Arson at the Iliad Book Store – Fahrenheit 451 in NOHO

Book Store Arson Trail – From NOHO to Hollywood

 Who is Living Under Your House?

Drug Dealing Crusty Punks, The Rogue Cop, Stolen Lands, Mormon Zombies and the Arson Chronicles.

Part 2 of NOHO Fahrenheit 451 – Arson at Iliad Book Shop by Paul Hunt

NOHO – Arson at Iliad Book Store (AI Picture)

It Started Years Ago.

Back in 2015 I was working at Cosmopolitan Book Shop part time. There was a lot of crime happening in the neighborhood, and some flyers were dropped off at the shop inviting merchants to a community meeting to discuss the crime and the effects that a food distribution to homeless folks were having on the area’s problems. The Hollywood Food Coalition was distributing food every week night at the corner of Sycamore and Romaine, an industrial area that bordered the residential and apartments north of Melrose and East of La Brea. No tables could legally be set up, it was just a large truck, with volunteers who would hand a hot meal off the back of the truck to about 200 homeless.

The Food Coalition were great folks. They were doing what the City or County should have been doing. Since it was on the street, with no tables or chairs allowed, no bathrooms, no wash-up, just sit on the sidewalk and eat a dinner off of paper plates, it was demeaning. I know, I was on hard times and I was occasionally there. A lot of the homeless were seniors. We waited in a long line until the truck came, and then shuffled forward to get fed, a good hot meal and a drink.

There was never much trouble, most of folks were friendly and nice, considering what they were going through, but there were a few outlaws. Some of us called them “Crusty Punks.” They were pretty ragged, smoking pot, meth or crack, and filled with bitterness. When you can’t shower every day, you get “crusty”. Living the drug life, stealing to get dope, sleeping in tents in the doorways of surrounding buildings, it was the sub-culture of the damned.

I went to the community meeting to hear what the neighbors had to say. It was held in an apartment living room on a tree-lined side street. About 20 people showed up, local residents, a couple merchants, and two cops from LAPD. During the meeting several of the residents complained about the Food Coalition bringing in a bad bunch from “elsewhere” who were causing trouble, trespassing, defecating on private property.

“The Law was sinking into it’s big sleep in 2015.”

And that’s when I first heard about it: the dopers, the “Crusty Punks”, were creeping into the yards of the residents at night and crawling under their houses and apartment buildings. The next morning there would be needles laying around, food wrapper trash, pills, and filthy blankets left under the houses where they were sleeping and doing drugs. For those moms with young children, it was horrifying. Actually, hearing those accounts were scary for everyone. Who the hell wants some hopped up stranger creeping under your house? The cops didn’t say much and LAPD wouldn’t really do much about it. The Law was sinking into it’s big sleep in 2015, and was being hammered with defunding, BLM riots and even more avoidance of property defense in the future.

Things, of course, got much worse during the pandemic and the “lockdowns”.

The Bookstore Fire “NOHO: Fahrenheit 451”

Book Shop is open but still blowing out the smoke. (2022)

When the arsonists tried to burn down Iliad Book Shop on a Thursday night, November 3, 2022, there weren’t a lot of clues. The perps piled up some boxes of freebie books against the back door and torched them. Several copies of a strange 8 1/2 X 11 inch flyer were taped around the building. Not much to go on.

Dan Weinstein, owner of Iliad, holds copy of flyer left at the fire

I took a photo of the flyer, read the copy that Dan had retrieved, and made some notes. As soon as I read the posted flyer, I started to get a picture of the arsonist. To the average person, it’s almost gibberish, but to Mr. Conspiracy Theorist, it’s gold. The mind of the arsonist, the hatred that pours off the page, it’s there. I’ll share a few points: (these are my opinions derived from my own research into cults and conspiracy. It’s Ok to try this at home).

Rogue Cop Christopher Dorner

1. Several events and persons are referenced on the flyer. One is Christopher Dorner, an ex-LAPD cop. He was fired off the force after he filed a complaint that his partner had kicked a handcuffed suspect in the face and body. There was evidence to support the claim, but Dorner, a husky African-American, was fired over this. He was a sensitive person, a U.S. Navy reservist, a guy who would not put up with any kind of racism. He decided to clear his name by killing some fellow officers “to prove he was telling the truth.” He went on a rampage, eventually killing 4 people and wounding several others. He was an excellent shot. He was finally trapped in a cabin up in Big Bear and surrounded by a million cops. A fierce battle raged. The walls of the cabin were smashed, tear gas did nothing, so the cops blasted in a form of tear gas pyrotechnic called “burner” which set the cabin ablaze and ended Dorner’s life. The headline on the flyer says “We’re gonna go ahead with the plans with the burner.”

Many admired Dorner, he has become an underdog hero. He also sided with Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats and was pushing to legalize gay marriage. Note the Rainbow gay rights symbol on the bottom right of the page. Although many of his supporters agree with him that assault weapons should be banned, it is hard to reconcile his pronouncements on his manifesto with his violent actions using an assault rifle to kill 4 people and wound several others.

1601 N. Vista, Hollywood
(pre-destruction)

2. The Hollywood address on the flyer, 1601 N. Vista Street, 90046. This would turn out to be the best clue on the flyer. Why would this address, a property in Hollywood, and pictures of fire be so prominent? This will soon be revealed.

3. The “Major Land Theft Alert” and “Your Land Stolen” issue on the flyer could mean the author of it is pro-Native American rights. It could also refer to someone who previously lived on the property at 1601 N. Vista and was pushed out after a sale.

Book on the Mormon Zombies

4. The mention of Alex Cox and a letter he wrote in 2014. He wrote a lot of letters. A stand up comedian, he was brother to Lori Vallow Daybell, a woman who was married to Chad Daybell, the leader of a “Mormon” cult (obviously not in any way sanctioned by the legitimate Mormon Church). Mr. Daybell has written several novels and one of his theories is that entities are taking over the souls of men, women, and children and they become Zombies. They must be killed in order free them of this curse.

Lori Daybell

Lori Daybell was convicted in 2023 of killing two of her children. The bodies were buried in Chad’s back yard. Her brother Alex Cox, now deceased, was named as involved in several murders, including possibly both of Lori’s ex-husbands and wounding the ex- husband of Lori’s niece. There’s more, like the mysterious death of Chad’s wife a few weeks before Chad and Lori were married, and other serious crimes relating to this cult. Chad goes on trial this year for murder. Lori is in jail for the rest of her life without possibility for parole. This case has been going on for years in Idaho, Utah, and as far away as Hawaii. Scores of amateurs and podcasters have investigated the Zombie murders for years. Was someone from 1601 N. Vista involved? Or just interested?

Now let’s turn the clock back from November 3rd, 2022, not a long way back, just 1 day to November 2nd and observe the horrifying and shocking events that took place at 1601 North Vista Street. The address is actually 2 houses, a front house and a rear house, both evidently being used as Airbnb. On November 2nd, social media influencer Justa Minx moved into the front house for a short stay. Minx, a pretty Irish girl who now refers to her sexuality as “pansexual”, has a huge youtube following of over 692,000. She also is on Twitch, has other youtube channels, and is in films.

Justa Minx doing her podcast

“Unknown Men Were Living Under My House”

Justa Minx had spent the Wednesday with her parents and friends, and returned to the rented Airbnb around 4 am. She went right to sleep but when she woke up she saw that a window was broken and her laptop stolen. This had probably happened while she was with her parents. The most distressing thing to her was that her 2 cats were missing. She called her friend Johnny. They found the first cat Cornelius, and brought him in. Then they looked around for the second cat, Sylum. Noticing the panel was off on the side of house that led to the crawl space under the house, they looked in but it was dark. They called the LAPD, who eventually came out and filled out a report. Justa asked them to look under the house, they refused, but loaned her a flashlight. Justa and her friend Johnny crawled under the house.

Flyers, drugs, sleeping bags, and other items under the house

They spotted her other cat, but could not get her. The house was old fashioned, on raised concrete pillars, not on a foundation, so there was a lot of room under there. They found piles of bags, sleeping bags, drugs, bags filled with credit cards and transaction slips and lots of miscellaneous items. Bags of weed are clearly visible in her video. The cops found the material interesting, but departed, not willing to stake out the house to catch the creeps when they came back. Johnny and Justa looked back under the house but could not find her cat. Frantic, Justa decided to camp out under house that night hoping her cat Sylum would appear. Personally, I would definitely not have done that.

Video camera during break in. Note blue gloved hand upper left corner.

Justa’s saga goes on until November 8th, when she finally found her last cat and moved out. However, until then, on the 4th, 2 of the burglars came back and knocked on her door and filmed her when she answered. They threatened her. They demanded their bags of drugs, which possibly, the police had gotten. They left, but other strangers showed up, the next day a journalist, then the owners trying to placate her. They were Russians or Armenians and owned several Airbnb places in the area. They had fixed up the houses and were just as upset about the events, calling the “Crusty Punks” who were living under the house “low level street guys.” They had actually hired a security guy to watch the houses and keep any uninvited druggies away. I don’t believe they had anything to do with the “Crusties”. Justa crawled under the house again to look for the cat. She cut open her arm on some wire and had to go to a med emergency and have stitches. The owners of the Airbnb found her cat next door and Justa finally moved out. She had escaped a very dangerous situation.

Blue gloved suspect leaving 1601 N. Vista on Nov. 3, 2022

After the two Crusty Punks broke into Justa’s Airbnb and stole her laptop on November 3, they might have been the arsonists who went to NOHO and around 11 pm tried to burn down the Iliad Bookstore. They are prime suspects. But why did they put their address on the flyers? My theory is that they were somehow booted out of N. Vista, their underground hideout discovered, possibly before Justa moved in, and wanted to get revenge on the owners by committing arson and blaming it on the owners of the N. Vista house. Another issue is that there’s at times drug dealing going on constantly at night in the neighborhood. Street dealing at night in Hollywood is rampant, even at Vista and Hawthorn.

The Arson Firestorms in Hollywood and NOHO

The sad fact of rampant homeless and crusty punks is that they not only occupy empty buildings or break into vacant houses or apartment buildings, but for the last several years they have been crawling underneath houses, moving in, doing drugs, burning things down. For those who feel all the land was stolen from others and that they therefore have a mandate to occupy it or burn it down, it becomes dangerous for everyone else. This could spell doom for those living above or next door.

Here’s a short slice of life in the Hollywood-NOHO axis, the area where this story took place.

The spectacular kick off was the October 26, 2022 Lamplighter Restaurant fire. This arson fire, along with at least 8 other smaller blazes, took place close to and just before the Book Store fire on November 3rd. It took 100 firefighters to put out the fire at the vacant restaurant building in Valley Plaza at Laurel Canyon and Sylvan. Two suspects were said to be detained, what happened to them is a mystery. Were they released?

439 N. Sierra Bonita

On November 24, 2022 a vacant 4 plex at 439 N. Sierra Bonita started to burn. Vagrants were seen in the building before the fire. The fire department got the fire under control quickly, and according to reports, only an upstairs bedroom was damaged. This was the Thanksgiving following the incidents on North Vista. Any connection is unknown at this time.

1601 N. Vista as it is today, totally gone.

Sometime in 2023, date undetermined, the front house at 1601 N. Vista St., burned to the ground. The only thing left is a plaque on the property facing the sidewalk on Vista. A report in a local online news source said that the fire was on the same date at the fire next door at 1607, but that is not mentioned in the fire report of 1607 N. Vista. At any rate, the beautifully re-modeled house was torn down. A substantial loss to the owners. The rear house, faces South, and its address is 7461 Hawthorn This structure, also nicely redone by a professional company, is still intact and occupied. I think it is most likely that the front house was torched by the man wearing the blue gloves in the security video. He is a suspect in other fires in the neighborhood, was secretly living underneath the house and was mad about being discovered, pissed about losing his drug stash, and evidently posted the flyers at the arson fire at the Iliad Bookstore.

The plaque with the address is all that remains of 1601.

Since the cops refused to crawl under the house and obtain the plentiful evidence, like fingerprints and DNA, among all the receipts from stolen credit cards and all the rest of the bags and sleeping bags, etc., did LAPD ever get any fingerprints or DNA? An early arrest might have saved other structures from being torched. Millions of dollars of property have been destroyed, both in Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley.

1607 N. Vista, front view.

1607 N. Vista, View of side of house from Hawthorn Ave.

July 1, 2023. An arson fire at 1607 N. Vista St. at 5:30am. This house was vacant, just next door from the Airbnb where Justa Minx stayed in 2022. 30 units responded to put out the fire. The building still looks vacant today (see photos), nearly a year later.

645 N. Gardner St. View of debris from alley.

August 10, 2023. An arson fire at 645 N. Gardner St., an older unit built in 1928. Buldozed down in September 2023, the piles of debris still remain behind a chain link fence.

1547 N. Sierra Bonita Ave, totally destroyed

October 18, 2023 arson fire at 1547 N. Sierra Bonita Ave., just a couple of blocks from the N. Vista house. 6 units put out the fire on this house that was vacant and although a historical craftsman house, was slated for demolition. Movie starlet Stephanie Powers grew up next door at the house on the corner of Hawthorn Ave. A block West on Curson Ave. is a stately house that was “creepy crawled” by the Manson Family, according to the tenant who resided there in the late 1960s.

1030 N. Sierra Bonita, now a vacant lot.

November 23, 2023. Fire at 1030 N. Sierra Bonita. The house sold for 1.3 million in 2016, but had recently become vacant. Vagrants moved in, the dopers moved in. The neighbors called it The Hell House because of all the criminal activity there. Complaints piled up. Finally torched by unknown vagrants. It was demolished in January 4, 2024 by order of the City. The fire damaged some of the units in the apartment building next door, forcing innocent tenants out of their apartments.

Around the same time period that the Bookstore was set on fire, other fires were set on Lankersheim Blvd., and surrounding areas. Millions of dollars of property has been damaged or lost. Lives destroyed. Is it time for the City to get a grip on reality? Is it time to realize that druggies and crusty punks living in temporarily vacant property are a danger to society? It’s not just trespassing, ignored by the D.A. It’s possibly death and destruction to those living nearby. Yet none call it murder.

Thanks for reading this. And please, find out if somebody is hiding under YOUR house tonight. Your life could depend on it.

“Lost” Documentary On Mayme Clayton Library Found

Documentary Tour and Description of Fabulous Library

by Paul Hunt

Back in 2009, filmmaker Arnold Herr, assisted by Mosiah Kennard, made a wonderful documentary of the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum.  The film features Avery Clayton, Mayme’s son and director of the Library. ( Mrs. Clayton had passed before the Library was open.)  The film was shown at the Library but lost in the chaos of the eviction by Ridley-Thomas and the ensuing gargantuan problem of packing up and moving 2 million books and items.

In a strange set of circumstances, we have found a copy of the film, and Ranai Clayton, Mayme Clayton’s grandson, is excited to show the public what the fantastic collection of African-American books, literature and history was like when it was at the Culver City location.

The Library is Safe

If you read the previous article on the Mysterious Disappearance of the Mayme Clayton Library, the question on everyone’s mind:  is the Library safe?  I have been assured by Mr. Clayton that the Library is safe in a secure Storage Vault.

What the Library needs is a new home with enough space to display the over 2 million books and items, and to get it re-opened for research.  The Mayme Clayton Library and Museum would like your help to find a new home and they are in need of funding to re-activate the collection.

Meanwhile, travel back in time to 2009 and see this beautiful collection before the despicable politics of a few Los Angeles politicians took it away from the public.  Please enjoy the documentary and share it with your friends.

The Mayme Clayton African-American Library Vanished Without A Trace. A Victim of Despicable L.A. Politics.

The Mysterious Disappearance of Libraries and Museums in Southern California

First Part in a Series
by Paul Hunt

Mayme Clayton with her beloved books

Mayme A. Clayton with her beloved books.

Mayme Agnew Clayton was an African-American woman born in Arkansas on August 4, 1923. At the age of 13 she started collecting books on the history and literature of Blacks in America. She ended up with a collection of about 2 million items and a Library and Museum in Culver City, California. It was a long, tough road for her, but she was incredibly focused and resilient. She died as her Library was opened, but her sons stepped up to fill the void, until mid-2019 when the entire Library and Museum vanished in the midst of the turmoil of L.A.’s rotten politics, heroic patrons, and a shameful Board of Supervisors. Like the fog of war and forgotten battles, piecing together the fragments of the dramatic drive to create a lasting Library for African-American studies has not been easy.

Mayme Clayton was an incredibly busy woman. She raised three sons, worked as a librarian, was involved in golf tournaments, and in every spare moment was out and about searching for books on the literature and history of African-Americans. One of her big collections came from a bookstore we have written about several times on this blog, Universal Books.
Sifting through the few scraps of history of bookstore archives and the fading memories of the last remaining booksellers, the story is both dramatic and inspiring.

Photo by Wayne Braby.

Universal Books came to life on February 25, 1966. The store was founded by Jerry Weinstein and his brother Bob, both of whom had spectacular careers in bookselling in the following decades. The store was a small shop located just east of Vine on the South side of Hollywood Blvd, at 6258. Don’t bother looking around for the location, most of that block was demolished and huge structures now occupy what was once a group of small shops, a hot dog stand, and the wild, dangerous bar called the Crazy Horse.

Bob and Jerry struggled to get the shop going, buying books, putting up shelves and obtaining second-hand fixtures. Money was scarce. The Weinsteins, five brothers, had been running a junk shop opened by their father in South L.A. when they discovered that they could do better with books than all the other stuff. Some of the older booksellers, like Peter Howard encouraged them to focus on second-hand books, and the brothers
went full boar into selling books, along with a sister and the wives, creating a dynasty of book shops in Southern California. It’s a story in itself, full of drama, disasters, and huge success and wealth, but that will have to be written by one of the surviving members some day.

Bob Weinstein lasted about six months at Universal Books. Sales were slow, the shop was on the eastern edge of Hollywood Blvd., a ways from the action near Pickwick Book Shop and the cluster of book stores dotting the street just east of Highland Ave. Bob’s wife got pregnant, and Bob had to bail on the book store and go back to a mainstream job for a while. Jerry fished around for a new partner and found Larry Mullen, a fellow poker player at one of the clubs in Gardena. Jerry introduced Larry to the book business and made him an offer: “Work here at the shop for $100 per week for one year and I’ll make you a partner.” Larry agreed, and his education began as a book dealer.

The story of how Jerry Weinstein stumbled into the African-American book world involves some tragic circumstances, as was related to me by Larry Mullen many decades ago. Here it is, as I remember it: One day a gentlemen pulled up in front of Universal Books with his car jam packed with books. He said he was a landlord of a small bungalow in Venice that he had rented to two guys, one a beatnik and the other a musician. The 1960s were the trailing end of the beatnik days in Southern California, although Venice was a haven, and the influence in many ways is still evident in local libraries, crumbling buildings, poetry and vibes.

The landlord said that the beatnik guy, who collected all the books that he had in the car, had been busted for possession of pot, a somewhat serious offense back in those days. He was sent to jail for some time, and the musician, mostly unemployed, couldn’t pay the rent by himself so he took off for parts unknown. The Landlord gathered up all the books and pamphlets and loaded his car, hoping to sell the books and recoup lost rent. Jerry rummaged through the load, and was not immediately impressed. The books, many old and scarce, were all on Black history and literature, some going back to slave days. He was not familiar with the subject, but one thing about Jerry, he had instinct for books. He also knew that the Landlord had been trying to flog the books all over Hollywood, and Universal Books, sitting just east of Vine, was the last stop. East of Argyle was mostly desolate land in a literary sense. He was Mr. Landlord’s last chance.

So Jerry made the guy an offer, not based on the value of the books, which he did not even know at the time, but based on how much money was in his pocket at the moment, the cash drawer and bank account being drained by the Gardena card parlors. I don’t know what he paid for it, but let’s just say it was one of Jerry’s most spectacular buys. The frustrated Landlord was probably glad to get a few hundred bucks out of the deal, the economy slow, and he was also getting rid of a load of debris from the house. My thoughts at the time were to not only get the books but go back to the house and see what remained of rare pamphlets, documents, broadsides and miscellaneous strewn about. Hearing this story left an impression on me, I did exactly that several times in years to come, even telling landlords I would sweep up the debris “broom clean” if I could have the remaining items.

Jerry started to work on the book collection right away, getting together a catalog that was called “The Negro in America and Africa, a Choice Collection of Books by or about the Black Man.” The catalog was labeled “Black Literature Catalog #121.” I have a copy of this now rare catalog, and wondered if this was the first catalog Jerry put out or did he really have 120 earlier ones? According to Bob Weinstein, Jerry just picked a number, it was actually his first catalog, but Jerry wanted the librarians to think that he had been in business for some time and was not a novice.

 

The catalog was wonderful in content. Although just typewritten and offset printed as a pamphlet, many of the items dated back to the nineteenth century and some to Civil War and early times. The prices, with today’s perspective, were very reasonable. If I can figure out how to do it, I would like to make it into a .pdf for folks to use as reference.
Needless to say, the catalog was a smashing success and mostly sold out. The timing was perfect, universities across America were just beginning to establish ethnic studies programs, and it was important to have reference works to back them up.

With money coming in and orders piling up, Jerry went on the road, looking to find duplicates to fill orders and to scoop up any of the black literature and history he could find. As I have written about before, during the LBJ’s Urban Renewal program in the large cities across the country, many thousands of old buildings were torn down, many of these being the home of old established used book stores, usually in lower rent districts. The late 1960s and early 1970s saw major used book stores closing down forever, and liquidating their stock of books at bargain prices. Jerry hit many of these stores and shipped back his book purchases to Universal so Larry could send them out to waiting customers.

Meanwhile, Mayme Clayton was gathering books. She was in and out of many of the Hollywood Bookstores in the late 1960s, including Universal, and she most likely purchased a number of books from Jerry and Larry. In November of 1969 the L.A. Free University hosted Clayton “of the UCLA Law Library” to give a talk. Around 1970 UCLA asked her to assemble a collection of books on African-American literature and history. Funds were lacking to buy any sort of rare items and they were at least keen to buy some of the new books being published at the time. In the Summer of 1971 UCLA sent Mayme Clayton to Africa to look for books in Libraries there on the subject of African-American interest. She found very little in the countries she went to, and said that those books were almost non-existent in the libraries of African nations.

In the fall of 1971 she returned to Los Angeles and took a job working at Universal Books for $2 an hour. She had realized that although being a librarian was a good solid job, her real goal was to assemble a world class collection, a Library and Museum that would tell the story of Black people in America. She decided that Universal Books was at the time the leading book shop in the West Coast that was cataloging and selling books on Black subjects, so she decided to learn the ropes so she could open her own shop or Library some day.

The situation at Universal Books at that time was full of chaos and drama, as usual. Jerry and Larry had both been playing way too much at the Gardena Poker Clubs. Larry told me that they finally both realized that they had to pay attention to the business, so they made a deal. They would both quit gambling and devote themselves to be successful booksellers. If either party was caught gambling, he would have to sell the business to the other partner. Jerry got caught and had to sell the store to Larry Mullen. Larry, short of capital, took in a partner named Ed Withrow, a customer of the shop, well-to-do, and a collector of art books.

I met Ed Withrow in 1979 when I opened my shop in West Hollywood, the Paperback Jack Book Store. Ed was a good customer, a gentle man and very knowledgeable about books. We both knew Larry and Ed told me about his experience as a partner at Universal that lasted about a year. Ed was disappointed in the partnership and with Larry, and asked to be bought out. Larry scrambled around and brought in Jules Manasseh in 1972. Ed Winthrop was tragically murdered around 1980. He had owned some apartments and was refurbishing one of the units and went to work on the unit one night, evidently surprising some gang bangers who had broken in to steal his tools. Another shocking, senseless murder, all too common in the crime-ridden streets of Los Angeles.

By 1972, not only was Mayme Clayton working at Universal part time, evidently using the name “Mae Phillips” to protect her job as a librarian, but also working there were Mark Sailor and Melvin Guptin. Mark wrote a wonderful story about his experiences at Universal, published here at BookstoreMemories.com. I’ll put the link to it down at the end of this story. He called it the Lost Book World East of Vine. Mark Sailor was also involved with cataloging the Black Americana that the store continued to specialize in.

On December 4, 1973, the L.A. Times ran an article about Mayme Clayton, who had opened a bookstore in her remodeled garage behind her house at 3617 Montclair, South Los Angeles. The shop, called Third World Ethnic Bookstore, stocked over 3,000 volumes.

In 1974, Mayme put up the money to become a partner with Jules Manasseh, who had bought out Larry Mullen. The partnership didn’t last long, only a few months. She claimed the owner “lost profits at the horse races”, and that on one especially bad day lost all the business money. She ended the partnership, and took all the stock of books on African-American history, approximately 4,000 volumes, as settlement. Universal Books was pretty much out of the arena of books on Black History.

1975 was a busy year for Mayme Clayton. She was appointed to the staff of the DOVES Project, Dedicated Older Volunteers in Educational Services. She recruited seniors to volunteer to help at the local Watts elementary, junior and high schools.

In November of 1975 she changed the name of her bookstore to The Western Black Research Center. A newspaper article stated that Clayton would give tours of her library on Saturdays between Noon and 1pm. She also in the late 1970s and early 1980s was instrumental in putting on Celebrity Golf tournaments for African-American golfers.

By 1999 Mayme hosted a day long African-American Film Festival at Cal State Northridge. The films were from her collection at the Western Black Research Center. She had continued over the years to produce film festivals and lectures on African-American history and literature, and had purchased archives of photographs from failed magazines and newspapers, and expanded her collection at her garage until it was packed. The publicity she generated along the way finally led to a breakthrough in Culver City when a lease was signed in 2006 to open a Library and Museum at the old Courthouse at 4130 Overland Avenue, Culver City.

Her dream partially realized, sadly Mayme Clayton died on October 13, 2006.

Mayme painted by her son Avery Clayton

Mayme’s son Avery Clayton took over the job of building out the Library. In 2007 he changed the name from Western Black Research Center to The Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum (MCLM). Yvonne Braithwaite Burke, Supervisor of the Second District, leased the old Courthouse to the MCLM for one dollar a year. The property in older times had been owned by Culver City, and the Council and Mayor were behind the Library and celebrated that Clayton’s Collection, which had grown from 3,000 items to around 2 million items, was going to be the largest African-American collection in the Western United States. It put Culver City on the Cultural map, along with the movie studios and art galleries.

Avery Clayton

Avery Clayton was busy with the Library. In January 2009 he loaned the Huntington Library in San Marino, one of the most prestigious Libraries in the World, a group of items from the Clayton collection for a display called “Central Avenue and Beyond. The Harlem Renaissance in Los Angeles.” The Museum was attracting a lot of attention. A local photographer and book collector named Mosiah Kennard introduced renowned L.A. bookseller and filmmaker Arnold Herr to Avery Clayton. Arnold was hired to make a documentary about the MCLM, which he did. It was an excellent film, and was shown at the Museum, but has since vanished, possibly still in the MCLM archives, wherever that is.

On Thanksgiving Day 2009 Avery Clayton died at his home in Culver City. He was too young and his untimely death was a blow to the Museum. The cause of death was not known or revealed if indeed known. He had previously had a kidney transplant, so possibly that had something to do with his passing. His brother Lloyd Clayton took over the reins of the MCLM. He tried to pull things together, putting on events and expanding Library services to the local community. Many volunteers worked at the location which became a Mecca to the African-American community on the West Coast. But storm clouds were brewing, and an outrageous display of dirty politics was closing in, leading to the destruction and disappearance of this invaluable Library.

Lloyd Clayton

At an event at the MCLM on November 9th, 2018, which was to celebrate the creation of a cultural corridor in Culver City, former City Councilman Jim Clarke oddly stood up with some “bad news”. He said that he heard that Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas had decided to evict the Library and replace it with a “constituent center.” This was shocking to Lloyd Clayton and the folks at the event, who could not believe that Ridley-Thomas would do something like that. Clarke said Ridley-Thomas wanted them out by the end of the year.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas evicted the MCLM

Then a couple weeks later, at the annual stakeholder meeting of the MCLM on November 20, the Senior Deputy for Ridley-Thomas showed up and said that the library had to get out, that the building needed repairs and that part of the roof had collapsed. It turned out that due to a small leak in part of the building a few ceiling tiles had fallen down. The spokeswoman also ranted on that the MCLM had not paid rent for years, and that the building is worth $93,000 per month. Forgetting that the Museum had an agreement with the County for a token rent of $1 per year and that the whole reason for the Library and Museum to be in the building was to provide the books, films, documents and archives to enrich the community. Over and over, I have observed that malicious bureaucrats will use this excuse to close down libraries: “The Library isn’t making any money,” they whine. Forgetting, of course, that libraries and museums usually don’t make money, they exist for cultural enrichment and benefit to the community.

On April 18, 2019 the MCLM is officially evicted by Ridley-Thomas, L.A. County’s powerful Supervisor.

Earl Offari Hutchinson led the fight to save the Library

This provoked an outrage from the community. Earl Offari Hutchinson, a radio personality and community leader, launched a vigorous campaign to save the MCLM. Starting on the 28 of April he held several demonstrations in front of the Library. He was supported by former Supervisor Yvonne Burke and Mayor Wells of Culver City. Hutchnson gathered a lot of support and wondered how one man (Ridley-Thomas) could get away with doing something like this with no public support. Despite petitions, phone calls, and letters from Culver City officials protesting this outrage, the Supervisors remained silent. The petitions and the community were totally ignored, and the County did not even have the courtesy to answer letters from local officials and residents.

In July the MCLM was boxed up and moved out. Blurbs in local newspapers claimed that Cal State University Dominguez Hills had made a deal to take the entire collection and merge it into their campus library. The MCLM story faded from view at this point. Covid hit, the Lockdowns, the vaccine controversies, the economic stagnation. The Library was forgotten. Libraries, churches and meetings were banned by the County.

A couple of years went by. When I tried to find where the Library had moved to, I hit a dead-end. The Librarian at CSUDH told me that they had been expecting the collection but it had never showed up. The Library, with its 2 million books, films, and documents had vanished.

And now we are presented with a strange coincidence. The building at 4130 Overland, former home of the MCLM, is now occupied by big pharma and big medicine. A huge non-profit called BioscienceLA is ensconced in the building. This non-profit was founded in 2018, just at the time Ridley-Thomas was first talking about evicting the MCLM. What a coincidence! Their brochure says “Launched with financial support from founding sponsors representing government, industry and philanthropic sectors, all of whom endorse the potential of Los Angeles to become a major West Coast life sciences innovation hub.”

I dropped by to see for myself, but the doors are locked to outsiders. A brochure was passed through a small cracked open door by a woman who didn’t want to answer any questions. The building is used as a meeting hub, so executives in the BioLA community can have a place to meet and not have to drive all over LA. They also recruit and train young students for placement in the medical companies and university medical systems.

Looking back through the postings of Urbanize Los Angeles and other websites reveals some interesting financial claims.

2019 – A news post claims BioLA received 4 million dollars to remodel the building on Overland. The money came from “Discretionary Funds” of the Second Supervisorial District (Ridley-Thomas). They also received a 5 year lease gratis, with an option for three five year extensions. (It was not stated whether the extensions were also gratis, or if there would be actual rent).

2020 – BioscienceLA’s “Biofutures Program” receives a 1 million dollar grant from Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

2021 – A news post says that “L.A. Builds a Bioscience Hub to Challenge Biotech Scene in San Diego and Boston”. The article claims that L.A. County had invested 10 million dollars in the project.

2021 – October 13 – Mark Ridley Thomas charged in a bribery and fraud scheme by a Federal Grand Jury. This was a scheme involving his son and the University of Southern California.

2023 – March 30 – Ridley-Thomas Convicted of Bribery, Conspiracy and Mail Fraud.

2023 – August 28th Ridley-Thomas Sentenced to 3 1/2 years in Prison. The Department of Justice never mentioned anything about the MCLM’s eviction and his relationship to BioscienceLA and his funding.

This story is not finished. There is more to come, soon.

Rest in Peace:
Mayme A. Clayton
Avery Clayton
Jerry Weinstein
Ed Winthrup
Mark Sailor
Melvin Guptin
Avery Mosiah Kennard

Thank you all for reading this. Any comments, corrections, or thoughts, please send them to bookman451@gmail.com. PH

Hollywood’s Lost Book World East of Vine Click Here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Amazon Controls The Book World

The Secret of “Closed Generic Strings” and the Magic of the Powerful Words They Hide in Their Vault

The most powerful word in the book world is “Book”. It is owned by Amazon. They also own “Author”, “Buy”, “Pay”, “Prime”.
“Song”, “Tunes”, “Wow”, and maybe “Read”.

A Journey into History and Magic by Paul Hunt

The used and antiquarian book business began to change by 2013, into something that looks a lot different today. The 1970’s -1990s were probably the golden years for booksellers in Southern California, for both new and used books. In the 1970s Hollywood Blvd. was packed with bookstores. Pickwick Book Shop anchored the western end of the Street and book stores, back-issue magazine stores, and newsstands spread east to around Argyle Ave. What happened?

A lot of factors went into the turbulent cultural change. Technology and the Internet certainly were, at the end of the millennium, the basic factors. There were others, like an escalating spiral of high rents, the crime wave that hit Hollywood when the Mayor and the big Donkeys decided to push through a “Redevelopment” scam that would work as a regional part of the Great Society’s Urban Renewal, or as the great Jack LeVan said, “Urban Ruin-all”. I was just getting into the used book business in the 1960s when LBJ’s program started to gut out the centers of many major cities across the country, which meant that thousands of older buildings were torn down and hundreds of bookstores were tanked in the process. The same thing happened in Los Angeles.

There were bookstores in downtown Los Angeles and many had spread west on 6th Street in the 1930s. Urban Renewal pushed the survivors westward. Dawson’s ended up on Larchmont, Zeitlin settled into a barn on La Cienega, a few like Caravan managed to hang on until recent times. Hollywood Blvd had book stores from the 1920s on up, and became the mecca of literature by the 1960s.

When high rents and high crime began to force book stores out of Hollywood, many went to Westwood and further to Santa Monica. Others moved to Burbank’s old Outdoor Mall. Unfortunately, the rents continued to climb and the internet experienced massive growth.

There is now little left of the once plentiful book and magazine stores. It was a wipe-out, a cultural destruction of enormous consequences, and continues until today. Society had opened up the floodgates of unlimited immigration which, with redevelopment, drove rents up, while the trillions in printing press money pounded the value of the dollar down. The culture, bookstores, art galleries, small theaters, newspapers, magazines, all buckled under the pressure and many collapsed.

From this wasteland of reality emerged a new world. It is a world that is in the ethos, somewhere in time and space, sometimes called “the cloud”, or generally, “the internet”. It it invisible until you get a device that will connect you to the ethereal realm and make it visible to you. Without a device, you cannot see or hear the new world. It is a new land, with domains instead of cities. It rules commerce and will soon rule the world with the introduction of “artificial intelligence”. And if something ever happens to shatter the connection, humanity will be stripped of everything.

In 1994 Jeff Bezos founded an on-line bookselling company called Cadabra
(you know, like Abracadabra, the old magic word). The usage of the word Abracadabra goes back to the late 1600s. It is said to have originated in the Balkins, and may be traced back to Gnostic teachings and a cabalistic name for Almighty God. It is used in magic and magik, a term meaning a transition, something that is happening, something magical: a rabbit is pulled out of a hat.

Bezos decided early on that just the word Cadabra sounded too much like “cadaver” so he came up with “amazon” named after a legendary race of warrior women living somewhere at the edge of the world. Bezos was into words of power and he soon devised a plan to control the mighty words so that nobody else could use them, in effect pulling them from use in the domains of the internet, the new territory of time and space, and by keeping them locked in his vault in the “cloud”, he would deprive any competitor from using them. If this sounds esoteric, it is.

Bezos is also a Wall Street guy, and worked at a hedge fund, so he had contacts to get financing, to launch an IPO, to sell corporate bonds, etc. He officially launched amazon.com on July 6, 1995. In 1997 he launched his IPO with 3 million shares of stock at $18 per share. The stock closed at $23.25, and Amazon made 54 million dollars in one day, much more than selling books. The stock is now over $174 per share. The market cap for Amazon is now $1.81 Trillion Dollars.  

The new Top Level Domains (TLD)

Around 2012 there began a heated discussion and competition among various companies and persons about the subject of TLDs and gTLDs, (Generic Top Level Domains). The public had been aware of .com, .org, .biz, etc., the original top level domains that most folks were using back in the turn of the century. Even today, .com is still the most popular domain designation. The problem for many folks is that all the “good” and powerful and valuable names have been taken. This has happened in the book business also. For instance, type in book.com. You can’t get this for your domain, because it is actually owned by Barnes and Noble, and book.com will resolve to barnesandnoble.com. The big guys have sucked up all the good .com names.

So the pressure was for the non-profits who run the internet, like ICANN, to make other top level domains, so that a person or company could, for instance have book.academy, or some other top level domain. Book.academy for example, may not be as good as book.com, but it is not bad, assuming someone does not already have it. A great website is TLD-list.com, where you can see an alphabetical list of all top level domains, and if they are active, a chart comparing prices from various registries. Pay particular attention to the “renewal” fee, because unlike .com which is very reasonable, some TLDs have low first year entrance fees but huge renewal fees for year two and so on. You will also notice that a fair amount of the listed TLDs are “not available”.

Closed Generic Strings

There was a private auction in November of 2014 by ICANN of their new generic top level domains (gTLDs). Amazon was a big winner at this auction, bidding through a shadowy branch of theirs in Luxembourg, with an international domain consultant company, and of course, a suitcase full of money to put up the millions of dollars it would need to put the Bezos plan of action into reality. For some time before the auction, there was a lot of debate, because Amazon was accused of planning to buy up certain gTLDs and then keep them in a vault and not release them for use. This is called holding Closed Generic Strings, a technical term. This was exactly the plan that Bezos had, because the words are powerful, and it was worth untold millions to snag them and keep them from use by competitors.

Here’s a few of the great gTLDs that Amazon owns: .book, .buy, .author, .now, .pay, .prime, .song, .tunes, .wow, and possibly .read. It is hard to track these down, but there’s a partial list. The most important to our book world discussion are .book, .author, and .read. These powerful words are in Amazon’s vault, and have been for years. Despite these having an original rule that whoever buys them can only have them for 10 years, Amazon seems to have figured out how to keep these forever. It’s like when Disney managed to bludgeon the copyright laws of the United States so they could keep Mickey Mouse for additional years. Money, power, and Wall Street talk the big talk.

By using a generic name, like book, we could have potentially thousands of booksellers getting together and registering their names like PickwickBookShop.book, or Antiquarian.book. If the renewal rate was reasonable, a lot of book folks, publishers, writers, and booksellers would be using .book as their domain. But Bezos does not want the competition.

The same is true of .author, another generic name that Amazon has locked up. Many authors and writers would love to have their name and use the gTLD of .author. Example johnsmith.author. The same would be true of .read, but this would appeal to an even broader audience.

It is not enough for Amazon to control the new book market. They also control a huge part of the used book market. And although they have large numbers of independent sellers, they also have ways of putting their own used books first. They also own Abebooks.com, the largest formerly independent platform for used books. Abebooks owns bookfinder, a large site to search for books. Amazon also owns Goodreads.com, a huge site that does book reviews; IMDB.com which houses all the information about films; Twitch.com, a huge gaming site, and through other entities such web sites as Wag.com (pet supplies), Soap.com (household needs), Diapers.com (baby supplies), and BeautyBar.com (cosmetics) and a whole lot more. Amazon has been known to buy up smaller competitor’s sites and then close them.

Before ICANN handed over these powerful names to Amazon, there were a lot of negative comments and warnings from other competitors and community watchdog groups, all ignored, but here is a sampling below:

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Heather Dryden, an Australian consumer advocate: the applicant is “seeking exclusive access to a common generic string .. that relates to a broad market sector,” which Ms. Dryden notes could have unintended consequences and a negative impact on competition. Amazon was subject to a large amount of identical warnings.

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Barnes and Noble sent a scathing letter:

Barnes & Noble, Inc. submits this letter to urge ICANN to deny Amazon.com’s application to purchase several top level domains (TLDs), most notably .book, .read and .author (collectively the “Book TLDs”). Amazon, the dominant player in the book industry, should not be allowed to control the Book TLDs, which would enable them to control generic industry terms in a closed fashion with disastrous consequences not only for bookselling but for the American public. If Amazon, which controls approximately 60% of the market for eBooks and 25% of the physical book market, were granted the exclusive use of .book, .read and .author, Amazon would use the control of these TLDs to stifle competition in the bookselling and publishing industries, which are critical to the future of copyrighted expression in the United States.

Amazon’s ownership would also threaten the openness and freedom of the internet and would have harmful consequences for internet users worldwide. When ICANN announced its plan to increase the number of TLDs available on the Domain Name System, one of its stated goals was to enhance competition and consumer choice. However, if the Book TLDs applications are granted to Amazon, no bookseller or publisher other than Amazon will be able to register second-level domain names in .book, .read and .author without Amazon’s approval, leaving Amazon free to exclude competitors and exploit the generic Book TLDs for its sole benefit

(It must be noted that although I agree with Barnes and Noble’s argument, they themselves have a lock on book.com.)

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The Booksellers Association of Switzerland:

In the case of a closed generic TLD like .books, the exclusivity granted to the winning applicant would de facto strengthen the position of a single big operator in the book industry and would be detrimental to the industry as a whole

There were many more comments against Amazon, including a lot of competitors who applied for the powerful generic names. They were all rejected.

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And so Jeff Bezos said “abacadabra” and now out of the ethereal universe comes to his vault .book, .author, .pay, .now, .prime, .buy, .song, .tunes, and more. It’s magic, folks, and for these powerful words that cannot be touched or used by the unwashed masses, he traded paper tokens produced with more magic by the Federal Reserve. There is a veil over our heads, and it’s hard to peep through the fabric to see the unseen universe and the magik, magic, mystery, prestidigitation, wizardry, sorcery and incantation involved.

Hey, what about .page? Oh, that’s owned by google.com. The good news is that it is available and very reasonable to renew. So kudos to google, and hope this helps some folks travel down their path to finding their very own domain. Just remember, you can trade your tokens to rent it, but you can never actually “own” it. It is only “real” in the alternate universe of the “internet”, and controlled by an entity that used to be referred to as the “I Am” in this world, now called the “I Can” or ICANN in the world of the magical universe.

The Future of Book Shops

What is the Future of American Book Shops?

by Paul Hunt

The dystopian end for literacy.  The very last stage of the retail book business will be Book Tents on sidewalks in the big cities as the huge skyscrapers become empty due to high rent and finally to the massive CME from the Sun.  With 300,000 mainly homeless, destitute, and uneducated people pouring over the border every month, does anybody actually believe that there’s going to be less people living on the streets?  When the internet goes down get ready to shop for books on the sidewalks.

It looks like American society has abandoned it’s own culture.  The demise of bookstores, art galleries and small theaters are sure signs of the decay. Here’s the report card for reading in California schools from CAreads.org:

Reading is the most fundamental skill children must learn to succeed in school and in life.  But today, half of California’s students do not read at grade level.  What’s worse, among low-income students of color, over 65% read below grade level.  Few ever catch up.

Sad news for anyone thinking about trying to sell a book in the future. The trend is also showing up at libraries.  I’ve noticed lately that most libraries have changed their mix, which is now maybe 40% books, 40% audio and video and 20% computers.

Let me know what YOU think.  I have a few ideas for solutions, but I’ll save them until Hollywood starts issuing the book tents with small solar panels to power lights inside.  And a fluffy pillow for an old guy to sit on.

The Tarzan Fan From The Detroit Purple Gang


Buzz Bunin’s Journey From The Detroit Purple Gang to L.A.s Nightclub Scene, and a Lifetime Collecting Edgar Rice Burroughs.

by Paul Hunt

Buzz Bunin was from Detroit. He told me when he was a young man he worked for the Purple Gang, which was a Jewish mob that controlled the booze in the Detroit area during Prohibition. At the height of Prohibition, the mob ran 25,000 speakeasys and supplied liquor to Capone and the Chicago Outfit.

Buzz, real name Isidore Buster Bunin, was a young man at that pre-war time; he never mentioned just exactly what he did for the gang, but hinted at warehouse work. It was a huge operation, with enormous amounts of liquor being purchased in Canada and brought by boat to Detroit, and then re-distributed to the underground bars. There was a lot of work to do, folks like to drink.

He said when World War II came along he enlisted and went off to war. He claimed the mob continued to send his paycheck every week to his mother. After he was mustered out at the end of the war, he got his job back immediately with the mob, but Prohibition was long over, and things had changed. The Purple Gang was fading and opportunities to live a life of crime were not appealing. Buzz eventually headed west and came to Los Angeles.

By the 1950s Buzz was ensconced in Los Angeles. From the 1930s to the 1970s the nightclubs were the rage, and the theme of South Seas clubs, Tiki, Hawaii, and Hula were all over Southern California. Big bands like Billy Rose played the larger clubs. The bamboo decorated bars and phony sounds of rain pouring on roofs of the clubs were popular for years. Owners came and went, clubs were sold and re-sold, liquor licenses were bought, sold and sometimes cancelled by authorities.

There was no Purple Gang in Los Angeles. The payoffs, kick-backs and crime was run by the City, County and State of California governments. The cops were involved, the vice squads a pool of corruption. The many films of the 30s and 40s, as well as the crime novels of Chandler and other writers portrayed the real story of the seedy side of justice and crime.

Into this world entered Buzz Bunin. He had at least some experience back in Detroit with the same type of corruption that had seeped into the Los Angeles area. The Purple Gang was an extremely violent mob and eventually controlled much of the City of Detroit through fear, bribery, murder and strong-arm activities.

What was Los Angeles like during Prohibition? From 1920 to December 1933, it was illegal to produce, transport, import or sell alcoholic beverages. It was a Constitutional amendment and when it was clear that it was a monumental mistake, it took years to repeal. Meanwhile it was an opportunity to make a lot of money being involved in that business. A huge part of society thumbed its nose at the law. Secret bars, clubs and speakeasys were all over the County.

Mikee Sherer, old Pantages employee, in front of the Frolic Room. R.I.P. Mikee

When I first started in the book business in the 1970s, I remember going to estate sales and private calls in houses in Hollywood and L.A. where I found or was shown secret panels and sliding book cases that revealed narrow staircases that went down into concealed bars and party rooms. A lot of houses had built in these camouflaged dens of private booze huts. I later found out that Hollywood Boulevard had illegal bars hidden away. For instance, the famous Frolic Room bar next to the Pantages Theater started out as a private bar for the rich elites who were coming to the Theater, which opened in 1930. In the downstairs west lobby was a secret panel that let patrons into the bar, which ran until the end of prohibition. It later opened as a legal bar, the Frolic Room, which is the only actual bar still operating on Hollywood Blvd. The bright neon still draws in packed crowds most nights.

Tunnels ran under Hollywood Blvd.

One old-timer told me about a tunnel that ran down under the North side of Hollywood Boulevard from Argyle west toward Highland Ave. that allowed local mobs to move booze secretly down to the hidden bars and speakeasys. I’ve seen the remains of sealed-off tunnels, most were totally obliterated when the Metro subway dug through Hollywood.

When Buzz Bunin got to Los Angeles in the early 1950s, he was already a big fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs. He was an avid reader and especially liked the Tarzan novels. In the age before television, most educated adults were reading books. His obsession for Tarzan and ERB adventure novels led him to buy 2 South Seas type nightclubs: The Zamboanga Club at 3828 Slauson Ave. in the Ladera Heights area of Los Angeles, and the Mandalay Club at 2519 E. Pacific Coast Highway in Long Beach.

It is unknown where Buzz got the money to buy the Clubs. It is unlikely that at that time he could have done so himself, unless he had a large amount of money from a relative. It is possible that he had secret partners from the Detroit area, but that is speculation. The history of both clubs, which had been around for some time, is interesting.

Joe Chastek

The Zamboanga Club was started by a colorful character named Joe Chastek in 1938. Chastek and a high school friend, both 17 years old, stowed away on a freighter and landed in the Philippines. In the Polynesian Isles he fell in love with the culture, and when he returned to Los Angeles, opened the Zamboanga. The original name of the club was Joe’s Zamboanga South Seas Cafe and Cocktail Lounge. Chastek later shortened the name to The Zamboanga Club. He also opened a club in downtown Inglewood, The Trade Winds, 338 S. Market Street. This club, under different ownership, survived possibly into the early 1970s. By the 1950s it had turned into a Jazz Club and some LP recordings were done there with famous Jazz artists, including Charley Parker and Chet Baker.

Don Blanding’s book inspired Chastek

Around 1946 Chastek sold the Zamboanga and possibly the Trade Winds and opened a large Club called Vagabond’s House at 2505 Wilshire, an elegant and fabulous South Seas type Club. This club opened in 1946 and lasted many years, and lore has it that it was named after Don Blanding, the famous L.A. poet and artist. I had one friend who told me his mother dated Don Blanding and was going to marry him at one point. A few years later my mailman, when I lived in Hollywood, told me that he also delivered mail to Blanding, and that “Don Blanding was a big fag.” So who’s to know? He produced nice poetry books with delicate illustrations. His books came out at a time when Hawaii was hot in the Clubs, so no wonder Chastek used the name Vagabond’s House.

Joe Chastek was very active in community affairs, and was President of the Los Angeles Optimist Club, among other civil projects. Joe Chastek was possibly the first “Trader Joe” in L.A., as he advertised on match book covers of The Trade Winds Club.

The next owner of the Zamboanga was a flamboyant entrepreneur named Lou Nasif. He billed himself as “Zamboanga Lou”, and promoted dancing in a “Polynesian Paradise” with “cool tropical Drinks.” It was the home of the drink called the “Tailless Monkey”, and said to be “The World’s Most Beautiful Polynesian Paradise. The 400 occupancy club was busy with all kinds of bands and shows over the years. here’s a few:

Cab Calloway, the king of “hi de ho”.
The Pied Pipers
Jo Cappo (that zany comedian who does the Chaplin impersonation) and Sy Sommers “his pantomiming antics will have you in hysterics.”
Benito “Pat” Moreno, tenor singing sensation of 1948
Magician “Channing” pulling his tricks’
Dick Peterson and his orchestra
Judy Martin, trigger-fast tap dancer,
Kay Kalie’s music,
Elmer the Great, “whose popularity rests on his ability to pull more gags with whiskers -and as a consequence, take more heckling than any guy in show business. A neighborhood fave “despite his mildewed corny material.”
Bob Lord, another “singing sensation.”
Billy Rose Orchestra,
“Zamboanga Follies” – Burlesque as you like it.
Rod Rogers, Lovely Paula Lynn, Susan Joyce.
Comedian Russell Trent “gone over with a big bang.”
Senor Roberto and his Latin American Revue (colorfully garbed dancing puppets)
Sandy Sanders, former cigarette girl at Ciro’s with her own line of dancers.

Zamboanga Lou must have sold the club to Buzz in the early 1950s. I found some other traces of Lou Nasif as the owner of the Blue Chip Club, 14087 So. Vermont, Gardena, CA. This was a match book cover, undated of course. I also saw an ash tray type thing advertising Lou’s Village, 1465 W. San Carlos Street, San Jose, CA., also undated. Meanwhile, the Zamboanga was trying to lure in customers. An ad claimed that the club had “Gone Chuck Wagon” and it was all you can eat for $1.50. No minimum and no cover makes that a pretty good deal at the time.

The other club Buzz acquired around the same time was the Mandalay Club, 2509 E. Pacific Coast Highway in the Signal Hill area of Long Beach. The beginnings of the club are a little more mysterious. An entrepreneur named Robert Steele owned a Mandalay Club, possibly the same one, although I couldn’t trace it for sure. It burned down or was torched in 1940. He then opened the Cricket Club at 1752 N. Vine in Hollywood. In 1954 a man named Phil Kessler “re-opened” the Mandalay Club. He claimed to have spent $30,000 to remodel and turn the club into a “Hawaiian Motive.” In 1955 a newspaper blurb said Buzz was “associated with management of the club.” He must have been at least a partial owner by then.

In 1956 a legal notice was published that Buzz was selling half-interest in both the Zamboanga and Mandalay Clubs. This included selling half-interest in both of the liquor licenses. The buyer and new partner was a man named Nathan Norman Hendlin. The trail of the clubs as far as Buzz goes, ends there. Hendlin and Buzz were partners at that time, but Buzz and his wife had a son born in August of 1955, so if the South Seas Club milieu was fading, Buzz would have needed to make enough to support his wife and child. Buzz went into Real Estate. Mr. Hendlin died in 2016 at 99 years old back in Minnesota.

Buzz was in Real Estate in Southern California from 1958 until 1972. He worked for William E. Doud Co. in 1958 and 1959. From 1960 to 1972 he had his own company, Buzz Bunin Realty, and ran frequent ads in the Los Angeles Times. In the mid to late 1960s Buzz shows up as a program manager for the Beverly Hills Businessmen’s Club. One of the programs that he introduced was for Beverly Hills Police Chief Anderson who had just written an autobiography. I’m sure Chief Anderson had no idea that he was being introduced by an ex-member of the Purple Gang! Buzz was undoubtedly chuckling to himself.

When I tried to trace Buzz’s liquor licenses for the Zamboanga and Mandalay Club, they were not in the computer system of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Department (ABC). Some research opened up the whole panorama of Los Angeles crime. When Prohibition was declared law in 1920 the State of California gave the job of overseeing the liquor license and offenses to the State Board of Equalization. This opened up an era of crime in the State that went on at least until 1955. Payoffs and bribes to officials and cops from the illegal bars and speakeasys were frequent, and a big source of revenue during Prohibition for the vice squads and politicians.

William Bonelli

In 1938 William G. Bonelli was appointed to head the State Board of Equalization. Prohibition had ended in 1933, and now the BOE would issue liquor permits. It soon became a lucrative source of income for politicians and cops. A lot of the sleazy bars in downtown Los Angeles had “B” girls working the bars. These gals would attach themselves to customers and encourage them to drink, with of course, the girl’s drink secretly watered down by the bartender. This practice was illegal, but hundreds of “B” girls were working at L.A. bars doing this. The BOE officials were running a “shakedown” on the bar owners, making them pay up $25-$30 per week in bribes. Bonelli was indicted by a Grand Jury in 1939 for a 10 million dollar bribery scandal. Bonelli in return, wrote a book accusing the L.A. Times of having a Billion Dollar Black Jack and running scandals in California. Bonelli eventually fled to his huge ranch in Mexico where he lived until he died in 1970. His family ran his real estate empire in the Santa Clarita Valley and his auto race track in Newhall. In 1955 the State passed a Constitutional amendment and created the ABC Dept to handle liquor licensing, removing it from the Board of Equalization and at the time Bonelli.

Bribery in the Liquor License arena was rampant. But also in real estate. Buzz told me more than once about the corruption in the L.A. City zoning department, where developers could get zoning changed over the objections of the local residents by bribing officials. I don’t know if Buzz or any of the other owners of the Clubs had to pay off the Liquor Czars and corrupt pols. Since I couldn’t track the old numbers nothing can be determined if there was a shakedown going on.

A Canaveral Press title, Frank Frazetta dust jacket

Sometime in the mid 1980s Buzz came by to see me at the book store. His interest in Tarzan and Edgar Rice Burroughs led him to contact Canaveral Press in New York. Canaveral published reprints of many ERB titles and also published works of his that were not previously in book form. They had pretty much closed down by the late 1970s, but somebody still working there told Buzz that all the remaining stock of books had been given to their secretary as a closing down bonus for all the years of good work for the company. The secretary then left New York and moved to Santa Monica, CA, which by chance was where Buzz was living. He tracked down the lady (whose name I have forgotten) and found out that she still had quite a lot of the old Canaveral titles. They were stored in an old office building in downtown Santa Monica in a basement storage room. Buzz bought me lunch and told me he was buying the books and asked me if I would help him move the books to a storage unit. So Buzz ended up with a load of ERB remainders and I helped him to sell them to Burroughs dealers. We also bought some from him and sold them at the bookstore, they were titles not seen in years and were fast sellers. Buzz managed to find a few first editions in the batch and added them to his collection. It was an incredible find, and he sold out of all the books.

In early 1990 Buzz, getting up in years in his late seventies, decided to sell his collection. I arranged for him to send it to the California Book Auction, which had the sale April 12, 1990. It was sale number 328 and most of the items sold. Buzz finally got paid for his collection, but it was touch and go because the auction house soon folded up and itself became a historical artifact. Some consigners did not get paid. The story was that the owner, a ninety year old man, was standing on a corner in San Francisco when a street car went past and the electric arm on the wire came loose and swung around and wacked him on the head. Incredibly, the old guy was really tough and out of hospital within a week, but decided it was an omen to close the business and retire. I don’t know all the details, but if Doug Johns is still alive he could probably fill in the blanks.

Buzz Bunin died a few years after selling his collection at auction, although he had kept a few ERB books he was reading at his apartment at Barrington Plaza. He was a fascinating man, a good friend, and I wish I had asked him a million questions before he passed, especially about his time with the Purple Gang and his adventures in the South Seas nightclubs of Los Angeles. RIP Buzz Bunin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Book To Get For Holiday Reading

Noel Hart’s Book about Cosmopolitan Book Shop is a hit with book lovers!

And That Was Only The Front Cover

Noel Hart – And That Was Only the Front Counter: Working in the Used Book Business in Los Angeles.
Contains over 400 pages crammed with intensity from the trenches of the used book business in Los Angeles. This is a SIGNED LIMITED EDITION, which includes a piece of the bookshop tipped in! This is unique to each copy, a portion of a page printed in 1753, sourced from Cosmopolitan Bookshop in Hollywood. Each copy is SIGNED in full by Australian author Noel Hart in black ink on title page. Introductory note by Arnold M. Herr. Cover artwork by Rom Anthonis. This is a NON-FICTION book.
Rear cover blurb: “Melrose Avenue, Hollywood. Around the turn of the millennium. A classic secondhand bookshop, dusty and dirty, shabby with age and happenstance, packed tight with decades of stagnant accumulation. So messy it resembles the aftermath of a major earthquake. Bring a shovel, dig for treasures! Crackly radio jazz can be heard emanating from somewhere. Michael Jackson browses porn in one aisle; a homeless man sleeps on the floor in another; a transvestite hooker works the trade in a secluded corner behind a stack of boxes; a serious collector collates rare seventeenth-century antiquarian volumes near the front counter; a frenetic movie set decorator rents books throughout. All the while at the center of the maelstrom sits 80-year-old owner Eli Goodman, a ruminative, philosophical, New York-born Jew, intelligent and funny, an obsessive hoarder to the extreme, a caricature character who distinctly resembles Woody Allen dropped into a Marx Brothers movie, and who happens to live in a decrepit hovel at the back of the bookshop. For fifty years Eli has presided over the famous and infamous, the bibliophiles, researchers, collectors, decorators, actors, models, musicians, hipsters, the scholarly, shady, and insane, all congealed into a conglomerate crush at Cosmopolitan Bookshop. Longtime store manager Noel Hart, an Australian, captures it all, stuffs it into a mind-blender, then spills it out onto the page. NOTE: What began as a talk given to the Australian Book Collectors’ Society in 2018, then subsequently published verbatim in their journal in 2019, has now been expanded into a book-length narrative by Noel Hart, who managed Cosmopolitan Bookshop in Los Angeles for ten years.”
Printed in Australia. Published in 2023 by Bookwood Press, Melbourne.

Noel hard at work at Cosmopolitan Book Shop

To order a copy, Click Here.

Libraries in Gaza Bombed Into Rubble

The Story of A Book Found Under Ruins

The Edward Said Public Library

The following video, a talk by Mosab Abu Toha, is about how he founded the Edward Said Public Library.  With an introduction by Noam Chomsky.  Please watch this video first for background information.

If you saw the video above, you will then be disturbed to read the FB post I retrieved, that Mosab and his family, fleeing from the terrors of the massive bombings of Gaza, has been taken and possibly killed by the IDF.  The slaughter of civilians is so shocking it is beyond words.

So much for education and libraries in occupied areas of Israel.  After watching the video of Mosab describing the problems of even receiving books for his library, the situation in Gaza becomes more illuminated and certainly pathetic.  Previous bombings destroyed libraries, and no doubt the present massive destruction has wiped out all remaining libraries, along with the 20,000 civilians killed so far.  Here’s a few photos of past and present destruction.

I will publish further updates as I find them.  If anyone has any information about the present status of the libraries and book shops in Gaza please contact me.

Update:  The Islamic University in Gaza and its library, founded in 1978 is completely destroyed according to reports on Aljazeera.  The President of the University and his family were killed yesterday by their home being bombed in one of the refugee camps, according to another report.

The Secret Life of Hugh Tolford

The Burning and Destruction of the World’s Largest Aircraft Hanger, The Death Valley 49ers, Soupy Sales, The Commander of the Blimp Squadron Against the Imperial Japanese Navy and a Leader of the Antiquarian Bookmen in California

by Paul Hunt

Arson or Bad Maintenance? The Hangar Burns for weeks.

Hugh Tolford ran the Antiquarian Book Association Fairs in California for some time in the 1980s. He always put up a great show, and we all respected his dedication and hard work. When I joined up with Keith Burns, Sol Grossman and Jack Garvin to put on a “low cost” book fair for non-ABAA members (all ABAA members were of course invited to participate), we met often with Tolford who was very helpful to getting us organized and very generous of his time.

Hugh Tolford

Tolford also was a frequent visitor to the Book Castle when we were just getting it off the ground. I had many conversations with him about Western Americana and helped him get some of the old Touring Topics magazines for his collection. Touring Topics was the name of Westways magazine in the early 20th century, and it is still published today by the Auto Club. Tolford had a great collection, and the early issues are important source material for those researching California and Western Americana. Tolford was a wealth of information.

Just recently on November 8th, 2023, a massive fire destroyed one of the world’s largest aircraft hangars, which was located in Tustin, California. The fire was still burning a week later as this is written.

The Huge Hangar during WW2

 

I was doing some casual reading about it, I stumbled across the name Hugh Tolford, my old friend of bookselling days, and of his secret life that he never spoke of in all the many conversations I had with him.

The Blimps had a home in Tustin

The big fire at the aircraft hangar was a disaster. The hangar was so big because in World War 2 it housed the U.S. Navy Blimp fleet. The lighter-than Air Craft were gigantic, much larger than today’s Goodyear blimps that also operate out of that area. The hangar was so large that it could house 7 of the huge monsters inside. A great video by the famous Huell Howser is available on line. It was there that I found out that during WW2, Hugh Tolford was Commander of the Blimp fleet patrolling the West Coast looking for submarines and ships of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

About 7 of the giants would fit into the Hangar

It was a serious and tough job, and the U.S. was on alert after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the famous “Battle of Los Angeles”. Tolford and his Blimp Fleet kept us safe.

Hubert “Hugh” C. Tolford was 24 years old when he enlisted for training in service with lighter-than-air craft in the Naval Air Corps.
He was the first man from Cincinnati, Ohio to train to fly both Blimps and Baloons at Lakehurst, N.J. A graduate of Michigan State University, he entered the service as an aviation cadet. He enlisted soon after Pearl Harbor, in January, 1942, during those early dark days of the war.

By December 1942 Tolford was an Ensign and stationed at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fl. During that month he participated in the wedding of a fellow Ensign, and gave away the bride. He was later transferred to California. The 2 huge Blimp hangars were finished in 1943. Tolford became a Lt. Commander.

Tolford being interviewed by Huell Howser.

After being discharged, in 1945 he formed Tolford-Good Aviation to take over and operate surplus military airfields. He also served as aviation advisor to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. Tolford sold this company in 1950 and helped organize the Rubbertone Corp.

Hugh Tolford Meets Soupy Sales

In 1952 Tolford joined California Transit Advertising, handling sales promotion and research. By 1956, he was a Vice-President of the Beverly Hills Company. The company placed all those lobby-card size ads along the insides of buses. Anyone who ever rode a bus would remember staring at the ads out of boredom.

During the fall of 1962 Tolford connected to Soupy Sales, who at that time had hugely popular television show in Los Angeles on a local station, I think it was KABC. It was great fun, he had two dogs (all you could see were their arms and paws) White Fang and Black Tooth. They interacted with Soupy throughout the show. At some point Soupy was suspended for a time because he asked his audience – kids – to go into mommy’s purse and get those green bills and mail them to me. Needless to say, this caused a big uproar.

Soupy Sales puts up a sign in a Bus

However, before that incident, Soupy took on a serious campaign to keep kids from dropping out of high school. Tolford had the transit bus cards designed, and Soupy showed a short film on why kids should finish high school. I’m sure it had an impact.

In the early 1980’s Fred Dorsett and I went on a book buying trip to Central California to meet and trade with some collectors. On the way back to Los Angeles we stopped at a restaurant to get a bite and when we sat down at the booth Fred looked over at an older couple sitting a few booths away and said loudly “hey that guy looks like Soupy Sales.” It turned out to be Soupy and his wife, and they invited us to sit with them. We had a great time talking about his television show twenty years past and other shows. Fred & I were both fans and Soupy said he was amazed that so many folks remembered his show. Youtube has examples of his various shows, free to watch and have a lot of belly laughs at Soupy’s antics.  He did the famous pie fight with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack.

The Death Valley 49ers

For years Hugh Tolford was Production Chairman of the Death Valley 49ers. He was in charge of the annual encampment that takes place in November of every year. The group was founded in 1949 on the 100th anniversary of the so-called Jayhawker Expedition, much of which ended in disaster in Death Valley. The very first encampment brought out around 50,000 folks camping and enjoying the festival.

When Tolford took over promoting the annual encampment, the attendance had dropped to a few thousand. He boosted attendance to 10,000 then15,000 and eventually at times about 27,000. He was a great publicist and a dedicated “desert rat” prowling the back roads of Death Valley with his wife and daughter. The Tolford family were into silversmithing, writing, photography and exploring Death Valley. In the mid-1960s the membership was $2. Today it is $50, another example of the loss of value of the old dollar.

Tolford was President of the Death Valley 49ers

One of the amusing things Tolford did was to get the Stetson hat company to issue a replica of the “Boss of the Plains” hat made of beaver that became famous in the covered wagon days. These hats were not sold, but Tolson and some of the 49ers were gifted hats by the President of the Stetson company.

Badwater Bill in 1960 ready to enter the Flapjack contest

Real Estate

Tolford was also involved in real estate. One ad I found offered an unfurnished house on 35 acres. “Stables for horses, beautiful site, $20 per month. You pay utilities.” That sounds like a great deal, even in 1964. So how do you like the value of your dollar now? What would that cost to rent today? I would think somewhere between $5,000 – $10,000 depending on location.

Hugh Tolford Charity Work and Leadership

Hugh Tolford was a bundle of energy all his life. We wonder when he ever had time to read, or even sleep. Aside from his job at the California Transit Advertising he was active in quite a lot of organizations:

–Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Board

–Zamorano Club (President in 1984)

–E. Clampus Vitus (President and Noble Grand Humbug)

–The Big Ten Club (President – he attended University of Michigan)

–Sheriff of the Westerners Los Angeles Corral

–President of the Death Valley 49ers in 1965

–Ran book fairs for the ABAA for about 15 years.

–An author of books, limited edition keepsakes, and pamphlets.

Some Books by Hugh Tolford

–The Death Valley Chuck-Walla

–The Place Called Death Valley. 35th Annual Death Valley 49ers Encampment.

–Fifty Years Ago at Furnace Creek Inn

–Zabriskie Point and Christian Brevoort.

–Take the Train to Death Valley: Death Valley Railroad LTD.

–Automobiling Desert Trails

–The Ties That Bind – A Biographical Sketch of Horace M. Albright

Hugh Tolford passed away on June 7, 2011. I was honored to know him and a retrospective of his life reveals what a giant of a man he was.

 

 

 

Ellroy’s Hollywood 1962

The Enchanters -Behind The Scenes Where Fiction Meets Reality

by Paul Hunt

James Ellroy’s new book – a brutal tour of 1962

James Ellroy’s The Enchanters is all about Hollywood in 1962. His characters are mainly real historical people. He squeezes his story from all the things that you just can’t prove that his characters were doing at the time. Plus, his real life characters are all dead and aren’t putting up a squawk about any of it. So since I was here in Hollywood in 1962, fresh out of Hollywood High School, and only a mile away from Ellroy’s Fairfax High, I thought I would write about some of the things that did happen to Ellroy’s real-life characters and places in that general time period. Freddy Otash, Marilyn Monroe, Peter Lawford, Daryl Zanuck, Lila Leeds and some of the others were not quite in the furnace of fictional horror that Ellroy plunges them into, but many were not far off from shattered life experiences of their own making. Also, a lot of other weird stuff has bubbled up, and worth a nod. So please enjoy The Enchanters! It’s Ellroy on steroids with his favorite corrupt private eye Fred Otash and Hollywood as it might have been.

Ready for The Enchanters

Meanwhile, here’s a few jabs, in no particular order, about what some of The Enchanters were really up to in real life.

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Friend Cole Son once lived in a house where Marilyn Monroe stayed for a while around 1952. He says there was a ghost in the house, maybe it was MM. Look up “Spirit The House of Marilyn” which has a clip of the story. This house was rented by Andre de Dienes, Marilyn’s first photographer. The house, up on Castilion Dr. in the Hollywood Hills, was also, according to one legend, where the photographer buried a box of his early Marilyn pix and then later dug them up. I’m not so sure about that one, because de Dienes was selling nudes of Marilyn from the get go. Tashen publishers put out a nice book of his photos, but the book is pricey on the internet, like $50-100. now. Cole had taken a lot of photos of the ghost, but lost them somewhere years ago. He’s on tiktok with some great songs and poems.

Speaking of Marilyn’s ghost, some 20 years ago when I had a bookstore in Burbank, one of my customers, a young lady who was doing rock music photos, showed me some photos she had taken up at Marilyn’s last place in Brentwood on 5th Helena Drive. She had tried and failed to get inside the house several times, but finally, a young man answered the door and let her go into the bedroom where Marilyn died and shoot some photos. A couple of the photos showed what looked to be a spirit in the room. It was creepy, but I wish I had saved the photographer’s info to take another look. Hopefully she sold the photos somewhere. I’ve seen ghosts, spirits and orbs, and it looked like the real thing. Humans cannot always see them, but the camera does.

The day Ellroy crashed into town the word got out that Marilyn’s house on 5th Helena was scheduled to be demolished. At the same time, the cabin she stayed in up at the Cal-Nev Lodge was also going to be demolished. A protest from Hollywood preservationists has temporarily saved the house on 5th Helena, but all in all, including the brutal reckoning in The Enchanters, Marilyn had a bad week. I would not be surprised to learn how angry her ghost was in mid- September 2023.

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5th Helena Dr. in Brentwood. Marilyn’s house is beyond the wall.

In Ellroy’s book, ex-cop and private eye Fred Otash was deeply involved in the Marilyn Monroe scandals. As Ellroy has said, he had been close to Otash near the end of his life and was going to write a biography. He said he paid some heavy bread to look through Otash’s files and interview him for endless hours, but Ellroy decided finally not to write the biography, he really, deeply, did not like Otash. But armed with immense personal knowledge, he has placed Otash in the spotlight of his historical fiction, and maybe it’s better that way.

Growing up in Hollywood, it was not unusual to hear about Fred Otash, private eye to the Stars, and anyone else who would pay. He worked for Confidential Magazine for years, his job was to check out the scandals and verify them in order to keep the lawyers from suing the magazine out of existence. And one thing was for sure, Otash was mixed up in everything big.

Remember the Lana Turner episode? You know, when her daughter Cheryl allegedly stabbed mobster Johnny Stompinato to death. The first people called in, before the Beverly Hills Police showed up, were Lana’s ex-husband Steve Crane, Cheryl’s father, studio lawyer Jerry Geisler and Fred Otash. The word was that if the Italian mob found out that Lana had killed Johnny, it would have been the end of her. Like really the end. But if the young 14 year old daughter had done it “by accident”, well, she got a pass.

Cheryl Crane

Mobster Mickey Cohen was enraged to hear about the killing. He was a long time pal of Johnny S. and was suspicious of the fast Court inquiry, where Cheryl did not have to testify. He also saw the professional hand of Fred Otash, because long before the cops showed up, Freddy could have been moving bodies and evidence around. Otash later admitted he wiped fingerprints off the knife. The crime scene was suspicious. But that’s why the Studio lawyers paid Otash the big bucks. And when Freddie was a cop, he bragged that he and his partner had grabbed Stompanato and taken him up into a remote area of the Hollywood Hills and beat him badly. Then they stripped him naked and filed a report of a suspicious naked man running around the hills.

Meanwhile Mickey Cohen paid for the funeral. Stompanato was sent back to his home town in Woodstock, Ill., where he was somewhat of a hero, being an ex-combat Marine and veteran. Cohen paid for everything, and word had it that he later had Johnny’s ex-wife file a lawsuit against Lana Turner. The press said it was later settled out of Court for about $20,000. Mickey Cohen was a powerful crime boss at that time, he was making a lot of money book making and betting, among many other scams. It was rumored he had the Sheriff’s Office on the pad, but he also had the Italian mob after him. He survived more attempts on his life than can be believed. But he and his boys would also take jobs from the mobs back east, including the big one: Mickey whacked Bugsy. Click here to read the comments and see the video about that.

Mickey even managed to cheat the radical Zionists. In the late 1940s the radical Jewish community was raising money to send guns and ammunition to Palestine. They were arming Jewish settlers and mercenaries to push the Palestinians off their land in order to create their vision of paradise called Israel. So Cohen hosted a big event in Beverly Hills to raise money for guns for the Zionist armies. Hundreds of rich Jews gave generously and Mickey collected a huge amount of cash. Nothing ever got shipped to Israel, as Cohen says in his autobiography, he just paid off a guy at the Examiner to concoct a story about a ship loaded with guns and ammunition that exploded and sank off the coast of California.

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Jeepers Peepers

One day, I think it was in 1961, my cousin and I were walking home from Hollywood High School, and when we got near my house on Hawthorne Ave, we were shocked to see that in the yard of the bungalow next door was a near-naked young woman running around the yard being chased by an older woman who was hitting her with a strap and yelling a lot of bad things at the younger girl. We were stunned, things like that never happened in those days.

I then noticed that a small group of young women had moved in next door, and a lot of men were coming by at night to visit them. Party time every night. I called my cousin and told him to come over after dinner, that I had noticed there were no curtains up in the house next door, so we could stand in my driveway and see what was really going on there. At twilight we made our way to the driveway and the house next door was only a few feet away, seperated by a 4 foot high chain link fence. As we peered into the bedroom to see what kind of party was going on, I heard a noise a few feet away at the beginning of the driveway. Two burly men in suits hustled up the driveway, putting their fingers up to their lips as if to say “shush”. They jammed badges at us and pushed us aside. Hello Hollywood Vice Squad and goodbye to our observation post. The detectives had tape recorders, cameras and other surveillance things and they spent some time taking photos and sound tapes at the bedroom windows. The next day the cops raided the joint and arrested everyone.

I heard from a neighbor that one of those was Cheryl. She later claimed that she was just at a party at her grandmother’s house that got a little out of control. The neighbor told me that Steve Crane came by in a big car and picked up Cheryl and took her to Beverly Hills. She later worked at the Luau and became a successful realtor. I always felt sorry for her but also admired her bravery. I think she was innocent of the Johnny Stompanato murder, but took the rap for her mother, and suffered a lot for her entire life. When I heard that Johnny was really fond of Cheryl and had given her a horse as a gift, I knew there was no way she would have killed him. She was sent to reform school type places, sent to live with her grandmother, ran away from school a few times, and was spiraling out of control when her dad intervened. I wanted to tell this story to Ellroy, he would appreciate my failed efforts as a peeper, but I never got to talk to him about it. I still feel Cheryl was heroic. How many young girls would take a rap like that for mom?

The end of June, 1962 was to be a turning point of sorts for Cheryl. She got a job up on the Sunset Strip at the Summit Club modeling swimsuits from 5 to 7pm. on Fridays. The Press took notice, she was now 18 years old and described as “shapely”. The ads created a stir and the club would have been packed with men ogling young Cheryl and others parading around in bikinis. Alas for the men, Steve Crane put it to a stop. She was to be a well-dressed hostess at the Luau, and no bikinis, thank you. The Summit had to eat the contract.

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Lila Leeds looked great in bathing suit

In The Enchanters, Ellroy piles on the characters, including Hollywood pin-ups like Lila Leeds and Barbara Payton. They play minor roles with Otash in the story, but they were both real hot properties in Hollywood, and both trashed in the press and scandal mags. Lila Leeds had a good start to her career, but a small party with Robert Mitchum and some pot-smoking led to a vice squad arrest. Mitchum became a Hollywood Bad Boy, and his career soared, but poor Lila was convicted and lost her contracts with the studios. Now there is a strange intersection of events, like for real, that just makes you wonder how in the world this small group of people crossed paths. Dig it:

**Steve Crane married Lana Turner, who divorced him after a short marriage.

** In March 1943, Lana remarried Crane because she had become pregnant.

** Cheryl was born July 25, 1943.

**Lana and Steve Crane divorced in August of 1944.

** In the late 1940s Crane is dating Lila Leeds. They were engaged in 1948.

** Lila had also dated Peter Lawford in the 1940s.

** Lila had a part in Green Dolphin Street starring Lana Turner.

** August 1948 Lila is busted with Mitchum at a pot-smoking party.

** Steve Crane decides it is best to go to Europe for a few years, rather then suffer through all the bad publicity. Amazing how much Lila resembled Lana.

** Lila was convicted and then actually banished from California by the Judge until Feb. 1954. This is the first I ever heard of an individual, especially a celebrity being banished from California. I can’t even imagine if it was legal.

**In 1954 Fred Otash was living at 8640 Wonderland. Weirdly it was just around the corner from 8763 Wonderland where the famous Eddie Nash and John Holmes were involved in the Wonderland murders in 1981.

**Lila’s life just kept getting worse. After starring in the famous marijauna movie, she got into heavy drugs. Toward the end of her life she had come back to Hollywood and opened a thrift shop and helped folks get off drugs.

** Meanwhile, in The Enchanters, Lila and Barbara Payton are working as car-hops at Stan’s Drive in Across from Hollywood High School in August of 1962. We sometimes went to Stan’s on a Saturday date night. And yes, the girls who worked there were hot, although I’m pretty sure Lila wasn’t one of them. But she could have been.

Ellroy loves The Losers Club. This was at 881 North La Cienega on “Restaurant Row.” It was famous for its Loser of the Week sign out in front. In The Enchanters, Fred Otash is working with his crew as bodyguards for Eddie Fisher who actually did appear at the Losers around that time. Ellroy said the Fisher Combo “were all in tight black suits and fruit boots and half on the nod.” Fisher at the Losers while his ex, Elizabeth Taylor was acting like a spoiled Cleopatra at the time with Burton and driving the studio nuts in costly delays. According to Ellroy, Fisher’s Rabbi said of Liz, that she was “the poisonous fruit of the Goyishe Tree.” Indeed, a thought surely shared by Zanuck.

A weird thing happened a couple of weeks after Eddie Fisher made the Loser of the Week on the famous sign out front. As the owner was letting patrons out of the club for the evening, three masked men with pistols robbed the place. They made the patrons lie on the floor while one gunman jumped behind the bar and got the money out of the cash register. The other robber made the manager open the safe in the office and made off with a total of about $700 (over $7,000 in purchasing power in 2023). They did not rob the patrons. The owner said that they were going to put U.S. Steele up as Loser of the Week, but instead had to put themselves on the sign, the big losers was the Loser Club itself.

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An earlier robbery of a nightclub comes to mind. Christmas Eve, 1945. Eddie Nealis owned the Clover Club at 8477 Sunset Blvd., and an nearby gambling joint that was “un-named” at 9216 Sunset. Some masked gunmen robbed the gambling joint and the patrons, including movie star Betty Grable, getting away with an estimated $75,000 in cash and jewelry. Mickey Cohen later admitted to this one, which he said he did “as a favor” to Bugsy Siegel. Club owner Eddie Nealis produced the film Johnny O Clock in 1947. (Film Noir Crime Drama. Interesting Camera Work, watch it on youtube.) He was also, coincidentally married to Doris Hauck, Fred Otash’s ex-wife.

Fred and Doris

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So the first thing of importance that went down in 1962 was on January 2nd, when Jerry Geisler died. He was one of the greatest defense attorneys of the previous decades. He was the link in the chain of life between the family of outlaws, celebrities, cops and mobsters. That small group of people who all knew each other and played off each other like some twisted Shakespearean play. There was a lot going on in 1962. James Ellroy explores what might have been going on behind the scenes, and his character Fred Otash was right in the middle of the soup.

Ellroy’s story goes deep into Hollywood’s woes in 1962. Both Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe were causing 20th Century Fox to bleed money and put the studio at risk. Otash is wiretapping Marilyn and spying on Fox and Zanuck. Monroe was a mess and in the midst of torrid relationships with both the Kennedy brothers. Ezra Goodman, author of The Fifty Year Decline and Fall of Hollywood, hints that Zanuck gave Marilyn a $450,000 under the table cash bonus to stick with 20th. She showed her gratitude by not showing up on the set and finally getting the boot.

Marilyn’s one time agent, Charles Feldman told Goodman that Marilyn had purchased the rights to the screenplay “Horns of the Devil” for $25,000 from Feldman. For those who think she was just a looney blond, consider that she could be very shrewd behind the little girl next door demeanor. She sold the screenplay later to Fox for $250,000.

Billy Wilder, interviewed by Goodman, had a brutal insight on Marilyn. “The question is whether Marilyn Monroe is a person or one of the greatest Dupont products ever invented. She has breasts like granite and a brain like swiss cheese, full of holes. She defies gravity. She hasn’t the vaguest conception of the time of the day. She arrives late and tells you she couldn’t find the Studio that she’s been working at for years.”

Goodman wrote that Southern California was littered with the remains of people who were involved with her. Marilyn acquires people then gets rid of them — in shifts. She likes to change people in her life like other women change hats. Her last sweeping change exiled her agent Charles Feldman, columnist and very close confident Sidney Skolsky, her close friend and drama coach Natasha Lytess, and her personal West Coast lawyer Frank Delancy. All gone and blocked out of her life in an instant.

Zanuck and Lawford research o’rama.

Back in the real world of 1962 Darryl Zanuck saved the Studio by his obsessive push to produce The Longest Day, shot in black and white and starring a fabulous cast that also included some of the characters in The Enchanters, like Peter Lawford and Richard Burton, who had flown in to shoot some scenes because he was bored with the slow pace of filming Cleopatra.

Looking at 1962, the Kennedy’s had their hands full. The Cuban Missile crises built up from the beginning of the year and almost ended all civilization in a nuclear war in October. In addition, there was JFK’s challenge to go to the moon in September, and the whole segregation system in defiance in early October with James Meradeth escorted to school by Federal Marshalls. The last thing the Kennedy’s needed was Marilyn’s threat to go to the press and expose her affairs with the brothers.

The end was on August 5th when she was “found dead” in her house by her housekeeper. Was she murdered? The Kennedy’s had motive. RFK was in town that night, in fact stopped by a cop. He was allegedly up at Marilyn’s house on 5th Helena early that evening, in a screaming match with Marilyn. And where was Fred Otash? From various sources, Peter Lawford may have been at Marilyn’s after she had overdosed and although he was near drunk or hopped up, he tried to remove anything that would implicate the Kennedys. Later, around 3 am he got in touch with Otash and met him at his office on Laurel, asking him to go up to the house and make sure all matters Kennedy had been removed. Otash refused to go, saying that everyone in town knew him, but that he would send one of his guys up to the house. Too late, the cops were already there with others, so there was no second chance to clean up loose ends.

Fred Otash on TV

The blame for Monroe’s death went down a lot of different paths. Shift the scene to Cosmopolitan Book Shop on Melrose Avenue a few years after Marilyn’s death. Book Shop owner Eli Goodman had been forced to hide his brother Ezra in the back of his book shop. Ezra was a noted Hollywood author and for years was Hollywood correspondent for Time Magazine. Ezra was convinced that the Hollywood Moguls had put out a contract on him for his revelations in The Fifty Year Decline and Fall of Hollywood, which came out in 1962, before Marilyn’s death. I had met Ezra there in the shop but had no idea who he was. Wearing an old somewhat shabby suit, a little unshaven, hiding out in the back of the shop (where I would work years later), we got in a heated discussion about his pricing of books. I didn’t know it was Eli’s brother, in mufti, hiding out from Studio Assassins. I just assumed that Eli had hired another eccentric character to work in the shop.

Goodman’s book is a great read – His files may reveal more secrets.

Ezra Goodman had spent months investigating Marilyn Monroe for a big special piece in Time Magazine. He interviewed over 100 people who knew Marilyn, including friends, foster parents, agents, acting coaches, attorneys, directors, producers and others. His report was almost a book length feature story. But as some wags said, Time spelled backwards is emit. The well-documented story that Goodman sent to the editors at Time was emitted in a form that had little or no relation to what he had written.

What Goodman found in his research, was that none of Marilyn’s stories matched up with any reality. Facts, friends and events were nebulous. He pieced together a fascinating portrait of Marilyn which can be read in a shortened version in his book. Natasha Lytess, an important figure in Ellroy’s The Enchanters, was interviewed, and Ellroy has done a superb job of fictionalizing this strange woman who, for a time, was very close to Marilyn. She was always on the set of any filming and was actually paid by Fox for a while, but eventually fired and then dumped by Marilyn. Strangely, Marilyn needed someone she trusted to help her keep it together during filming, and Paula Strasberg later filled in the shoes of Natasha Lytess so to speak.

One of Eli’s best customers was Lee Strasberg, who with his wife Paula exerted tremendous influence on Marilyn Monroe. Paula was on the sets of Marilyn’s films, trying to work with her and keep her focused. The Studio Directors hated it but had to put up with the situation. Anyway, Lee Strasberg would descend on Cosmopolitan once or twice a year and spend a lot of money buying books on acting, celebrities, film history, biographies and such. One of these bight sunny California days, Lee’s driver pulled up his car in front of Cosmopolitian and Lee rushed in and started piling up books to purchase.

Cosmopolitan Book Shop

At this moment, out of the back of the store burst Ezra Goodman, looking like a mad Rasputin. He yelled at Lee “You…..you killed her you bastard! You’re responsible for Marilyn’s death.!” He shouted at Strasberg and lunged toward him. The shock of this attack, coming out of the darkened black pit of the bookstore, put the big fear in Strasberg, who ran out the front of the store with Ezra behind him screaming at him, and jumped into his car and had his driver zoom away at high speed. Eli was devastated. His brother had just run off his best customer, a wealthy Hollywood power broker, who would never return to the shop again. It should be noted that the Strasbergs had a huge influence over Marilyn, and she left them a large portion of her wealth in her will.

I wish I had known about this incident before Ezra died. I would like to have explored why he thought Lee Strasberg was somehow responsible for Marilyn’s death. Ezra knew them both, and knew everyone in Hollywood, so is there something behind all the shouting? I can’t imagine what it would be. Maybe it was just jealousy. The Strasbergs were such close friends with Marilyn. And Ezra at that point in his life, hiding out from mysterious thugs gunning for him, was on the ragged edge himself. We’ll never know what that was, unless Ezra left something in writing, which is possible. His effects were boxed up and are now piled in the rafters of a Quonset hut in the Valley, under the protection of a guy who got all of Eli Goodman’s belongings when he died a few years ago. Some of us would like to look through Ezra’s files if they ever surface. In fact there might be a line of folks who would like to see those files, for many reasons. It’s like the Otash files that got sold to the Hollywood Reporter. We would all like to get a glimpse of them, and see what the Enchanters were really up to in those exciting days of 1962.

Click Here to see video of Ellroy at Chevalier’s Book Shop.

James Ellroy’s dynamic talk at Chevalier’s Book Store