“An Intensification of the Herd Instinct”: Items of Interest in “California Graphic” Magazine, 20 July 1929

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

A previous post here looked at Guy W. Finney and an August 1927 issue of his magazine, California Graphic and tonight’s post highlighted the 20 July 1929 edition of the publication, which the front cover stated covered “Personalities—Stage and Screen—Arts—Sports—Politics—Society—Finance—The Horse.” That is, the material was directed to a well-to-do, elite and white clientele in the Angel City, at least for several years before the publication folded during the early stages of the Great Depression. At its masthead, there is a sidebar, which reads “with the passing of the pioneer spirit in America, we find an intensification of the herd instinct . . . the dominant psychology being based on the love of crowds and great assemblies.” Another suggests that “try as we may we cannot change the law of life. . . . that self-reliance depends upon our ability to withstand the physical and mental disintegration which soft-living inevitably brings.”

The main feature under the heading of “Personalities and Comment” concerned the young thinker and teacher, Jiddu Krishnamurthi (1895-1986), who, with his brother Nitya, was adopted by Annie Besant, the president of the Theosophical Society, founded in New York in 1875 by Russian emigre Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and others which, as the Society’s website, states were “in search of the Ancient Wisdom” from the philosophical and religious teaching of West and East.

Basically, the Society allows for its adherents to have “full freedom to interpret any and all teachings” while it is devoted to “preserving and realizing the Ageless Wisdom, which embodies both a worldview and a vision of human self-transformation.” It does this by asserting that everything in the universe in interconnected in one whole; that all beings are part of a universal reality based on natural processes and “the deepest recesses of the mind and spirit;” that all living creatures have “unique value” deserving of compassion and sympathy, including “respect for all religious traditions” and their practice by people; and seeks unity and understanding for all, regardless of ethnicity, gender, nationality, philosophical views and religious belief, so that “devotion to truth, love for all living beings, and commitment to a life of altruism are the marks of the true Theosophist.”

Besant broadcast the the young Krishnamurthi was a predicted “world teacher” and the Order of the Star in the East was built around him. When Nitya came down with tuberculosis, he and Jiddu came to California in 1922 and specifically in the Ventura County community of Ojai, where The Star Camp was developed as a Theosophical compound. Yet, as the article observed, after his brother died within two years and Krishnamurthi further reflected on the philosophy, he decided to disband The Order and moved away from Theosophy.

The piece noted that “in his teachings . . . Krishnamurthi is absolutely impersonal. He asks none to accept his principles, until they have been tried out and proved.” His authenticity was amply displayed by his dissolution of The Order because he “holds that spiritual truth cannot be promoted” but instead “it is an individual experience that each must gain for himself” in the search for the Kingdom of Happiness. Life was “The Beloved” and, as Hindu and other religious teach, has no beginning nor end.

The true goal was freedom, but “most people are ehchained to this that or the other oppression,” as the article expresses it, but it also quote Krishnamurthi as observing,

Because the individual does not know his purpose, he is in a state of uncertainty and chaos. Because the individual has not solved his own problem, the problem of the world has not been solved. The individual problem is the world problem.

If the individual is unhappy, discontented, dissatisfied, then the world around him is in sorry, disconent and ignorance. If the individual has not found his goal, the world will not find its goal. You cannot separate the individual from the world. The world and the individual are one. If the individua problem can be solved by understanding, so can the problem of the world be solved. But before you can give understanding to others you have first to understand for yourself. When you establish the Truth in your heart and mind, there it will abide eternally.

He decried worship and the sense of authority that some sought in him, saying he did not want follower, disciples, praise or worship. Religions were “binding” and “limiting” and he taught for freedom from any adherence to authority that was, in any case, “the antithesis of spirituality.” To follow another was the reverse of freedom and he asserted that individuals should be discontented, in revolt against any authority that kept people bound and limited, and in a state of “inner dissent with everything about you.” The article ended with his declaration that “I want you to become your own leader” and Krishnamurthi went on to build a substantial following during the remaining 57 years of his life, which ended in Ojai.

Tribute was paid in this section to Lilian Lida Bell, who wrote under her married name of Mrs. Arthur Hoyt Bogue mostly novels and travelogues and who was widely popular during the 1890s, though she continued to write afterward including a final novel in 1926 and a play completed two years later. Yet, the magazine observed, Bell’s recent death went virtually unnoticed with no local newspapers mentioning it, even though she lived in a small bungalow in Hollywood for several years.

The piece decried the media obssession with film stars, crime stories and scandal, while ignoring the noble works of Bell, including, it was pointed out, her taking “an active part in the crusade to relieve the miserable condition of the American Indian child” including working with the newly appointed federal Indian commissioner. One of her other good works came with the onset of the First World War in 1914 when Bell “threw herself into relief work unreservedly” in raising $2 million for 7 million toys for children the war-ravaged nations of Europe and for assisting wounded soldiers with wheelchairs and entertainment while hospitalized.

Finally, there is a short comment about Bruce Findlay, the new head of the publicity department of the very powerful Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. More recently, he’d been an “ambassador of good will” for the advertising section of The Broadway, the department store long headed by Arthur Letts and before that he was the Los Angeles City Schools assistant superintendent under Susan Dorsey and focused on citizenship coursework. It was noted that one of the main items for Findlay to promote for the Chamber was the Boulder Dam, renamed after President Herbert Hoover, and the importance of water delivery from the Colorado to greater Los Angeles.

In the Editorial section were commentaries about two notorious figures of prominence in the region, Harold Davis, former Chief Deputy District Attorney for the county, and “Fighting Bob” Shuler, the pugnacious Methodist minister. Davis was convicted of accepting bribes in the scandal involving C.C. Julian and his oil company, extensively covered in a multi-part series in this blog, with his boss Asa Keyes soon to follow. Finney wrote an early book, The Great Los Angeles Swindle, about this sordid chapter in 1920s Los Angeles history.

As for Shuler, it was averred that his crusades against immorality and vice were “gradually working a curious psychological change in the community, most recently in his radio programs concerning alleged “shakedowns” of motorists for traffic violations. Stating that he should be allowed to present any evidence he claimed to have, the magazine added that “while all may not agree with Rev. Schuler [sic] as to the temperateness of his method of reaching the public with his charges, none can deny that he possesses both courage and resourcefulness.” Moreover, he was owed a great deal of gratitude by the public for his role in the Davis/Keyes cases.

Additionally, it was claimed that “not many of his fellow-clergymen in Los Angeles have the Shuler brand of courage of the Shuler understanding of the oublic psychology in maters which involve political scandals.” While some might prefer to “move on” from the Julian scandal, the problems in the District Attorney’s office, or the corruption infesting the Los Angeles Police Department, Shuler pressed on with an abundance of enthusiasm and vitriol, but the editorial ended with the observation that

Anyway you look at it, it is a fact that many citizens now think of Rev. Bob Shuler as having something better than a “nuisance value” in a community the great majority of whose well-meaning citizens, innocent themselves of irregularities, having long been slumbering over a volcano that was bound in time to burst forth.

Finney had his own feature, “Bringing Harmony to The Owens Valley” which referred to ongoing tensions, trouble and sabotage related to the Los Angeles Aqueduct, a topic covered here a week ago. In this case, Finney stated that trying “to bring about complete harmony” between the City of Los Angeles and Owens Valley residents would be “a worthy work of far-reaching signifcance.”

The core of the question, however, was “a twenty-year old controversy which yet smoulders and which in occasion threatens to burst into flames” and was one “charged with bitterness and hatreds . . . with glaring faults on both sides.” Underlying the conflict were “the deceit, the chicanery, the political interplays and the double-dealing (again on both sides) which intervened to make the city seem monstrously greedy and unfair in the eyes of the valley folk, on the one hand, and the valley folk inflexibly stupid in their assertions of right, on the other hand.”

Finney continued that “that interesting Valley, aside from its tremendous value to Los Angeles as the city’s chief water source, has great potential value as a recreation field” for camping, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, and, maybe, winter sports, especially at Mammoth and at many points above the valley in the Sierra Nevadas. Moreover, he went on, “automobilists are given a cordial welcome in the Owens Valley towns” and the money they spent “serve to pave the way to a better understanding between the visitor and the townfolk.”

It was said that the only way to still the waters was for Los Angeles to acquire all Valley land, including that of the towns, at “one-sided” prices in favor of owners and it was suggested that property owned by the Angel City be developed to attract more tourists and vacationers. There was no future for agriculture, Finney concluded, in the Owens Valley “but it has greater possibilities as a vacationland than the average citizen realizes.” He argued,

the Los Angeles municipal government should put itself in an attitude similar to the Federal Goverment in its development of the national parks. The problems involved are essentially those of conservation of public health. What the Fedeal Government has done in developing and encuoraging the use of its immense mountain domains by the recreation-seeking public, can as readily be duplicated in the Owens Valley by Los Angeles.

The magazine’s associate editor, Hans O. Stechan, handled “The Theatre” page and was not very favorable toward the screen adaptation of Coquette, starring Mary Pickford, in comparison to the stage original, which featured Helen Hayes. He noted that, “while the cinera was a fairly good picture, as pictures based on warmed-over stories go, it does not begin to compare with the original play, from a dramatic standpoint.” The play was poignant and the tragic end, in which Pickford’s Norma Besant’s father kills her lover and then himself, happened “just as such events must in everyday life.” The film, though, “has been diluted—distorted as it were—to provide a happy ending” in which a suitor, approved by her father, offers to walk her home, though she decided to do so alone.

For Stechan, this was simply too much and “from a literary standpoint, this is little short of criminal, because it does violence to the writer’s art” and “to palm this version off as Coquette is a bald misrepresentation.” Deceiving millions was such a crime that, Stechan added, “the Federal Government will not permit food substitutes to be sold for the real article,” so why was this allowed as if there was no difference between “the things we take in mentally, as those we put into our stomachs.”

The critic noted that D.W. Griffith predicted the end of the stage as films grew in popularity and Stechan claimed that with newly invented talking pictures, “three-fourths of it is senseless chatter and the clinking of ice in glasses or slamming of doors.” As yet, he offered, “intelligent dialogue . . . has not yet found its way to the screen” and the film version of Coquette “is a shamles imposition on the public that a film can be palmed off on it as a transcription of a play. But as long as the same public doesn’t seem to care or get made about it—why would we? Save that we just can’t help it.”

Other items in his page concerned performances at the Pasadena Community Playhouse, Henry Duffy’s Hollywood showplace, the El Capitan Theatre, Ethel Barrymore’s work as a nn at ages 19, 29 and 70 in the play The Kingdom of God, and more. Sections for education, books, and the “Hoofbeats” page on equestrian events are also found, while in “Finance and Investments,” it was reported that the recent closing of the Pan-American Bank of Los Angeles “has no special significance outside of the local banking confines” with the institution a victim of “super-optimism plus faulty judgment” by men who lacked “large banking caliber” and who were with “second story banks.” With the Great Depression just a few months away, reading this reminds of what was said initially in early 1876 about the collapse of the Temple and Workman bank, which was Los Angeles’ first significant business failure and which had far great ramifications for the local economy than was initially claimed.

Also discussed was that “aviation stock[s] continue to occupy a place in the eye of the investing public” as new stock issues were made on the Los Angeles Stock Exchange. It was noted that there was a feeling that the local industry should hit “rock bottom” as investors did not want to put their money “into the financing of untried companies whose stocks are being freely offered.” Firms were warned to be ready for scrutiny into their operations and if they could demonstrate soundnes, “they should experience no great difficulty in obtaining needed operating funds.”

Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, with its plant located the prior year at Burbank, was reported to have merged with the Detroit Aircraft Corporation after several months of negotiations. The deal was said to be “highly significant in stabilizing the finances of the Los Angeles organization” as Lockheed’s economic picture was “considerably strained . . . due largely to interruptions in the financia program laid out by Allan Loughheed [] and local associates.” Loughead and Jack Northrup formed the firm in late 1926 out of a Hollywood garage and exploratory flights in the Arctic and Antarctic led to a flood of orders and the move to Burbank. the merger involved several companies and capitalization of some $20 million.

As always, advertisements are fun to see in magazines and a few examples are included here. Though, as noted above, the Great Depression as on the horizon and the long-term fate of the publication was not good, this issue of California Graphic is interesting and informative as to certain aspects of life in greater Los Angeles at the end of the Roaring Twenties. Unfortunately, the Homestead’s collection only contains this issue and the 1927 number covered here previously.

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