The Babe, a bordello queen and Rock and Roll’s bad boy – according to a juvenile court judge – all play a role in Jacksonville’s colorful past.
The historic Florida Theatre in Downtown Jacksonville was the site of Rock and Roll king Elvis Presley’s first indoor concert in 1956. And sitting front and center was one of the young performer’s toughest critics. Jacksonville Juvenile Court Judge Marion Gooding had heard of America’s newest music sensation’s hip-gyrating stage moves that made young girls swoon. So, following a stern backstage talking-to, Judge Gooding chaperoned Presley’s entire performance from the front row, lest the now infamous Elvis Pelvis incite moral debauchery among Jacksonville’s impressionable youth. The story hit LIFE Magazine and remains a favorite local memory.
She Ain’t No Lady
You’ve heard of Stephen Crane, novelist, poet and journalist whose Red Badge of Courage garnered international acclaim. But you might not know of Madame Cora Crane aka Cora Taylor aka Cora Howard Stewart, the Jacksonville brothel queen with whom Crane enjoyed a long affair. The two met while Crane waited in Jacksonville for passage to Cuba to cover the Spanish-American War and Cora, proprietor of the Hotel de Dream bordello at the corner of what are now Ashley and Jefferson Streets, would become the writer’s common law wife. The bawdry Ms. Crane’s own life was novel-worthy. Her checkered story includes arms smuggling, a murder case and a stint as a foreign war reporter during an era when women were to be seen, not heard.
Introducing the Babe
Local legend has it that Oliver Hardy left his Georgia home and came to Jacksonville in response to a newspaper ad seeking a “fat boy to play a comedic role.” Hardy had been working in a Milledgeville, Ga. movie house as a projectionist, ticket taker and janitor and was convinced he could make it in front of the cameras. So, he headed to Jacksonville in 1913, at the beginning of the town’s 20-some-year stint as the “Winter Film Capital of the World” and worked with the Lubin, Vim and King Bee studios acting in and sometimes directing films. In 1917, Hardy moved to California where he met fellow comedic actor Stan Laurel. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Blue Angels, the world’s premier flight demonstration team, took flight at Naval Air Station Jacksonville on the city’s Westside. At the end of World War II, Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, Chief of Naval Operations, ordered the formation of a flight demonstration team to boost morale among sailors and to educate the public about naval aviation. The team debuted in June 1946 flying the Grumman F6F Hellcat. Just two months later, the Blue Angels would transition to the Grumman F8F Bearcat and introduce the famous diamond formation that still thrills audiences today.
At the Feet of Hollywood
Late Jacksonville shoe shop owner Joseph LaRose, known as the father of the modern shoe, kept America’s leading ladies in the most fashionable heels, flats and wedges of his own designs. For nearly five decades, he created and sold custom shoes and handbags to the likes of screen sirens Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and Joan Crawford, as well as famed advice columnist Abigail Van Buren. LaRose’s fashions still make cameo appearances in modern films. And a few collectors still sell his wares. But, in keeping with their creators’ ideals, they don’t come cheap. LaRose never held a sale, believing that “shoes are like theatre” and his were worth every full-price penny.