Fred Sexton, Sculptor of John Huston's "Maltese Falcon" Oil Paintings Found
Fred Sexton was recognized as an “important L.A. artist” in the 1930s and 40s prior to sculpting the “Black Bird” for his friend John Huston’s 1941 film, The Maltese Falcon. Sexton and Huston studied art together in LA in the 1920s.
I purchased both of the below pictured Sexton original art works from on-line sellers just within the past month. One in the U.S. and the second modernist work from Europe.
Here is a short bio on Sexton from authors Mark Nelson and Sarah Hudson Bayliss’ blog. They are the authors of, Exquisite Corpse: Surrealism and the Black Dahlia Murder.
A teenage friend of George Hodel’s and John Huston’s, Fred Sexton was an accomplished artist in his day. He was given his debut exhibition by Earl Stendahl in 1935, and he had a major exhibition at the Frank Perls Gallery in 1940. An Arthur Millier column in the Los Angeles Times of May 12, 1940, noted that Edward G. Robinson had “bought and hung among his famous Cezannes, Van Goghs and Renoirs three new paintings … from the brush of Los Angeles artist Fred Sexton.” Another article in the Los Angeles Times of September 5, 1948, noted that Sexton was the ﬁrst California artist asked to join the roster of Associated American Artists Galleries and that his work was in the collections of Edward G. Robinson, John Huston, Paulette Goddard, Ruth Maitland, Alfred Wallenstein, and Mrs. John J. Pike. He designed the statuette of the Maltese falcon for Huston’s 1941 ﬁlm of the same name. Fred Sexton was accused along with two other adults of participating in illegal sex acts the night that George Hodel was alleged to have had intercourse with his daughter Tamar.
Photos of two Fred Sexton oils which I recently purchased showing his two very different styles.
Sexton Modernism painting
Sexton plein-air oil circa 1920s 30s
Mark Nelson was also kind enough to send me a copy of an original program announcing a 1938 Fred Sexton exhibition at the FRED ZEITLIN GALLERY in Los Angeles.
For those not familiar with Fred Zeitlin, he was a Los Angeles, author, poet, and rare book dealer. Nelson and Bayliss reference Jake Zeitlin in their book and with the introduction of the below documents it becomes obvious that Fred Sexton and most certainly George Hodel would have been part of Zeitlin’s “inner circle of L.A. Bohemians” in the 20s and 30s.
Here is a quote from Jake Zeitlin, Impresario of the Printed Word, an obituary written by Jacob L. Chernofsky in October, 1987:
“In 1983, Jake achieved the most significant financial milestone of his career when he sold a collection of 144 illuminated manuscripts ranging from the seventh to the 16th centuries, to the Getty Museum for more than $30 million, believed to be the largest single sale ever made in the rare book world.”
Below is an additional page from GHH’s 1925 Fantasia Magazine which includes a full-page advertisement for “Dawson’s Books Catalogue, 627 So. Grand Ave. downtown Los Angeles.” This could have been the “rare bookstore” referenced by June Hodel where he worked at as a young man? Also note that on the left page GHH is offering a two-hundred dollar prize in various categories “following the publication of the first nine issues.” Unfortunately, the magazine had a short lifespan of only two editions.
What do you plan to do with these paintings?
Good question. I have no plans. They simply presented themselves to me and I decided to “carpe diem” with no specific intent. I haven’t seen Sexton’s work (with the exception of his Maltese Falcon) come up for sale previous to these two oils.
Steve: The article “Bookseller Jake Zeitlin’s Echo Park Days” in the Echo Park Patch includes Jake Zeitlin’s reminiscences of Sadakichi Hartmann, John Huston and an artist friend of Huston called Ben Berlin (also published in Fantasia), described as “a rather peculiar man who fancied himself a reincarnation of Edgar Allen [Poe].” Zeitlin had rare book stores in downtown LA (Hope and 6th) in the late 20s — could GHH have worked at one of these between the newspaper jobs and med school, rather than having his own store? Lloyd Wright designed one of these bookstores. Zeitlin’s papers are collected at UCLA (see Online Archive of California) — but you probably know that already! -LW
LW: Yes, I think that could well be exactly what happened. After dad’s death in the talks with June, she simply said words to the effect that “Your father and Emelia ran a rare bookstore in downtown LA for a short time.” We know Emilia worked at the then brand new L.A. Library in 1925, and I expect that both might have worked at Jake Zeitlin’s bookstore. However, in the 1925 Fantasia edition, GHH placed a full-page advertisement for a Christmas Catalogue from, “Dawson’s Books, 627 So. Grand Ave. downtown Los Angeles.” Dawson’s was also a very popular bookstore dealing in rare books and could have also been the bookstore where George and Emila worked? (See update showing advertisement added to this blog.) We also know from my mother that John Huston wanted to be a painter and I’m sure attended the same classes downtown as his mate, Fred Sexton, and probably hung out with Ben Berlin and others from that clique. Lloyd Wright designed the prototype shell for the Hollywood Bowl, (circa 1925) then immediately afterward designed and built the Sowden House in 1926.
Steve- Thank you for putting forth all this great historical LA information. I live two blocks from Fred Sexton’s amazing old home at 1020 White Knoll Dr in Victor Heights. The back building is rumored to be the very first built on this hill, circa 1877 by Prudent Beaudry to help facilitate his investment in Los Angeles Water District. Unfortunately a developer has snagged up the amazing old property and is trying to raze it for the dreaded plague of a Small Lot Subdivision. We are trying to fight the demolition of this amazingly LA history loaded property. Hopefully City Planning hears our calls tomorrow at City Hall.
Hi Clay- You’re welcome. Thanks for the information on the property. Interesting that the back house was the first on the hill built during Reconstruction period. Good Luck fighting the good fight at City Hall. Consider me in your corner. In my talks with Sexton’s daughter, she mentions dad moving in and living next door to Sexton on White Knoll Dr sometime in the late Thirties or early Forties, but I have no idea where? I know we lived on Valentine St, nearby prior to the move to the Franklin House, but no memory or info on White Knoll? Best, Steve