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Skid Proof Starring Buck Jones, Laura Anson and a Duesenberg

Reader Mark Gmelin sent in this image of his grandfather Billy Woolf and movie star Buck Jones, who is behind the wheel of a Duesenberg. The location is the Beverly Hills Board Track located in Beverly Hills, CA. The photo is dated July 2, 1921 and notes that Solly Halperin was the cameraman for the movie.

Like some of old photos, it appears that the date listed on it is incorrect. At about the same time in 1921 four Duesenberg 183 c.i. straight eight team cars were on the way to France for the French Grand Prix at Le Mans that was held on July 21, 1921. Jimmy Murphy went on to claim the victory and became the first American to win a European Grand Prix race in his Duesenberg.

  •     British Pathe film of the 1921 French Grand Prix that Jimmy Murphy won with his 183 Duesenberg.

Six other Duesenberg racing cars also took part in the 250-mile Montamarathon race in Tacoma, WA, on July 4th, 1921. With ten Duesenbergs either at a race or on the way to France for the 1921 Grand Prix, it rules out the possibility of three other cars being at the Beverly Hills track that July to film Skid Proof at the same time.

Murphy won the 1922 Indianapolis 500 with his car and later the 1922 AAA Championship after he had a Miller 183 c.i. straight eight engine installed in it. The Skid Proof photo apparently was taken on July 3, 1923. The Number 16 Dorado-8 appears to be Jimmy Murphy’s car with a Duesenberg engine but back into it, and that happened at some point after the 1922 racing season was over.

The Miller engine that was removed from the car was put in Murphy’s 1923 Durant Miller. The Duesenberg had a 183 re-installed in it before it was eventually sold to Art Bartold in Rochester, NY. Thanks to Duesenberg racing historian Joesph Freeman of Racemaker Press for his help in unraveling this mystery.

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  •   183 c.i. Duesenberg s.o.h.c. straight eight engine with two exhaust valves and one intake per cylinder.

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  •                                                            The Nevada Daily Mail Nov. 13, 1923.

Skid Proof was first released on July 22, 1923, was directed by Scott R. Dunlap, and featured Buck Jones and Laura Anson as the stars. Actors Fred Eric, Jacqueline Gadsden, Peggy Shaw and Earl Metcalfe also had roles in the film. Three Duesenbergs were used in the film, and the enlargement below shows one of them on the far-right being used to as the camera car.

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  • Buck Jones and Billy Woolf (below) are seen in the Number 16 Duesenberg. The Number 14 on the far-left is also a Duesenberg 183 with earlier bodywork.

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16 responses to “Skid Proof Starring Buck Jones, Laura Anson and a Duesenberg

  1. There have been several dozen movies featuring auto racing, but most of them were made in the fifties and later (including never to be forgotten classics like ‘The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow’). In 1932 there was a spate of racing movies, ‘Racing Youth’, ‘High Gear’ and ‘The Crowd Roars’. “Burn ’em up Barnes’ appeared in 1934, to be followed by ‘Speed’ (1936), ‘Indianapolis Speedway’ (1939) and ‘The Blonde Comet’ (1940). Laurel and Hardy and other comedians utilized racing scenes, but these were really only humorous ‘stunts’, not movies with a racing related plot.

    ‘Skid Proof’, the movie you mention, is completely new to me. Not only is it the by far the earliest racing movie to my knowledge, but possibly it is the only silent one.

  2. Thanks for the research David! I knew you’d find out more about the cars in the photo. If anyone finds a copy of Skid Proof I’m sure we’d all love to see it, but a silent racing movie?!

    For clarification, Billy Woolf is in the driver’s seat. He worked on the old silent movie sets, then opened his own prop shop in North Hollywood where he had a long enjoyable career. I believe cameraman Sol (Solly) Halperin is in the mechanic’s seat, not the actor Buck Jones. I haven’t seen other photos of Sol, but Buck had a much leaner face and pointed nose. Whoever it is sure looks like Babe Ruth!

    I also thought the date of July 2nd, 1921 on the photo was too early. I’m sure they rode on the publicity after Murphy won the French Gran Prix in July 1921, but it would have taken them a while to film/edit/release the movie. That being said, how did you come up with the July 3rd, 1923 date? If they were still filming or had just wrapped at this time I can’t see them releasing the movie a couple weeks later on July 22nd. Could the photo be from late 1922 or early 1923?

    Also, how did you figure that this #16 Dorado-8 is Murphy’s Gran Prix winning #12 Duesenberg?

    Thank you,
    Mark

    • Not knowing exactly who was sitting in the car I figured that Buck Jones was behind the wheel. I looked at a number of photos of him including one that appears to be match this photo.

      Duesenberg historian Joe Freeman has studied these cars in detail and belives it was Murphy’s cars. Based on the fact that his car was tied up on the AAA circuit all year and the July 3 th date (if it is correct) and the engine change back to a Duesey engine I went with that. At the very least it had to be some time after the season ended.

      Unlike today I found out that early films were produced very quickly.

  3. David – I yield to your expertise. I just found a few of photos of Muphy from 1922 in car #8 (before Indy) and #35 (at Indy and later) with no front brakes. It looks like he gave up the Duesenberg for a Miller chassis at the last race of the ’22 season in Beverly Hills (looking at Champcarstats site).

    • We have Joe Freeman to thank for that as he filled me in on many of the details of Murphy’s Championship run with the car. First he put a Miller engine in the Duesey as it was more powerful as is mentioned in the text.

  4. “The Roaring Road” was a silent movie filmed using a few minutes of footage from the 1919 Santa Monica Road Race.

  5. Hi David,

    The No. 16 Duesenberg is Jimmy Murphy’s French GP 183-cid winner. The car was repaired following Murphy’s accident at the 1922 Kansas City race and entered for the last 1922 3A Championship race held on December 3rd at Beverly Hills as No. 16 by Murphy for Peter DePaolo to drive as Ernie Olson declined the privilege. The original Duesey engine was put back in the car. The No. 14 in the background is Al Melcher’s older Duesenberg. These statements are substantiated by my research in the LA papers.

    Some years ago, I was involved in a Duesenberg racing project to be written by myself, Fred Roe and Joe Freeman. At that time, I put together charts listing the individual car histories by car type, chassis number, driver, and race finish in a chronological race by race format.

    These charts covered the years 1913 to 1923 and the following car types: drop-frames with four cylinder engines, straight-frames with four and eight cylinder engines, 300-cid specials with four cylinder engines in non-Duesey frames, and the 183-cid cars with eight cylinder engines. These charts were made available to both Fred Roe and Joe Freeman.

    One result of this work is that I was able to link the Benedict Duesenberg drop-frame, now owned by Joe Freeman, with the car Wilbur D’Alene drove to second at the 1916 Indy 500.

    The last set of charts that I produced for the Duesey project were completed in 2006. Since then, as a result of further research, errors and omissions in these earlier charts have become apparent. I now have charts for all the Duesenberg race cars covering all types from 1912 to the 1930’s and beyond. These charts are more accurate and complete than the charts I produced up to 2006.

    Jim O’Keefe

    • Sorry, Jim, but unfortunately that doesn’t work: for the Dec 3 LA race, Melcher’s Duesenberg was fitted with the Miller engine from the Durant Special (former “Baby Chevrolet”), which had a left-hand exhaust. This unique combination appeared in the next five Championship races in California for which it was eligible, and yes, that means its last appearance was more than twelve years later, at Mines Field in 1934!

      I wish I had another explanation for the Dorado-8 picture, but I’m afraid it’s still a mystery. I agree, however, that #16 is the former Murphy Special.

      • Hi Michael, I read an article you wrote elsewhere. You were mentioning the Windmill Truckers Center champ dirt car. I have that car. My grandfather purchased that car from Lee Glessner in the early 70’s. thanks, Rob Wilson

  6. Michael, I am glad that I could identify the No. 16 Dorado Duesenberg as the former Murphy Special for you and any other interested parties. Furthering dialogue and interest in our field of research has long been my goal.

    The trees and the signage on the pit wall establish that the photo was taken at Beverly Hills. The No. 16 car proves the event was the Fall 1922 race there and not the Spring 1923 race as this car with this number only appeared at the Fall race.

    The picture was undoubtedly taken prior to the December race being run. Perhaps it was taken in November before the race was postponed to December 3rd from November 30.

    The Melcher Special first ran its Miller engine at Fresno in September according to various sources. There were problems with it. It is very possible that the Duesenberg engine was put back in the car when it first arrived at Beverly Hills for the Fall race, hence the No. 14 in the photo shows a Duesenberg engine. That is, I feel, a reasonable explanation for why the No. 14 in the photo has a Duesenberg engine. The Miller engine was put back into the car for the race as photographic evidence shows.

    If No. 14 isn’t the Melcher Special, then just what do you think it is? Also, what were the next five Championship races in California for which it was eligible that you mentioned in your post? The Melcher Special only ran in one AAA championship event in 1923, that being the Spring race at Beverly Hills. It did not run in the next AAA Championship race at Fresno (183-cid cars) nor did it appear at the Fall races at Fresno and Beverly Hills in 1923 (both held for122-cid cars) as it was ineligible for these two races. I believe the car ran in some of the 1924 Ascot races but they weren’t AAA Championship events.

    Yes, I am aware that Guy Duelin drove it at the 1934 Mines Field AAA Championship race. I have a terrific photo of it there with “Duesenberg” painted on the car’s side but of course, its left-hand exhaust clearly shows it still had the Miller engine.

    If you look again at what I wrote, I said “Melcher’s older Duesenberg”. Isn’t No. 14 an older Duesenberg car in comparison to No. 16 and the right-hand side exhaust indicates the original Duesenberg engine is in the car rather than Melcher’s new Miller engine with which he used in the December 3rd race. I am still working on where this Duesenberg engine went.

    Regards,
    Jim O’Keefe

  7. Jim, thank you for replying to my post. You are absolutely right, furthering the dialogue and interest is a good thing, and I am thankful for every opportunity to discuss these items, as I believe there are still lots of riddles waiting to be solved.

    First, let me explain what I meant by “the next five Championship races in California for which it was eligible”: Beverly Hills Thanksgiving Day Classic on Dec 3, 1922 and Washington’s Birthday Classic on Feb 25, 1923, Fresno Raisin Day Classic on Apr 26, 1923, Oakland on Nov 13, 1932 and Mines Field Dec 23, 1934 – I started counting from its first appearance, and did not include races to the 122 CID formula. The drivers for those five events were Al Melcher, Ralph Snoddy, Melcher again, Chris Vest and Guy Deulen. But you are right, the car didn’t actually run in the Fresno race, it was out after qualifying with valve trouble, and was also ruled out because it had qualified too slow (14th for a starting field of 12). My info on the Fresno Fair race in September 1922 is that it still had the Duesenberg engine there; I’d be happy if you could point me to sources telling otherwise.

    I agree with most of what you say: there can be no doubt that the picture was taken at Beverly Hills, and it’s possible that the Duesenberg engine went back in for practice, also the #14 Duesey is an older model than #16. However, to me it looks like a 1920 model, while Melcher’s car was a 1919 model, maybe even older. There are a number of pictures of the car at the Revs Digital Library site, but unfortunately I can’t link to it – perhaps you can work them out yourself, if not let me know and I’ll show you what I mean.

    You ask, if #14 is not the Melcher car, what is it? I wish I could answer that question, but I can’t. The only explanation seems to be that this picture was not taken at a race, and that the cars were perhaps painted and numbered especially for a movie. Let’s keep at it! 🙂

  8. I also have a theory about where the Duesenberg engine from this car went, although it has a couple of “timing problems”. It seems to me the engine could have gone east with Ira Vail, then to Charley Ganung (1924), Bill Albertson (1926), Sam Greco (1930) and Os Mason in 1931. I’m happy to discuss this, too.

  9. Michael,

    Further research has established that the No. 14 Duesenberg in the picture with No. 16 is not the Melcher Special. The No. 14 was probably renumbered as part of the production for the movie “Skid Proof” as the beginning of the post pointed out. I agree the No. 14 Duesenberg is an older model than Murphy’s car. I’ll investigate further to see what I can discover.

    Your claim that the Miller-engined Melcher Special appeared in the five consecutive AAA Championship races that you cited has an error in the list. Sources indicate Melcher’s car at the April 1923 Fresno race was another Duesenberg, and not the Melcher Special with the Miller engine.

    Your theory that the Miller engine in the Melcher Special came from Durant-Milton 183-CID Miller also needs further study. Photographic evidence clearly shows the exhaust system in the Melcher to be different than that of the Durant. While the timing may work, perhaps there are other factors in play here.

    I also have the San Luis Obispo newspaper articles on the July 4th 1923 race. They list Al Melcher (No. 14) and Frank Rollins (no number mentioned) both driving Duesenberg straight-8s. There is no mention of either car using a Miller engine. Finally, the articles state that Rollins, not Melcher, had the connection with Sarles.

    Sincerely,

    Jim O’Keefe

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