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George Bernard Shaw’s Day at the Beach 

George Bernard Shaw 1936. California-ized by Urs Baur

Irish playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw dropped out of the sky in Malibu on March 28, 1933. It was an unusual beach trip. The celebrated Nobel Laureate had expressed absolutely no desire to visit Los Angeles, but there he was, winging his way to a star-studded luncheon at MGM studios, when things went wrong.

Shaw and his wife Charlotte had spent the weekend at Hearst Castle, guests of media magnate William Randall Hearst. They were flying from San Simeon to Cloverfield—the Santa Monica Airport—in a private aircraft when they flew into bad weather. Ray Crawford, the pilot, received radio instructions redirecting him to Van Nuys Airport, but dense fog made it impossible to safely cross the Santa Monica Mountains.

As the fog closed in around the small plane, Crawford brought the craft in for a landing on the only strip of unobstructed land he could find. The San Bernardino Sun has the details:

“With breakers rolling on the right, and the traffic on the Roosevelt highway a menace on the left, the pilot went through some quick and sensational maneuvering to sideslip the plane down to its forced landing,” the article states. Crawford “zoomed down,” and made ‘a three-point landing’ on a 25-foot wide strip of sand near Las Flores Beach. No one was injured, and rescue was soon at hand, in the form of a good Samaritan driving an elderly Model T. 

“Down the highway they went, while luxurious motor vehicles from the studios hunted for the party,” The Sun reported.

The Model T deposited Shaw and his wife in Santa Monica, where they were picked up by one of those “luxurious motor vehicles” from MGM Studios.

Shaw was 77 and no doubt weary by the time he reached the studio. He managed to hold onto his temper while he was barraged by journalists, although he was heard to say that their questions were idiotic. 

”I didn’t know what was happening when I saw the ocean swooping up at us,” Shaw told the reporters. “I thought the pilot was going after a fish.” 

“I didn’t land, it was the pilot who landed. If it had been me,” he said, 

“I probably would have been up in the air yet.”

“What do you think of our weather?” Charles Chaplin is said to have asked Shaw.

”Well, about 5,000 feet up, I did get a glimpse of sunshine for about two minutes,” was the response.

Shaw and his wife ate their lunch and toured the studio without additional mishaps. They were safely delivered to their ocean liner, the Empress of Britain, and left the next day.

That was George Bernard Shaw’s day at the beach in Malibu. If this was Britain, there might be a plaque: On March 28, 1933, George Bernard Shaw’s aircraft crashed here.” Because this is Hollywood, there’s a film in development, reportedly starring Derek Jacobi as Shaw, and entitled Mr. Shaw Goes to Hollywood. For Shaw himself, that day, plane crash and all, was just a curious footnote in a long and extraordinary life.

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