If you’ve been following along, you know that we (Archive helpers Jamie Douraghy and Greg Lynch doing the dirty work) salvaged material relating to the Joseph Vince Studio, Salle Mori and Heizaburo Okawa that had found its way to a dumpster. Some of the larger pieces were items that had once graced the walls of the Joseph Vince Fencing Studio. The Joseph Vince Studio was on Santa Monica Blvd, in the heart of Beverly Hills; a grand location to attract an amazing assortment of Talent with a capital T. Quite a number of Movie Stars spent time with Joseph Vince. Natalie Wood, James Coburn, Toshiro Mifune and Tony Curtis, just to drop a few names that I’ve come across in old correspondence, equipment purchase orders, and paperwork from movie studios contracting Vince to provide fencing instruction.
But the story today: the Walls. Because a lot of the wall decorations are currently in my care. I wanted to be sure to document what Greg & Jamie rescued – and Greg drove half way across half the state to deliver to me, meeting me in Kettleman City to transfer from his SUV to mine. After taking some photos of the loot interesting memorabilia, I figured it was time to share with you all! So below, a period photo for context, followed by the rescued items and whatever else information seems appropriate!
Let’s start with an action shot! A busy night at the Vince Studio, with a couple of identities I’m fairly certain of. The two fencers matching up on the far right are, I believe, Joe Elliot (tall, left handed, in attendance as seen below) versus Jan York Romary (right handed, tape across the top of the mask which I’ve seen before, in attendance as seen below). But on the walls, let’s take a look! Just above Joe’s right hand, a red shield:
Faded now and water damaged. No swords are mounted on it, but definitely the right shape and size. You can see the imprint of where the two crossed blades left a shadow on the cloth backing.
Halberds! Yes, halberds! Three of them, to be precise. Easily spotted on the walls. Two mounted on an angle (you’ll see them better below) and one straight up & down on the left wall. The one by itself is the tallest at better than 8 feet. I can’t stand it straight up in my garage. The other two are just about 6 feet and all three are very rusty, but I wouldn’t want to have to face the business end of these things. While not sharp, well, not real sharp, they’d do some fairly serious damage to anyone foolish enough to run onto them. I won’t be doing that.
Ah. The evidence I mentioned above. Jan York Romary is front & center here. Joe Elliot is in the back row, 5th from the left. Heizaburo Okawa is standing in the back on the far left. That’s a good night of fencing right there, and I don’t know who else I might be missing by not recognizing others. Anyone reading this spot a familiar face? A little tough to see. I’ll post a close up at the bottom. Right now, walls!
This piece is centered above the alcove behind Okawa. It’s a big old magilla, too. That’s the thing with most of these pieces – they’re not lightweights. Must’ve been up with some fairly hefty wall hangers.
This little guy is to the left of the above piece and there’s a paired facing version on the other side that we didn’t come across.
And what’s a fencing salle without a target on the wall? This is on the very far left of the photo. I’ve never seen this three-in-a-row design before and I like it! It’s well built, too. It might be stained with age (and beer or coffee or wine… or all three…) but it’d still be serviceable if it were put up. I wonder if it’s like Toy Story 2, and old fencing gear like this retains a fond memory of younger days when fencers still poked them repeatedly to improve point control. Toy Story 2, that’s… like… you know, a documentary… a true story… isn’t it?
Here’s a totally not posed shot of Torao Mori offering foil instruction to a novice. But right above her head is this really nice piece of work:
Now, I know it’s just a reproduction (done in Spain; from the Vince files I’ve got the product catalog and letters going back and forth with the manufacturer) but this shield is pretty dang cool. It’s hefty, the design is interesting – sort of St. George slaying the dragon but only the pose really, as ‘dragon’ looks like a horse and the overall depiction is more of a massed knights-in-armor battle scene – and it being from Spain, one has to assume that the knights with the upper hand are the Spaniards and the guys going under are either French or more likely English. Hey, artists’ prerogative. Anyway, a cool piece. Not mounted on the backing shield any longer.
This little piece is on the wall behind the woman. A tiny piece – the backing board is only about ten inches across – and one of six different designs that were rescued. This is the only image I could find of one hanging up, but I don’t have 360 degrees of the wall area. Most of the shots seem to be taken from roughly the same direction, so I haven’t seen anything of what’s on the wall behind the camera. As below, for a kendo class, more of the same walls:
A lot of damage to this photo, but not the worst I’ve come across. There were an unfortunate number that couldn’t be salvaged. But in this shot you see the Vince Studio re-purposed for kendo. And, if I’m not mistaken, the guy holding the shinai all in blue standing underneath the straight up Halberd is Heizaburo Okawa. I just realized looking at this how high the ceilings are in the room. The wainscoting is probably up to 6 feet, and I know that halberd is 8 feet and I’d guess it isn’t touching the top wall, but even if it is, 14 foot ceilings. Nice! Anyway, the wall hanging below…
…is another shield that has lost its crossed swords. I’m not entirely sure on this one. It’s the right size and shape as the one in the photo above – the furthest left on the far wall – and mountings for three swords at the correct angles, but the color seems different. The class photo shows a shield that looks like it has a blue backing cloth and this is certainly not blue. Totally faded out to this? I can’t really tell. So, not completely certain, but close. And this shield doesn’t show up anywhere else, so I put it in as a “maybe”.
The Big one. Love this picture, of course. Left to Right is Torao Mori, then international superstar actor Tony Curtis (and father of Jamie Lee Curtis) dressed in his fencing knickers and a dapper hat, Branislau Kaper (Hollywood Composer) and Joseph Vince. My guess is that this photo was taken after Mori had assumed the role of day-to-day instruction and Vince was retired. I mean, I can’t imagine he was the one giving Tony a workout, not in those shoes. But Curtis and Vince were clearly close friends, as evidenced by a few items of correspondence between the two of them that I’ve come across in the files that were rescued. So maybe he came in to just watch the lesson and chat. Then, on the back wall…
This beast. It’s a plaster cast on top of a fiberglass mold. Pretty interesting bit of construction, really. The poor knight has lost some of his foot, alas, and there are a couple of other chips, but overall he’s in pretty fair shape. If you look close at the group photo above, there are two rings hanging down at the top of the piece. I can’t guess why they’re hanging in front; I assumed when I first looked at it that it would hang by the rings, but this photo clearly shows them hanging in front. Why that is, I just can’t guess. This is a big piece; it’s roughly 4×4 feet and fiberglass or not, it’s not terribly light. Maybe more unwieldy than really heavy, but still.
The other bit of mystery is the location of this room and piece. The room where the group photo above was taken seems better put together than your usual fencing salle office area, and it’s not an area shown in any other photo taken in the salle. Was that just the times and taste of Vince and/or Mori and it’s just not showing in the photos I have? Very modern, nice furnishings and all, but so many swords I assumed it was somewhere in the salle. The foyer? Another office area? The business office from whence the fencing equipment business ran? Mysteries abound. I’ll add these mysteries to my growing list.
Ok, one last thing, as mentioned above. A close up!
If anyone can put names to faces, it’s always appreciated! I mean, just from the three I do know we’re talking about 14 US National Championship wins – Okawa with two, Elliot two and Romary accounting for the other ten. So if anyone can add a name, speak up!