"The only shame is to have none." --Blaise Pascal
In 2011 it sometimes appears that shameful behavior is rewarded more often than it is punished. In the following photographs there are examples of people who engaged in bad behavior and in most cases, appear to have felt some degree of shame.
Adam and Eve innovated covering up as the universal response to shame. The first thing that the pair did after they'd eaten an apple from the tree of life was to cover their nakedness with a few strategically placed fig leaves.
Because fig leaves weren't as readily available in Los Angeles during the twentieth century as they had been in the Garden of Eden, modern city-dwellers caught in shameful situations had to make do with whatever shield was at hand -- everything from hats and coats to scarves and handbags.
The first photo in this series of shame is of infamous madam and Los Angeles Vice Queen, Brenda Allen. Brenda had a close relationship with Sgt. Elmer V. Jackson, who was a member of LAPD's administrative vice squad. Jackson, and others, were said to have provided protection for Brenda in exchange for cash pay-offs. The scandal ultimately resulted in the resignation of Police Chief Clemence B. Horrall, and the eventual clean-up of the LAPD.
Herald-Examiner; Order #00028232
Following a sheriff's vice raid on a nightclub, Margaret Shaw is seen here hiding her face behind a nifty clutch handbag.
Herald-Examiner; Order #00049969
Edna Gordon Adams was busted in the same sheriff's vice raid in which Margaret Shaw had been nabbed. Obviously Edna's reaction to being arrested was completely different from Margaret's. Edna's expression suggests calculation, with just a hint of seduction. Was she wondering if she could parlay her photo into a career opportunity? She seems to be adjusting her dress here to expose more of her legs.
Herald-Examiner; Order #00049970
The three women seated on the bench were caught in a 1940 b-girl sting on Fifth Street in downtown Los Angeles. B-girls (bar-girls) were employed to talk to customers in a bar and encourage them to buy over-priced drinks. When a man's wallet was emptied, the b-girl quickly lost interest in him and moved on to the next sucker. The men probably didn't realize that they were buying watered-down drinks for themselves and ginger ale for the b-girl. The woman on the left may have believed that if she couldn't see the photographer, s/he couldn't see her. She would have been better off using the piece of paper in her hands as a shield.
Herald-Examiner, Order #00044584
Harry Genter was one of two suspects arrested for allegedly using lead pipes in an attempted Hollywood service station holdup. The camera caught Harry in the classic head-in-hands posture of despair and shame.
Hollywood Citizen News/Valley Times; Order #00083048
Shame can affect a family as well as an individual. In the following photograph dated February 6, 1952, Alfred J. Henry and his wife Leota were caught by surprise after police arrested them as suspects in the robbery of a cafe on West Pico Street.
Actually, it's only Alfred who looked surprised, or was that clueless? Leota appeared mortified. The couple's young son Ronnie was more interested in whatever it was he was holding -- a knife, a nail file? The toddler may have been cleaning his fingernails while his parents were taking a fall for the robbery.
Herald-Examiner; Order #00057593
Often times shame calls for the creative use of an accessory. Each of the three women in this November 1949 photo pulled her scarf down over her face after being arrested for giving an indecent performance.
Herald-Examiner; Order #00036708
Surprisingly, even Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, sociopathic mobster and former member of Murder, Inc., was capable of being shamed, even if just for a moment. He's the nattily dressed felon using a handkerchief to hide his face. Nice tie, Ben.
Herald-Examiner; Order #00010152
If anything may be inferred from the next group of photos, it is that people often sin in groups -- perhaps it helps if the shame is shared.
The people in the photo below were arrested on April 22, 1949 by deputy sheriffs in a raid on a Lomita poker club. They took a bus ride of shame to jail.
Herald-Examiner; Order #00039649
Occasionally people may find themselves in shameful situations for which they are not entirely to blame -- which is what happened to many young Latino men during the Zoot Suit Riots in WWII era Los Angeles.
If you're unfamiliar with zoot suits, below is a photo of a young man identified as Frank proudly sporting his "drape" (another name for zoot suit).
Shades of LA; Order #00002818
Zoot suits weren't only for men. In this photo, a young woman named Josie was photographed wearing her original zoot suit while waiting for the Red Car at E. 41st Street and Long Beach Avenue in Los Angeles.
Shades of LA; Order #00012456
Wearing a zoot suit with its outrageous colors and contours called attention to the wearer. A zoot suit was a source of pride, not shame, for many young Latinos and African Americans from the late 1930s through the early/mid-1940s.
During the summer of 1943, racial tensions in the City of Angels were nearing the flash point, particularly between local Latinos and Caucasian military personnel.
Over a few days in June of 1943, there were a series of disturbances dubbed the Zoot Suit Riots, during which soldiers, sailors, and marines from as far away as San Diego came to Los Angeles to join in the fighting. Taxi drivers offered free rides to servicemen and civilians to the riot areas, and approximately 5,000 civilians and military men gathered downtown!
Senior military officials finally did what they should have done in the beginning, they declared Los Angeles off-limits to all military personnel. Clearing servicemen from the city reduced the all-out fighting to sporadic slug fests.
The young men in the next photograph were jailed following the Zoot Suit Riots. Most of them faced the camera with a decidedly twenty-first century attitude toward shame -- they had none, and perhaps they shouldn't have had any.
A governor's committee was formed to investigate the cause of the riots. The committee's report concluded that racism was at fault. The mayor of Los Angeles, Fletcher Bowron, arrived at a much different conclusion. Bowron stated that the riots had been caused by "white southerners and Mexican juvenile delinquents".
Certainly true in this instance, shame is occasionally in the eyes of the beholder.