The Rolland J. Curtis Photo Archive at the Los Angeles Public Library Central Branch


Tom Bradley

Negative Me and seeing the Positive

Beginning count: 5964

Today: 133

Total: 6097 photographs and negatives

A large percentage of the Curtis collection is comprised of negatives, with no physical print available. This complicates the processing of the collection for several reasons. First, processing photos of the fragmented collection becomes more arduous when using negatives. The negatives are difficult to compare against other prints or negatives for obvious reasons, like colors and details that I fail to associate because I am unable to translate them to the same colors and details without help. Second, the people in the photographs are more difficult to identify in negatives, further complicating the identification of events. Sometimes, the image needs to become a positive in order to identify events, colors and people in the photographs.

A few of the photos have already been digitized, allowing me to sort through the processed photos and negatives to make corrections; photos that should be grouped together, separated, etc. But the un-digitized photographs, the negatives, continued to plague my work, especially since they make up such a large part of the collection. This was until a few days ago, when I discovered an app called “Negative Me.”

“Negative Me” allows me to create digital positives of the negatives using my phone, allowing me to quickly identify the details, people, and possibly the event the negatives belong to. Here are a few examples.


This negative was only partially identified, filed with Billy Mills’ photographs. Experience allows me to identify Mills near the center, and even Tom Bradley next to him, and Finnie Jackson on the far left, but everyone else is a mystery. Using, “Negative Me”, this is what I get:


Suddenly, we not only see Finnie Jackson, Tom Bradley and Billy Mills in all their City Hall glory, we also see, to the right of Billy Mills, Academy Award winning actor Sidney Poitier! Now I know the event it belongs to, because Poitier visited City Hall for a resolution. And there are other photographs that should be grouped with this negative because they also capture the event.

The app was also useful yesterday with this negative:


Once again, I can identify Billy Mills, but I have no idea who the woman is next to him. Using the app, I was able to create this positive:


After consulting the brilliant Photo Collection team member, Christine Prime*, I discovered that the woman is actress Diahann Carroll, one of the first African American women to star in a television series. She was the lead role in the show Julia, one of the first shows that didn’t portray an African American woman as a domestic worker. She was also cast in some of the first movies, by major studios, that featured an African American cast. Her career in Broadway earned her the first Tony award ever bestowed upon an African American stage actress. Her film career earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her work in Claudine. 

Here’s a link to the app on Apple’s App store if you’re interested. It’s free and I have not been paid to review it:

*Christine Prime is the senior photo archives contractor in the department. I say senior because she’s been working for the department for 3 years. Her name isn’t really Christine Prime, but I’ll be calling her that in the blog because she was here first, and because she’s super knowledgeable. Christine Prime is not to be confused with Christina, who runs the entire department, and who is our boss. We could start a band if we wanted to, Kristine, Christine and Christina. We even have a Chris who volunteers.

The Life and Death of Rolland J. Curtis

Beginning count: 5,812

Today : 159

Total processed: 5971 photographs and negatives since July 7th, 2015.

Rolland Curtis with his mother Mathilda and brother Charles.

There isn’t a great deal of information readily available about Rolland J. Curtis. A good amount of research is required in order to fill out the early sections of his life, which I plan on accomplishing after the photographs are processed. The information we have is based on newspaper articles and information provided by the volunteer who initially processed the collection.

Rolland Curtis moved to Los Angeles from Louisiana in 1942 without even enough money to pay for a formal place to stay. There were no rooms available at the time so the YMCA director was kind enough to let him sleep in a closet at the 28th St. YMCA.

By 1951, Curtis’ life was vastly different. He was attending USC for his BS. He started a business with his friend Sterling Wallace called Trojan Chevron Service, a gasoline service station that employed other students. He hoped to finish his degree soon so that he could attend law school. He also played football at USC, which may be where he received his nickname “Speedy” and his trademark greeting of “Hey Coach!”

His “Hey Coach” greeting became a byword, and even when things were not going well for him, one never knew because he always had a smile and a good word.

Rolland J. Curtis playing football at USC

Curtis earned a Master’s degree in Public Administration from USC as well. He spent four years in the LAPD’s Newton Division as a patrolman with Tom Bradley before becoming Bradley’s Field Deputy in 1964.

Rolland Curtis with Tom Bradley, his staff and Councilwoman Roz Wyman.

In 1967, Curtis became field deputy for City Councilman Billy G. Mills, where he remained until his assignment to the Model Cities program by Mayor Sam Yorty in 1972.

It was during his time as a field deputy for both Bradley and Mills that the pictures in the collection were taken.

Whenever there was a community affair, “Speedy” would be seen right down the front, sometimes taking pictures with his huge view camera, or sometimes just there to lend his support to community projects. But he was always there and he always had a smile.

There are only a handful of photos of Curtis in the collection, but the photos are rare enough to warrant special consideration. He seemed to favor taking photos with great men in sports.

Rolland Curtis meets Jackie Robinson

Rolland Curtis meets Joe Louis

On October 5th, 1972, Curtis was chosen by Mayor Sam Yorty to take over the troubled Model Cities Program. He resigned on February 2nd, 1974 due to continuing issues with the program itself. Curtis began a small publicity business after his resignation called SRO Curtisun Publicisits.

He operated a publicity business in a quonset type building off Western Ave. north of Adams. It was the cleanest, the neatest print shop I’ve ever seen. The floors were so clean you could eat off them. The machinery always looked new because it was constantly dusted and wiped and when not in use, kept under vinyl covers. Speedy was proud of that place, and he had every right to be.

Shortly there after, Billy Mills called him back to service and Curtis rejoined the councilman’s staff. When Mills was named to the Supreme Court by Governor Ronald Reagan, Curtis ran for his seat against his fellow staffer Robert Farrell.

Billy Mills with Rolland Curtis

Although he had the endorsement of Billy Mills, Tom Bradley supported Farrell, who ultimately won the seat. 4 years later, Farrell was the subject of a recall and Curtis once again ran for the seat and lost.

His ill-fated political campaigns did not leave him with bitterness. His was always a “wait-until-next-time” kind of attitude.

On May 13th, 1979, Mother’s Day, Rolland Curtis was delivering Mother’s Day bouquets to women in the community. Acts like this were common with Curtis.

Mills recalled Curtis was always concerned about other people, often taking up collections for those in need. “usually without the person’s knowledge.

As a man who throughout his life sought to assist others, he was never one to deny financial assistance to those in need, even if it meant going into debt himself. “Speedy was the kind of man who would have given his last dime to someone in need…”

He never forgot his friends and when the holidays rolled around, one could expect to see “Speedy” bearing gifts.

His wife Gloria returned from Mother’s Day celebrations later that day and found Rolland murdered, the victim of a robbery gone wrong. Police believed that Curtis interrupted a thief who had snuck through the doggy door and hit Curtis with a blunt instrument when Curtis discovered him.

It took 3 years for police to make an arrest in connection with the murder. The man was already serving a sentence and the officers searched through hundreds of fingerprints by hand until they found the suspect. Although charges were filed, we are unsure if the suspect was ever convicted. We are still researching the outcome.

What little we know about what Rolland “Speedy” Curtis was like, we can gather from what was written about him. The quotes throughout this post were snippets from the articles and obituaries written about Curtis after his death. I’ll leave you with one more quote about the man himself.

Speedy Curtis, the person, was industrious, gregarious, loud in a non-offensive manner. He was an archetype of the political showman. Possessing a booming voice, he never would greet you in a whisper if he could greet you with a shout. His opening lines were never serious if he could make them comical. His handshake never was merely strong if he could make it a knuckle-crusher. If you ever met Speedy Curtis, the person, you’d never forget him.

Speedy Curtis, the political operator, was much like the actor who always plays himself, regardless of the role. Playing himself, Speedy rarely failed to attract attention.


“Another Tragedy.” Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005), May 24, 1979.

“Councilmen Clash Over Model Cities.” Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005), Oct 19, 1972.

“Council Race Promises Major Battles.” Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005), Jan 04, 1979.

DOC YOUNG, ,A.S. “Death Scores a Double.” Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005), May 31, 1979.

Durant, Celeste. “Former Yorty Aide found Slain in Ransacked Home.” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), May 15, 1979.

Harris, Lee. “Bradley Likely to Endorse Aide in Council Race.” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), Jun 08, 1974.

“Inquiring Reporter.” Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005), Oct 18, 1951.

Jones, Jack. “Suspect found in Slaying of Ex-City Aide.” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), Feb 11, 1982.

L C FORTENBERRY Sentinel,Staff Writer. “Recall Showdown Tues., Aug. 15.” Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005), Aug 10, 1978.

Mazique, Robert J. “Yorty Moves to Oust Model Cities Chief.” Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005), Sep 28, 1972.

“Memorial Fund.” Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005), Jun 07, 1979.

NICK BROWN Sentinel, Staff Writer. “Who Murdered ‘Speedy’ Curtis?” Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005), May 17, 1979.

“Photo Standalone 41 — no Title.” Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005), Aug 01, 1963.

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