by Paul R. Spitzzeri
For the 2022 high school football season, it is roughly halfway through the campaign and in the Los Angeles City section, undefeated holds the top ranking according to MaxPreps, with the rest of the top five rounded out by Venice (5-2), Franklin (7-0), Banning (3-4), and Roosevelt (7-0.) A couple of the older schools among Angel City gridiron teams are Hollywood, which opened in 1903, and Jefferson, debuting in 1916.
The Hollywood Sheiks are 3-3 for the year and won decisively against Belmont last week, posting a 39-6 win and will play Roybal this Friday, while Jefferson, which is 2-4 on the season, last played on the final day of September and was defeated 40-16 by Marquez, but looks to rebound against Maywood CES (Center of Enriched Studies) on Friday.
At this time 93 years ago (and just a few weeks before the crash of the stock market that ushered in the Great Depression), the two squads were facing off in their first contest of the Major City League schedule as Hollywood traveled to Jefferson, located on the former site of Los Angeles Stadium in South Los Angeles. The highlighted object from the Museum’s collection for this post is the program for the game, pasted down on an album page with the reverse featuring a program for a Hollywood High recital by the great French organist, Marcel Dupré—we’ll save that item for a future post in the “Striking a Chord” series on this blog.
The item has an Art Deco appearance and was published by Hollywood High graduate William H. Neville, from the summer class of 1923 (schools frequently had winter ones, as well), and his publishing company. at the center of the inside two panels are the starting lineups for the teams, the list of coaches Vic Kelley of Hollywood and Jim Purcell of Jefferson and the officials, the box score and the list of substitutes (this being on the back panel which is pasted down on the album page.) An inscription on the album page called the contest “the first game of the season in my 10a [sophomore] year’ and that it was “some game.”
Elsewhere, there are advertisements from a club pin manufacturer, Hollywood clothiers (one advertising “the keenest suit in town” for $40 as well as the “barrymore collared shirt,” popularized by actor John Barrymore—whose granddaughter is actor Drew Barrymore), Alec, the “king of malted milks,” and the Chilitown Cafe, serving Chinese food as well as its namesake dish! Finally, the owner pasted down the bus ticket used to get to the fourth contest of the league season, “an exciting game,” as noted in an inscription, in which Hollywood lost to Franklin, 7-0.
As for the matchup with the Jefferson Democrats, local press coverage before the game was clear that the Sheiks were heavily favored. Irving Eckhoff of the Los Angeles Times wrote in the paper’s edition of the 11th that “Vic Kelley’s Hollywood Hilltoppers should not have much trouble in beating the Democrats” adding that the “Redshirts” (the team wore crimson-colored jerseys) were better than in 1928 and had a quintet of players from the junior team that moved up to varsity for 1929.
Quarterback Johnny Hillman and fullback Wayne Gannon had the bulk—it’d be interesting to know their height and weight compared to today’s high school players—while halfbacks Harry Kelso and Frankie Phillips possessed the speed. The Times happened to publish the list of substitutes, so we know that had twenty of these, while Jefferson had two dozen. Notably, the Democrats had a mix of Jewish, Latino and Black, as well as white, players, in contrast to Hollywood, which appears to have been mainly, if not totally, comprised of white athletes.
In its coverage of the opening battles of the league season, the Los Angeles Record of the 11th put the focus on the fight between Los Angeles Poly and Manual Arts—a program from a November 1928 game with Jefferson was featured on this blog previously. This matchup was also held at the Coliseum and it was expected there would be 30,000 spectators to watch the contest between what where considered the best of the seven squads in the league. As for the Hollywood-Jefferson game, it was merely stated that “Hollywood should come out on top over Jefferson.”
The Los Angeles Express, in its gameday edition, did offer the view that the Democrats squad “is out to score an upset and trim Hollywood on their own field” noting that “this is not unlikely, as the Foothillers are slow to get started because they use the intricate ‘Warner’ system of play.” This latter reference was to early football legend Glenn “Pop” Warner, who introduced many innovations to the rapidly evolving sport, including single and double wing formations, improved throwing methods by quarterbacks, full blocking techniques, three-point stance launches from the backfield and many others.
The paper added that the Sheiks had one prime advantage, as “the star of the game should be Frankie Phillips, the smallest and fastest halfback in the City League.” Frank Van Tuyl Phillips was born in San Bernardino, but lived in East Hollywood with his widowed mother and siblings. Standing just 5’9″ and weighing 150 pounds (although it was likely rare that even linemen at the high school level went beyond 200 pounds), the young man dreamed of playing college football for Notre Dame.
For the Democrats, it was observed that the “the Pelter brothers are Jeff’s big shots.” Morris and Abraham, sons of Polish Jews who migrated to the United States early in the century, were born in Chicago and then in Detroit, where their younger brother was born. The siblings were considered “as versatile a ‘brother’ combination as ever stepped on a gridiron with Abraham, the younger of the two, playing halfback and Morris a right end.
Finally, there was some coverage from that day’s Hollywood Citizen, which felt that the contest “loomed as a toss-up” but then added that “Coach Vic Kelley’s Hollywood grids were given a slight edge” even as the coach “expected a tough game and possibly a defeat.” Still, he “flashed a new backfield of Hillman, Gannon, Kelso and Phillips “along with a fighting line led by Captain Paul Grade at end.”
It turned out that the contest was not even close, although it was scoreless after the first quarter, perhaps reflecting the view of the Express that the Sheiks would get off to a slow start because of the Warner system. That paper’s postgame coverage noted that “as per schedule the Hollywood team had too much on the ball and walloped Jefferson, 20 to 6.” Employing reverses that worked successfully, including with one of the substitutes named Bill Reams, Hollywood also benefited from some timely passing from Hillman to Grade and to Reams, who took one of the tosses for a touchdown.
As for defense, it was accounted “woefully weak” as Coach Kelley stated that his offensive line did well, but its defensive counterpoint was “terrible,” leading him to consider promoting two more substitutes into the starting lineup. Still, the Democrats got their only points on the board on a touchdown, though the extra point conversion failed, late in the fourth quarter as Kelley played much of his bench and it was added that one of the Pelters and quarterback Louie Oliver “were the only ones that displayed any football knowledge.” The account ended by predicting that Hollywood could defeat Manual Arts the following week as Hillman, Gannon and Phillips made up “one of the best backfields in the city.”
The Citizen felt that the Sheiks “showed a splendid defense and at no time in the game were pressed” by Jefferson,” though it acknowledged that, despite being the better squad, they did not score until the second quarter. It went on that, “the first Hollywood goal was made when Frank Phillips, diminutive Crimson flash, got in an open field and galloped 62 yards to a touchdown.” The program has a similar notation that “Phillips star[r]ed, he galloped down the field 62 yd. for the first touchdown of the game.”
The third stanza found Hillman hitting Reams for the 20-yard score, while a long 4th-quarter drive by the Sheiks culminated in Gannon plunging over the goal line and then making his second extra point of the contest to extend the lead to 20-0. Jefferson’s points came when Oliver found one of the Pelters for a long pass to the Sheiks’ 10-yard line and Oliver ran the ball in as part of “a series of concentrated plunges.”
The Record, more prone to brief summaries than its contemporaries, merely noted that “the Sheiks from Hollywood high took the upper hand of a 20-6 score over the Jefferson high school squad.” The Times, on the other hand, went into more detail, stating that the victors were “flashing a brilliant offensive and showing plenty of power” as it “smashed its way” to provide ample “evidence of their superiority from the start,” even if the team was slow getting on the board.
After relating the manner in which the winning squad tallied its three touchdowns, the paper noted that “the Democrats, although beaten, kept right on fighting and had the pleasure of earning a touchdown before the game ended,” with Oliver following right guard Fred Dodge into the end zone to avoid the shutout.
In fact, it wound up being a tough league season for Jefferson, which failed to score in its next four contests, while giving up 19 to 22 points to its opponents from Franklin, Lincoln, Los Angeles, and Poly. Only in its final game against Manual Arts, which had been favored to win the league, did it manage both to limit its rival and while finally finding the end zone once again, scoring a moral victory in a 7-6 nail-biter.
As for Hollywood, it carried some momentum into that second contest against Poly and, as predicted by the Express, it squeaked out a 7-6 victory. After a bye in the third week, however, the Shieks wound up dropping the last four league games and was shut-out in three of them, including a 46-0 shellacking at the hands of Manual Arts and losses to Lincoln (20-7), Franklin (7-0), and Los Angeles (13-0.)
While it appeared that Poly and Manual Arts were considered early favorites to contest for the league crown—the Record reported that “local dopesters [meaning those who had the “inside dope” or information!] say” that the opening game between the two “will virtually decide the championship” and Manual Arts romped to a 26-6 win—the season turned out to have something of a surprise ending. Manual Arts finished third at 4-2, while Poly was just 2-3-1, the tie being with Los Angeles, which otherwise went undefeated and took the crown, while Franklin ended at 5-1.
When the Express published its first and second all-league teams at the end of November, it included Paul Grade of the Sheiks and Louie Oliver of the Democrats on the former, while Hillman and tackle Dave Zabriskie were included on the latter. A letter to the paper’s sports columnist Bill Hunt from a Los Angeles grad wondered why the winner of the “major” league of city gridiron squads (Hollywood captured top honors in 1927) couldn’t contend for a true city championship against the winner of the “minor” division, which included schools like Belmont, Fairfax, Fremont and Roosevelt, the latter of which finished atop that “lesser” group.
Notably, the writer felt that the Rough Riders of Boyle Heights would throttle his beloved Romans by two touchdowns. For his part, Hunt stated that talk of such a contest had been “shelved indefinitely” for the previous couple of years, but added, “this thing can’t go on forever” as “the Minor teams must be recognized, and justly so.”
All, but Belmont, “had formidable elevens this year” and he observed that continuing progress by the younger schools would mean “the time will not be far distant when the winner” of that division would “be hailed as ‘The City Champions.” After all, the columnist concluded, “What right has anyone to acclaim the winner of the Major League the “City Champions?” In fact, in 1930, Fremont tied with Manuel Arts and Lincoln for the title and won it outright the following season.
One last footnote has to do with Frankie Phillips, the speedy Hollywood halfback who hoped to play for Notre Dame. It turned out that a friend was the son of the manager of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and that connection led to the high schooler getting a summer job at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). Demonstrating an interest in cinematography, Phillips found a mentor in Harry Stradling and became an assistant cameraman and second unit photographer at MGM before moving into television work as principal cameraman. Later, he worked for Disney Studios and was nominated for an Academy Award for his work on the film, The Black Hole. Phillips died in 1994 and there is an interesting biographical sketch of him on the IMDB website.