or: For God, For Country, and for Herbert
by John Jay, 1953
I gave my first show in the Los Angeles area in the summer of 1940 - to about 65 persons assembled on a friend's tennis court in Pasadena. It was a hot and cloudless August night, and as I remember it, a gigantic Southern California moon gave me some pretty stiff competition. During the first reel, it shone on the screen and washed out the snow scenes until they resembled a weary skier's mirage. When I reversed my field in the second reel, the moon sunk a bit lower, and now shone directly in my audience's eyes, successfully blinding nearly all of them, except for two, who were asleep. One was the operator. Most of my evening's profits were promptly consumed on a double cheeseburger after the show.
Thirteen years have now elapsed, and I am happy to report a slight improvement, thanks to various factors in and out of my control, not the least of which is that peripatetic human dynamo, Herb Schwarz, who I understand has a job with one of the leading photographic firms here during the few days each year when he is not promoting my annual shows at the Wilshire Ebell.
These have grown steadily over the years in frightening geometric progression. Each summer, Herb weeps copiously into his typewriter over the 3,000 miles that separate us, vowing that he will never fill the house and that the sheriff will foreclose the mortgage on his stationwagon and skis, and drag his innocent family off to the debtor's prison in a cloud of unpaid bills. Each winter Herb then proceeds to pack the theatre with paying customers until the local fire department screams in protest, and scalpers spring up like mushrooms outside the box office to peddle ducats at exorbitant rates. Giddy with success, he promptly books me for an additional night the following season, and shortly thereafter starts his annual dirge at the wailing wall, and the cycle begins all over again. It is an interesting experience that I look forward to with much anticipation every year...
For some time now, I have been trying to track down the reason why Southern California audiences are among the most enthusiastic and heartwarming of all the 80 or so cities that lie defenseless on my annual circuit of personal appearances. I used to think that it was because they were starved for snow, but that reason went out the window long ago when all the fine winter resorts began to be built within a gentle schuss of the LA Civic Center, culminating in the colossal new developments that now rival anything in the country. (I was almost late to a show last year, trying to find my way down the vast canyons and ridges of one of these resorts. They had to vector me in with radar). It certainly can't be because of me or my pictures, for I am strictly from New England, where California is regarded as a sort of outlying semi-tropical frontier, full of hostile natives wearing dark sunglasses. In fact, my friends back in the Berkshires are always slightly amazed when I mention that it is on my schedule at all, and regard me as a kind of latter day Daniel Boone.
I have finally come to the conclusion that the reason is purely and simply that when Southern Californians turn their hands to any project - be it thruways, ski resorts, supermarkets or John Jay shows - they always end up with something bigger, better and boomier than anything else in the U.S.A. Whatever it is, I'm all for it.
Nothing could have been more pleasant,
for example, than a phone call I got in my dressing room on the second night of my last season's
engagement at the Wilshire Ebell. It was from the city transit company. They wanted to know
what time the show would be over. I told them, and then casually asked why they were so
interested. Loud and clear shot back the answer: "So we can know when to put on the extra busses,
that's why, bud! Last night some guy put on a ski show and it snarled up our service for a half
hour, see!" Some civic minded citizen ought to tip that fellow off. A few more calls like that,
and I'll be coming to Los Angeles forever...