Monday, August 26, 2013

26 Miles Across the Sea


Patty here...

Santa Catalina Island, just off the coast of Los Angeles, is steeped in history and mystery. It is where actor Natalie Wood died in 1981, under circumstances some still call suspicious, where a Civil War barracks still functions as the Isthmus Yacht Club, where William Wrigley, the chewing gum tycoon who bought the island in 1919, watched from the window of his home on Mt. Ada as his Chicago Cubs baseball team practiced in the field below, where author Zane Grey sometimes wrote 3,000 words a day in his rambling pueblo-style home overlooking Avalon harbor. Grey's house is now a hotel, in which I once stayed hoping for a visitation from the author’s 3,000-words-a-day spirit. Unfortunately, it was the ghost’s day off.

Zane Grey: a passion for fishing and adventure


Zane Grey, on a honeymoon visit to Avalon with his wife Dolly in 1905, fell in love with big game fishing. He later made Avalon his home and became a member of the Tuna Club, the West’s first big game sports fishing organization, which was created in 1898 by Dr. Charles Frederick Holder. Past members include movie directors Hal Roach and Cecil B. DeMille and actors Stan Laurel, Jackie Coogan, Charlie Chaplin and Bing Crosby. Winston Churchill was a guest of the club. His thank you letter to the board is framed and mounted on the wall in the cardroom.

 Holder's portrait graces the wall of the Tuna Club library


Membership rules: To become a member you have to reel in a fish of 100 pounds or more all by yourself within 100 miles of Catalina with regulation tackle (linen or Dacron line). The club's philosophy is based on conservation and good sportsmanship, i.e., allowing the fish equal footing with the angler.

The Tuna Club on August 17, 2013

The Tuna Club, Zane Grey and the problem with Mrs. Spalding: There are currently no women members of the Tuna Club but that’s not how it used to be. According to our tour guide, Zane Grey was an accomplished fisherman. He was also curmudgeonly and not well liked by the Tuna Club membership. In 1920, he caught a 418-pound swordfish, which afforded him major bragging rights around Avalon. The following year, Mrs. Keith Spalding of the Spalding sporting goods family, bested Grey’s catch by 8 pounds. Grey complained loudly and publicly that it was impossible for a petite woman like Mrs. Spalding to have landed the fish without help. The Board of the Tuna Club was not happy about Grey’s unsportsmanlike rant. After a thorough investigation, they concluded that Mrs. Spalding had indeed caught the fish by herself with the approved line and tackle. The Board told Grey to apologize to Mrs. Spalding in a public forum or resign from the club. He did both.
"For when the one great scorer comes to write against your name. He writes not that you won or lost, but how you played the game."



 Mrs. Spalding's fish

My tour: The Tuna Club has always fascinated me. A scene from one of my favorite movies, Chinatown, was filmed there: P.I. Jake Gittes flies by seaplane to Catalina to interview Noah Cross who is a member of “The Albacore Club.”



Gittes (Jack Nicholson) stands on the front deck of 
the "Albacore Club" AKA The Tuna Club.
In the background is the real Catalina Island Yacht Club.


The original clubhouse, built in 1908, was destroyed in the Great Avalon Fire of 1915 but rebuilt within six months. For outsiders, angling for a look inside is as difficult as getting into Fort Knox with a low credit score. But once a year, the club opens its doors for tours to benefit the Catalina Island Museum. By happenstance, I was in Avalon on that very one day.

The library pictured below is on the left side of the main hallway. It holds photos and memorabilia from the club's 100-year history. Directly across the hall is the card room with 2 green felt-topped tables, and more history. On one wall is a "Fish Board" that lists the names of members who have caught fish in the current year, the tackle used, the weight and type of fish (tuna, marlin, broadbill albacore, white sea bass, and yellowtail).

The library

Zane Grey's writerly spirit: Maybe Zane Grey’s spirit was making up for his prior no-show because while I was inside the building, the answer to a troublesome clue in my current novel magically revealed itself in the guise of old fishing tackle.


I've never read any of Zane Grey's books but I'm going to now. Anybody have a favorite I should start with?


Happy Monday!

20 comments:

  1. Fun post - I had no idea Zane Grey wound up in California, though it makes sense. My parents just moved (we're from Zane Grey's birthplace) and I wound up with five ancient copies of his books, all of which are in the TBR section of my bookshelf. West of the Pecos, Knights of the Range, The Trail Drivers, and Raiders of Spanish Peaks. All books were published by P.F. Collier and Son - big publishers - back in the day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hold on to that collection! When I was a kid, my neighbor across the street had a huge number of Zane Grey books. Grey (he changed the spelling from Gray) wrote about cowboys but also about big game fishing. He had a 190-foot schooner called The Fisherman, which he sailed in search of trophy fish. I'll have to see if I can find his books online.

      Delete
    2. A bit depressing that P.F. Collier and Son was big "back in the day" but not in the picture today. *sigh*

      Delete
  2. Begin at the beginning! My hubby's uncle had the entire collection. Hmmm. Just wondering what happened to them when he died. He had read EVERY one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jackie, use your detective skills and find that collection!

      Delete
  3. Fun and interesting post, Patty. Chinatown is in my top ten favorite movies and I remember those scenes at The Albacore Club well. Kudos to Mrs. Spaulding! Can't help you with Zane Grey, though. Haven't read a one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Unfortunately, Mrs. Spalding may have been the last woman considered for membership. Where are the new Mrs. Spaldings of the fishing world when we need them?

      Delete
  4. Stan Laurel landing an enormous fish? I'm going to have to let that image try and form.

    Enjoy your vacation!

    mims

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. He landed Oliver Hardy, didn't he?

      Delete
  5. I love Chinatown and I love SoCal history. Thank you for sharing this Patty. I hate to admit it, but I've never been to Catalina. I'm putting it on the top of my "day trip" list. As for Zane Grey, it's been so long since I read him, but I suggest starting with "Riders of the Purple Sage." It's considered a classic of Western fiction and is perhaps Grey's most famous work. Enjoy!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Kim. Maybe we should arrange a group trip to the island. I can point out all the ghosts. Will start with "Riders." Thanks for the tip.

      Delete
  6. from Jacqueline

    I loved this post, Patty - my dad was a huge Zane Grey fan! I love Catalina Island, and of course, envy you in your mode of transport to get there. I think it's time I sailed again, though of course, I need the acupressure bands on my wrists for obvious reasons!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, Our J, you must go down to the sea again...Next time you're in L.A.?

      Delete
  7. Never knew that's where the Jack Nicholson/John Huston scene was filmed. Great post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Paulie. I only knew because I spend so much time at Catalina. There was more to tell about the club but I didn't want to bore people.

      Delete
  8. Zane Grey's son was a child psycholgist and came to the school my kids went to and gave classes to those who could afford it. I had 5 kids at the time, poor as a church mouse and the principal paid for me to go. It was a great class--he had a wonderful philosophy about raising kids. Let them reap the consequences of their actions as long as it wasn't something that would hurt them or someone else.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What an interesting tidbit, Marilyn. Thanks!

      Delete
  9. It's part of the genius of Chinatown that they used such a sunny glamorous locale to introduce such a malevolent villain. (And I believe Robert Towne holed up on Catalina to write his first drafts of the screenplay.)
    I recommend the Zane Grey as rustic retreat - stunning view, no phones or wi-fi.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Did you get a visitation from Grey's ghost. I'll be jealous if you did.

      Delete