Part 13: A Wedding, A Short Con, and Drifting
What amazes me reading through my father's detailed notes about his past is his recall. He started this journal late in life, and with each entry, divided up into how old he was, he includes not only personal information, but historical information. Riley writes that in 1932, when he was 14 years old, Jack Dempsey retired from boxing. Then he writes about how Dempsey opened a restaurant at 49th and Broadway in New York City. He even knew the address and the building it was in, 1619 Broadway in the Brill Building. I love stuff like that. I'm sure he had meals there-- later, when he had a job working for Lou Levy and the Andrew Sisters in the 1940s.
Regarding his historical notes on the time, Riley wrote almost two pages on the Bonus Marchers, a group of WWI veterans who came to Washington during The Great Depression. I took a snap shot of what he wrote about The Bonus Army.
"The 51-year-old Army Chief of Staff, WWI hero, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, was moved by the sight of the ragged veterans---many of whom wore medals. He ordered mobile kitchens rolled out to feed them, but not for long. A voice was raised in Congress.
The voice said: "If they come to Washington, sit down and have three meals furnished every day, then God knows what will happen to us. There are more than 8,500,000 persons out of work in the United States, most of them with families. If the government can feed those who are here, then we can expect an influx that will startle the entire country."
Riley was done with the "Country Farm" in North Carolina, having served 4 months. He was a teenager, but had no real place to go, and he saw America's struggles first hand. When I was a young girl, he told me that during The Great Depression he witnessed a man jump from a building in New York, the man's body landing on the pavement below. I was too young to understand suicide or The Depression, but looking back now I see that my father resorted to telling his own child about a childhood trauma of his own.
Riley was 15 years old in 1933 and free. He'd served his time. He managed to get a radio program in Wilmington, writes about Jimmie Rodger's death, and how the famous singer and recording artist suffered from TB and drug addiction. In these entries, he lists all the movies he saw in 1933, like "The Invisible Man" with Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart, and Henry Travers, "Oliver Twist", "Private Life of Henry VIII" with Charles Laughton, and the list goes on and on. When I was a kid, I thought my father had seen every movie ever made, and it seems as though he did.
Riley has one brief entry about what he was doing that year, and it was so much moving around, maybe this was all he could remember:
Steven's farm near Jacksonville. Kirby's farm, near Wilmington. Radio program in Wilmington. Kingston radio show....Charlotte...Raleigh, Richmond, New York, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Toledo, cross-country through Louisiana, Texas, Arizona, Los Angeles.....San Francisco, back cross-country, Ashville, Charlotte, Columbia....
President Roosevelt wrestled with the GREAT DEPRESSION. Set up all sorts of Government agencies, including "Transient Camps", CCC camps, WPA, PWA, etc.
Later, he goes into greater detail on his teen years. He would be closer to 16 in these entries. Dad meets a teen age girl named Alma Anderson.
Columbia, S.C.: Transient Camp....Did Shows....prize fights...met Alma Anderson....Nick dates her girl friend.
Had a friend named Nick who played guitar. An Englishman and his friend, who got me interested in Philosophy....I read everything I could get my hands on. Nick dates Alma's girlfriend, and I date Alma; but she wouldn't do anything. Her girl friend did. And she got pregnant.
Moved into town. Girl named Cherry.......
Alma left without a word. I decided to find her and bring her back. I had a small photo. Went to Spartanburg, Greensville, S.C., no luck. Athens, Ga., then Atlanta, then Birmingham, Ala., and Mobile. Stayed on for a while. Took off and went home.
Anniston, Huntsville, Tuscaloosa, Gadsden, Tuscaloosa, Montgomery, Mobile...Island fort camp....
Columbia again...found that Alma was living with her father, near Albemarle. Went to see her...Ask her to marry me...She agreed to meet me in Columbia the following week. I went home and then returned to Columbia...I was working in a restaurant when she arrived. We had a room---she had a hedged in cot in the hall, on which she surrendered her virginity.
Two days later we were married.
Alma and I got married by the Justice of the Peace......We had room and board in the rooming house on the corner, across from Steve's, where I worked. Her friend, who was pregnant and abandoned by Nick, lived with us; I worked nights. Don't know what happened to her, but think she went back to live with her father. I started working with Dixie Reelers (Ollie Bunn, Clarence Todd and Daddy John Love). I went on personals and did blackface comedy.
Alma took off for some reason. Was gone about a week, then came back. I don't know what she did, but soon discovered I had VD. She ended up in the hospital with an ovary removed. Later, she managed to get pregnant anyway; but had a miscarriage.
She would suddenly blackout, without warning.
We went to Wilmington; she went first. I followed later. We lived there for a month or two and then went to live with her father.
I went back to Wilmington, tried to get some money from my father. No luck. I went to Columbia, S.C., with no luck. When I returned, I was arrested and sent to a farm for a couple of months. Released, I returned to her father's house. He wanted us out, so we left. Spent the night in Albemarle with people we knew, then went to Concord and found John Love. Stayed with him, his wife, and his family for a while. Booked a show for him in Albemarle. The night I went to do it, Alma had a miscarriage.
John came and took me back. When she was able to move around, about a week, we took off. Hitched rides as far as Birmingham, Ala. Then decided to start back; she would return to her father's and I'd try and find work and sent for her. We parted on the highway.
Below, my father seems to admit to a con job he did using the telegraph. His brother, Floyd, who was with him, was probably unaware. Riley also met a man named Dick Scott, but later used his name. (I'll list all of Riley's names in one blog at some point.) He also used his brother Floyd's name to secure a nice apartment in New York City years later. In this entry, I see where my father was cast as an extra in a cowboy film. He always told me he was an extra in one of these movies, but I didn't know which film. Now I know it was Union Pacific directed by Cecile B. DeMille. He writes about meeting actors Robert Preston, Chief Thundercloud, and William Haade.
It was then, or about then, I made my way back to California; tho' I think I went home to Wilmington first. I know Floyd and I went on a hike to Columbia, where I arranged to pick up some money by a telegraph ruse, and we returned to Wilmington.
Then I took off for California.
I went through Wyoming...Green River (worked on a bridge)....Evanston...played guitar in bar...Salt Lake City...Denver, Colorado....Oakland, and San Francisco. Met people in front of Library...where crowds gathered to hear others argue.
Union Label show with Edith Fellows, Edward Arnold and....
Waitress at Halloran's Cafeteria...Sang in bar...made tips...Went to Los Angeles...Met Dick Scott. Put me up in hotel. Got appointment for me with Myron Selznick. Got a letter from David Selznick at the Sunset Towers, where I had a room. Hung out at bar at Sunset and Gower. Worked in cafe on Hollywood, got a room nearby. Met girls who's mother ran rest home on Sunset. Went to San Bernadino...Cedar City, Utah...Filming DeMille's UNION PACIFIC...met Robert Preston, Wm Haade, Mala, Chief Thundercloud....Hollywood Columnist.....
Orson Welles broadcast of WAR OF THE WORLDS scared a few people. I went to Provo because Grant Withers and his company wouldn't give me a job. I played the theater there....Went to Denver...No booking.
Back to California. L.A., Hollywood....Colleen Furlong.
A few years ago, I had Marilyn McGuire, ancestry expert, look into Alma Anderson. My father told me about his first wife when I was a young girl. They were teenagers when they wed, which wasn't uncommon back in the 1930s, especially for people in the South. Alma had health problems, which my father writes about in this journal. After they were married, they lived in Columbia. Alma had to be hospitalized for a time, and he writes he "sent her to Wilmington, followed her there." It seems my father took off without her. They never divorced.
I will close part 13 with Alma Anderson's death certificate.