Sally died in the early 1980s, she was fittingly
eulogized by Herb Caen
YOU LIVE long enough in the newspaper racket, you can spend most
of your time writing obituaries. I said that before, no doubt,
and I say it again. The passing parade never stops. Last week,
there was Dr. Russ Lee, who lived a long and fruitful life. And
Joan Hitchcock, a good-hearted soul, Dorothy Parkers "Big
Blonde" right down to the tragic ending, a drinker who drank herself
out. Sunday, the remarkable artist, Wilfried Satty, who lived
a surrealistic life in a subterranean cavern on Powell in North
Beach, fell off a ladder and killed himself. It was an ending
as bizarre as any of the Hieronymus-like illustrations he was
then, early yesterday, there was Sally Stanford, or whatever her
name was. It didnt matter when she was riding high and it
doesnt matter now.
STANFORD (a.k.a. Mabel or Marsha Owen Gump Kenna, etc. etc.) was
part of our own era of wonderful nonsense, the 1930s, when
the police ran the town and everybody played for pay. In the Tenderloin,
the doors were never closed. Every other little hotel was a house
of ill fame, as the journals of the time like to call them. You
could drink all night in a dozen after-hours joints. The payoffs
were good. A lot of cops, several politicians and a few madams,
Sally Stanford, Dolly Fine and Mabel Malotte among them, got rich.
GREAT DEPRESSION was in full cry, but San Francisco was never
more exciting. The mindless city stayed up all night, partying,
from the penthouses of Nob Hill, where Socialite Anita Howard
reigned, down to the Black Cat, over to Finocchios and on
to Monas, a lesbian joint rivaling anything in Paris. Characters
were king-sized: W.R. Hearst striding into his flagship building
at Third and Market, Bill Saroyan betting wildly on the horses
across the street in Opera Alley, Editor Paul Smith entertaining
Noel Coward and Gertie Lawrence in his two-floor Telegraph Hill
flat, Harry Bridges shaking dice in the back room at Bimbos.
And a lot of people ended their evenings at Sally Stanfords,
where the champagne flowed all night and Sally herself would whip
up a batch of dawnside eggs for this guy from Pebble Beach, that
one from the Pacific-Union Club, and the City Hall playboy, who
would be right down.
nonsense is right: Sallys first bed-a-whee, one of my lesser
coinages, was the Russian Hill mansion owned by Paul Verdier,
elegant proprietor of the City of Paris department store. It became
so famous a landmark that it was included on sightseeing tours.
Now and then Sally would allow the hayseeds to come right in and
meet "my girls," all of them in kimonos and wearing gardenia corsages.
"Every one a former Junior Leaguer," Sally would assure the rubes.
A tour of the mansion revealed that every bedroom had a fireplace,
"at no extra cost," twinkled Sally.
CREATED HER own legend. About her name: "I was walking down Kearney
Street in the rain, alone, friendless, when I saw the headline,
Stanford Wins Big Game. Thats for me, I said
to myself. No more Marsha Owen Im going after big
game." The story grew more polished by the year. Why Sally? "Well,
Sally, Irene and Mary were famous hooker names," she explained,
"and Sally went best with Stanford." When she married Robert Gump,
grandson of Solomon Gump, founder of Gumps famous store,
and brother of the noted art dealer, Richard Gump, a reporter
asked her, "How does it feel to marry into such a distinguished
family?" Sniffed Sally: "The Stanfords are MUCH older." She loved
telling the story of the eager young cop, son of a police captain,
who burst into her house and shouted, "Im bustin this
place!" "Before you do that buster," replied Sally coolly, "I
suggest you go out to the kitchen and talk to your dad
we were just having a cup of coffee."
MOST famous place was 1144 Pine, an old mansion with great iron
gates and a sunken bathtub off the drawing room where Anna Held
allegedly had her famous milk baths. The story didnt check
out but Sally went on telling it and everybody wanted to believe
it. "I love this place," she would say dreamily, looking around
at the Charles Addamsy décor. "Its a real mausoleum.
I wouldnt mind being buried here." Among her visitors one
time was her equally famous New York counterpart, Polly Adler,
who wrote "A House Is Not a Home." Some of the conversation was
quite delicious. Polly: "You know the madams lament
everybody goes upstairs but us." And "Its a relief to get
out of the business. No more opening the door and looking first
at the mans feet, you know?" Sally: "Yeah. Right. Big feet.
YOU have a heart of gold?" I once asked Sally. "If I did," she
snapped, "itd be in a safe deposit box." She was tough,
shrewd and conservative. After the cops finally shut her down
in 1949 in a fit of morality, she opened the Valhalla restaurant
in Sausalito. Her maitre dhotel, Leon Galleto, reminisced
yesterday about the time she had one of her many heart attacks,
and he had to drive her to the St. Francis Hospital in S.F. As
he slowed down at the Golden Gate Bridge toll plaza, Sally called
weakly from the back seat, where she was stretched out: "Dont
forget to get a receipt, honey." In a crooked world, Sally Stanford
always had her priorities straight.