Surprised no one's made a movie of this fellow.
Keith Johnston writing for the LA Times.
Success came quickly for Bourgeois, who had a talent for donning new hats when opportunities arose. He had begun his career in Europe as a cinematographer for Pathé Frères, jumped in front of the camera when a production needed an actor willing to do a dangerous stunt and learned to train animals with the help of the nature documentarian who directed his first films. Bourgeois’ first picture for Universal was a riotous two-reel comedy, “Joe Martin Turns ’Em Loose.” A series of collaborations with Marstini followed, with Bourgeois credited as actor, writer or director and his wife as the star.
Yet no private correspondence survives that explains why Bourgeois turned away from filmmaking. Geoffrey Donaldson, a seminal Dutch film scholar, once asked Bourgeois’ second wife about it, but she was unable (or unwilling) to disclose more, other than to say he had “lost interest” in film, preferring to work in the steel business — go figure. All that’s known is that by spring 1916, a restless man with a gift for reinvention found himself working as one of many filmmakers at a large Hollywood studio, with a reputation for animal abuse, a history of injuries and, perhaps, a broken marriage.
On March 2, 1916, the fashionable Café Bristol, on the ground floor of the Hellman Building at 4th and Spring streets downtown, debuted a new attraction for Los Angeles: a skating rink. Skating was already enormously popular, and cafe rinks were a fad in New York and Chicago. But they were expensive. The Bristol’s 24-by-50-foot surface required a $10,000 ammonia refrigeration system.
Bourgeois, finger to the wind, sensed an opportunity. Among his many skill sets was some knowledge of chemistry. Though his education record is unclear, a 1907 document from a train crossing the U.S.-Canadian border indicated he worked as an electrician in Manitoba. He told acquaintances that he’d received a deferment from service in the Belgian army during World War I because the U.S. Navy was interested in an alloy of his invention, although no record of this exists. In April 1916, he claimed to have invented “iceless ice.”
“Mr. Bourgeois claims that this composition cannot break, unless deliberately chopped up, it cannot wear out and it cannot melt, unless put on a fire,” The Times reported. “The composition is laid down in liquid form and ‘freezes’ over, or hardens, in twenty-four hours.”
Bourgeois secured investment to convert a roller rink and car dealership at 1041 S. Broadway into the Palace Ice Rink. The grand opening was to be attended in July 1916 by the mayor and feature L.A.’s first game of ice hockey. The entrance was constructed to resemble a huge iceberg. Inside were shops that would sell candy, ice cream, cigars and soft drinks.
Vendors paid Bourgeois hefty deposits to secure places in the venture. Cashiers could get a job if they paid $100. Dozens of skating instructors lined up to offer lessons to wobbly Angelenos. Bourgeois needed $17 from each of them to purchase a uniform.
Contractors, still busy through the summer, were paid almost entirely with checks that bounced. The builders sought out Bourgeois to find out how his ice was supposed to work, but he couldn’t be reached. A vendor named Jacques Levi reported him to the authorities, and a warrant was issued for Bourgeois’ arrest on Aug. 4, by which time he, his stenographer and his investors’ money were on their way to Yuma.