Part 17: Riley's Early 20s and His Journal: A Look Back
“They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.”---FDR
I'm trapped at home like everyone else in Seattle due to the Corona Virus pandemic. Above are the headlines from Friday, March 20, 2020. It's a bit bleaker today, Saturday. Here is a link to a cartoon that explains what the virus does to the human body and why it's so dangerous. I hope this link never stops working so people will remember that this is not the flu. Lots of bad information out there.
Back to my dad's journal. It's been difficult to read my dad's notes about the Great Depression while my shop has been shuttered, as well as so many other businesses. I wonder how we'll get out of this intact. Sometimes it seems as though national lessons are never learned.
In the last blog, I went forward into the 1940s, but I want to get back to a few things about Riley's early years in the late 1930s. So I'm going backwards a bit as I found more notes. Some of his writings are repeating things but in a different way, (please forgive my repeats, I'm still absorbing) such as his time in DeMille's film "Union Pacific." It seems he was generally trying to get any kind of work as a performer. Times were tough as far as jobs went, so he was doing all kinds of things, including sometimes cooking in diners.
"The economic depression almost destroyed the phonograph industry and the phonograph record industry throughout the world," wrote Nat Shapiro.
Although record sales flagged, Radio became the popular form of home entertainment. A radio program back then could have twenty million listeners. Radio plugs for new songs became important to song writers and publishers. Also, movies were using music more and more, so songwriters could find work for these films. This opened up new opportunities for Riley, and I wonder if this is when he realized he was a good song promoter. He had other pursuits as well, and of course, all those women kept him busy. Below, we can read that 1938-1940 were left blank on this page, but I've found the other small and large sheets so this jig saw puzzle is making sense.
Riley's notes about his life in the late 1930s are jumbled, some written on tiny scraps of paper. I have a four full pages, clipped together, called "Fragments from The Journal of Riley Shepard" where he's writing about being stuck in a hotel in Pittsburgh in 1938. It's strange entry, and I think he wrote it at the time. I'm going to look back over his timelines and see what he was doing in Pittsburgh in 1938, when it seems he was mostly in California. Here's a section italics & bold.
I am in a small, supposedly comfortable room of a modern hotel equipped with all the latest conveniences. The bed is clean and soft, the shower functions perfectly, the toilet seat has been sterilized since the last occupancy, if I am to believe what is printed on the paper band which garlands it; soap, towels, lights, stationary, everything is provided in abundance.
I am down, depressed beyond words. If I were to remain in this room for any length of time I would go mad. The spirit of the place, the spirit of the men who made it the hideous city it is, seeps through the walls. There is murder in the air. it suffocates me.
This entry goes on. I might type the whole thing out in the next blog. It's very dramatic in tone, almost like it's a manuscript. Plus I have so much time on my hands.
This entry below was on a full sheet, and he writes about a flood in Los Angeles where he was living. Looks like he was in Pittsburgh, then headed west. He refers to himself as "RS". Riley's words in italics & bold.
1938: RS was 20 in Oct.
THURSDAY, MARCH 3- near record deluge fell and flooded southern California, including Los Angeles. Riverside and Orange counties hardest hit. 70 dead, scores missing.
RS was in L.A. at this time.
SUNDAY, OCT. 30, AT 8 pm, ORSON WELLES aired his famous program of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS.
RS heard program in Cedar City, Utah, location site for DeMille's UNION PACIFIC. I was there with Mala, Chief Thunder Cloud, Robert Preston & Wm Haade.....
Met Grant Withers--who was on location with a different company.
In Nov. RS played a theater in Provo, Utah...went from there to Denver....
Thomas Dewey, Special Prosecutor, announced his intention to run for Gov. of New York. Thomas Dewey lost to Herbert Lehman, the man who had appointed him special prosecutor in N.Y.
Art Satherly recorded Roy Acuff for Columbia Records for the first time. Roy previously recorded for American Record Company which was purchased by Columbia.
From Cedar City I went to Provo, Salt Lake City, and finally returned to Los Angeles to check with Selznick Studios about GONE WITH THE WIND.
I guess Dad was trying to get a gig on "Gone With The Wind" as an extra, or maybe an audition for a speaking role. When I was a kid he talked about that film a lot, we saw it together with his commentary. He told me about how so many actresses wanted to play Scarlett O'Hara, even Lucille Ball auditioned for that role.
In other notes and scraps of paper, Riley meticulously lists all the movies that came out in the 1930s, he lists people he met, and what was going on in national and international news, then he writes this entry about a dispute in the music world. Riley's words in italics & bold.
Late in the year of 1939, a dispute between radio stations and ASCAP OVER CONTRACT TERMS LED TO THE ORGANIZING OF BMI INC...
BMI was established as a corporation under the laws of New York State, and licenses the performance of copyrighted musical works. It was founded by a number of radio broad-casting companies, and commenced operations in 1940...Three networks hold 19.2 percent of the stock, and the rest is owned by 624 of the approximately 4000 radio-TV stations...BMI owns 1 music firm and represents about 2500, besides representing composers and songwriters.
Clark Gable married Carole Lombard. Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck wed.
Colleen left her lover and went to live with me in Long Beach.
Riley was involved with a woman named Colleen. They were living in Long Beach, and moved to San Diego, where Riley writes, "we separated again" and after that Riley went across country, winding up in New Orleans.
He also noted that Hollywood writers began to organize that year, as the Directors Guild was organized in 1936.
Here are some. Riley's words in italics, bold and caps:
From San Diego to New Orleans...Singed on SS DELVALLE as a utility hand, sailed to South America...11 passengers. Winifred Cessek Sedgwick and another Chicago woman were among the passengers; they were going to Rio, Brazil...
Romance on the high sea...Culminated in sexual encounter in Rio...Sailed on to Argentina...Returned to New Orleans, where I waited for Winn...We traveled to Knoxville together; she went to Chicago, I went to Wilmington. Learned that Alma had shot herself and was dead...I went to Chicago and married Winn.
I'd wondered if my father married Winn while still married to Alma, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Riley married Winn on May 23rd, 1941, Alma died Feb. 11th, 1940. If Victor was right, Alma knew Riley had left her for other women, and wasn't coming back.
I found a torn scrap of paper where Riley wrote this:
Each of us is given a heritage and a legacy the moment we come into this world: Talents, time, life. (Every person has his own special song to sing) what we do with these possessions, how we invest them, determines what we are.
(Don't be what you isn't. Just be what you is. 'Cause if you is what you isn't,
Then you isn't what you is!) ---The Country Boys.
Next up, part 18: a four page essay Riley wrote about the times he was living in.