The casting call went out – Hollywood wanted lacrosse.
Don’t go, warned the Canadian Lacrosse Association, or you will face a two-year suspension. Warning ignored, some 40 players, coaches and assorted hangers-on succumbed to the seductive harmony of “California, Here I Come”.
And so, the Canadian boys of summer trooped off to the warm climes of Southern California to take part in the newly formed Pacific Coast Lacrosse Association.
Unfortunately, everything resembled a triple feature spun out of the Hollywood fantasy factory…Mutiny on the Bounty, followed by Bound for Glory and ending with Bitter Sweet.
It all began in late 1938 when Los Angeles promoter Frank Sweeney set up the Pacific Coast League and recruited veteran B.C. referee Jimmy Gunn to come up with enough players to fill three teams. A fourth squad would come from the East.
There was little problem peaking the interest of unemployed young men in those Depression days. The B.C. Lacrosse Association gave its permission for players to travel, providing they returned by April 10 to begin the 1939 season. But in stepped the CLA with a cease and desist order. A hearing was called to air both sides of the controversy.
“I can’t live on air”, Salmonbellies’ Jack Hughes told the lacrosse bureaucracy. “I’ve played about 35 games a year for four seasons, getting a total of $400.00 and no job. Don’t you realize, gentlemen, I’ll be out of work for a period of six or seven months and no money coming in. It’s swell for you fellows who have nice cushy jobs; you can afford to sit back and say don’t go away or you’ll be suspended. It’s just like dealing with a cop; you always come off second best”.
Adanac’s Lloyd Steele added, “You’re holding a gun to our heads and you’ll pull the trigger in the form of a two-year suspension when we get home. The commission governs us here in the summer. We can’t play for the teams we want to in the summer. Why try to govern us between seasons. It’s silly little rulings like this that ruin the game”.
The CLA held firm, but so did the obstinate players. Now called outlaws, they headed south on January 2, 1939 to open the league six days later.
The Warriors team was led by Andy Paull and boasted such athletes as Angus “Buckshot” Thomas, Angus “Shine” George, Chub and Hubie Smith, goalie Philip Hopps, Alex Burns, Joe Thomas and Andy’s son, Percy.
Salmonbellies stacked the L.A. Yanks, coached by Doughy Spring; Pete Anthony in goal, Bill Tyler, Jack Hughes, Alfie and Mousy Davy, Jack Walmsley of Nelson and three New York State players, Lou Roblins, Bill Cook and Ed McKaba.
The L.A. Canucks (Adanacs, of course) consisted of Lloyd and Lorne Steele, Gord Saunders, Harry Kennedy, Gardie Carter, Bert Bryant, Art Noble and goalie Herb Delmonico.
The Hollywood Terriers (Check out Orillia Terriers) sported Bill and Ernie Curren, Vern Steggell, Fred Hatton, Hank Munro, Shipwreck Kelly, Moe Thompson, Bill Brunskill and goalie Ted Hall.
They were a hardy bunch. Each team stripped only eight players – a goalie, two defencemen, three forwards and two substitutes. Oh yes, lacrosse in those days was the seven -man game (a rover) so this was the first time six-man lacrosse, as played today, was used.
Over the next three weeks, seven doubleheaders were staged in the Olympic Stadium before crowds exceeding 4,000. On the floor, it was a resounding success but backroom bickering turned ugly; the promoter accused the stadium of excessive additional charges beyond the contract conditions; there was controversy over seating arrangements that infuriated fans, and there was failure to obtain adequate living quarters for the players.
The league folded and the players went home to battle the CLA for reinstatement.
“I do not want to stand in the way of the right thing being done”, CLA President Jim McConaghey stated. “I do not want to close the door entirely on these players but I certainly think something should be done about them deliberately breaking the rules of the game as set down by the Dominion body. Those rules were put in the CLA Constitution for the purpose of saving Canadian lacrosse for Canada. Are we going to sit idly by while American promoters come in here and steal our game from under our very noses?
The 1939 season began May 8 with the players still on the sidelines.
Then, McConaghey announced, “Being of the opinion that two years suspensions were too ruthless in the present instances, but being of the opinion that flagrant disregard of the rules of organized lacrosse does call for disciplinary action…suspensions are lifted on and from June 15”.
The curtain had come down on the ill-fated Hollywood Caper.