The following post has nothing to do with Van Nuys….

Looking back on events and news stories that once excited or amused Southern California, I came across this odd story found in the USC Digital Archives Collection.

It seems that in 1960, a group of San Fernando Valley women wanted to attend a meeting of the San Gabriel Humane Society. And they were excluded, which caused a ruckus, requiring a cop to come and restore order.

At the center of one photo, an old disabled woman, sitting in a wheelchair, covered in a plaid blanket, wears a fur hat, and is attended to by a young actress in a fur stole, Lily Fontaine.

The whole scene is very Hitchcockian, infused with a newsreel documentary feel, but somehow feels other worldly, very Twilight Zone. The women, stocky, frumpy, self-assured, are dressed in the workaday woolen dresses and coats of that time, and had gone somewhere out of their comfort zone, deep into the San Gabriel Valley, for humanitarian reasons. The motorcycle cop is like the mirrored sunglasses cop in Psycho (1960) who pulls up behind Marion Crane asleep in her parked car and knocks her awake.

Old photos show old fashions, clothing that was meant to cover up and to theatricalize. Ordinary events: car crashes, people eating lunch, women standing around, look interesting to us. They are interesting because the participants are in costumes: they are on a stage, they are emoting with sartorial gestures. Women in capes, women in furs, women in hats, women in earrings, women in heels; these are special and ornamented and enriching.

Most likely this photo depicts an utterly banal and boring event. But it looks like something fun because of the formality of the wearers.

What mission they were on, we cannot know. But they were stopped from completing it, and left outdoors, to commiserate and to contemplate, one day, 52 years ago.

“Photographer: Swaim. Date: 1960-01-21. Reporter: Swaim. Assignment: Humane hassle. 37/38: Group of woman [sic] (part of the 30) who were excluded from meeting of San Gabriel Valley Humane Society. They claim to be members. In wheelchair in center is Mrs. Elizabeth Cummer of Studio City. Stooping to talk to her is Lily Fontaine, Encino actress. 25: Shot from outside fence, showing San Gabriel officer who was sent to keep order.

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