One hundred years ago this month, Grace Kingsley interviewed someone who couldn’t get away with making up the usual actor’s nonsense about himself because she’d known him for too long, theater actor Leo Carrillo. She wrote:
I knew the Carrillos in Santa Monica, before some of the younger Carrillos were born. Judge Carrillo was an impressive and truly dignified figure. The first time I ever saw Leo, he was a baby with ringlets and big brown eyes, and all the other children used to fight to take care of him. That has always been the way with Leo. His is a marvelously magnetic radiant personality.
Los Angeles used to be such a small town! After writing this blog for as long as I have, now it seems utterly remarkable that everything he told her checks out (you can’t lie when the reporter has known you since you were in diapers). His family actually did have deep roots in Southern California, as he told her in the interview. His great-grandfather was Carlos Antonio Carrillo, who in 1837 was appointed the first provincial governor of California for Spain. His father, Juan Jose Carrillo, had been a county sheriff, judge and the mayor of Santa Monica from 1890 to 1897.
Leopoldo Antonio Carrillo was born on August 6, 1881* and had 11 brothers and sisters. He really had been a cartoonist for the San Francisco Examiner (he told her about his miniscule salary there, just eight dollars a week) before he signed a contract with the Orpheum vaudeville circuit (the Hanford Journal of September 14, 1904 backs him up). He toured as a comic monologist who specialized in characters speaking in dialects until 1916 when Broadway impresario Oliver Morosco hired him for a play called Upstairs and Downstairs. The following year he got the lead in Lombardi Ltd. It was a huge hit, playing on Broadway for 296 performances then touring the United States and Australia for three years.
Kingsley was speaking to him because he was rehearsing a new play called Mike Angelo, which told the story of an art studio assistant who becomes a great artist. She thought he had another winner:
And all the matinee girls from 6 to 40 years are going to be crazy over Leo in Mike Angelo. Without giving the story away at all, I may say he is a quite appealing pathetic figure in the play as a studio roustabout and of course he is the hopeless lover, which alone will make all the ladies in the audience sigh to comfort him and wonder how the heroine can dally for a minute with the other fellow…Take it all in all, it looks as though Mike Angelo is going to be a credit to the City of Angels.
The play opened on October 2nd and Kingsley’s editor Edwin Schallert wrote the review. Before explaining his only middling opinion of the show, he reported on the tremendous reception Carrillo got:
For Carrillo it was a gala homecoming. Friends, flowers, bravos made it so. There were salvos and cheers for him. A mighty wave of applause rose to meet him. It surged and swirled about him, halting action and word, and seemingly determined to bring him down from his pedestal whereon he posed as model in the artist studio. Truly, no reception in days and weeks has equaled Carrillo’s in enthusiasm. It was a glowing and glorious paean for the youth.
Los Angeles loved their hometown boy! However, despite praising Carrillo’s performance which had “an inimitable humanness, a sparkling aura of gayety and pathos, and Latinesque revelation of love, loyalty, faith and their opposites,” he found the play was “an artificial story of life in a painter’s studio…The first act is tedious, but once we have the action laid out things move at a fair pace.”
Mike Angelo wasn’t as big a hit as Lombardi, Ltd., but it did did go to Broadway in January 1923 and played for 84 performances. Carrillo continued to be a fairly successful working actor. The following few years, he alternated between starring in plays on Broadway and touring in vaudeville. When sound came to film he dove right in. His first film was a Vitaphone short made in New York called At the Ball Game (1927). He made two more of them, then he moved back to Los Angeles where he appeared in over 90 films, mostly in supporting parts. He was most famous for playing the sidekick Pancho in six seasons of The Cisco Kid (1950-1956) television show, near the end of his career.
However, the reason that everyone in Los Angeles vaguely recognizes his name isn’t due to his acting career. In 1922, when telling of his house building plans, he said to Kingsley: “I mean also to aid in restoring some of the old landmarks. I think native Californians should do all they can to keep alive the priceless traditions of our State.” He was telling the truth about that too! In 1942, Governor Earl Warren appointed him to the State Parks and Beaches Commission, which he served on until January 1961. He played an important part in California’s acquisition of Hearst Castle, the Los Angeles Arboretum, and the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and he helped to restore Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles. After his death from cancer in 1961, they named the beach west of Malibu the Leo Carrillo State Park. His weekend retreat near Carlsbad has also been preserved, and you can still visit the Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park today.
Elsewhere this month, Kingsley had a story about another Los Angeleian who isn’t even half-remembered now, but once he was utterly perfect:
Orville Caldwell, if you don’t happen to know it, is accounted the most physically perfect actor of the stage, if B.P. Schulberg is to be believed. And the Schulberg judgement is backed up by no less expert an opinion than that of Elinor Glyn, who is credited with knowing what’s what when it comes to a question of physical perfection of the male variety.
Mme. Glyn first saw Caldwell when he played the leading part in the famous Comstock and Gest spectacle Mecca in New York. When he made his appearance as the Sultan of Cairo, the noted English authoress blinked two or three times, gave a little gasp of delighted surprise, and then settled back in her orchestra chair for a three hours’ regard of the young man whom she exclaimed entirely personified her hero of Three Weeks.
Orville Caldwell did go on to be the leading man in Schulberg’s The Lonely Road. However, his acting career never really took off, so he went on to other work.
Caldwell was born in Oakland, California on February 8, 1896. He acted in student plays while he attended the University of California at Berkely, then he served in the Navy during the first World War. After he was discharged he was hired at the Alcazar Theater in San Francisco, then he had the good fortune to be cast in the musical Elinor Glyn saw on Broadway.
After The Lonely Road, he appeared in twelve films (most notably opposite Marion Davis in The Patsy (1928)) and returned to Broadway twice in 1924 and in 1925, but after starring in The Little Yellow House (1928), he gave up acting and became a stock broker. He didn’t have great timing: the Wall Street Crash happened in October 1929, and in the mid-1930s he supplemented his earnings by taking some bit parts in sound films. However, in the later 1930’s he became the assistant superintendent of service stations at the Associate Oil Company and quit acting for good. He was also active in Republican politics, and he was appointed First Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles in 1941. The L.A. Times story about his appointment didn’t mention his acting career at all—it jumped from his naval service to his oil company job. Maybe Elinor Glyn having any opinion at all about you isn’t useful for a political career. He served as Deputy Mayor until 1951, then he became the assistant county administrative officer. His last mention in the Times was in September 1961 when he spoke at the city planning department meeting to support a proposed film museum. Even when it was relevant, it seems that he didn’t mention his former movie career. Mary Mallory has a complete history of all the attempts (sigh!) to build a film museum in Los Angeles.
He and his wife Audrey retired to Santa Rosa, California and he died there on September 24, 1967.
Kingsley took her annual vacation August 6-22. I hope you have a nice summer vacation too!
*Some sources say that Carrillo was born in August 1880, but I think 1881 is the correct year. The 1880 census says his sister Diana was 7 months old in June 1880, and I sincerely hope that his mother didn’t get pregnant again that quickly.
“Leo Carrillo On the Stage,” Hanford Journal, September 14, 1904.
Edwin Schallert, “Reviews: Mike Angelo,” Los Angeles Times, October 3, 1922.
James W. Dean, “Girls! Meet Elinor Glyn’s ‘Hero,’ Now in Movies,” Norfolk Post, October 26, 1926.
“Economic Study Set for Filmland Museum,” Los Angeles Times, February 6, 1960.
“Film Museum Gets Support,” Los Angeles Times, September 12, 1961.