Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
American’s iconic outlaw Jesse James had a modern day cousin who wrote movies and books using pseudonyms. One of the names he wrote under was Danny Santiago.
As Danny Santiago, Daniel Lewis James Jr. wrote an award winning novel, titled Famous All Over Town. Today the book is a classic, that is studied in countless college Hispanic studies programs. Dan’s protagonist is a 24 year old Chicano, named Chato Medina. Literally translated, his name means a cat from the old part of town.
Like Jesse James and Dan James, Chato had political problems. When the Southern Pacific Railroad began demolishing Chato’s neighborhood, Chato took up arms. His firearm of choice was a piece of chalk. Chato took his chalk to the streets. Everywhere he went Chato chalked his name in protest. Like Jesse and Dan who fought injustice, Chato suffered retribution. He became an outlaw and was jailed for his crimes. Like Jesse and Dan, Chato also became famous all over town.
Dan James wrote his novel after spending a significant part of his life working with his wife Lillith in the barrios of Los Angeles with the disadvantaged from the Hispanic community. Dan and Lillith introduced Hispanics kids to Hollywood celebrities, got their parents trade jobs in the film industry, lent them money when necessary, sent them to college, drank with them in their cantinas, and became godparents to a multitude of Hispanic children.
Dan’s grandfather was Jesse’s uncle Thomas Martin James. Taking some fancy European chinaware that was useless to fur traders heading into the Far West, T. M. James transformed his trading business in Kansas City into the famed T.M. James Fine China Co., later purchased by the Havilland Fine China Company. On the side of Dan’s mother Lillie Snyder, Dan’s great grandfather was Andrew Jackson Snyder. A.J. served as Brigadier General for Gov. Green Clay Smith in Montana Territory during the gold rush there. Later, as a stockman, A.J. offered to buy the Cherokee Strip to annex to his Texas ranch that sold 30,000 head of cattle per year.
Dan’s father and namesake, Daniel Lewis James Sr., wrote plays with characters that resembled Jesse James, too. Dan Sr. could never figure out, though, if his cousin Jesse was a sinner, or was sinned against. None of his plays was produced.
Dan Jr. was more like his cousin Jesse. Dan was a social activist. He worked for the longshoreman union organizer Harry Bridges. When Dan was arrested in the Bloody Thursday riots of 1934 in San Francisco, about the same time his cousin Barbara James was jailed for demonstrating for birth control, Dan Sr. suggested Dan confine his politics instead to the use of his pen.
Wielding a pen as his weapon also got Dan into trouble. Dan wrote the movie The Great Dictator with Charlie Chaplin, confronting the Fascist government of Mussolini. Like his cousin Jesse, his own government came down hard on Dan. He was brought before the House on Un-American Activities. Dan was accused of being a Communist, and he was blacklisted from making a living as a screenwriter.
Chaplin fled to his native England. Daniel Lewis James Jr. fled to the barrios of Los Angeles to continue to fight with the Hispanic community against bigotry and social inequality. Today, Daniel Lewis James would probably be in Arizona.