C. Aubrey Smith and Cricket

C. Aubrey Smith and Cricket

C. Aubrey Smith, star of the
silver screen and captain of the
Hollywood Cicket Club, wears
the team flannels as he walks
his dog in the hills. The C.
Aubrey Smith Cricket Field,
opened at the north end of
Griffith Park in 1933, became
an ever-so-proper outpost of
the British Empire.

Photo: Los Angeles Department
of Recreation and Parks

When C. Aubrey Smith captained the Cambridge University cricket team in 1882-85, little did he know that he'd be playing 50 years later in Griffith Park. Smith, who was known as "Round-the-Corner" for the remarkable curves he could bowl, later became a successful motion picture actor. For a while, when American moviegoers imagined a distinguished English gentleman, they envisioned C. Aubrey Smith.

But he may have been better known locally as captain of the Hollywood Cricket Club. At the prodding of the British Consulate, the Los Angeles Park Commission made some land available near where the Los Angeles Equestrian Center is today.

Five cartloads of English grass seed were brought across the ocean for planting. A $30,000 pavillion was erected. And on May 21, 1933, it was dubbed the C. Aubrey Smith Cricket Field.

For a while it seemed that every British-born actor in Hollywood was showing up in Griffith Park on Sundays to play cricket. This was due in no small part to Smith's polite but insistent recruiting.

Laurence Olivier was once checked into the Chateau Marmont and found a note from Smith: "There will be net practice tomorrow at 4 p.m.. I trust I shall see you there." He showed up wearing cricket boots he'd borrowed from Boris Karloff.

David Niven was another recruit. "When the grand old man asked you to play," Niven recalled, "you played."

By 1936, the club's roster included Karloff (who for a while drove a dusty Ford with "Hollywood Cricket Club" emblazoned on the tire cover), P.G. Wodehouse, Ronald Coleman, Nigel Bruce, George Arliss, Niven--and of course Smith, who remained an active member of the squad well into his 70s, and an occasional player into his 80s.

Although the Hollywood Cricket Club didn't have had the most skilled group of players, it may have been the best-dressed. They turned out in bright blazers and caps that signified their school colors in Britain. Smith was a stickler for proper attire, and was always in his straw boater, snowy white flannels and magenta, mauve and black striped blazer. Legend has it that he even wore his cricket flannels to the club's dances at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

Sundays at the C. Aubrey Smith Cricket Field were a wholesome, leisurely-paced spectacle. Families and friends of the players came prepared to spend the day and lounge under the trees surrounding the field.

It also transformed that corner of Griffith Park into a far-flung outpost of the British Empire. Smith saw to it that the Union Jack flew over the lawn, bagpipers hired by Karloff piped in the new year and people toasted the King.

Writer's note: This article, one of an occasional series, is part of the Griffith Park History Project, an attempt to chronicle the park's long and remarkable life.

What memories do you have of Griffith Park? Suggestions? Questions? Criticisms?

Please call me at Glendale College 240-1000, Ext. 5352 (I have voice mail, so you can leave a message at any time.)

Write to me, Mike Eberts, Griffith Park History Project, Glendale Community College, 1500 N. Verdugo Road, Glendale, CA 91208.

E-mail me at MEberts@glendale.cc.ca.us

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