"The envelope was addressed to a man named Russ Miller, the owner of the Normandie Club, one of six legal poker casinos in the city, with those six being practically the only legal poker clubs in the whole state. I knew enough about gambling places to know that no 12 or 13 year old kid was just going up to the front door and walk right in."
With the end of World War II thousands and thousands if not millions of ex-servicemen began wending their way back into civilian life. A whole new wave crested over the nation as former military personnel returned home and began getting married, buying little houses in suburbia on the G.I. Bill along with matching sets of white Kenmore washing machines and dryers from Sears and Robucks and started raising families.
It was then that some of the more seedy side of things that had been offered and acceptable to those same servicemen during the war began coming into the crosshairs of the same people that before were willing to overlook the offerings or even be on the payroll. It was during that budding environment, matched with the cessation of hostilities around the globe, that my dad and stepmother decided they should do a little traveling, picking South America rather than war-torn Europe as their main choice. With their doing so, it required my brothers and me to once again be parsed out like we had been so many times before since our mother died. Thus entered for me, as a young boy, the Normandie Club.
Within a few days of my dad and Stepmother leaving for South America a woman by the name of Pauline who had at onetime worked for my stepmother, stepped forward and either asked for, was asked, or consented to, having my younger brother come live with her, my older brother already having been placed with a friend of my stepmother who had a working ranch in Idaho.
With none of the same type options surfacing from anywhere or anybody offered towards me as those so being offered toward my brothers, and with time running out, I was basically left hanging. My uncle, himself right on the cusp of returning to Santa Fe and by default the only adult left in the loop with any sort of responsibility, everyone else having split by then, after some heavy duty negotiating on his part that bordered on pure begging infused with a certain amount of bribery with Aunt Pauline, as we were told to call her, she halfheartedly agreed to take me in as well.
As South America loomed ever closer on the horizon for my stepmother, within minutes of departure actually, seeing there was a good chance I would end up living with Pauline, she handed an envelope to my uncle to give to me with strict instructions that even though it was OK for me to see the contents I was not show it or give it to anybody else except to the person it was addressed --- in other words, keep Pauline out of it. Big time stuff. Remember, we're talking me being not much more than a 12 or 13 year old boy or so at the time.
When my brother and I were sent to live with Pauline she and her husband had just bought a brand new house in a small but growing community about 12 miles south of downtown Los Angeles --- and a world away --- called Gardena. It wasn't too many years, even months before, that most of the area had been nothing less than miles of stoop-labor farmland, but as we were moving in, and although you would never know it today since freeways have cut it all to pieces, it was quickly becoming more and more of a post-war bedroom community as new tract houses began springing up all over the former cabbage fields. In a quasi biggest little city in the world scenario, Gardena was also quickly becoming known, if it hadn't already, as the card club, poker capitol of the world.
The school my younger brother attended went from the 1st through 6th grades, with no middle school. In that I was three grades higher than my brother and with no middle schools I went to a combination junior-senior high, which meant, starting with the 7th grade the school ran straight through to the 12th grade. The junior high classes were all mixed up with the high school classes, with some classes, levels, and teachers overlapping all grades. What it meant to my brother and me was we were on totally different time schedules, and since the high school was so much further away than his school we had different departure and return times. Typically I had to oversee my younger brother during any free or off time almost like babysitting, but because of the differences in the schedules I had all kinds of time at my discretion for both coming and going relative to his coming and goings. Matter of fact, nobody really kept close track of me going back and forth to school, so in a sense, if I wanted, I could build in almost any amount of time on either side of coming or going I wanted as long as it didn't raise any red flags.
With that kind of latitude, I was easily afforded all the time I needed to deliver the envelope my stepmother gave me without anybody knowing. Where I lived was right near South Vermont and 147th Street. Where I needed to go was maybe eight blocks west of there, on 148th Street and South Western, not so far off the route I used to and from school that I couldn't easily squeeze it in.
The envelope was addressed to a man named Russ Miller, the owner of the Normandie Club, one of six legal poker casinos in the city, with those six being practically the only legal poker clubs in the whole state. I knew enough about gambling places to know that no 12 or 13 year old kid was just going up to the front door and walk right in, especially one that if it didn't operate 24 hours a day it nearly did. I also knew if I didn't give the letter directly to Miller he might not actually receive it. So, I did what any enterprising kid would do, I went around to the back door and talked to the help. One of them was kind enough to get someone to get Miller and I handed him the envelope.
Miller looked the letter over for a few minutes, asked how my "mother" was, then after a bit of small talk wanted to know what is was he could do for me. I told him I was looking to earn some money and was hoping for some kind of regular after school or weekend work. He asked what grade I was in and stretching the truth a bit I told him I went to Gardena High. He said come back in a couple of days and ask for Rick. Which is what I did. When I got home I told Pauline I signed up for after school extra curricular activities with the drama department working with the stage crew, bringing a whole slew of paperwork home testifying to the fact. Instead of course, the same time I was supposed to be doing stage crew stuff I was really working at the Normandie Club.
One Saturday late in the afternoon or moving into early evening several months after I started working I was in the back of the club when four or five rough looking suit types, rather than coming in the front, came through the back entrance headed toward the casino or Miller's offices. As I looked up one of the men said, "What are you lookin' at fuckface?" I diverted my eyes downward, but as soon as I did he stopped the group and came over to me tipping my head up to get a closer look, all the while squeezing my jaw and chin really tight. Then he said, "I know you, I've seen you before, what the fuck are you doing in this fucking place?" Another of the men, seeing how tight I was being squeezed, put his arm between the two of us, stretching the distance between the man and me causing the man to loosen his grip. In a much nicer much softer tone the other man said, "Hey kid, remember me?" And sure enough I did. Matter of fact, after looking at the men more closely I recognized two or three of them. By then Miller was there with a couple of other guys wanting to know what was going on.
It seems the heavyweights were coming in the backdoor to catch Miller off guard, possibly even planning on using the art of friendly persuasion inflicted through some sort of bodily harm. The interlude with me stopped them just long enough for Miller to confront them with witnesses. Whatever the problem was it was all diffused and before anything could happen, nothing happened --- or at least delayed to another day. Nobody was shot anyway.
Miller wanted to know what was the nature of the men's business, coming through the back door and all. In an apparent deflection of interests, the man who stopped to look at me initially, pulled Miller aside wanting to know how it was I was working in his club, was I affiliated with or knew anybody else there. Miller told him I was hired as a favor to my stepmother. The man said, "That fuckin' whore, don't you know she and Roselli are tight. Shit, the boy's probably working for him right now." Miller asked me if that was true and I told him I wasn't working for anybody but him, that Roselli was a friend of my stepmother's and it was through her that I knew who he was. The man that stepped between me and the other man earlier, moved into the conversation saying "the kid's alright," that he knew me from long back and that I was OK, Roselli or not.
My stepmother was always a woman of mystery. Nobody seemed to know anything about her really. Until she married my dad and took his last name she had at least three aliases and just as many passports. During the war and postwar years she was a regular at heady celebrity nightspots like Ciro's, the Tracadero, Coconut Grove, while before the war, the Clover Club on the Sunset Strip, hobnobbing on a first name basis with a slew of Hollywood bigshots. The same was true with influential California politicians as well as Los Angeles area mob figures such as Jack Dragna and Johnny Roselli.
After my real mother's death, prior to living with Pauline and a few relatives and a foster couple or two before that, I lived for a several years under the auspices of my stepmother after she and my dad got married. At the time my stepmother was very wealthy and she basically hired people to do everything. She did the same in the process of overseeing my two brothers and myself. It worked out great for me because as soon as she noticed I had a certain propensity toward art she talked my Uncle, who lived in the Santa Fe, Taos, New Mexico, area and a well established artist in his own right, and who had been going back and forth per my grandmother's request, to just stay on the west coast. She set him up in a fully equipped artist's studio and covered all expenses, including models, lots of models even though he was a desert landscape or still life sort of a guy. All my uncle had to do was have me as a protégé, develop my budding talents, and arrange for me to have as many art and educational experiences as possible although he wasn't so hot on my developing interests in life modeling.
My younger brother had a nanny, but for my older brother, any attempt on my stepmother's part to make things right for him did not work out so well. Bottom line he hated her and made her life as miserable as possible. It was the total opposite for she and I. True, I didn't spend a lot of time with her one-on-one very often, but every once in a while just the two of us would go on errands together where she would pick up little bags of money here and there and sometimes drop off little bags of money here and there.
The only person who seemed to have any amount of control over my older brother other than my father was the person my dad had long ago designated as our Godfather. The problem was that over the years he had continually turned toward the bottle, becoming a heavy drinker and an even heavier gambler. When he wasn't passed out or on the verge of passing out he was constantly playing the horses and betting on boxing matches or other sporting events, most often through a bookie and usually with money he didn't have. Because of same, one of mobster Mickey Cohen's so-called seven dwarfs stopped my godfather on the street one day threatening his life right in front of my older brother telling him that if he did not come through with a large amount of cash he owed he would "end up in Santa Monica bay swimming with the sharks." My stepmother was aware of my godfather's gambling habit but did not realize it had got so out of hand. She also felt it was way out of line for someone as high up on the food chain as one of the seven dwarfs to be running errands for Cohen, let alone threatening someone's life in front of a young boy. Thinking it might somehow be personal she contacted Jack Dragna, the Los Angeles don, and asked him to request Cohen, who my stepmother did not know, to lay off, she would take care of any debts incurred. Re the following from the source so cited:
"Jack Dragna, who was connected to the Chicago mob and Mickey Cohen, who was connected more closely to the New York side of things, did not get along appreciably well. To ensure that Cohen got the message that Dragna did not want any additional or continuing problems regarding the incident, he had mob heavyweight Johnny Roselli join my stepmother for the payoff of my godfather's debt. Cohen sent flowers to my stepmother the next day. My stepmother had a friend, or at least a close business associate named Brenda Allen, who was the top 'madam' in Los Angeles at the time. Cohen knew that Allen and my stepmother were close. He told Allen he felt slighted that my stepmother would be compelled to show up with Roselli, although he thought that in her doing so, it most likely was not of her own making."
THE STEPMOTHER: Footnote 
It was either during one of the aforementioned times my stepmother was picking up little bags of money here and there or dropping off little bags of money here and there, and/or associated with the above payoff of my godfather's debts to Cohen that I saw or came across two or three of the men in the group that came into the Normandie Club that evening --- and why or how a couple of the men recognized me. I was a great deal younger than 12 years old when the above events happened, so for my stepmother to have a young boy with her under such circumstances was so atypical that I was easily remembered. Those types of dealings were done in an all adult world, kids just didn't exist. If a kid did exist at that level it had to be for a special reason. In my case if it was to diffuse the eventuality of a potential toxic situation or being groomed for later participation I didn't know nor never learned.
In the opening paragraphs at the top of the page I write that Pauline, who had at onetime worked for my stepmother, stepped forward and either asked for or consented to, having my younger brother come live with her. She and her husband's plans to start a family showed no promise as four years into their marriage they still had no children --- hence her interest in my younger brother. As for me it was another thing. According to my uncle, after some heavy negotiating that bordered on pure begging by my him, Pauline halfheartedly agreed to take me in as well. So, from the very beginning I was the odd man out, I was older and had history and Pauline never let me forget it.
Sometime into the second year of living at Pauline's, out of the blue, my dad came to visit. Under the premise of seeing my brother and me he actually spent more time behind closed doors with Pauline. When we did have time to talk, giving no reason, he told me he and my stepmother had divorced. After continued harping or pressure on my part he finally gave up that she was now either in the process of buying or already had bought property in the high desert most likely in an effort to reestablish herself. With that tiny seed of information, seemingly driven by an overwhelming need, desire, or just plain want to see her, and with no one willing to make any kind of arrangements to help make it happen, I started plotting on how to connect up with her in my own inimitable way.
My own inimitable way was fairly simple. I was going to run away and find her. After that I had no plans, although I was highly aware of the fact that the summer I chose to run away just happened to be the summer before I was to start high school --- and I wasn't sure in that respect of what, if any, the ramifications might be.
Less than a month after school let out for the summer I had accumulated enough money for a Greyhound ticket to the then little desert town of Palmdale which I knew wouldn't be far from wherever she was. Without anybody's knowledge or approval I gathered up a few things and using the cover story of going to a friend's house for the day, I left. A few days later I found my stepmother with the following results:
"Although impressed that I ran away just to be with her she thought it best to get in touch with my dad and see what she should do next. Unwilling to talk with my grandmother she called the woman of the foster couple I ran away from, who she knew and was friends with, hoping to find out if I should be returned to them or to locate my father, telling the woman that I was in good care and everything was OK. The woman of the couple, Aunt Pauline, told my stepmother to 'keep the fucking little asshole, I don't give a shit what happens to him.' Then she added, 'Don't forget his prick of a little brother, either.' My stepmother, taking into consideration there were no subtle or hidden messages in her response, being quite clear as well as taking her at her word, contacted my uncle to see if he had any idea where my dad was. He didn't, but told my stepmother if she could find no other solution and she could get me to Santa Fe he would deal with situation until everything could be hammered out. With that, having no success locating my dad for whatever reason, rather than sticking me on some grungy multi-day cross desert bus ride to my uncle's and not knowing for sure if I wouldn't just get off somewhere on the way, she arranged for the same former World War II P-47 pilot that flew my uncle and me to Sacramento a few years before to fly me to Santa Fe, ensuring, she hoped, I would be less likely to get out mid-trip."
Even though my dad and stepmother were no longer together, I spent a good part of almost every summer while I was in high school on one property or the other she owned in the high desert. During the summer just before I started high school she had only just returned from South America and bought the property or was in the process of buying it. At that time the place she bought was pretty much a run down, long shuttered former attempt at a dude ranch. One year later, during my first full summer there, what she called a 'ranch' --- even though as a ranch it was a little on the sparse side in what I would call standard ranch fare --- had been completely rebuilt and refurbished with a rather long fully stocked bar, food service facilities, swimming pool, dance hall, live entertainment, along with rodeos and boxing matches on the weekends. It also had a Wurlitzer bubbler model jukebox and at least two dozen one-armed-bandit slot machines in a secret hidden room, plus like I like to say, a flock of ever present hostesses --- several of whom took me under their wing and one or two that may have been slightly more friendly than they should have been considering my young age, the youngest at the time at the very least being six years older than me.
At the end of one of the boxing days, some Runyonesque types, knowing I was the "son" of the owner and having been ferrying bet money between them on some of the matches invited me to sit down and have dinner with them. My stepmother, circulating through the crowd, after noticing me at the table with some fairly risky types, came over to see if all was well. In small talk one of them said they had come up for the day from Del Mar and would soon be heading back to continue their gambling on the thoroughbreds, then asked if I could go back with them and learn about the horses. My stepmother, having a complementary bottle of wine sent to their table, asked to let her think on it.
Later, when she and I were alone she told me I was welcome to go if I liked but to be aware, despite their appearance and demeanor they were pretty rough types, possibly some even packing heat. That night five of us left together counting me, with me riding in the middle of the back seat of a brand new 1953 Cadillac convertible with the top down, the whole of the trip to Del Mar done mostly at flat out high speed. Cigars, booze, and sometimes shooting at stop signs with .45 automatics. Not me of course, I was just a boy. In the afternoon of the second day, and nearly $500 bucks ahead thanks to their suggestions, I was put on a train to L.A. where I was met at Union Station and taken back to the ranch. Little did I know at the time that for the whole trip I was being watched closely, albeit from a distance, by one of my stepmother's employees.
The interesting part of it is that one of the Runyonesque types watching and betting on the boxing matches that day was one and the same man who had, at the Normandie Club several years earlier, put his arm between me and the other man saying he recognized me. At my stepmother's ranch he recognized me again and during our trip to Del Mar in an astute fashion basically kept watch on my overall well being. My stepmother told me that years before, his wife and young son had been killed in a horrific auto accident with the two of them burnt beyond recognition. She said if his son would have lived he and I would have been just about the same age.
One morning early during that very same summer as the Del Mar excursion above, my stepmother came to me all dressed up with high heels and everything and said she was going to Los Angeles for some meeting or the other and wanted to know 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 cemetery 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 a while they both walked back toward the car and it was then I was introduced. The woman was Brenda Allen, a few years before Hollywood’s and L.A.'s most prosperous madam. The gravesite they went to see? I never learned.
JOHNNY ROSELLI: MAFIOSO
EL REY CLUB: RESORT, CASINO, BROTHEL
FIFIE MALOUF: ENTREPRENEUR, SOCIALITE, MADAME
VIDEO MOVIE: FREEWAY CITY, GARDENA CARD CLUBS
(please click image)
As to the subject of donations, for those of you who may be interested in doing so 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.
The primary source for the quote is found in THE GERMAN SUBMARINE ATTACK ON HOOVER DAM, linked below, which pretty much revolves around and gets into the whole summer I spent on my stepmother's ranch the following year after I ran away --- that is, the summer between my ninth and tenth grade in high school. It gets fairly in-depth into who I ran into, what I did, and what happened that summer. Chasing locomotives across the desert in a top-down jeep, my stepmother pulling a pistol on a hooker, former German POWs and submarines trying to blow up Hoover Dam during World War II. The usual stuff that typically happens to a teenager when he visits his stepmother for the summer. The list that follows beneath the link, although somewhat redundant in some of the material it presents does offer a whole lot of insights to and about Pauline including photographs and whose full name was Pauline Page. Have fun:
GERMAN SUBMARINE ATTACK ON HOOVER DAM
That first summer, the one I ran away from Pauline's in the first place and went to my stepmother's, if you recall she tried to get in touch with my father. When she was unable to reach him she contacted my dad's brother, my uncle, who said he was willing to take me until things could be worked out. In that my uncle lived in New Mexico and I was on my stepmother's ranch in the high desert of California and she felt time was at an essence, she arranged for me to be flown to Santa Fe. She had a pilot she knew fly into a close-by one-time, albeit long abandoned military airfield called Victory Field and pick me up. The pilot, a former P-47 Thunderbolt jockey was flying a two seat North American AT-6. It was the first time I had ever been off the ground and into the air in any kind of a World War II aircraft, so for me the trip to my uncle's was not only highly memorable, it was as well white-knuckle exciting.
As soon as my father found out he wanted to know what he hell I was doing with in Santa Fe in the first place then going on to the east coast with plans for Europe. He told his brother, my uncle, in no uncertain terms he wanted me back in California immediately --- if for no other reason just because I would be attending a new school in the fall and needed to register, telling me I would no longer be staying with the foster family I had been living with in Gardena, but instead, living with my grandmother and going to Redondo Union High School. So, once again in my young life I was staying with someone else, although this time it was my grandmother, and starting a new school. See:
It seems early in the year 1946 a Los Angeles police officer had been shot and killed on the streets of Chinatown during a gambling raid. When the news of the officer's death eventually filtered down to my stepmother, for reasons not known to me even to this day, she somehow felt responsible for ensuring his widow or the woman he was closely associated with and her young son were properly cared for. Somewhere along the way my stepmother learned the woman, who wanted to leave the city, had previously inherited a rundown dilapidated piece of property in Idaho that had been at onetime a working ranch. My stepmother hired a crew to fix up the place, make it livable with reliable running water and even paid to have the electricity extended to reach the ranch as it had not yet got that far. Then she sent the woman, her young son, and if not with the two of them initially, within a short time, my older brother, for whatever reason, to live there.
Regarding the police officer who was slain, the following, in my own words, is an extrapolation of events recalled to the best of my ability some years after the fact after having been initially researched from official sources:
The policeman killed in the line of duty during the 1946 Chinatown gambling raid was assisting members of the Los Angeles Police Department's Vice Squad. As the primary contingent of the Vice Squad rushed the front of the building, the policeman, as assigned, had positioned himself along with several other officers toward the rear of the building in order to assist in stopping or apprehending any fleeing suspects. A gun battle erupted between those on the inside and those on the outside when one or more of the men providing security for the illicit gambling discovered any potential escape route through the back had been blocked. The gunmen on the inside fired a significant number of rounds through the rear entrance just as officers entered. A random slug from the volley unleashed by the assailants struck the policeman in the abdomen puncturing his kidney, the officer dying in the hospital from his wound the following day.
Witnesses as well as ballistics connected a specific gun to one of the shooters, the gunman being convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to one to 10 years.
Personally I hold the belief that my stepmother was on the other side of the law on this one. Her concern for the slain police officer may have stemmed from the fact he may have been on her payroll --- or not --- and that he tried or did warn her of the impending raid. As I look back at it all now as a grown adult with a much wider perspective, there is also a chance my stepmother had some sort of a wider connection back to the police officer, possibly even inter connection, financially or otherwise, with the Chinatown gambling den so alluded to such as anti-raid bribes or maybe as an owner of the building, or providing hostesses, backing high stake players, or any number of things.
So too, in sort of a sidebar here, the whole raid could have been a set up. While it is true Chinese gambling ran outside the law it also operated outside the mob's purview. L.A.s official illicit gambling trade was run by two major warring mob factions. Bugsy Siegel and his lieutenant Mickey Cohen on one side with Jack Dragna and Johnny Roselli on the other, with both sides often overlapping, sometimes ending in adverse consequences. The Chinese ran their own. My stepmother's involvement in any of the three, if at all, wink, wink, is not known.