Chapter 2 Early Tucson Page III of III
Monte Mansfield, for nearly forty years the only Ford dealer in Tucson, was one of Tucson's outstanding citizens and was responsible for many good things that have served the community for years and years. In addition to being a civic leader, he also was an amusing guy with a great sense of humor. He liked to have fun. He, Hi Corbett and Harold Steinfeld were born in Tucson and were close friends, having grown up together. They used to tell tales on one another and their escapades on Gay Alley.
Monte was a member of the Arizona Highway Commission for many years and worked hard to improve the highways all over the state, but particularly in southern Arizona. He was the one who fought for and got the subway built on Stone Avenue under the S. P. tracks.
Just before the outbreak of the Second World War Tucson was one of several communities being considered as the site for a major Air Force bomber base. It was much sought by all of the candidate cities because of its large payroll. Monte Mansfield was appointed by the city and the chamber of commerce as a one-man committee to go to Washington to push Tucson's case. He made several trips to the national capital, and eventually he was able to call and tell Tucson officials that this city had been selected as the site for what has been known for years as the Davis-Monthan Air Base. Under the usual protocol procedures, Arizona's congressional delegation took joint credit for landing the plum, but the fact is that Monte really got the job done.
The Old Pueblo Club, the downtown businessmen's club, was one of Monte's pet projects. He steered it through some very rough waters during its long history. Its grateful members placed a plaque on the wall of the club in recognition of Monte's loyal efforts. He did far too many other things to mention, but whenever there was a job to be done to bring about an improvement for Tucson, Monte was usually at the head of the movement to get it accomplished.
Monte was an ardent American who thought that when the Second World War started we should all get involved in one way or another in our nation's war effort. Two days after Pearl Harbor, an emergency meeting was called at the chamber of commerce to which about one hundred business leaders were invited. We filled the meeting room to hear about some of the programs that we would be expected to participate in. Of course, there were some emotional patriotic speeches. Everyone was stirred by recent events and the comments by our national leaders. One of the speakers suggested that we would be expected to devote a great deal of time to the war effort and perhaps forget about our businesses as being number one in our lives.
Stanley Kitt, Sr., was sitting right next to me and got up and said that he had been through the First World War, and that it was found then that people had to go on living their lives, tending to their business, earning money so they could buy war bonds, contribute to the Red Cross, etc. He made a lot of sense.
However, Monte jumped up and said, very emotionally, "We are in a war! To hell with your business! To hell with my business! There's only one thing that's important now, and that is to work like hell for the government to help win this war! " He got quite a hand from the group.
Stanley Kitt slumped down in his chair next to me and whispered, "I guess I said the wrong thing. This war has upset me terribly. I hate to see our country go through another long war. So many of our young men will be killed, I can't stand to think about it." I tried to assure him that his comments were important and should have been made, but my efforts to console him didn't help much. A few days later his body was found in his car on the desert where he had taken his life. He was a fine sensitive man and also a good citizen.
Monte was chairman of the draft board in Tucson for most of the period of the war. He was a tough but fair board member. He generally could spot a man who was trying to avoid serving his country and would do everything he could to see that he served. Two amusing examples of his efforts are worth telling. A young man from Cochise County near Hereford, Arizona, owned a small ranch and claimed that he should be exempt because he met the requirements which entitled him to an agricultural exemption. Monte asked him to file a report as to the number of cattle he had on his ranch, and the board would consider his request. He came in a couple of weeks later and filed a statement that he had 250 head of cattle on his ranch.
Monte had done some checking on the young man and his ranch operation. He had also checked with the tax assessor in Cochise County. Monte said to him, before the board, "Young man, you claim you have 250 head of cattle in this sworn statement. Is that correct?" The young fellow nodded. Monte continued, "Well, young man, you are going to have to decide whether you are going in the army or going to the penitentiary. I have a copy here of a sworn statement you filed a few months ago with the county assessor in your county which states that you had only 55 head of cattle. Making a false statement like that is a penitentiary offense. Which will it be?" The young man chose the army, of course.
On another occasion a young man was attempting to evade service in the armed forces by claiming that he was a cripple and could walk only with the aid of crutches. He appeared before the board a couple of times, entering the room on crutches. The board told him they would decide his case shortly. When he came back before the board to receive their decision, which was to give him an exemption for physical disability, he was so pleased and excited that he walked out without his crutches. Monte saw what happened, ran after him and had him walk back into the hearing room, without benefit of aid from his crutches. He was soon drafted to serve his country.
Back in the thirties an old-time Tucson character known as Frying Pan Pete passed away. He had been a pauper all his life and never left enough to even pay for his funeral. Monte and some of the old-timers thought that Pete should have a decent funeral. Monte collared me and said that he and I were going to call on a few of Pete's old friends to ask them to contribute to paying for his funeral.
We collected $20 from this guy, $10 from another, going up and down Congress Street. We went unto Greenwald and Adams jewelry Store (before its name was changed to Grunewald and Adams), and Monte asked Sam Adams for $20 for the cause we were working on. Sam said he was busy and ignored us. Monte asked him again for the $20, but Sam continued with his arranging some items in one of the showcases, Monte finally walked to the back of the store, pressed various buttons on the cash register, which flew open, ringing a bell. Sam stopped abruptly, looked back at the cash register which he and he alone opened and closed, and saw Monte reaching into the drawer. Before Sam could say anything, Monte said, "Sam, I'm taking $20 to help pay for Pete's funeral. Have me arrested if you wish." We then walked out past Sam who was too shocked to say anything.
One day a few years later I was returning from lunch, and, as I walked past the entrance to the Pioneer Hotel, Monte Mansfield, Hi Corbett and Harry Lavender, general manager for Phelp-Dodge Arizona Mining operation, came out to get into Harry's limousine which was always driven by his chauffeur. They had just finished a few cocktails and were off to Nogales for lunch.
Harry grabbed me around the neck and said, "Roy, you're going to Nogales with us for lunch." I explained that I had already eaten lunch and had to get back to my office. Monte also grabbed hold of me, pushed me into the back seat next to Hi, and away we went to Nogales!
On the way down, the window was open and the wind blew Hi's hat out of the car. He asked the driver to stop, but Harry would have none of it. He said, "Let me have your hat Monte, and I'll put it up here where it won't blow out." Monte handed his hat which Harry promptly sailed out the window. Then he took his own hat and it, too, went sailing in the breeze. I was lucky that I didn't have a hat or it would have joined the others along the Nogales Road.
Harry Lavender was one of the most dynamic men I have ever known. He also was one of the strongest men I have ever seen. He was about 6'1" and had a large frame, weighing in the neighborhood of 225 pounds, all bone and muscle. Once, when he was having a drink with the future Mrs. Lavender at the cocktail lounge on the mezzanine of the Santa Rita Hotel, he got into an argument with a couple of cowboys which ended up in a battle royal with Harry going to the hospital with a broken leg. The other two men, one of whom was a well-known cowman around Tucson, and a former world's champion bulldogger, Roy Adams, ended up with bruises and contusions.
Later Roy Adams said that Lavender was the strongest man he ever encountered in all his life, and Adams was a guy who was in many, many fights. He was also a real he-man, long and slender, and strong enough to wrestle large bulls in rodeo events.
A waiter who was working in the cocktail lounge at the time of the fight, by the name of Victor, told Hi Corbett a few days later what happened. In his broken English, he said, "Mr. Corbett, Harry Lavender and his lady were there when the cowboys came in and sat down at the next table. They have their hats on, Mr. Lavender asked them to take their hats off, but you know, Mr. Corbett, those cowboys never take their hats off. They are born with their hats on. That was the cause for the fight. Mr. Lavender try to make them take their hats off."
Harry Lavender never realized how strong he really was. He many times nearly twisted my arm off, shaking hands, or playfully grabbing me by the back of the neck, practically lifting me off the ground. Once, he slapped George Stonecypher on the back and knocked him down, causing him to break his hip. Naturally, he felt very badly about the accident, and from then on he was a little more careful about how he greeted his friends.
During the summer of 1941 or '42 Tucson was swamped one night by a tremendous rainstorm that poured over three inches of rain in a very short time in the area just east of the town. The large arroyo, which ran right through the town, became a roaring torrent and flooded several buildings near its banks. However, the greatest damage was suffered by the Tucson Gas & Electric Co. plant. It was completely flooded, creating a blackout for the entire city.
In those days blackouts were not an unusual thing, but they generally lasted a few hours at most. This time, however, the generators were underwater and despite twenty-four hour work-days by crews making the necessary repairs, Tucson was without power for six full days. We didn't fully realize how dependent we were on that thing called electricity.
No air conditioning worked, the gas station pumps didn't work, the elevators didn't work. This blackout practically brought the city to a standstill. The Fox Theatre and all the others were dark. I played golf nearly every day because I couldn't work, nor could many others.
During the blackout Tim Cusick had to make a trip to Ft. Huachucha and asked me to go with him. Just before we got to Elgin, Arizona, we noticed a bunch of cattle laying on the ground, obviously dead. We stopped and counted twenty-five head which had apparently been electrocuted when struck by a lightning bolt that had followed the barbed wire fence to the corner of the pasture where the herd had gathered during the storm. We knew that the ranch was owned by Frank Brophy, whom we called from the Elgin store to advise him what we had found. He lost a valuable part of his Hereford herd.
Tim Cusick was a long-time Tucson attorney, having come to Tucson from his native Wisconsin as a health seeker after the First World War during which he had been gassed and suffered considerable lung damage. There was some question about his recovering when he arrived in the Old Pueblo, but, like many others, he made a full recovery and lived over eighty years.
One of his favorite comments to someone who complained about his bad luck, whether it was on a pool table, the golf course or the courtroom, was "Don't complain about your bad luck, Half the people don't give a damn, and the other half are glad!"
Before the Second World War was triggered by Pearl Harbor, the armed services were making a great effort to get men to enlist. One time when someone asked Tim if he was going to enlist, he replied, "Hell, no! I know two guys who are not going to fight for our country, me and the guy they send for me." But right after Pearl Harbor, Tim enlisted in the army.
A few years later Tucson was struck by another violent summer storm that actually caused very little damage, but, by washing out just one small bridge on the Benson Highway east of town, it became the all-time champion killer storm for this area.
The bridge over the small Julian Creek was only about thirty feet long and went out about 9 p.m., just before a cautious driver, Frank Mella, came creeping along the road. It was under a flow of "sheet" water about six inches deep. Mella lived in Tucson and realized the danger that existed under such conditions.
When his car reached the place where the road and the bridge joined, his front wheels dropped into the space left by the missing bridge. He was moving so slowly that he had no problem in stopping the car. He got out, waded through the water back down the road to attempt to warn other motorists of the pending doom, which awaited them if they did not stop.
Mella did everything he could to flag them down. But his screams and gestures were ignored by the drivers of four cars. One after another they hit the far side of the gap with a tremendous noise. No doubt the passengers were immediately killed, if not by the crash, almost certainly by the swirling waters.
Eleven people lost their lives, although it was months before one body was found, over five miles downstream. It was almost impossible to know for sure how many people were in the cars as there were no survivors.
Unfortunately, the ordeal for Mella was more than he could stand. His frustration over his inability to halt the cars left him a broken man, and within a short time he, too, died, the twelfth victim of the Julian Creek flood.
In the early 1940's Tucson was badly in need of additional hospital facilities since St. Mary's Hospital was the only complete medical facility in the community.
A man by the name of Lewis Rosensteil brought his wife, Dorothy, to Tucson for her health. Rosensteil, chairman of Schenley Distillers and involved with other large companies, moved his office to the city also. He and Reverend George Ferguson, pastor of the St. Phillips Church, called a meeting of five or six men and women to discuss the problem. We met at Lew Rosensteil's in his patio one evening. Present besides Lew and George Ferguson were Frank O'Rielly, Margaret Knight, Elmer Present and myself.
It was learned that Mrs. Erickson, owner of the Desert Sanatorium [view a private suite at the Desert Sanatorium] on Grant Road, under certain circumstances, might make a gift of the institution to the community. The group encouraged Rev. Ferguson to pursue the matter with Mrs. Erickson.
A short time later we found that she would make the gift providing the money would be raised by Tucsonans to convert the sanatorium into a community hospital to be operated by a board of directors made up of a broad-based membership representing all segments of the area. It was estimated that $250,000 was needed to make the conversion.
After many other meetings, to which more people were invited, the group officially formed itself as the first Board of Directors of the Tucson Medical Center. It was decided to go to the community and ask for contributions to the $250,000 fund. I was appointed chairman of the fund-raising committee. The campaign was conducted during December of 1943 and the early part of 1944.
One of the most generous contributors was the Rosensteil family who kicked off the drive with a substantial gift. The financial drive was successful in reaching its goal, and the Tucson Medical Center became a reality.
A lovely lady by the name of Margaret Sanger Slee was very active in the early days of the formation of the community hospital. Mrs. Slee was famed for her efforts in behalf of birth control throughout the world. On more than one occasion she had been jailed by officials who thought her philosophy regarding this sensitive subject was not only unpopular but against the law of the land. Subsequent events and conditions have proven how far she was ahead of the thinking at that time on this important subject.
Margaret Sanger Slee told us a cute story about the birth of her second son, Stuart, who was practicing medicine in Tucson at the time. She said she thought it best to let her children know about the facts of life, the birds and the bees, etc. She explained to Stuart's older brother when she was carrying Stuart that his little brother or sister was in her stomach and would soon come out.
The day that Stuart was born, the older brother ran around excitedly telling all the neighbors, " Stuart's out. Stuart's out!"
While I was running the Tucson Sunshine Climate Club I hired a photographer from Palm Springs by the name of Chuck Abbott. He was known as the "Cowboy Photographer," was a handsome guy, wore a western outfit including a Stetson hat, and specialized in taking pictures of important people visiting Tucson resorts. The photos were sent to their hometown papers, thereby bringing publicity to Tucson.
The local photographers were incensed because I did not employ one of them, but they didn't realize that it took a particular type of man to do this job. They formed a committee to protest the hiring, and Esther Henderson, owner of one of the town's most prominent studio operations, was chairman. She called on me and raised the devil about my having hired Chuck Abbott. I told her it was too late to do anything about the matter, but she wrote letters to the editor and kept the pressure on me.
I talked with Chuck about the matter and suggested he see Esther Henderson and try to placate her. He saw her and did a good selling job. The next weekend they went on a Sunday picnic, taking their cameras to shoot pictures together. This relationship continued until, not long afterwards, they were married. Esther laughed many times about having complained because I brought her future husband to Tucson.
The Abbotts became well known throughout the western states for their excellent photography. They finally settled in Santa Cruz, California, where their two sons grew to manhood.
Just before the U.S. became involved in World War II, Charles Herbert, a well-known motion picture cameraman who had worked all over the world for several of the newsreel companies (and also as a free-lance photographer), and I were trying to think up some publicity angles for Tucson for the Sunshine Climate Club.
We came up with one idea that made every front page in America. The Indian tribes of the Southwest were having a powwow which brought several hundred original Americans to Tucson for a few days. Chuck Herbert and I contacted several of the chiefs before we found one who would agree to have his tribe renounce the use of the swastika on their baskets, blankets and art objects because of the fact that Adolph Hitler's forces used the swastika as their national emblem -- nevermind that fact that the German swastika turned its arms one way and the Indian swastika turned the opposite. The chief had his tribe renounce the swastika as their emblem and made a very direct and attention-grabbing statement -- at least it was when we got through doctoring it up.
One night during the powwow Chuck and I drove to the San Xavier Mission some nine miles from downtown Tucson. In the back of the car we had some lumber for firewood. We found some Indian lads playing basketball in the open-air lighted court at the rear of the mission. We employed them as actors in our little performance we were about to stage in front of the Mission.
We dressed them in the Indian togs we had brought along, including large feathered headdresses. We built a large bonfire, around which the Indian braves danced. They threw into the fire large Indian baskets and Indian rugs with the swastika plainly showing. What was actually burned were some large cardboard hat boxes I had obtained from a department store and on which I had an artist paint the swastikas. The "rugs" were actually some old drapes we got from a cleaning establishment and on which the artist painted the swastikas.
The fire lighted the beautiful San Xavier Mission as the background against which the dramatic scenes were shot. The pictures came out beautifully and, together with the proper article and captions, were sent to the Associated Press and other news services. The big city papers ate it up like hotcakes. We received telegrams asking for more photos, which we had to go back a second night to shoot. The second performance at the mission was not as successful as the first, but Tucson got a lot of publicity, and Chuck Herbert sold a lot of pictures, which was the main object of the exercise.
During the thirties an organization of loyal University of Arizona football fans, the Towncats, would, at the end of each football season, have a big banquet to salute the Wildcats. The parties got to be wild affairs and eventually had to be abandoned as evening dinners because of complaints from the wives that their husbands would stay out all night or come home so loaded they couldn't stand up. The school officials frowned on the parties, so we broke the syndrome one year by having a breakfast and then had very proper affairs from then on.
Probably the wildest party the Towncats ever had was the one held at the Silver Slipper nightclub on East Broadway. The party lasted into the wee hours. This was during prohibition and there was no closing hour. The obtaining of booze was no problem; everyone had more than enough.
The last group of Towncats left the Silver Slipper about 3 a. m. By 4:30 the place was engulfed in flames and burned to the ground. Naturally, the Towncats were credited in throwing a party to end all parties, at least to the Silver Slipper.
Earlier that evening a bunch of us had gone downtown to get a midnight snack. There must have been twenty of us, including three musicians from the Silver Slipper orchestra. Someone spotted the bus that the Santa Rita Hotel used to use to meet the trains and transport guests to the hotel. We decided to serenade some friends. All went well for a couple of hours. We were cruising through the business district on our way to another home, when a car pulled in front of us, cut us off and caused us to stop. The driver of the car jumped out and came charging into the bus with a six-shooter about ten inches long in his shaking hand. George Martin was driving the bus and was the object of the abuse handed out by the man with the gun, who said that the bus was his, not the hotel's.
Everyone was laughing, which the owner of the bus didn't appreciate. However, we finally convinced him that he should join us and become our chauffeur. We continued our serenading tour until almost dawn, but didn't learn about the fire at the Silver Slipper until the next morning. I remember that one of the musicians who played a banjo, chewed tobacco the whole time we were in the bus, drank whiskey, and sang -- a pretty good accomplishment.
CONTINUE with The Theatre Business