From the Archives: Tragedy at Wilshire and Fairfax

About once a month, Renee Montgomery, LACMA’s Assistant Director of Collections Information and Risk Management, sends the entire LACMA staff an interesting piece of trivia about the museum. We at Unframed love receiving these emails so much that we asked Renee if she would begin regularly sharing them, and she generously agreed.

Most Angelenos are familiar with the tragic story of the assassination of Christopher Wallace, aka Biggie Smalls, aka Notorious B.I.G., near the intersection of Fairfax and Wilshire. Fewer residents will remember a prior tragedy at this same location approximately seventy-five years earlier.

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Airfield at Wilshire and Fairfax Boulevards, 1920s

Before the May Company (now LACMA West) and Johnie’s, there used to be two airfields at Fairfax and Wilshire, one owned by Cecil B. DeMille and another by Syd Chaplin and Emory Rogers. In 1920, DeMille’s field was the scene of a movie, The Skywayman. Acting in this film were Ormer “Lock” Locklear and Milton “Skeets” Elliott—two pilot stuntmen specializing in aerial tricks following World War I.

For the finale of The Skywayman, Elliott was to dive the plane with Locklear in it toward some oil derricks, appearing to crash into them. The trick would be faked by Elliott pulling out of the dive at the last minute; the studio lighting technicians were to keep the floodlights on the spot long enough to capture the dive scene but then cut the lights off when Elliott pulled out to disguise the trick.

Unfortunately, the electricians failed to shut off the lights as Elliott approached, and he was blinded by the light; the plane crashed, and both men were killed. The gruesome footage was caught on film and actually used in The Skywayman.

Renee Montgomery, Assistant Director, Collections Information and Risk Management

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