"Allen was Hollywood’s most prosperous madam, in part because she was so cautious. Rather than take on the risks that came with running a 'bawdy house,' Allen relied on a telephone exchange service to communicate with clients who were vetted with the utmost care. She prided herself on serving the crème de la crème of Los Angeles. By 1948, she had 114 'pleasure girls' in her harem."
JOHN BUNTIN, L.A. NOIR: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City (2009)
It's funny what stands out as important in memory --- the tiny bits and pieces that rise head and shoulders above all others for any given event from the past. I remember lot of little things about Brenda Allen and two major things when I first met her and the two major things are just as strong in my memory today as they were at that first meeting.
It was 1953, I was around 15 years old and spending the summer on a ranch in the Mojave Desert owned by my Stepmother, or ex-stepmother by then as the case may be. Early one morning she told me she had to drive into Los Angeles for some meeting or the other and asked if I would like to go along. What I thought would be a more formal meeting, say like at a lawyers office or some other equally important happenstance, turned out to be basically no more than eating at Tiny Naylor's Drive-In restaurant in Hollywood followed by a trip to Forest Lawn cemetery --- all the while my stepmother looking at her watch as if she had to be someplace at a certain time. She bought a bouquet of flowers as we entered the cemetary then drove along the roads just as though she knew where she was going or had been there before. She pulled up behind a taxi, the only car parked anywhere in the area and stopped, telling me to stay as she got out.
She hurried across the road going many rows deep, with each step sort of wobbling because of her high heels sinking into the grass until she reached the site of a grave where a lone woman was standing. After what seemed to be not much more than a slight cursory hug and a cheek touch between the two she put the flowers next to some already there then the two women just stood next to each other over the grave for quite some time looking down. However, even at the distance I was I could tell the two were talking a good part of the time as they stood there. After awhile they both walked back toward the car and it was then I was introduced.
As my stepmother was getting out of the car, although she told me to stay she didn't say a word about me not getting out --- so I did. No sooner than I did than the taxi driver got out of his cab and came right up to me asking me, "Who's the dame, kid?"
Catching me off guard I sort of squinted my eyes and jolted my head back as if asking what sort of a question is that, I mean, after all the so-named "dame" just happened to be my stepmother! Before I could utter a word he said, "You know who that is out there, it's Brenda Allen. Brenda Allen!" Then the driver told me he had picked her up at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and that she was in Los Angeles for a couple of days from New Jersey. Then, continuing on like I was a lifelong friend and I knew what he was talking about he told me when he picked her up he asked, "Where to, Miss Allen?" She shook off the 'Miss Allen' part as if denying she was Brenda Allen, although the driver told me he recognized her 'without one iota of a doubt' as he had ferried customers back and forth to her various operations for years, waiting many times in the process and had seen her up close often. Of course the name Brenda Allen meant nothing to me, but the way the taxi driver said her name it was as though she was somebody.
Somebody or a nobody, although I never heard of her at the time, the mention of the name Brenda Allen by the taxi driver set into motion the first of the major memorable things that disallowed me from ever forgetting her from that first meeting. When I was in the 7th and 8th grade the school I attended was a combination junior-senior high, meaning the 7th grade ran straight through to the 12th grade at the same school. The junior high classes operated the same as the high school classes, that is different classes and teachers at different periods with some levels and teachers overlapping. I developed a really strong crush on a girl by the name of Betty Allen. We walked together between classes. I carried her books. We sat in the quad and talked. The only thing was she was going with and was the girlfriend of guy in the 11th or 12th grade, a guy who went by the nickname "Blackie." He pulled me aside one day throwing me up against the wall and making it clear Betty was HIS girl and to stay away from her. I learned quickly never to have designs on the girlfriend of a guy who had a nickname, especially if it was something like "Blackie." The thing was, her name was Betty Allen and she was the first person I thought of when I was introduced to Brenda Allen.
The second of the major memorable things had to do with the introduction itself. My stepmother introduced her only as Brenda with no mention of a last name, so as far as my stepmother knew I didn't know her last name, and even then I didn't really know who she was. However, what stayed with me right up to this day is what Allen said upon the introduction. Taking notice of the cleft in my chin she rubbed her finger slightly along the groove, then pointed to hers and said, "Are you sure we aren't related? I could be your mother," with a strong emphasis on the word "I" while turning to look at my stepmother and continuing with, "Or your sister!"
As for Brenda Allen herself, who she was, what she did, and why for example the taxi driver felt compelled to throw an emphasis on her name as though she was "somebody," we have to go back in time some years before the introduction.
In the months and years leading up to and during World War II thousands and thousands, if not millions, of young viable men from all walks of life and all ranks of society --- with a good portion of them single --- were uprooted from wherever they came from all over the United States and plunked down in large numbers in small geographical areas such as army bases, naval bases and air bases. No sooner had the numbers grown than services designed to provide for any number of their needs in any number of areas popped up all around the peripheral of those bases, some legal, some illegal. A lot of those services, although known to exist, were simply overlooked.
However, when the war ended the turning the other way carte blanche attitude disappered rapidly as those same thousands, millions even, began wending their way back into civilian life. A whole new wave washed over the nation as former military personnel returned home and began getting married, buying little houses in suburbia on the G.I. Bill, and started raising families.
It was then that what was being offered by people such as Brenda Allen began coming into the crosshairs of the same people that before were willing to overlook the offerings or even be on the payroll. Allen went through all the war years unscathed, but by 1948 she was headed to jail, her empire in shambles.
Before the war Brenda Allen, born Marie Mitchell, was a young girl in her late teens to early twenties plying her trade on the streets of Los Angeles as an independent operative when she was noticed by, and, albeit unsolicted, came under the wing of the leading lady of L.A. prostitution of the time, Ann Forrester, known in the press as the Black Widow. Forrester had been riding high under the umbrella of L.A. corrupt mayor Frank Shaw and his enforcer brother Joe, but when Shaw's regime tumbled down in the late 1930s the edges of Forrester's huge prostitution ring began to crumble as well. By 1940 she was in jail, some say because of Allen's testimony, which by the way, was just not so. That was left to the testimony of at least three other people connected to Forrester in one fashion or the other, Pauline Skevenski, Donna Stewart, and Joan Farrell, but not Allen.
Forrester was charged with the crime of pandering, a felony. Legally, the charge of pandering, at least under Section 1 of the act in relation to pandering, provides a variety of situations in of which a person can be deemed guilty. The strength of the first clause of Section 1 circulates around the term or word "procure. " Procure as used implies within it's context the use of persuasion, solicitation, encouragement and/or assistance in achieving the unlawful purpose of pandering --- with the key word being "achieving" meaning in the end result, to have actually accomplished the goal. Thus, if a defendant is charged with "procuring" a female as an inmate for a house of prostitution, he or she can be found guilty of such procurement if it is proven that he or she either assisted, induced, persuaded or encouraged her to become an inmate. In the end the meaning behind pandering basically boils down to what is found in the second clause which reads roughly:
"(A)ny person who 'by promises, threats, violence, or by any device or scheme, shall cause, induce, persuade or encourage' a female person to become an inmate of a house of prostitution, is guilty of pandering."
In the trial, Allen, going by the name Brenda Allen Burns, was called to testify that Forrester had in fact "did" the above relative to Allen being associated with Forrester. Allen was straightforward in stating that Forrester was in no way responsible in any fashion so cited by the statute. Because the "girls" that worked for Forrester liked the way Allen conducted herself, by neither incriminating others or throwing Forrester under the bus, she was elevated to such a status that she quickly established herself into a leadership position.
Under Allen's enterprising leadership the operation quickly grew to what some say was an $80,000 dollar a day business (in today's dollars) with payoffs up and down the scale. Police and politicians on oneside, the mob on the other --- the mob in Allen's case being Bugsy Siegel and Mickey Cohen. Jack Dragna, the L.A. Don and his henchman Johnny Roselli had reached a mutual agreement with Siegel and Cohen in the distribution of vice in Los Angeles and Allen fell under Siegel and Cohen purview, although she, Dragna, and Roselli would have been the better match.
If someone came forward to rat them out or in someway hindered the operation, a generous payoff was in order --- OR, if they were somehow not cooperative, they were rendered mute in some capacity. During her hay-day Allen was arrested 18 times, all the while bragging she never spent a day in jail. One of the reasons was, of course, the payoffs, but so too was when she started her operation how she skirted the law. While going through the trial of Ann Forrester, Allen learned the law was quite clear in how it interpreted pandering. The law read "procuring a female as an inmate for a house of prostitution." A house of prostitution. So Allen didn't have a house of prostitution. She operated everything through a phone service and meetings were arranged in a clandestine fashion.
However, with the aforementioned change in climate following the end of the war, among other things, people began trying to figure out ways to bring her down. Eventually members of the LAPD put into place a sting operation wherein her phone was tapped, albeit unathorized, followed by a female police officer, over the phone, posing as a potential candidate for a job as a prostitute. In the process of staging the conversation between the two she attempted to set Allen up for a charge of pandering. The police officer gave testimony under oath to the Grand Jury that Allen solicited her to exchange sex for money with a male customer at a given place, a charge Allen denied. In a trial without a jury Allen was found quilty of pandering and sentenced to five years, the sentence to be served at the State Institution for Women in Tehachapi. Later it came out the female police officer lied under oath and, even though she personally admitted to the act of perjury, the sentence against Allen was not rescinded. Allen filed an application for probation which was granted on condition that she serve one year in the county jail in addition to five years probation. In May, 1949 she commenced to serve her time. Less than four months later, Friday, September 2, 1949, Allen was released from jail on order of the California Supreme Court based solely on the fact that the police officer had purjured her testimony.
Following all the uproar and publicity over the trial Brenda Allen was a person who wanted no more than to just disappear, taking on nothing but a low profile after her release from jail --- with just a couple of blips now and then like quietly slipping back into L.A. in 1959, marrying a man named Robert H. Cash in 1960, then divorcing him in 1961 --- after which she totally dropped out of sight for a second time. There are reports she passed away in 1998.
ALLEN IN COUNTY JAIL CIRCA 1949 WEARING MATRON'S
GOWN SANS USUAL HEAVY MAKE-UP AND SUNGLASSES
Some years after meeting Allen and me no longer being a kid, an opportunity arose basically out of nowhere wherein my ex-stepmother and I had a chance to discuss Brenda Allen at some length. My father died in 1972 and my younger brother, going through our father's effects found a few things he felt should be passed on to our ex-stepmother. Since I was the only one who continued to maintain any sort of a standing relationship with her he gave the stuff to me. Since the mid-60s or so me catching up with her had become spotty at best, plus, by the time what my brother had filtered down to me to pass onto my stepmother a couple of years had passed --- so, it wasn't until sometime in 1974 that my ex-stepmother and I actually crossed paths.
Among the effects my brother gave me was a jewel encrusted brooch. When he found it in with our dad's stuff he asked the woman he had been married to at the time of his death if it was hers. She grabbed it out of my brother's hand and threw it across the room saying, "That ugly piece of shit belonged to his ex-wife!" My brother dutifully retrieved the brooch and put it in with the other stuff I eventually took to my ex-stepmother. My ex-stepmother recognized it right away. The brooch belonged to Brenda Allen. Allen had loaned it to her one day for some social event or the other and she simply forgot to return it. How it ended up with my dad she wasn't sure. I stayed a couple of days at my ex-stepmother's and during that time the brooch set into motion a series of intermittent discussions surrounding Allen.
My ex-stepmother admitted that she and Allen may not have been friends per se' in the classical sense, but were, she felt, much, much closer than simply just friendly business associates. She wasn't even sure if Allen had any friends, at least close friends, although she was quite popular in all the upper social circles they both traveled in. She was somewhat aloof yet approachable up to a certain point. She liked my dad, but, as my stepmother said, most women did. Matter of fact one of her girls, Pauline Page, who I mention in my works elsewhere, had fallen in love with my dad and when she saw it was not going to work, left the business and married some man she met during the war. Allen used to say she couldn't afford to have my dad around.
My stepmother's take on the whole thing is that Allen came of age during the height of the Great Depression. Simple as it may seem, one of the things she learned was the poor don't have any money. It's the upper class where the money is and that is what she aimed the core of her business towards. Also, to be successful, especially with the wealthy, well-to-do or upper class, you have to present yourself as successful, so Allen took on all the trappings of the wealthy --- which was easy to do because for the most part money was pouring in. She was generous, smart, forgiving, and, even though the business she was in was suspect in the wider sphere of things, how she ran it was honest. Her word was her bond and she had an innate tendency to treat everyone, at least initially, regardless of their level in society, with respect. However, even the dumbest of those around her knew that lurking in the shadows just below the highly polished veneer was the unforgiving power of the mob. A snap of a finger and you were done --- something she was well aware of for herself. A catty actress could end up with a cut face and a customer who abused one of her girls could end up in an alley with a couple of broken legs or worse. Over time she developed a short fuse, but always expected results, crossing her she could be ruthless. On the personal level my stepmother said Allen, after learning how, reeked with class, was an impeccable dresser always remembering she was a business woman and not a party girl, had an almost obsession with cleanliness, and as well, for some reason not clear, a near fetish about having exquisitely manicured and well shaped nails at all times.
The big thing for me though, is how she was brought down and how it speaks toward her character. When Forrester was brought down for example, it was her own people who did it --- and even then Allen was unwilling to be a part of it. The thing is, if you look at how Allen was brought down, not one of her girls came forward to testify against her. The police had to put into place an artificial situation, bringing in a police woman presenting herself as something she wasn't because in real life they were unable to get anybody real to come forward. Why? Because the women who worked for her loved her. It was simple as that. Please note as well, that in the cases of both Forrester and Allen, even though huge sums of money was earned by their enterprises, no evasion of income tax schemes such as lodged against Al Capone were brought up against either them. Nobody, especially in the Allen situation, wanted to open a money trail can-of-worms that could implicate so many --- hence the charge of pandering. That all fell apart when it came to light the female police officer lied under testimony and a deeper investigation ensued. However, to this day, nobody knows where the money went.
FIFIE MALOUF: ENTREPRENEUR, SOCIALITE, MADAME
ON THE RAZOR'S
As to the subject of donations, for those who may be so interested as it applies to the gratefulness of my works, I invariably suggest any funds be directed toward THE WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT and/or THE AMERICAN RED CROSS.
47 Cal.App.2d 1 (1941) THE PEOPLE, Respondent, v. CHARLES W. MONTGOMERY et al., Appellants. Crim. No. 3420. California Court of Appeals. Second Dist., Div. One. Sept. 29, 1941:
"The court instructed the jury that Brenda Allen Burns, one of the girls procured by defendants, who testified for the prosecution was not an accomplice. Appellant contends that the evidence showed this girl to be an accomplice. It does not appear that the Burns girl joined with defendants in procuring any other girl and the contention appears to be based solely on the ground that she willingly complied in her own procurement. Appellant's contention is completely answered by People v. Brown, 61 Cal.App. 748 [216 P. 58], cited by respondent. Appellant's attempt to distinguish between "persuading" and "procuring" is without substance. If a person could not "persuade" himself or herself, by the same token he could not "procure" himself. In the Brown case it was held that the person "induced, persuaded and encouraged" to become an inmate of a house of prostitution could not be held an accomplice in the act of pandering based upon such inducement."(source)
For article referencing Brenda Allen's Friday, September 2, 1949 early release from her one year jail sentence please click HERE and/or HERE.
By the time I caught up with my stepmother in 1974 she had fallen on hard times. So said, I felt if it could be obtained somehow, a nice large influx of cash would contribute to her overall well being as well as relieving some anxiety on my part. For as long as I could remember, from being a little boy to an adult, she owned a very rare and expensive pistol known as a Colt Walker. I convinced her, because the Colt was worth so much --- and it was basically just languishing away somewhere in some old box stashed away someplace --- that selling the Colt would be a good idea. I told her that I had just the buyer for it, the cowboy-western author Louis L'Amour. The 1847 .44-caliber Colt Walker was the largest, heaviest black-powder revolver Colt ever produced, known for their firepower and shooting distance --- and they found their way into L'Amour's novels often.
L'Amour was a friend of my uncle's and it just so happend that a few years before L'Amour and I had discussed the pistol at length one day while my uncle and I were visiting him. During our conversation he expressed an interest in seeing it. I took the Colt to show L'Amour, then returned it to the care of my stepmother after giving him all the contact information. After that I never saw either of them again. There is no record that any financial transaction cumulated between my stepmother and L'Amour regarding the pistol. When my stepmother died the Colt was not found among her effects, nor, to my knowledge, has it ever surfaced to this day.
Toward the end of his life my father fell into a deep coma, after which his wife, against the recommendations of a variety of doctors, had him put on life support --- even though for all practical purposes his major faculties and primary physical abilities were basically non-functional. The woman my dad was married to was not particularly warm toward me, most likely because of how I continued to hold his second wife, the person I call my stepmother, in such high regard. Instead she seemed to have taken that misplaced animosity she aimed toward me and blanketed it broadly across a number of other family members I was close to, of which one included my dad's brother, my Uncle. When my father was caught in a fire in 1970 and seemed he was on his last legs, my uncle came to see him. However, my uncle was treated so shabbily by my dad's wife he vowed never to return regardless of the situation, a vow he held on to even to the point of not going to the funeral.
Several months prior the coma, around the start of the summer of 1972, my dad called me to his bedside without the knowledge of family or friends, including his wife. He told me he had long rented a small, single-car garage-size storage unit unknown to anybody. In it he said was all kinds of stuff, all of which, any time from then forward and especially so before he died and before others became privy to it, was to be divided between my two brothers and myself as we saw fit. Also in the storage unit was a large locked trunk clearly marked with his brother's name that he wanted me to take to him unopened without anybody's knowledge, even my brothers. It was going through the stuff in the storage unit after I had long retrieved the trunk and delivered it to my uncle that my younger brother came across the brooch that had belonged to Brenda Allen.
Unrelated to that facet of the story, but adhering to my father's request to deliver to my uncle the trunk post haste (my dad's words), put me in Santa Fe unexpectedly on a quick couple of days turn around during late June early July of 1972. I say unexpectedly because as soon as I walked out of the hospital I went straight to the storage unit, picked up the trunk, and drove all night right to Santa Fe. Doing so put me into my uncle's schedule of doing things instead of the two of us designing time around me being there.
During that couple of days stay my uncle had to meet up with, for some undisclosed reason, Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, who just happened to be in town, and I went along. I wasn't introduced or meet Ginsberg, staying off some distance milling around the car as requested by my uncle while the two of them talked.
So said, I never met Ginsberg. Although it was apparent the two of them knew each other, why my uncle requested me to remain by the car while the two of them talked was never clear. I could have easily overridden the whole thing if I so chose, and perhaps I should have. I carried a major ace-in-the-hole relative to Ginsberg that would have elevated me quickly with him had I selected to do so --- that ace being me having met a few years prior a major high-profile woman in his inner circle that had disappeared, a woman by the name of Hope Savage. She had been with the Beats ever since Ginsberg's top player Gregory Corso brought her into their circle. She had gone to Paris and Corso had went in search of her with no luck. Ginsberg ran into her in India a few years later and was the last to see her when the two of them said goodbyes in Calcutta in 1962. However, I had inadvertently crossed paths with her wandering in a remote section of the Himalayas since then. He would have flipped had he found out about it.
DOING HARD TIME IN A ZEN MONASTERY