James J. Druce
In The Spotlight Again; Vintage Leslie James Hats Are All The Rage

Now celebrated a second time; first as the preeminent women's milliner of the 30's, 40's, and 50's, and now it is happening all over again. James Druce was my mother's father and the founder and CEO of Leslie James of California.He was the 'James' and his partner was 'Leslie Masters', the creative designer. The internet is awash with vintage women's hat aficionados and sellers of Leslie James hats. Its an industry going crazy as women's hats are once again beginning to catch the eye of the fashion industry. Click the image below and you will see hundreds of web sites featuring his hats, many with eBay stores.
 

James Druce, my grandfather, was born in Glasgow Scotland in 1887 and emigrated to Illinois with his parents and sister. He quit school at the age of 14 and went to work at a butcher shop to help support his parents. He amazed customers with his ability to cut off a piece of butter weighing precisely one pound every time when weighed. Eventually he found his way into sales and the huge millinery business where he met Leslie. Their combined skills were a perfect match; Leslie's extraordinary creative talent, and my grandfather's business skills.  Leslie was 22 years younger. 

If ever there was a class act, it was granddaddy. A gentleman who gained the respect of an entire industry as president of the California Millinery Guild from 1936 to 1953. He was a Shriner and a member of one of the most prestigious clubs of the day; the Silver Dollar Club whose members included Earl Warren, Pat Brown, Calif. Governor Goodwin Knight, Leonard Firestone, LA Mayor Norris Poulson, Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz, and yes, none other than Richard Nixon himself. Those, and almost 200 other high profile members are listed in the roster including the club rules: Don't be caught without your silver dollar or you will owe each member present one.
Me and my Grandfather
He wore perfectly tailored suits and monogrammed shirts. Those gold cufflinks you see above are in my safe, and that beautiful diamond you see on his finger has been on my finger for almost  50 years. As a kid, I went to the factory often with my mom because she got any hat she wanted for free. Most of those hats are still in the family. The factory was on Hill Street in downtown Los Angeles. There were hundreds of employees hand making the hats, each with a finished model in front of them to go by. 

My grandparents (Hazel L. Druce my grandmother) lived in the exclusive Outpost area overlooking Hollywood on one side, and the Hollywood Bowl on the other. We got to enjoy the performances sitting on top of the hill at the end of the street. Their next door neighbor was Eve Arden (Our Miss Brooks). They shot Rheingold Beer commercials on their patio because of its spectacular view overlooking all of Hollywood. Granddaddy's mailbox was a large metal Leslie James hat box standing on end which received much publicity at the time. He ate lunch everyday at Mike Lymanís, or the LA Athletic Club which was next door; always dressed to the nines, the standard of the day for businessmen in downtown Los Angeles.

Every Spring we would drive him to the train station in Glendale CA to take samples of his latest creations to the eastern buyers of all the most prestigious department stores. He always handed the porter a $50.00 dollar bill (huge in those days) before the trip, not after. Needless to say, he was treated royally. 

Granddaddy retired and left the business to Leslie in 1953. I still have the solid gold Bulova watch presented to him by the California Millinery Guild inscribed as such on the back.

He drove a beautiful green 1948 Lincoln Continental which he soon gave to my grandmother since he didn't like leaving it all day in a downtown LA garage. Next he bought a new green 1951 Ford convertible for himself. He died in 1956 at the age of 69, and my grandmother gave me the Ford which I drove to Van Nuys High School and then USC. She bought herself a new Lincoln Capri. 
 
 

This page was created after noticing numerous web site articles speculating about who exactly Leslie James was. One went on about who they thought he was complete with a biography of Leslie James the man concluding he must be the guy. Wrong; Leslie James was two fine gentlemen, and you can trust me on that.

PAGE UPDATE
Since posting this page in January 2016, there have been well over a thousand visitors, presumably all seeking information about Leslie James of California. Here is a recent message from Cindy Benes, the granddaughter  of one of the talented milliners who helped distinguish the company's incredible legacy:

My grandmother, Alice Dowling, started out as a milliner at a very young age in Minnesota in the early 1900's.  When our family moved to LA in the late 1940's, she worked for Leslie James making the most exquisite hats for everyone to enjoy, including Hollywood celebrities.  I know she was very talented and worked hard without much fanfare or recognition.  I'm proud of her and just want to celebrate this extraordinary woman today. 

I couldn't have been more delighted to receive this message and the photo of her grandmother working at the Leslie James factory. If anyone else would like to make contributions to this page, please contact me.


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