HBO has aired Season 2 of its dark Perry Mason series, set in early 1930s Los Angeles. If you haven’t seen Season 2 yet, this post may contain spoilers.
Click here to read my previous post on Season 1.
Season 2 picks up six months after the events of Season 1 concluded, so it begins in June/July 1932 and seems to continue into 1933.
In 1932, Los Angeles hosted the Summer Olympic Games and even gangsters like Spike O’Donnell and Bugsy Siegel played tourist. Once again the show’s producers do a good job depicting Depression-era Los Angeles.
New characters, father and son Lydell and Brooks McCutcheon appear to be loosely based on multi-millionaire Edward L. Doheny of the Pam American Petroleum & Transport Company and his son Ned.
A US Senate investigation in 1924 led to the indictment, in 1925, of the senior Doheny as well as former Harding Administration Interior Secretary Albert Fall, an old pal of Doheny’s. E. L. Doheny was accused of giving Fall a $100,000 bribe in exchange for Fall’s issuing leases of the Teapot Dome Naval oil reserves to Doheny. Ned Doheny was said to have delivered the bribe in person. The case dragged through the courts for the remainder of the decade.
On February 16, 1929, Ned Doheny and his friend and secretary Theodore High Plunkett were found dead of gunshot wounds inside Ned’s newly constructed estate, Greystone, in Beverly Hills. When investigators were finally summoned, the family doctor, E. C. Fishbaugh, physician to the rich and famous, had already spent considerable time at the scene. The family and the doctor fingered Plunkett as the shooter, asserting that he had become mentally imbalanced lately and had shot Ned then himself.
Despite a number of anomalies, this explanation was accepted and the case was closed without further investigation or even a coroner’s inquest. After one day of sensational press coverage depicting Plunkett as the villain and young Doheny as a hero who’d tried to help his ill friend, the case also vanished from the newspapers. Ned Doheny was buried on February 19; Plunkett was laid to rest the following day.
There are multiple theories today about what really happened that night, and speculation as to the motive, including that Ned Doheny was soon to testify to the Grand Jury in the bribery trial. In any case, on October 25, 1929, Albert Fall was convicted of accepting a bribe and sent to prison. E.L. Doheney, however, was acquitted in 1930 of having done the bribing. Raymond Chandler references the case, calling it the “Cassidy case,” in The High Window.
The Gambling Ships
Brooks McCutcheon has an interest in a gambling ship, The Morocco. Los Angeles did have a number of gambling ships operating off of its coastline over the years. The LA mob’s Tutor Scherer experimented with an unnamed gambling barge in 1928; Farmer Page backed the Rose Isle in 1930. Jack Dragna was behind the Monfalcone (1928-1930). In 1932, the ships operating were the Johanna Smith and the Monte Carlo. Both had the involvement of former bootlegger Doc Schouweiler. Page likewise had an interest in the Johanna Smith. In addition, the La Playa began operation in 1932. Unlike the other two, which were stationary, the La Playa actually sailed, taking passengers on a “cruise to nowhere” while they gambled on the high seas.
The ships theoretically operated in international waters, outside the jurisdiction of local and state authorities. The water taxis that brought customers to the ships, however, were subject to local laws and efforts to shut down the ships generally focused on this weak link.
In July 1932, there was a fire aboard the Johanna Smith, with many passengers aboard. The ship was replaced later that year by the Johanna Smith II.
The exterior and interiors of the ships were not nearly as glamorous as depicted in their advertising.
Having sold the family farm in Season 1, in Season 2 Perry has recently moved in to a swanky new apartment. The location of the building shown in the series is the Los Altos Apartments at 4121 Wilshire Boulevard. Built in 1925, the Mission-Revival style building offered both rentals and own-your-own units. By 1932 it had fallen on hard times and in was offering bargain rates. Perhaps Perry took advantage.
Perry’s office is in the Chester Williams Building at 215 West Fifth Street. Opened in 1926, it did indeed house a number of lawyers’ offices. See my previous post on the Chester Williams Building, here.
Mateo and Rafael Gallardo’s horrific eviction storyline and Brooks’ desire to build a baseball stadium on the site to draw a major league team to Los Angeles seem clearly inspired by the Chavez Ravine evictions and the building of Dodger Stadium. The evictions by the city began in the early 1950s, resulting in most of the community leaving their homes. The planned development for the area never materialized, however. And it would be more than a quarter century before the Dodgers came to Los Angeles, in 1958. Voters approved a measure to give the Chavez Ravine land to the team’s owner to construct a stadium. Construction began in 1959 and the remaining residents who refused to leave were violently forced out.
The building shown in the series as McCutcheon Stadium is the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum at 3911 S Figueroa Street in the Exposition Park neighborhood. It opened in 1923. Many of the 1932 Summer Olympic Games events were held here. I wrote about it previously in this post. The Dodgers used it for their games from 1959 until Dodger Stadium opened in 1962.
When Perry and his son go horseback riding in the Hollywood hills with Ginny Aimes, Griffith Observatory can be seen under construction in the distance.
The late Col. Griffith J. Griffith had bequeathed funds to build the observatory. The site was selected in November 1931. Construction on the buildings, designed by architect John C. Austin, got underway until June 1933. The observatory opened in 1935.
Perry has a terse meeting with Lydell McCutcheon at Santa Anita racetrack. The track is shown completed, with horses working out on the track. Groundbreaking for the new Santa Anita, home of the Los Angeles Jockey Club, began in August 1932. In June 1933, California voted to legalize parimutuel betting again. Santa Anita park opened on December 25, 1934.
Devil’s Gate Reservoir.
As in Season 1, Perry and Pete meet at the 1920 Devil’s Gate Reservoir. See more pictures of this location in my post on Season 1.
The Hall of Records
As in Season 1, courtroom scenes take place at City Hall, not the Hall of Justice or the old County Courthouse on Poundcake Hill. In a nice touch, though, the series recreates a glimpse of the long-gone 1908 Hall of Records building, then located at 220 N. Broadway. Perry does report to the Hall of Records to begin seving his sentence.
Hope Perry, Della and Paul will be back for a Season 3.
Dr. Fishbaugh was also doctor to the Pantages family and that same year, 1929, testified for the defense in the murder trial of Lois Pantages, and also lobbied to keep her husband out of jail for reasons of poor health while he faced accusations of sexual assault. See my post on the Love Mart case. In 1937 he was Jean Harlow’s doctor.
Another wealthy oil man involved in the Teapot Dome scandal, Harry F. Sinclair, was convicted of jury tampering and served a six month prison term.
The Johanna Smith II operated until 1935, The Monte Carlo until 1936. Other ships operating out of LA in the 1930s were the City of Panama (1933), another “cruise to nowhere” ship; the Tango (1935-1939), the Star of Hollywood (1937), the Caliente (1937-1838), the Rex (1938-1939), operated by Tony Cornero, the Showboat (1939), and the Texas/Mt. Baker (1939). State Attorney General Earl Warren successful shut down gambling the ships in 1939. In 1946, Tony Cornero opened a new gambling ship, the Lux, which operated briefly.
Los Angeles had a Pacific League team at the time, the Los Angeles Angels, based at Wrigley Field.