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from frontier badman to stardom in Hollywood

I asked Jeff Smith, proprietor of Soapy Smith .net and biographer of his great grandfather Soapy, whether there was a connection to LA. Jeff said that Soapy hadn’t been to LA, but Numerous friends and gang members were known to have lived or visited Los Angels:

Of interest might be Wilson Mizner, one of the old Skagway gang members, who in 1929, had become a partner in Hollywood’s Brown Derby restaurant.

School For Scoundrels says this about Mizner:

Wilson MiznerWilson Mizner

He worked as one of Soapy’s lieutenants until Soapy was killed. One of his scams included working as a gold weigher in a dance hall. While balancing the scales, Wilson would spill gold dust onto a carpet. At the end of the week Wilson burned the carpet then extracted the gold from the ashes. In a 1905 interview, Wilson claimed that this trick resulted in a weekly yield of a couple of thousand dollars.

In “Schemers, Scalawags and Scoundrels”, author Stuart B. McIver relates one quasi-comic episode in the Yukon: “In the gold rush days in Nome, Alaska, [Wilson Mizner] put on a black mask, armed himself with a revolver and entered a candy store, shouting, “Your chocolates or your life!” Though the local sheriff knew Wilson was the culprit, there was no arrest. Later he was named as a deputy sheriff!

In 1905, Wilson showed up at a horse show where his brother Addison was ensconced in a pricey box with wealthy widow Mary Adelaide Yerkes. Addison pretended not to see Wilson, but the younger brother charmed his way into the box. Thereafter, Wilson worked speedily. He spent the night with Mrs. Yerkes, reportedly borrowing $10,000 the next morning.

Mizner made his way from frontier Skagway, Alaska to boomtown Hollywood, where (according to Wikipedia) he became…

an American playwright, raconteur, and entrepreneur. His best-known plays are The Deep Purple, produced in 1910, and The Greyhound, produced in 1912. He was manager and co-owner of The Brown Derby restaurant in Los Angeles, California, and was affiliated with his brother, Addison Mizner, in a series of scams and picaresque misadventures that inspired Stephen Sondheim’s Road Show.

Back to Jeff Smith’s comments on Mizner:

He had known Wyatt and Josephine Earp in Alaska, probably Nome. When Earp died on January 13, 1929, in Los Angeles, Mizner was among Wyatt’s pallbearers. Two other Earp gang members were also in Soapy’s gang.

Wyatt EarpWyatt Earp at 21 in 1869.

According to Wikipedia Wyatt Earp was a famous *white* hat, the polar opposite of Soapy Smith, as well as a Gambler, Lawman, Saloon Keeper, Gold/Copper Miner:

He is best known for his participation in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, along with Doc Holliday, and two of his brothers, Virgil Earp and Morgan Earp. He is also noted for the Earp Vendetta.

Which all goes to show a weird thing that I have discovered via Soapy Smith: there was a direct connection between the old west and early Hollywood. There were people who held up stagecoaches who went on to work on movies. Nuts! No wonder there were so many westerns made.

3 replies on “from frontier badman to stardom in Hollywood”

Hi, Lucas.

Looking back at my email to you I can see where I was not clear enough and thus confused you on Soapy’s one known trip to Los Angeles. It was in 1897. While there he wrote to good friend, Bat Masterson.

There are many historians who believe Wyatt Earp was no “white hat,” but rather a rogue of the lowest order.

I am enjoying your posts immensely.

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