J. T. McGill Honored as Seattle's Bravest Policeman on January 8, 1933.

  • By Eric Flom
  • Posted 7/21/2002
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 3896

On January 8, 1933, a committee of three names Patrolman J. T. "Tom" McGill as Seattle's bravest policeman of 1932. The honor is part of a movie promotion (co-sponsored by the Seattle Star) for the Spencer Tracy picture Me and My Gal, a police film just finishing a weeklong engagement at the Fox 5th Avenue Theatre. McGill takes top honors from amongst 20 or so of his fellow officers, each of whom had displayed exemplary courage in the line of duty.

Deserving Honor, Somewhat Dubious Purpose

Although Patrolman McGill and his fellow officers were certainly deserving of their nominations, the award probably had less to do with their heroism and more to do with promoting the Spencer Tracy film Me and My Gal, which opened a weeklong engagement at the Fox 5th Avenue on December 30, 1932. Me and My Gal cast Tracy as a cop who earns a $10,000 reward for arresting a notorious gangster. With nest egg in hand, he then gleefully proposes to his waitress girlfriend, played by Joan Bennett. Unfortunately, Tracy's good fortune turns sour when he discovers that Bennett's sister was dating the mobster he helped put away, plunging him into a gangland revenge plot and putting his relationship with Bennett in jeopardy.

Top prize in the Seattle Star's heroism contest was an engraved silver cup that was reportedly donated for the event by Spencer Tracy himself. (In all likelihood the real origin of the cup was the publicity department at Fox Studios, which was seeking to promote the up-and-coming young Tracy, who in 1933 was relatively new to films and still without a major hit.) While the contest was underway, the cup spent a week in the display window of Weisfield & Goldberg's jewelry store.

All in a Day's Work

As many as 20 policemen, some nominated by fellow officers, vied for the top prize in the Star's contest. Chief Norton, who headed Seattle's police department at the time, was not one of them. Nonetheless, he made his own case for the award. "Personally, I think I should get that cup," he told the Star. "I think I performed the bravest act during 1932. I came home late one night, and told my wife the truth" ("Scafford Nominated").

Chief Norton's heroism aside, each of the officers nominated had found themselves in extraordinary circumstances, in the midst of which they utilized their resourcefulness and professionalism to save the day. On May 2, 1932, for instance, Detective Lieutenant Marshall Scrafford and his partner responded to a call at 8th Avenue and Pike Street, only to find themselves staring at the wrong end of a handgun. A quick thinking Scafford drew his own pistol and fired as the man, Tom Dillon, dashed away. Dillon was eventually apprehended after Scafford jumped on the running board of his getaway car, shoving his gun to Dillon's temple and forcing him to surrender. Dillon -- a known criminal wanted for a string of robberies in the Seattle area -- eventually received a 5-10 year sentence in the Walla Walla State Prison.

Another officer nominated was Gordon Jensen. Jensen was off-duty and returning from a pick-up football game on Thanksgiving Day when he observed Marcelino Julian (reported at the time as Julian Marcelino) running through the streets of South Seattle, razor in hand, slashing at pedestrians. Jensen chased the man, tackled him, and narrowly missed getting slashed himself. Julian wriggled free, however, and cut several other people before Jensen finally managed to take him down for good. All told, six people died and many others were injured as a result of Julian's unexplained rampage, which would have gone on much longer had Gordon Jensen not intervened.

These were only two of the nominees. Although the Star did not identify every officer under consideration, the group also included William Reynolds, C. E. Neuser, V. Webb, and C. E. Falling.

The Exploits of J. T. McGill

It was the heroism of Patrolman J. T. McGill, however, that took top honors in the Seattle Star's contest. Just two weeks prior to the judging, McGill and his partner, B. E. Thomas, responded to an emergency call at 617 Weller Street to find Harry Nogaki barricaded in his apartment. Although it is not clear whether Nogaki had done anything wrong, he refused to come out when requested, leaving McGill and Thomas little choice but to storm the room.

The two officers drew their revolvers and, with McGill in the lead, smashed the door to Nogaki's apartment, crumbling to the floor. It was only then that they discovered the Japanese man was armed with his own pistol. McGill could have discharged his weapon immediately, but choose instead to lunge for Nogaki, who managed to get a shot off that clipped McGill's pant leg. After a brief scuffle, Officer McGill clubbed Nogaki several times with his service revolver, knocking him unconscious.

The Deciding Factor

It was the fact that McGill declined to shoot that impressed judges B. N. Hutchison, S. L. Savidge, and Dr. Frank Clancy. "He grappled with Nogaki instead of killing him, and knocked him out with the butt of his pistol," they stated following the award ceremony. "We believe that this episode is a bit above the others we have looked into" ("Judges Select McGill").

Chief Norton was on hand for the ceremony, held at the Fox 5th Avenue Theatre on January 8, 1933, where Me and My Gal had just wrapped its Seattle run. Norton agreed that McGill made for an excellent choice, but he was quick to praise the other men of his department. "The police work on the principle that there is no difference in individual courage or daring of the officers ... They are brave men, every one of them. The difference lies in the fact that many do not get the opportunity -- the breaks -- to display their prowess; and also in the circumstances of each individual case. I am proud of [J. T.] McGill, and I am proud of all the others too" ("Judges Select McGill").

A Family Heirloom

The silver cup given to J. T. McGill in 1933 by the Seattle Star (via the Fox Studios and Spencer Tracy) appears to have remained a family heirloom until 2002, when it surfaced at a South Seattle estate sale. Patricia Quanbeck, who purchased the cup, believes it had most recently been in the possession of Officer McGill's daughter-in-law. Ironically, for an item that dates from very early in Spencer Tracy's screen career, the fact that the cup was a piece of local history originally attracted Quanbeck to the item. That it also had a Hollywood connection was simply a happy coincidence.

In July 2002, she put the trophy up for sale on eBay, a popular Internet auction site. It eventually sold to an anonymous collector who, like Quanbeck, found it an interesting celebration of one man's personal achievement.


Sources:

"Who is Bravest Policeman? He's Going to Get Trophy," Seattle Star, December 30, 1932, p. 1; advertisement, Fox 5th Avenue Theatre, Ibid., December 30, 1932, p. 12; "Patrolman McGill First Named in Hero Contest," Ibid., December 31, 1932, p. 1; "Scafford Nominated as City's Bravest Policeman," Ibid., January 3, 1933, p. 3; "Two Nominated in Quest for Bravest Policeman," Ibid., January 5, 1933, pp. 1, 2; "Judges Select McGill as City's Bravest Policeman," Ibid., January 9, 1933, p. 12; "Seattle Spencer Tracy Trophy Award," eBay item number 2120115858, posted July 7, 2002; E-mail communications between Eric L. Flom and Patricia Quanbeck dated July 8, July 11, and July 12, 2002, in possession of Eric L. Flom, Seattle WA; E-mail communication between Eric L. Flom and anonymous buyer, July 17, 2002, in possession of Eric L. Flom, Seattle.
Note: Marcelino Julian's name was corrected on January 17, 2011. In some contemporary sources it is given as Julian Marcelino.


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