There are all kinds of stories in myths and legends surrounding stepmothers being wicked and all that. My stepmother was nothing like that. Matter of fact, at least in my opinion, she was fabulous. She was smart, beautiful, wealthy, shrewd, loving, and generous --- and it was her generosity that, in the end, did her in. If she had any failings in the stepmother area it was that she never had any kids of her own and knew nothing about raising kids, nor did she particularly want to know --- she herself having many years of singlehood and never being interested in being married before she met my dad. The thing is, when my older brother, myself, and my younger brother were sprung on her all that stuff did not matter much because we had long since passed through the toddler stage with my older brother actually just touching into his teens.
I was quite young when my mother died. No sooner had my mother been laid to rest than my father, who had been on a non-stop binge since her death, possibly before, hastily left the care of my two brothers in the hands of others, with each being sent their separate ways to relatives or guardians. Then, without even waiting to see if his haze-fueled plans would be remotely successful he basically disappeared into the hinterlands for several years heavy into alcohol. My older brother went to live with my grandmother's brother and his family in some small town in the lower reaches of the mountains near Fresno, California. My younger brother went to live with my father's father's brother's son and his wife down along the California-Mexican border. Me, I had been farmed out to a couple before my mother even died. They took me to India staying at the ashram of the venerated Indian holy man the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi in Tiruvannamalai, India for a few months, the visit for me personally ending with somewhat startling results. On return, the couple, thinking I had lost my mind because of a somewhat skewed perspective of things I was exhibiting, dumped me off totally unannounced at my grandmother's on my father's side in Pennsylvania --- a grandmother I had never met nor ever even heard of. From there I was returned to the west coast to be with my grandmother on my mother's side while arrangements were being made for me to live with a couple that owned a flower shop.
In the meantime, that so-called skewed perspective on things, a term actually coined from my grandmother's observations after my return, set into motion a series of concerns, thus her contacting my uncle, with him then traveling from Santa Fe at her request, one of the first of several trips. Searching for solutions, my uncle knowing I had been to India but not knowing I had met with a prominent Indian holy man, somehow intuitively took me to see one of the prominent Eastern religious figures in California at the time, Paramahansa Yogananda of the Self-Realization Fellowship near San Diego --- without, at least at that point in my life, any positive results.
My older brother and younger brother must have been somewhat more satisfied with the outcome of whatever arrangements had been made for them. I, on the otherhand, for reasons I am unable to recall, ran away from the flowershop couple on at least two occasions. The last time ending with me missing enough days of school that someone came to see why I was no longer attending. The couple told the school they had not seen me for several days and did not know where I was. The school inturn called my grandmother, the emergency contact listed on their paperwork. My grandmother came looking for me and eventually, months later and well into the summer, located me in my old hometown of Redondo Beach, California, staying with an only recently discharged World War II ex-Marine taxi driver that had fought his way up through all the islands in all the major battles in the Pacific from Guadalcanal northward.
My grandmother, except possibly for the taxi driver and I having breakfast almost every morning at the Happy Hour Cafe owned by the South Bay's infamous Fifie Malouf, usually after having picked up non gratis one or two female stragglers wending their way back after a long night of plying their trade, and maybe him visiting a "friend" once in awhile in the afternoon in one of Fifie's apartments while I waited in the cafe, quickly assessed him as being an otherwise honorable man, thanked him for overseeing my well-being, then took me back with her. I stayed with my grandmother, bouncing back and forth between her and my uncle for awhile, even starting school, when, for unknown reasons, I was taken to live with my younger brother in a no sidewalk mostly dirt-street town somewhere east of San Diego near the Mexican border. After a passage of time, of which I don't remember how long, but looking back probably not much more than a week or two, several at the most, out of the blue and totally unannounced, my father showed up all dapper looking and handsome driving probably one of the very first brand-new post-war Pontiac Streamliner fastback sedans off the assembly line, telling my brother and me he wanted to take us to Los Angeles for a few days to meet someone. That someone turned out to be the person that would eventually become my stepmother.
Apparently my older brother had already been to our soon-to-be stepmother's place, met her, and there seemed to be enough quasi-OK-ness, at least on her side, to go ahead and meet my younger brother and myself. Fifteen or twenty minutes before our first meeting occurred I had been left in a library-like area of her rather extensive home. Waiting apprehensively almost to the point of being sick because of not knowing what to expect, in order to pass time and redirect my thoughts from the butterflies in my stomach I began glancing over the various books she had neatly stacked on the shelves. In the process I came across a book that caught my eye published in 1943 titled The Lady and the Tigers, about one of my favorite subjects, The Flying Tigers. I pulled the book off the shelf and after thumbing through it for a couple of minutes, sat down and began reading it.
When my soon-to-be stepmother came into the room, apologizing for being late and well aware of my penchant for running away, she was all impressed that under my own volition I was sitting there quietly reading. When she asked what book I was so engrossed in and I showed her, she said, speaking of the author of the book, Olga Greenlaw, "Oh, I know her, she lives just up on the other side of Sunset Boulevard."
From the very first I liked her, and being around my soon-to-be stepmother --- which I'm shortening here to be called stepmother --- those several days to a week or so I have nothing but fond memories. We went to the zoo in Griffth Park, the observatory, and walked through Fern Dell. She took us to the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood and to the Brown Derby that I still remember looked like a hat. We went up and down Angels Flight, ate taquitos at Olvera Street and rode a Pacific Electric redcar to the beach in Santa Monica just for the heck of it.
All the time my stepmother and I were together, at least while the two of us were out in public, we were always accompanied by a fairly good-sized well dressed man in a suit who typically stayed at a distance, never really joining the two of us per se.' According to my stepmother the man was her driver, a role of which he fulfilled on a number of occasions. If he wasn't driving he was always close by or nearby and very seldom if ever said a word. During one of the days I was visiting my stepmother's, on my own volition I began exploring around the house and grounds when I stumbled onto a sort of servants quarters kitchen-like area where a variety of, I guess, working staff had gathered, basically just hanging out. When I came in the place suddenly went silent, with several people scattering as though they should have been doing something elsewhere, leaving half filled coffee mugs and partly smoked cigarettes behind.
The driver, who was sitting at a table with his suit jacket hanging over the back of the chair, wasn't able to just get up and leave so quickly, mostly because he was in the process of cleaning a pistol. The pistol was in several parts on the table together with a few small, round long handled twisted wire brushes and what appeared to be an olive-drab squeeze tin of oil. He made no effort to speed up what he was doing, but did kick one of the chairs out as though he wanted me to sit down. Then without a word, in a mimicking like motioned as though taking a drink from a bottle and pointing to the fridge, a woman washing cups and stuff took a coke from the fridge, opened it and sat the bottle in front of me. With that I pulled my chair closer to the table to look at the pistol as the driver finished cleaning the parts and began putting the gun back together. After the pistol was assembled, without putting the clip in it, he pulled the sliding mechanism back a few times dry firing it, then inserted the clip and slipped the pistol into a leather shoulder holster he had strapped around his chest. With that he stood up, put his jacket on over the gun and holster, adjusting everything so it looked like it wasn't there and said, "Lets go find your mom, son." The driver's pistol? A World War II .45 caliber U.S. Army issued Colt-built M1911A1 automatic.(see)
A few days later, with our time there apparently being up my younger brother and I along with a nanny were put on a train and sent home.
Months passed. Then one day my younger brother and I were taken back to the train station by the couple we were living with and met by the same nanny we had traveled with before. The three of us boarded the train, ending up in Reno, Nevada where we were met by my dad and older brother. My dad and stepmother married in Reno that weekend and shortly thereafter we moved into her behind-the-walls compound in Los Angeles. Initially, for the first few months anyway, albeit extended, living like one happy family.
What I mean by extended is that my stepmother hired people to do everything. She did the same in the process of overseeing us kids. It worked out great for me because as soon as she noticed I had a certain propensity toward art she had 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 stay on the west coast and have me protege under him. My younger brother had a nanny, but for my older brother, any attempt on my stepmother's part to make things right did not work out so well. Bottom line he hated her and made her life as miserable as possible. He remembered our real mother and our family and would not accept our stepmother in any role --- plus she interfered with his relationship with our father. He wanted him exclusively and did not like the fact that she took basically all my dad's time. In the end my brother got so belligerent and hard to handle they decided to put him in the Mckinley School for Boys in Van Nuys and later in the California Military Academy in Baldwin Hills. For me, being as I was his younger brother and not being able to fully grasp the bigger picture, I was a little perplexed by it all. However, when I went to see him on occasion I thought it was kind of cool, little uniforms and all, everything neat and tidy. Besides, in my own life things were flowering. My uncle, although classically school trained in the arts, was a bohemian through-and-through and I followed him around like a little puppy dog basking in his intellect, philosophy, and creativity --- always under the distant watchful eye of my stepmother and, of course, floated by baskets full of her money.
Not unlike my brother, my grandmother hated my stepmother too --- or at the very least, disliked her immensely. I don't think I ever saw her even once during the years my dad and stepmother were married. In later years she painted a word picture of who she was and what she did for a living in a not so flattering way. So too, it ate away at my grandmother because my dad knew my stepmother while my mother was still alive and how they seemed to get awfully close so quickly following my mother's death. When she told me the story on how the two of them met I suppose one could cast aspersions on who she was and what she did (for a living), although much to my grandmother's chagrin, I never did.
According to my grandmother, and elaborated on many years later by my stepmother, my stepmother and my dad met on the evening of Monday July 19, 1937 long after he married my mother, but before I was born. On that evening a mob affiliated gambler named George Lester "Les" Bruneman was walking arm and arm with two young women along the waterfront business district in Redondo Beach just past the north entrance to the Horseshoe Pier when at least one bullet ripped through his back from several shots fired by two contract hit men. My dad, who had been in a minor disagreement of some sort with my mother that evening, had walked down to the waterfront and only just entered one of the establishments along El Paseo, possibly the Wagon Wheel or Taxi Cafe, when he heard the shots ring out. Stepping back outside he saw two women, quickly joined by a third who got out of the passenger side of a car that had stopped briefly along El Paseo, half carrying, half dragging the bleeding Bruneman north along El Paseo, eventually taking refuge in the lobby of the Fox Theater at the north end of the street.
As my dad was catching up with the women struggling to carry the wounded man he could overhear the newly arrived third woman desperately trying to convince the other two into just leaving Burneman, but was successful in talking only one of them into doing so, she backtracking down El Paseo disappearing in the crowd. As the second woman kneeled down with Bruneman in the lobby the third woman, seeing her pleas were more-or-less falling on deaf ears, began backing off, but before she could clear the theater foyer police arrived and began holding nearby people as potential witnesses, of which my father and the third woman were amongst those held.
The woman told my dad under no circumstances could she afford to get caught up in the situation and would he please claim that the two of them were together. My dad told the police they were together, told them he was a resident of Redondo Beach and saw nothing. The police glanced at his ID and at the woman, and even though there was a clear difference between his working class attire and her being dressed to the nines, they never questioned the woman and just let them go. The woman took my dad's arm and they strolled back down El Paseo looking all the same as a couple. When they got some distance away from the theater the woman motioned to a car that had slowly been following behind them to the curb. A male driver came around and opened the door for her. She thanked my dad for the help, handing him a card and telling him the two women were "hostesses" she provided for Bruneman at his bar, the Surf Club. She also told my dad, in so many words, that in appreciation for his help she could arrange for some fun times if he was interested. My dad told her he was a happily married man with a nearly three year old son with hope for a second one soon and no longer indulged.
With a slight expression of questionable disbelief barely brushing across her face, raising one eybrow, she responded with, "Quaint." Nearly ten years later that same woman became my stepmother.
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 celebritiy 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.
Several years into their marriage my dad and stepmother went on an extended trip to Mexico and South America because of what my stepmother viewed as an increasingly unfriendly business environment. The rational behind that decision grew, and continued to grow, following the arrest on May 19, 1948 of woman by the name of Brenda Allen. Allen's arrest, because of operating in a closely similar economic sphere as my stepmother, sent what I would call chills down my stepmother's spine. In my stepmother's view, from the time of Allen's initial arrest to her conviction (without a jury) and sentence to serve time in the State Institution for Women at Tehachapi in September, 1948, was way too harsh and moved way to quickly. Even when a police officer, by her own testimony before the grand jury stated that as a witness she swore falsely against Allen under oath during the trial, a motion for a new trial was denied, the judgment and the order were allowed to stand. 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.
If all the Allen stuff wasn't enough in itself, in the second week of June, 1949 the Los Angeles Daily News began a series of hard-hitting articles on the Los Angeles Police Department that revealed an apparent long term legacy of corruption clear up to the highest levels. The potential backtracking along the trail of that alleged corruption to the sources of the corruption put the handwriting on the wall for my stepmother. By the end of the year, with the powers that be smitten by Allen being sprung by the California Supreme Court and searching for new targets to strike down, my stepmother and father left the country on what I was told was an extended vacation. It was then things began to change for me as well as my brothers.
During the two-year period they were gone their marriage deteriorated to such a point it ended. By the summer of 1952, me being under the guardianship of my uncle had waned to such a low level that what was left just came to a screeching halt after the decision by my father and stepmother to divorce. Our de facto family dissolved and my uncle went back to the Taos, Santa Fe area and I went to live with my grandmother.
When my stepmother, now my or soon-to-be-ex-stepmother, got back to the states her source of income was greatly diminished and her contacts either gone or ignoring her. As she was searching around for a way to financially reestablish herself she ran into a longtime friend by the name of Pancho Barnes who had only recently fallen on hardtimes herself.
Barnes had built and owned what eventually came to known throughout World War II and for several years afterwards as the Happy Bottom Riding Club, a dude ranch right on the edge of Edwards Air Force Base that featured a motel, an abundance of riding horses and thoroughbreds, a restaurant, three landing strips, a dance hall, gambling den and a world-famous bar which catered to military personnel from the nearby air base along with all of her Hollywood friends. The ranch became famous for it's all night parties and high-flying lifestyle of her guests.
In 1952, just as my stepmother was returning, following a change of command at the air base, friction between Pancho and the base commander began to increase because of the number of flights in and out of the Club's landing strip and what the commander called an incroachment into the base's airspace. When the government attempted to buy her property allegedly to expand the air base runways and Pancho refused, a series of unproven allegations surfaced that the Happy Bottom Riding Club was, among other things, a brothel. The Air Force slapped an off limits on the ranch, effectively banning servicemen from going to the club. Falling on hard times and basically deserted when the government moved to appropriate the ranch, Pancho sued. Then, on November 13, 1953, shortly after she beat the government and won the lawsuit, the ranch, under very, very suspicious circumstances, burnt to the ground, some even say, although it was never proven, from a possible strike from the air.
My ex-stepmother stepped into the picture when the Air Force placed the off limits decree on the Club. She had a California liquor licence and owned several bars in Los Angeles. Pancho, as a friend from their old Laguna Beach days, in a casual conversation with my ex-stepmother, who supplied hostesses for the club on and off over time, suggested she open a facility similar to Pancho's now, or soon to be, defunct Club --- only far enough from the air base that they could not mess with it, but still close enough that it was easily accessible --- AND with NO known or on the surface affliation or ties with Pancho. So she did, opening the closest bar in those days to the air base south gate, somewhat east and south of Pancho's old place, duplicating almost all of the same amenities and wide open services except for an airstrip. The following is what I have written about it at the source so cited:
"Even though she and my dad were no longer married I spent a good part of every summer while I was in high school on one property or the other she owned in the Mojave, most usually the one not far from Piute Butte. The short time I was there during the summer prior to high school, following the Tehachapi quake but before going to my uncle's in Santa Fe, she had only just bought the property or was in the process of buying it. At that time it was pretty much a run down 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 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."(source)
At the exact same time my stepmother was in the process of setting up the replacement establishment for Pancho Barnes' recently or about to be shuttered facility I was just on the verge of entering high school. During the summer before high school, right after I heard my stepmother had returned from South America, I ran away from the home of the foster couple I was living with, ending up at her ranch totally unannounced. In that she and my father had only just divorced, she wasn't sure if he would be totally receptive to the idea of me being there. 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.
Once my ex-stepmother came to the desert and stayed for awhile, as with Pancho Barnes, things began falling apart. There were fires in which she lost buildings, businesses, homes, money, fur coats, jewelry, and antique guns --- of which one almost lost was a genuine Colt Walker that I scrounged around and eventually pulled out of some of burnt down remains.
My stepmother went from a beautiful woman with class and suave to an old lady with missing teeth living in dump full of goats and dogs, her once perfect hair with never a strand out of place to straw, her feet once emaculately manicured and oiled to gnarly with dried heels filled with open cracks, her wealth and once powerful friends gone.
THE 1847 COLT WALKER
Because she had fallen on hard times and I felt she could use a large influx of cash I convinced her that selling her Colt, a very rare and expensive firearm, 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.
Probably the most infamous desert rat to have ever tread the sands of the Mojave Desert, Walt Bickel, once said, "The desert does funny things to you." Such seems to have been the case with Pancho Barnes and my ex-stepmother. She died in 1985. It had been ten years since I saw her last.
WORLD WAR II COMES TO REDONDO
THE WANDERLING AND HIS UNCLE
Their Life and Times Together
Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.
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.
The compound as it was called was located in the West Adams district of Los Angeles. My stepmother owned or least maintained several houses within a few blocks of each other in the West Adams area, of which the main one, hers, was behind the high fences of an up-scale gated community called Berkeley Square, number 10 to be exact. Erle P. Halliburton, who founded what eventually became Halliburton Oil, owned two houses in Berkeley Square, living in one on the across the street side from my stepmother's in number 19. His youngest son, David J. Halliburton, who I met when I was around ten years old because of my stepmother living in Number 10 Berkeley Square was to eventually play an abstract role in my life years later.
I didn't live with my stepmother at number 10 per se', but at the compound along with my two brothers and where the art studio of my uncle was located. The compound was also just across the street from the two-story launch site of my infamous Da Vinci like manned flight wherein I jumped off the roof with a winged glider that I had designed and built myself with some assist from my uncle. The results of that flight, described below, is from the source so cited:
"Initially the flight played out fairly well, picking up wind under the wings and maintaining the same two-story height advantage for some distance. Halfway across busy Arlington Street though, the craft began slowing and losing forward momentum. It began dropping altitude rapidly, eventually crashing into the porch and partway through the front windows of the house across the way. Other than a few bruises and a wrecked machine, nothing was broken, although as it turned out, my dad wasn't nearly as proud of me as intended. I never forgot the thrill of that flight and carried that thrill and Leonardo's dreams into my adulthood."(source)
The idea of manned-flight didn't end for me the day I crashed the glider into the neighbor's house across the street. Matter of fact, as a grown man, after hearing of a powerful 'devil wind' that blows downslope in the High Sierras given the name 'Washoe Zephyr' by Mark Twain and others, wherein the wind was able to lift a full grown mule off of 7900 foot high Mount Davidson --- up and behind Virginia City, Nevada --- and carry it 5 miles across the valley setting it down unhurt, I had to see it. Seeing the 'devil wind' at full force ended for me in a second attempt at manned-flight. See:
TARZAN AND THE HUNTRESS
NUMBER 10 BERKELEY SQUARE
Even though I actually lived at the compound with my uncle and brothers I was still over at number 10 on-and-off on occasion. In those days, school-wise, I was somewhere around the fourth grade and attended 24th Street Elementary School a few blocks from the compound. The physical location of the 24th Street Elementary School itself actually bordered right up against Berkeley Square although you couldn't just 'cut through' because of all of the walls and gates. Sometimes my best friend Martin Petrosky, who lived three or four houses down the street from the compound, and I, disobeying strict orders from my uncle to come straight back after school, would circle around to see if my stepmother was home. In the process I was there enough to get to know the goings on in the Square and some of the people who lived there. The following if from the David Halliburton site linked below:
"David Halliburton was basically born at Berkeley Square, the family having moved in just weeks if not days before his birth. When I first met him I was around maybe eight or nine years old, he being at least twelve years older, making him at the time around 20 --- and no doubt the reason he didn't recognize me the day we met on his marlin boat. How I crossed paths with him at Berkeley Square came about because my stepmother had who she called a 'namesake niece' visiting her for a several weeks during the summer staying at number 10. Because my stepmother insisted on her own personal privacy almost at all costs, plus she didn't want her niece around all of us hooligans and the shenanigans at the compound, she set her up in the fully equipped, albeit long unused, old servants quarters attached to the garage.
"My stepmother's niece was around 16 years old, looked much older, very busty and quite beautiful. My stepmother put her in charge of watching over my younger brother and myself a few times which put me in and out of Berkeley Square more often than I otherwise would have. In any case, somewhere in there David Halliburton took notice of my stepmother's niece and started hanging around now and then. I don't know what happened if anything, but it wasn't long after he showed up that my brother and I was shoved out of the picture. It was even less time than that my stepmother had her niece return to wherever she came from and as far as I know that was the end of it. Years later, in my role in the scheme of things, a mere sander of wood, I never mentioned the connection to either Halliburton or the skipper."
DAVID J. HALLIBURTON
NUMBER 10 BERKELEY SQUARE
Before any need arose to send my older brother off to Mckinley or the California Military Academy, in the same way my uncle had been brought in to oversee me, my father brought in a person to oversee my older brother. That person was a man my dad had long ago named as godfather for my brothers and myself.
My godfather had basically saved my father and real mother from going without food and being without a home during the Great Depression of the 1930s. He gave them a place to stay and my father a job --- something my dad never forgot. Inturn my dad named him as godfather over my two brothers and myself. To most people, myself included, my godfather was like a second grandfather and family members and friends alike always called him "Pop." He was also one of the few people other than my dad who had the ablility to "control" my older brother after our mother died.
In the years prior to the war my godfather, who was actually a carpenter by trade, reportedly had very strong connections to Los Angeles mayor Frank Shaw and especially so his brother Joe Shaw, some even saying he was related to them and in the process received some kind of financial compensation for a variety of endeavors he carried out for them. Historian Dr Kevin Starr, in his book THE DREAM ENDURES: California Enters the 1940s (1997), writing about Shaw's mayoral regime in Los Angeles, tells how by 1937 he and his brother Joe either participated in or let happen (with substantial kick-backs together with a number of police on the take) a network of brothels, gambling houses, and clip joints, all of it run by well-organized syndicates with reportedly an estimated six hundred brothels, three hundred gambling houses, eighteen hundred bookie joints, and twenty three thousand slot machines. When the mayor was recalled and his brother went down so did any money, power, or protection my godfather may have had. After that he sort of spiraled downward. As much as everyone in our immediate family loved him and as much as my father had interceded in trying to help him, over the years he 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. Cohen agreed if my stepmother paid the money to him personally. Which she did. Through mutual agreement Cohen cut off our godfather's credit line, my stepmother sent him packing and then sent my older brother off to the military academy.
My brother's stay at the military academy lasted only to the end of the following school year. 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.
Even though my older brother and stepmother did not get along very well it was just the 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 awhile 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. One day she did come to me and ask if I would like to ride up to Santa Barbara with her. I jumped at the chance. Not only could we spend the day together but Santa Barbara was the last place I had seen my mother alive before she died and I always wanted to go back.
When we arrived in Santa Barbara we went to visit a man she knew in a hospital. She said he was a longtime friend and was recuperating after having been in the army. I am not sure what the nature of the business with the man was, but I remember he was introduced as Johnny. Years later I found out "Johnny" was Johnny Roselli, and while it is true he had been in the army, having gone in on December 4, 1942 at age 37, he only served until he was arrested on federal charges March 19, 1943. On December 30, 1943 he was found guilty and sentenced to ten years in federal prison. On Aug. 13, 1947, after serving roughly three and a half years Roselli was paroled. So when my stepmother and I saw him in the hospital he may have been recuperating alright, but not from the army, but prison.
JOHNNY ROSELLI IN UNIFORM CIRCA 1943
When I turned 21 I bought my first brand new car. Since I was 21 and had a brand new car I decided to go to Las Vegas for the first time on my own. On the way I stopped by my now ex-stepmother's hovel in the desert to see how she was and slip her a few bucks like I often did since I graduated from high school and got a job. When she learned I was going to Vegas she asked if I remembered our trip to Santa Barbara and the man in the hospital. When I told her yes she scribbled a few things on a piece of paper, put it in an envelope and told me to look him up and give him the note. She told me his name was Johnny Roselli and most likely at the Desert Inn.
After I arrived in Vegas I found someone who pointed out Roselli. When I started to go up to his table a man with folded arms stepped in front of me blocking me from going any further. I told him I had a note I was asked to deliver to Mr. Roselli. The man took the envelope and told me to wait. Roselli opened the envelope, looked at the note then told the man who had stopped me to have me come to his booth. The man frisked me then let me by. I told Roselli who I was, that we had met once before and that my stepmother had asked me to deliver the note to him. He motioned me to sit down, asked how my mother was doing. I filled him in as best I could, telling him I do what I can for her, it is just that she is unwilling to accept any help. Roselli asked where I was staying. When I told him he picked up a phone on the table, dialed a number, told them he was Johnny Roselli, talked a few more minutes, then hung up. He told me he had "comped" my room for me, moved me up to a suite, and that during my stay, except for gambling, everything was on the house. He said if there was any problem tell them to call him. Then he told me to make sure I looked him up before I left as he wanted to return something to my mother. Just as I was getting up he made one last comment saying "Ride any trains lately?" I just pointed at him and we both laughed.(see)
When I went back to the Desert Inn I didn't see Roselli but there was a large manilla envelope waiting for me with one of my stepmother's old aliases written on it. On the way home I stopped by her place and gave her the envelope. When she opened it inside was $5000 in cash.
A few years later I was back seeing Roselli once again on my stepmother's behalf. Seems she had 35 fully operable vintage slot machines, albeit illegal in California, stashed away in storage unbeknownst to anyone. She had them set up at one time behind a false wall in the bar/dancehall on the ranch she used to own out in the desert. When the dancehall and bar burned down anybody that knew about them thought they were destroyed. Instead she had secreted them away days before the fire. Now, years later, what she was hoping for was a quick sale possibly with the help of someone like Roselli who had connections in the gaming industry. She asked me to meet with him to see if he could line up a quick buyer no questions asked. The whole story is covered fairly well in a footnoted section called The Fourth Meeting on the Johnny Roselli page.
There is a very interesting sideline to all of this Johnny Roselli stuff that I was unwilling to share with him or bring up during our meeting in Las Vegas.
On April 1, 1939, almost twenty years to the day before Roselli and I met in Las Vegas, the then 33 year old Roselli married an up-and-coming 22 year old Hollywood actress named June Lang with 20 or more movies under her belt. Roselli, who was well known in Hollywood circles had passed himself off as an aspiring film producer, when in reality he was a major mover in the mob. Reports are that Lang was madly in love with Roselli BUT, like many on the periphery or slightly out of the loop, had no idea he was a mobster.
My real mother, who I seldom talk about, and sister, from their pre-teens to their very early teens, danced with a traveling vaudeville troup that primarily followed the Pantages Circuit and billed as the DOUGLAS DANCERS, doing such performances or scenes as Nine Tiny Tots In Fairyland and others as listed below. It was during that period June Lang was working as a dancer at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles and somewhere in there for circumstances unknown to me my mother and June Lang crossed paths. I am not privy to the depth or extent of any friendship or relationship that may have developed between the two, only that my grandmother, who seemed to have a photographic memory when it came to June Lang, over the years remembered her fondly and spoke as though she and my mother were close, at least during their childhood dancing years. My mother was three or four years older than Lang. Lang at the time had been passing herself off as being three or four years older than she actually was so she may have made friendship with my mother as a cover.
The Sunday Oregonian dated July 18, 1920, in the newspaper's Sunday 'Dramatic Section,' makes mention of the Douglas Dancers appearing at the Pantages in Portland. The photograph with the article shows ten young female performers of which the two youngest in the photo are thought to be my mother and aunt, with the girl seated on the far left my mom and the girl on the right leaning on her chin with her hands my aunt.
The Douglas Dancers were under the auspices of Hamilton Douglas Jr and his wife, an accomplished dancer in her own right. (see)
The text in the article accompanying the photograph reads:
"The second feature will be the Douglas dancers, presented by Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton Douglas Jr. This is an offering that will be of particular interest to the little folk. There are four scenes in the offering, 'Artists in Miniature,' 'Shipwrecked Mariners,' 'The Enchanted Forest,' and 'A Lotus in Fairyland.' The production has been gorgeously staged and the scenery in each setting is exceptionally rich. The company has 10 people and the various dances are most artistically arranged."
Please note the full text of the page and photograph as it appears at The Sunday Oregonian link above is expandable.
It seems like during the time I was being overseen by my uncle under the ever watchful eye of my stepmother and her then unending supply of money, there wasn't anything we didn't do or anyplace we didn't go as long as she deemed it in some respects, educational --- and I didn't miss any school. The only time I DID miss any amount of school in our travels involved the Kensington Stone, a mysterious rock slab found buried a hundred years ago in the middle of Minnesota and covered top to bottom with an ancient script carved into its surface that when translated stated a group of Norsemen were in America 130 years before Columbus. When it first came up that I (we, my uncle and I) had to see the Stone it was on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. It was being exhibited there from February 17, 1948 through to February 25, 1949, after which it was going to be returned to its owners in Alexandria, Minnesota, and replaced at the Smithsonian by a plaster cast. Concerned that it might not be put back on public display where I could see it in real life when it was returned to Minnesota my uncle convinced my stepmother he and I should go to DC and see it. Which we did.
I took the week off before the regularly scheduled school year Christmas vacation started, returning home the day before Christmas. We went by train using the southern route through Yuma, El Paso, New Orleans, then to Atlanta and on up to Washington. The whole upper tier of the U.S., and especially so the upper midwest, was covered in the worst snow anybody had ever seen, some places so deep locomotives and whole trains were completely buried with tracks covered for hundreds of miles with so much snow they couldn't even be plowed. A good part of the remaining rail service was shifted toward the southern part of the country and I remember we were caught up in it all both coming and going. No sooner had I returned and finished what was left of my vacation and started school than on January 8-11, 1949, all of downtown Los Angeles was hit with snow. The hills all around the civic center, the Hollywood Hills where the sign is, even Griffith Observatory. The storm was so bad that on January 11 the Los Angeles Unified School District shut down and declared its one and only district-wide Snow Day. It was bad enough the rest of the country was zapped by snow, but Los Angeles? I remember being totally amazed by it all as well as my uncle saying the last time it snowed like that in L.A. he had just met Albert Einstein.
Bruneman survived the Redondo Beach shooting. Three months later, on Monday, October 24, 1937 he wasn't so lucky having eight bullets pumped into him by two other mob assailants, Leo "Lips" Moceri and Frank Bompensiro while sitting and having a few drinks in the Roost Cafe located at 2700 Temple Street, Los Angeles. Within seconds of hitting the floor they ensured the job was completed by throwing several more rounds in him. A couple of bullets that passed through Bruneman tore into the legs of a woman that was with him, a 24-year-old nurse named Alice Ingram he met in the hospital from the first shooting.
The woman that slipped away in the dark following that first shooting never surfaced publicly, however the second woman, Patricia Eatone, a hostess at Bruneman's Surf Club, who was detained by the police as a witness, showed up five years later working at Brittingham’s Radio Center Restaurant in Columbia Square, a popular hangout for one Elizabeth Short. The end of August, 1942 Eatone married CBS radio announcer Hugh Brundage.
John Buntin in his most excellent book on the era, L.A. NOIR: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City (2009) says it best about Brenda Allen when he writes:
"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."
Following all the uproar over her and the trial Brenda Allen was a lady who only wanted to disappear, taking on nothing but a low profile after her release from jail --- with just a couple of blips now and then like her divorce from Robert H. Cash in 1961 --- after which she totally dropped out of sight. There are reports she passed away in 1998.
Reference article on Allen's Friday, September 2, 1949 release from jail: (click)
During the two years my dad and stepmother were gone things really changed, and not all of the change transpired quickly or smoothly in one year blocks. Most of it had to do with financing, which either began to erode, became sporadic at best, or just plain stopped while the two of them were gone. My stepmother's longtime trusted bookkeeper began to renege on payments for our upkeep such as mortgages, rent, utility bills, and day to day expenditures, then began siphoning off the money --- if not more --- for himself. My older brother came back from Idaho to live with our grandmother in the mountains east of L.A. before she moved back to Redondo Beach. My uncle, who I had been with almost exclusively for four years straight, found himself in such a position that he eventually had to return to his old stomping grounds in Santa Fe and much to his dismay, not being able to take me with him.
Unlike my older brother and myself my younger brother had been overseen by a nanny or a series of nannies most of the time my dad and stepmother were together. However, just as the two of them were leaving for South America, with no one specifically in the picture to oversee him, a woman who had at onetime worked for my stepmother asked --- or at least consented in some fashion --- to have him come live with her. She had been an entertainer with the USO during World War II, billing herself as Pauline Page and Her All Girl Band.(see) Near the end of the war she became associated with Brenda Allen and Fifie Malouf as well as my stepmother, and then, eventually, after meeting my father, falling madly in love with him. Seeing it was not going to work she married a former sergeant she met while touring with the USO who had never stopped persuing her. They bought one of those look-alike every other house had a reverse floorplan tract homes that sprang up all over in former stoop-labor farmland south of Los Angeles while he went to work for one of the aircraft factories and she stayed home wearing an apron and no underpants.
With my father, stepmother, brothers and grandmother all gone I was left basically hanging. Without many options, and after some heavy negotiating by my uncle, Aunt Pauline --- as we were told to call her --- took me in as well. The thing is, all good intentions notwithstanding, for me the arrangement didn't work out so hot, with me ending up running away on more than one occasion.(see)
OF COBRAS, SCARABS, MASERATIS, AND ZEN
CARLOS CASTANEDA: BEFORE DON JUAN
On a page I have on the net called Fifie Malouf I write about an 'old man' that tended the oil derricks not far from where I lived after I moved back to Redondo Beach and started high school. I write that every year on the Fourth of July the 'old man' would take a bunch of us kids to the top of one of the old out of service wooden oil derricks scattered along the city line to watch the fireworks being shot off in the surrounding communities. He lived in a combination caretakers shack, repair shop near the wells. What I didn't tell was that the 'old man' was an avid gun collector and master gunsmith. During my last year in high school the Colt had been caught in a fire on one of my stepmother's ranches when the main house caught fire and burnt to the ground. She let me take the Colt to the 'old man' to return it to a good condition and ensure it was in working order. I don't know in it's lifetime when the Colt was fired last or if it was ever fired, however the 'old man,' after making sure it was in good working order by test firing it in a jig, loaded it up and fired off a few rounds by hand. Then he handed the Colt to me and I finished the last three.
Edging into the late 1950s my stepmother, or ex-stepmother as the case may be, she and my father having long since divorced, had fallen on hard times. Her flow of money that once went into owning a slew of apartments, houses, and bars in Los Angeles as well as vast ownership of large tracts of ranchland gone. Except for retaining and living on 88 acres of sparse Mojave desert land that rose up off the valley floor into even more sparse foothill-like mountain-desert land, she was indigent. In those years I would drop by to see her and leave a few bucks whenever I could. Each time with her always politely refusing, even though when I was a kid she had unselfishly and without question lavished thousands upon thousands of dollars on my brothers and me as we were growing up. In the end I always just put it in some indiscriminant spot on the table or some such place when it was time for me to leave.
The property she owned and lived on was overrun by goats, about 2000 she guessed, that she was supposedly raising for some Argentine goat buyer. He had unloaded several truckloads of goats in some sort of a deal with my stepmother and never came back. In the meantime they had pretty much gone about repropagating themselves ad infinitum. She herself lived in a small trailer crudely fenced off to keep the goats out. In the meantime the goats had just about eaten and destroyed almost anything and everything they could reach. The onetime property main house had been completely gutted, the goats having broken every window, knocked down every door and tore apart every piece of furniture, even eating most if not all of the electrical wiring.
When I would go see her, even though the gate was locked and I would honk the horn until she came down and opened it, because of the goats I always left my car on the outside of the fence and walked in.
Typically when I visited I would bring a few six packs of ice cold Lucky Lager beer and on hot summer evenings around sunset through moonrise and beyond we would kick back on what was left of the porch of the main house looking out over the vast expanse of the Mojave Desert stretching out below us and watching the ever turning slow grind of the circumpolar stars wending their endless track around the north star, drinking beers, laughing, crying, and BS'ing about the old days way into the early morning hours.
One day going to see my stepmother I drove up to the gate and as usual honked the horn. After several repeated long blasts with no sign of any goats or my stepmother, a scraggy looking old guy with no teeth carrying a lever action 30-30 and accompanied by a just as scraggy looking old dog with teeth, came down out of the rocks to the gate asking me what the hell I wanted. I told him who I was and who I was looking for. He said, "She don't live her no more, she moved into town." Then cocking the rifle said, "Now, get the hell off'n my property before I fill you and that fancy car of yurn full of holes." With that I got in my fancy car, a low-slung two seater British sports car called a Morgan that I had bought brand new, with louvers all along the hood held down with a leather belt, and left. Driving away from the gate I was glad I wouldn't be going up to that property again. Every time I did I was afraid I was going to punch a hole in the crankcase or some such thing because of the rocks and how rough the road was compared to how low my car was to the ground. They used to say the suspension on Morgan's was so stiffly sprung that you could drive over a dime and tell if it was facing heads or tails --- so you can pretty much figure what it must have been like driving up a rough-hewn desert trail.
Quickly putting into place a hasty departure after a micro-second looking down the barrel of the old man's cocked lever action 30-30 I began scrounging around in the general outlying area as to my stepmother's whereabouts. Several inquiries later with a handful of bartenders, ne'er-do-wells, sleeping it off cowboys, left over bar patrons, and a few working women I figured would know her, and of whom I talked to anyway even after I found out where my stepmother was, I was eventually able to track her down. Seems that an arrangement for the sale of some items of worth that unknown to me or anybody she had mysteriously stashed away in storage since just before her ranch burned down --- and that a few months before she requested I approach a certain go between for a potential buyer --- paid off big time, at least considering the level she was operating at in those days. She was able to get a favorable price for the items, move into a place nearer town, and, no longer needing the 88 acres, sold it throwing in all the goats. She wasn't totally on top of the heap for sure, but at least she was no longer under it for awhile. The items? Thirty-five illegal slot machines. The go between I approached on behalf of my stepmother for the sale? A big-time mob heavyweight, who, in my life, I had met at least three times previously prior to the negotiation for the sale of the slot machines: Johnny Roselli.
As found in the footnote, my dad and stepmother had gone to Mexico and South America for a couple of years and in the meantime they parsed me and brothers out to the care of others. My older brother went to live with my grandmother and my younger brother went to live with a couple of which the woman of the couple was somehow known to my stepmother. My Uncle, who had basically had charge of me since I was eight years old was going back to Santa Fe and after some negotiating was able to convince the couple that took my younger brother to take me as well. It didn't work out with me running away on more than one occasion. My uncle contacted my stepmother who told my uncle to put me into some kind of boys home until she got back, but not a disciplinary one like they had put my older brother in at one time, but an educational one. In the process my uncle checked out the Southern Arizona School for Boys in Tucson and took me with him.
The school for boys idea didn't take hold and I ended up back with the couple after promising my uncle I would behave until other solutions were found or my stepmother returned. Typically, under almost any normal circumstances I would never go against a promise I made with my uncle, but, with "the stepmother back loophole" bargained into the promise, as soon as I found out she had returned it wasn't long before I was on the lam again.
What happened to me immediately after I ran away from the foster couple is pretty much summed up in the paragraph in quotes below from the source so cited. Basically, without anyone's knowledge, I took a Greyhound bus north to the Mojave Desert searching down and eventually locating my then just divorced-from-my-father stepmother, or ex-stepmother as the case may have been, at her newly acquired ranch in the Mojave following her return from a two year sojourn to Mexico and South America:
"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."(source)
On my page regarding the Flying Tigers, linked previously in the main text above as well as below, in a footnote sub-titled OLGA GREENLAW, PROCLIVITIES ET AL? wherein I discuss a number of things that involve the onetime Flying Tiger pilot turned World War II Marine flying ace Colonel Greg Boyington shortly after the war, the following shows up:
"Several days later my stepmother, who really didn't know one way or the other what she had or didn't have, others taking care of such things, went by both addresses to see what, if anything was going on, finding each of the houses empty. She had only just gone into the second house to look around when, unbeknownst to her, Boyington parked outside. My stepmother's bodyguard (also her driver), seeing Boyington coming toward the house after suspiciously looking around and not knowing who he was or why he was there, stepped behind him as soon as he entered the door sticking the barrel of his fully loaded .45 automatic in the small of Boyington's back."
All these years later, for whatever reason, every time I see or think of the 1962 movie Walk On The Wild Side with the immaculately dressed actor Richard Rust playing the role of the velvet gloved enforcer Oliver I can't help but being reminded of my stepmother's bodyguard. Clicking the graphic below will take you to a short film segment of a Turner Classic Movie video from Walk On The Wild Side that at the one minute and thirty second mark shows what and how Oliver subsequently fulfills his expected duties:
(please click image)
THE FLYING TIGERS
THE BOY IN THE MAN REMEMBERS THE LEGEND