixty of Hadda’s recordings, but she probably recorded over one hundred. Before a second nationwide recording strike hit on New Years Day in 1948, Jules Bihari required Hadda and a few other Modern artists to go into a studio to record a batch of songs every day during the last week of December 1947 so that they could release these during the recording ban. Since the strike lasted less then a year, most of these rushed recordings were never officially issued.

Hadda's newfound musical style ran counter to much of the kind of music the Biharis were recording by the early 1950s. By then, the brothers created several subsidiary labels like RPM, Flair, and Kent to market music that favored an amplified blues sound or a more sax-driven R&B style (the 1953 Chuck Higgins tune, “Boyle Heights,” comes to mind), plus many of the lyrics to the songs were racier or more overtly sexual. 

Hadda on the left with actress Dorothy Dandridge, right, late 1940s.  From the Walter L. Gordon Collection, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.
In addition, unlike Hadda’s comfortable middle-class Boyle Heights upbringing, with her genteel-mannered parents and classical music training, many of the new emerging black recording artists had grown-up with experiences of blatant racism and grinding poverty.  Their more robust sound was what the Biharis focused on and this just was not a natural fit for Hadda's music.

Disappointed by the lack of support, Hadda left the now newly-renamed Modern Records Company in 1950. An article in the September 3, 1949 issue of Billboard reported that she sued Modern Records for back royalties, as well as unfair charges against her earnings for disc pressing production. The Biharis countered by declaring all their business practices were within accepted industry standards and approved by the American Federation of Musicians. Modern's in-house accountant also concluded all royalties and fees owed to Hadda had been paid. Nothing else about the lawsuit was published, so its outcome is unknown. 

In 1994, Hadda told the interviewer for the Central Avenue Oral History Project that she never signed a contract, or received formal royalty payments for her compositions – though the label gave her sole credit. She was given a weekly cash “allowance,” that was not always forthcoming on a regular basis and, at times, she had to directly initiate a request for money from the company's finance manager. However, Hadda did describe the Biharis as generous, and she always had money to pay for her expenses. Presumably this financial arraignment immediately stopped when she left the label, even though Modern Records occasionally released recordings from her back catalog long after she left.

The fourth and final post on the remarkable life and career of Hadda Brooks follows her journey from leaving Modern Records, including a stint on early local television, her move to and work in Australia, and her later years, which brought some belated recognition for her many talents.  Check back for the conclusion to Rudy's excellent post.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The First Lady of Modern Music: Boyle Heights' Hadda Brooks, Part 2

Introduction:  Boyle Heights Historical Society Advisory Board member Rudy Martinez is the author of this fascinating multi-part post on pianist/singer Hadda Brooks, who lived in Boyle Heights much of her life.  We pick up the story with Hadda completing her education and embarking on her budding musical career.

Hadda Brooks, who was raised in Boyle Heights, attended Los Angeles Polytechnic High.  After working with a Lincoln Heights-based teacher, Florence Bruni, she found at Poly High another instructor she much admired named Frank L. Anderson, who taught her to play a four-manual organ. Hadda preferred operating the pedals with her bare feet, though she never developed an affinity for the instrument. Nonetheless, she was proficient enough to perform a brief organ solo at her graduation. While in high school, she also joined a girls club called the Kohinoors, of which she was appointed Sergeant at Arms. The club occasionally hosted Sunday afternoon tea dances at the Dunbar Hotel, a famed location for black jazz performers on Central Avenue in South-Central Los Angeles.

A photo of Hadda Brooks from her obituary in the Los Angeles Times, 23 November 2002.

After high school Hadda attended Chapman College, which was then located on Vermont Avenue (the campus relocated to Orange in the 1950s). Dissatisfied with the music curriculum, she left after a year and went across the street to Los Angeles City College. Her stay at LACC was also brief but, apparently, memorable.  

Recalling past events at the college, a columnist in the November 27, 1947 Los Angeles Sentinel, wrote, 
Hattie Hopgood, now Hadda Brooks, was our first lady of swing. Her piano playing was the talk of the campus. Hadda was instrumental in starting the first jam session known as the Green Room jump session. It took the campus by storm.
 Around 1940 Hadda decided to attend Northwestern University in Illinois to study music. However, this college experience was also cut short; after one year, she left, permanently ending her aspirations for higher education. 

In 1941, Hadda attended a Harlem Globetrotters game and met Earl “Shug” Morrison, a member of the famed barnstorming basketball team. After a brief courtship, and despite her parents’ objections (her father didn't believe basketball was a serious occupation for a young man), they were married. The team occasionally attended parties at the home of renowned dance instructor Willie Covan, allowing Hadda to get well-acquainted with Covan and the Harlem Globetrotter's owner, Abe Saperstein. Sadly though, one year after they married, Earl Morrison contracted pneumonia and died suddenly. Hadda was devastated and moved back to her family’s Boyle Heights home.

The graves of Hadda Brooks' grandparents Samuel and Hattie Hopgood, who are buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights.  Photos by Rudy Martinez.
Shortly after her husband's death, Hadda took a job playing the piano at the Covan’s dance studio located at 41st Street, across from Jefferson High School. Covan was also the tap dance instructor for MGM Studios and Hadda played the piano as he worked with stars like Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, and Shirley Temple. “The biggest pay I got was about 12 dollars a week,” Hadda later recalled, “and I thought that was like a hundred dollars a day, because I never worked in my life.”

Hadda's recording career with the Modern Music Company began quite unexpectedly in the spring of 1945, but the timing couldn't have been better. With the country entering the postwar years, popular tastes in music were changing from the sounds of the big bands to pop singers and crooners. More significantly, this shift in musical tastes also included the more black-dominated musical forms of jazz, blues, and the nascent sounds of rhythm & blues. 

Hadda not only was one of the key artists in this transition, but was a principle reason for the quick rise of the Modern Music label. Along with the explosive growth of other Los Angeles-based independent labels like Aladdin, Imperial, Specialty, Swing Time, Dolphin's, Combo, and Dootone, this pioneering label would help make Los Angeles the center for the new emerging sounds of West Coast R&B and electric blues, which began the eventual desegregation of American popular music.

Hadda's role in these developments began by a chance meeting. One day she was at a downtown music store looking for sheet music for Franz von Suppe's overture from the light opera, “Poet and Peasant.” When she sat down at a piano and started to briefly play the piece as a boogie-woogie tune, a man approached her and introduced himself as Jules Bihari, and then asked if she could play an entire boogie tune. She said she wasn't sure since it wasn't really the kind of music she regularly played. Bihari explained that he and his two brothers were interested in possibly making records for their jukebox company, and offered her $800 if she could work up an entire tune within a week so he could record it. “If something comes of it, we'll be in business. If not, I've lost 800 dollars,” Hadda recalled him saying.  Hadda said she'd think about it.

This 10 April 1950 aerial photograph shows Malabar Elementary School, which Hadda Brooks attended, at the center and at the far right, next to the dirt lot, was her childhood home.  Found on the Internet Archive website.
In 1944 Saul, Joe, and Jules Bihari, Pennsylvania natives and recent transplants to Los Angeles from Tulsa, Oklahoma, started their jukebox distributorship on San Pedro Street in Little Tokyo. They maintained a string of these devices along bustling Central Avenue in South Los Angeles, which was then a thriving black community. 

But the Biharis had trouble stocking their jukeboxes with the kind of records their customers preferred, which was mostly R&B and blues. There was also a low supply of recording to due to a shortage of shellac which was used to make discs. Then, because of the 1942 – 1944 nationwide recording boycott by the American Federation of Musicians, a number of major labels chose to discontinue their subsidiary labels, which often distributed smaller niche music like “hillbilly music” and “race music.” 

A pivotal moment occurred for the small independent record label scene in Los Angeles in 1944 when a local black army private, Cecil Grant, made a garage-recording of a self-penned ballad titled “I Wonder” for the Bronze Records label. The modest production was a huge hit across the country, primarily with black listeners, who practically overwhelmed the label's tiny pressing plant as it struggled to keep up with the demand. Inspired by this unexpected success, the Biharis decided the only way to deal with the lack of product for their marginally-profitable jukeboxes was to get into the record business themselves. That meant finding someone talented enough to record the kind of music they needed.

A week after meeting Jules Bahiri, Hadda brought him her finished tune, “Swinging the Boogie,” along with a slower song for the B-side, “Just a Little Blusie.” The songs were recorded a few days later, but before the brothers could begin pressing the first 78rpm discs, two crucial marketing ploys had to be completed: first, creating a record label company and second, changing Hattie Hopgood's name to one with more show-biz flair. Thus, in 1945, with one pressing machine in their Little Tokyo storefront, the Modern Music label was created around their maiden recording artist, Hadda Brooks.

The next post picks up the Hadda Brooks story as she becomes a rising star on the local music scene, so check back soon for part three.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The First Lady of Modern Music: Boyle Heights' Hadda Brooks, Part 1

Introduction:  Boyle Heights Historical Society Advisory Board member Rudy Martinez returns with another great post on the history of the community--this one relating to the pianist Hadda Brooks. The post will be presented in several parts, starting with an introduction to Brooks' early life in Boyle Heights.

In April 1945 the three enterprising Bihari brothers took a gamble and formed a small independent music label near downtown Los Angeles after a classically trained pianist from Boyle Heights agreed to record the company’s very first record. None of the siblings had experience running a record label, and the young and attractive African American woman they hired was an unknown who had never been in a recording studio. But the talent of their gifted new artist quickly gave the fledgling label, the Modern Music Company, an impressive start. And those first recordings would also establish Modern Music's inaugural artist, Hadda Brooks, as a rising new star.

Hadda Brooks, at age 15 in 1931 and is courtesy of Ace Records.
Formed several years even before black music mainstays Chess Records in Chicago, and Atlantic Records in New York, Modern Music would emerge as a top-selling blues and R&B powerhouse in the postwar era, introducing such artists as B. B. King, Etta James, Ike and Tina Turner, Howlin' Wolf, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Elmore James, Jesse Belvin, and even jazz artists Teddy Edwards and Howard McGhee, among others.

The multi-talented Hadda Brooks would enjoy a long and well-traveled career, as well as setting several little-known but significant landmarks for African American entertainers. Surprisingly, though she played to audiences around the world, she was only marginally known in her hometown of Los Angeles for most of her career. And, for most of her life, she and members of her family would continue to call Boyle Heights their home, dating to almost ten years before she was born. 

Hadda's paternal grandfather, Samuel Alexander Hopgood, was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1857, and his wife Hattie was born in Hamilton County in Tennessee in 1852.  Since Hadda's grandparents were born in the pre-Civil War era, they were very likely born into slavery.  They were married in 1882 in Fulton, Georgia and arrived in Boyle Heights around 1907. In the 1910 federal census, Samuel Hopgood is listed as owner of a house on 3168 Malabar Street.  

It was Samuel who encouraged his son John Marsalis Hopgood (born in Atlanta in 1883) and his wife, Goldie Wright Hopgood (a native of Chattanooga, Tennessee, where she was born in 1889) –  Hadda’s parents – to move out to California. They joined Samuel and Hattie on Malabar Street around 1909. Unfortunately, Hattie did not live very long after they arrived in Los Angeles. She passed away in 1913 and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights. When her son John passed away in 1957, burial records confirm he was buried with his mother. However, there was never a separate engraving done for her son, so only Hattie's name appears on the headstone. Her husband Samuel, who never remarried, died in 1944 and is buried alone just a few yards away from his wife and son.

The 1920 federal census listed the Hopgood family, including Hadda as Hattie, at 3156 Malabar Street in Boyle Heights.
Named after her grandmother, Hadda was born Hattie Hopgood, on October 29, 1916. She had one sibling, a younger sister named Kathryn. According to the 1920 census, the Hopgood’s home was now at 3156 Malabar Street. Today, that house, as well as the first Hopgood address at 3168 Malabar, no longer exist. Examining old Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, it appears both homes were razed to make room for the ongoing expansion of Malabar Street Elementary School, which was opened in 1913. By the 1930 census, the Hopgoods are listed as owners of a home at 3136 Malabar Street. This house stands today right next to the school's property line. In 1994 Hadda succinctly described to the UCLA Central Avenue Oral History Project the property boundaries: “Malabar Street Elementary School was the name of the school. We lived right next door to the school. The house was here, the school was there, the fence was there.”

By the standards of their day, and according to Hadda, the Hopgoods were a very comfortable, middle-class Boyle Heights family. In the early 1920s Boyle Heights was largely a Jewish neighborhood, but due to the widespread establishment of restrictive housing covenants, the community was also home to a diverse racial and ethnic population. Hadda fondly recalled the neighborhood's multicultural diversity to the interviewer for the UCLA Central Avenue Oral Project:
There was no trouble. We had a nice childhood life. I had Jewish and Mexican friends and we used to go up to Brooklyn Avenue, to Canter Brothers deli and get a pastrami [sandwich]. I used to go to all those shops. There was a swimming pool over on Evergreen Avenue and Fourth Street. Twenty-five cents for a towel. We had a ball. I've got news for you. We never locked our doors. Nobody would bother you. When was I was going to school, I went with all the little Jewish kids, Mexican kids, and black kids. We'd all go to school together. We'd all meet at the top of the hill up there and we'd all walk to Belvedere Jr. High.”

Hadda and her sister Kathryn, probably in the 1940s.  Courtesy of the Austin Young/Barry Pett photo collection.  Young and Pett produced a documentary on Hadda, Queen of the Boogie.
While Hadda was a student at Malabar Street Elementary School, her mother Goldie would invite all the teachers from the elementary school to the Hopgood home for fund-raising lunches for the family's church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church. “My mother would fix the luncheon, and all the teachers would come to eat. They loved it,” Hadda recalled.

Hadda's mother, a housewife for most of her life, had a significant impact on the lives of many of her Boyle Heights neighbors. Goldie Hopgood was known in the community as a knowledgeable lay practitioner in medicine and healing, often treating many of her sick and ailing neighbors. Articles about Hadda often describe her mother as “a doctor,” but even Hadda was unclear where her mother acquired her knowledge or even the full extent of it. As Hadda explained to the UCLA oral history project interviewer, “They called on my mother every time they got sick. She had something to do with medicine. And she had a lot of medicine. Anytime anybody got sick, they'd come to my mother. She saved a lot of lives.”

This detail from a 1920 Sanborn Fire Insurance Company map shows the the Hapgood home on Malabar Street to the left of Malabar Elementary School.
Her father was strict and conservative but supportive. John Hopgood worked for many years for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department as an elevator operator at the Hall of Justice building in downtown Los Angeles. In his spare time, he enjoyed going to baseball games at the long-gone Wrigley Field Stadium in South Los Angeles, or listening with his father to Enrico Caruso and other opera singers on the family's standup Victrola on Sunday afternoons.

When four-year old Hadda expressed interest in playing the piano, her family purchased a baby grand and hired a teacher from nearby Lincoln Heights named Florence Bruni. Patient and soft-spoken, Bruni would be Hadda's instructor for the next twenty years. She focused her lessons primarily on classical music and even took Hadda occasionally to concerts at the Philharmonic Auditorium at 5th and Olive Streets (the building was demolished in 1985). Rarely playing anything but classical music, Hadda recalled that one day at home she began to play and sing the words to the torch song, “Body and Soul.” Her father was so incensed by the suggestive lyrics, he forbid her to ever sing such music in the house again. Hadda took lessons until 1940 from Bruni, who remained a Lincoln Heights resident until at least the late 1960s.

The Hapgood family listing at 3136 Malabar Street in Boyle Heights in the 1930 census.
Although Hadda attended Malabar Street Elementary and Belvedere Jr. High Schools, she decided not to go to near-by Roosevelt High School. Because of their superior music curriculum, she chose to attend Los Angeles Polytechnic High School, located where Los Angeles Trade Technical College stands today (the high school is now named St Francis Polytechnic High School and was relocated to the San Fernando Valley in 1957).  From this point on, her passion was directed to music as will be discussed further in the next post!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Historic Photos of Boyle Heights: Fleishman's Cafe, ca. 1920s

The third photo purchased from Roger LeRoque, a local collectibles dealer, of rare Boyle Heights images is this one of a cafe, identified as Fleishmans, located on Brooklyn (now César Chávez) Avenue at Soto Street.

This simple place has about fifteen stools along an L-shaped counter and a very compact cooking space.  Three employees, two men and a woman, are behind the counter, with the young man at the far right appearing to be Latino.  A fourth man, wearing glasses, stands behind the glass cabinet behind the tall employee at the left.  A sign hanging over head indicates a "Quality Lunch" or that the restaurant may have been called "Quality Lunch Cafe."

A man and a woman sit on bar stools, as if they were customers, though there don't appear to be any place settings, tableware or glassware set up in the places.  But, the young woman behind the grill and griddle appears to be cooking up a pancake to put on the plate conspicuously raised in her left hand.  The tall man has a pie tin in his left hand and what appears to be a bill-like piece of paper in his left.

As far as equipment, next to the griddle and grill is a warmer.  In the back are shelves with stacked saucers and plates and the like, as well as a coffee maker, sink, cash register and the cabinet with glassware and other items in it.

Signs at the upper part of the back wall include one with dinner items, such as steaks and fried chicken for 25 cents, 40 cents for a small porterhouse steak, and pork chops for 30 cents--these came with potatoes, roll and butter.  The lunch menu included ham or roast beef, with beans or potatoes, for a quarter and three kinds of sandwiches for ten cents.  A slice of pie cost the same.  For breakfast, the sign's tough to make out, but pancakes and omelettes were on offer, the former for 10 cents.  A small sign also says meat balls and the price of 30 cents, and it is assumed that meant spaghetti and meat balls.

Behind the cafe set up is an area with a clock and at least two partially hidden signs, with one having a finger pointing down as if to a basement and the words "To" and "Mill" on it.  The other sign has the word "Information" on it.

This circa 1920s real photo postcard is labeled on the reverse, "Fleishman's Cafe / Brroklyn Ave at Soto / Boyle Heights / Los Angeles" and is from the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum collection.
As to the owners, the 1930 census does list a Joe Fleishman as a restaurant owner living at 2727 Winter Street, six blocks north of César Chávez and one block east of Mott, which is two blocks east of Soto, but the Los Angeles City Directory of that year shows Joseph Fleishman owning a restaurant at 218 E. 6th Street in downtown east of Los Angeles Street.  Perhaps he had two places?

The 50-year old native of Russia rented his house and lived there with his Sarah Kidder, and two sons, David and Jack.  David's profession was listed as waiter, so that may well be the tall man behind the counter in the photo.  Joseph immigrated to the United States in 1895 and his wife in 1900--both spoke Yiddish as their first language.  The two sons, 23 and 22, were born in Massachusetts.

The family, however, moved around quite a bit.  Not long after Joseph and Sarah came to America and had these two sons in Massachusetts, they headed west.  In 1910, the family was in Barthold, South Dakota, a rural area northeast of Rapid City and Joseph was listed as a farmer, with the two boys listed as Israel David and Jacob.  A decade later, the Fleishmans lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where Joseph was listed as an egg candler (which was someone who tested eggs for quality) and the couple had two younger sons, Carl, 8, born in South Dakota, and Edward, 6, born n Minnesota.  This information pegs their move to the Twin Cities to be about 1913 or so.

It is not known why the two younger Fleishman sons were not with their family in the 1930 census.  During that decade the family moved to Venice and Joseph and Sarah were divorced by the next census, in 1940, which showed her living with three of the sons, Jack, Carl, and Edward in that location.  Joseph's whereabouts were unknown, but a 1939 Los Angeles City Directory listing had someone by that name living at 815 Blades Street, just a couple of blocks from where the family resided in 1930.

In any case, the photo is an interesting one and it does not appear the Fleishmans stayed in the restaurant game, which is a tough business, for very long.  Check back for more photos from this group soon.

Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Museum Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry, from which the photo came.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Historic Photos of Boyle Heights: A Store and Soda Fountain, 1916

This is the second in a series of historic photographs of Boyle Heights purchased from Roger LeRoque, a local collectibles dealer whose family resided in the neighborhood in the early to mid 1900s.

Today's image is a real photo postcard of what is described on inscriptions on the reverse as Klingenstein's, a store that sold candy, tobacco and had a soda fountain (as is obvious from the photo) and which was located near the intersection of Brooklyn (César Chávez) Avenue and Soto Street.

Further notes on the card detail the types of products sold in the store, including vanilla and strawberry ice cream from the Los Angeles Creamery Company; Y-B cigars; Owl 5-cent cigars; Welch's grape juice; Carnation malted milk; Wrigley's chewing gum; Velvet smoking tobacco; Old Mill cigarettes; and, on the barrel on the counter at the right, Dr. Swett's root beer.

Presumably, the jaunty gent, with his striped vest and tie, and the two ladies with him at the counter were enjoying a soda from the tap, which the woman at the right has her hand on.

This photo was taken on 20 August 1916 of a soda fountain and store said to have been near the intersection of Brooklyn (César Chávez) Avenue and Soto Street in Boyle Heights.  Courtesy of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum.
Jars with candy, steel tins, and cardboard boxes of goods line the back shelves and counter top, including some viewed through the mirror at the shelving along the wall behind the photographer.  Boxes of cigars are in a glass case behind the man, as well.  Note the young person (a boy?) standing next to that shelving as seen through the mirror.

Also of note is the two-light fixture hanging from the ceiling with one being a large, bare bulb and the other having a globular shade.  Next to the mirror at the center and at the upper right are other fixtures.

Next to the mirror are two calendars, one has the month and date of August 20, while the monthly to its right shows the year as 1916 (using magnification the year was also written on the card over the very white dress of the woman in the foreground).  On this latter, however, is the name Klingenstein's, which was a cigar-distribution company in downtown.

So, the identification of the store as being "Klingenstein's" may be incorrect, unless the owner of the company had the store as a side business, but that hardly takes away from the interest in this great image.

Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Museum Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry, California.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Historic Photos of Boyle Heights: Neuman Brothers Saloon, ca. 1910s

It's been far too long since the last post, but here's a great old photo of what was described in an inscription on the back as the Neuman Brothers saloon in Boyle Heights.

Update, 25 August:  The reverse of the card lists an address of 1248 E. 4th Street at or near State Street, though State is actually at the 1900 block of 4th.

The unused real photo postcard (the first couple of decades of the 20th century was a popular period for having photos printed onto postcard paper for easy mailing) is a rare interior shot of a commercial building in the neighborhood.

It is assumed the Neuman brothers are the guys behind the bar, while their lone patron, dressed for winter apparently with his overcoat over his suit jacket, sports a sharp mustache and jauntily holds a cigar in his right hand.

Note the several spittoons strategically positioned at the bar and at the lower left--chewing tobacco in drinking establishments was a common thing in those days and long before!

Purchased by the Homestead Museum, City of Industry, from Roger LeRoque, whose family lived in Boyle Heights in the early 1900s, this real photo postcard shows the interior of what was labeled as the Neuman Brothers saloon.
The bar itself was pretty impressive with its sleek, polished top and carved columns and check out that massive mirror along the back wall.  An office with Tiffany-style glass windows is at the left and the covered entry sports the expected "NO MINORS ARE ALLOWED HERE" sign (whether or not that was actually true!)  There's a bit more of that glass work at the top of the plate glass windows, too.  Also noteworthy are the swinging doors, sometimes called "saloon doors," "tavern doors," or "cafe doors."

Check out all of the stuffed animals ("taxidermy" is the term) placed above the office and entry, as well as the molded tin ceiling tiles that were very popular at the time.

And, of course, the place was amply stocked with the choices in liquors, beer, and wine.  Finally, make note of the cash register which was probably very busy ringing up those sales when the place was packed (assuming it was sometimes) with patrons, especially weekend evenings.

This photo comes from the Homestead Museum collection and was one of several purchases from Roger LeRoque, a Temple City collectibles dealer whose family lived in Boyle Heights in the early 1900s.  Look for more from this group soon (and sooner than five months.)

Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, museum director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum and advisory board member for the Boyle Heights Historical Society.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Lotus Blossom: The First Chinese-American Film and Made in Boyle Heights, Part Three

This is the third and final post on the remarkable story of the making of Lotus Blossom, the first theatrically-screened movie by Chinese Americans and which was filmed in Boyle Heights.  Researched and written by Rudy Martinez, Boyle Heights Historical Society Advisory Board member, this post reveals a previously little-known aspect of the history of the Boyle Heights community.

With the film complete and advance publicity undertaken, Lotus Blossom finally made its way to a theatrical release.  In the run-up to that historic date, the Los Angeles Herald reported on November 16, “elaborate arrangements are being made by The Alhambra [Theater] for the Los Angeles and California premiere of Lotus Blossom.” 

According to newspaper reports and advertisements and typical of the silent era, the film would be accompanied with live music, and there was the addition of two hostesses greeting patrons at the doors of the theater. Lotus Blossom finally premiered at the Alhambra Theater on Friday, November 25th and ran for one week. Despite its name, the Alhambra was actually located in downtown Los Angeles and not in the eastern San Gabriel Valley suburb of the same name.

This ad appeared in the Los Angeles Herald 27 November 1921. The Alhambra was located on the west side of Hill Street, between 7th and 8th streets in downtown Los Angeles and was demolished in the 1930s, The site is now a parking lot. Courtesy California Digital Newspapers.
Along with the image of Lady Tsen Mei, the Herald advertisement also featured two Japanese actors who appear in the film as Chinese characters. The young love interest for Lady Tsen Mei's character, Quong Sung, was played by Yutaka Abe, or “Jack Abbe.” Born in Japan, he arrived in the U.S. around 1914 and appeared in ten films. Shortly after completing Lotus Blossom, Abe returned to Japan and enjoyed a long career as one of Japan's most distinguished film directors, with such films as The Woman Who Touched the Legs (1926), and The Makioka Sisters (1950). The Emperor was played by another Japanese native, Goro Kino, one of the earliest Japanese actors in American cinema. He, however, died just a couple of months after the release of Lotus Blossom at age 44.   

As to the "hostess at the door" at the Alhambra, there were two young women fulfilling that role: Anna May Wong and Bessie Wong, who were not related.  During this period, both were little-known, up-and-coming young actresses. Bessie only made about three films, but the year after Lotus Blossom was released, the Los Angeles-born Anna May Wong (actual name: Wong Liu Tsong) quickly rose to become one of the most popular Asian actresses in Hollywood and Europe during the 1920s and 30s, remaining a symbolic icon to this day. She was famously (or notoriously) turned down for the lead role as a young Chinese woman in The Good Earth (1937), which went to German actress Luise Rainer, earning Rainer an Academy Award, but denying Anna May Wong a once-in-a-lifetime breakthrough opportunity. 

Shortly after the Los Angeles premiere for Lotus BlossomThe Exhibitors Herald published two photos featuring the lavish display for the lobby of the Alhambra Theater during the film's run. The photo includes two young and little-known actresses at the time, Anna May Wong in the center and Bessie Wong to the left as greeters. From the Exhibitors Herald January 7, 1922. Courtesy of The Media History Digital Library.
In 1922, following its Los Angeles premier, Lotus Blossom appeared in several states, including Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Kansas, and even was shown in a theater in Mexicali, Mexico. The film was also screened in a Washington D.C. ballroom for a visiting Chinese delegation. One of its last showings was at the New Virginia Theater in Bakersfield, California on October 20th, 1922. It was generally assumed by film historians that Lotus Blossom was probably never shown again after that year.

However, a very recent look through databases of U.S. newspaper archives revealed that the film was indeed briefly shown again nine years after it premiered, but under a totally different name! On May 2, 1930 the Los Angeles Times published an ad for the screening of Daughter of Heaven, starring Lady Tsen Mei, at the Filmarte Theater in Hollywood,.

In 1930, Lotus Blossom, was briefly released under the title, Daughter of Heaven, and advertised as “actually filmed in China.” Los Angeles Times, May 2, 1930. Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library.
Reviews for the film appeared in the May 5th edition of the Times, as well as in the Hollywood Filmograph. The name of the cast and synopsis of the plot in the reviews are identical to Lotus Blossom, except Daughter of Heaven was being advertised as “actually filmed in China with [a] native cast.” Today, only one 12-minute reel of this six-reel feature exists.  Although no one knows exactly when most of the reels for Lotus Blossom went missing, it's tantalizing to consider that perhaps Lotus Blossom might still exist intact, somewhere, as a “foreign film” under the title of Daughter of Heaven or maybe even some other name. 

In the Los Angeles Times May 4, 1930,  under the headline “Films Showing”, a small list of films premiering locally was published. One of the movies listed was Daughter of Heaven, formerly Lotus Blossom. Los Angeles Times, courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.
After completing Lotus Blossom, Leong “suspended production” under the moniker of the Wah Ming company and it was soon renamed, according to the Times, "the Chung Wah Motion Picture Company, with a wealthy Los Angeles area Chinese by the name of Quan Foo as president, which will be headed by Mr. Leong,” as reported by the Times on November 27, 1921. But the company was never heard of again, and Lotus Blossom would remain the only film it ever produced.

The celluloid image for Asians overall did not improve. In fact, some film historians assert that the stereotyping only intensified as film characters such as Charlie Chan and Fu Manchu were enthusiastically received by mainstream American audiences in the Twenties and Thirties.

By 1928, Hollywood's rising Chinese-American star, Anna May Wong, relocated to Europe to make films. Another roadblock for creating and distributing more Asian feature films during the silent era, according to film historian Arthur Dong, was that the Chinese market in the United States was not large enough to support an alternative distribution system as was the case for so-called race films for African Americans audiences, or Yiddish film for Jews.

James B. Leong continued to work in Hollywood for several decades, primarily as a minor character actor. In 1952, he authored an alarmist anti-drug book titled, Narcotics...The Menace to Children. In 1956, he wrote and directed an anti-drug play, The Devils' Paradise, staged in a tiny theater in Hollywood. 

To play the lead, Leong hired an actor who was a recovering drug addict and was experiencing much difficulty finding work – none other then screen horror legend, Bela Lugosi, known for his iconic starring role in Universal Studio's Dracula (1933). The play ran only one weekend, and, shortly afterward, Lugosi filmed scenes that would later appear in Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space. With little notice or mention, Leong died quietly in Los Angeles on December 16, 1967, at the age 78.

As mentioned in a previous post on this blog (click here to see the post) focusing on the history of the Perry-Davis/Ganahl mansion and the Bernstein studio, it's unknown exactly when the mansion was razed. Today, several apartments now cover the eastern end of the property along Boyle Avenue that once was the site for the former Bernstein Studios and the Wah Ming Motion Picture Company, while Interstate 5 cuts through the west side.  To the south was Stephenson Avenue, now Whittier Boulevard.

The existing 12-minute segment of Lotus Blossom can be found online, as it's in the public domain. For some insightful commentary about the film, the clip can be seen in disc 2 of More Treasures from American Film Archives from the National Film Preservation Foundation, with audio commentary provided by documentary filmmaker and film historian, Arthur Dong, and notes by Scott Simon.


While James Leong's pioneering efforts in Chinese-American film-making may not have been successful, it is notable that he was featured in at least two magazine articles found by Rudy, in which Leong promoted the potential and possibilities for a huge market in China for American films.

The 1 December 1921 issue of The American Cinematographer features an article, "Biggest Picture Market" which dealt with James B. Leong's assertions that China would be the world's largest market for films.
In the 1 December 1921 issue of The American Cinematographer, Leong was summarized as saying that the Chinese "are the thriftiest in the world and love entertainment as passionately as children." Claiming that the official estimates of 400 million people in China were only half correct, he stated that his goal was to bring American film-making to his native country "and show forth to the world the noble and beautiful side of the Chinese character."  It was added that China's future development in film would lead to more cinematographers there than in the U.S.

While much of this 11 March 1922 article from Exhibitors Trade Review copied the text word-for-word from the above-mentioned The American Cinematographer piece, it featured an extraordinary quote from Leong about the potential of "quality films" having a moral effect on Chinese moviegoers.
The Exhibitors Trade Review of March 11, 1922, attributed to Leong the view that "China is the biggest picture market on earth and that the next big development in the pictures industry will be in that country."  He was also said to have claimed that China "can annually use five times the present output of the United States."  While using most of the earlier article word-for-word, this piece ended with the statement that Leong believed that the making and showing of quality films in China meant that its citizens 
will quickly be purged of all the evils of the opium traffic and gambling, of superstition, intolerance and prejudice against foreigners and with these drags upon the nation gone, the Flowery Kingdom should quickly take her rightful place as the dominant power of the Orient.
Given the tremendous transformation of China in recent decades, its surging film industry and the growing presence of Chinese investors in Hollywood and in the movie theater world, Leong's views are very interesting and timely.

Many thanks to Rudy Martinez for his detailed research and writing on this post.  Editing and postscript (images found by Rudy) by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry.