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The Catalina Islander
Avalon, California
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February 17, 2012     The Catalina Islander
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February 17, 2012
 

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Vaqueros rode into film history HORSE RIDING CLUB PRODUCED "THE GREAT WESTERN MOVIE" 'ON THE ISLAND Contributed by William Fortier on behalf of Elizabeth (Greig) Lawton. The following is Part 1 of a series * The original Catalina "Vaque- ros," Spanish for cowboys, was a horseback riding group that formed in 1939 on Catalina by the Santa Catalina Island Company. The intent was to of- fer their employees and the residents of Avalon some- thing to do on their days off. The term "original" is used to designate this group because it was founded in 1939, but disbanded in 1942 be- cause of World War II and the de- mand for everyone's involvement. In 1998, there was another group of trail riders and campers that ad- opted the name "Vaqueros." Addi- tionally, many people are familiar with another current riding group known as "Los Caballeros," which was founded in 1949. This group of riders is an equestrian member- ship support group of the Catalina Island Conservancy. They keep the tradition that began back in 1939 by the original Vaqueros alive and well on Catalina Island. Bill Payne, who was an auditor for the Island Company, was the first president of the original Va- queros. The group's first secretary was Kay Lanxon, who worked as a secretary in the payroll department of the Island Company. In devel- oping the group's bylaws, the Va- queros voted to limit the number of members to 24 riders. Their weekend activities includ- ed overnight tides and camping at Eagles Nest, Echo Lake, Blackjack and El Rancho Escondido (the Wrigley's ranch); all day rides; horse shows; and potluck dinners. Many of them would ride down'on horseback to greet the big bands scheduled to play at the Casino. Upon the bands' arrival they, along with P. K. Wrigley's stage- . coach, driven by Frenchy Small who worked for Wrigley operating the horse-sta- bles, would provide an escort for the arriving bands from the dock to the Casino. Membership in the Vaqueros read like a who's-who of the era on Catalina Island. Many of the names are recognizable as people who went on to be involved in the ton- tinuing development of Catalina Island. Among these was Malcolm Renton (son of D.M. Renton who was P K Wrigley's right-hand man on the Island) and Wrigley's daugh- ter, Deedie (Dorothy) Wrigley. Elizabeth (Greig) Lawton was the youngest member of this group until Deedie Wrigley joined when she was about 16 years old. The two quickly discovered that the tiding group was not the only thing they had in common. Liz and Deedie became very good friends andremained so until Deedie's death in 1992. This story is not about the nor- mal weekend activities of the Va- queros, but rather a very special event that took place in 1939/1940, just after theVaqueros first formed. The Vaqueros decided to produce. a movie that would be filmed on the island, featuring members of the Vaqueros, their horses and the beautiful interior of Catalina Island. It would be filmed on the various trails and dirt roads that ran the length of the Island. This was a part of Catalina that was not well known by the guests and visi- tots who spent their time enjoying the lovely ocean settings in Avalon or the Isthmus. The Vaqueros' new big adven- ture was to be the production of a silent film, presenting a come- dic version of the heroic western movies that were so popular at that time. The title of the film was "The Great Western Movie," and it was to be filmed in color on 8mm film over several weekends during a five-month period. P.K. Wrig- ley donated his stagecoach for the film and the Catalina horse stable, owned by the SCI Co., donated the horses. Little did Liz know that this project would also lead to an event that would change her life forever and put her on a new path. You Deedie Wrigley, above, as a Vaquero. Elizabeth Lawton and Jack Emmerich seen right. Courtesy photos see, Liz played the part of the Heroine, "Luscious Liz," and the Hero of the film, "The Tenderfoot," was played by Jack Emmerich, who was employed as the Secretary/Trea- surer for the Wilmington-Catalina Airline. Those acting roles seemed to have created a spark because Liz and Jack were married (in re life) in the year following the pro- duction of the movie. True to life ... just like in the western movies of the day, the hero always got the heroine he saved. Watson From page 1 the announcement came that the war with the Empire of Japan was over. The long awaited "V-J Day" had arrived. "Suddenly, over the radio, came the news that the Japanese had sur- rendered" said Jeanne Hill. "Ev- eryone got out of their cars and we were all hugging each other. And it was just so marvelous." At the invitation of a friend, Jeanne joined the victory party in Holly- wood. "We were right in the middle of things, at Hollywood and Vine, and I have never seen such an expression of real, hon- est-to-goodness joy." "It was a big party," said Lolo Saldana. "There was a big party up at the Bird Park. The Merchant Marines brought all the food and the booze. I know akid who got so drunk they had to carry him home and this kid wasn't even a teenager yet." Lolo, not being much of a "party guy" said he spent the day golfing and watched the festivities with amusement from the greens. With the cessation of hostilities, things began to return to normal on the Island in the coming months. Rationing came to an end, which meant that the average citizen could Jim Watson Columnist once again buy as much sugar, meat, gasoline, or automobiles as they wished, or at least could af- ford. Tourists were once again per- mitted to visit the Island, the Coast Guard office in Avalon closed, the Merchant Marines weighed anchor and left and for the first time in four years Kindergarten classes were of- fered at Avalon Schools. As the world began to rebuild, Catalina Island and the whole nation would en- dure the kind of post- war recession marked by the sudden influx of millions of young men and women re-enter- ing an already anemic civilian economy. Visi- tor counts to the Island wouldn't recover to pre-war levels for years. But after four years of tragedy and strife, it was something we could all live with. The war was over and that's all that mattered. Milton once wrote, "Who over- comes by force, hath overcome but half his foe" and the end of the most catastrophic conflict in world history had merely opened the door to a new and dangerous wodd--a world that now had the -technology to destroy itself. Despite the fact that "the bomb" had brought a sudden and unexpect- ed end to the conflict (to the great relief of the hundreds of thousands of servicemen and women prepar- ing to invade the Japanese home- land), the fact that a technological devil was now on the doorstep was not lost on the American public. The Catalina Islander published many thought-pieces on what this . new world might bring, including an article that appeared in the Jan. 24, 1946, issue of the paper. "The explosion of this atomic bomb," reads the article, "marking the advent of awful power in the hands of men, illuminated more than the deep and dark places in the mountains. The blinding flash was a revelation that threw searing and penetrating light into the dark chambers of men's souls, where pride and greed and hate are stored up and nurtured. The deafening roar of thunder was a warning of the dire fate awaiting humanity if men, possessing new destructive power, use it in the service of pride and greedand hate." But the war also brought needed change to American society with the emergence of gender and ra- cial Civil Rights. From "Rosie the Riveter" to the Tuskegee Airmen to the legendary Japanese-Ameri- can 442 na Infantry Regiment, the indispensable contributions to the war effort by women and minori- ties could not be ignored. Around the nation and on Cata- lina the racial/gender tune was a- changing as evidenced by a stun- ningly frank Letter to the Editor published in this very paper on Jan. 24, 1946. Signed only by "A Veteran," the letter reads: "Dear Sir. This week there was a Citizens Committee meeting held in Avalon. Its purpose seemed to be to keep the Negroes out of Ava- lon and property owners would be asked to sign an agreement not to sell property to Negroes. "As a World War Veteran of World War II and as a citizen I am ashamed of my fellow citizens. We have just finished fighting a great war and one of the causes of this war was racial prejudice. If I remember rightly, the Negro fought and died, as a citizen of a free country, that these prejudices might cease to exist." Now that the war is finally over, I'm just about finished with this series and soon this column will go back to ghosts, UF0s, buried treasure and all that stuff. But be- fore I leave this topic, I will pay special tribute to the Catalina Is- landers who went off to the war and never came home: who they were, how they died, and where" they are now. NEXT WEEK: THE HONORED DEAD Got a weird story about Catalina? Send it to us at manager@cinews, us or mail it to Mysterious Island, c/o- Catalina Islander, PO Box 428, Avalon, CA 90704 THE CATALINA ISLANDER Friday, February 17, 2012 i 9