The human comedy

September 16, 2011

The Great Depression was a grim time. Yet even then, people needed to laugh. In September 1936, Chicagoans were chuckling over two stories. Both of them were somewhat risque--at least by 1936 standards.

The first tale begins with Hazel LaBreck, a 27-year-old singer from Wisconsin, traveling to Chicago for a concert audition. On the bus she became acquainted with an older man named Mr. Larue. Larue told the young lady he was a movie agent, and that he might be able to get her a job in Hollywood. But first she had to demonstrate she had a shapely figure.

LaBreck might have been from farm country, but she was no hick. Once off the bus she called police. Now joined by two detectives, the young woman went to the Morrison Hotel, where she had arranged to meet Larue in his room. The cops waited outside.

When the young lady arrived, Larue produced copies of official-looking studio contracts and a silhouette chart. Then, taking out a tape measure, he told her to get undressed.

With that, Hazel LaBreck gave a signal, and the detectives burst in. Larue quickly confessed that he was not a Hollywood agent, but a clothing salesman. He also gave the cops his right name--which wasn't Larue. As he was being led away to the police station, he explained: "Something snapped in my brain when I saw this girl on the bus, that's all."

The second story involves a movie that Stephen Holish had shot at an Indiana nudist camp. The Eastman Company had refused to develop the film, claiming it was obscene. In response, Holish filed suit against the company in Small Claims Court.

Judge Samuel Trude heard the case. With attorneys for both sides in agreement, the judge decided to view the film. The courtroom lights were dimmed, and Wonders of the Human Anatomy was screened.

When the lights came back on, Holish's attorney argued that the film was "just as good and clean as movies of any Sunday school picnic--except that the people haven't got any clothes on." This film was not obscene, because the "leer of the sensual" was absent.

Judge Trude disagreed. He declared the film indecent, and ruled that Eastman could destroy it.

I wonder if Holish hired Mr. Larue to direct his next film?