An Exotic Pageant for Charity, Children’s Hospital, Los Angeles, 28 March 1921

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is a pediatric healthcare facility that is among the finest in the world and it has been a presence in the City of Angeles since 1901, when it was modestly established in a small residence on Castelar Street in what became, in the 1930s, the Chinatown neighborhood north of downtown.

From the admission of fourteen patients in its first year, the institution, established by a woman’s volunteer organization called The King’s Daughters, steadily grew under the leadership of board president Kate Page Crutcher, whose husband Albert was with the major law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, founded in 1890 and still a significant presence in local legal circles.  Serving as head of the organization for nearly forty years, Crutcher is credited with helping lead Children’s Hospital from a small volunteer entity to a paramount professional pediatric facility.

Los Angeles Times, 25 March 1921.

In 1912, Emma Phillips donated four acres so the hospital could move from its cramped quarters to something that not only was more spacious, but allowed for future growth.  Two years later, the new hospital opened at Sunset Boulevard and Vermont Avenue where Hollywood and Los Feliz meet and the institution remains there over a century later.

On 7 February 1914, President Woodrow Wilson hit a switch in his office at the White House to officially inaugurate the operation of the new facility.  In succeeding years, auxiliaries were created, a physiotherapy department was launched, and a School of Physical Therapy was inaugurated.  As medical advances continued by leaps and bounds, so did the growth of greater Los Angeles, and Children’s Hospital kept pace in its development as well.

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Times, 27 March 1921.

On this date in 1921, a “Children’s Hospital Pageant Ball” was held at the Ambassador Hotel, which opened on the first day of that year on Wilshire Boulevard in what is now the Wilshire Center/Koreatown area of the city and would long be a premiere hostelry in Los Angeles.

The goal of the charity event was to raise funds for expansion of the hospital, which had about 100 beds and was staffed by about 50 volunteer doctors, because, as expressed by the Los Angeles Times of 27 March, “because of the lack of accommodations scores of children, their little bodies tortured by pain and suffering, must be turned away from the portals of the hospital each week.”  Especially cited as needed was a “contagion ward” as the paper reported that children were transferred from Children’s Hospital to the county hospital, but “as a result of the exposure and harmful conditions attendant upon their removal, 200 of these little babies died, it is said.”

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Times, 27 March 1921.

Another planned-for element in the growth of the facility was to be a “paying ward,” which, the paper continued, “is expected to eventually lift the Children’s Hospital from its present financial dependency to the position of a self-supporting institution.”  It was also hoped that the ward “will provide more generous and extensive aid for the little children who cannot afford to pay.”

The event’s core element was an internationally-themed pageant, in which community leaders and members of the local drama and film industries portrayed characters in scenes in six groups: English, Russian, Chinese, Indio-Persian, Italian, and French.  The scale, personnel, and content of these groups varied widely.

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Times, 28 March 1921.

The “English Fantasy” was an Elizabethan one in which the legendary Queen “has been inveigled into the belief that Shakespeare has stolen [Sir Francis] Bacon’s thunder and has ordered him beheaded.”  Playing off the oft-claimed idea that it was Francis Bacon, not Shakespeare, who created the storied trove of works credited to the latter, the skit added that Bacon “begs to submit the children of his brain for her inspection” before he was executed.  As Hamlet, Romeo, Juliet, Shylock, Falstaff, Macbeth, and other famed characters come on stage, the queen “is so impressed that she orders his release and crowns him genius of the world.”

The Russian Group presented “The Legend of the Fire Bird,” in which a Spirit of Russia’s fantastic forest contains a tree with golden apples, which are being stolen.  The thief turns out to be a fire bird which is an enchanted princess, who is returned to her human form by a comic guard named Ivan.  His reward is marriage to the princess and, of course, they lived happily ever after.

Times, 29 March 1921.

The tale of “Po-Chii-i”, actually Po Chu-i or Bai Juyi, a famed Chinese poet who lived from 772-846, formed the presentation of the Chinese Group.  The story is that the “poor poet, fishing in the moonlight” saw the reflection of a moon goddess, Chang-O, who wandered her palaces with “the broken melodies of unrecorded lives” and “lingered above the broken courts and roofless halls of vanished kinds in the ruins of Chang-an (Xi’an), an ancient Chinese capital.

Little is stated in the program about the “Indio-Persian Group” and its presentation of “The Marriage of the Seven Steps,” though a Times piece of 28 March made reference to a bride, the Spirit of India, brought in on a throne and attended by dancers who were to “do a spectacular dance in gorgeous attire.”  The tableaux was organized by Dr. H.R.H. Maddocks, who was said to have spent years in India and “is staging Kipling pictures” for co-director Robert Brunton.

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This and the remaining images are from a program in the Homestead’s collection for the charity event.

For the Italian Group, a sponsor of which was the wife of Ontario vineyardist Secondo Guasti, A Spirit of Italy leads a carnival in which a queen is crowned and the revelry includes expression of the arts, commerce, and those of spirits representing flowers, harlequins, mirth, happiness, and folly.  Characters include Roman Catholic Church delegates, the Doge of Venice, a spirit and representational figures of the Adriatic Sea, spirits of comedy, pantomime, poetry and romance, the Mona Lisa, Dante, Bacchus, and much more.  Music was directed by Louis Gottschalk, a grand-nephew of the famed 19th century composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk.

None of the groups, however, came close in scale and content to the French Group and its “resume of French Historical Events in Nine Parts, directed by Ernest Warde, son of well-known 19th century dramatic actor Frederick Warde.  A synopsis stated that “the Christ Idea—which is the essence of True Democracy—has been the underlying Principle consciously or subconsciously held by the people of France since the time of Charlemagne, the Christian King.”

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From the coronation of Charlemagne on Christmas Day 800, the presentation moved to the stories of Joan of Arc, Louis XI, Catherine de Medici, Louis XIII, Louis XV, the Revolution of 1789, Napoleon and modern France emerging from the First World War through the efforts of Marshal Ferdinand Foch and Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau.  Whether there was a clear line of the “Christ Idea” through such disparate figures and the extremes of French political history, the idea certainly was ambitious!

Among the planners were general committee members Kate Crutcher and the wives of film impresario Cecil B. DeMille and prominent local figures Hancock Banning and Edwin T. Earl (the focus of yesterday’s post here.)  Other notables were the wives of major developer William May Garland and Maurice Hellman of the prominent Jewish family with ties to banking, transportation, and real estate.

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As to performers in the various group presentations, they included local society people like Elizabeth Stack, whose son Robert, then two years old, became a prominent actor and whose grandparents, Charles Modini Wood and Mamie Perry (daughter of Los Angeles lumber merchant William H. Perry)  were leaders of musical circles in Los Angeles; the wife of Harry Culver, developer of the city of that name; and members of such prominent families as Bixby, Orcutt, Maier, Torrance, Chandler, Dockweiler, and others.

From the theatrical and film communities were many actors and others who were well-known then or would be stars in the future.  Among these were Mary Miles Minter; Betty Blyth; Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.; Lois Wilson; Lila Lee; Gloria Swanson; Lionel Barrymore; Ora Carew; Irene Rich; Herbert Rawlinson; Conrad Nagel; and Elinor Glyn.

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The festivities began at 9 p.m. on the 28th and a ball followed.  The Times listed distinguished guests like William Gibbs McAdoo, Secretary of the Treasury under Wilson from 1913-1918 and who was the guest of oil tycoon Edward Doheny; William May Garland and his wife; the Crutchers; and Admiral Nathan Twinning, his wife and their party.

The function, with a headline of “Gay Pageant Wins Gold,” was “hailed as an artistic and financial triumph,” according to the Times.  The event, it was added, “probably exceeded from every standpoint all earlier indoor pageantry here.”  Moreover, with $16,000 in proceeds, “netted a larger sum than any other charity entertainment ever given in Southern California.”  Tickets sold out several days in advance and it was reported that hundreds sought to gain admission but without success.

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Today’s highlighted artifact is a programme for the event listing committee members; a dedicatory statement by Eugene Presbury titled “Charity;” listing of the several groups and their presentations and performers; and a list of those whose support made the event possible, including individuals, film studios, businesses, the hotel, the Philharmonic Orchestra (which celebrates its centennial this year), dancing schools and others.

Nearly a century later, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles maintains its world-class facilities and operations with over a half-million patients served each year through over 350 programs of pediatric specialty totaling in excess of $230 million in community benefits.  As the website stated, “CHLA relies on the generosity of philanthropists in the community” and this program reflects this same need back in 1921.

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