As a society, we tend to either revere or demonize our celebrities, politicians, sports figures, philanthropists, and other public figures. Ignoring the grey areas demanded by the human condition, we determine these people be good or bad, acceptable or unacceptable, hero or villain. Knowing little about who they are in private, we accept at their often carefully constructed public personas and, based on those, make assumptions about who they really are.
Many idealize philanthropists, for example. But it turns out “Colonel” Griffith J. Griffith who bequeathed Griffith Park to Los Angeles wasn’t such a nice guy after all. Unless shooting your wife in the face at point-blank range is your idea of a hero. Unfortunately for Griffith, after his wife plummeted four stories from the penthouse of Santa Monica’s Arcadia Hotel, she bounced off of an awning and miraculously survived.
With a crater where her eye had been, she was horribly disfigured. Poor Tina Griffith was more than a little upset, and with the help of her parents and years of litigation, finally managed to send Griffith J. Griffith to San Quentin for two years. Not much of a penalty, but at least the courts were kind enough to grant her a divorce from Colonel Griffith who was only a colonel in his own imagination.
But after being “an exemplary prisoner,” Griffith was released in 1906 only to find his public image required a makeover. It was time for the “Colonel” to add to his legacy, Griffith Park, which he’d bequeathed to Los Angeles before shooting his wife.
To Griffith Griffith’s chagrin, his proposed donation of funds for the Greek Theater and an Observatory were rejected by the Los Angeles Parks Department. More than a few Angelinos wished to keep him at arm’s length. But it turns out the donations were posthumously accepted after “Colonel” Griffith died in 1919 of liver disease. Even in 1919, money talked.
His Greek Theater was completed in 1929 and the iconic Griffith Observatory was finished in 1935.
And in 1996, his crimes were forgotten, a statue at Griffith Park was erected to honor him.