Ticket to the Twenties Themes & Tangents: The Los Angeles “Junior Times,” 29 September 1929

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

When working the history of greater Los Angeles during the Homestead’s interpretive era of 1830-1930, it is by far easier to find information on certain elements of the region’s population; specifically, well-to-do white men.  For almost anyone else, it can get particularly challenging, including for women, people of color, and children.

With the latter group, there are some standard material to consult, such as yearbooks, which started to be produced at the high school level at the very end of the 19th century and grew dramatically in popularity in subsequent years, including at the middle school and, occasionally, grammar school levels.

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There may some interesting odds and ends, such as pamphlets produced by companies, utilities and other groups specifically for children, though these are not generally common.  Today’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection and which ties tangentially to our Ticket to the Twenties festival, which is this upcoming weekend, 5 and 6 October, is another fairly unusual, but interesting source relating to children.

The Los Angeles Times, one of several daily newspapers in the city and region and which had the largest circulation and influence of any such sheet, had a Junior Times section and today’s example, one of a pair in the museum’s holdings, is from 29 September 1929.  It is both fun and informative to peruse the publication and see how the paper promoted itself to children.

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The section contains a mixture of humor, poetry, sports, games, cartoons and puzzles, among its elements.  A specific one of interest is “Aunt Dolly’s Letter Box,” in which youngsters wrote to a staff member under that pseudonym, generally about her “Times Junior Club.”  In fact, several of the missives were entreating “Aunt Dolly” to let them join.  Other writers added that they were including drawings, poems or stories for inclusion in the publication.

Another notable part of the Junior Times was its “Our Roll of Honor” listing of the “Art Worker’s Club” and the “Writer’s Club,” giving names, in groups, of those who, presumably, were contributors to the publication in those areas.  On the front page alone are two poems, a joke, two short columns, and a color cartoon by readers, some appear to have been from outside California, who submitted their works to the paper.

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One article is about Ray Barbuti, the only American track-and-field athlete to win a gold medal at the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam.  The description of Barbuti’s victory in the quarter-mile run is interesting, but more compelling is the impressive drawing of the athlete by the author and artist, Irving Spector.  Spector was listed as being fourteen years old and a student at Fremont Junior High in another cartoon and puzzle elsewhere in the publication and he also had a cartoon about North Pole explorer Commander Richard Byrd.

Interestingly, one of the best-known motion picture and television animators of the post-World War II era was someone of that name and his birth year of 1914 seems to indicate one and the same person.  In fact, the animator’s 1940 census listing indicated that, though he then lived in Miami, he was in Los Angeles five years before (the census that year asked all persons where they were residing in 1935.)

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The large cartoon on the front page is an excellent one showing the “explosion” of the 1929 football season and a quartet of players ejected from a football.  The artist was identified as 14-year old Frank Train, a student at Thomas A. Edison Junior High in south Los Angeles.  Train, who naturally used a locomotive and open car as part of his signature, wound up being an artist who lived in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Another contribution on the front page is an essay on courage by Antonio C. Correa, one of just two young people of color noted in the publication.  Correa, a student at Jefferson High School, also in south Los Angeles, wrote of courage as a corollary to persistence in the face of adversity, noting,

our faults are where we least expect them.  Dig then out and improve or correct them.  And, as we are climbing, look back and decide you shall do better; look at the present and try to improve it; and above all look into the future, and set a goal you wish to reach, then strive for it.  After all, what is the use of living, if we have not a desire that we should and must accomplish something?  It is our duty and no one else’s.

Correa, who’d previously attended McKinley Junior High (now George Washington Carver Middle School) may have gone on to try playwrighting, with someone of that name living in Los Angeles copyrighting scripts in 1936 and 1941.

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A serial story, “The Cracked Mirror” by Alex Melancon, more reader-submitted cartoons, word puzzles, and additional poems.  One of the latter was a comedic offering by the second person of color found in the issue.  Kikuko Miyakawa was a resident of the Sawtelle area of Los Angeles near Westwood and Santa Monica and came from a remarkable family.

Her father Yukio was a gardener and he and his wife, Rin, were immigrants from Japan.  There were three children, sons Tetsuo and Tatsuo and Kikuko, the only daughter.  Tatsuo graduated from Harvard University and then got a law degree at Boalt Hall at the University of California, Berkeley.  He taught economics at UCLA and Japanese at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. before being employed by the federal government.

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Tetsuo, the eldest child, received a mechanical engineering degree from Cornell University, one of the elite Ivy League institutions, but could not get a job in America during the Great Depression (and, perhaps, because of his ethnicity), so he went to Manchuria, China to work for a railroad controlled by a Japanese firm just as Japan invaded and seized that area, turning it into the puppet state of Machukuo.

Tetsuo became a prominent defender in America for the Japanese presence in Manchuria and for Japan’s foreign policy and economic development, even as he pursued graduate work in sociology and statistics in Columbia while continuing to work for the railroad.  By the early 1940s, it appears his pro-Japanese stance softened and, when the Pearl Harbor attack occurred, Tetsuo, his widowed mother, and his siblings were all on the east coast and were able to avoid the internment in camps that west coast had to endure.

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Tetsuo and Tatsuo became activists for the support of Japanese-Americans and Tetsuo joined the Japanese American Citizens League, a prominent advocacy group, while he experienced difficulties in finding work, evidently because of his previous history with Manchuria, and then became an academic after the war, settling in Boston.  He wrote a well-reviewed book on American religion on the frontier and traveled and worked frequently in Asia as well as Europe.

In the early 1960s, Tetsuo worked with the Japanese American Research Project at UCLA and planned to write a history of the Japanese in America from 1860 to 1960.  The work was never completed, though he co-edited a volume on Japanese immigration and assimilation in America published in 1972.  He remained in Boston working in academia until not long before his death in 1981.

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Notably, Tetsuo went to Scandinavia for grant-funded research and was perhaps inspired by Kukiko, who went to Denmark on a fellowship to study the making of silver jewelry.  She married a Dane and lived in Copenhagen, though later she lived in Palo Alto, where she resumed studies at Stanford in the mid-Sixties.  She donated her brother’s papers to UCLA in the 1980s and 1990s.

As for her juvenile poem in the Junior Times, Kikuko produced “Freshies Woes”:

I used to hate arithmetic

And English was quite hard

With geography ‘n everything

You oughta see my card

Gotta “C” in arithmetic

And English quite the same

And geography a little “D”

‘Bout drove my ma insane

Ma, she jest sit ‘n cried ‘n cried

And put me on her lap

And Sis said I was awfully dumb

‘N Pa says, “You are a sap.”

Well, I got mad ‘n tried ‘n tried

At last to get one “B”

And now I love my teachers so

I got “A’s” you see

For the history-minded, the publication also featured a lengthy cartoon series called “High Lights of History,” with this issue’s contribution being about Leonardo da Vinci, with eleven parts giving a capsule summary of the polymath genius’ remarkable life.  At the bottom is a statement claiming that “if you save this page every week you will have a complete history of man.”

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There was also a much briefer “Humor in History” segment, with this one concerning an “old fish wives tale” about Cleopatra exposing a ploy by Mark Antony to prove to her that he was an expert fisherman.  He had servants under the boat to hook live fish onto his pole, but she had her own servant put a salted fish on the hook to show she’d discovered the ruse.

Naturally, the Times wanted to use its Junior Times section to get younger folks to be loyal subscribers as adults.  Moreover, it had an advertisement offering prizes to those under 18 who secured the subscription of an adult.  One of eight puzzles was offered for the securing of a subscription that lasted longer than a month and two sets given for three months paid in advance, while an electric popcorn popper, a football signed by legend Red Grange, or an array of other listed prizes, was given for any new subscription.

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This edition of the Junior Times is a fascinating look into a juvenile newspaper section and the types of elements young readers would enjoy ninety years ago, though almost all young people find entertainment and enlightenment in many different ways now!

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