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

. (page 5 of 18)
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 5 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

I couldn t possibly recall what he said at that time. I haven t
any notes on it.

Morris: You said you had written an article about Mr. McNab. 1 haven t
come across that yet.

Harris: I m not too sure that you ll find anything. Maybe Mrs. Driscoll
has it.

Morris: I came across a couple of speeches of Mr. McNab s, however.

Harris: Did you find two?

Morris: I did.

Harris : In his handwriting?

Morris: No, but they were printed.

Harris: I lost two beautiful writings he gave me in his hand speeches,
because we used to write his speeches. Very often he d adapt,
correct, revise, and otherwise alter the material that we produced.
There were some challenging times, and we tried to meet them as best
we could. I had copies of several speeches he made.

Morris: Yes. That s what I came across. There was one in 1921: he was
speaking at a meeting to plan the Industrial Exposition in San
Francisco. He was saying that San Francisco needs more human
energy to spark industrial energy, and he was also concerned that
there were so many professional politicians that the state might go

Harris: That sounds something like he d be writing. He was extremely

articulate, particularly in forensic presentation. I would say
that his arguments were very destructive of the opposition. He
had a capacity for the epigram, and he was a very artful man in
condensation of subject matter of a talk. However, he realized his
proportions were limited in the courtroom, because of the fact that
he just simply was not disciplined and trained as well as a man who
had gone to the university for six years. I think he understood
that, although his readings were enormous. He was an excellent
reader and excellent student of the classics, and it was an education
to be around him.


Morris: It sounds like it. Was the division of labor rather that he had the
contacts and brought in the clients?

Harris: Early in his career, he took up the cudgel for the labor movement,
which had just then become emergent. I think you ll find in the
files a statement made by McNab . I ve quoted it, and if you haven t
found it thus far Mrs. Driscoll and you I know you will find it.
It s quoted material from McNab, and it s quoted from an article
that appeared in The Recorder that gave in a succinct form much of
his philosophy about the then pending difficulties. It came out
of the files of Mr. Culinen [spells name] , who was one of McNab s
leading lawyers .

Morris: Mr. Culinen worked with Mr. McNab?

Harris: No, he followed a career with McNab, with hearty approval.

Morris: When you say he was very much involved in the labor movement, this
is in what way?

Harris: He was involved in every way that placed demand upon the structure
of the movement. The critics received their sentiments in no
uncertain terms from McNab. I hope you re able to find this quote,
because I considered it one of the finest things written.

Morris: It sounds as if he was encouraging the people who worked in his
office to take an interest in the civic and political life in
San Francisco.

Harris: He had quite a burr that bespoke his British affiliations. His

brother, John L. McNab, embraced the Republicans. And too had the
accolade of approval of many of us San Franciscans.

Morris: So one brother was active in the Republican party and the other in
the Democratic party.

Harris: That s right. It s kind of a handsome way to practice.

Morris: Yes. Yes. You can hypothesize that that made a bipartisan linkage
possible? Did it work that way?

Harris: I don t know how it eventuated, but I think it couldn t hurt the
cause to have that balance of power.

Morris: Well, I ve heard the same thing said in later years about the brothers
McCarthy [John and Robert]. One s a Democrat and one s a Republican
in the legislature. Is this a picture of Mr. McNab?

Harris: That s a good steel engraving.







Morris: Isn t that nice!

Harris: That s a nice picture of Schmulowitz.

Morris: And the younger one is Mr. Schmulowitz. [brief tape interruption]
The portrait of Mr. McNab shows him with rather a strong jaw.

Harris: Yes. Very lantern-type jaw.
Morris: Right.

Harris: Yes. He was a very strong man. The day that he died, I had been out
on trial of a case. I came in to the elevator, and they were
wheeling him out in a gurney . He d suffered a stroke at his desk.
It was a great shock to me. I think he really had a deep interest
in the members of his firm, because he took such an interest in me.
Schmulowitz, of course, was top-flight a mature lawyer. Graduated
1912 from University of California.

Morris : That was a famous class .

Harris: Yes. There have been some strong lawyers developed at California.
At Stanford as well we have two great universities.

Morris: And your own school has held its own, I think, with those. There
were the four of you, then, in the firm, in the late twenties.

Harris: The late Jim Bagely, one of the great athletes developed in the West,
was also a junior and in a measure befriended me in getting into
the office.

Morris: Was he the friend that you worked with in the investment company
that suggested ?

Harris: No, he had nothing to do with investments.

Morris: Just as a rough guess, about how many clients would the firm have
been able to ?

Harris: I couldn t answer that. I have no basis of computation. They had
a heavy practice, a heavy trial practice. The outstanding cases
of the day seemed to find their way into the office, although it
should be said that there were other firms equally as prosperous.
It was a prosperous law practice.

Morris: Did that prosperity last through the thirties?

Harris: Oh, yes. Even after McNab died, it was carried on by Schmulowitz
and to some extent, my association with Schmulowitz.


Morris: That s interesting. I ve talked with other attorneys who were

coming out of law school in the late twenties, who say that it was
very slim pickings and very hard for a young attorney to make a
living for himself.

Harris: Yes, that s right.

Morris: But that wasn t general. Some firms managed to

Harris: Well, the standards of today are so far removed from the modest
standards of yesteryear, you can t make comparisons.

Morris: We re also interested in the evolution of law firms, and some
law firms have become so large

Harris: Of course, now they re so large they re almost impossible to work
with. Pillsbury, Madison and Sutro has 125 lawyers. Not that it
affects the practice I think their standards are just as high but
it s a problem, I imagine. Do you get the specialized training?
Do you get a lot of things? I think I d be presumptuous to even
[speculate] .

Morris: I wasn t thinking of an evaluation; I was just kind of looking for
a baseline for comparison as to what was a workable sized law firm
in the twenties. But it would be four or five attorneys?

Harris: Yes. Shall we terminate now? I m getting tired

Morris: Thank you.

Harris: and I have a funeral service to attend.

Continuing Interest in the Theater////
[Interview 3: May 16, 1980]

Harris: You might state for the record the nature of the proceeding now.

Morris: All right. We re here continuing our discussions of your career in
San Francisco as an attorney, for the Northern District Court Oral
History Project, and this is the third session we ve had.

Harris: Very well. First, may I thank Mrs. Morris for her graciousness in
handling of the matters thus far, as well as the proposed questions
that she intends to pursue today and later, perhaps, in supplemental
hearings. Mrs. Morris has made everything quite comfortable for me,
and I am willing to answer any questions which she asks.


Morris: Thank you. We appreciate having such a not only knowledgeable,
but cooperative and interested participant in our researches.

Harris: You can mark for identification a letter dated May 13, 1980, as

the basis for several of the questions to which reference has been
made.* Now you might pursue your orderly examination in such form
and fashion as you desire.

Morris: Thank you. I d like to start this morning by asking you about your
continuing interest in the theater as a young attorney. I wondered,
first, when you yourself started writing plays. In your papers, I
find a copy of script entitled "Wing-Ding." It was dated 1939,
and looks like it might have been for a Bohemian Club event.**

Harris: I should like to offer, subject to any observation on the part of

Mrs. Morris, an article which appeared in one of the local journals
entitled "The Judge Saves The Actor s Workshop." That article is
addressed to the subject matter. It is an excellent one in terms
of a delineation of the background material and is fairly accurate
with respect to the subject matter. May I have the record identify
this matter.

Morris: Thank you. The record identifies the article as published in the
San Francisco Vigilante for Fall, 1960. [see next page] I wonder
if we could go back a little bit before the Actors Workshop. Could
you tell me a little bit about joining the Family club, which I
understand is also interested in theater work?

Harris: I participated in the Family just the Family

Morris: I understand. "Club" is not the right designation for it.

Harris: That s not the proper designation. "The Family" is the proper

designation, not the Family Club. I did considerable work in the
Family, preparing skits and the like, arranging musicals, and
in large measure adding to the entertainment available at the

Morris: Would that be while you were still working with Mr. McNab?

Harris: Mr. McNab was not identified with The Family, as far as I can recall.

Morris: Do you remember who did introduce you to The Family?

*The letter contained proposed questions for the interview.
**See supporting documents for this play script.
















S 1o J=


? |


"5 *" 3
8 S sa

si| :

J3 Cfa

^u a -



4) -^ <U :3



^"S T3

-2 -2 <"

B| 5





























"S c




"3 2






































resents theater for f
i amount of money.


sj a)
3 c

55 a


o <u





: . =7 Q. so "i."

* N C 4> 8

5 ^ - c ^


Harris: Vincent Duffey [spells name], a professional actor. Vincent Duffey
was a professional actor and writer and staged many of the shows
at the Family. He advised me that the membership committee, the
board of directors, had approved my general application for member
ship and that that would enjoy having me as a member. The process
of my becoming a member of the Family was very simple and expedient
one. They enjoyed my association, I m sure, as well as I enjoyed
theirs. This is a very unique organization, somewhat fashioned
after the Bohemian Club, but in a more modest they put in a little
more fashioned after the Bohemian Club. The Bohemian Club, of
course, is known generally the world over as one of the outstanding
organizations of its kind in the world. They have a production
schedule that is comparable to any professional organization, and
they maintain a very high standard of production both in the classics
as well as in the comedy field.

Morris: Do I understand that you joined the Bohemian Club after you d been
involved with the Family?

Harris: Yes. That s surprising.

Morris: Yes. Who invited you to join the Bohemian Club?

Harris: A gentleman who s now deceased.

Morris: About how much time would you have spent on activities for the
Bohemian Club?

Harris: Practically all of my spare time. I was engaged in production of
minor skits as well as major production including a wide range of
the classics. You can continue on if you wish.

Morris: Yes. Did you do acting in these plays?
Harris: Some of them. Most of my work was production.

Friendship with Rudolf Friml

Morris: Was it through the Bohemian Club that you made Rudolf Friml s

Harris: Yes.

Morris: In his listing in Who s Who


Harris: That answer s a rather terse one. My early association with Rudolf
Friml came about in a rather unique fashion. I was engaged in
producing a series of shows, and I went to Vanessi s restaurant
in San Francisco, for a brief respite after working. Joe Vanessi
introduced me to Rudolf , who was having a dinner there . That
started a very unique friendship that has existed up to the present

Morris: Can you describe Mr. Friml for me, what his qualities were that you

Harris: Rudolf was an extraordinary-appearing man. His demeanor and

general attitude bespoke his early associations as a Czechoslovakian
musician. He was forthright, a real artist to his fingertips, and
a very generous with his music. I learned a great deal from
Rudolf, as in general you would, because he was an outgoing person.

He was educated at the Prague University, receiving high degrees
in music.

Morris: Would he give comments on your plays in progress and the skits that
you were writing?

Harris: Yes. On many of them, he would.

Morris: Was he living in San Francisco at that point?

Harris: Yes. He lived at 500 48th Avenue. We were together one late afternoon
when he selected the house. There was a rose arbor outside, and he
said, "George, look; I m going to buy that house because of my
number, "Only A Rose."

He was spectacular in a typical European fashion and was a
prolific writer, and one of the first in the field to use the
electronic formula and mechanical devices. He reduced everything
to tape, and now has, or had in his lifetime, a wealth of recordings
from a wide range of ballet to comic opera. I m not sure if Mrs.
Friml has plans for the future, but I ve learned that most of the
material is available.

Morris: I gather from your extensive correspondence with him that he
traveled a good deal.

Harris: He loved to travel. I think he had sort of a fix on travel, to the
extent that he believed that once he finished traveling, his days
were over, his productive days were over.

Morris: That s a curious idea.

Rehearsing for Bohemian Grove encampment,
July 1972. -The play was "Scattered Leaves,"
George Harris, Sire.

Photo by Stone and Steoaat-L

With William Osteck, a former agent of Rudolf
Friml s, at Friml s Los Angeles home, 1977.


Harris: Yes. He was essentially a prolific writer and had been considered

until his recent death one of the great melodic writers of all time.
[see illustration next page]

Morris: From your correspondence, it sounded like you handled a lot of
personal business for him while he was on his travels .

Harris: Personal business?

Morris: There are references to looking after his house and then later on
some references to arrangements for filming some of his work.*

Harris: I suppose it would reach that degree, although not in detail. The
interest that I took in Friml was designed to produce and have
the world know some of his outstanding records.

Morris: Let me ask it another way: it sounds as if you got musical and
theater advice and encouragement from him, and if he needed some
advice on legal matters , you provided that as a matter of friendship?

Harris: Well, legal matters would hardly fit the category. I may have

arranged for a maid or something like that in his household as a
matter of convenience, but I was not delegated to nor did I
undertake to arrange his personal life. He had a secretary whose
name was Kay Ling [spells name], who was most efficient. He trusted
her implicitly. His trust for many people was very limited. Why I
never knew, but in all of his friendships he was ultraconservative,
ultraconservative. I think that Kay probably undertook to arrange
most of the intentionally personal matters for him, and later
married him in a rather picturesque ceremony in the Supreme Court
building in San Francisco.

Morris: Really? Did you perform the ceremony?

Harris: No. He spoke of marrying Kay on many occasions. I explained to
him generally what ASCAP meant. Of course, that was unnecessary,
because he was one of the organizers of ASCAP, one of the initial
members of the board. He was beloved in the ASCAP colony.

At all events, Kay and Rudolf decided to marry, and I arranged
that Phil Gibson, chief justice of the supreme court, perform the
ceremony .

Morris: That sounds like a pleasant change from judicial duties.

*Judge Harris s papers include extensive correspondence in the 1950s
and 60s with Rudolf Friml and major motion picture studios
discussing plans for a film on Friml s life and the suggestion that
Judge Harris write the scenario.


Q/lxarynefaf&i&b @ae


Harris: Apart from the vivid personalities involved, there were many facets
of humor involved as, essentially, Rudolf was a humorist.

Recently, there has been a revival of some of the Friml material.
All in all, the production was well done.

I ve got a note right here Vagabond King. There were two new
numbers added, and additional dialogue to the original Vagabond King
in a more current production. I think I ll get a cup of coffee.
I m a little cold. [coffee break]

Rudolf was an extraordinary person, vivid personality, typical
showman, and generally a well-met individual. He had a violent
temper, however, at times and was probably labeled as hard to get
along with.

Rudolf and I developed a friendship that was essentially a
very intimate one and could be well-characterized as a typical
European family relationship.

Morris: You and your wife were closely involved in their daily and social
activities too? It was a social and personal friendship, as
well as your mutual interest in theater?

Harris: I suppose so.

Native Sons of the Golden West

Morris: Would you tell me a little bit about your involvement with the Native
Sons of the Golden West?

Harris: That was purely an association with an organization which was the
hallmark of typical California lodge activity.

Morris: The type of thing that would be helpful in making acquaintances and
furthering business contacts?

Harris: Somewhat quasi-political and had nothing to do with the arts. [brief
tape interruption for coffee]

It was impossible to embrace as fully as one should unless he
joined the Native Sons of the Golden West.

Morris: It was important to political life?
Harris: Political life.


Morris: That s interesting. In what way?

Harris: Of course, there was a time when individuals who thought well, I d
better be careful with this

Morris: Was there a thought that the Native Sons made the decisions about
who was to be a candidate?

Harris: There was a time when it was a must organization to join, both
for the young politician as well as the older.

Morris: Was it connected with the Democratic party or the Republican party?


Harris: No.

Morris: At the time, was there a sense that people from out of California
were coming to have too much influence in local affairs?

Harris: Yes, in a measure, I think it was a protective medium, rather than
anything else. And I think at times, sometimes, that the Native
Sons loyalty to the state generally was a somewhat guiding light
to a newcomer in politics.

Morris: Were they involved at all in election activities?

Harris: Oh, yes, very much so. Membership in the Native Sons was almost a
must for young politician. Then their ideas met with disfavor
if that s recently or not I m not sure.

Morris: I haven t heard of it as being a political force since the 1950s,
but it s interesting that it had that role in earlier years. Do
you recall whether they would endorse candidates and that kind of


Harris: My activities have been very limited over a period of many years.
I don t think I ve attended a meeting in recent years.

Morris: How about the Society of California Pioneers? Did they play a
similar role?

Harris: No, the Society of California Pioneers, of course, is a limited
membership, to those who can trace their ancestor to California
before 1848 with reasonable certainty. The Native Sons is an
entirely different organization. The California Pioneers is
intensely social, and membership carries with it a tradition.

Morris: Also with a factor of recognition?
Harris: Yes, recognition in the community.
Morris: How did you happen to join the Society?

Harris: That was largely due to I.M. Peckham, who was very active in the

Society and was very encouraging of me in many ways. He indicated
that becoming active in organizations like that was not a luxury
for me to abjure. He, of course, was the uncle of our Judge
Peckham. [tape ran out, reconstructed from notes]

Aileen Duffy Harris




Let s see.
with you?

Would your wife have been active in these organizations

Aileen always supported me in whatever I undertook. During the hard
days of the Harry Bridges trial, she was in attendance in the
courtroom every day. We would go out and have lunch together just
the two of us, and it was a welcome surcease from the rigors of the

As well as managing all the details of the home, she always
knew all the families of the neighborhood and was my mentor in many

Do you mean you would discuss your cases with her?

Not that so much, but rather that she was an able critic in her own
right, both in the arts and current political affairs.



Harris: She had executive talents that were never really fully understood,
even by the most intimate observers.

Morris: Could you give me an example of that?

Harris: Yes. She had an uncanny gift for political life. I always thought
that she would pursue a career in political life. She was a very
quiet person in her own environment, and abhorred the blatant
attitudes that we sometimes find in public affairs. I think I
would revise that. Can you go back over it again?

Morris: Yes. You said that you thought she had an uncanny gift for political

Harris: In resolving political issues.

Morris: In other words, if there were two people who disagreed on a political
issue, she could help them find a way to proceed.

Harris: I often thought that she d be an outstanding figure on a national
basis .

Morris: Did you and she ever talk about whether or not she might become more
active or even run for office herself?

Harris: She was a quiet person; I think she d be unhappy in public office.
We discussed my entry into public office quite often. I think that
Aileen fundamentally got her enjoyment in that area by a quiet
approach on her part, a non-interference approach; that would be one
word. She had perfect respect for what I was doing and I, in turn,
perfect respect for what she was doing. We never had any outstanding
conflicts in that regard. I think that gives a fair picture of her.

Morris: The record shows that you were married in July of 1930.
Harris: July 22, 1930.

Morris: July 22nd. Not many men remember their wedding anniversary that

specifically. How long had you had an understanding that you would
marry each other?

Harris: Understanding of what kind?

Morris: That you d marry each other. You said you d known her.

Harris: I think it was always understood that someday we would marry. I
don t know it was unexpressed.

Morris: Did you wait for her to finish school, or that sort of thing?


Harris: She was attending I think she was attending the Academy on Broadway,
at least Gale was, if not Aileen.

Morris: Was it considered a suitable thing by Mr. McNab and the other

attorneys for a young man, as you were then, to be married. Was
that considered an asset in your own career?

Harris: I don t think it was ever discussed, expressly or impliedly. I think
those were matters that were held sacred by McNab and his
associates . What a man did in marriage and non-marriage was his
own business.

Morris: What kinds of things was Aileen active in, in addition to being
interested in your own political and legal work?

Harris: Art and decoration, I think, primarily.



Representing Hollywood Stars; A Celebrated Estate Contest

1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

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 5 of 18)