In the first week of April 1926 a Seal Beach resident also known as the Cheyenne Chief Mad Wolf presided at a ceremony where A.R. Glancy, president of the Oakland Motor Company, was made an honorary Algonquin chief for naming a motorcar after the great Chief Pontiac.
A photo and a newspaper article ran in hundreds of newspapers across the country.
Left unsaid was that Chief Mad Wolf was in fact Wayne Abbott, who came to Seal Beach in 1916 to help set up the Joy Zone amusement area. Abbott’s show biz career went back to the early 1890s, when he played the part of Chief Mad Wolf in a Buffalo Bill-style Wild West Show in the Rocky Mountain area.
Abbott later developed an act where he ascended in a tethered hot air balloon, sometimes returning to Earth by sliding down a cable, but more often via parachute leaps. From 1905 to 1920 he broke numerous world’s records for highest parachute jumps.
In addition to his death-defying parachute jumps (and numerous planted newspaper articles detailing his “near-death” accidents), Abbott began managing fireworks shows at the parks where he worked.
He met Frank Burt, a top theatrical producer, when the latter took over Denver’s Lakeside Park, one of the nation’s biggest amusement parks.
Abbott followed Burt when the latter ran the 1915 San Francisco World’s Fair and then came with him to Seal Beach in early 1916. In addition to doing his own balloon/parachute act, Abbott managed the fireworks and scintillators — which often were used to spotlight him and other parachutists and aviators during their night-time performances.
Sometimes they spotlighted Wayne’s son Harry as the latter rode his motorcycle on the roller coaster tracks or sometimes down the rail of the pier. As a consummate old-time showman Abbott of course planted all these stories (and much more) in area papers.
No near death accident was overlooked.
He even once pushed a “sea serpent sighting” yarn for a while.
In 1917 Wayne and he went up with pilot Clarence “Demon” Priestly and, over the beaches of the Joy Zone, he jumped out of the latter’s plane at almost 9,000 feet to set “a new world’s record” parachute jump. (It really wasn’t, but nobody corrected him on it.)
By 1918, with the Joy Zone falling on tough times, Abbott sought out additional work.
He reportedly invented, patented and certainly promoted new mortars and grenades to be used by the Army during World War I.
But mainly he kept to what he knew best—he organized “barnstorming airplane” shows, including some for the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce.
With his son, Harry Abbott, they did a dual parachute jump for another world’s record height. Wayne also was a wing-walker with Earl Daugherty, one of Seal Beach’s very first pilots, but associated with Long Beach (he started the airport that now bears his name.)
In 1922 Abbott and his son Harry were part of Abbott’s Flying Demons which played shows up and down the coast until Harry was hired to start and train the Chinese Nationalist Air Force for Dr. Sun Yat-Sen. (Harry would return broke a few years later and become a Hollywood movie stunt pilot for a few years, but that’s another story.) After Harry left, an undaunted Wayne dusted off his old Chief Mad Wolf costume from his Wild West Show days and got hired to be an Indian in silent Hollywood westerns. This proved to be lucrative work.
So in April 1926, he was hired to portray the old Algonquin Indian Chief Mad Wolf who would make Oakland Automobile President A.R. Glancy an honorary Algonquin and present him with the gift of the peace pipe to publicize the brand new Pontiac line of cars. (Never mind that Mad Wolf was supposed to be a Cheyenne—a totally different tribe from the Algonquins.)
Because of the nationwide publicity Abbott was soon hired to represent and promote Pontiac at shows and schools across the nation. This ended his residency in Seal Beach. Every year he would receive a brand new Pontiac in which he drove from town to town. He unfortunately died in a car crash while driving to Salt Lake City in 1933.
But much of what is remembered about Seal Beach’s Joy Zone Days was due in large part to the show biz acumen of Wayne Abbott.
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Larry Strawther is the author of “Seal Beach: A Brief History” You can contact him (even to yell at him and tell him how many things he got wrong) at firstname.lastname@example.org.