by Frank Dunnigan
Over the years, many well-known people have visited San Francisco, and have attracted appreciative crowds. In several of those cases, many in the audience desired to obtain autographs from the celebrities that they had come to see.
Department stores and independent local book shops were frequent locations for such autograph events involving writers, but those venues are fewer in number today. Still, authors, politicians, baseball fans, and Hollywood stars all still welcome an opportunity to sign autographs for the public.
Here are some memorable images from the OSFH photo archives showing individuals who have accommodated their fans at various events over the years.
SOPHIA LOREN – Sophia Loren (b. 1934) published a cookbook, IN THE KITCHEN WITH LOVE, in January of 1972, and she held autograph events in many cities, including this one in San Francisco.
DICK CLARK – TV celebrity Dick Clark (1929-2012) at an autograph event for his then-new book ROCK, ROLL & REMEMBER at the Emporium during the holiday shopping season in November of 1976.
LAUREN BACALL – Actress Lauren Bacall (1924-2014) autographing her 1978 autobiography BY MYSELF in San Francisco in 1978. The book that included details of her courtship and marriage with noted Hollywood actor Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957) who was 25 years her senior.
JOHN PHILLIPS – John Phillips (1935-2001) of the Mama and the Papas folk musical group appeared at Booksmith on Haight Street during a San Francisco autograph event for his book, EXPLORING THE FUTURE, in 1983.
PATTI SMITH – Musician Patti Smith (b. 1946), singer, songwriter, musician, author, and poet of the punk genre—signing autographs in San Francisco in January 1978.
JERRY MATHERS – Jerry Mathers (b. 1948), star of the 1957-1963 sit-com, LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, shakes hands with future WNP member Greg Garr at a 1982 autograph event in San Francisco that was held to promote his 1983 made-for-TV movie, STILL THE BEAVER.
Bob Hope and Jerry Colonna and Hollywood Victory Caravan at Southern Pacific station at 3rd and Townshend streets, May 19, 1942. (wnp32.0096; Emiliano Echeverria/Randolph Brandt Collection / Courtesy of Emiliano Echeverria)
BOB HOPE – Bob Hope (1903-2003) at right, arrives at Southern Pacific Station at 3rd & Townsend Streets on May 19, 1942 with a Hollywood entourage to entertain service members as part of a cross-country tour to raise money for the Army and Navy relief funds. Unlike Presidential, Royal, and Papal visits over the years, Hollywood stars were more than happy to provide autographs to all.
ADLAI STEVENSON – Adlai Stevenson II (1900-1965) was the Governor of Illinois from 1949-1953 who was the Democratic nominee for President in 1952 and 1956 and who south the nomination again in 1960. Here, in the Fall of 1952, while visiting San Francisco, he is shown signing autographs for an appreciative crowd, likely at the Fairmont Hotel. He was subsequently appointed United States Ambassador to the United Nations, and died in 1965 while holding that office.
ESTES KEFAUVER – Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver (1903-1963) signs autographs at the corner of Geary and Fillmore in 1956, while campaigning for the Democratic nomination for President for the second time. Kefauver was defeated for the nomination at the convention by Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson, the same candidate who had also beaten him for the nomination in 1952. In 1956, Kefauver was chosen as Stevenson’s VP running mate, but the ticket was not successful.
ROBERT F. KENNEDY – Autograph books are being thrust at Presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968) at GET-Lakeshore Plaza near Sloat Boulevard in 1968, shortly before his victory in the California Democratic primary in June of that year and his subsequent assassination. The original Lucky supermarket in background, built in 1948 with its back wall facing Ocean Avenue, was later demolished and a replacement store built in a new location on the site parallel to Everglade Drive.
San Francisco mayor George Christopher signing ball for San Francisco Seals manager Eddie Joost in stands at Seals Stadium, April 10, 1956. (wnp28.6024; Examiner Negative Collection / Courtesy of a Private Collector)
GEORGE CHRISTOPHER – Opening day at Seals Stadium, April 10, 1956—Mayor George Christopher (1907-2000) autographs a baseball for Seals Manager Eddie Joost (1916-2011) before the game. Fire Chief Francis P. Kelly (1887-1957), then approaching retirement, is seated at left and recently-appointed Police Chief Frank Ahearn (1899-1958) is seated at right. Sadly, Ahearn suffered a fatal heart attack in one of those very same box seats two years later, in September of 1958.
WILLIE MAYS – Appreciative fans surround Willie Mays (b. 1931) and his teammates on the steps of City Hall in the Fall of 1962 after the Giants won their first National League title since moving to San Francisco. The team went on to the World Series that year, but lost to the New York Yankees in the 7th game.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS – A quarter-century later, in 1987, a whole new generation of young San Francisco fans waited for their favorite Giants players to sign autographs at Candlestick Park.
ANNE RICE – Gothic author Anne Rice, famous for her Vampire Chronicles series and many other books, lived in San Francisco and the Bay Area for nearly 30 years and obtained an M.A. degree from San Francisco State in 1970, where her husband Stan Rice later became an instructor. Their son Christopher Rice also grew up to be a writer. In November 2013, Christopher and Anne visited Books, Inc. on Van Ness Avenue to sign copies of their books, The Heavens Rise (Christopher) and the Wolves of Midwinter (Anne). Even after she left the Bay Area, Anne Rice frequently came back on book tours.
WESTERN NEIGHBORHOODS PROJECT – Meanwhile, WNP Headquarters at 1617 Balboa Street is the place to find many autographed books written by local authors, including Kathleen Beitiks, Richard Brandi, Frank Dunnigan, Ron Jones, Woody LaBounty, John Martini, Lorri Ungaretti, and more. Stop in when they’re open and say hello, and enjoy some browsing. Also, read more about author Lorri Ungaretti in this 2017 Streetwise column.
Several weeks ago, we took an OpenSFHistory Top Ten look at rides at Chutes at the Beach because this year is the 50th anniversary of the closing of Playland in 1972. As we all know, Chutes at the Beach became Playland at the Beach when George and Leo Whitney took it over in the late 1920s. Some of the Chutes at the Beach rides, such as the Big Dipper, Shoot the Chutes, and others, survived into the Playland years but, inevitably, newer rides were introduced. Herewith is our OpenSFHistory Top Ten look at the attractions at Playland.
The Merry Mix-Up ride is one of the various types of centrifugal force rides that you find in many amusement parks. At Playland, this ride was a chain swing connected to a central stanchion that would spin around. This was similar to the earlier Circle Swing ride. The seats at the end of each of the chains would swing out and up further and further as it spun faster. It moved around the park area during its time at Playland1 and was another of those rides that you probably did not want to go on with a full stomach.
The Ridee-O and Tilt-A-Whirl rides could be found at Playland along the Great Highway between Balboa and Cabrillo near the Dodger bumper cars and Big Dipper roller coaster. The Ridee-O was a rather tame “sleigh” ride. Each sleigh held two or three people and moved around on a short track with a small, gentle hill. The Tilt-A-Whirl cars could hold up to four people. The cars would move around on a circular turntable, but each car would independently spin around depending on a number of factors like weight and tilt.
The Hey-Dey was yet another centrifugal force ride. Each car had front and back seats that each held two riders. It was basically and updated version of the Whip ride at Chutes at the Beach, where the cars would travel around a flat, circular platform, getting whipped around the corners. Reportedly, the back seats of the cars were the best place to sit for maximum whipping effect. It would later be replaced with a newer version with only two-seater cars.
The Diving Bell originated at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island in 1939-40. Designed by Edmund Martine, the Whitneys brought it to Playland after the World’s Fair. People would enter the diving bell which was on a large pole above a 30-foot-deep saltwater tank. The diving bell was then lowered into the tank where people could see all kinds of sea life. The Diving Bell lived to the end of Playland’s days and its tank is now buried underneath the Safeway parking lot on the site.
The Barrel of Fun was a simple concept. People had to simply walk through a large rotating pipe. The instructions above the entrance told you to “Face left, stand erect – walk thru.” It was not as simple as it may have appeared. With the rotating pipe, you could not walk straight through. Rather, you would walk against the spin of the pipe making slow, deliberate progress to the other side.
Every kids’ playground has a slide. In the Fun House at Playland, they had a 200-foot long, wooden Giant Slide. It had four lanes so that friends could go down together and had three “moguls,” basically bumps, for a brief feeling of weightlessness as you went down. Sliders had to use a burlap sack for the ride down so as to avoid friction burns or rivets on clothing scratching the slide. Reputedly it was the longest indoor slide in the world during its tenure at Playland.
The Laff in the Dark Ghost Ride had two-seat carriages that travelled through a darkened maze where all kinds of surprises awaited the riders. “Dark” rides like this are staples of amusement parks around the world. One of the surprises was the carriage looking like it would run straight into a wall, only to have to have it break through hard to see doors in the wall.
While the Whitneys had begun ice skating at the Sutro Baths, they didn’t forget the roller skaters. In 1947, they opened Skateland on the north side of Balboa Street at the Great Highway and leased it out. It filled the space that previously held Skee-ball and the Surf Waffle Shop. It was run by Meredith “Red” Shattuck, a well-known local roller skating instructor.
The Roll-O-Plane was a swing arm ride with one of the highest swing arcs, rising 45 feet above the ground. There were two “planes,” one at each end of the swing arm, that could hold eight people. The planes, which actually looked more like rockets, rotated on the swing arm to keep the riders mostly upright, with some rocking.
Of course, we cannot end this review of Playland attractions without mentioning Laffing Sal. She first appeared in the Fun House at Playland in 1940 on a glass balcony above a ticket booth. However, her capacity to scare or amuse visitors led the Whitneys to move her to a more prominent spot in a large corner window on the first floor of the Fun House. Laffing Sal was not unique to Playland. She was made by a Pennsylvania company that sold her and other animatronic figures. Playland actually had several Laffing Sals, so that if one broke down, another was there. Playland’s Laffing Sals can now be found at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and Musee Mecanique at Pier 45.
As many of these attractions were at Playland at or near the end of its days, there’s a good chance that some of you experienced one or more of these. Playland is now 50 years gone, but still present in many of our memories.
1. “San Francisco’s Playland At The Beach: The Golden Years,” by James R. Smith, Craven Street Books, 2013.