Reading Between the Lines While Getting Schooled in Letters from J. Perry Worden Regarding the Temple Family, 19 October 1926

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Previous posts on this blog have detailed how Walter P. Temple, not long after his stunning change in fortune due to the wealth he derived from royalties on oil production at his Montebello-area lease to Standard Oil Company (California), sought to have the history of the Workman and Temple family presented in book form.

Attorney Johnstone Jones, with help from Luther Ingersoll from the Los Angeles Public Library, was hired to write this work, but ill health prevented him from doing much with it, so Temple turned to J[ames] Perry Worden, who was best known for his labors in getting the memoir of merchant Harris Newmark published in 1916 as Sixty Years in Southern California.

As noted before, Worden, a native of New York and who earned a doctorate in history, was an unusual character, fastidious, fussy, fawning and prone to fulminating righteously if he felt he was not being treated with the proper respect, or get his pay on time—even then he frequently pleaded poverty as he lamented how little he was remunerated for all that he had done.

We know all of this principally through the many letters he wrote, mostly to his patron, but sometimes to the eldest of the Temple children, Thomas W. II, who later became a well-known genealogist and historian in San Gabriel. Many of these missives are filled with capitalization, underlining, spacing and other typewriter techniques abundantly used to emphasize Worden’s many points.

The featured pieces of correspondence from the Museum’s collection for this post are not actually as demonstrative as other examples, though some of these characteristics are present in his letters to Walter and a copy sent to the youngest of the children, Walter, Jr. and Edgar. They are, however, completely absent in the copy of a missive to a teacher at the private Dummer (yes, Dummer!) Academy in South Byfield, Massachusetts, north of Boston, where the Temple brothers were in their first semester of the high school program.

Los Angeles Illustrated Daily News, 18 October 1926.

These copies were sent with a short note to “My dear Friend, Walter Temple,” with Worden offering one of his fulsome praises of his patron: “How much good, in your quiet and unpretentious way, you are doing, from day to day, for those about you!” This was because the historian and his wife, Effie, “went to see the ‘Faust,’ on Saturday, in accordance with your kind invitation.”

Here, Worden employed one of his special typing devices, in adding “w e e n j o y e d t h e o c c a s i o n v e r y, v e r y m u c h” while adding that he heard that the operating performance was broadcast on local radio. Moreover, he wrote that “it was worth while to see, (as I had not heretofore,) the new Shrine Auditorium,” of which a previous post on this blog discussed, while he noted that the scenery of the opera “was also all that one could wish for.”

In his effusive thanks, Worden reiterated that Temple’s beneficence not only “helps make other lives brighter” but was such that he hoped that “every blessing, in return, will favor you and your family, all of your days.” The letter also mentioned Temple’s visit, with his beau Maude Bassity (often called the “housekeeper” at the Homestead and La Casa Nueva) including the gift of jerked venison, which was “such a new experience for us tenderfeet,” and expressed the hope that another trip would be made out to Worden’s Pasadena residence in the Oak Knoll district near the California Institute of Technology and the Huntington Library by such “unpretentious guests.”

The letter to Dummer Academy was addressed to “Professor Smith” of the modern languages department, this being Gilbert M. Smith. who Worden noted was “the son, with so much of credit to your name, of my good old friend, and chum in Eulexian [a collegiate literary society], the Rev. Allan Smith of St. Stephens College.” The historian, who briefly referred to his Temple family research for the book that, after almost a decade, went unfinished, added that the elder Smith was, while at the school, now known as Bard College in Annandale, New York, “one of the ablest and most influential students in his time . . . a manly man, a scholarly gentleman, one of the most dependable of all fellows, the sould [sic] of honor . . .”

Gilbert M. Smith, the French teacher at Dummer Academy, from the school’s 1927 yearbook.

The reason for this encomium was simply that Gilbert Smith, a 1925 graduate of St. Stephens and soon hired at Dummer, which may well explain how Walter, Jr. and Edgar ended up there, was welcomed “to turn to me for any advice I may be able, in my limited time as a somewhat over-worked man [there’s another Wordenian complaint!], to be able to give—advice or hearty cooperation.” Then, naturally came the requested favor of Smith when it came to the Temple brothers:

it would give me a perdonal [sic] satisfaction if you would, both for their sake, and that of the school, and myself, do anything reasonable and proper for them, to help them along, that you can . . . I have always found the Temple boys good young sports, well-intending and very honest and dependable . . . Their Father, in so many ways a representative and honored Californian, with a deal to be proud of as to his family’s past, is at the same time one of the plainest, most unpretentious gentlemen, not at all foolishly conceited about his children, desiring no favoritism for them, but only to have them put upon their merits, and wishing, naturally, that they do not fall behind, but progress and come out O.K.—even, perhaps, with the help, if necessary, of a little private coaching—at the end of the year.

Having laid out his request, Worden added that if Smith were to “have any private report or suggestions to make, such as it may be well for Mr. Walter Temple to know about, be free and frank to send me a line.” The letter, absent of those typographic quirks mentioned above, concluded with the note that “if you [or other faculty] have had an experience in teaching Edgar and Walter Temple, Jr., and should later come out to California to look at the coyotes and sugar-beets, you may be sure of the most courteous hospitality at the famous Workman Homestead, the country seat of the boys’ father.”

The two-page letter to Edgar and Walter, Jr. began with a long-winded discussion of that jerked venison with which the senior Temple “was motoring through the County with a Santa Claus load . . . distributing it here and there to the hungry.” He mentioned the two-hour visit of Mr. Temple and Maud Bassity, with her “motherly touch and taste and tact,” with some sampling of the meat and enough left in the ice-box “in case the next aeroplane should drop two famished Dummer boys down through out roof!”

After expressing the hope that the younger Temples would get a later sampling of such delights, albeit through “some miraculous fashion,” Worden observed that he expected the brothers “have found that many boys at the Academy will have had such a different experience from your own, that they will listen with a great deal of interest to your stories of California life,” whether of fishing, hunting or other sporting activities. Meanwhile, he advised them to learn about the schoolmates “for in this way you will best get a valuable part of your education, and become well-posted as to the world and life.”

The 1927 Dummer Academy baseball team with Walter, Jr. and Edgar standing at top right next to the young man in the suit.

After telling them that he would send them newspaper sports sections from home, Worden continued that he “obtained a very pleasant and favorable impression of Dummer Academy and facilities for out— and indoor sport, of athletic life such as I knew in my Yankee days. He then went on to attempt some levity in talking about the upcoming holidays, including Thanksgiving, expecting that the Temples would “astonish the natives” with their appetites “in making a roast turkey look sick, and perhaps in getting sick making the turkey look likewise.”

After advising that the imagine eating turkey, but then not actually having some because they wouldn’t wind up “awfully sick” after and wishing they hadn’t overindulged, the historian opined that the most important thing for them was to get fresh air as most beneficial to their health. While Worden then stated, at the bottom of the first page, that “this is quite a nonsense letter, so I will close,” he, characteristically, ruminated on for another page.

He expressed his hope that the two teens, across the continent from home and almost certainly homesick, were “enjoying life there immensely,” and advised that they be grateful that Mrs. Bassity and their father were doing well “and that everything is going along nicely at home.” This included Worden’s view that “your Father looks to be greatly improved in health since his trip” to New England to enroll the younger Temples at Dummer and Thomas at Harvard Law School, while the only daughter, Agnes, returned to California for her sophomore year at Dominican College after deciding she would not go to school in Massachusetts.

With regard to Agnes, the historian suggested her brothers appreciate that she “has such a fine musical college for the development of her musical talents” because “she is likely someday, with her musical genius, to make you boys, )when you will soon be men,) very proud of her.” As for Thomas, the boys were implored to “be glad that Tommy has at last entered upon professional training, in one of the largest and finest universities in all America” while they were attending “one of the best of all boys’ schools in the United States.”

Once Worden noted that Walter, Jr. and Edgar “may well be proud of your Father, and all the California and Massachusetts members of your old and historic family,” he reminded them of a quote that “Every success of most men means about 1/10 inspiration, and 9/10 perspiration,” which he attributed to journalist Arthur Brisbane of the Hearst syndicate’s New York Mirror, but which is generally thought, with different wording, to be from Thomas Edison.

In any case, Worden had three components to working hard, which was to do the work of every day and week well; to not fall behind; and to not allow the work and grades to be such that they would have to make up work and risk losing their standing. He went on to suggest that,

where everything is so new, where sports and pleasures attract and tempt you, you are in more danger the very first few months of your stay at Dummer, in falling behind and down, “b u t D O N ‘ T d o i t— K E E P U P r e g u l a r l y.”

Edgar and Walter, Jr. were encouraged to become friends with the headmaster, Dr. Charles Ingham and his wife, and to “tell them your difficulties, if you have any, or you special wishes.” Mention was made of Gilbert Smith, who “is the son of an old friend of mine,” and Worden told them that he would also prove to be a friend and that “I have written him today, and you may go to him for advice.” After mentioning a math teacher (whose Roman Catholicism seemed, for an unexplained reason, worth noting), the historian recommended that “it is a good rule, to make ALL of your teachers your friends.”

With this, Worden came to an end, asking to be remembered to the Inghams, reminding the boys to write their father and “if you ever have time, write me a few lines.” He asked them to “be cheerful and be brave, boys, and do yourselves proud. Even if they were “from the Wild and Wooly West,” the youngest of the Temples were “Young Gentlemen” and “we are eager to hear that you are everywhere received in the East as young Californians whom everybody wishes to know.”

The mention of sports and other temptations, the advice to work hard and seek help from instructors like Smith, and other admonitions were reflective of the fact that, unlike their older siblings, Walter, Jr. and Edgar, while excellent musicians and athletes, were not the scholars that Thomas and Agnes were. Aside from being so far from home, the two continued to struggle academically, but they were, however, very well liked and admired for their sports prowess and musicianship.

While Worden claimed that all was well at home, that was not quite the case. In spring 1926, Walter, Sr. and his business associates, including manager Milton Kauffman and attorney George H. Woodruff, were forced to issue bonds for both the Temple Townsite Company, developer of Temple City (which celebrates its centennial next year,) and the Temple Estate Company, which managed the rest of Temple’s real estate portfolio.

By the time, Edgar and Walter, Jr. completed high school at Dummer in spring 1929, when their sister and brother finished their education, as well, the financial situation was dire. Yet, the younger Temples were sent to the University of Santa Clara (where Thomas attended high school and college) for the 1930-1931 school year before funds were no longer available for them to continue there. The experiences they had in Massachusetts for almost three years were, however, indelible and formative, so letters like these help us to better understand them and that era.

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