Imagine my surprise when I came across a large number of photos featuring Lou Tellegen!

Lou Tellegen was a famous actor back in the 1910s. I’d never seen his movies or even a picture of him. But I knew his name right away because Dorothy Parker reviewed Women Have Been Kind. The book was Tellegen’s autobiography and it catalogued his relationships with his numerous girlfriends and wives.

Mr. Lou Tellegen, circa 1913. LOC

 

I’m going to write a separate post about Dorothy Parker (1893-1967), who is the funniest author I’ve ever read. Just to give you an idea of who she was, she was a satiric writer, and the authors of the 1920s and 30s must have frozen in delight and terror when they learned she was going to review their book. Everyone read her columns, and she could make an author famous overnight.

It would have been the equivalent of getting invited to be on the Joe Rogan Experience, if Joe Rogan took a wicked delight in making his guests look ridiculous. I would be terrified for her to review anything I’ve written.

Dorothy Parker

 

A Month of Saturdays is a compilation of Dorothy Parker’s book reviews for the Constant Reader from the 1920s and early 1930s. Looks like it’s out of print now, unfortunately.

Women Have Been Kind wasn’t a great book and Tellegen wasn’t a great author. But this book, like many celebrity autobiographies before and since, would have mercifully slipped into oblivion, had it not been reviewed by Dorothy Parker.

 

Lou Tellegen in 1913. I imagine a similar expression was on his face when he learned Parker was reviewing his book.

In her review, entitled Kiss and Tellegen, Parker begins by annihilating the dust jacket:

“The blurb on the dust cover announces, with rather more than the usual bang, that “here are the intimate reminisces of the man who is called ‘the perfect lover.’ (It is not stated who gave him this name, but I feel, somehow, that I have guessed. I won’t say yes, nor I won’t say no, but if you were to whisper to me your conjecture that the phrase-coiner’s initials are L.T., I might admit that you were, like the countless heroines of Women have been Kind, getting warm.)

“The blurb goes breathlessly on… ‘Mr. Tellegen has lived more romance than others read of, and his memoirs are as exciting as a score of novels.’ I shall not dispute that last statement, provided the publishers let me name the score in question.”

And that was just her warm-up. Even though I haven’t read her book in years, I instantly remembered Lou Tellegen’s name when I came across it today. It never occurred to me to see what he looked like, but I was not surprised to find him looking just like he does.

1913. LOC
1913. With an unidentified woman. LOC.

 

Several of the pictures I found are really goofy photos with his wife, the opera singer Geraldine Ferrar. According to Parker, Lou Tellegen didn’t give much detail about his marriage to the famous soprano.

“His account of his American tour with Sarah Bernhardt is, in a word, terrible. You get no hint of her quality; the author is too much occupied with his own concerns at the time. They were not, in another word, interesting.

“Nor is there much to the story of his stretch of time with Geraldine Ferrar. Miss Ferrar was not his first wife nor, so much as I can figure out events, his second or his third. There came a time when it was drawn, somehow, to Mr. Tellegen’s attention, that gentlemen sometimes married ladies, and from then on, he became a regular marryin’ fool.”

1915. Lou Tellegen and Geraldine Ferrar with her parents, Sid Ferrar and Henrietta Barnes Ferrar LOC

 

1916. Lou Tellegen and Geraldine Ferrar LOC
1916. Lou Tellegen and Geraldine Ferrar LOC
1916. Lou Tellegen and Geraldine Ferrar at home LOC. I love the framed publicity photograph of Lou Tellegen displayed conspicuously in their living room.

1916. Lou Tellegen and Geraldine Ferrar LOC

I’m sure there’s more details about Lou Tellegen that I could unearth and share. But we probably know everything we need to know about him, don’t you think? I’d rather read my Dorothy Parker book.

This is a little outside of Old Spirituals’ usual scope, but I thought you might enjoy the stories of two career petty criminals in Montana.

Looking over the changes from one mugshot to the next reminded me somewhat of the Faces of Meth photo collages that float around on the Internet. If you haven’t seen those, each collage depicts one person’s mugshots over a very short period of time– a few months or a year. They’re very sad because the people look decades older, their teeth fall out, they lose most of their hair, and are intended to be a visual warning to people. The two subjects here were arrested repeatedly and incarcerated, but the multiple mugshots are the only similarity to Faces of Meth: these stories aren’t tragic.

We’ll start with Mr. Hall Williams, the less prolific of the two. Officially, the dark-haired, blue-eyed young man did dry-cleaning work for a living, but what Hall really enjoyed was stealing cars in Montana. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t very good at it. Between 1929 and 1937, he was arrested at least three times for grand larceny.

 

Hall Williams’ mugshot sequence (1929, 1931, 1937)

 

Sadly, during his life of crime, both his personal life and his looks suffered. He got married and divorced between 1929 and 1931. Even worse, the condition of his teeth deteriorated from Good in 1929 to Poor in 1937.  Hall Williams was possibly a roughhouser, as evidenced by his proliferation of scars. He also had an infinity for tattoos. However, his record of petty crime cannot even compare to our second criminal.

 

 

Richard West’s path is almost the opposite of that of Hall Williams. He seemed to become more prolific, more successful, more daring, and better-looking over time, so his life of petty crime really agreed with him.

Richard’s origins are misty; he lists his background as Scots-Irish. He joined the Army in 1925 and got a dishonorable discharge a few years later. Details unknown! He became a baker and a chef to support himself, but who knows if he had any time to dedicate to his craft. Richard’s crimes and arrests must have taken up most of his time. The same year he got the dishonorable discharge, he was arrested in California  for passing bad checks. This was just the first in a string of 22 arrests for minor and petty crimes ranging from vagrancy to public drunkenness to car theft.

Richard had a taste for variety. He was arrested in Yakima, Washington for forgery, in Indianapolis for public drunkenness. Illinois swore out two separate warrants in the 1940s. We pick up his trail in Montana when he was arrested in 1948 for passing a bad check for $25. That would be worth about $269 dollars today, so the state of Montana very reasonably sentenced him to 18 months in the penitentiary.

He was released early though, and in 1949, he was arrested again– for passing another bad check. This time he was sentenced to two years. However, he escaped! I couldn’t find how he had done it exactly but apparently he purchased some supplies for his jailbreak with a bad check. He was incorrigible.

In 1953, we find Richard in prison again on separate charges in Indiana, but this time, he wasn’t going to wait it out. Richard escaped from the prison, and he wasn’t tracked down until 1958, when he was arrested in Montana for the jailbreak in 1953.

Richard West’s mugshot sequence (1948, 1949, 1958)

It would be remiss to fail to point out that Richard West underwent a change for the better. He started out in 1948, listing his marital status as divorced and his weight at 170 lbs. The following year he was single and his weight was around 180 lbs. But by 1958, he was 155 lbs and married. Plus, he is one of those people who looks good with gray hair. The moral of the story is that crime pays!

I leave you with Richard West’s rap sheet, preserved here for posterity:

Finding a copy of Frisco Jenny (1932) is not the easiest thing to do. This pre-code flick isn’t on Netflix or iTunes, and you probably can’t find a copy at Best Buy. However, it is well worth the effort of ordering a copy.

The term “pre-code” refers to a narrow window of time in Hollywood history, starting in 1929 with the advent of talkies, and lasting until 1934, when the Hays code went into effect. The Hays code ushered in strict censorship regulations to govern the language, characters, clothing, and plots that appeared on screen.

jenny2

 

The first half of Frisco Jenny is set in 1906 San Francisco, beginning the night of the earthquake. We’re introduced to the title character of Jenny Sandoval, played by Ruth Chatterton, and her surly father at the family’s bar. Jenny is a familiar 1930’s style heroine: sweet enough to stay at arm’s length from the conniving prostitutes preying on drunken sailors and elderly businessmen, but street smart enough to keep the family business running smoothly.

Jenny in her father's bar
Jenny in her father’s bar

After the earthquake, Jenny struggles to survive and finally turns to what she knows – exploiting the city’s appetite for sin and vice. At a painful turning point in her life, Jenny is forced to give her son up for adoption because of her infamous reputation. Expelled from his life, she watches anonymously from afar.

Donald Cook plays Dan Reynolds, Jenny’s grown son. The only other movie I’ve seen him in is Baby Face (1933), and in both films he plays an insufferably moral character. Fortunately, he’s handsome enough to make up for it!

Now that I think of it, the plots of Baby Face and Frisco Jenny are nearly identical. Good girl endures crisis and turns to the bad, but at her core, she retains her goodness. And they each face a second crisis which forces them to choose between their inner and outer worlds. Both Jenny and Baby Face have a loyal sidekick who is an ethnic minority (Amah and Chico, respectively). And they both feature a certain insufferable and handsome star, Mr. Donald Cook.

 

Donald Cook as Jenny's son, Dan Reynolds
Donald Cook as Jenny’s son, Dan Reynolds

She and her sometime-partner Steve Dutton, who is a real pain in the neck, seem to profit off of every enterprise they touch. Jenny is all business but when she is alone she longs for her lost son and puts together a scrapbook of his activities.

Over time, she compensates for the absence of happiness in her life by becoming San Francisco’s most infamous (and well-dressed) underworld figure. Of course, Steve comes through and messes everything up for her, triggering a series of events that culminates with Jenny’s son putting his mother on trial for her crimes.

 

amah
Amah

The one aspect of the movie that would never fly today is the character of Amah, who Jenny describes as “my only friend”. Amah’s character is Chinese, but she is played by a white woman, Helen Jerome Eddy. A white actor wearing makeup to appear Asian was a practice in early Hollywood called yellowface and, similar to appearing in blackface, this was typically done as a crudely humorous stereotype.

Despite the makeup, Amah’s depiction doesn’t meet the standard definition because her character is not limited to manifesting stereotypes. She does quote “the Sage” a few times in a kitschy way but overall, her character is unique and three dimensional.

Frisco Jenny trailer: