by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Guy Woodward Finney (1879-1965) was a resident of greater Los Angeles for over a half century and his 1929 book, The Great Los Angeles Bubble was an early analysis of the scandal involving C.C. Julian and his namesake oil company, covered previously in a post on this blog. Yet, he is all but forgotten, though he was also the editor and publisher of an interesting magazine called California Graphic, the 20 August 1927 issue of which is tonight’s featured artifact from the Homestead’s collection.
Finney was born in Washington, D.C. to Margaret Norwood and Argyle Finney, who was a government clerk and a dry goods merchant, who died when Guy was ten years old and the family living in New York City. Guy joined the United States Army during the fervor of the Spanish-American War at the end of the century and remained in the service for several years.
After leaving the Army, Finney became a journalist in New York, including for the World, and the nation’s capital and was a city editor for the Washington Post. He was an avid automobile enthusiast and was a representative for an Ohio car manufacturer on a cross-country promotional tour when he was involved in a freak accident as a bird hit his glass driving goggles and nearly caused blindness.
In 1912, he was secretary of the Wilson National Progressive League, an organization founded by San Francisco sugar king Claus Spreckles and consisting of Republicans who supported Democrat Woodrow Wilson in his successful campaign for the presidency.
The following year, Finney made his home in Los Angeles, and after a messy public divorce back in Washington, he remarried and tried his hand at number of occupations in the booming Angel City. Among these was working in real estate, with an engraving company, and forming his own publicity and advertising business.
Finney wrote poetry, published promotional brochures for real estate developments, wrote for newspapers as a freelancer (including a lengthy piece on exiles fleeing revolution in Mexico), and oversaw business publications for building materials companies.
By 1924, he leased a building on Olive Street south of 12th street for his Press Publishing Company and then for his California Graphic magazine. The publication is a mix of fiction, news of local figures, editorials and features on art, finance, entertainment, society, and more.
The highlighted issue has a number of interesting elements and we’ll focus on some with local content. For example, the front page “Personalities and Comment” section has a segment on Hugh S. Gibson, whose grandfather was a minister sent to California to oversee an Indian reservation and whose father, Frank, was a well-known business figure and clubman who died young in 1901, and whose mother Mary Kellogg Simons was very prominent in women’s circles and social and political causes for women, native Indian rights, world peace and many more. Hugh, who was educated at Pomona College, went to France to study at the Ecole Libre Des Sciences Politiques, from which he graduated in 1907.
Gibson joined the U.S. foreign service and had posts in Honduras, London, Cuba and Belgium and was the secretary to the Assistant Secretary of State in the early 1910s. In the aftermath of the First World War when future Secretary of Commerce and President Herbert Hoover made his name coordinating relief programs in Western Europe, Gibson worked with him.
During the first years of the 1920s, Gibson was the American ambassador to Switzerland and Poland (where his views on sensitive issues involving the treatment of Jews led to accusations that he was anti-Semitic, though he had defenders among some in that community) and it was while he was Ambassador to Belgium that Gibson achieved his best-known position as the lead representative for the United States at the a naval disarmament conference at Geneva. He appeared on the cover of Time magazine in November 1923, July 1927 (just prior to the California Graphic issue) and February 1932, a reflection of the high status he’d achieved in the diplomatic field. He wound up holding important positions in disarmament committees and conferences through the early 1930s.
Though a long-time Republican, Gibson was appointed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt as ambassador to Brazil, where he served for four years. Roosevelt sought to send him to Germany, but the situation there with the continued aggression of Hitler and the Nazis led him to resign from the diplomatic corps. During the early Forties, Gibson returned to working with relief in Poland and Belgium and in related capacities but also worked in publishing, including working on the diaries of Joseph Goebbels and other notable figures of the era.
In the postwar period, Gibson traveled with Hoover on a fact-finding mission for food assistance in the devastated nations of Europe and took part in an economic committee working in Germany and Austria. During the Fifties, he was involved in working with refugees, with the Hoover Commission for reorganization of federal departments. He was running the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration at Geneva when he died at the end of 1954 at age 71 and was highly regarded for his work over decades in diplomacy.
Another figure mentioned in this section was Aline Barnsdall, an oil heiress whose Olive Park estate became Barnsdall Park, named for her father and which includes her remarkable Frank Lloyd Wright designed Hollyhock House, which is now a City of Los Angeles owned park. The article noted that she gave $20,000 for the city’s parks and playground department for the teaching of eurhythmics (yes, 80s pop music fans, that’s where the Annie Lennox/Dave Stewart band name, spelled slightly differently, came from!), a music teaching method developed by Jacques Dalcroze.
The idea was that ten acres was set aside by Barnsdall for the teaching of the eurhythmics and the $50,000 Hollyhock House was to be used “to house classes in music, dramatics, dancing, and other forms of artistic expression.” In all, the article stated that Barnsdall had given about a million dollars in donations and funds to the city and that she had plans for an outdoor theater at the site, as well.
Then, there is June Mathis, a remarkable figure in the Hollywood film industry, who died at just 40 years of age at the end of July 1927. She was a stage actress from a young age, became an important screenwriter from the mid-teens, and is credited with discovering Rudolph Valentino, one of the biggest sex symbols of the era, Mathis was a powerful figure at Metro Pictures, moved with Valentino to Goldwyn Pictures and then remained in the merger which became Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Mathis died of a heart attack while attending a play in New York and, because she’d given part of her family crypt at Hollywood Forever Cemetery for Valentino’s remains, after his death in 1926, as a temporary situation that became permanent, she and the actor remain buried side-by-side.
The article commented upon the fact that her friends contended that Mathis “was a mystic.” It added that “she had long been a student of the occult and was deeply versed in Oriental lore” and “was known to have been keenly sensible to the spirit world.” It was noted that she “seemed to see beyond the veil and she had a canny faculty for discerning the thoughts of others.”
Purportedly, Mathis downplayed ideas that she was a psychic, but her inner circle told of “many demonstrations of her ability to read the past, as well as to forecast the future. And with few exceptions, her revelations were usually correct.” One friend stated that Mathis attributed her success to her gift, as it allegedly helped with her screenwriting and her “veritable sixth sense of what can be put over photographically” on screen. It was said that, when she was struggling with a story, “she simply closed her eyes and projected herself out of herself” as in a trance.
It was added that “another pronounced talent of June Mathis was her unfailing recognition of ability in others,” most notably Valentino, but “she has a record of having picked out many more promising ‘extras.'” She was said to have been generous and kind to those she took under her wing, even if they were not as appreciative as they should have been. The piece concluded:
Hollywood knew no finer woman than June Mathis. She gave the screen the best she had, because she believed in it as a great dramatic art in the making. The films have had no better influence than hers; and often her counsels were sought by those in high places in the industry. When Screenland’s hall of fame is established, the name of June Mathis should be among the first there enshrined.
With regard to the Julian Petroleum scandal of which Finney would write and publish subsequently, there is an article here called “Washing the Sheep of Finance” and concerning the powerful banker Henry M. Robinson. Robinson tried to claim that he and other prominent figures, including Motley H. Flint, Charles Stern and more, were innocent of wrongdoing in the infamous oil company’s bubble and implosion, but Finney wrote that the financier “up and throws a log on the bonfire, thereby encouraging a new burst of controversial flame” with the scandal.
The overall tenor of Finney’s piece is that Robinson, widely respected as a sage of the banking world in the Angel City, should have refrained from making public statements to try to explain their role in receiving $100,000 from Julian Petroleum as “merely a precautionary measure against expenses which might arise in connection with their financing program” with the firm.” Instead of calming the waters, the effect was “to open wide the Julian mess again.” The question was how such a prominent and sober figure could get sold by shady figures like Julian and Sheridan Lewis, though Flint, in Finney’s view, was “the least worthy” of the worthy bankers.
The piece ended with a sort of stream-of consciousness evocation of swanky apartments, film stars, “hijinky midnight suppers,” sweet papa” sentiments, and other elements of the scandal that were “oh! so hard to tear away from” as “so powerfully seductive.” When the reckoning came it was that “the inescapable moral chemistry was working with an erosion that left the spirit bare.” As Julian’s scheme collapsed it would “merely represent payment for defiance of the old Biblical adjuration: ‘Thou Shalt Not!'” While “the law of that ancient day remains to claim its forfeitures . . . the banker passes on.”
Other elements of the magazine include a warning to Los Angeles planners to avoid the fate of New York as “The Harlot of Hell’s Gate” with its haphazard development, overcrowded conditions yielding people paying the physical and mental price, and other abhorrent features that meant that “Greater New York is undoubtedly the Scarlet Lady described by John in the 17th Chapter of Revelation.” Hoyt Bolster, the apoplectic writer of the piece, concluded “here is another lesson for the builders of Los Angeles which seems destined to be one of the greatest cities every built and which easily be made the most beautiful as well as the most comfortable to live in, if our city planners will only take time by the forelock” and avoid New York’s fate.
Another piece discusses a trio of horse shows at Orange County, San Diego and the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds (now Fairplex) at Pomona, with equestrian pursuits being a particular passion for Finney, who was a major figure in such organizations in the region. There was also coverage of an important horse show at Palo Alto in the north.
We conclude with an item in the editorial section titled “From Sublime to Ridiculous” and which concerns the newly opened Mission Playhouse in San Gabriel, a theater which received a large financial contribution from Walter P. Temple, whose business manager and friend, Milton Kauffman, was an officer of the association which led the effort to build the venue.
The theater was built for the widely popular Mission Play, written by John Steven McGroarty and which was full-throated endorsement of the work of the Roman Catholic missionaries of the Spanish period of California, while leaving aside the devastating effects of their work on the indigenous people of the region.
Like many, the California Graphic was supportive of the play which now had a home that was “a dignified and lasting structure, in keeping with its significance and reverence.” Yet, after thirty weeks of performances of the passion play, “announcement has just been made that the next offering . . . will be “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” a play by Anita Loos, another remarkable woman of the day.
For the magazine, the play “about a shallow gold-digger may be all right in the commercial theatre, but by the wildest stretch of the imagination it cannot fit into Padre Serra’s playhouse, next door to Mission San Gabriel.” Such a development, “seems hardly credible, considering the vast descent it represents from the transcendant [sic] story of the brown-robed Franciscans . . . the wonder is that the management can even think of such a thing.” Concluding that “some consideration must be given to the fitness of things,” the editorial asks the rhetorical question: “what must be the reaction of the people who contributed to the building fund, induced to do so to help preserve a worthy drama?” What, indeed, would Walter P. Temple have thought?
The California Graphic did not, as so many publications, last much beyond the start of the Great Depression. Finney continued to write, publishing Angel City in Turmoil in 1945, for example, about corruption involving the recall of Mayor Frank Shaw several years before, and he died twenty years later having long been out of the public eye in the city he called home for over fifty years.