1. Uncle Sid as California Cowboy
This is a photo of my Uncle Sid Janofsky as a cowboy in California. When he was only 12, Sid (who was originally called Sam) ran away from home and became
a cowboy. He couldn’t stand to see his little sister being abused by their stepmother Rose, so one day he intervened when she was being beaten with a wire
hanger. He ripped the hanger out of his stepmother’s hand, inadvertently wounding her arm. The deep gash brought forth bright red blood, which frightened
them both. My cousin Adrien (his daughter) adds that when Jacob (Sid's father) came home, his wife Rose was furious so he took Sid into the bathroom,
removed his belt, and told him to holler as he whipped the toilet. The next morning Sid went to see his father Jacob at work so that he could say farewell.
This incident happened in 1921, when Sam was only 12, but he ran away to San Francisco where he got a job as a newsboy and changed his name to Sid. He soon had to flee San Francisco as well when his boss was murdered by thieves while Sid hid under the table. He left the big city to try his luck in Central California, where he found a job as a cowboy in the San Joaquin valley. Meanwhile, his younger brother Harry (my father) stayed at home, vowing never to abandon little Hilda or his step-brother Harold (who also feared his mother Rose).
2. Army-Navy Goods Store on Broadway in LA
My father Harry Janofsky (a young man of 16) standing with his co-workers in front of Kasses’ Army-Navy Goods store, located at 220 North Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, in 1927. My mother (who had also dropped out of high school like my father) worked just down the street at a shoe store, where she learned street Spanish to sell her Latino customers zapatos for their many children. She loved telling how they would sometimes bring in a long knotted string, with each knot marking the length of another child’s foot. Every day my father walked by her store on his lunch hour and looked admiringly in her direction. Eventually he arranged for a mutual friend to fix them up on a blind date, a 4th of July picnic. They described it as an all-American romance.
3. Gertrude Cohen & Harry Janofsky in Los Angeles, 1930
My parents were dressed for a wedding that day--not their own, but for one of their friends. She was a bridesmaid and he was an usher. But they were both
dreaming of their own wedding, which had to be delayed another year. Because of the Great Depression, they still couldn't afford to marry. Finally, after
four long years of waiting, they got married in 1931.
4. Baby, Marsha Janofsky, 1940
When I was born in 1940, my maternal grandmother Becky was convinced that the hospital (Cedars of Lebanon) must have sent home the wrong baby--because how
else could they account for the fact that, with my full head of black hair and dark eyes, I looked so much like a Mexican. In Boyle Heights, her family
lived right next door to the Mexicans, whom she hoped her four daughters would avoid. This misidentification, which was gleefully reported to me by my
older sister, helped create in me a lifelong interest in and identification with Latinos. Yet I wasn't the only one in my Jewish community who experienced
this kind of identification. In middle-school, several of my friends had Mexican boyfriends. We all used to wear black peggers, a stylized version of the
tapered zoot-suit trousers worn by pachucos, and took great pride in doing the pachuco hop,a popular dance craze at the time. My cousin Howard Jaffee (who
was a couple of years older than I) used to be called "El Pachuco" because he pretended to be Mexican, using a fake Spanish accent and always dressing like
a pachuco. Howard gradually got over this phase, but I never did. My first serious boyfriend was half-Jewish and half-Mexican (like my son), my second
husband a Mexican national, and our adopted daughter a Latina from East L.A. My son's nannies and the caretakers for my mother were all loving women from
El Salvador, whom we all dearly loved and whom we helped to get green cards.
5. My paternal grandmother Eva Janofsky, with her two sons in Chicago
A snapshot of my paternal grandmother Eva Janofsky, with her two sons, my uncle Sam (then around five and later known as Sid) and my father Harry (who was four). She was born Eva Rivka Eisenberg in 1888 in Grudna, Poland, where she worked as a maid for the Janofsky family. Once she married the Janofsky son Jacob, who was a year younger than she and who eventually became a talented leather-goods craftsman, the couple emigrated to America in 1907—when she was only 19 and he 18—and settled in Chicago. This photograph was taken in Chicago in 1915—only two years before she died, on August 29, 1917. This is how my father told the story of her death: one night while she was giving him a bath, her appendix suddenly burst and in her agony she shoved his body up against the hot water faucet, which burned his flesh. She was immediately rushed to the hospital, and he never saw her again. Yet he carried the mark of her death on his body for the rest of his life. According to my cousins, her death was caused not by appendicitis but by the aftermath of a botched abortion, but no one denied the reality of my father’s scar.
As soon as Eva died, her one-year old daughter Hilda (who later became the spitting image of her mother) also disappeared from the household. Jacob left her with relatives since he didn’t know how to take care of her himself. Later that year he married a young Russian widow named Rose Letvin, who was only 19 at the time and who had a young son named Harold around the same age as Hilda. Fearing she wouldn’t marry him if she knew he had three children, Jacob purposely didn’t tell her about Hilda. Once Hilda returned home, Rose was outraged at Jacob but took out her anger on the little girl. Even after the family moved to California and resettled in Boyle Heights, where Rose and Jacob had two more sons, Jerome and Eddie, she deeply resented Hilda and treated her as Cinderella. Sam couldn’t stand to see his little sister being abused, so one day he intervened when she was being beaten with a wire hanger. He ripped the hanger out of his step-mother’s hand, inadvertently wounding her arm. The deep gash brought forth bright red blood, which frightened them both. This incident happened in 1921, when Sam was only 12, but he ran away to San Francisco where he got a job as a newsboy and changed his name to Sid. He soon had to flee San Francisco as well when his boss was murdered by thieves while Sid hid under the table. He left the big city to try his luck in Central California, where he found a job as a cowboy in the San Joaquin valley. Meanwhile, his younger brother Harry stayed at home, vowing never to abandon little Hilda or Harold (who also feared his mother Rose).
6. Marsha Janofsky at six, 1946
A 1946 snapshot of me, Marsha Janofsky, as a six-year-old backyard ballerina, with my arm drawing attention to the old incinerator that graced our property. Located at 614 N. Vista Street, just south of Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, our house was a double and my grandparents, Rebecca and Philip Cohen, lived right next door. Two of my aunts Dorothy Caplan and Esther Miller lived just down the block with their respective families, so, even though we weren’t religious and rarely attended a synagogue, it felt as if we were living in a traditional extended family within a Jewish neighborhood. Even my youngest aunt, Ruthie Schlom, lived in an apartment near Fairfax Avenue within the Borscht Belt, so she and her family were still relatively close-by.
7. Lake Arrowhead, 1931
My parents, as young newly-weds, enjoying the snowy winter of 1931 in Lake Arrowhead, which is only a short 90-minute drive from sunny Los Angeles. My mother told us that she enjoyed wearing these clothes—the high laced-boots and stylish leather jacket—even more than playing in the snow. Neither of them knew how to ski.
8. Jacob Janofsky and Eva Rivka Eisenberg Janofsky in Grudna, Poland, 1907
This portrait of my paternal grandparents was taken just before they left their native Grudna for America. Given this was the period when there were
frequent savage pogroms throughout Russia, they probably were seeking a better, safer life like thousands of other Russian and Polish Jews who migrated at
this time. But there was also a domestic reason for going. Eva, who was born in 1888 and was a year older than Jacob, worked in the Janofsky household as a
maid. His family was probably not thrilled with his choice of a mate, no matter whether they married before they left, on the ship or once they reached
9. Wedding of my Uncle and Aunt, Sid and Ada Janofsky, 1929
The 1929 wedding of my uncle Sid Janofsky (my father’s older brother) and his lovely, intelligent bride, Ada Rita Kallin (a Russian Jew born in England). My parents Gertrude Cohen and Harry Janofsky (who were still engaged at the time) are part of the wedding party. My mother is standing on the far right, next to my grandfather Jacob Janofsky. Jacob’s two younger children, Harold and Hilda, are on his right between him and my father, with his second wife Rose seated beneath them in black. Sid’s marriage to Ada ended his adventurous years as a cowboy in the San Joaquin Valley in Central California (1921- to 1928). Later in the mid-1940s (during World War II) when he and Ada were living in Venice, California, he left her and their two children (Joel and Adrien) to run off with their sexy blond boarder, Shirley Breetwar, whose husband was a sailor overseas. Sid and Shirley returned to Central California and settled in Fresno, where they opened a nightclub called “Janofsky’s,” which featured her as a stand-up comic. Though the nightclub didn’t last, their marriage did and they had several children together. Meanwhile back in Venice, shortly after Sid left Ada, she and her kids and two of their uncles (the children of Jacob and Rose--Jerome, a gay hair dresser, and Eddie, an animator at Disney Studios) all changed their name from Janofsky to Janis. My father Harry kept the name Janofsky.
10. Kasses’Army-Navy Goods Store, Downtown Los Angeles, 1927
The sales staff (including my father) stand inside of Kasses’ Army-Navy Goods store, in 1927. My father used to tell us amusing stories about this job. One
day a man came in and wanted to buy a maroon cardigan sweater just like the one my father was wearing. So the boss made my father go into the back room,
wrap up his sweater, which the boss then sold to the customer. My father didn’t like playing these tricks on customers, so eventually he became a
short-order cook in his brother Sid’s seaside diner, a milkman, a taxi driver, and a traffic controller for a popular rug and upholstery cleaning company
in Hollywood. At this final job he frequently came in contact with asbestos, which may have contributed to his getting cancer of the bone marrow, the
disease that took his life in 1971, shortly before his 61st birthday and his 40th wedding anniversary.
11. Gertrude Cohen and Harry Janofsky, Venice Beach, 1930
My parents, Gertrude Cohen and Harry Janofsky, relaxing at Venice Beach in July 1930, a year before their wedding, when America was still in the midst of the Great Depression. They had been engaged since 1927, waiting until they could afford to get married. By the way she sits on his lap with both arms draped around his shoulders and the way he holds onto her bare thighs--you can see how sexy they were as a couple, a dimension they kept alive until his death in 1971. My mother outlived him by 28 years. She claimed she dreamed of him every night and still regretted that they had had to wait those four long years before marrying. She kept a large blow-up of this photograph posted at her bedside until the day she died—February 23, 1999.
12. Members of the Cardinals Social Club, Los Angeles, 1932
This group photo of the Los Angeles Cardinals includes my father, Harry Janofsky from Chicago. We always wondered whether the Mickey Katz in the next row,
later became the famous Yiddish comic who frequently performed in Los Angeles.
13. The Fairfax Movie Theater, 1930
When I was growing up in the Fairfax district during the 1940s, I saw my neighborhood defined by four movie theaters that marked out its boundaries. At the
center was the Fairfax, a marvelous deco building shown here in 1930 when it first opened. It was located at the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Beverly
Boulevard. We used to go there for Saturday matinees, and then just walk a couple of blocks north on Fairfax to reach Canter's Deli for dinner. Although I
left the neighborhood once I was married, in the early 1980s my husband and I brought our son back to the Fairfax Theater to see his first movie--Disney's
Pinocchio. As I reported in my book Playing with Power, we had to leave the theater before the film was over because our son was more interested in running
up and down the long aisles than watching the big screen. Later the theater was turned into a triplex to compete with the multiplexes in the local
malls--particularly in the Beverly Center (at the border between the Fairfax District and Beverly Hills). Eventually, the Fairfax became run down. The
theaters were so cold that the staff used to warn us not to go in unless we were wearing a warm jacket. Now the building is vacant and silent, just waiting
to be demolished, though a struggle is being waged to save it.
Demolition was already the fate of the Pan Pacific Theater, which was on the 7600 Block of West Beverly Boulevard, near the famous Pan Pacific Auditorium (a wonderful deco entertainment center where I first saw the Ice Capades and the Harlem Globetrotters) and the Gilmore Baseball stadium (where we used to watch the Hollywood Stars play the Los Angeles Angels). When I was in my teens, we usually went to the Pan Pacific movie theater on Friday nights. By the early 1970s, all of those wonderful buildings were closed, and the last remnants of the Pan Pacific Auditorium burned down in 1989. What remains is only a small replica of part of that deco building. But the stadium and movie theater are long gone.
The old Gordon Theater has managed to survive, though it is no longer screening movies. Located at 614 N. La Brea (just one block north of Melrose), right in the heart of what is now an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, it opened in 1938--two years before I was born. My friends and I used to go there on Saturday afternoons and Friday nights; we were clearly not Orthodox. We loved seeing movies there, partly because the interior of the theater was so beautiful--though we didn't know then it was deco and that its architect was Clifford A. Balch. But in 1985 when it was brilliantly renovated and transformed into the Cineplex Odeon, we were all thrilled to see it gaining a new life. Yet by 2008 it had closed. A sign is now posted outside offering this wonderful building for rent--either for one-night screenings or longer runs. It's as if no one can face the prospect of tearing down such a beautiful building that still has its luster--not even in L.A., which is known for destroying historic buildings.
Ironically the only old neighborhood movie theater that survived is the modest Silent Movie house on Fairfax Avenue, right across from Fairfax High School. No longer limited to showing silent films, it now is an independent theater called Cine-Family, showing edgy new movies and retrospectives to the young crowd that helped diversify the Fairfax district.
14. Picnic in Griffith Park, 1943
A Janofsky family picnic in Griffith Park in 1943. My father is in the center, wearing his milkman uniform. My mother Gertrude kneels behind him, with my elder sister Arline (age 7) on his right and me (at age 3) on his left. Our family picnics reminded them of their first blind date—a 4th of July picnic in 1927.
15. The Cohen Family in Los Angeles, 1932
A 1932 formal studio portrait of my mother's side of the family, the Cohens and their four daughters, who came to Los Angeles from Buffalo, New York in
1920. From right to left: my mother Gertrude (who was born in Buffalo in 1911 and who was then 21), my father (Harry Janofsky, born in Chicago in 1910 who
was 22 in this picture), my grandmother (Becky Cohen, nee Jaffe, who was born in Riga, Latvia in 1891), my grandfather (Philip Cohen, who was born in Kiev,
in the Ukraine, in 1886), my aunt Dorothy (the eldest daughter, who was born in 1910), and her husband Irving Caplan (who worked in the costume department
at Paramount Studios). Seated in front, are my two aunts (from right to left) Ruth and Esther, the younger sisters who were also born in Buffalo.
16. The Cohen Family and their four daughters, 1920
A formal studio portrait of my maternal grandparents Philip and Rebecca Cohen, with their four daughters. He came from Kiev and she from Riga in 1907, when he was 21 and she 16. They met and married in New York in 1908, settled in Buffalo’s Ward 6 where they had four daughters, and then moved their family to Los Angeles in 1920, settling first in Boyle Heights.
17. Souvenir Cardinal Dance Club booklet, 1932
My mother’s souvenir booklet from a “Cardinal” Club dance, held at the Salon Celeste Ballroom (on Western Avenue, between 6th Street and Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles) on Saturday, April 9, 1932. The booklet contains pictures of the African-American band that provided the live music, head-shots of all members of the club (including my father Harry Janofsky), ads by local merchants, and lyrics of popular songs--“Was that the Human Thing to Do?,” “I Thank You, Mr. Moon!,” and “All of Me.” Years later I memorized the lyrics, so that I could sing along with my father.