Sebastiani birthday bash recalls earlier event

(Editor’s note: When the Sebastiani Theatre kicks off its yearlong, 80th anniversary celebration with a spectacular variety show April 19, it may remind old-timers of another Sebastiani celebration that took place on March 22, 1941. It was, as former Index-Tribune managing editor John Lynch wrote years ago, “a day the people of Sonoma Valley never forgot.” What follows is John Lynch’s account of that event. Lynch died in 1999.)

On March 22, 1941, the cast from the just-released movie “The Sea Wolf,” including Edward G. Robinson and John Garfield, came to Sonoma Valley and were entertained in a gala celebration.

Also with the group from Hollywood was a handsome actor named Ronald Reagan, just starting to get roles in films. Little did anyone know that some years later his real-life role would be to serve as California’s governor, and later, President of the United States.

The occasion was the premiere of the movie, based on the popular novel by Jack London, at Sebastiani Theatre. The premiere crowned a full day of parties and picnicking at the London Ranch in Glen Ellen and at the beautiful estate of Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Awl (she was the former Alma Spreckels) in Sobre Vista.

The movie stars steamed into San Francisco Bay on the luxurious ocean liner America from Los Angeles. During the voyage, the stars had witnessed an onboard premiere showing of “The Sea Wolf.” They were met by Charmian London, widow of the late author, and the author’s nephew Irving Shepard, and his wife, Mildred.

From there, they boarded Greyhound buses and headed for Sonoma Valley and the picturesque London Ranch in Glen Ellen. An account of their arrival here, in the March 28, 1941, edition of the Index-Tribune read: “When they turned up the hill road to the ranch and saw the vistas and the scenes so well remembered from Jack’s book, “The Valley of the Moon,” they were more than ever enthusiastic and so expressed themselves.”

A tremendous welcome was given the stars who casually and enthusiastically proceeded to hobnob with journalists and local citizens.

The Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce put on a splendid barbecue, headed by volunteer chefs Oscar Larson and Bill Locarnini, at the London Ranch, and the choicest wines of Sonoma Valley were freely poured.

Members of the Little Fiesta group were in costume and provided musical entertainment. Among the local musicians who played and sang for the stars were Clara Carbonaro, Edward Milkie, Morris Solen, Eolen Foster, June Leveroni, Bette Garrison, William Martinson, Dan Ruggles, Vernon Milligan, Jr. and Carl Dresel.

Following the barbecue, the film stars and other guests drove to the Spreckels estate in Sobre Vista and were lavishly entertained at a reception at the Sea Island house on the grounds. There, according to the I-T account, “swimming, warm sunshine and generous hospitality delighted them.”

Promptly at 3 p.m., the stars to appear at the Sea Wolf premiere left the Awl place and arrived shortly thereafter at the Sebastiani Theatre. A huge crowd was waiting, and the throng of Sonomans cheered and applauded loudly as the stars made their way to the stage.

In the party of celebrities were Robinson, Garfield, Reagan, Jane Wyman, Rita Hayworth, Hobart Bosworth, Priscilla and Rosemary Lane, Mary Astor, Charles Ruggles, Ralph Bellamy, Ruth Hussey and Donald Crisp.

Following the personal appearances and introductions of notables, the party returned to Sobre Vista. Later, all left for Oakland, where they boarded specially chartered planes for Hollywood.