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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Friend of Paul Percy DeGaston

I got the call yesterday afternoon. Man said that he was from Brawley and by his worn voice I could tell he was past the eighty mark. Wanted to talk about Paul DeGaston. I was busy yesterday and said I had to call him back. He called again. Rather than argue I grabbed a few pieces of paper and tried to take some notes as he talked. He talked fast.

He had first met DeGaston as a handyman in La Jolla in 1950. Right around fifty, he thought. Paul and his wife Violet had a photographic gallery down there on Prospect. He had done some odd jobs for the photographer and was intrigued by photography.

He says DeGaston and his wife lived at 1121 Torrey Pines Rd. Owned the place but lived in the little house in the back and rented out the main place. Eventually sold it for about 29k, real money back then in 1956. The caller wasn't exactly sure where DeGaston ended up after that, he thought a 1000 Palms in Riverside County and then eventually they purchased a house in Idyllwild on 10 acres with a cabin.

Anyway eventually the man became Paul's apprentice and did gardening for him. Said that Paul and Violet got along real well.

He told me that De Gaston's real last name was actually Frazier. Said that the old man told him that he was originally from Missouri. As a teenager he went to New York and apprenticed with a famous photographer, he doesn't remember the name after all of these years.

He took the name DeGaston when he became a photographer, thought it made him sound french and distinguished. He had a huge negative file when he retired and sold it off. DeGaston told him that he had made a lot of money in Shanghai. Left before the japs took over. There were a lot of rich americans there in those days ripe for the plucking. He left Shanghai for Honolulu in the thirties when things got a little too hot.

He said that Paul DeGaston was a revolutionary photographer. He used a three part die transfer process that combined three separate red, blue and yellow filters and printed them on a gel matrix in cyan, magenta, yellow and key black. He used a gigantic large format camera and set up his shots with a revolutionary three light system with a top light, a light at a 45 degree angle and a right straight light. He remembers DeGaston walking around and around the studio with the third light, trying to find the sweet spot to illuminate his subject.

Said he never kept a photo of Paul, doesn't have one, kind of odd not to be able to find a photographer's picture.

That's about all we got on the phone yesterday. Sent this email too:

 ... when Paul F. DeGaston retired,(around 1957) he and Violet bought a place in Thousand Palms, as a winter home. They kept Violet's house in the town of Idylwild for a summer home. They sold their cabin and 10 acres there (Idylwild) as well as their home on Torrey Pines Road in La Jolla. A friend and neighbor both in homes and studios  in La Jolla was the artist Carolus Verhaeren . You should Google him for a tragic tale.
 When I knew Paul, he no longer did etching or out-of-studio photography. There is a National Geographic article about Shanghai (1938 or earlier) of which all the photography was done by Paul DeGaston - very good, but the text was not by him. I long ago read Paul's copy of this article, contrasting the luxurious life of the wealthy foreign Shanghai dwellers with the dismal conditions for the impoverished locals.Excellent photography.
 Tonight we discovered the website for Gene Dougherty at  gene@BrightHorseArts.com and
noted a considerable resemblance of Mr. Dougherty to the Paul DeGaston I knew in LaJolla in the early and mid-fifties. Somewhere it was mentioned that he died in Riverside. This is possible as both Idylwild and Thousand Palms are in Riverside County and were quite rural in the 50's, perhaps no hospitals at the time. Please let me know any new developments. J

So we now have yet another new last name for Paul Percy, Frazier, and an additional place of birth, Missouri. I asked him about any anomalies in Paul's character and he spoke the world of him, no blemishes. Verhaeren was a neighbor, committed suicide in a phone booth, distraught over a woman, one of the people I sell in my gallery. Once again, two Paul DeGaston's married to a woman named Violet, both with multiple names, both dissemblers, both philanderers, both once lived in China, both artists of some merit, both with rather questionable pasts.

Keep trying to button this story up but it keeps coming. Like any good whodunnit, just when you think that things will start to clear up, you get thrown a new left hook or two.


Anonymous said...

.....Hey Bob. The stories surrounding my late grandfather's life are only getting better I think. I do see similarites in my first cousin Gene's(Eugene Gallen Daugherty Jr.) features that seem similar to our maternal grandfather's features, aswell his father, my late uncle Doc(Eugene Gallen Daugherty Sr.). In some ways my younger half twin brothers Dana and Paul also look similar to our grandfather. I would be more inclined to say a coincidence though. I looked through all the photos connected with your original article, and do see uncanny similarities to what I know of my grandfather, and his wife Violet, and the places they lived, and the photography and studio. It is at times hard to remember that the outlying areas to Los Angeles were ever rural and or undeveloped areas ever, though I do. I remember when our grandmother Leona G. Densmore(Lareno)Degaston Phillips took us to Disneyland in 56, and how it was pretty much still surrounded by orange groves and farms. She by then was married to our step-grandfather, former movie star Eddie N. Phillips, and they both were working for Disney at Buena Vista Studios. Our grandmother had eloped at 16 with Degaston(abt. 1910), and soon had learned photography before they split, and by 1920 had her own Portrait Photography Studio in San Fernando Valley. She raised my mother Barbara Louise Degaston, and auntie Gloria Leona Degaston, by her trade as a photographer, allowing the 2 daughters to graduate from South Pasadena High, and go forward from there. When I was 16 and helping my grandmother clean out her Woodland Hills home after the accidental death of my step-grandfather, as she wasdown sizing and moving closer to work at Universal Studios in Studio City, I found among dozens of boxes of old photographic negatives and still photographs, a box of negatives and photographs that included a nude calendar girl shot of my then teen-aged grandmother that when I asked he rabout it she said my grandfather paul Degaston had taken the photo as he like sexy young women. When I had asked her why she and my grandfather had split up, she answered that he was "harming my girls, and I had to make him go", She never said another thing about the man, and said something like "let sleeping dogs lay down". My mother ha dmany problems that truly had seemed mystifying until I later studied psychology, and dealt with many years of people and therapy, and came to the probable conclusion that she had been injured by her father Paul Percy Degaston. Anyway, life and the stories are long and bearly coherent, and most of my troubled family now gone. It is probably only my own obsession with all history, history of war, and my family history and genealogy, that I continue trudging on. If you should decide to write a book about Degaston, I would be interested in collaborating or assisting you in anyway possible. You take care sir. Sincerely, Erik Johnson near Reno Nevada.....

Blue Heron said...

Erik, I had heard similar stories from another family member or two but didn't think it was my place to bring them up. Thank you for sharing this troubling chapter in your family history. I think that it will help people understand the dark side that both men who shared the Degaston name possessed.

I need to see a photo of your grandfather so that I can put some of my own doubts to bed. I really appreciate your help. Who knows, maybe I will write a book one day, with help hopefully from both families.

Anonymous said...

Hey Robert, you trying to pull a fast one on your readers?
Next thing you'll be telling us is that the name on Obama's birth certificate actually is Paul DeGaston.
This story rings of a twilight zone cheap novel about a petty illusionist that scams his audience.....