What I groove on

Archive for the tag “History”

Sad Sordid Tales from the Belly of LaLa Land

Rarely have I complied such a bountiful cornucopia of useless drivel than this one, but IMG_6291staring into the Big Blue with a plastic cup filled with warm Pinot Grigio above PCH, very close to Thelma Todd’s old bar/restaurant in the Pacific Palisades, I was pondering the death of Gloria Vanderbilt and decided that it just makes sense to try and connect these many glowing dots that are meandering around my tiny applesauce-like brain.

What I’m talking about here is the tangled and sticky web of an alleged murdered actress/bar owner (Thelma Todd), a movie producer/mobster (Pat Dicicco), a crooner (Buddy Clark), the ultimate poor little rich girl (Gloria Vanderbilt), the alleged murdered originator of the three Stooges (Ted Healy), the founder of the Hollywood Reporter and restauranteur (Billy Wilkerson), the famed movie producer of the James Bond movies (Cubby Broccoli) and a dinky squalid sprinkle of actor Wallace Berry, Sir Paul’s deceased wife, Linda McCartney, and perhaps others who have inhabited this dirty stained world of ours here in the City of Fallen Angels.

Much of this sordid stuff is based on hearsay and “alternative” facts (Kellyanne Conway has nothing to do with this story. At least I don’t think she does…) that have been written by uneven writers of vile, shameful rhetoric and those who honestly have tried to tell the facts as they see them. So take what you will and leave the rest. There are a lot of names and it all is very confusing, but try to roll with me on this one.  Lots of meaningless rabbit holes, but who cares.

Buster Keaton Thelma Todd and Jimmy DuranteThelma Todd, known as the “Ice Cream Blonde,” was a successful actress appearing in over 120 movies between 1926 and 1935. She acted with the likes of Buster Keaton, Jimmy Durante, Zazu Pitts (one of my sister Nancy’s favorite actresses), the Marx Brothers, and Laurel and Hardy. She won the Miss Massachusetts beauty contest, was spotted by a Hollywood agent, and came West. Under the guidance of producer Hal Roach, she quickly became a comedic success in the movies. During this time Thelma married Pat Dicicco, who was an agent/producer, but was better known as an associate of Charles “Lucky” Luciano, the famous mobster with whom Thelma had an affair. Pat and Thelma’s marriage was a particularly unstable one, where drunken brawls were common – during one of which Pat suffered a broken schnoz and Thelma got the wonderful gift of an emergency appendectomy. The marriage lasted

Thelma Todd and Pat Diciccojpg

Thelma Todd and Pat Dicicco

two pugilistic years, ending in 1934, the same year Thelma opened her bar/restaurant, Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Cafe, in the Pacific Palisades. It attracted Hollywood celebrities and square tourists who all wanted to drink booze and groove by the ocean. There are many different stories of where Thelma actually lived. Some say in the apartment above her restaurant, others say she lived in an adjacent apartment next to the home of director and former lover Roland West, who lived there with his wife Jewel Carmen (real name Evelyn Quick, who died forgotten at a old folks home in El Cajon, California at the age of 86.)

cafe-trocadero-night-1937Thelma spent the last Saturday night of her life at the Cafe Trocadero, a famous restaurant and watering hole owed by the “Godfather of Hollywood” impresario Billy Wilkerson. She was there to attend a party thrown for her by actress Ida Lupino’s father Stanley. (British born Ida was the first woman to direct a film-noir and also was the only woman to direct several of the original “Twilight Zone” episodes. She was diagnosed with polio in her 20’s. The NY Times reported that the outbreak of polio in the Hollywood community was due to contaminated swimming pools…can you get polio that way?) Also in attendance was Thelma’s ex-husband Pat Dicicco, who according to some sources got in a big argument with Thelma when he brought his own date to the function instead of grooving with her. Despite’s this brief, but ugly interaction with her ex, Thelma appeared to be in wonderful spirits and left the Troc somewhere between 2 and 3 am Sunday morning. She was driven home by a driver who dropped her off at her restaurant, where she proceeded to climb the stairs leading to her abode.

The following Monday morning Thelma was found in the garage of Roland West and Labels have been added to this picture of the area where Thelma Todd lived and died. The 270 steps are the ones she supposedly walked up to get to the garage where she died.Jewel Carman’s pad, dead in her own car. The door of the garage closed, the cause of death: suicide by monoxide gas poisoning. Her expensive jewelry still on, as was her mink coat, now stained with coagulated blood supposedly caused when her head banged against the steering wheel when she passed out. To add to the mystery, no suicide note was found and two different people said they saw her on Sunday – one being Roland’s wife Jewel Carmen, and another friend who claimed she spoke with her around 3 pm on Sunday? It is said her nose was broken and in her stomach they found peas and carrots which were not served Saturday night at the Troc. Was Lucky Luciano the one who made Thelma pay the ultimate price because she wouldn’t let him turn the Sidewalk Cafe into a gambling Den? We shall never know. What we do know is that Thelma was dead at the young age of 29 and we move on.


Billy Wilkerson

Billy Wilkerson

Next up to bat is Billy Wilkerson, who was the founder of the still in publication, Hollywood Reporter, who also started Vendome Wine and Spirits (1933), Cafe Trocadero (1934) (Allegedly one of the last places Thelma Todd was seen alive), Ciro’s (1940), La Rue of Hollywood (1943), The Flamingo Hotel (Billy began with the idea of modern Vegas, developed the property, ran out of dough, and was
very happy to sell it to Bugsy Siegel) and at least two more elegant restaurants in the Hollywood and Las Vegas sectors. Billy did not drink alcohol, but threw down 25 cokes a day, along with three packs of cigs. This  eventually burned out his taste buds, forcing him to

Troc in it's heyday

The Troc in it’s heyday

put tremendous amounts of hotsauce on everything to the unhappiness of his entire family whenever he cooked, which was often. Married six times, he was also a totally out of control gambler losingmillions, but made the dough back through his business dealings. Known as the Hollywood Godfather, he was the shot caller throughout Hollywood in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. Billy’s ticker had had enough of his antics and called it a day in 1962. He was a well toasted 71.

Cubby Broccoli

Cubby Broccoli

A devoted Wilkerson follower and a great beneficiary of Billy’s generosity was Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, the very successful future producer of all James Bond movies (He also produced Chitty Chitty Bang Bang which was written by James Bond writer Ian Fleming.) How did he get the name Cubby? It came into being when Albert was just a child and was given to him by his cousin Pat Dicicco. The same Pat Dicicco who married Thelma Todd. According to Billy Wilkerson’s long time partner Tom Seward: “Cubby worshipped Billy and was especially enamored with Billy’s Hollywood hot spot the Cafe Trocadero. Cubby went every chance he got. He would have lived there if he got the chance.” Young Cubby was gainfully employed at a major studio, but you had to throw down a lot of lettuce if you wanted to groove at the “Troc”, so Cubby asked then manager Tom Seward for a job. Cubby was not waiter material, being well over 6 feet tall and built like a linebacker, so Seward employed him as the “Troc’s” unofficial doorman/bouncer in exchange for food and drink. “Cubby was good with his fists and never backed away from a fight” said Tom Seward.
But one night at the Troc things got a little out of hand for Cubby and his chums. Ted Healy, a known boozer and the creator of the “Three Stooges,” was celebrating the birthTed Healy of his first child at the Troc when his antics caught the eye of Cubby. He asked Healy to settle down and behave, but to the contrary, the very inebriated comedian started to taunt Cubby to the amusement of arriving customers. Not wanting this to continue, Cubby, his cousin Pat Dicicco, and film star Wallace Berry took Healy to the back of the parking lot and gave him a big time shellacking. There were no witnesses to the drubbing, but the next morning Ted Healy died of head injuries.

Knowing that he could spend the rest of his life in the Big House, Cubby called Billy Wilkerson who immediately got the cover-up machine in high gear. Billy called MGM publicist Howard Strickling and a story was fabricated that a group of drunken College students (UCLA?) attacked the comedian and Cubby and his buddies were never charged. Healy’s ex-wife Betty Brown, an MGM contract player, was not satisfied with the story being told. She insisted publicly that the investigation was a total sham. Mysteriously, her contract at MGM was terminated and she never worked in Hollywood again.

The Hollywood don, Billy Wilkerson, lost touch with Broccoli, who stopped being the bouncer at the Troc, but would occasionally do “favors” for Billy. What “favors” those were shall remain a mystery. A few days before Christmas in 1947, Billy stopped by a Christmas tree lot in Beverly Hills and found a very disheveled Cubby working there. Cubby told Billy he wanted to get back in the Biz and a short time later Cubby was working for a studio again. By the 50’s Cubby was a producer of films in London and as the 50’s turned into the 60’s he called Billy to ask some advice. Cubby was thinking of becoming partners with a Canadian named Harry Saltzman who owed the rights to a series of spy books written by Ian Fleming, but Cubby was reluctant to enter into another partnership and wasn’t sure that the books would translate successfully as movies . ” James BondsWhat does it have?” Billy asked Cubby. “Spies and a lot of girls” replied Cubby. “It’ll be a hit” said Billy. Broccoli entered into a partnership with Saltzman and in 1962 “Dr. No“, the first James Bond movie, appeared and the rest is history.

Cubby made quite the success for himself and his heirs continue to produce the James Bond franchise. Cubby married 3 times: first to Gloria Blondell (actress Joan Blondell’s sister), then to Nedra Clark (who was Buddy Clark’s widow… A quick sidebar story on Buddy. He was a crooner in the30’s and 40’s with his biggest hit

Crooner Buddy Clark

Crooner Buddy Clark

being the song “Linda” which he recorded in 1946. It was written especially for the 6 year old daughter of a show business attorney named Lee Eastman, by one of his clients named Jack Lawrence, who wrote the song at Eastman’s request. Upon reaching adulthood Linda became a noted photographer and eventually married Sir Paul McCartney of the Beatles and Wings fame. Who knew?  A sad end for Buddy though – he joined five friends and rented a plane to attend the University of Michigan/Stanford University football game at the FarmBuddy Clark at Stanford. After the game, the fellas attempted to fly back to Los Angeles, ran out of fuel and crashed on Beverly Blvd in West Los Angeles. Poor Buddy did not survive. (Ran out of gas? Do you think booze was involved?)  The Main Cubby died in 1996 in Beverly Hills at the age of 87. Tim Dalton, Roger Moore, and Pierce Brosnan all attended Cubby’s memorial service. The word is that Sean Connery refused to attend still resentful about not getting more dough from Cubby during his Bond days. Sean clearly had been eating at Bitterman’s.

Pat D

Pat Dicicco

Let us now circle back to our old loathsome friend Pat Dicicco, cousin of Cubby Broccoli. After using Thelma Todd as a punching bag for 2 years they got a divorce in 1934. (After the divorce it is alleged she had an affair with Ted Healy…maybe that added to the swiftness and strength of the kick to Ted’s face from Pat in the parking lot of the Troc…)  Post Thelma, Pat grooves with many dames in Hollywood. He introduces the ultimate mob moll, Virginia Hill, to actor George Raft

Virginia Hill

Virginia Hill

, who introduces her to Bugsy Siegel. (You remember Virginia Hill, played by Annette Bening in the movie “Bugsy.” After Bugsy was murdered at a house that was leased by Virginia on North Linden Dr in Beverly Hills, she marries a Austrian ski instructor named Hans Hauser (no relation to our beloved Huell Howser), moves to Austria where she commits suicide at age 49 in 1966, leaving a note: “Tired of life.”  Hans offs himself later in 1974.)   Back to our pal Pat – there she

Pat Dicicco and Gloria Vanderbilt

Pat & Gloria

was, the seventeen year old poor little rich
girl, Gloria Vanderbilt, sitting by a Beverly Hills pool. The 34 year old Pat made his move and shortly it was wedding bells at the Santa Barbara Mission with actor Bruce Cabot as
best man and Errol Flynn in the wedding party. With Pat converting to his usual abusive self, he slapped Gloria around like a sack of yams, called her “Fatsy Roo”, gave her black eyes, and pounded her head against the closest wall like a basketball dribbled on the hardcourt.  Rumors that the Vanderbilt family offered Pat $500 grand to release her were never substantiated, but Gloria wins a divorce in Reno, sighting “extreme cruelty.” A week later she marries

Leopold Stokowski

Leopold Stokowski

conductor Leopold Stokowski, he is 63, she 21 (I’ll let others figure out what that weirdness is about.) in Mexicali, Mexico. Pat next marries Mary Jo Tarola, which lasts an incredible 7 years (Mary Jo could really take some punches), who then divorces Pat and marries the great baseball player Hank Greenberg.

Well , we all know about the passing of Gloria earlier this year at the age of 95 and we all know of the list of men she had affairs with: Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Sterling Brandt, Errol Flynn, David Whitney, and many others.

Gloria Vanderbilt and Kathy Griffin

Glo & Kathy

And despite her long relationship with comedian Kathy Griffin, who called her “Glo”, (Kathy and “Glo’s” son Anderson Cooper no longer speak, btw) Gloria Vanderbilt was actually a very cool gal who never pitied herself even after a terrible childhood, difficult marriages (married 4 times), and being haunted by suicide and death. She worked hard, loved life , and gave immense joy and charity to many others.

LA sunsetMurderers, adulterers, groove masters, mobsters, producers, godfathers, poor little rich girls, actors, and scallywags with less than noble intent all have thrived and continue to thrive in this lying sack of a town that is, at the same time, brutally honest. Here the souls of Los Angeles try to get through another day within layers of smog and traffic and whirl to balance ample doses of cynicism and compassion, knowing that most anything that is real is unattainable in the city of Fallen Angels. The lives of Thelma, Cubby, and the rest are mostly forgotten and shoved away, which is best, so others can step forward and take their place.  And take their place they have. Beauty and grime, fairytales and death, all of us here are probing for coherence in a place that has none. I think all there is to do is have a few Anejo and sodas with three limes, and toast to those who have successfully pursued a devious course in this city and to those who have embraced the fact that failure has a certain grandeur here in Los Angeles that success will never know. Groove.



A Smooth Stretch of Highway…. So Let’s Break Out the Dynamite

So I was traveling up a smooth stretch of the 395 highway on a golden summer afternoon with my car engine humming like a well-oiled Singer sewing machine.  My gal was by my side and I had a stack of twenties in my pocket. The stack wasn’t tall enough to take the 395 through all 4 Western states it hits before the Canadian border, but we were happy just to roll through the splintered sunlight into Jake’s Saloon in Lone Pine to wash down the dust that had plied in our throats with a little Anejo rum and soda with three limes please. That’s where we heard the story in hushed tones of a couple of young bucks who, with a case of stolen dynamite and some liquid courage, tried to stop the flow of water down to a very thirsty Southern Cal. It was the night of Sept. 14th, 1976 and Mark Berry, just 17 years old and his pal Bobby Howe, 20, were waiting for their girlfriends to get off of work at the local Ice cream parlor.  Booze was acquired and the boldness level rose dramatically.

They were angry – angry at the dusty bone dry Owens Valley where they lived; angry that Los Angeles has been stealing their water since the early 1900’s so Cool Cats with side burns, fringed jackets, and bell bottoms could stroll the Sunset Strip and pick up Chicks wearing tube tops that were SO much better looking than their gals, who ate more ice cream than they sold; and angry that they were young, restless, and bored (thanks Bob). The fellas stole a couple cases of dynamite, some blasting caps, and about 20 feet of fuse from the shed where Inyo County kept the Bang Bang. They stuffed the dynamite next to the Alabama Hills gatehouse (by the way…the Alabama Hills were named by miners who were sympathetic to the Confederate cause during the Civil War after the CSS Alabama, a very successful raiding ship that plundered Union supply ships and was eventually sunk close to Cherbourg, France June 19th, 1864), lit the fuse, and waited. A huge explosion followed – ripping a four foot hole in the steel gate that regulates the flow of water to the aqueduct. Windows were blown out and the concrete floor buckled and 100 million gallons of water flowed into Owens Lake which had been as dry as the Gobi since DWP opened the aqueduct in 1913.

The coppers showed up to find an applauding crowd grooving on the smoldering destruction and smelling the air filled with the banana like smell of Nitroglycerin. In the weeks that followed, the area was crawling with short sleeved, white shirted, skinny tie sporting Jack Webb lookalikes from the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and the local Fuzz. Some townsfolk thought it might be the Weather Underground terrorist group, but despite the extensive damage, the Feds knew it was done by rookies. The boys jabbered too much to their friends (never talk to your friends when you do a caper of this magnitude. It will just come back and bite you in the ass.) who jabbered too much to the Feds and Berry and Howe were arrested. Howe was sentenced to 90 days in the Inyo County jail, left town when freed, and has never been heard from again. Our friend Mark Berry had to do 30 days in Juvie, was court ordered to attend community college where he studied rocket and aviation engineering, and had his record sealed. Mark returned to Lone Pine in 2000 and got a good job in Owens Valley. His job –  he works for the DWP making sure the aqueduct is safe and is properly diverting water to the parched and greedy City of Fallen Angels.

The day after the bombing someone strapped a stick of dynamite to an arrow and shot it at a memorial to William Mulholland in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. It did not explode.

Olancha, Lone Pine, Independence, Big Pine , Alabama Hill, and Bishop. It’s all there on the 395. Stories, saloons, and the tallest summit in the contiguous United States. All you need is a dependable ride, a great gal by your side, and a stack of twenties. Groove.

Did I just Sneeze or is That the Tallest Man in the World ?

There is lots of useless information roaming around our little skulls. There are some epochal moments that we rightfully retain, but what is important to some might not be important to others. Do we need to know the difference between peanut brittle and peanut brickle?  No we don’t. Do we need to know if Daryl Hannah lusted for Neil Young when she was with Jackson Browne? I say not important. Do we need to know why the Egyptian Culture and Tourism Ministry thought it was a good idea to show the worlds tallest man 8’3″ Turkish farmer Sultan Kosen, with the smallest woman in the world 22 inch Jyoth Amge from India, in front of the Gizah Pyramid as a way to promote tourism for Egypt? Let it slide.

But I have come across something that was and is important and it touches on current issues and events:  that the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic was the deadliest disease outbreak in human history. It killed, in 15 months, more than AIDS has killed in 40 years and more than the bubonic plague killed in a century. It is estimated that it took the lives of 50 to 100 million people worldwide. Close to 700,000 Americans died.

It is thought to have started in Haskell County, Kansas. It was reported that soldiers from Haskell County went to Camp Funston in central Kansas then came down with the flu.  Then soldiers from Funston went to other Army camps across the nation and eventually to Europe to fight in World War I. Few alarms went off indicating that this was something to be taken seriously. Due to the war, most countries involved gave it little attention because they wanted to keep their fighting resolve in high gear. The only attention it got was when it swept through

UNITED STATES – 1918: Baseball players, one batting & one catching, with umpire standing behind plate, wearing masks which they thought would keep them from getting flu during influenza epidemic of 1918. (Photo by Underwood)

Spain and sickened the King. The press in Spain, which was not at war, wrote extensively about the disease unlike the censored press of the warring countries (including the U.S.) Hence the name ” Spanish Flu”.

What also proved to be deadly was the lack of acknowledgement from authorities that this disease was killing tens of thousands from Alaska to Africa every day. Against this background, while influenza bled into American life, public officials who were determined to keep moral up, started to lie. An official stated “Truth and falsehood are arbitrary terms… the force of an idea lies in its inspirational value. It matters very little if it is true of false.”  “There is no cause for alarm or panic” said officials. Meanwhile death was at the door. 12,000 people died in Philly in 6 weeks, 53% of the population of San Antonio got sick, 14 % of the inhabitants of Fiji died in 16 days, and in some villages from Alaska to Gambia -everyone died.  50% of all U.S.deaths in WWI were caused by the flu. Many survived the illness (Ray Chandler, Walt Disney, Georgia O’Keefe, FDR, and Woody Wilson), but many did not (both the Dodge Brothers ( co-founders of the Dodge car company), Phoebe Hearst (mom of William Randolph Hearst) and Fred Trump (grandfather of current President.)

All this happened 100 years ago and there is no current pandemic on the horizon. There are steps to be taken to ease one’s mind when thinking about the flu. Some get flu shots, some wear masks, others drink more rum. This is important stuff to be aware of.  It was not that long ago and if something like this happens again we can only hope that the Powers That Be don’t manage the truth, but tell the truth. Groove.

Chang and Eng, Quite the Pair

I have not seen “The Greatest Showman” (A mostly fictional movie based on the life and times of P.T. Barnum), but Hugh Jackman looks as much like P.T. Barnum as I look like Marty Feldman. Not sure if they were mentioned in the movie, but there is a curious story, that of Chang (no relation to Ching) and Eng, the Siamese Twins who worked for Barnum’s circus in 1868.

They were born in Siam (now Thailand) in 1811. The brothers were joined at the sternum by a small piece of cartilage, but were independently complete. Spotted by a Scotsman named Hunter who realized the potential of exhibiting the twins as a curiosity, he received the nod from their parents to tour the world. When their contract was up Chang and Eng did what any self-respecting Siamese twins would do. They purchased a 110 acre farm in Traphill, North Carolina in 1839.

Wanting to live a normal life much as possible, they worked their land, bought slaves (at one point had as many as 33 slaves), and adopted the name “Bunker.”  Chang and Eng caught the eye of a couple of sisters, the Yates girls, got married, and became naturalized citizens. The couples shared a bed built for four and soon the babies started rolling in. Chang and his wife Adelaide had 12 children and Eng and his wife Sarah had 11. Unfortunately, the gals developed an intense dislike of each other causing waves of discord within the Bunker clan so separate households were set up close to Mount Airy, North Carolina. (As we all know, Mt. Airy is the birthplace of Andy Griffith and the inspiration of the town Mayberry used in his shows.)  Chang and Eng would alternately spend 3 days at each home. No day at the beach for most, but it worked for the Bunkers.

The Civil War came crashing down on the brothers as they lost most of their dough supporting the Southern cause. Both  of their sons served in the Confederate Army. To make ends meet, Chang and Eng were forced to join the Barnum Circus. However, life on the public exhibition circuit left the brothers with a belly full of bitterness. (Yes, they were eating at Bittermans.)    Chang started to booze heavily (Eng was not affected because they didn’t share a circulatory system) which had to chafe poor Eng somewhat and Chang’s health started rollin down hill. On January 17th, 1874 Chang died while the brothers were asleep. Eng awoke to find his brother dead and cried “then I am going too.” It is said that Eng willed himself to death and died 3 hours later. They were both 63 years old.

Chang and Eng’s descendants number around 1500 and many still live in the Mount Airy vicinity. (It is not known how many descendants Don Knotts has in the area.)  United States Air Force Major General Caleb Haynes was a grandson of Chang, as is Alex Sink the former CFO for the state of Florida. Eng’s grandson, George Ashby, was the President of the Union Pacific Railroad. There is a statue of the fellas in Thailand and there is a musical based on their lives (of course there is.)

So I say let us make a toast to Chang and Eng. Perhaps a couple of jiggers of Anejo Rum with some soda water and three limes. I find that rum combination to be best while nuzzling with the Bizarre. They are buried together near Mount Airy and showed us how true brotherly love can be. Unusual Americans, but true Americans none the less. Perhaps the names Chang and Eng will gain in popularity as names for newborns here in the United States. One never knows, does one.  Groove.

Here’s a toast to our friends the Cool Cats (Gangsters) and Kittens (Prostitutes)

-1x-1I always thought I would be a better gangster than a spy. The spy thing is too much sneaking around in a trench coat trying to lurk in the shadows of the night. Always vulnerable, like a puppy on an iceberg, a spy often is a traitor and who wants to groove with a traitor?  Gathering information, creeping around, perhaps your shoe is an intercontinental ballistic missile (better than “his bow-tie is really a camera”), not that fun – just not a good line of work. Not to say that being a gangster is any day at the beach.  Most die young and violent deaths without the joys of friends nor family. But both our pals the gangster and his good friend the prostitute, brought some of the common sense and good times that we all enjoy today.

The “Gangster Golden Era” really lasted just three years from 1933 to 1936.  This was also the era of the FBI’s “War on Crime”.  The FBI started out as aUnknown-5 bumbling band of overmatched amateurs who initially didn’t even carry firearms.  J. Edgar’s boys lost suspects, botched stakeouts, and repeatedly arrested the wrong men. Their mistakes would be comical if not for the price paid by the innocent.  imagesDuring that three-year period we saw the rise and fall of John Dillinger (definitely a cool cat…the chicks dug him), Baby Face Nelson (a real unstable psycho, killed to boost his ego and did have a baby face), Machine Gun Kelly (real name George Barnes, dumb as a sack of nails, his wife nagged him into a world of crime), Pretty Boy Floyd (was not pretty, but was cool enough to have Woody Guthrie write a song about him), theUnknown-1 Barker/Karpis gang (Ma Barker was a dim-witted old hag who loved to put together puzzles, it was J. Edgar who portrayed her as a “mastermind,” her own gang said “she couldn’t plan breakfast”), and Bonny and Clyde (no Warren or Faye here, largest haul was $3500, killed innocent bystanders, were incompetent and careless. She was 23 and Clyde was 25.)

There is one cat that needs to be further mentioned. Picture this: it is 1979 and you were on the Spanish coast in a town called Torremolinos. You look Unknownover at the table next to you and there was a seventy year old Alvin “Creepy” Karpis still lean and alert looking more like a professor then the last of the FBI’s Public Enemy No 1’s.  Creepy (his friends called him Ray) was captured in 1936 and according to Creepy, Hoover approached him only after other agents had seized him. Hoover said “Put the cuffs on him.”, but no one brought any, so they had to use one of the agent’s ties. During his life time he ran with Baby Face Nelson, knew images-2Bonny and Clyde, was the longest-serving prisoner on the Rock (Alcatraz), for a long stretch of 26 years. He knew the Birdman, and that gas-bag Machine Gun Kelly, and saw Capone flop around on the cafeteria floor like a large mouth bass on the cutting board while in one of his syphilitic seizures. In 1962, while in the process of closing Alcatraz, Creepy was transferred to McNeil Island Penitentiary in Washington state. There he was approached by a little punk who wanted guitar lessons. “He was meek and mild and never said a harsh word to anybody ” said Creepy. Charlie Manson went on to his own fame, but not by playing the guitar. Creepy was released in 1969 and died in Spain ten years later of an accidental overdose of pills and booze.

As far as our friend the gangster and organized crime is concerned, they brought us many things that we enjoy today:  jazz music (Al Capone, whose jazz images-1clubs in Chicago introduced jazz to mainstream America, and according to black singer Ethel Waters “treated her with respect, applause, deference, and paid in full.”  He and other gangsters, including the great Owney Madden of Cotton Club fame, supplied steady and professional incomes to jazz musicians who had previously lived in poverty.), alcohol (prior to Prohibition a woman rarely Unknown-4drank  in public unless she was a prostitute. The “Speakeasys” changed that because women were welcomed there), Las Vegas, Broadway (Arnold “The Brain” Rothstein, who is credited for turning organized crime into big business, financed several Broadway venues, such as the famous Selwyn Theater, as well as various productions that brought tens of thousands of patrons to the “Great White Way”) the establishment of many of the gay and lesbian bars in America  (Where there is dough you will always find the “Goodfellas”, Vito Genovese and Carlo Gambino, leaders of two of the most powerful crime families in America. They began investing in gay clubs in the 1930’s. The famous Stonewall Inn was owned by three associates of the Genovese family. The family funded the gay pride parades in New York City which have become an annual event demonstrating sexual freedom.)

Unknown-3And look what our lovely street walking friends brought us: in the 19th century, if a woman owned property, made high wages, used birth control, consorted with men of other races, danced, drank, walked alone in public, wore makeup, perfume, or stylish clothes, chances were she was a prostitute. In fact, prostitutes won virtually all of the freedoms that were denied to women, but are now taken for granted.

So you see, a lot of good comes from the bad.  I think our pals the gangster and the prostitute deserve a toast next time you have a drink in your hand, but perhaps not in loud tones. Who knew that so much freedom and groove would be handed to us along the dark path of those who do dark deeds? Raise a glass to those who came before us and let us not take these freedoms for granted. Groove.

I stole shamelessly from two excellent books : A Renegade History of the United States by Thaddeus Russell and Public Enemies by Bryan Burrough. Thanks fellas.


GrooveCentralLA……a very special Christmas Holiday edition

XMC46-SANTA-MONICA-PIERHere it is the High Holiday Season, and you can bet Christmas songs will be heard – either through the muffled sound of department store speakers, booze soaked carollers, or the jaunty humming of a family member while cooking with tremendous magnificence.    Christmas songs will be heard, waft around for a while in our cluttered heads, then hopefully drip out our ears in a timely manner.  And for sure, two of the songs that will be heard will be “Jingle Bells” and “White Christmas”.

Unknown-2Jimmy Pierpont was a guy from the Boston area and like so many others, made a run for the gold in 1849 leaving his wife and kids for the California Gold Rush.  Jimmy tried mining and came up empty so he opened a photography studio in San Francisco, which like his mining career, went up in flames.  After failing at the Gold Rush, Jimmy returned to the East, grabbedUnknown-1
his wife and children and headed south, a wiser yet poorer man. Always handy with a song and known to tickle the ivories, Jimmy gave music lessons centering on the organ (this very organ currently resides at Florida State University and no doubt has brought inspiration to the many fine and upstanding scholar-athletes who have attended there.)  Trying his hand at song writing, Jimmy came up with a couple of danceable ditties “Ring the Bell, Fanny” and “The Know Nothing Polka” (perhaps you know them well?), but none of these caught on like his 1857 number “Jingle Bells” or as it was originally titled “The One Horse Open Sleigh.” (I call the song by its original title and I suggest you do the same.) Though originally written as a Thanksgiving song, somehow it found its way into the roasted chestnuts of our Christmas music lexicon forever.  “Jingle Bells” was the first song broadcasted from space in a Christmas themed prank from the great comedy team and Gemini 6 astronauts, Wally Schirra and Tommy Stafford.  On December 16th, 1965 they sent a report to Mission Control: “Gemini VII this is Gemini VI. We have an object, looks like a satellite going from north to south, up in a polar orbit. He’s in a very low trajectory traveling from north to south and has a very high climbing ratio. It looks like it might even be a …Very low…Looks like he might be reentering soon. Stand by…You might just let me try to pick up this thing. I see a command module and eight smaller modules in front. The pilot of the command module is wearing a red suit”  Then the astronauts produced a smuggled harmonica and sleigh bells (first musical instruments Unknown-3played in space) and broadcast their rendition of “Jingle Bells”.  Astronauts are known whimsicle jesters and great guys to throw down 7 or 8 Anejo and sodas with at the Shangri-La Hotel.  Next time the opportunity comes up, give it the nod.  Jimmy never made a lot of dough off “The One Horse Open Sleigh” though around the world it remains one of the most recognized and performed songs ever written.  Jimmy called it a day August 5th, 1893 in Winter Haven, Fla and was elected to the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. But if he had lived long enough and things got bad, he always could have borrowed some scratch from his nephew J.P. (Pierpont) Morgan.

c82n530t-FILEID-1.122.43Next time you are headed out to Palm Springs and feeling a quart low, please stop at two or three of the 45 fast food arenas in the Banning, California sector. If done correctly you will leave this burg with a seaweed slippery glaze to your skin. But besides its wonderful name (Yes, I have been offered numerous political and military posts there – none that I have deemed appropriate….yet.) and the massive amount of fast food choices, the City of Banning has an odd claim to fame. The City Fathers say that the great Irving Berlin wrote “White Christmas” there while at the Briargate Lodge, a claim which I see no reason to doubt. (Those creeps down at the Arizona Biltmore have also raised their squeaky voices claiming the song was written there, and of course there is the laughable idea that he wrote it at his home in New York state.)   Irv Berlin was a Russian born (full name: Israel Isidore Baline) composer and lyricist who wrote some of the great ones: “Blue Skies”, “Putin’ on the Ritz”, “God Bless America” and a song that both my sisters have tortured me Unknownwith “There is No Show Business Like Show Business” while thinking they were conjuring up the ghost of Ethel Merman, but in reality sounded more like the very dead ghost of a booze addled Ethel Mertz (wife of Fred.) But none of Irv’s hits were 41EKY1HR82Lclose to “White Christmas” as far as popularity. The Bing Crosby version has sold over 50 million records, thus being the best-selling single of all time. Irv has another act that will never be topped: he is the only oscar award presenter and award winner to open the envelope and read his own name (for ” White Christmas” of course, from the movie “Holiday Inn” in 1942.) The awkwardness you could have hung Jimmy Pierpont’s organ on, so the powers that be at the academy will not let that happen again.

So there you have it. This year you might be humming “The One Horse Open Sleigh” to yourself as you look at a clear cool night and spy in the sky a command module with a fat guy in a red suit driving with eight smaller modules in front, or munching down on a triple cheese burger with mystery sauce dancing down your chin, slowly nodding your head to “Der Bingle’s” version of ” White Christmas”. As we get closer to wrapping up this eventful year please know in your heart that all of us here at GrooveCentralLA wish you and yours the very best holiday season. Oh and truth be told, my sisters do a wonderful “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and you shouldethel-1974 request their rendition each and every time you see them (also available by phone and phone messaging ). Groove.

Did Dale know? What about Trigger?

santa-monica-pier-sunrise-josh-whalen   It was a beautiful Sunday morning, crisp and clear, and I was drawn to the venerable Santa Monica pier. I wanted to check on my theory (still under investigation) that the pier fishermen who dress better, will catch more fish. It pieris important when one ventures into that sector of this fair city that it is done early before the pier feels the roar of it’s juices, then proceeds to throw up on itself.

As Catalina lurked out at sea like a huge sleeping seal, I reminded myself that the island gave inspiration to the great screenwriter Robert Towne who wrote “Chinatown” at the Banning Hotel there at the Isthmus.  As I glanced north to the Pacific Palisades, I thought of Alan LeMay who wrote the book “The Searchers” which later became one of my favorite movies.  Alan wrote it from his small office behind the incorrigible “House of Lee” restaurant where I had spent hours swilling Cambodian Mules, Saucy Scorpion Bowls, and Rum Giggles.  (It was also at the House of Lee, as a young child that I was tricked by my family to take a bite of the tightly rolled hot towel thinking it was an exotic appetizer… I hope someday my trust level will return.)  The restaurant is long gone, Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 4.00.05 PMreplaced by a soulless venue. But when you think of the H.O.L., think Trader Vic’s but without any semblance of class, filled with waiters who were incurably addicted to fumbling, whose clientele were sopped with both despair and elation depending on the hour, and was run by those who had an incredible tolerance for the uneven.  The movie “The Searchers” stared John Wayne, Ward Bond (both friends of my grandparents), Jeff Hunter (who lived in the Palisades) and of course a young Natalia Niko Laevna Zacharencho (also known as Natalie Wood).  The movie also has an interesting musical connection – after seeing the movie at the State Theatre in Lubbock, Texas and hearing John Wayne’s character utter “That will be the day” four times in the movie, a young Buddy Holly was inspired to write his number one hit of the same name.

images-1Somehow this all brings me to the end of the Santa Monica pier, where the crust level increases and poorly dressed fishermen, whose hands shimmer with bait fish scales, have as much luck catching fish as a group of alley cats belting out a major cord on key.  A big smiley face with chiclets for teeth holds on to a fiddle in an old poster. His name is SpadeUnknown-2 Cooley.  Spade was huge in his day as an American Western swing band leader, actor, and television personality – hitting it big in the 40’s and 50’s. He and his band battled Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys to be “King of the Western Swing”.  In 1948 he hosted his own variety show, broadcast on KTLA from the Santa Monica Pier Ballroom, thus according to some, Unknown-3was the first variety show on television. His guests included Frankie Lane, Dinah Shore, Bob Hope, and the Chairman himself, Frank Sinatra. The Main Spade was very successful at the time, having brought in his future wife Ella Mae Evans (no relation to Dale) on vocals. He packed them in too – sometimes up to 8000 folks would come for the show and dance with their fellow bolo tie and boot crowd.  Spade gave his band members country names like Smokey Rodgers, Cactus Soldi and Pedro Depaul, even though the majority of them were cool city cats from Cleveland, Brooklyn and Milwaukee. It wasn’t till 1956 that Spade’s ratings suffered because of the new guy on TV, Lawrence Welk .

imagesSpade bought a huge pad out in isolated Willow Springs, in the Antelope Valley, where he parked Ella Mae and the kids. AfterUnknown-1 seeing the success of Disneyland, Spade wanted to make a huge water park on his property called “Water Wonderland.”  That didn’t work out and Spade’s world started to unravel.  The marriage between he and Ella was going down the toilet due to Spade becoming a huge booze bag and the wandering eyes of both Spade and Ella. It all came to a head when Ella confessed to an affair with Roy Rodgers (did Dale know? Did Trigger know?) It was April 3, 1961, and Spade’s jealous rampages meant bad news for Mrs. Cooley. He beat her, interrogated her, burned her with his cigarettes, and eventually killed her. The authorities were called and the dark-souled Spade was sent to the Big House – found guilty of murder by his peers after using the old “fell in the shower” line to explain Ella’s beat up body and cig burns. (Has that “fell in the shower” excuse ever worked ?)

scjailSpade was sent to San Quentin then to a softer Vacaville prison where he was a model prisoner.  Ron Reagan became governor of Cal in 1966, waved his magic wand, and Spade was going to be a free man. In 1969 the parole board voted unanimously to parole the country crooner effective on his 60th birthday. He did less than nine years for killing his wife. Four months before his release, Spade was granted a 4 day furlough to perform in Oakland at a benefit concert for the Sheriffs department. The crowd loved his performance and from the side of the stage he remarked “I think it’s all going to work out for me. I have a feeling that today is the first day of the rest of my life.”  WRONGO (my Dad’s saying) – Spade grabbed his chest, dropped his fiddle and fell dead at the age of 59 of a heart attack.

So what did we learn from a trip to the pier on a Sunday morn?  That Roy Rodgers was not as squeeky clean as his wife Dale Evans or his horse Triggerimages-4 had hoped,  that the ” fell in the shower” excuse never works (Greg Hardy), that you can call a Spade a spade, and that the theory that nicely dressed fishermen catch more fish is still being explored and tabulated. Groove.


Let us drink wine and escape for a moment or two


campThe word escape means different things to different people. Escape could mean getting away from something that curdles the blood and hazes one’s judgement. It could mean getting away from a loveless marriage or a life baked hardpan hard.  And it can also mean escaping from a World War II prison camp with the help of the world’s most famous board game, Monopoly.

Aaaaahhh Monopoly…  Who hasn’t spent a few pleasant hours trying to steal Monopolyimages-1 cash when your sisters aren’t looking or perhaps sprucing up some of those ill gained properties with a few stolen green houses or red hotels….then watch as the sisters grovel – unable to pay the exorbitant rent that you charge…and then see them curse their unfortunate choices of the thimble, the joyless iron, or that little yapping Scotty dog.  Okay, none of that actually happened (I’m pretty sure), but the point being, is that we’ve all enjoyed the game.  It began to be mass marketed in 1934 and I’m sure there are some of us who recoiled in horror and disbelief upon hearing the plans to replace the Scotty, the race horse, the hat, the wheelbarrow, the imagesshoe, the battleship, and of course the thimble. (The new pieces have been chosen, but their lameness prevents listing.)

During WW2 large numbers of British airmen found themselves in POW camps trying to figure out how to escape.XIB_BU3856  Well, here comes the Monopoly angle: Germany, in a rare nod to the Geneva Convention, allowed humanitarian groups to distribute care packages to the prisoners and one of the items allowed in those packages were “games and pastimes.”  So the British came up with fake charities that sent Monopoly games to the prisoners. The games were licensed to the British, so instead of having streets from Atlantic City like the American game, the British ones had streets from London.  Carefully placed inside the boards were escape tools like tiny compasses that could fit on the fingertip, metal files, German money which was mixed into the Monopoly money, and most important, silk maps (silk because they were hardier than paper, wouldn’t tear easily or desolve if wet and they didn’t make noise.) Royal Air Force flyers were told that if there was a red dot in the free parking area of the board that it was a “special edition” with the escape tools within.  It is estimated monopoly_wwii_silk_escape_map_-_credit_phil_orbanes_0that more than 35,000 P.O.W’s successfully escaped from prison camps with approximately 1/3 using the rigged Monopoly sets. In a way this gives new meaning to the “get out of jail free” card.  Unfortunately, there are none of these special boards in existence because the airmen were told to destroy the boards in order to keep the secret from the Germans. Escape they did with the help of the escape tools and old Rich Uncle Pennybags (that’s the name of the chubby guy with the stash and the top hat who is always so happy ) .

Escape can mean many things. Some want to escape reality, some want to escape a mundane existence.  Some want to escape the sin-then-repent cycle, some want to escape the necessity of choice. But for many of us, you can never escape

YUM! wear 309

the want and need for a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken or a pair of Double Doubles with grilled onions and a fry pack when you’re hung over. Groove.

Come On Over For Some Booze, Steak and Abdominal Thrusts

IMG_4001[1]There are some things I am good at, but there are many things at which I am a complete failure. As much as I have tried, I’ve been unable to bring in velour as a staple fabric for Men’s clothing, I cannot open a string cheese package to save my life (I now use a combination of various saws, pliers and a blow torch), and despite a concerted effort on my part, to this day nobody calls me Commodore. But, one day a few years ago, I did do something right. I successfully administered the Heimlich maneuver on a very good friend of mine when he was choking on a piece of steak.

It is not an uncommon practice for me to gather friends around and chew on chucks of meat while consuming alcohol,DSCN1431 and thus it was on a sunny day in the backyard when my very good friend and a wonderful gent Big Joe Smith (Titanic to some…when he goes down he takes others with him) suddenly rose from the table, turned blueprint blue, and indicated that the ribeye had not found its rightful home. A clogged pipe it was.  So I sprang into action (anyone who knows me, knows I never ever spring into any action) and I got behind Big Joe, did the pointy thumb thing into his solar plexus (or there abouts), and let her rip. Out came a piece of steak the size of Mickey Rooney, which sailed across the yard at the speed of a Nike missile landing somewhere on Wilshire Blvd.  Joe seemed fine so we threw down more booze and ate more meat.

Dr.-Henry-Heimlich1So what is the deal with the Heimlich? Well, Dr. Henry Heimlich lives in Cincinnati, and as of this writing he is 95 years old.  He is wierdly related to some very cool people (perhaps not). First of all, he is the uncle of Anson Williams, better known as “Potsie” from the 70’s TV show “Happy Days” and secondly, his father-in-law is ballroom-dancing entrepreneur Arthur Murray. (The



pressure on the first dance at their wedding had to be enormous.)  Hank first published his views on the Heimlich maneuver in June of 1974.  Shortly after that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that a retired restaurant-owner used the

Arthur Murray

Arthur Murray

procedure to rescue a choking victim and since then it has been reported to have saved thousands of lives. From 1976 to 1985 the choking – rescue guidelines of the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association taught rescuers to first perform a series of back blows and if that didn’t work then use the Heimlich maneuver . From 1986 to 2005 the AHA and the ARC dropped the hard blows to the back and only recommended the Heimlich Maneuver.

But for some reason Doc H. hopped on the train to Wierdsville and believe me he made it to themalaria2 station on time. He started saying the HM was a good treatment for drownings and strongly recommended Malariotherapy (the deliberate infection of a person with benign malaria) to treat cancer, lyme disease, and HIV. His son Peter has a website which describes what he alleges to be his father’s “wide-ranging, unseen 50 year history of fraud.”  The American Heart Association ceased referring to the “Heimlich Maneuver” now refers to it as “abdominal thrusts” and the American Red Cross is also fazing out the name “Heimlich”.

DSCN0475So who knows, soon old Doc Heimlich might drop off the face of the earth and with him goes his name connected to this mighty maneuver.  Perhaps a swift  kick to Big Joe’s undercarriage might have taken care of that Porterhouse and the maneuver was unnecessary.  So let us gather around and have a steak and booze session in our backyard, try to get meat stuck in our throats, fool around with some “abdominal thrusts” and some intense back pounding, maybe some good old self induced malaria, and see what really works. Who’s in? Groove.

On to Aqaba for some rum drinks and Cosmo Tidbits

216661751_8d4bf8a42e_mMany moons ago, when the flame of stupidity burned hotter than it does now and the call of mischief was considerably louder, I used to roll into Trader Vic’s in Beverly Hills at Merv’s place, the venerable Beverly Hilton. I images-1would throw down a river of Samoan Fog-Cutters and if the timing was right, I’d order something called  Cosmo Tidbits. Never found out who Cosmo was (Cosmo Topper ?), but I always enjoyed his tidbits:images-6
crispy rolls of Asian delights, ribs bathed in red dye number 2, enough deep fried grooves to make Orson Wells cry with happiness and perfect if you’re a quart low.

images-2So in honor of Cosmo here are a couple of History’s tidbits:  1) Lawrence of Arabia was called Ned by his family (Ned of Arabia?) and only became famous after WWI because he was featured in a 1919  lecture tour by American war corespondent Lowell Thomas. Unlike the 6 foot 3 inch Peter O’Toole who portrayed him in the 1962 epic “Lawrence of Arabia” (the film is unusual because there are no women with speaking credits), the real Lawrence was just 5’4″ and was very self conscience of his diminutive stature. He refused knighthood because of his belief that the British government betrayed the Arabs, but he did join both the Royal tank corp and the Royal Air Force under assumed names to dodge the glare of celebrity and lived under assumed names until his death. Lawrence images-3worked for and became great friends with Winston Churchill, who upon hearing of Ned’s passing said  “I deem him one of the greatest beings alive in our time.”  Lawrence died in a motorcycle accident in 1936 at the age of 46 and the surgeon who tried to save his life, Dr. Hugh Cairns, then developed some of the first crash helmets for motorcycle riders.

images-52) The Statue of Liberty’s full name is Liberty Enlightening the World, or as I call her, Lew.  She was given to us as a gift from France in 1886 and was designed by Fred Bartholdi. Lew’s shoe size is a 879 wide. Gus Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower fame (1889) was the cat who built the metal frame workAssembling the Statue of Liberty (1) that holds the copper skin of Lew. Gus was later found guilty of misappropriation of funds during France’s failed attempt at the Panama canal, but never did a stretch in the Big House because of a technicality.  If you hold 2 pennies together that is the thickness of the copper skin on Lew (3/32 of an inch). Lew was slightly injured when some wacked out German saboteurs set off a bomb in 1916, but she shrugged it off and has been lookingAssembling the Statue of Liberty (5) really good for a gal 128 years old (a bit on the stiff side, but still very cool.)

It has been a long time since I’ve been to Trader Vic’s and perhaps it is time to return. I first went there as a young tot with my Grandpa Dan, who was a dapper gentleman, both kind and generous.  I think a few Samoan Fog-Cutters are in order, so if anyone would like to join me, please let me know.  It’s time that we throw down some sweet Rum mystery, order up a vintage-postcard-from-trader-viccouple of Cosmo Tidbits and make numerous toasts to Ned, Lew, and Granpa Dan.  Besides, right around now I am feeling a quart low. Groove.


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