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DVD Review: A History Of The S.S. CATALINA Part 1, 1924-1975

CATALINA docked at Avalon, July, 1975, photo by Gloria Dake

CATALINA docked at Avalon, July, 1975, photo by Shawn J. Dake

DVD Review

A History Of The S.S. CATALINA

Part 1, 1924 – 1975

By  Shawn J. Dake

Among those who love ships and the sea it is not unusual to form a deep connection to one particular fleet or vessel. David Engholm is such a man; one who is passionate about a ship that was affectionately nicknamed “The Great White Steamer” but was best known by her true name, s.s. CATALINA. For 51 years, with only a break for the second World War, this ship was a fixture in the harbor of Los Angeles and the lovely port of Avalon, on Southern California’s island resort of Santa Catalina, just twenty-some miles across the sea.

S.S. CATALINA 1993

S.S. CATALINA 1993

DVD Cover

DVD Cover

For Mr. Engholm, the CATALINA has literally been a lifelong commitment. He sailed on the steamer before his first birthday, and continued to make many subsequent trips to the Island. Family connections go back even farther; His grandmother rode on the CATALINA in 1925 when the ship itself was only a year old. No one is better qualified to document the long career of this famous vessel and only David Engholm could have assembled this much material on this one ship. In Part One of what will become a two-disc set, he thoroughly covers the active career of the steamship from its launch by William Wrigley in the roaring twenties, through the depression years and Army service during World War II, through the post-war decades on up to the final season which ended in September, 1975. This DVD is obviously a labor of love for David Engholm. What it lacks in polish it makes up for with heart and a comprehensive assemblage of rare film footage that can be found nowhere else.

CATALINA in World War II as the Army Transport FS99

CATALINA in World War II as the Army Transport FS99

Rather than simply presenting a dry history, the video includes fantastic vintage photographs and film clips from the 1920’s, giving a good flavor of Catalina Island as well as the ship. Early sea planes and the later Grumman Goose flying boats are seen along with the “Miss Catalina” speedboats which were capable of moving at 60 knots, zipping around the arriving steamship, no doubt causing the captain untold consternation. At the steamer pier in Avalon the local population would turn out to greet the ship and boys would dive for coins tossed from the decks. Actor Gregory Harrison was among those boys and is one of many subjects interviewed that had a personal connection to the steamer. There are film clips of celebrities who made the crossing and excerpts from feature films that were made onboard. As a rock and roll music fan, a highlight for me was a scene from the 1967-teen movie “Catalina Caper” showing Little Richard wearing a gold lame suit, descending the staircase to the bow singing “At The Party” while go-go-girls gyrate among the swingin’ passengers.

SS CATALINA

SS CATALINA

Although he now resides in Coos Bay, Oregon, I recently had the opportunity to sit down with David Engholm during a return visit to Southern California which included stops in both Avalon and Ensenada, Mexico; two locations at the heart of the s.s. CATALINA story. For more than two hours we essentially interviewed each other, talking about the role this ship has played in both of our lives and how the DVD came about. (The upcoming Part Two of this DVD will include video of some of that conversation focused on the retirement years and preservation efforts to save the ship). Here are a few of the responses:

Aerial view SS CATALINA

Aerial view SS CATALINA

Q: What did you hope to accomplish and what do you want people to take away from viewing these DVDs?

A: Well, it’s sharing the history of the ship for the 25 million passengers that rode her. It’s to keep that history alive. My family has ties to the island going back to the early 1900’s. My grandmother rode the CATALINA in 1925. The early film footage was shot by my grandfather and my late uncle Jay Ware narrated those scenes.

Q: How long did it take to produce the video?

A: It took a year to put it together. For the next one, Part Two, we have it all together and it should go quicker. Part Two covers 1975 until July 2011. People don’t realize it, but that’s when the last pieces of the steamer were removed from Ensenada harbor. We’ll do some recaps to start it off, with additional interviews. For example, we just did an interview with one of the wipers who was on for the last three seasons. He just happened to be the next door neighbor of Captain Lloyd Fredgren. {Today} all of the Captains are gone. All the Engineers are gone. At least people can get a feel of what it was like through these interviews.

Q: Did you have a collaborator on this project, or was it simply your own vision?

A: I pulled it together and Gordon Young made it happen. {He is the editor with a professional background in broadcasting.} We picked Wednesdays and Saturdays to work on the videos starting at 8 o’clock in the morning.

Q: You have incorporated important artifacts from the s.s. CATALINA into your home?

A: It came to me when they started scrapping her. What I really wanted was to save the whole ship. It was better to save what I could. What else could I do? When people come over I can share that with them.

David Engholm still invites people to stop in and see his virtual museum of the “Great White Steamer” if they are passing through Oregon. In the meantime, this DVD and its sequel will take you aboard the ship and back in time for a trip to Catalina Island during the heyday of steamship travel. To order a copy, please contact:

Gordon Young, 135 S. Wall Street, Coos Bay, Oregon 97420.   Telephone: (541) 888-3460   or Email: gordonly@frontier.com (this is a corrected email address) Cost is US$19.99

DVD insert

DVD insert

S.S. CATALINA 1993

S.S. CATALINA 1993

 

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