For decades, Los Angeles (and the rest of Southern California) loved to market itself as a place where you could improve your health in the optimal climate of the region. (Pay no attention to the smog.) But much of the health information, good and bad, from the pre-smog era was hard to come by. But, that has changed.
Central Library recently acquired a run of California Health News 1933-1942 and its follow up publication Let’s Live 1943-2007, both published in Los Angeles. One of the major casualties of the 1986 fire at Central Library was the Science & Technology periodicals collection. So, we were excited when a donor offered us bound volumes of these publications. Browsing old issues, one can find evidence that the health crazes and diet fads of today are not always new, but hark back to much earlier in the city’s history.
Published by a former Hollywood publicist, Clark Irvine, and later, Godfrey Thomas, some choice headlines from 1933 include “White Sugar Seen as National Menace” and “Beware High Enema: It’s Dangerous.” Ads from the 1940s include alfalfa tea, vertical traction, cultured Yami yogurt, and Bill Baker’s famous Super Soyabread which is touted as “pure, wholesome, alkaline” made in Ojai, California.
An anti-vaccination headline from February 1945 screams, “Vaccination Kills Liberty” and goes on to rant “Draft statistics show that social diseases are more widespread in states having legal vaccination” and that there is less syphilis found in states that “prohibit forced vaccination.” Another hot topic in the 1940s was “Eye gymnastics may improve sight.”
Articles suggesting “eating meat is the cause of many ills” and dispensing advice about correct food combinations such as “tomatoes and acid and citrus fruits should never be eaten with starches” could have been written in magazines today. Many articles were written by Paul C. Bragg, a major figure on the health scene.
According to the book Hollywood Dish by Akasha Richmond, the publisher Clark Irvine, was a screenwriter, Charlie Chaplin’s publicity director, and a roving reporter for United Press before launching California Health News. Later copies of his bi-monthly magazine were sold in health food shops nationwide.
To find out more, come to Central Library and ask to see old copies of these magazines. Then, watch Charles Perry’s fascinating lecture, “The Golden Age of L.A. Diet Cranks,” that covers some of the same territory, presented at Central Library to the Culinary Historians of Southern California!