REVIEW: Ridge Writers on Books: ‘Tales from the Owl Saloon’

By Lodge Cabot Cunningham and Elizabeth Babcock, cartoons by Richard Nuckles, B&W photos, HSUMD, paperback, 307 pages, 2017, $29.95

REVIEW: Ridge Writers on Books: ‘Tales from the Owl Saloon’By DONNA MCCROHAN ROSENTHAL

In a few weeks, the Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert will release “Tales from the Owl Saloon: Hollywood, Red Mountain, and Beyond.” Legendary Hollywood sound engineer Lodge Cunningham jotted down the stories, but not surprisingly, Indian Wells Valley chronicler extraordinaire Elizabeth Babcock played a huge role in bringing them out in book form.

Cunningham happened on our part of the world while at work on the 1930 motion picture classic “Hell’s Angels.” He subsequently moved to Red Mountain and stayed. His manuscript came to reside with the Historical Society. One day Collections Manager Carol Porter passed it along to Babcock for comments. Babcock rose to the dual challenge of editing Cunningham’s pages and adding approximately 150 more of background and character profiles.

The result crackles with lively tales, wild vignettes, and wry observations about the most colorful years of the Rand Mining District and its surroundings. In Part I, Dr. Thomas Drummond runs afoul of dead cats. Little Billy decides to skin them and sell them as freshly dressed rabbits. Slim Riffle manages to keep the Owl Saloon open 24/7 despite Prohibition. Shotgun Mary declares Trona Road closed and supports her case with her weapon in her lap. Seldom-Seen Slim waxes eloquent about his ill-fated whirlwind romance and marriage to a debutante but, sobered up, claims he never heard such untrue nonsense. Death Valley Scotty meets Albert Johnson and the rest is history. Cunningham also relates his visionary contributions to the development of the sound boom, as well as squaring off with employer Howard Hughes.

Part II, penned by Babcock, provides a discussion of Cunningham’s career and credits that include “His Girl Friday” and “Lady from Shanghai,” his celebrated Indonesian feasts when he and his wife owned the Owl Saloon, reminiscences by friends of Cunningham, and excellent brief bios of the personalities featured in Part I.

A note on the back cover warns “not intended for children” owing to “coarse language and situations typical of the rough-and-tumble mining era.” But adults, and particularly fans of area lore, will have a rollicking good time with “Tales from the Owl Saloon” which has inspired a film series for later this month at the Historic USO Building.

This monthly column is written by members of Ridge Writers, the East Sierra Branch of the California Writers Club. Meetings are held the first Thursday evening of each month at Ridgecrest Presbyterian Church and free programs are offered throughout the year. Ridge Writers’ book “Planet Mojave: Visions from a World Apart” is available at the Historic USO Building, Jawbone Canyon, Maturango Museum, and Red Rock Books.

Story First Published: 2017-03-17