Al D Blake

Al D. Blake – the silent film actor who became a spy

Posted on Posted in Bizarre Personalities
Al D. Blake, posing with a female mannequin on Hollywood Boulevard in 1938.
 Alva Davis Blake (aka Al D. Blake) is a man of mystery. He was born in Manitou, Colorado on March 31, 1887. His father ran restaurants and hotels while his mother took care of the house. Young Al had two older brothers.

The family moved from Colorado to New York before moving to Los Angeles in the early 1900s. Al eventually joined the U.S. Navy as a yeoman before entering the motion picture business as an actor in 1913.

He eventually became an assistant superintendent of the Selig Motion Picture Company. Then in 1915, he and a bank cashier were charged for contributing to the delinquency of a high school student named Isabel L. Keep. After the studio quietly settled the scandal, Blake returned to acting.

He worked as an actor in the advertising business for the Amusement Program Company. When the U.S. entered WWI in 1917, he declared himself ineligible for the draft by claiming that he had a personal disability: a stiff index finger on his right hand.

Blake didn’t serve, and as the 1910s came to a close, his acting roles became fewer. He ended his known screen career by appearing in three classic Charlie Chaplin films: A Dog’s Life (1918), Shoulder Arms (1918), and Sunnyside (1919).

 

4610 Clinton Ave.

Blake either married twice…or he fudged his personal history. Despite the fact that he had claimed that he was married in 1917, records show that he married in 192o — when he was 33. His new wife was a 14-year-old named Edwyna Charlotte Eklund. In 1930, the couple lived at  4610 Clinton Ave.

 

Al D Blake
(Photographer: Herman J. Schultheis/ LAPL 00100688)
The 1930s were not kind to Al D. Blake. He and his wife divorced and Blake ended up moving in with his mother at 160 W 76th St. He continued to seek work as an actor, eventually becoming a human mannequin known as “Keeno, King of the Robots.” One article claimed that he had set a world record by standing motionless for one hour and twenty-seven minutes. He even used a female mannequin in his act, often posing it next to him during his motionless routines. He performed mostly at department stores and state fairs.
160 W 76th Street
 Then in April 1941, he crossed paths with an old Japanese acquaintance of his from the silent film days, Toraichi Kono, 56, who had once worked as a Chaplin‘s chauffeur and trusted employee until Chaplin fired him in 1934. (Note: Other reports claimed the meeting took place in 1940.)
Chaplin Kono
Charles Chaplin and Toraichi Kono
Blake asked Kono for a job lead. After the two men discussed Blake‘s Navy experience, Kono asked if he “would like to make some easy money.” Blake replied that he would, and Kono introduced him to Itaru Tachibana, a lieutenant commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy, who currently lived in California on a visa. At a Japanese restaurant, Blake told Tachibana that he had been dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Navy and that he had no real loyalty to the U.S.A. He also said he had a friend on the USS Pennsylvania, who might provide inside knowledge of the fleet’s movements. Tachibana then offered Blake $5,000 to give him top secret Navy information.
Itaru Tachibana
Itaru Tachibana
Tachinabi sent Blake to Hawaii twice to collect information about the U.S.S. Phoenix, USS Pennsylvania and other naval vessels stationed at Pearl Harbor. At some point,  Blake turned informant to the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), who, in turn, provided him with harmless information to pass along to Tachibani. (NOTE: Blake later claimed that the FBI had provided the falsified information.)  Blake also allegedly turned over all money paid to him by Tachiba to Naval intelligence (NOTE: He later told people that he had lied about being dishonorably discharged, although his WWI draft card states that he had only served one year).
Al Blake Keeno

In June of 1941 (in the months leading up to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor), the FBI raided Tachiba’s house where they found more than a “truckload” of top secret information. G-men arrested Kino, Tachibana and Blake and charged them with “conspiracy to obtain national defense information to be used for the injury of the United States and to the advantage of a foreign power.” After the FBI discovered that Blake worked counter-intelligence for the U.S. Navy, he was released and called a “hero.”  Tachibana  was eventually released, too, after the Japanese Consul paid a $50,000 bail. Kono, who could not afford his $25,000 bail remained in jail.
The FBI eventually dropped charges against Kono and Tachibana. However, Tachibana was deported after federal prosecutors determined that he was not in the United States “to study American language and customs” as his visa proclaimed, but that he was secretly buying oil for the Japanese war machine.

Then came the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December of that year. Kono was immediately picked up and interned in a Japanese camp in Indiana. In 1943, Blake told a California State Senate fact finding committee that he had tried to warn government officials that the Japanese were planning to attack Pearl Harbor. “I brought back fake papers fixed up by the FBI,” he said. “Then I informed a certain government agency that I thought the Japs were going to attack Pearl Harbor. I was told I was crazy. The man I spoke to said it would be like gangsters attacking a police station.”

Blake’s role as a “spy” didn’t resurrect his failing acting career. In 1942, he listed himself as unemployed until Paramount hired him to coach Barbara Britton as a live mannequin in a store window in Young and Willing (1943). Although it’s not clear what Blake did in the 1950s, he frequently visited the backroom of Hody’s restaurant on the corner of Hollywood and Vine to mix and mingle with other veteran entertainers. By 1960, he was part of the old-timers “Comedy Club.” He also told people that he was the oldest living silent movie actor.

Al D. Blake died on November 6, 1966 at the age of 79.

 

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