Friday, December 7, 2012

Roaring Timber and Barbecued Crab

Some of the cast of Roaring Timber, Astoria, 1937

In March of 1937, Columbia Picture Corporation sent a production crew from Hollywood to Astoria, in Clatsop County, Oregon, to film scenes for their movie Big Timber. A”film of love and adventure in the logging industry,” Big Timber was to be directed by Spencer Bennett and to star several actors who are little remembered today.

March is a time of wind and rain in Clatsop County, and the on-location filming near Olney at the Tidewater Timber Company operations did not go well. “Weeks of waiting for the sun while production costs mounted by the thousands of dollars daily” were finally terminated by a drenching rainstorm, according to the Astorian newspaper. The evening train for Portland was held for 15 extra minutes at Astoria to load the cast and crew as they returned to sunny California.

However, the film was indeed completed and released that fall as Roaring Timber, directed by Phil Rosen and starring Jack Holt (he was in a lot of Westerns), Grace Bradley (she married William Boyd, aka Hopalong Cassidy), Ruth Donnelly, and Raymond Hatton. Jack Holt is the lead, playing “the toughest boss that ever ruled the northland!” The plot is negligible, but Grace ends up owing a lumber company, which is why she gets to perch on a railroad speeder car with hero Holt, as shown here.

Introducing this squib is a printed postcard that shows some of the Roaring Timber cast rather doggedly consuming barbecued crab at the Hotel Astoria Grill. And perhaps you are wondering: how does one prepare, and eat, barbecued crab? Helen Evans Brown’s West Coast Cook Book  (1952) indicates that this preparation “is a favorite in the Northwest, and rightly so, though I object to its being called ‘barbecued’”; she notes that “anything that has a spicy sauce dabbled on can now masquerade under that name,” and indeed that is what barbecued crab usually does (or did; you will rarely see it today). The crab is swathed in a sauce of catsup, fish stock, garlic, soy sauce, and curry powder, and (if not grilled) is poked into a casserole dish and hotted up, being basted with the sauce. Helen says the eaters thereof “should be well swathed in towels or wearing ribs”; our Hollywoodites have taken that advice to heart.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Last Round-Up in La Grande

A good deal more research would help this story, but there’s enough at hand to justify putting something down. I recently acquired a small cache of food-related paper ephemera of the label variety (thank you, Corinna, for both your foresight and your more recent insight!). The group includes this small but flashy item, which represents whiskey consumption in La Grande, Oregon, pre-1916.

Herman Roesch was the nephew of Julius Roesch, who was born into a Catholic family in German in 1862, came to the United States about 1876, and by 1880 built a brewery in La Grande “before he reached his 20th birthday,” according to his obituary in the La Grande Observer (April 22, 1960!). The brewery must have made some accommodation with local option and statewide prohibition (January 1, 1916), for it survived until 1921.

It seems that by 1922, Marcus (the son of Julius) operated an auto dealership in the city, and that his cousin Herman ran a lunch counter nearby. This information is synthesized from Inside the Klavern: the Secret History of a Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s, edited by David A. Horowitz (Southern Illinois University Press, 1999).  Based on the minutes of the La Grande chapter of the Klan, the book demonstrates that many of the auto dealer’s mechanics were Klan members. While the Klan notably promoted the interests of white citizens, its pointed Protestantism, and its emphasis on stamping out assorted sinfulness, is less known today; in Oregon, much Klan effort was directed against Catholics, and against perceived immoral behavior. In La Grande, the Klan-member auto mechanics stopped going to Herman’s lunch counter, despite being employed by Marcus, who was quite aware of the Klan’s presence in his shop.

In some kind of ironic happenstance, Herman Roesch shows up in the North Powder News of November 20, 1926, after he was badly injured in an auto wreck in which a local farmer died and two women were injured. “Traffic officer Walter Lansing visited the scene and it is reported, secured one bottle of moonshine liquor which is believed to have figured in the cause of the accident.” Of course, this might well have happened had he still had access to decent whiskey that was “bonded under the supervision of the U. S. government in the U. S. bonded warehouse.”