Monday, February 29, 2016

Snow White and the Handsome King

When you think about Walt Disney's classic animated feature fim Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, what images come to mind?

Snow White. Check.
Dwarfs. Check.
Evil Queen. Check.
Huntsman. Check.
Cute Animals. Check.
Handsome Prince. Check.
Handsome King.

Pause. What "handsome king"?

Many months ago, I wrote a blog post about finding a vintage original program from the 1937 premiere of Snow White in Los Angeles. On the cover was a montage of all the main characters, including the Handsome King.

Do you see him?


Okay, scroll down a little bit. 

There he is. The horse who served as the model for the Prince's steed was the Arabian stallion King John.

King John was one of a number of Arabian horses owned by cereal magnate W.K. Kellogg in the 1930s. Kellogg kept his large herd of Arabians at his ranch outside Los Angeles. Hollywood celebrities visited often and had their pictures taken at the stables. King John was one of several Kellogg horses that ended up in the movies. 

Actually, King John's life story sounds not unlike the plot of a film. Foaled in the desert, King John was taken to Cairo where he was a polo pony and later a race horse. He was imported to the U.S. in 1929, where he had a career as a show horse.

The W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Library's Facebook page notes:

[King John] was sold to the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Ranch in 1931. King John appeared in many Hollywood films, such as "The Scarlett Empress" (1934), "Lives of a Bengal Lancer" (1935), "The Garden of Allah" (1936), and "Suez" (1938), alongside famous actors and actresses like Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper, Tyrone Power, and Loretta Young. 

King John and Marlene Dietrich.

As well-known and well-loved as he was, King John sometimes took a publicity back seat to other horses from the Kellogg Ranch. The most famous of the Kellogg Ranch movie horses was Jadaan, ridden by silent film icon Rudolph Valentino in The Son of the Sheik.  King John was listed as the stablemate of another Kellogg Arabian, Pep, in this April 1932 clipping from the Chino Champion newspaper. 

You may have noticed that the artist's rendition of King John and the other characters from Snow White don't look quite like the ones in the animated film. That's because they were drawn by concept artist and children's book illustrator Gustaf Tenggren. The website Filmic Light, source of All Things Snow White, tells Tenggren's story:

A YouTube user has cobbled together several classic film scenes that show Arabian horses. Some of the film clips are from The Garden of Allah, Lives of a Bengal Lancer, and Son of the Sheik.  (The latter features another Kellogg Arabian of the same era, Jadaan, ridden by Rudolph Valentino.)

King John spent many years at Kellogg's Arabian horse farm. And in October 1941, the city of Redlands, California, presented him with an appreciative resolution. The San Bernardino County Sun noted:

Now 19 years old, King John once was acclaimed the fastest horse in Egypt, where he was bred by desert tribesmen... His beauty and intelligence have earned great prominence....

King John died in 1946 at age 24. He's buried near the Rose Garden on the campus of Cal Poly Pomona.

And I have donated my copy of the original Snow White program to the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Library, to complement their archive of printed and photographic materials on King John, his travels and his career.


Sidebar: You may not think you've ever seen Tenggren's art before, but you probably have, if you were born after about 1942. After he left Disney, Gustaf Tenggren illustrated many more children's books, including The Poky Little Puppy.

Here's a copy of my original blog post about the 1937 Snow White premiere program:

Friday, February 19, 2016

Nearly Lost Los Angeles Football History: The LA Dons

Much has been said in recent weeks about the return of the NFL’s Rams from St. Louis to Los Angeles, and the potential for the Chargers to move to LA from San Diego. One of the big questions being asked was (and is) whether LA could support – or would even “need” – two professional football teams.

The dialogue about the Rams and the Chargers is interesting. But I was even more interested to find a small scrap of paper at an estate sale this week that alerted me to the fact that this wouldn’t have been the first time Los Angeles had two professional football teams sharing a stadium.

That scrap of paper was a December 1946 ticket stub that I found tucked away inside a 1947 Rose Bowl program.  It was underneath a ticket from the Rose Bowl game.

Before I looked inside the Rose Bowl program, I’d had no idea that, 70 years ago, LA not only had the Rams…it had the Dons.

The stub told me that on December 1, 1946, the Los Angeles Dons played the Buffalo Bisons. I'd never heard of the Los Angeles Dons. I hadn’t heard of the Buffalo Bisons either. (An odd name for a team. Still, I suppose that sounds better than calling them the Buffalo Buffalo.)

By doing some quick online research, I discovered that the Los Angeles Dons were a professional football team in the now defunct All-America Football Conference (AAFC) from 1946 to 1949, that played in the LA Memorial Coliseum on the USC campus.  That was long before my time, and decades before I moved to this area.

It turns out that the Dons were the first professional football team to play a regular season game in LA, two weeks before the rival Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League played their first game in LA. The Dons’ financial backers included no less than film magnate Louis B. Mayer and actors Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Don Ameche.

A quick check of a pro football website told me that the Dons won that game against Buffalo. Actually, they didn’t just win – they trampled the Bisons, 62-14.

But that game was one highlight in the LA Dons’ otherwise mediocre history.

Ten years ago, the Los Angeles Times recalled the first game the Dons played in the All-America Football Conference.

The LA Times reported:

The AAFC helped open the West Coast to pro sports and brought long-lasting innovations, such as widespread air travel, extensive use of zone defenses and 14-game schedules, the latter not adopted by the NFL until the 1960s….

The Dons were….unable to top their 7-5-2 record in that first season and finishing with a four-year mark of 25-27-2. But in three of their four seasons they outdrew the Rams, who touched down in Southern California as the defending NFL champions.

So what happened to the Los Angeles Dons, that hardly anyone remembers them today?  The LA Times remembered that, despite their popularity, the Dons and the AAFC were the victims of a salary war:

In 1947, the Dons drew a then-pro-record 82,576 to the Coliseum for a game against the New York Yankees, and in 1948 they outdrew every NFL team.  But after 1949 they and the AAFC faded into obscurity, victims of a salary war that at the time was called the most expensive in sports history, draining millions of dollars from owners in both leagues.

Wikipedia says that the Dons merged with the Rams after their 1949 season. But even though the Los Angeles Dons are now just a footnote in football history, one of their players left a more lasting legacy. Bill Radovich, who played both offense and defense, left the NFL's Detroit Lions to play for the LA Dons in 1947. There was no free agency back then, no players' union. 

The Lions objected; Radovich claimed they had threatened to put him on a blacklist for five years if he didn't stay in Detroit. Radovich went to LA anyway, and filed a lawsuit against the NFL. The case went all the way to the US Supreme Court. Several years ago, the Chicago Tribune reported on the story in depth:

Last year, the website LA Curbed posted some photos of from the LA Dons’ brief history.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Norma and the Norcross Kittens

With Valentine's Day upon us this weekend, it's time to bring out some more mid-century paper ephemera in celebration.

I've written before about the massive amount of Cat Stuff I saw at the estate sale last year of a woman named Norma. Norma saved her paper collection in large scrapbooks; I brought home a few of them. Many of the cards had dates as well as signatures. Most were from the late 1940s to about 1965.

It's not uncommon for people (okay, women) to save greeting cards from their childhood. Perhaps her mother stuck the cards carefully into a baby book, and the girl continued the tradition when she got older with additional scrapbooks to hold special cards from family and friends.

Norma's early cards, obviously intended to be sent to a child, were signed "Love, Mother and Daddy." 

Others came from her sister Margie and Margie's friend Helen.  

Looking at the sheer volume of dozens and dozens of kitty-themed Valentines in Norma's collection dated between the 1940s and the 1960s, I realized that either a) Norma had a very long childhood, or b) her friends and family knew that she just liked to receive cute kitten cards.

I looked up Norma's obituary; she had been a teacher and then a school administrator all her adult life. So b) above must have been the answer: the grown-up Norma still collected cat cards.

Good for Norma. Her hobby (obsession?) allows us to see examples of mid-century art, and to remember a day when a holiday was marked not with a quick text message or e-mail, but a greeting card, thoughtfully selected, tucked into an envelope, addressed and mailed, then carefully saved by the recipient.

Many of the kitty cards Norma and her sister Margie saved were by the Norcross company. A quick search of the website shows that Norcross did a lot of advertising in the mid-20th century, to promote their various card lines.

And Norcross' kitten cards were among their most popular. 

The kittens also appeared on gift wrapping paper.


At least three of the Norcross kitten designs had names. That's Snowball, above.  

This is Topaz.

And the third named kitten, Inky, was featured in many Norcross newspaper ads.

Don't laugh derisively at the Norcross Kittens. The archives of the Norcross company, including far more cards than Norma and Margie ever amassed, are in no less a place than the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.  The Smithsonian provides a bit of company history:

Arthur D. Norcross founded the Norcross Greeting Card Company in New York City in the nineteen twenties. From the start Norcross cards had a "look" which contributed to their selling success although, through the years, the company commanded only a small share of the greeting card market. In 1974 the company relocated to West Chester and Exton, Pennsylvania, where in 1981 Norcross and the Rust Craft Greeting Card Company merged to form divisions of a parent company.

The Smithsonian also provides us with some context:

According to Norcross Company officials in 1978, this collection represents "not only a history of the development of the greeting card industry but also a history of social trends in the United States" and gives "an indication of the quality and technology of the [printing] industry from 1924 through 1978." 

Here are more some of Norma's cat-themed Valentines, by Norcross, Rust Craft, Hallmark and other makers. Enjoy. 

And do give someone a Valentine's Day card this year. Preferably a paper one.


You can read the history of the Norcross company in the Smithsonian Institution's PDF, here:

The blog Vintage Recycling provides more information on Inky the Norcross Kitten: