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HOLY COW! HISTORY: Hollywood’s Biggest Flop—The Disastrous 1923 World’s Fair

One hundred years ago last week, America was in mourning. The president had suddenly died, and Hollywood was about to collapse. The two were linked in the greatest failure you’ve never heard of. Everything that could go wrong did.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The forces that culminated in that spectacularly miserable summer were set into motion the year before.

Hollywood had a huge PR problem in 1922. The movie industry was under attack after a seemingly endless string of scandals.

First, actor and director William Desmond Taylor was fatally shot in his home. Suspects included some of Tinsel Town’s biggest names. Yet, his murderer was never identified.

Then there was box office darling Mabel Normand, whose life was a train wreck. Implicated in Taylor’s death, her cocaine addiction was notorious.

But the biggest scandal of all (pun intended) was Fatty Arbuckle. The fat funnyman was a major star, on a level with Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford. He was also infamous for serious drinking and partying.

But nobody was laughing when a model, minor movie actress party girl died after being raped at a drunken party in a San Francisco hotel in September 1921. Arbuckle was charged with manslaughter. His 1922 trial unleashed a tidal wave of damning insights into Hollywood’s decadent, self-indulgent lifestyle. Although Arbuckle was acquitted, the damage was immense. His career ruined, movie moguls feared he would take the entire industry down with him.

Local censorship boards were suddenly popping up and screening movies. Their unanimous verdict: Too much smut!

Then what moviemakers fear most happened. Ticket sales dropped. The handwriting was on the wall. The industry had to clean up its act, pronto.

Hollywood rolled into action. It created the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America and tapped no-nonsense former postmaster general Will Hays to run it. His office approved every film to guarantee it was squeaky clean.

But that wasn’t enough. The industry had to show Americans their angst was unfounded. So it did what Hollywood does best — it put on a show. And not just any show, but the biggest, loudest, flashiest of them all. A world’s fair.

They had done wonders for Chicago in 1893, St. Louis in 1904, and San Francisco in 1915 and were big moneymakers, too. This fair would showcase the New Hollywood while letting everyday folks meet the stars.

But that still wasn’t enough. Organizers wrapped their show of shows in the American flag. Somebody pulled out a history book and found 1923 was the 100th anniversary of the Monroe Doctrine. Problem solved.

(If you were doodling during history class, President James Monroe proclaimed the United States wouldn’t tolerate Europe interfering in the Western Hemisphere.)

With great fanfare, it was announced that the American Historical Revue and Motion Picture Exposition would be held in Los Angeles from July 2 through August 6, 1923. They had no idea they were following the same path as a future Hollywood blockbuster: Titanic.

Some Hollywood whiz kid decided to promote the event with a special commemorative half-dollar coin. That had been done for the Chicago and San Francisco world fairs; why not for Hollywood’s?

But Congress had to approve the limited-edition coin. And given Hollywood’s sinking popularity, Congress was reluctant to fling its arms around the movie industry. So the moguls showered money on Capitol Hill, and — viola! — the silver 1923 Monroe Doctrine Centennial Half Dollar was approved. Nearly 275,00 were struck.

But the public didn’t buy it. By opening day, only 27,000 were sold. The rest were dumped into general circulation, infuriating folks who had paid $1 each for their coin.

Even worse, the public didn’t go to the fair. Organizers tried to make things interesting. Different historically themed live shows were featured nightly, such as “Montezuma and the Fall of the Aztecs.” But nobody cared about the Aztecs. Or history, for that matter. The few attendees who showed up wanted to see movie stars in the flesh.

Clearly, organizers hadn’t done their marketing homework. They had projected 1 million visitors. Barely 300,000 attended — and that was only because tens of thousands of free tickets were given to teenagers in the closing weeks.

The moguls had one last ace up their sleeve. President Warren Harding was scheduled to visit on August 6. That, they confidently believed, would drive a late spike in visitation.

And it might have — if Harding hadn’t died unexpectedly in San Francisco on August 2. The last hope of the fair’s success died with him.

And so they called, “That’s a wrap!” on the American Historical Revue and Motion Picture Exposition. In a final insult, the fair lost money. It was a total flop from beginning to end.

Hollywood eventually climbed out of its funk. But the 1923 Hollywood World’s Fair didn’t help.

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How Did a Convicted Murderer Get Appointed to Montco Board? Nobody’s Talking.

A convicted killer becomes an advisor to a prison system. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke.

But it’s no laughing matter in Montgomery County.

In 1985, Vernon Steed shot and killed Serena Gibson, an innocent bystander who was with her family nearby when he fired at a fellow criminal in a drug dispute.

In 2022, Montgomery County Commissioners made Steed a member of the Prison Board of Inspectors, a citizen oversight committee.

Now Steed, 55, is back behind bars, accused of stealing some $95,000 in public-assistance funds by filing phony paperwork using the names of his friends and relatives.

Concerned citizens are asking why elected county officials would appoint a criminal like Steed to a county board. But nobody is willing to say just how he came to the position in the first place, even after his arrest last month.

Joseph Gale, the lone Republican on the county Board of Commissioners, strongly opposed Steed’s appointment. When asked how Steed ended up on the board in the first place—whether he sought out the position or was actively recruited by the county’s Democratic commissioners—Gale said he didn’t know.

“You would have to ask the commissioners who voted for him if they encouraged him to apply,” he told DVJournal. “I certainly didn’t ask him to seek the position; I voted against his appointment.”

County commissioner and board chair Kenneth E. Lawrence, Jr. did not respond to questions about the circumstances surrounding Steed’s appointment. Nor did former commissioner Valerie Arkoosh, who was on the county board at the time of Steed’s appointment and who is now the acting secretary of the state human services department.

At the time, Arkoosh made her support of Steed’s appointment clear.

“I just want to comment that I do intend to support Mr. Steed’s appointment. That he will bring an individual to the Prison Board of Inspectors with lived experience. And I think that will be an extremely important perspective to have as part of our county Prison Board of Inspectors.”


“DHS has no comment,” spokeswoman Ali Fogarty told DVJournal.

Asked about Steed’s appointment, county spokeswoman Kelly Cofrancisco said the system worked as designed. “The commissioners review all applicants for volunteer board positions and make appointments through official action during their board meetings,” she said.

She previously told DVJournal last month the county “continues to support applicants from all backgrounds to apply to serve on Montgomery County boards and commissions in a volunteer capacity.”

“The county remains committed to appointing residents with lived experience and diverse perspectives to serve in these positions,” she added.

The county invites interested applicants to apply for the prison inspector board on its website.

The board is “unique in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” the county says, calling it “a citizens’ oversight board for the humane treatment of Montgomery County incarcerated individuals” and one that “maintains oversight of Prison operations.”

Board inspections “provide a sounding board for incarcerated individuals,” the county’s website says, while board members “are there to notice any particular patterns or needs such as upgrading the telephone system or implementing tablets with access to the internet.”

Board members also perform “administrative duties, oversight of personnel, expenditures, and other budgetary items.”

Steed’s criminal history at the time of his appointment last year had been touted as a bona fide supporting his candidacy. He was expected to bring “lived experience” to the board, Arkoosh said during deliberations. She called it “an extremely important perspective to have as part of our county Prison Board of Inspectors.”

Gale retorted, “The lived experience that this individual brings is 32 years in state prison for murder.” Following Steed’s recent arrest, he called the scandal “unacceptable and embarrassing.”

“It was an absolute disgrace for the Democrat County Commissioners to appoint a convicted murderer to the Prison Board of Inspectors in the first place,” he said.

“Now, less than a year later, their decision to override my opposition has proven to be a grave error in judgment, which jeopardized the safety and welfare of many,” Gale added.

Steed is accused of stealing nearly $100,000 in COVID-19 emergency funds by using other people’s names to apply for the money.

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Business Partner Arrested in Royersford Mother’s Death

A 33-year-old Royersford man was charged Thursday with murder in the death of Jennifer Brown.

Brown, 43, also of Royersford, the mother of an 8-year-old boy, disappeared on Jan. 4. Community and family members looked for Brown for weeks until police found her body in a shallow grave in Royersford Borough on Jan. 18.

Blair Watts, who was Brown’s business partner in a restaurant that Watts planned to open, “Birdie’s Kitchen,” was charged with homicide in her death, according to Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele. Watts had reported her disappearance to the police. He was later found to have given inconsistent statements, according to an affidavit of probable cause.

Blair Watts

Police found transfers from Brown’s phone through phone apps of $9,000 and $8,000 to Watts around the time of her disappearance.

Investigators linked small pieces of plastic found in her house’s carpet to hair clips found with her body, indicating a struggle. Also, Watts had taken Brown’s son to his house and to school, where a teacher told police that the boy, who is autistic, had not had his medication.

Friends and family described Brown as a loving mother who would not have left her son. Her disappearance shook the normally peaceful community.

A forensic pathologist determined Brown’s death was a homicide. A cadaver dog found indications of human remains in Brown’s house and a nearby dumpster. Cellphone pings showed Watts had been near the location where Brown’s body was found, police said.

Also, detectives learned Watts drove a grey Jeep Renegade, owned by his wife, and a red Jeep Cherokee. They obtained search warrants for both vehicles. The cadaver dog indicated on the backseat area of the Jeep Cherokee and indicated on the floor mat taken from behind the driver’s seat in the Jeep Renegade, meaning that human remains had previously been in each of the Jeeps that Watts drove, police said.

“For 37 days since this devoted mother was reported missing, detectives have been accumulating evidence, piece by piece, bringing into focus what happened to Jennifer and who murdered her,” said Steele. “That picture shows Blair Watts murdered Jennifer Brown on Jan. 3rd, then moved her body and ultimately buried her in a shallow grave. He is now behind bars at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility.”

Watts was arrested Thursday on charges of first-degree murder, third-degree murder, theft by unlawful taking, and access device fraud. He was awaiting arraignment at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility and a preliminary hearing will be scheduled at that time. First Assistant District Attorney Edward F. McCann Jr. and Assistant District Attorney Lindsey T. Mills will prosecute the case.


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Philadelphia Man Accused of ‘An Act of Pure Evil’ Charged With Murder in Fatal Darby Fire

A 30-year-old Philadelphia man who allegedly set a fire at a Darby Township house that killed his ex-girlfriend’s disabled sister is being held without bail on murder charges.

“The horrific fire that occurred in Darby Township on Sunday morning was an act of pure evil. A young woman afflicted by cerebral palsy, who we understand had been lovingly cared for by her mother and her sister, lost her life in one of the most agonizing manners imaginable. A life has been lost, and a family home has been destroyed. We grieve for her and her family, and we pledge to use every tool available to us to ensure that the suspect, in this case, is brought to justice,” said District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer.

Aaron C. Clark faces first, second, and third-degree murder charges; arson; aggravated assault; reckless endangerment, and other counts in the fire that occurred around midnight on Dec. 4 and destroyed a house on the 600 block of Sharon Avenue. Police charged him in a separate complaint with harassment, terroristic threats, and resisting arrest.

Delaware County Medical Examiner Dr. Bennett Preston said Olivia Drasher, 20, died of smoke inhalation and burns. While other family members and Drasher’s nurse, who suffered burns, were able to escape the inferno Drasher, who needed a wheelchair, died in her first-floor bedroom. The fire was set on the front porch just outside her window.

Olivia Drasher

Drasher’s older sister, Amira Rogers, went to the police on Dec. 3 to report Clark was sending her threatening text messages and saying that he would post indecent pictures of her on social media sites. Because both Rogers and Clark worked for the Postal Service, she also filed a complaint with postal inspectors.

Later that day, while in custody, Rogers and her family told police that Clark was still sending them threatening messages, according to the affidavit of probable cause.

Police tried to search Rogers, who struggled and spat on them. After he was subdued, they found an Apple watch hidden in his rectum.

The Drasher family created a GoFundMe account to help with expenses that Rogers set up.

Rogers wrote that the fire was set by “an evil psychopath and my little sister, Olivia Drasher, who is disabled and has cerebral palsy, was killed. She was only 20 years old. Her nurse, Ms. Sharon, was burned and inhaled smoke while trying to save Oliva. My mother was able to save Raquelle Drasher, Olivia’s twin sister. But my baby sister, Olivia, could not make it out. My family has lost everything. This man was harassing me where I work at the post office because I did not want to be with him anymore.”

“…he set our house on fire while my family was in their beds. We are working with the police to get justice, but we are now homeless. Due to Olivia’s medical condition, we were not able to obtain life insurance for her yet. But we never thought we would need it anytime soon because she was only 20 years old. My mother, Drena Drasher, is a veteran of the U.S. Army and a Philadelphia Police Officer in the 1st District. She worked so hard to provide for her family and build her dream house, all for it to be burned away by a demonic human.

“My family and I are devastated by the loss of our Olivia, and we need all your thoughts and prayers. The money for this GoFundMe will be used to pay for Olivia’s funeral services and burial and also to help us find a new home. We don’t have anything but the clothes on our backs.”

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Urban Navigation: Helping to End Youth Violence in DelVal Communities

Kids are shooting kids.

In Philadelphia, the 2021 murders were the highest in decades—562. And as of Feb. 10, 55 people have been murdered this year. People point fingers at city officials and the state legislature, the police, and the schools. But who is doing something to help?

Enter Urban Navigation.

This new organization, founded by Don Jackson and Hameen Diggins, is stepping up to get kids on the right track and keep them there. Already operating in Philadelphia, they are in talks with the City of Chester, Collingdale, Upper Darby, and Ardmore to bring Urban Navigation to the suburbs.

Jackson, a founder of the Philadelphia Technician Training Institute, said the technical school is for students 18 and older and teaches them skills to get good-paying jobs.

Don Jackson (left) and Hameen Diggins

But with the rising crime rate, he decided that younger kids needed guidance and to learn some skills, too.

“There’s a rise in all the gun activity,” said Jackson. “So what we did was we started looking at younger kids, and what we understand is getting to them while they’re still at the stage that they haven’t graduated to the next level of stuff.”

Urban Navigation teaches kids technical skills, like fixing their bicycles, fixing small motor machines like dirt bikes or ATVs, and gun safety.

“You know, they’re riding down the street, doing wheelies or whatnot, and kids are very much into bicycles,” he said. “Just peddling, 50 kids peddling.”

Jackson said they have also worked to get groups of young ATV riders that plague Philadelphia streets into areas where it is safe and legal to ride those vehicles. They use “media, music, videography…everything that basically attracts our youth. And social media. We developed a virtual reality platform.”

“We give them conflict resolution training,” said Jackson.

Diggins said, “We saw the need when it came to the youth culture, to give them a voice. So we knew how to help them.”

Diggins’ own experiences of being raised in foster care and group homes help him relate to the underprivileged kids, he said. He survived a difficult childhood and is now a nurse, a photographer, a DJ, and a certified life coach.

“Gun violence is out of control,” said Diggins. “We give them a reason not to shoot, to give them an alternative by having gun safety education.”

The kids already have guns, he said. “We focus on the value of life. We have to give youth a reason not to shoot each other. If they value themselves, they value others.”

“There is a lot of misplaced anger,” Diggins said. “We try to give them a different way to look at things.”

“A lot of this is them trying to be seen,” he said.

Urban Navigation has programs for kids from 8 to 19.

If their parents are not present in kids’ lives, through dads abandoning the family or mothers on drugs, “the street becomes the parent,” and the kids join gangs. Urban Navigation combats that by offering positive activities, he said.

Learning to fix things is helpful. The kids then “understand their hands can be used for a lot more than violence.”

Jackson said, “We deal with a lot of trauma in these young kids. They’re going through broken homes. They got a single parent; maybe one of their parents passed away. They got an older sibling getting ready to go to jail.”

“We want to teach these kids how to be productive citizens,” said Jackson. “We involve them in after-school activities. We’ll teach you how to repair the power sports, as well.

Jackson said they’ve invested $200,000 of their own money to get the nonprofit, up and running. To keep the kids safe, all of the adults working with them go through criminal background checks.

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Temple University Re-engaging With Philly Police After Student Murder, Despite Embrace of ‘Defund’ Movement

In response to the murder of one of its students, Temple University President Dr. Jason Wingard said in a campus-wide email it will “work with the Philadelphia Police Department to increase their presence off campus,” to boost student security.

The move comes after a year in which Temple administrators and students have debated and occasionally embraced facets of the “Defund the Police” movement, which sprang up in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, an event so shocking it ignited a new, national reckoning on race.

The university is currently working to quell fears after Samuel Collington, a 21-year-old senior at the university, was shot and killed in the middle of the day within blocks of the campus.

“Students are afraid. Parents are afraid. Parents are afraid for students’ safety,” student government president Bradley Smutek told the Inquirer.

Besides increasing patrols in cooperation with Philadelphia Police, Wingard also promised to “increase our Campus Safety force by 50%” and to “collaborate with city leaders to expand anti-violence initiatives to reduce shootings and homicides in North Philadelphia and across the city.”

Last June, however, the mood at Temple was more about distancing itself from Philadelphia Police.

“In the past, Temple has provided a small amount of support to the Philadelphia Police Foundation through charitable donations,” university president Richard M. Englert said in a brief statement. “Upon review and community input, we have decided that the university will no longer provide this support,” and that the funds would be reallocated “to support social justice programs at the university.”

The Philadelphia Police Foundation is an IRS-recognized nonprofit where funds “go directly toward providing critical equipment, technology, training and innovative programs to help the Philadelphia Police Department improve public safety and enhance service to the city,” according to the foundation’s website.

“Over the past three years, Philadelphia area individuals, businesses and foundations have generously contributed over $2.0 million to underwrite over a dozen of the Department’s most critical, but unbudgeted priorities,” the website adds.

A request for comment to the university on the shift in attitudes toward police was not returned.

Despite the political pressures that emerged from the Floyd killing, the university rebuffed a petition on from earlier in June 2020, that called for a total severing of all ties between the university and Philly police.

“Temple University claims that ‘racism within our community is not tolerated,’ but they are willing to fund the very institution that suppresses the message of #BlackLivesMatter in our city,” the petition read. “It is well known that Temple has been actively gentrifying North Philadelphia for decades, and has expanded its police surveillance beyond campus through its ties with Philadelphia Police.”

Wingard was joined by Provost JoAnne A. Epps and Chief Operating Officer Kevin G. Clark in a lengthy statement pushing back on the idea.

“We do not believe that [severing all ties with Philadelphia police] would be in the best interest of Temple students, faculty and staff, and our neighbors in the surrounding community,” they said.

“Shared responsibilities and patrols among the Temple Police Department, our Allied Universal security partners and the Philadelphia Police Department help keep us safe by providing effective layers of service and protection for the Temple community and residents in nearby neighborhoods.”

The petition and subsequent rebuff from the University came before the decision to stop making donations to the Philadelphia Police Foundation, but the original petition also highlighted that link.

“It is time to say it loud and clear that we as students, alumni and residents of Philadelphia firmly oppose Temple’s active participation in militarizing our police force. #DefundthePolice”, the petition said.

Meanwhile, police identified 17-year-old Latif Williams as a suspect in Collington’s murder. Williams turned himself in to police.

Court records show that he was charged with five felony counts related to an alleged carjacking in July.

Those charges were later withdrawn.

“[A] key witness for the Commonwealth did not appear in court, forcing our office to withdraw the case at that time. That incident, which took place in August, remains under active investigation, and our office continues to pursue accountability for that crime,” a spokesperson for the Philadelphia district attorney’s office said, according to ABC6.

The university is holding a community hearing at 5 p.m. Thursday to discuss safety issues.

The debate over how to provide the necessary security to the campus comes as Philadelphia crossed the mark of 500 homicides in a year on Thanksgiving. The city had only previously reached that mark one other time since the statistic has been kept since 1960.

As of Dec, 7, the Philadelphia Police crime statistics page showed that the city now counts 523 homicides this year.

This article first appeared in Broad and Liberty.