One hundred years ago this week, world events crowded entertainment news out of the newspaper for the most part. On Monday, November 11th at 12:10 a.m. the L.A. Times announced on its public address system that German representatives had signed the armistice. A special edition of the newspaper quickly followed. Hostilities officially ended at 11 a.m. Paris time, which was 3 a.m. Los Angeles time. Naturally, nobody bothered to go to bed that night or went to work the next day. As the Times’ November 12th article, “Bedlam is the Kaiser’s Dirge As All Los Angeles Celebrates Peace” said, “The war is over. Nothing else mattered.” It continued:
Los Angeles has had many great days. Yesterday was her greatest day. Through the dark hours when enemies sore pressed she maintained her poise and smiled through her tears…All that time her emotions were damming back a great lake of feeling, and when The Times siren roared the news to a waiting city that the war was over the dam burst and out into the glorious morning of Victory Day the people poured to give their outward expression to the joy that came with daybreak.
There were no plans for an official celebration, but the mayor declared the day a holiday and prohibited all alcohol sales. The crowds were amazing:
By 8 o’clock in the morning the downtown streets were jammed and flags were being placed. Everywhere the Stars and Stripes were floating, apparently they had risen with the sun…. Gradually the crowd grew. By 9 o’clock Broadway, Spring, Hill, Seventh and the cross streets were filled.
After noon Broadway was a solid mass of color waving north and south like some sublimated ribbon counter on a spree, while at every intersection a cross current of humanity struggled against the tide, finally to be caught up in its flood and carried on whither it flowed and ebbed and flowed again.
The whole police force was on duty, but crowd control was impossible. They estimated that half a million turned up (two years later, the census said that only 576,673 people lived there!)
The streets were so congested that they had to shut down the trolleys in downtown. The noise was astonishing, too. Every car horn was being honked, “tens of thousands of portable horns, rattles, pans, cans, hanging chunks of pig iron, skillets and wash basins from the kitchen pantry added to the tremendous din.”
The Times report concluded:
The wonderful day was so filled with incidents that it was impossible to acquire more than a passing impression. The spectacle was en masse. It had no beginning, no middle, no end. It was unlike everything which ever was before, and its like may never be seen again.
There was one unfortunate consequence of the massive public celebration: it caused an uptick in flu cases, so re-opening the theaters was delayed.
Grace Kingsley did manage to write a few columns this week. She told how one person celebrated:
This is a story of Charlie Chaplin, some hell-bent cowboys and a peace celebration, and it all happened in the wee small hours of Monday morning.
The cowboys had been celebrating peace all Sunday night by shooting up the town and, while tearing down Seventh street, one of them happened to look through the window of a little all-night restaurant. There sat Charlie Chaplin, eating chop suey and cogitating on the success of Shoulder Arms. Those cowboys yelled in chorus—“Oh, you Charlie Chaplin?” but didn’t wait for Charlie to answer. Instead they swung their trusty lassoes, with the result the noose slipped over his famous head and landed him in their midst in a jiffy.
“Well, boys?” demanded the little comedian good-naturedly.
“Speech! Speech!” yelled the boys, and rapidly hoisted Chaplin to the top of an automobile, where he made a speech that ought to rattle down through the corridors of time even if it doesn’t. A crowd speedily gathered, even at 3 a.m. and when it was all over the cowboys heaved the comedian to their shoulders and bore him home.
Kingsley didn’t remark on one reason it might have been odd to find Chaplin alone in a Chinese restaurant in the early morning: two days earlier, news had broken that he’d secretly married seventeen-year-old actress Mildred Harris on Oct 23rd. This was a bad idea for both of them from the start. On November 13th, the Times reported she was in the hospital with a nervous breakdown and Chaplin was once again living at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. The two formally separated in autumn 1919 and divorced in 1920.