George Bernard Harris.

Memories of San Francisco legal practice and State and Federal courts, 1920s - 1960s : oral history transcript / and related material, 1980-1981 online

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benefits of study in the investment field. I took special courses
upon special courses in the investment field.

Morris: There was also a reference to your working on some of your father s
ranch holdings.

Harris: Well, some of them were pretty tenuous at that time. You see, just
to give some explanation to it, when you speak of land holdings, he
had big chunks of land in Kern County. It was decided to drill for
water on most of the land, so that the land could be useful for
irrigation, and in turn useful for the raising of grain and rice and
so forth. So it was an experimental thing. Instead of making
money, it lost money, due to the adventures of irrigation.

Morris: Adventures?


Harris: Adventures in irrigation, because of the irrigation problems,

centered around technically a salt solution snuffed off the grain
and snuffed off the small rice. So it was a dangerous venture,
and my dad got into it and lost.

Morris: But you actually did some work on those ranches?

Harris: Oh, yes, I went to work because I had to. I had to have some food.

Morris: Right. It s essential. No matter how bright you are.

Harris: Sure.

Morris: Did you work on some of the water drilling efforts?

Harris: I went to work for the Kern County Land Company.

Morris: Did you take care of the cattle on some of the ranches?

Harris: I was employed by H.A. Jastrow, who managed the company for the
Tevises. He was the political boss of Bakersfield.

Observations of the Tevis Family and Kern County Land Company

Harris: Willy Tevis was one of the finest horsemen anywhere. Occasionally

he would come down and he would go out and break the most troublesome
horses .


Harris: Gordon Tevis became a very close friend of mine, and I was telling

him the story of the Kern County Land Company, and his brother, Willy
Tevis. He said, "George, I don t believe you. How could you wind
up down there? What were you doing?" I used to tell him the story.
Poor Gordon s passed away now.

Morris: He didn t believe his brother would break the troublesome horses?

Harris: Well, I could ride from the time I was a little fellow. My father
would take me riding. Horses were part of my life when I lived
at California Street. I had my own horse there; I used to ride
every day. So riding was not a novelty, but it was a novelty to
see the operation there. I became kind of an assistant to somebody
I don t know who it was. They made me very comfortable. Why don t
we take a five minute break? [tape interruption]

Morris: You were breaking horses with Willy Tevis and learning the cattle
business and the land business


Harris: I saw the last of the West go by, in terms of the cattle buyers.
Morris: They used to come out from Chicago?

Harris: The cattle buyers would visit the Stot Veer ranch where the what
do you call a slaughterhouse when you don t want to call it a

Morris: Abattoir is what the French call it.

Harris: Yes. Abattoir. Providing meat and other sundries for Bakers field
and LostHills . [closes eyes to remember]

Morris: Would the cattle from the Bakers field area go east to Kansas City
and the Chicago meat packers?


Harris: No. Put it this way. The Kern County Land Company was then the

biggest project of its kind in the West. The activities were then
oil, ranching, and general farm operations.

Morris: You would have also had personal experience with the water problems
of California in watching your father s land.

Harris: Not in an active sense.

Morris: Kern County was not doing any irrigation in those days?

Harris: No. Let me say that I was not engaged in any business activities
with Willy Tevis. His family, a renowned one in the state of
California, was identified [pause] The Kern County Land Company
phase of the story I want to be absolutely accurate, and I don t
want it to fall over and spill itself.

Morris: Because there were later some questions about the company itself?

Harris: Well, no. The Tevises had a very sensitive area that I m going into.
The Tevises at one time owned all of the property, and through mal
administration and through bad luck, they lost most of the holdings,
save and except certain ranches including certain ranches which
were signed over to the Tevises as a home place for them. In short,
through bad luck, I suppose, and disadvantages which were pause
They lost the land through the indolence of the land owners, which
was not unusual in California. The day of the aristocracy and the
cattle barons and so forth was one that was short-lived. The impact
of the economy was such that people could not live under the
standards that they were attempting to live under. Many of them
were families of aristocratic background, both in the Spanish,
Mexican, and other fields. The bad fortune of some of those families
was visited upon them to a point where most of the large holdings
were dissipated and cut up into smaller acreage.




Harris :



Harris :



Willy Tevis was never an intimate of mine, but I did have the
advantage of riding with him. On Sundays, he would invite his
society friends to watch him disport himself on very, very difficult
horses. He was a horseman of rare opportunity and a horseman of
great reserves. He generally conducts a yearly ride of a hundred
twenty-odd miles in northern California. I don t have any more to
say about it.

That s a valuable insight. I was wondering if you saw the Tevis
family and their large holdings originally as similar to some of
the Spanish land holders, and those large ranches that they held
from the Spanish government? Do you think it s part of the same

It s part of the same it might be called a phenomenon, I suppose.
It s part of the same phenomenon, that the large holdings that I
saw gradually dissipating themselves, that the large holdings were
being slowly evaporated, and that by merger and other legal forms,
much of the properties held in great esteem were lost to the
ordinary businessman.

The original family generally was given some acreage and compensation.
The story of the Kern County Land Company is a terrific story in
itself, and it s a story that s never really been told.

H.A. Jastrow the story goes in Bakersfield that he stole so
many sheep that they had to make him president of the land division

so that he could steal more sheep,
story that goes about H.A. Jastrow.

[Morris laughs] So that s the

Did Mr. Jastrow continue on and remain an official in the succeeding
organization that managed so much land down there?

He had a great executive officer with him, and I think he left the
details to the executive office. I wouldn t want that published
with respect to Jastrow.

Well, the stories that have common currency are valuable to the
historians as long as they re clearly labeled "This is the story
that used to be told."

I think in the treatment of the land company that my familiarity
with it was rather removed, and editorially, I would want to
temporize before using it. The story is an integration of politics-
cruel politics and

Morris: And you said economics changes the realities.


Harris: Economics couldn t withstand the inroads of the channels of activity
that the opposition engendered, because they simply represented two
different philosophies of life. The land barons, the rich Spaniards,
Mexicans, the whole vivid picture is one of the practices that were
engaged in in order to satisfy the caprice and the needs of goodness,
I suppose.

Morris: Sounds like you have a partisan feeling for one side or the other.

Harris: Well, the Kern County Land Company is a story that has been told
and retold and told and retold, and I suppose it s part of the

Morris: If you had been running the world, would you have liked to have seen
the family able to continue its holdings and management?


Harris : Which family?

Morris: The Tevises.

Harris: Yes, I thought they were shabbily dealt with.

Morris: Did you ever have occasion to have a case relating to all this come
before you?

Harris: No; although I did have cases involving some of the picturesque

families in California, some of the vivid fights over land titles
and so forth. But never any activities that could be considered
controlling it. Do you think we ve covered it?

Morris: I think we ve covered ample for today. I don t want to wear out
my welcome at all. Thank you very much.

Harris: That s all right. Your welcome will always be warm.

Studies at Sacred Hearty Theater Experiences
[Interview 2: April 23, 1980 ]##

Morris: My notes tell me that you graduated from college in 1919

Harris: I graduated from college in 1919.

Morris: Just before your eighteenth birthday.

Harris: I was born August 16th, 1901.


Morris: So you would have been seventeen.
Harris: I would have been seventeen, yes.
Morris: That s pretty young to finish college. Was it an accelerated course?

Harris: Let me try to recall it. Sacred Heart had a special course. I
think it was two years of college more than the ordinary high
school. I think that they had that during the time that I was
there. At least I took special courses too, including the usual
college courses. The composition of the curriculum of Sacred
Heart was more advanced than any high school in the West, as I recall,
They had a specialist in every field. When you graduated from high
school at Sacred Heart, you really graduated from junior college.
That s about the best answer I can give you.

I think they terminated that mode of definition around or
about that time. So that it would be unfair to say that I just had
the benefits of high school. I took special courses of different
kinds under Brother Leo that was in English. I took special
courses in Latin across the street from the high school

Morris: With a special tutor in Latin?

Harris: No. The members of the Latin class had to cross the street to go

to the Latin professor s quarters. It was an old rule of Christian
brothers teaching that they could not teach Latin. I ll ask you
why and you can give me your best answer I don t know why.

Morris: But they made it available to you.

Harris: They made it avilable if you cared to walk across the street.

Morris: That s an interesting solution to the problem.

Harris: That solved about a year or two on my age and so forth. But there
were many things in education that you know perhaps more than I
do that explain anything you want to explain.

There was always a thought generated that Sacred Heart was a
school apart. It was quite a different high school; it was quite
a different college. It had a hybrid relationship of some kind
that I ve never been able to divine.

Morris: It was set apart, you mean, from the other Catholic schools in the



Harris :

Harris :

Morris :
Harris :

Harris :

It was set apart intellectually, not so much physically. But your
questions are valid, because that was the first thing that you
picked up. Your observations are valid. But it didn t depreciate
from the rigor of the high school, and the additional year or two
that was added on.

Was it strongly classical in its teaching?
classics? Greek and

Did it stress the

Yes, they centered on a classical curriculum pretty much. In drama
they had a special course in drama. Brother

Brother Leo?

Brother Leo was at St. Mary s. They had brothers I have to say
brothers because I can t specifically recall their names. But they
had brothers in drama, elocution, production of plays, and things
like that. They had the benefit of a group of very advanced
teaching brothers. Although I didn t pick up too much in drama, they
did give me a kind of a head start.

It sounds like it was a pretty complete theater program.

Well, not complete, but it gave an appetite to those that wanted
to enjoy that type of training.

And the discipline in literature we were benefited by the
classics, and there were many men then teaching that I dare say
were far and above and advanced of some of the teachers of today.

Brother Henry, for instance, taught English literature, and he
studied in Europe. He received donations from the student body.
There were a couple of wealthy boys, and they picked up the chit on
several trips for the brother. Brother Henry. He s one I can
remember. That s about the general answer that I can give you.

Would this have been your first acquaintance with theater?

No. I had an acquaintanceship with theater going back to the
Garrick Theater on O Farrell Street in San Francisco. I used to go
in there as a youngster when I was I don t know how old I was, but
I wasn t too old with a fascination for the theater. It seemed to
be bred in me, and I can t attribute it to any affiliation with
family or creed or whatever. It was just in me and I had to get it

In an English literature course, we produced Shakespeare. We
produced drama in accepted forms. There was a contest of some
proportion every year in English literature, elocution/play production,


Harris: You ll find at my home in the library you ll find three medals:
Christian Doctrine, which I won; Irish literature, which I won;
elocution, which I won. I pride myself on those particular
acquisitions because it was demonstrative of the fact that I did
have some talent, because I couldn t just walk away with it at
Sacred Heart. I did have some talent, and that talent was
recognized by the brothers. Call it whatever you want to call it.
But they recognized it, and they propitiated it, and attempted to
give it momentum.

As an illustration: the elocution contest was a superhuman
effort on the part of the boys. They selected plays somtimes
quite beyond their capacity. Each boy was recognized as having
some background. One was considered by the staff, and you made
your own selection, either under the supervision of the brothers
or independently of the brothers. That contest was held in the
auditorium, Aurelia. Maybe fifteen or twenty boys competed in the
preliminaries, and then it weeded down to the final. I remember
I won on a translation of The Burgermas^e;r s Dream . That was a
classic played by a very eminent Shakespearean actor. Burgermaster s
Dream ; it s about the murder of an innkeeper. It s a very difficult
piece. It wouldn t ordinarily be achieved except by a highly placed
professional. That was the only assignment that I took.

Morris: You chose that yourself.

Harris: I played it. I played three scenes out of the text which I wrenched
out myself, and I interpolated my own material; I gave an adaptation
of The Burgermaster s Dream, which was one of the classics exhausted
by the playwrights and by the actors of that period.

My brother I mean my Christian brother; they were very close
to us he said, "George, where did you get that material?" [referring
to what I had presented.] The author was Erckman Chatrain [spells
it]. He said, "Where did you get the material?" I said, "I just
took it from the text and borrowed some of the author s material."
He said, "It s perfect. The adaptation is perfect."

So I kind of gained confidence. They propitiated me. They
obtained me my head. And I guess I didn t realize then that I had
the makings of a fair-going dramatist.

Then I used to sneak into the Garrick Theater. [laughter]
Morris: By yourself, or did you have others ?
Harris: By myself. I d go to the rehearsals.
Morris: Oh, that s the best part, I think.


Harris: I d go to the rehearsals in the Garrick Theater, and they looked
upon me as a member of the cast for a while. I was giving out
orders, and [laughs]

Morris: Oh, that s lovely! Did you have a friend who let you go backstage?

Harris: Yes, there was a stage manager who liked me. But I was a brassy

little guy, [Morris laughs] but he liked me. I forget his name now,
but he was very kind to me. And any dress rehearsals that were
acceptable to our type of production, he d let me know. I had a
kind of an inner sanctum pass from the stage manager.

Morris: How absolutely heavenly for you!

Harris: I remember men like Burfick Hill, Bessie Berrescal, Howard Richman
men of great stock in those days. They were admirable actors.
Burfick Hill was a beautiful actor. I gained the benefit of
associations with men like that. I didn t have any Bohemian Club
to run to, but I had a very good source of training and discipline
quite by accident.

Morris: I should say so.

Harris: That s a statement that s rather hard to explain to a person, but
knowing the theater as you do, generally, as I do, you understand
that there are people like that in the theater who love to help the
other. So the unorthodox becomes the orthodox.

Christian Doctrine; Debating Society

Morris: You said you also won a medal for Christian doctrine. At that
point, was Christian doctrine or elocution and theater more
important to you?

Harris: They were part of the regime. Christian doctrine, of course, could
not be forgotten, for the simple reason that it s Catholic education.
I didn t place Catholicity to the front by any orthodoxy or any
type of exclusion of other areas of thought. In short, I m trying
to say the brothers were advanced teachers and have been advanced
teachers since the day they picked up the little poor kids on the
streets of Paris. That was their source of supply the little French
kids without family, many of them, were educated by the brothers.

Morris: And they were a well-established school here in San Francisco?


Harris: Oh, yes, well, it s been going back to the eighteen-eighties ,

teaching some of our brethren of that era. I m very much impressed
and have been over the years with the brothers doctrines and mode
of life. There was a time when they ran out of individuals to
pursue these courses because they were very vigorous. It s a
vigorous life. You d go to the seminary, and just as useful as the
life pursued by a Jesuit priest. Jesuit priests currently are regarded
as some of the finest educators in America, not surpassing, of course,
some of our more distinguished institutions. But that s about the
generalization that I place upon this type of education, often, by
the brothers. That s about it.

Morris: Did the Christian brothers stress different kinds of tenets than the

Harris: Let me see if I understand that. Did they take what?

Morris: Maybe a simpler question is: How did the Christian brothers differ
from the Jesuits in their methods of teaching and the things they
felt were important to teach?

Harris: I think the Jesuits probably have the more advanced courses in
philosophy and psychology and not departing from the Christian
doctrine they forthwith give you on entering their portals. The
Jesuits like to think that they have the finest teachers in the
world, and there s some merit to it, I have to say. Their teaching
courses go back many, many years; their rituals go back many years;
and the disciplines are such that they have a chance to educate the
youngster who s willing to partake of their formula of education.
That s about the best I can say on that subject.

Some of the great scholars of the West have been graduates of
not only the Christian brothers, but the Jesuit school as well.

Morris: Who amongst your classmates were your particular friends at Sacred

Harris: Some of them became priests; some of them became executives in

business; other became lawyers. Many lawyers came out of the loins
of the Jesuits.

I think it would be a mistake if I limited my observations to
a particular group or a particular name, because it isn t an
isolated problem. The problem is one that almost answers itself.
These men are dedicated; they have certain privations that they
suffer. The discipline of a Jesuit priest is one thing; the
discipline of a Jesuit teacher is quite another thing, and sometimes
they blink, sometimes they don t blink. That s easy to observe.


Morris: I ve got a couple of other questions about Sacred Heart before we
get to law school. Were you in the debating society in college at
Sacred Heart?

Harris: Yes. Debated Los Angeles; debated on a coast basis colleges and

Morris: Did that take as much of your time and effort as, say, the elocution?

Harris: Debating, of course, is a special art form, and some achieve goals
for success, others not, like any other competitive intellectual

I remember one occasion and I m not trying to be facetious
at all but we debated Los Angeles on one occasion one of the
universities. We always felt that the judges of the debate three
superior court judges for Los Angeles gave us the business, but
I m not that sure that we were correct. I think we were merely a
bit chagrined at losing.

Morris: It would seem that they could have gotten somebody from another
place than Los Angeles.

Harris: Well, maybe so. I wouldn t want a revival of a debate with Los
Angeles now.

Morris: Was the debating society an extra-curricular activity?

Harris : Yes .

Morris: One that you enjoyed?

Harris: Oh, yes. An intellectual challenge, and the topical subjects were
interesting, demanding, and sometimes unanswerable.

Morris: Would you boys work out the topics for your debates?

Harris: Mostly, yes. Subject to the approval of the staff.

Morris: Do you recall some of those topics?

Harris: No, I can t remember any.

Morris: You would have been finishing up at Sacred Heart while World War I
was going on. Did many of your classmates go off and join the
military services.

Harris: Yes. Perforce, some of them, others voluntarily.

Morris: Enough so that it made a difference in the life of the college?


Harris : Oh , no .

Morris: Did World War I have any particular noticeable effect on your life
here in San Francisco?

Harris : No .

Morris: Last week when we were talking, you were telling me about your years
working in investment banking and in ranching in southern California.

Harris: Yes. Those were not major achievments , they were a means to an end.

Morris: Right. You spoke of it as kind of a clearing the cobwebs out of
your head time.

Harris: Well, not only that, but picking up a check that would help me pay
my expenses.

Morris: While you were working down there, were you planning on coming back
to San Francisco and going to law school?

Harris: Yes.

Law School or the Priesthood

Morris: How seriously did you think of maybe choosing the theater as a
profession rather than the law?

Harris: I don t follow that question.

Morris: Part of the time, did you have some thoughts that you might prefer
a career in theater?

Harris: Oh, yes. All of the time I did. It was always crowding everything
else out of my life. I had to live with it, and I think I survived
the inroads of my knowledge of the theater. I read as best I could,
everything on the theater productionwise, and later I got into
Actor s Workshop. That was a real achievement.

Morris: I d like to talk about that a little bit more when we get up into
the 1940s and 50s. Did you make a conscious decision to go to
law school rather than to stay in the theater?

Harris: Yes, I did, because I felt that the theater, however gratifying to
me in my hope that I would someday achieve some minor degree of
success at least I realized the practicality of the law career.


Harris: The theater is not a very good source of revenue, particularly when
you re young. The pay is not too good, unless you be a high-standing
artist. I made a choice, because I felt that I needed the support
of, not only the theater intellectually, but the sources of supporting
my interest in it.

Morris: When you came back to San Francisco, was there a place waiting for
you in the law school?

Harris: No, it was very difficult. I went out to see the priests, and they
had closed down the registration, and apparently I had misled a
year or two by that circumstance. I just wasn t here on time. I was
very much upset about it. I went out and talked to Father Simpson.
He was an Englishman, full-blown Jesuit priest, and a very under
standing soul. He wanted to know my whole background, and I told
him my background, so he called St. Dominic s church, and he talked
to the priest in charge, explained my whole situation. They both
decided to lift the veil of the curtain that had swung down on me,
and to grant me entrance. So there was the first illustration that
maybe the gods were with me. I was elated, of course. My record
was such that it was all an "A" average record.

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Online LibraryGeorge Bernard HarrisMemories of San Francisco legal practice and State and Federal courts, 1920s - 1960s : oral history transcript / and related material, 1980-1981 → online text (page 3 of 18)