Alphonzo E. Bell, Jr.
|A.K.A.||Alphonzo E. Jr. Bell|
|From||United States of America|
|Birth||19 September 1914, Los Angeles|
|Death||25 April 2004, Santa Monica (aged 89 years)|
Alphonzo "Al" Bell, Jr. (September 19, 1914 – April 25, 2004) was an eight-term United States Representative from California, who represented Los Angeles, California's influential Westside.
Family background and early life
Al Bell, as he was known to his friends, was a scion of the pioneering ranching, oil, and real estate development family that gave its name to the Southern California communities of Bell, Bell Gardens, and Bel-Air. His father, Alphonzo Bell, Sr., used oil company profits to develop upscale Westside communities, including parts of Westwood, Beverly Hills, Pacific Palisades, and Bel-Air.
The younger Bell grew up on his father's estate and ranch just north of Los Angeles, a vast and sprawling acreage encompassing the areas that are now known as Bel Air and Pacific Palisades. Numbering among his closest childhood friends and frequent horseback riding companions was Will Rogers, Jr., whose famous father owned a large ranch just north of the Bell's. Bell began his education at the Webb School of California in the early 1930s. He went on to earn a degree in political science from Occidental College in 1938, and after serving in the Army Air Force during World War II (from 1942 to 1945), he joined the family oil business and served as company president from 1947 until 1959. Also a rancher and cattleman, Bell sold the oil company in 1975.
Political career and public service
California Republican Party
Bell first entered politics in the mid-1950s, holding several Republican Party positions. He served as chairman of the Republican Central Committee of Los Angeles County, chairman of the Republican State Central Committee of California, and as a member of the Republican National Committee.
Although Bell's political idol, and his original inspiration to enter public service, had been President Franklin Roosevelt, he switched from having been in Young Democrats while a college student to later registering as a Republican, and actively supported General Dwight D. Eisenhower for President in 1952.
Bell served as chairman of the Republican State Central Committee of California from 1956 to 1959, and as a member of the Republican National Committee from 1956 to 1959.
United States Congress
In 1960, Bell was elected as a Republican to the Eighty-seventh Congress, and won re-election to the seven succeeding Congresses, serving from January 3, 1961 - January 3, 1977.
While in Congres, Bell represented a vast Congressional District — the 28th and, after redistricting, the 27th — running along the California coast from Malibu to the Palos Verdes Peninsula and encompassing all or part of Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, Bel-Air and West L.A. Then considered a Republican stronghold, the district nevertheless had only 40% to 49% GOP voter registration, making bipartisan support for a candidate for office essential.
In Congress, Bell became known as tending toward conservative positions on foreign policy and defense — he backed the Vietnam War through three presidential administrations — but often took more moderate to liberal positions on domestic issues, including open housing laws and other civil rights legislation, as well as on environmental and preservation issues, and on education policy and reform.
Some called Congressman Al Bell a political conservative, others a moderate. A Ralph Nader study on Bell's voting record in 1972 said: "It's hard to say exactly what he is. He leans in many areas, especially those concerning economic regulation, toward the conservatives. When it comes to the people issues, especially those concerning the downtrodden in American society, Bell is a liberal."
The congressman once described himself as "middle-ground" and said he voted according to principle and on an issue's merits, rather than political expediency. "A moderate," he told a Los Angeles Times columnist in 1970, "has to study harder. The extremist at either end doesn't have to do most of the work or most of the thinking -- he knows what he's for and against beforehand. A moderate has to decide each question on its own merits."
As a ranking member of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics, and on the Committee on Education and Labor, he earned bipartisan approval for his work on such diverse bills as the Older Americans Act, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968, as well as laws improving labor standards, workers' safety, veterans' benefits and environmental protection and ecosystem and wildlife preservation programs.
Bell also supported every major piece of Civil Rights legislation considered in the Congress during his tenure, often working at odds with his own party, which frequently opposed these bills, and became a tireless advocate early on for the legislation which eventually became the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As the bill needed substantial bipartisan support from Republicans to gain approval to counteract the opposition of Southern Democrats, Bell contributed significantly to passage of the Civil Rights Act in the House by helping to round up the necessary Republican votes. In this effort, he worked closely with and became close personal friends with Clarence Mitchell, Jr. of the NAACP. He and Mitchell walked side by side during the March on Washington with Martin Luther King and both were honored by being seated behind the podium in front of the Lincoln Memorial as King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963.
Writing later about passage of the historic 1964 legislation, Bell said: "I am proud to have supported the Civil Rights Act from the first. It was a bill that embraced the goal of equal opportunity for all people. A coalition of lawmakers forged a consensus on the meaning of justice and equality in American life. This was a consensus based on the compelling principle of nondiscrimination for all individuals, no matter what their race, religion ethnicity, or sex.
Bell was particularly known at home in Los Angeles for his various environmental initiatives — such as his introduction of "Save the Whales" legislation in 1975; his successful efforts to open the Department of Defense owned San Onofre Beach to the public; and his leadership role in founding the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. He also worked many years in Congress in the early stages of efforts to federalize and preserve what were later enacted and established by Congressional legislation as the Santa Monica Mountains Nat'l. Recreation Area and the Channel Islands National Park in California.
Popularity at home in California
Wealthy, easy-going, friendly, handsome and mild-mannered, Bell had no trouble appealing to voters in both parties, and won his first primary race for Congress by a margin of 50% to 12% over his opponent. He consistently enjoyed a wide spectrum of diverse political endorsements in elections, having been, for example, endorsed in his initial run for Congress by both former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and by future California Governor and President Ronald Reagan, who, even as recently as 1960, was a nominal Democrat, and served as Chairman of a committee he organized as "Democrats for Al Bell". Late in his political career, during his run for the U.S. Senate in 1976, Bell was endorsed by both Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, and by well-known actor/director John Wayne.
In 1964, he won reelection with the largest margin of any Republican congressman that year, and in 1966 he won by the largest plurality of any congressman of either party. He was so well liked that one of his campaign aides once complained about the problems of raising Bell's visibility outside his own district, saying: "As a political figure without a breath of scandal, he never got much in the newspapers."
Personal life and family
In 1940, Bell married Elizabeth Jane Helms, daughter of Paul Hoy Helms, American executive in the baking industry, and sports philanthropist. He founded the Helms Bakery in 1931 at Venice and Washington in Los Angeles, and the Helms Athletic Foundation with Bill Schroeder in 1936. Bell and Helms were later divorced.
In 1970, Bell married television/movie actress, and former tennis champion and Wightman Cup winner, Marian McCargo, whom he described in his autobiography as the love of his life. They had met when she was starring in the film, The Undefeated, with his long-time close friend, actor John Wayne.
Former Congressman Bell died of complications of pneumonia in 2004, just eighteen days after the death of his wife Marian from pancreatic cancer.
Once divorced and twice widowed, Bell had one daughter - Fonza, and nine sons - Stephen, Matthew, Phonzo, Robert and Tony Bell; and Rick, Graham, Harry and Billy Moses. His youngest son Tony Bell serves as the Assistant Chief Deputy and spokesman for Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich.