Flame of the Barbary Coast (1945)



Director:  Joseph Kane.

Starring:  John Wayne (Duke Fergus),  Ann Dvorak (Ann 'Flaxen' Tarry),  Joseph Schildkraut (Boss Tito Morell), William Frawley (Wolf Wylie),  Virginia Grey (Rita Dane). 

San Francisco's Barbary Coast and the 1906 Earth Quake



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.




John Wayne is a cowboy in the big city of San Francisco who gets seduced into the gambling life in the seedy area of the city known as the Barbary Coast. He falls in love with a local house singer (Ann Dvorak) at The Eldorado. Taken for all his money, Wayne returns to Montana only to master the art of gambling to come back looking for revenge and his woman. It ain't going to be easy for him because the owner of The Eldorado, Tito (Joseph Schildkraut) is also in love with the woman and will do virtually anything to stop him. William Frawley of "I Love Lucy" TV fame, plays Wayne's gambling tutor and sidekick.

The San Francisco Earthquake and Fires are a big part of the film.  The citizens use it as a chance to get rid of the corruption in the city, a lot of it stemming from the Barbary Coast. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



Historical Background:

San Francisco's rough and tough waterfront district must have been rough indeed for it earned the title of the Barbary Coast. Originally, the Barbary Coast was the name of the coast of North Africa extending from the western border of Egypt to the Atlantic Ocean; its name derived from the Berbers, who were the principal inhabitants of the region. For many years, the Barbary States had plundered seaborne commerce. The United States even fought a war with the Barbary States (Barbary Wars 1801-1805, 1815).

1848 -- discovery of gold in California.

1894 -- onslaught of the 49ers looking for gold in California.

1849 -- Convicts from Australia settle in the area which later becomes the Barbary Coast. Crimes in the area were often said by locals to be the work of the Australians: "The Sydney Ducks are cackling in the pond." Their influence lasts for more than half a century. The areas becomes filled with saloons, brothels, and gambling dens.

1849 -- Following the discovery of gold in the area, the El Dorado becomes the first gambling house to open. The "club" is just a massive canvas tent at first, but a large room with several, small private rooms, is soon constructed.

1850 -- Two thousand women, mostly prostitutes, arrive in San Francisco to serve the mostly male population. Many of the "parlor girls" of the Barbary Coast are virtual white slaves brought into the business of prostitution by aggressive and brutal pimps.

1850 -- Simone Jules becomes the first female roulette croupier at the Bella Union. Her success leads other gambling houses to feature women as dealers.

Just how bad things could be in the district, can be read from the following by Benjamin Estelle Lloyd:

"The Barbary Coast is the haunt of the low and the vile of every kind. The petty thief, the house burglar, the tramp, the whoremonger, lewd women, cutthroats, murderers, all are found here. Dance-halls and concert-saloons, where blear-eyed men and faded women drink vile liquor, smoke offensive tobacco, engage in vulgar conduct, sing obscene songs and say and do everything to heap upon themselves more degradation are numerous. Low gambling houses, thronged with riot-loving rowdies, in all stages of intoxication, are there. Opium dens, where heathen Chinese and God-forsaken men and women are sprawled in miscellaneous confusion, disgustingly drowsy or completely overcome, are there. Licentiousness, debauchery, pollution, loathsome disease, insanity from dissipation, misery, poverty, wealth, profanity, blasphemy, and death, are there. And Hell, yawning to receive the putrid mass, is there also."

1851 -- Fire destroys nearly everything in the city and the Sidney Ducks get the blame. The ducks had been employing arson as just one of their means of extortion. But the courts let go the leaders of the arson ring, Australians Jack Edwards and Ben Lewis.

1851 -- First Committee on Vigilance organizes to fight the Sidney Ducks. Sydney Duck safe stealer John Jenkins (a.k.a., The Miscreant) is caught, tried, and hung for the burglary of a Long Wharf shipping office.

1868 -- Hoodlum leader James or "Butt" Riley arrives and becomes one of area's legendary figures. He is popular with the waiter girls and prostitutes, to whom he sells nude pictures.

1896-1902  --  James D. Phelan, Mayor of San Francisco.

1902-1907  --  orchestra leader Eugene E. Schmitz becomes Mayor of San Francisco.  He was under the thumb of local political boss Abe Ruef and various other political and business interests.

April 18, 1906 -- Old San Francisco hit by the Great Earthquake that levels the city. A subsequent fire burns most of the Barbary Coast. 3,000 people died. 

1907  --  Schmitz was tried and convicted on multiple charges of graft and bribery.  (But he soon had the charges cleared.)

1907 (July 19) - 1907 (July 16) -- Charles Boxton, Mayor of San Francisco.  After the corruption trial of Mayor Schmitz, the Board of Supervisors chose Boxton to finish Schmitz's remaining term. During the trial, however, it was revealed that Boxton had taken bribes.  They forced him to resign after only a week in office.

1907-1910  --  Edward Robeson Taylor, Mayor of San Francisco. 

1910-1912  --  P. H. McCarthy, mayor of San Francisco. 

1912  --  the remnants of Abe Ruef’s Workingmen’s party were destroyed with the election as mayor of James Rolph, Jr., who would serve ten terms.  This was a repudiation of the evils of the Ruef-Schmitz régime and the administration of Mayor P. H. McCarthy.  The Barbary Coast was now to be cleaned up.



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