Jun 14, 2018

Depression-Era Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz: Secretly a Fruitfly?

The UCLA Digital Archives contains about 50 pictures captioned "Boys from financially disadvantaged backgrounds participate in a free summer camp in Griffith Park."

The camp, organized by Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz, hosted over a thousand boys during the summer of 1937, in groups of 100, 10 days at a time.

They were apparently in their teens.  Photos show them boxing, swimming, fencing, and reading.  There were also apparently religious programs.

There was already a Griffith Park Boys' Camp, started in 1924 and still running.  I can't tell if Sheriff Biscailuz co-opted it or started one of his own.

But it doesn't look like he continued it past the summer of 1937.  It was a one-time thing, a surcease for the underprivileged youth of L.A. County, and an opportunity for us to look at the biceps and abs of our grandfathers' generation.

Why only once?

Maybe we can find a clue in the life of Sheriff Biscailuz.  Eugene Biscailuz (1883-1969), a L.A. native who graduated from St. Vincent College (now Loyola Marymount), got a law degree from USC, and worked for the L.A. police department from 1907 to 1958.  Of Basque ancestry, he spoke Basque, Spanish, and Latin.

According to a L.A. Times article, "He was a courtly and colorful cowboy who sat astride a silver-saddled palomino at parades and rodeos."

How festive!

At the age of 19, he married Willette Harrison, whose father was an administrator at San Quentin.  Way to increase your career prospects!

She was also interested in the rough-and-tumble world of police work.  Although not allowed to join the force due to the sexist mores of the day, she often helped Biscailuz with his cases.

 In 1923, they went to Honduras to extradite notorious murderer, Clara Phillips, "The Tiger Lady."

Willette died in 1950.  They had no children.

Although a proponent of "law and order," Biscailuz belonged to the secretive Lofty and Exalted Order of Uplifters.  Founded in 1913 by Harry Marsten Haldeman (the grandfather of Bob Haldeman of the Watergate scandal) and L. Frank Baum (author of the Wizard of Oz books), it originally met in the Blue Room of the Los Angeles Athletic Club for drinking and carousing.

Another of their hijinks were the risque musicals, written by Baum and set to music by  Louis Gottschalk, with names like The Uplift of Lucifer; or, Raising Hell: An Allegorical Squazosh and The Orpheus Road Show: A Paraphrastic Compendium of Mirth.  Most

During Prohibition they moved to the isolated Rustic Canyon, where they could drink and carouse in private.  They met until 1947.

Other members included celebrities like Clark Gable, Harold Lloyd, Daryl F. Zanuck,  and Walt Disney.

The gentlemen's clubs of the early twentieth century were sites of homosocial camaraderie and probably not a little homoerotic buddy-bonding.

Biscailuz has other gay connections.  He knew gay actors Ramon Novarro and William Haines.  Hard-boiled novelist James Elroy talks about a "lean, mean fruitfly" who plays golf with Sheriff Biscailuz.

So why just one year helping underprivileged boys?  Could it have drawn too much suspicion that Sheriff Biscailuz was a secretly "fruitfly?"

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