Inside The LC: The Strange but Mostly True Story of Laurel Canyon and the Birth of the Hippie Generation Part 1
By DAVID MCGOWAN
May 19, 2010 - 2:31:26 AM
Join me now, if you have the time, as we take a stroll down memory lane to a time nearly four-and-a-half decades ago - a time when America last had uniformed ground troops fighting a sustained and bloody battle to impose, uhmm, 'democracy' on a sovereign nation.
It is the first week of August, 1964, and U.S. warships under the command of U.S. Navy Admiral George Stephen Morrison have allegedly come under attack while patrolling Vietnam's Tonkin Gulf. This event, subsequently dubbed the 'Tonkin Gulf Incident,' will result in the immediate passing by the U.S. Congress of the obviously pre-drafted Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which will, in turn, quickly lead to America's deep immersion into the bloody Vietnam quagmire. Before it is over, well over fifty thousand American bodies - along with literally millions of Southeast Asian bodies - will litter the battlefields of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
For the record, the Tonkin Gulf Incident appears to differ somewhat from other alleged provocations that have driven this country to war. This was not, as we have seen so many times before, a 'false flag' operation (which is to say, an operation that involves Uncle Sam attacking himself and then pointing an accusatory finger at someone else). It was also not, as we have also seen on more than one occasion, an attack that was quite deliberately provoked. No, what the Tonkin Gulf incident actually was, as it turns out, is an 'attack' that never took place at all. The entire incident, as has been all but officially acknowledged, was spun from whole cloth. (It is quite possible, however, that the intent was to provoke a defensive response, which could then be cast as an unprovoked attack on U.S ships. The ships in question were on an intelligence mission and were operating in a decidedly provocative manner. It is quite possible that when Vietnamese forces failed to respond as anticipated, Uncle Sam decided to just pretend as though they had.)
Nevertheless, by early February 1965, the U.S. will - without a declaration of war and with no valid reason to wage one - begin indiscriminately bombing North Vietnam. By March of that same year, the infamous "Operation Rolling Thunder" will have commenced. Over the course of the next three-and-a-half years, millions of tons of bombs, missiles, rockets, incendiary devices and chemical warfare agents will be dumped on the people of Vietnam in what can only be described as one of the worst crimes against humanity ever perpetrated on this planet.
Also in March of 1965, the first uniformed U.S. soldier will officially set foot on Vietnamese soil (although Special Forces units masquerading as 'advisers' and 'trainers' had been there for at least four years, and likely much longer). By April 1965, fully 25,000 uniformed American kids, most still teenagers barely out of high school, will be slogging through the rice paddies of Vietnam. By the end of the year, U.S. troop strength will have surged to 200,000.
Lookout Mountain Ave and Laurel Canyon Blvd, google maps
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world in those early months of 1965, a new 'scene' is just beginning to take shape in the city of Los Angeles. In a geographically and socially isolated community known as Laurel Canyon - a heavily wooded, rustic, serene, yet vaguely ominous slice of LA nestled in the hills that separate the Los Angeles basin from the San Fernando Valley - musicians, singers and songwriters suddenly begin to gather as though summoned there by some unseen Pied Piper. Within months, the 'hippie/flower child' movement will be given birth there, along with the new style of music that will provide the soundtrack for the tumultuous second half of the 1960s.
An uncanny number of rock music superstars will emerge from Laurel Canyon beginning in the mid-1960s and carrying through the decade of the 1970s. The first to drop an album will be The Byrds, whose biggest star will prove to be David Crosby. The band's debut effort, "Mr. Tambourine Man," will be released on the Summer Solstice of 1965. It will quickly be followed by releases from
- the John Phillips-led Mamas and the Papas (If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, January 1966)
- Love with Arthur Lee (Love, May 1966)
- Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention (Freak Out, June 1966)
- Buffalo Springfield, featuring Stephen Stills and Neil Young (Buffalo Springfield, October 1966)
- The Doors (The Doors January 1967)
One of the earliest on the Laurel Canyon/Sunset Strip scene is Jim Morrison, the enigmatic lead singer of The Doors. Jim will quickly become one of the most iconic, controversial, critically acclaimed, and influential figures to take up residence in Laurel Canyon. Curiously enough though, the self-proclaimed "Lizard King" has another claim to fame as well, albeit one that none of his numerous chroniclers will feel is of much relevance to his career and possible untimely death: he is the son, as it turns out, of the aforementioned Admiral George Stephen Morrison.
And so it is that, even while the father is actively conspiring to fabricate an incident that will be used to massively accelerate an illegal war, the son is positioning himself to become an icon of the 'hippie'/anti-war crowd. Nothing unusual about that, I suppose. It is, you know, a small world and all that. And it is not as if Jim Morrison's story is in any way unique.
|Frank Zappa: Pro-war, authoritarian, and what else?
During the early years of its heyday, Laurel Canyon's father figure is the rather eccentric personality known as Frank Zappa. Though he and his various Mothers of Invention line-ups will never attain the commercial success of the band headed by the admiral's son, Frank will be a hugely influential figure among his contemporaries. Ensconced in an abode dubbed the 'Log Cabin' - which sat right in the heart of Laurel Canyon, at the crossroads of Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Lookout Mountain Avenue - Zappa will play host to virtually every musician who passes through the canyon in the mid- to late-1960s. He will also discover and sign numerous acts to his various Laurel Canyon-based record labels. Many of these acts will be rather bizarre and somewhat obscure characters (think Captain Beefheart and Larry "Wild Man" Fischer), but some of them, such as psychedelic rocker cum shock-
rocker Alice Cooper, will go on to superstardom.
Zappa, along with certain members of his sizable entourage (the 'Log Cabin' was run as an early commune, with numerous hangers-on occupying various rooms in the main house and the guest house, as well as in the peculiar caves and tunnels lacing the grounds of the home; far from the quaint homestead the name seems to imply, by the way, the 'Log Cabin' was a cavernous five-level home that featured a 2,000+ square-foot living room with three massive chandeliers and an enormous floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace), will also be instrumental in introducing the look and attitude that will define the 'hippie' counterculture (although the Zappa crew preferred the label 'Freak'). Nevertheless, Zappa (born, curiously enough, on the Winter Solstice of 1940) never really made a secret of the fact that he had nothing but contempt for the 'hippie' culture that he helped create and that he surrounded himself with.
The Zappa ‘Log Cabin’
Given that Zappa was, by numerous accounts, a pro-war, rigidly authoritarian control-freak, it is perhaps not surprising that he would not feel a kinship with the youth movement that he helped nurture. And it is probably safe to say that Frank's dad also had little regard for the youth culture of the 1960s, given that Francis Zappa was, in case you were wondering, a chemical warfare specialist assigned to - where else? - the Edgewood Arsenal. Edgewood is, of course, the longtime home of America's chemical warfare program, as well as a facility frequently cited as being deeply enmeshed in MK-ULTRA operations. Curiously enough, Frank Zappa literally grew up at the Edgewood Arsenal, having lived the first seven years of his life in military housing on the grounds of the facility. The family later moved to Lancaster, California, near Edwards Air Force Base, where Francis Zappa continued to busy himself with doing classified work for the military/intelligence complex. His son, meanwhile, prepped himself to become an icon of the peace & love crowd. Again, nothing unusual about that, I suppose.
Zappa's manager, by the way, is a shadowy character by the name of Herb Cohen, who had come out to L.A. from the Bronx with his brother Mutt just before the music and club scene began heating up. Cohen, a former U.S. Marine, had spent a few years traveling the world before his arrival on the Laurel Canyon scene. Those travels, curiously, had taken him to the Congo in 1961, at the very time that leftist Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba was being tortured and killed by our very own CIA. Not to worry though; according to one of Zappa's biographers, Cohen wasn't in the Congo on some kind of nefarious intelligence mission. No, he was there, believe it or not, to supply arms to Lumumba "in defiance of the CIA." Because, you know, that is the kind of thing that globetrotting ex-Marines did in those days (as we'll see soon enough when we take a look at another Laurel Canyon luminary).
Making up the other half of Laurel Canyon's First Family is Frank's wife, Gail Zappa, known formerly as Adelaide Sloatman. Gail hails from a long line of career Naval officers, including her father, who spent his life working on classified nuclear weapons research for the U.S. Navy. Gail herself had once worked as a secretary for the Office of Naval Research and Development (she also once told an interviewer that she had "heard voices all [her] life"). Many years before their nearly simultaneous arrival in Laurel Canyon, Gail had attended a Naval kindergarten with "Mr. Mojo Risin'" himself, Jim Morrison (it is claimed that, as children, Gail once hit Jim over the head with a hammer). The very same Jim Morrison had later attended the same Alexandria, Virginia high school as two other future Laurel Canyon luminaries - John Phillips and Cass Elliott.
"Papa" John Phillips, more so than probably any of the other illustrious residents of Laurel Canyon, will play a major role in spreading the emerging youth 'counterculture' across America. His contribution will be twofold: first, he will co-organize (along with Manson associate Terry Melcher) the famed Monterrey Pop Festival, which, through unprecedented media exposure, will give mainstream America its first real look at the music and fashions of the nascent 'hippie' movement. Second, Phillips will pen an insipid song known as "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)," which will quickly rise to the top of the charts. Along with the Monterrey Pop Festival, the song will be instrumental in luring the disenfranchised (a preponderance of whom are underage runaways) to San Francisco to create the Haight-Asbury phenomenon and the famed 1967 "Summer of Love."
Joni Mitchell plays a song in Cass Elliot's Laurel Canyon backyard while David Crosby and Eric Clapton listen, 1968.
Before arriving in Laurel Canyon and opening the doors of his home to the soon-to-be famous, the already famous, and the infamous (such as the aforementioned Charlie Manson, whose 'Family' also spent time at the Log Cabin and at the Laurel Canyon home of "Mama" Cass Elliot, which, in case you didn't know, sat right across the street from the Laurel Canyon home of Abigail Folger and Voytek Frykowski, but let's not get ahead of ourselves here), John Edmund Andrew Phillips was, shockingly enough, yet another child of the military/intelligence complex. The son of U.S. Marine Corp Captain Claude Andrew Phillips and a mother who claimed to have psychic and telekinetic powers, John attended a series of elite military prep schools in the Washington, D.C. area, culminating in an appointment to the prestigious U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis
After leaving Annapolis, John married Susie Adams, a direct descendant of 'Founding Father' John Adams. Susie's father, James Adams, Jr., had been involved in what Susie described as "cloak-and-dagger stuff with the Air Force in Vienna," or what we like to call covert intelligence operations. Susie herself would later find employment at the Pentagon, alongside John Phillip's older sister, Rosie, who dutifully reported to work at the complex for nearly thirty years. John's mother, 'Dene' Phillips, also worked for most of her life for the federal government in some unspecified capacity. And John's older brother, Tommy, was a battle-scarred former U.S. Marine who found work as a cop on the Alexandria police force, albeit one with a disciplinary record for exhibiting a violent streak when dealing with people of color.
John Phillips, of course - though surrounded throughout his life by military/intelligence personnel - did not involve himself in such matters. Or so we are to believe. Before succeeding in his musical career, however, John did seem to find himself, quite innocently of course, in some rather unusual places. One such place was Havana, Cuba, where Phillips arrived at the very height of the Cuban Revolution. For the record, Phillips has claimed that he went to Havana as nothing more than a concerned private citizen, with the intention of - you're going to love this one - "fighting for Castro." Because, as I mentioned earlier, a lot of folks in those days traveled abroad to thwart CIA operations before taking up residence in Laurel Canyon and joining the 'hippie' generation. During the two weeks or so that the Cuban Missile Crisis played out, a few years after Castro took power, Phillips found himself cooling his heels in Jacksonville, Florida - alongside, coincidentally I'm sure, the Mayport Naval Station.
Anyway, let's move on to yet another of Laurel Canyon's earliest and brightest stars, Mr. Stephen Stills. Stills will have the distinction of being a founding member of two of Laurel Canyon's most acclaimed and beloved bands: Buffalo Springfield, and, needless to say, Crosby, Stills & Nash. In addition, Stills will pen perhaps the first, and certainly one of the most enduring anthems of the 60s generation, "For What It's Worth," the opening lines of which appear at the top of this post (Stills' follow-up single will be entitled "Bluebird," which, coincidentally or not, happens to be the original codename assigned to the MK-ULTRA program).
Before his arrival in Laurel Canyon, Stephen Stills was (*yawn*) the product of yet another career military family. Raised partly in Texas, young Stephen spent large swaths of his childhood in El Salvador, Costa Rica, the Panama Canal Zone, and various other parts of Central America - alongside his father, who was, we can be fairly certain, helping to spread 'democracy' to the unwashed masses in that endearingly American way. As with the rest of our cast of characters, Stills was educated primarily at schools on military bases and at elite military academies. Among his contemporaries in Laurel Canyon, he was widely viewed as having an abrasive, authoritarian personality. Nothing unusual about any of that, of course, as we have already seen with the rest of our cast of characters.
There is, however, an even more curious aspect to the Stephen Stills story: Stephen will later tell anyone who will sit and listen that he had served time for Uncle Sam in the jungles of Vietnam. These tales will be universally dismissed by chroniclers of the era as nothing more than drug-induced delusions. Such a thing couldn't possibly be true, it will be claimed, since Stills arrived on the Laurel Canyon scene at the very time that the first uniformed troops began shipping out and he remained in the public eye thereafter. And it will of course be quite true that Stephen Stills could not have served with uniformed ground troops in Vietnam, but what will be ignored is the undeniable fact that the U.S. had thousands of 'advisers' - which is to say, CIA/Special Forces operatives - operating in the country for a good many years before the arrival of the first official ground troops. What will also be ignored is that, given his background, his age, and the timeline of events, Stephen Stills not only could indeed have seen action in Vietnam, he would seem to have been a prime candidate for such an assignment. After which, of course, he could rather quickly become - stop me if you've heard this one before - an icon of the peace generation.
Another of those icons, and one of Laurel Canyon's most flamboyant residents, is a young man by the name of David Crosby, founding member of the seminal Laurel Canyon band the Byrds, as well as, of course, Crosby, Stills & Nash. Crosby is, not surprisingly, the son of an Annapolis graduate and WWII military intelligence officer, Major Floyd Delafield Crosby. Like others in this story, Floyd Crosby spent much of his post-service time traveling the world. Those travels landed him in places like Haiti, where he paid a visit in 1927, when the country just happened to be, coincidentally of course, under military occupation by the U.S. Marines. One of the Marines doing that occupying was a guy that we met earlier by the name of Captain Claude Andrew Phillips.
But David Crosby is much more than just the son of Major Floyd Delafield Crosby. David Van Cortlandt Crosby, as it turns out, is a scion of the closely intertwined Van Cortlandt, Van Schuyler and Van Rensselaer families. And while you're probably thinking, "the Van Who families?," I can assure you that if you plug those names in over at Wikipedia, you can spend a pretty fair amount of time reading up on the power wielded by this clan for the last, oh, two-and-a-quarter centuries or so. Suffice it to say that the Crosby family tree includes a truly dizzying array of US senators and congressmen, state senators and assemblymen, governors, mayors, judges, Supreme Court justices, Revolutionary and Civil War generals, signers of the Declaration of Independence, and members of the Continental Congress. It also includes, I should hasten to add - for those of you with a taste for such things - more than a few high-ranking Masons. Stephen Van Rensselaer III, for example, reportedly served as Grand Master of Masons for New York. And if all that isn't impressive enough, according to the New England Genealogical Society, David Van Cortlandt Crosby is also a direct descendant of 'Founding Fathers' and Federalist Papers' authors Alexander Hamilton and John Jay.
If there is, as many believe, a network of elite families that has shaped national and world events for a very long time, then it is probably safe to say that David Crosby is a bloodline member of that clan (which may explain, come to think of it, why his semen seems to be in such demand in certain circles - because, if we're being honest here, it certainly can't be due to his looks or talent.) If America had royalty, then David Crosby would probably be a Duke, or a Prince, or something similar (I'm not really sure how that shit works). But other than that, he is just a normal, run-of-the-mill kind of guy who just happened to shine as one of Laurel Canyon's brightest stars. And who, I guess I should add, has a real fondness for guns, especially handguns, which he has maintained a sizable collection of for his entire life. According to those closest to him, it is a rare occasion when Mr. Crosby is not packing heat (John Phillips also owned and sometimes carried handguns). And according to Crosby himself, he has, on at least one occasion, discharged a firearm in anger at another human being. All of which made him, of course, an obvious choice for the Flower Children to rally around.
Another shining star on the Laurel Canyon scene, just a few years later, will be singer-songwriter Jackson Browne, who is - are you getting as bored with this as I am? - the product of a career military family. Browne's father was assigned to post-war 'reconstruction' work in Germany, which very likely means that he was in the employ of the OSS, precursor to the CIA. As readers of my "Understanding the F-Word" may recall, U.S. involvement in post-war reconstruction in Germany largely consisted of maintaining as much of the Nazi infrastructure as possible while shielding war criminals from capture and prosecution. Against that backdrop, Jackson Browne was born in a military hospital in Heidelberg, Germany. Some two decades later, he emerged as ... oh, never mind.
Let's talk instead about three other Laurel Canyon vocalists who will rise to dizzying heights of fame and fortune: Gerry Beckley, Dan Peek and Dewey Bunnell. Individually, these three names are probably unknown to virtually all readers; but collectively, as the band America, the three will score huge hits in the early '70s with such songs as "Ventura Highway," "A Horse With No Name," and the Wizard of Oz-themed "The Tin Man." I guess I probably don't need to add here that all three of these lads were products of the military/intelligence community. Beckley's dad was the commander of the now-defunct West Ruislip USAF base near London, England, a facility deeply immersed in intelligence operations. Bunnell's and Peek's fathers were both career Air Force officers serving under Beckley's dad at West Ruislip, which is where the three boys first met.
We could also, I suppose, discuss Mike Nesmith of the Monkees and Cory Wells of Three Dog Night (two more hugely successful Laurel Canyon bands), who both arrived in LA not long after serving time with the U.S. Air Force. Nesmith also inherited a family fortune estimated at $25 million. Gram Parsons, who would briefly replace David Crosby in The Byrds before fronting The Flying Burrito Brothers, was the son of Major Cecil Ingram "Coon Dog" Connor II, a decorated military officer and bomber pilot who reportedly flew over 50 combat missions. Parsons was also an heir, on his mother's side, to the formidable Snively family fortune. Said to be the wealthiest family in the exclusive enclave of Winter Haven, Florida, the Snively family was the proud owner of Snively Groves, Inc., which reportedly owned as much as 1/3 of all the citrus groves in the state of Florida.
And so it goes as one scrolls through the roster of Laurel Canyon superstars. What one finds, far more often than not, are the sons and daughters of the military/intelligence complex and the sons and daughters of extreme wealth and privilege - and oftentimes, you'll find both rolled into one convenient package. Every once in a while, you will also stumble across a former child actor, like the aforementioned Brandon DeWilde, or Monkee Mickey Dolenz, or eccentric prodigy Van Dyke Parks. You might also encounter some former mental patients, such as James Taylor, who spent time in two different mental institutions in Massachusetts before hitting the Laurel Canyon scene, or Larry "Wild Man" Fischer, who was institutionalized repeatedly during his teen years, once for attacking his mother with a knife (an act that was gleefully mocked by Zappa on the cover of Fischer's first album). Finally, you might find the offspring of an organized crime figure, like Warren Zevon, the son of William "Stumpy" Zevon, a lieutenant for infamous LA crimelord Mickey Cohen.
All these folks gathered nearly simultaneously along the narrow, winding roads of Laurel Canyon. They came from across the country - although the Washington, DC area was noticeably over-represented - as well as from Canada and England. They came even though, at the time, there was no music industry in Los Angeles. They came even though, at the time, there was no live music scene to speak of. They came even though, in retrospect, there was no discernable reason for them to do so.
It would, of course, make sense these days for an aspiring musician to venture out to Los Angeles. But in those days, the centers of the music universe were Nashville, Memphis and New York. It wasn't the industry that drew the Laurel Canyon crowd, you see, but rather the Laurel Canyon crowd that transformed Los Angeles into the epicenter of the music industry. To what then do we attribute this unprecedented gathering of future musical superstars in the hills above Los Angeles? What was it that inspired them all to head out west? Perhaps Neil Young said it best when he told an interviewer that he couldn't really say why he headed out to LA circa 1966; he and others "were just going like Lemmings."
“He was great, he was unreal—really, really good.”
“He had this kind of music that nobody else was doing. I thought he really had something crazy, something great. He was like a living poet.”
|Joni Michell in her Laurel Canyon home, 1968
photo: Baron Wolman
Today's first trivia question: both of the above statements were made, on separate occasions, by a famous Laurel Canyon musician of the 1960s era. Both quotes were offered up in praise of another Laurel Canyon musician. Award yourself five points for correctly identifying the person who made the remarks, and five for identifying who the statements refer to. [The answers are at the end of this post.]
In the first chapter of this saga, we met a sampling of some of the most successful and influential rock music superstars who emerged from Laurel Canyon during its glory days. But these were, alas, more than just musicians and singers and songwriters who had come together in the canyon; they were destined to become the spokesmen and de facto leaders of a generation of disaffected youth (as Carl Gottlieb noted in David Crosby's co-written autobiography, "the unprecedented mass appeal of the new rock 'n' roll gave the singers a voice in public affairs.") That, of course, makes it all the more curious that these icons were, to an overwhelming degree, the sons and daughters of the military/intelligence complex and the scions of families that have wielded vast wealth and power in this country for a very long time.
When I recently presented to a friend a truncated summary of the information contained in the first installment of this series, said friend opted to play the devil's advocate by suggesting that there was nothing necessarily nefarious in the fact that so many of these icons of a past generation hailed from military/intelligence families. Perhaps, he suggested, they had embarked on their chosen careers as a form of rebellion against the values of their parents. And that, I suppose, might be true in a couple of cases. But what are we to conclude from the fact that such an astonishing number of these folks (along with their girlfriends, wives, managers, etc.) hail from a similar background? Are we to believe that the only kids from that era who had musical talent were the sons and daughters of Navy Admirals, chemical warfare engineers and Air Force intelligence officers? Or are they just the only ones who were signed to lucrative contracts and relentlessly promoted by their labels and the media?
If these artists were rebelling against, rather than subtly promoting, the values of their parents, then why didn't they ever speak out against the folks they were allegedly rebelling against? Why did Jim Morrison never denounce, or even mention, his father's key role in escalating one of America's bloodiest illegal wars? And why did Frank Zappa never pen a song exploring the horrors of chemical warfare (though he did pen a charming little ditty entitled "The Ritual Dance of the Child-Killer")? And which Mamas and Papas song was it that laid waste to the values and actions of John Phillip's parents and in-laws? And in which interview, exactly, did David Crosby and Stephen Stills disown the family values that they were raised with?
In the coming weeks, we will take a much closer look at these folks, as well as at many of their contemporaries, as we endeavor to determine how and why the youth 'counterculture' of the 1960s was given birth. According to virtually all the accounts that I have read, this was essentially a spontaneous, organic response to the war in Southeast Asia and to the prevailing social conditions of the time. 'Conspiracy theorists,' of course, have frequently opined that what began as a legitimate movement was at some point co-opted and undermined by intelligence operations such as CoIntelPro. Entire books, for example, have been written examining how presumably virtuous musical artists were subjected to FBI harassment and/or whacked by the CIA.
Here we will, as you have no doubt already ascertained, take a decidedly different approach. The question that we will be tackling is a more deeply troubling one: "what if the musicians themselves (and various other leaders and founders of the 'movement') were every bit as much a part of the intelligence community as the people who were supposedly harassing them?" What if, in other words, the entire youth culture of the 1960s was created not as a grass-roots challenge to the status quo, but as a cynical exercise in discrediting and marginalizing the budding anti-war movement and creating a fake opposition that could be easily controlled and led astray? And what if the harassment these folks were subjected to was largely a stage-managed show designed to give the leaders of the counterculture some much-needed 'street cred'? What if, in reality, they were pretty much all playing on the same team?
I should probably mention here that, contrary to popular opinion, the 'hippie'/'flower child' movement was not synonymous with the anti-war movement. As time passed, there was, to be sure, a fair amount of overlap between the two 'movements.' And the mass media outlets, as is their wont, did their very best to portray the flower-power generation as the torch-bearers of the anti-war movement - because, after all, a ragtag band of unwashed, drug-fueled long-hairs sporting flowers and peace symbols was far easier to marginalize than, say, a bunch of respected college professors and their concerned students. The reality, however, is that the anti-war movement was already well underway before the first aspiring 'hippie' arrived in Laurel Canyon. The first Vietnam War 'teach-in' was held on the campus of the University of Michigan in March of 1965. The first organized walk on Washington occurred just a few weeks later. Needless to say, there were no 'hippies' in attendance at either event. That 'problem' would soon be rectified. And the anti-war crowd - those who were serious about ending the bloodshed in Vietnam, anyway - would be none too appreciative.
As Barry Miles has written in his coffee-table book, Hippie, there were some hippies involved in anti-war protests, "particularly after the police riot in Chicago in 1968 when so many people got injured, but on the whole the movement activists looked on hippies with disdain." Peter Coyote, narrating the documentary "Hippies" on The History Channel, added that "Some on the left even theorized that the hippies were the end result of a plot by the CIA to neutralize the anti-war movement with LSD, turning potential protestors into self-absorbed naval-gazers." An exasperated Abbie Hoffman once described the scene as he remembered it thusly: "There were all these activists, you know, Berkeley radicals, White Panthers ... all trying to stop the war and change things for the better. Then we got flooded with all these 'flower children' who were into drugs and sex. Where the hell did the hippies come from?!"
As it turns out, they came, initially at least, from a rather private, isolated, largely self-contained neighborhood in Los Angeles known as Laurel Canyon (in contrast to the other canyons slicing through the Hollywood Hills, Laurel Canyon has its own market, the semi-famous Laurel Canyon Country Store; its own deli and cleaners; its own elementary school, the Wonderland School; its own boutique shops and salons; and, in more recent years, its own celebrity reprogramming rehab facility named, as you may have guessed, the Wonderland Center. During its heyday, the canyon even had its own management company, Lookout Management, to handle the talent. At one time, it even had its own newspaper.)
Wonderland School in Laurel Canyon
One other thing that I should add here, before getting too far along with this series, is that this has not been an easy line of research for me to conduct, primarily because I have been, for as long as I can remember, a huge fan of 1960s music and culture. Though I was born in 1960 and therefore didn't come of age, so to speak, until the 1970s, I have always felt as though I was ripped off by being denied the opportunity to experience firsthand the era that I was so obviously meant to inhabit. During my high school and college years, while my peers were mostly into faceless corporate rock (think Journey, Foreigner, Kansas, Boston, etc.) and, perhaps worse yet, the twin horrors of New Wave and Disco music, I was faithfully spinning my Hendrix, Joplin and Doors albums (which I still have, or rather my eldest daughter still has, in the original vinyl versions) while my color organ (remember those?) competed with my black light and strobe light. I grew my hair long until well past the age when it should have been sheared off. I may have even strung beads across the doorway to my room, but it is possible that I am confusing my life with that of Greg Brady, who, as we all remember, once converted his dad's home office into a groovy bachelor pad.
Anyway ... as I have probably mentioned previously on more than one occasion, one of the most difficult aspects of this journey that I have been on for the last decade or so has been watching so many of my former idols and mentors fall by the wayside as it became increasingly clear to me that people who I once thought were the good guys were, in reality, something entirely different than what they appear to be. The first to fall, naturally enough, were the establishment figures - the politicians who I once, quite foolishly, looked up to as people who were fighting the good fight, within the confines of the system, to bring about real change. Though it now pains me to admit this, there was a time when I admired the likes of (egads!) George McGovern and Jimmy Carter, as well as (oops, excuse me for a moment; I seem to have just thrown up in my mouth a little bit) California pols Tom Hayden and Jerry Brown. I even had high hopes, oh-so-many-years-ago, for (am I really admitting this in print?) aspiring First Man Bill Clinton.
Since I mentioned Jerry "Governor Moonbeam" Brown, by the way, I must now digress just a bit - and we all know how I hate it when that happens. But as luck would have it, Jerry Brown was, curiously enough, a longtime resident of a little place called Laurel Canyon. As readers of Programmed to Kill may recall, Brown lived on Wonderland Avenue, not too many doors down from 8763 Wonderland Avenue, the site of the infamous "Four on the Floor" murders, regarded by grizzled LA homicide detectives as the most bloody and brutal multiple murder in the city's very bloody history (if you get a chance, by the way, check out "Wonderland" with Val Kilmer the next time it shows up on your cable listings; it is, by Hollywood standards, a reasonably accurate retelling of the crime, and a pretty decent film as well).
As it turns out, you see, the most bloody mass murder in LA's history took place in one of the city's most serene, pastoral and exclusive neighborhoods. And strangely enough, the case usually cited as the runner-up for the title of bloodiest crime scene - the murders of Stephen Parent, Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Voytek Frykowski and Abigail Folger at 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon, just a couple miles to the west of Laurel Canyon - had deep ties to the Laurel Canyon scene as well.
As previously mentioned, victims Folger and Frykowski lived in Laurel Canyon, at 2774 Woodstock Road, in a rented home right across the road from a favored gathering spot for Laurel Canyon royalty. Many of the regular visitors to Cass Elliot's home, including a number of shady drug dealers, were also regular visitors to the Folger/Frykowski home (Frykowski's son, by the way, was stabbed to death on June 6, 1999, thirty years after his father met the same fate.) Victim Jay Sebring's acclaimed hair salon sat right at the mouth of Laurel Canyon, just below the Sunset Strip, and it was Sebring, alas, who was credited with sculpting Jim Morrison's famous mane. One of the investors in his Sebring International business venture was a Laurel Canyon luminary who I may have mentioned previously, Mr. John Phillips.
Sharon Tate was also well known in Laurel Canyon, where she was a frequent visitor to the homes of friends like John Phillips, Cass Elliott, and Abby Folger. And when she wasn't in Laurel Canyon, many of the canyon regulars, both famous and infamous, made themselves at home in her place on Cielo Drive. Canyonite Van Dyke Parks, for example, dropped by for a visit on the very day of the murders. And Denny Doherty, the other "Papa" in The Mamas and the Papas, has claimed that he and John Phillips were invited to the Cielo Drive home on the night of the murders, but, as luck would have it, they never made it over. (Similarly, Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night, a regular visitor to the Wonderland death house, had set up a drug buy on the night of that mass murder, but he fell asleep and never made it over.)
Along with the victims, the alleged killers also lived in and/or were very much a part of the Laurel Canyon scene. Bobby "Cupid" Beausoleil, for example, lived in a Laurel Canyon apartment during the early months of 1969. Charles "Tex" Watson, who allegedly led the death squad responsible for the carnage at Cielo Drive, lived for a time in a home on - guess where? - Wonderland Avenue. During that time, curiously enough, Watson co-owned and worked in a wig shop in Beverly Hills, Crown Wig Creations, Ltd., that was located near the mouth of Benedict Canyon. Meanwhile, one of Jay Sebring's primary claims-to-fame was his expertise in crafting men's hairpieces, which he did in his shop near the mouth of Laurel Canyon. A typical day then in the late 1960s would find Watson crafting hairpieces for an upscale Hollywood clientele near Benedict Canyon, and then returning home to Laurel Canyon, while Sebring crafted hairpieces for an upscale Hollywood clientele near Laurel Canyon, and then returned home to Benedict Canyon. And then one crazy day, as we all know, one of them became a killer and the other his victim. But there's nothing odd about that, I suppose, so let's move on.
|9820 Easton Drive
Oh, wait a minute ... we can't quite move on just yet, as I forgot to mention that Sebring's Benedict Canyon home, at 9820 Easton Drive, was a rather infamous Hollywood death house that had once belonged to Jean Harlow and Paul Bern. The mismatched pair were wed on July 2, 1932, when Harlow, already a huge star of the silver screen, was just twenty-one years old. Just two months later, on September 5, Bern caught a bullet to the head in his wife's bedroom. He was found sprawled naked in a pool of his own blood, his corpse drenched with his wife's perfume. Upon discovering the body, Bern's butler promptly contacted MGM's head of security, Whitey Hendry, who in turn contacted Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg. All three men descended upon the Benedict Canyon home to, you know, tidy up a bit. A couple hours later, they decided to contact the LAPD. This scene would be repeated years later when Sebring's friends would rush to the home to clean up before officers investigating the Tate murders arrived.
Bern's death was, needless to say, written off as a suicide. His newlywed wife, strangely enough, was never called as a witness at the inquest. Bern's other wife - which is to say, his common-law wife, Dorothy Millette - reportedly boarded a Sacramento riverboat on September 6, 1932, the day after Paul's death. She was next seen floating belly-up in the Sacramento River. Her death, as would be expected, was also ruled a suicide. Less than five years later, Harlow herself dropped dead at the ripe old age of 26. At the time, authorities opted not to divulge the cause of death, though it was later claimed that bad kidneys had done her in. During her brief stay on this planet, Harlow had cycled through three turbulent marriages and yet still found time to serve as Godmother to Bugsy Siegel's daughter, Millicent.
Though Bern's was the most famous body to be hauled out of the Easton Drive house in a coroner's bag, it certainly wasn't the only one. Another man had reportedly committed suicide there as well, in some unspecified fashion. Yet another unfortunate soul drowned in the home's pool. And a maid was once found swinging from the end of a rope. Her death, needless to say, was ruled a suicide as well. That's a lot of blood for one home to absorb, but the house's morbid history, though a turn-off to many prospective residents, was reportedly exactly what attracted Jay Sebring to the property. His murder would further darken the black cloud hanging over the home.
As Laurel Canyon chronicler Michael Walker has noted, LA's two most notorious mass murders, one in August of 1969 and the other in July of 1981 (both involving five victims, though at Wonderland one of the five miraculously survived), provided rather morbid bookends for Laurel Canyon's glory years. Walker though, like others who have chronicled that time and place, treats these brutal crimes as though they were unfortunate aberrations. The reality, however, is that the nine bodies recovered from Cielo Drive and Wonderland Avenue constitute just the tip of a very large, and very bloody, iceberg. To partially illustrate that point, here is today's second trivia question: what do Diane Linkletter (daughter of famed entertainer Art Linkletter), legendary comedian Lenny Bruce, screen idol Sal Mineo, starlet Inger Stevens, and silent film star Ramon Novarro, all have in common?
If you answered that all were found dead in their homes, either in or at the mouth of Laurel Canyon, in the decade between 1966 and 1976, then award yourself five points. If you added that all five were, in all likelihood, murdered in their Laurel Canyon homes, then add five bonus points.
Only two of them, of course, are officially listed as murder victims (Mineo, who was stabbed to death outside his home at 8563 Holloway Drive on February 12, 1976, and Novarro, who was killed near the Country Store in a decidedly ritualistic fashion on the eve of Halloween, 1968). Inger Steven's death in her home at 8000 Woodrow Wilson Drive, on April 30, 1970 (Walpurgisnacht on the occult calendar), was officially a suicide, though why she opted to propel herself through a decorative glass screen as part of that suicide remains a mystery. Perhaps she just wanted to leave behind a gruesome crime scene, and simple overdoses can be so, you know, bloodless and boring.
Diane Linkletter, as we all know, sailed out the window of her Shoreham Towers apartment because, in her LSD-addled state, she thought she could fly, or some such thing. We know this because Art himself told us that it was so, and because the story was retold throughout the 1970s as a cautionary tale about the dangers of drugs. What we weren't told, however, is that Diane (born, curiously enough, on Halloween day, 1948) wasn't alone when she plunged six stories to her death on the morning of October 4, 1969. Au contraire, she was with a gent by the name of Edward Durston, who, in a completely unexpected turn of events, accompanied actress Carol Wayne to Mexico some 15 years later. Carol, alas, perhaps weighed down by her enormous breasts, managed to drown in barely a foot of water, while Mr. Durston promptly disappeared. As would be expected, he was never questioned by authorities about Wayne's curious death. After all, it is quite common for the same guy to be the sole witness to two separate 'accidental' deaths.
Art also neglected to mention, by the way, that just weeks before Diane's curious death, another member of the Linkletter clan, Art's son-in-law, John Zwyer, caught a bullet to the head in the backyard of his Hollywood Hills home. But that, of course, was an unconnected, uhmm, suicide, so don't go thinking otherwise.
I'm not even going to discuss here the circumstances of Bruce's death from acute morphine poisoning on August 3, 1966, because, to be perfectly honest, I don't know too many people who don't already assume that Lenny was whacked. I'll just note here that his funeral was well-attended by the Laurel Canyon rock icons, and control over his unreleased material fell into the hands of a guy by the name of Frank Zappa. And another rather unsavory character named Phil Spector, whose crack team of studio musicians, dubbed The Wrecking Crew, were the actual musicians playing on many studio recordings by such bands as The Monkees, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, and The Mamas and the Papas.
Go to part 3
(As for the trivia question, the person being praised, of course, was our old friend Chuck Manson. And the guy singing his praises was Mr. Neil Young.)
“I mean, fuck, he auditioned for Neil [Young] for fuck’s sake.” Graham Nash, explaining to author Michael Walker how close Charlie Manson was to the Laurel Canyon scene.
During the ten-year period during which Bruce, Novarro, Mineo, Linkletter, Stevens, Tate, Sebring, Frykowski and Folger all turned up dead, a whole lot of other people connected to Laurel Canyon did as well, often under very questionable circumstances. The list includes, but is certainly not limited to, all of the following names:
- Marina Elizabeth Habe, whose body was carved up and tossed into the heavy brush along Mulholland Drive, just west of Bowmont Drive, on December 30, 1968. Habe, just seventeen at the time of her death, was the daughter of Hans Habe, who emigrated to the U.S. from fascist Austria circa 1940. Shortly thereafter, he married a General Foods heiress and began studying psychological warfare at the Military Intelligence Training Center. After completing his training, he put his psychological warfare skills to use by creating 18 newspapers in occupied Germany – under the direction, no doubt, of the OSS. below: view into the San Fernando Valley from Mulholland Drive in Laurel Canyon. In the foreground is the undergrowth where the body of Marina Habe was found.
- Christine Hinton, who was killed in a head-on collision on September 30, 1969. At the time, Hinton was a girlfriend of David Crosby and the founder and head of The Byrd’s fan club. She was also the daughter of a career Army officer stationed at the notorious Presidio military base in San Francisco. Another of Crosby’s girlfriends from that same era was Shelley Roecker, who grew up on the Hamilton Air Force Base in Marin County.
- Jane Doe #59, found dumped into the heavy undergrowth of Laurel Canyon in November 1969, within sight of where Habe had been dumped less than a year earlier. The teenage girl, who was never identified, had been stabbed 157 times in the chest and throat.
- Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson, singer, songwriter and guitarist for the Laurel Canyon blues-rock band, Canned Heat, was found dead in his Topanga Canyon home on September 3, 1970. His death was written off as a suicide/OD. Wilson had moved to Topanga Canyon after the band’s Laurel Canyon home – on Lookout Mountain Avenue, next door to Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash’s home – burned to the ground. “Blind Owl” was just twenty-seven years old at the time of his death. A little more than a decade later, Wilson’s former bandmate, Bob “The Bear” Hite, who had once acknowledged in an interview that he had partied in the canyons with various members of the Manson Family, died of a heart attack at the ripe old age of 36.
- Jimi Hendrix, who reportedly briefly occupied the sprawling mansion just north of the Log Cabin after he moved to LA in 1968, died in London under seriously questionable circumstances on September 18, 1970. Though he rarely spoke of it, Jimi had served a stint in the U.S. Army with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell. His official records indicate that he was forced into the service by the courts and then released after just one year when he purportedly proved to be a poor soldier. One wonders though why he was assigned to such an elite division if he was indeed such a failure. One also wonders why he wasn’t subjected to disciplinary measures rather than being handed a free pass out of his ostensibly court-ordered service. In any event, Jimi himself once told reporters that he was given a medical discharge after breaking an ankle during a parachute jump. And one biographer has claimed that Jimi faked being gay to earn an early release. The truth, alas, remains rather elusive. At the time of Jimi’s death, the first person called by his girlfriend – Monika Danneman, who was the last to see Hendrix alive – was Eric Burden of the Animals. Two years earlier, Burden had relocated to LA and taken over ringmaster duties from Frank Zappa after Zappa had vacated the Log Cabin and moved into a less high-profile Laurel Canyon home. Within a year of Jimi’s death, an underage prostitute named Devon Wilson who had been with Jimi the day before his death, plunged from an eighth-floor window of New York’s Chelsea Hotel. On March 5, 1973, a shadowy character named Michael Jeffery, who had managed both Hendrix and Burden, was killed in a mid-air plane collision. Jeffery was known to openly boast of having organized crime connections and of working for the CIA. After Jimi’s death, it was discovered that Jeffery had been funneling most of Hendrix’s gross earnings into offshore accounts in the Bahamas linked to international drug trafficking. Years later, on April 5, 1996, Danneman, the daughter of a wealthy German industrialist, was found dead near her home in a fume-filled Mercedes.
- Jim Morrison, who for a time lived in a home on Rothdell Trail, behind the Laurel Canyon Country Store, may or may not have died in Paris on July 3, 1971. The events of that day remain shrouded in mystery and rumor, and the details of the story, such as they are, have changed over the years. What is known is that, on that very same day, Admiral George Stephen Morrison delivered the keynote speech at a decommissioning ceremony for the aircraft carrier USS Bon Homme Richard, from where, seven years earlier, he had helped choreograph the Tonkin Gulf Incident. A few years after Jim’s death, his common-law wife, Pamela Courson, dropped dead as well, officially of a heroin overdose. Like Hendrix, Morrison had been an avid student of the occult, with a particular fondness for the work of Aleister Crowley. According to super-groupie Pamela DesBarres, he had also “read all he could about incest and sadism.” Also like Hendrix, Morrison was just twenty-seven at the time of his (possible) death.
- Brandon DeWilde, a good friend of David Crosby and Gram Parsons, was killed in a freak accident in Colorado on July 6, 1972, when his van plowed under a flatbed truck. In the 1950s, DeWilde had been an in-demand child actor since the age of eight. He had appeared on screen with some of the biggest names in Hollywood, including Alan Ladd, Lee Marvin, Paul Newman, John Wayne, Kirk Douglas and Henry Fonda. Around 1965, DeWilde fell in with Hollywood’s ‘Young Turks,’ through whom he met and befriended Crosby, Parsons, and various other members of the Laurel Canyon Club. DeWilde was just thirty at the time of his death.
- Christine Frka, a former governess for Moon Unit Zappa and the Zappa family’s former housekeeper at the Log Cabin, died on November 5, 1972 of an alleged drug overdose, though friends suspected foul play. As “Miss Christine,” Frka had been a member of the Zappa-created GTOs, a musical act, of sorts, composed entirely of very young groupies. She was also the inspiration for the song, “Christine’s Tune: Devil in Disguise” by Gram Parson’s Flying Burrito Brothers. Frka was probably in her early twenties when she died, possibly even younger.
- Danny Whitten, a guitarist/vocalist/songwriter with Neil Young’s sometime band, Crazy Horse, died of an overdose on November 18, 1972. According to rock ‘n’ roll legend, Whitten had been fired by Young earlier that day during rehearsals in San Francisco. Young and Jack Nietzsche, Phil Spector’s former top assistant, had given Whitten $50 and put him on a plane back to LA. Within hours, he was dead. Whitten was just twenty-nine.
- Bruce Berry, a roadie for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, died of a heroin overdose in June 1973. Berry had just flown out to Maui to deliver a shipment of cocaine to Stephen Stills, and was promptly sent back to LA by Crosby and Nash. Berry was a brother of Jan Berry, of Jan and Dean. (Dean Torrence, the “Dean” of Jan and Dean, had played a part in the fake kidnapping of Frank Sinatra, Jr., just after the JFK assassination. The staged event was a particularly lame effort to divert attention away from the questions that were cropping up, after the initial shock had passed, about the events in Dealey Plaza.)
- Clarence White, a guitarist who had played with The Byrds, was run over by a drunk driver and killed on July 14, 1973. White had grown up near Lancaster, not far from where Frank Zappa spent his teen years. At least one member of White’s immediate family was employed at Edwards Air Force Base. The driver who killed young Clarence, just twenty-nine years old at the time of his death, was given a one-year suspended sentence and served no time.
- Gram Parsons, formerly with the International Submarine Band, The Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, allegedly overdosed on a speedball at the Joshua Tree Inn on September 19, 1973. Just two months before his death, Parson’s Topanga Canyon home had burnt to the ground. After his death, his body was stolen from LAX by the Burrito’s road manager, Phil Kaufman, and then taken back out to Joshua Tree and ritually burned on the autumnal equinox (Kaufman had been a prison buddy of Charlie Manson’s at Terminal Island; when Phil was released from Terminal Island in March of 1968, he quickly reunited with his old pal, who had been released a year earlier.) By the time of Gram’s death, his family had already experienced its share of questionable deaths. Just before Christmas, 1958, Parson’s father had sent Gram, along with his mother and sister, off to stay with family in Florida. The next day, just after the winter solstice, “Coon Dog” caught a bullet to the head. His death was recorded as a suicide and it was claimed that he had sent his family away to spare them as much pain as possible. It seems just as likely, however, that “Coon Dog” knew his days were numbered and wanted to get his family out of the line of fire. The next year, 1959, Gram’s mother married again, to Robert Ellis Parsons, who adopted Gram and his sister Avis. Six years later, in June of 1965, Gram’s mother died the day after a sudden illness landed her in the hospital. According to witnesses, she died “almost immediately” after a visit from her husband, Robert Parsons. Many of those close to the situation believed that Parsons had a hand in her death (very shortly thereafter, Robert Parsons married his stepdaughter’s teenage babysitter). Following his mother’s death, Parsons briefly attended Harvard University, and then launched his music career with the formation of the International Submarine Band, which quickly found its way to – where else? – Laurel Canyon. Gram’s death in 1973 at the age of 26 left his younger sister Avis as the sole surviving member of the family. She was killed in 1993, reportedly in a boating accident, at the age of 43.
- “Mama” Cass Elliot, the “Earth Mother” of Laurel Canyon whose circle of friends included musicians, Mansonites, young Hollywood stars, the wealthy son of a State Department official, singer/songwriters, assorted drug dealers, and some particularly unsavory characters the LAPD once described as “some kind of hit squad,” died in the London home of Harry Nilsson on July 29, 1974 (Nilsson had been a frequent drinking buddy of John Lennon in Laurel Canyon and on the Sunset Strip). At thirty-two, Cass had lived a long and productive life, by Laurel Canyon standards. Four years later, in the very same room of the very same London flat, still owned by Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon of The Who also died at thirty-two (on September 7, 1978). Though initial press reports held that Cass had choked to death on a ham sandwich, the official cause of death was listed as heart failure. Her actual cause of death could likely be filed under “knowing where too many of the bodies were buried.” Moon reportedly died from a massive overdose of a drug used to treat alcohol withdrawal. Like Cass, Moon had at one time been a resident of Laurel Canyon.
- Amy Gossage, Graham Nash’s girlfriend at the time, was murdered in her San Francisco home on February 13, 1975. Just twenty years old at the time, she had been stabbed nearly fifty times and was bludgeoned beyond recognition. Amy’s father, a famed advertising/PR executive, had died of leukemia in 1969. Not long after, her half-sister had been killed in a car crash. In May of 1974, her mother, the daughter of a wealthy banking family, died as well, reportedly of cirrhosis of the liver. That left just Amy, age 19, and her brother Eben, age 20, both of whom reportedly had serious drug dependencies. Amy’s brutal murder, cleverly enough, was pinned on Eben. Police had conveniently found bloodstained clothes, along with a hammer and scissors, sitting on the porch of Eben’s apartment, looking very much as though it had been planted. A friend of Eben’s would later remark, perhaps quite tellingly, “If Eben did kill her, I’m convinced he doesn’t know he did it.”
- Tim Buckley, a singer/songwriter signed to Frank Zappa’s record label and managed by Herb Cohen, died of a reported overdose on June 29, 1975. Buckley had once appeared on an episode of The Monkees, and, like Monkee Peter Tork (and so many others in this story), he hailed from Washington, DC. Buckley was just twenty-eight at the time of his death. His son, Jeff Buckley, also an accomplished musician, managed to remain on this planet two years longer than his dad did; he was thirty when he died in a bizarre drowning incident on May 29, 1997.
- Phyllis Major Browne, wife of singer/songwriter Jackson Browne, reportedly overdosed on barbiturates on March 25, 1976. Her death was – you all should know the words to this song by now – ruled a suicide. She was just thirty years old.
There are a few other curious deaths we could add here as well, though they were only indirectly related to the Laurel Canyon scene. Nevertheless, they deserve an honorable mention, especially the Bobby Fuller and Phil Ochs entries; the former because it is a rather extraordinary example of the exemplary work done by the LAPD, and the latter because it just may contain a key to understanding the Laurel Canyon phenomenon:
- Bobby Fuller, singer/songwriter/guitarist for the Bobby Fuller Four, was found dead in his car near Grauman’s Chinese Theater on July 18, 1966, after being lured away from his home by a mysterious 2:00-3:00 AM phone call of unknown origin. Fuller is best known for penning the hit song “I Fought the Law,” which had just hit the charts when he supposedly committed suicide at the age of twenty-three. There were multiple cuts and bruises on his face, chest and shoulders, dried blood around his mouth, and a hairline fracture to his right hand. He had been thoroughly doused with gasoline, including in his mouth and throat. The inside of the car was doused as well, and an open book of matches lay on the seat. It was perfectly obvious that Fuller’s killer (or killers) had planned to torch the car, destroying all evidence, but likely got scared away. The LAPD, nevertheless, ruled Fuller’s death a suicide – despite the coroner’s conclusion that the gas had been poured after Bobby’s death. Police later decided that it wasn’t a suicide after all, but rather an accident. They didn’t bother to explain how Fuller had accidentally doused himself with gasoline after accidentally killing himself. At the time of his death, one of Fuller’s closest confidants was a prostitute named Melody who worked at PJ’s nightclub, where Bobby frequently played. The club was co-owned by Eddie Nash, who would, many years later, orchestrate the Wonderland massacre. A few years after Bobby’s death, his brother and bass player, Randy Fuller, teamed up with drummer Dewey Martin, formerly of Buffalo Springfield.
- Gary Hinman, a musician, music teacher, and part-time chemist, was brutally murdered in his Topanga Canyon home on July 27, 1969. Convicted of his murder was Mansonite Bobby Beausoleil, who had played rhythm guitar in a local band known as the Grass Roots. To avoid confusion with the more famous band already using that name, the Laurel Canyon band changed its name to Love. Beausoleil would claim that the band’s new name was inspired by his own nickname, Cupid.
- Janis Joplin, vocalist extraordinaire, was found dead of a heroin overdose on October 4, 1970 at the Landmark Hotel, about a mile east of the mouth of Laurel Canyon, where she occasionally visited. Indications were that she had taken or been given a “hot shot,” many times stronger than standard street heroin. Joplin’s father, by the way, was a petroleum engineer for Texaco. And though it might normally seem an odd coupling, it somehow seems perfectly natural, in the context of this story, that Janis once dated that great crusader in the war on all things immoral, William Bennett. Like Morrison and Hendrix, Joplin died at the age of twenty-seven.
- Duane Allman and Berry Oakley, lead guitarist and bass player for the Allman Brothers, were killed in freakishly similar motorcycle crashes on October 29, 1971 and November 11, 1972. Allman was the son of Willis Allman, a US Army Sergeant who had been murdered by another soldier near Norfolk, Virginia (home of the world’s largest naval installation) on December 26, 1949. In 1967, Duane and his younger brother, Gregg, then billing themselves as The Allman Joys, ventured out to Los Angeles. While there, Gregg auditioned for and was almost signed by the Laurel Canyon band Poco, which featured Buffalo Springfield alumni Richie Furay and Jim Messina, as well as future Eagle Randy Meisner. Duane was killed when a truck turned in front of his motorcycle at an intersection and inexplicably stopped. Just over a year later, Oakley had a similar run-in with a bus, just three blocks from where Allman had been killed. Following the crash, Berry had dusted himself off and declined medical attention, insisting that he was okay. Three hours later, he was rushed to the hospital, where he died. Both Oakley and Allman were just twenty-four years old.
- Phil Ochs, folk singer/songwriter and political activist, was found hanged in his sister’s home in Far Rockaway, New York on April 9, 1976. Throughout his life, Ochs was one of the most overtly political of the 1960s rock and folk music stars. A regular attendee at anti-war, civil rights, and labor rallies, Ochs appeared to be, at all times, an unwavering political leftist (he named his first band The Singing Socialists). That all changed, however, and rather dramatically, in the months before his death. Born in El Paso, Texas on December 19, 1940, Phil and his family moved frequently during the first few years of his life. His father, Dr. Jacob Ochs, had been drafted by the US Army and assigned to various military hospitals in New York, New Mexico and Texas. In 1943, Dr. Ochs was shipped overseas, returning two years later with a medical discharge. Upon his return, he was immediately institutionalized and didn’t return to his family for another two years. During that time, he was subjected to every ‘treatment’ imaginable, including electroshock ‘therapy.’ When he finally returned to his family, in 1947, he was but a shell of his former self, described by Phil’s sister as “almost like a phantom.” Beginning in the fall of 1956, Phil Ochs began attending Staunton Military Academy, the very same institution that future ‘serial killer’/cult leader Gary Heidnik would attend just one year after Ochs graduated. During Phil’s two years there, a friend and fellow band member was found swinging from the end of a rope (I probably don’t need to add here that the death was ruled a suicide). Following graduation, Phil enrolled at Ohio State University, but not before, oddly enough, having a little plastic surgery done to alter his appearance (doing such things, needless to say, was rather uncommon in 1958). In early 1962, just months before his scheduled graduation, Ochs dropped out of college to pursue a career in music. By 1966, he had released three albums. In 1967, under the management of his brother, Michael Ochs, Phil moved out to Los Angeles. Michael had begun working the previous year as an assistant to Barry James, who maintained a party house at 8504 Ridpath in Laurel Canyon. In the early 1970s, with his career beginning to fade, Phil Ochs began to travel internationally, usually accompanied by vast quantities of booze and pills. Those travels included a visit to Chile, not long before the US-sponsored coup that toppled Salvador Allende. In early summer of 1975, Phil Ochs’ public persona abruptly changed. Using the name John Butler Train, Ochs proclaimed himself to be a CIA operative and presented himself as a belligerent, right-wing thug. He told an interviewer that, “on the first day of summer 1975, Phil Ochs was murdered in the Chelsea Hotel by John Train … For the good of societies, public and secret, he needed to be gotten rid of.” That symbolic assassination, on the summer solstice, took place at the same hotel that Devon Wilson had flown out of a few years earlier. One of Ochs’ biographers would later write that Phil/John “actually believed he was a member of the CIA.” Also in those final months of his life, Ochs began compiling curious lists, with entries that clearly were references to US biological warfare research: “shellfish toxin, Fort Dietrich, cobra venom, Chantilly Race Track, hollow silver dollars, New York Cornell Hospital …” Many years before Ochs’ metamorphosis, in an interesting bit of foreshadowing, psychological warfare operative George Estabrooks explained how US intelligence agencies could create the perfect spy: “We start with an excellent subject … we need a man or woman who is highly intelligent and physically tough. Then we start to develop a case of multiple personality through hypnotism. In his normal waking state, which we will call Personality A, or PA, this individual will become a rabid communist. He will join the party, follow the party line and make himself as objectionable as possible to the authorities. Note that he will be acting in good faith. He is a communist, or rather his PA is a communist and will behave as such. Then we develop Personality B (PB), the secondary personality, the unconscious personality, if you wish, although this is somewhat of a contradiction in terms. This personality is rabidly American and anti-communist. It has all the information possessed by PA, the normal personality, whereas PA does not have this advantage … My super spy plays his role as a communist in his waking state, aggressively, consistently, fearlessly. But his PB is a loyal American, and PB has all the memories of PA. As a loyal American, he will not hesitate to divulge those memories.” Estabrooks never explained what would happen if the programming were to go haywire and Personality B were to become the conscious personality, but my guess is that such a person would be considered a severe liability and would be treated accordingly. They might even be find themselves swinging from the end of a rope. Phil Ochs was thirty-five at the time of his death.
And with that, I think we can move on now from the Laurel Canyon Death List. The list is not yet complete, mind you, since we have only covered the years 1966-1976. Rest assured then that we will continue to add names as we follow the various threads of this story. Some of those names will be quite familiar, while others will be significantly less so. One of the names from that era that has been all but forgotten is Judee Lynn Sill, who was once favorably compared to such other Laurel Canyon singer/songwriters as Joni Mitchell, Judi Collins and Carole King. By the time of her death on November 23, 1979, however, she had been all but forgotten, and not a single obituary was published to note her passing.
Judee was born in Studio City, California, not far from the northern entrance to Laurel Canyon, on October 7, 1944. Her father, Milford “Bud” Sill, was reportedly a cameraman for Paramount Studios with numerous Hollywood connections. When Judee was quite young, however, Bud moved the family to Oakland and opened a bar known as “Bud’s Bar.” He also operated a side business as an importer of rare animals, which required him to spend a considerable amount of time traveling in Central and South America. Such a business, it should be noted, would provide an ideal cover for covert intelligence work. In any event, Bud Sill was dead by 1952, when Judee was just seven or eight years old. Depending on who is telling the story, Bud died either from pneumonia or a heart attack.
Following Bud’s death, the family relocated back to Southern California and Judee’s older brother Dennis, still in his teens, took over the family importing business. That didn’t last long though as Dennis soon turned up dead down in Central America, either from a liver infection or a car accident. The animal importing business, I guess, is a rather dangerous one.
Judee’s mother, Oneta, met and married Ken Muse, an Academy Award winning animator for Hanna-Barbera who was described by Judee as an abusive, violent alcoholic. At fifteen, Judee fled her violent home life and lived with an older man with whom she pulled off a series of armed robberies in the San Fernando Valley. Those activities landed her in reform school, which did little to curb her appetite for drugs, crime and alcohol. She spent the next few years with a serious heroin addiction, which she financed by dealing drugs and turning tricks in some of LA’s seedier neighborhoods.
By 1963, Judee had cleaned herself up enough to enroll in junior college. In the early winter of 1965, however, Judee’s mom, her last surviving family member, died either of cancer or of complications arising from her chronic alcoholism (take your pick; the details of this story will likely remain forever elusive). Barely an adult, Judee was left all alone in the world, and thus began another downward spiral into drugs and crime, which culminated in her being arrested and possibly serving time on forgery and drug charges.
In the late 1960s, with her addictions apparently temporarily curbed, Sill joined the Laurel Canyon scene, where she attempted to forge a career as a singer/songwriter. Her first big break came when she sold the song “Lady O” to The Turtles (yet another Laurel Canyon band to hit it big in the mid-1960s; best known for the hit single “Happy Together,” The Turtles were led by lead vocalist/songwriter Howard Kaylan, who happened to be, small world that it is, a cousin of Frank Zappa’s manager and business partner, Herb Cohen). The band released the song, which featured Judee’s guitar work, in 1969. The next year, Sill became the first artist signed to David Geffen’s fledgling Asylum record label. The year after that, her self-titled debut album became Asylum’s first official release. The first single from the album, “Jesus Was a Crossmaker,” was produced by Graham Nash, whom she opened for on tour following the album’s release.
Though critically well-received, the album’s sales were disappointing, in part because the record was overshadowed by the debut albums of Jackson Browne and The Eagles, both released by Asylum shortly after the release of Judee’s album. Sill’s second album, 1973’s “Heart Food,” was even more of a commercial disappointment. Nevertheless, in 1974 she began work on a third album in Monkee Mike Nesmith’s recording studio. Prior to completion, however, she abandoned the project and promptly disappeared without a trace. What became of her between that time and her death some five years later remains largely a mystery. It is assumed that she once again descended into a life of drugs and prostitution, but no one seems to know for sure.
It is alleged that she was seriously injured when her car was rear-ended by actor Danny Kaye, causing her to suffer from chronic back pain thereafter, thus contributing to her drug addictions. According to a friend of hers, she lived in a home that featured an enormous photo of Bela Lugosi above the fireplace, a large ebony cross above her bed, and racks of candles. She is said to have read extensively from Rosicrucian manuscripts and from the writings of Aleister Crowley, to have possessed a complete collection of the work of Helena Blavatsky, and to have been a gifted tarot card reader.
What is known for sure is that, on the day after Thanksgiving, 1979, Judee Sill, the last surviving member of her family, was found dead in a North Hollywood apartment. The cause of death was listed as “acute cocaine and codeine intoxication.” It was claimed that a suicide note was found, but friends insisted that the supposed note was either a portion of a diary entry or an unfinished song. One of her friends would later note that, at some point in her life, Judee began to realize that “there was a part of her that wasn’t under her conscious control.” I’m guessing that Phil Ochs, and quite a few other characters in this story, could relate to that.
Go to Part 4
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It has occurred to me, as I have been working on these first posts of this new series, that a lot of this information will probably make more sense to those of you out there in Readerland who have successfully waded through my last book, Programmed to Kill. Those of you who haven’t done so may find yourselves pondering the significance of some of the references contained herein. Much of this material is tied in, to varying degrees, with material that is covered in the book, which last time I checked could be had in the E-version from www.IUniverse.com for the low, low price of just $6. And what else are you going to do with $6 – buy a gallon of gas?
The bridge of the USS Bon Homme Richard, January 1964. Just months later, the guy on the right would guide his ship into the Tonkin Gulf, and the young man on the left would begin a remarkable transformation into a brooding rock god. The Bon Homme Richard, by the way, was launched on April 29, 1944, under the sponsorship of Catherine McCain, the grandmother of a certain presidential contender.
Until around 1913, Laurel Canyon remained an undeveloped (and unincorporated) slice of LA - a pristine wilderness area rich in native flora and fauna. That all began to change when Charles Spencer Mann and his partners began buying up land along what would become Laurel Canyon Boulevard, as well as up Lookout Mountain. A narrow road leading up to the crest of Lookout Mountain was carved out, and upon that crest was constructed a lavish 70-room inn with sweeping views of the city below and the Pacific Ocean beyond. The Lookout Inn featured a large ballroom, riding stables, tennis courts and a golf course, among other amenities. But the inn, alas, would only stand for a decade; in 1923, it burned down, as tends to happen rather frequently in Laurel Canyon.
In 1913, Mann began operating what was billed as the nation's first trackless trolley, to ferry tourists and prospective buyers from Sunset Boulevard up to what would become the corner of Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Lookout Mountain Avenue. Around that same time, he built a massive tavern/roadhouse on that very same corner. Dubbed the Laurel Tavern, the structure boasted a 2,000+ square-foot formal dining room, guest rooms, and a bowling alley on the basement level. The Laurel Tavern, of course, would later be acquired by Tom Mix, after which it would be affectionately known as the Log Cabin.
Shortly after the Log Cabin was built, a department store mogul (or a wealthy furniture manufacturer; there is more than one version of the story, or perhaps the man owned more than one business) built an imposing, castle-like mansion across the road, at the corner of Laurel Canyon Boulevard and what would become Willow Glen Road. The home featured rather creepy towers and parapets, and the foundation is said to have been riddled with secret passageways, tunnels, and hidden chambers. Similarly, the grounds of the estate were (and still are) laced with trails leading to grottoes, elaborate stone structures, and hidden caves and tunnels.
Log Cabin walk
Across Laurel Canyon Boulevard, the grounds of the Laurel Tavern/Log Cabin were also laced with odd caves and tunnels. As Michael Walker notes in Laurel Canyon, "Running up the hillside, behind the house, was a collection of man-made caves built out of stucco, with electric wiring and light bulbs inside." According to various accounts, one secret tunnel running under what is now Laurel Canyon Boulevard connected the Log Cabin (or its guesthouse) to the Houdini estate. This claim is frequently denounced as an urban legend, but given that both properties are known to possess unusual, uhmm, geological features, it's not hard to believe that the tunnel system on one property was connected at one time to the tunnel system on the other. The Tavern itself, as Gail Zappa would later describe it, was "huge and vault-like and cavernous."
|Lookout Mountain Inn
With these two rather unusual structures anchoring an otherwise undeveloped canyon, and the Lookout Inn sitting atop uninhabited Lookout Mountain, Mann set about marketing the canyon as a vacation and leisure destination. The land that he carved up into subdivisions with names like "Bungalow Land" and "Wonderland Park" was presented as the ideal location to build vacation homes. But the new inn and roadhouse, and the new parcels of land for sale, definitely weren't for everyone. The roadhouse was essentially a country club, or what Jack Boulware of Mojo Magazine described as "a masculine retreat for wealthy men." And Bungalow Land was openly advertised as "a high class restricted park for desirable people only."
"Desirable people," of course, tended to be wealthy people without a great deal of skin pigmentation.
As the website of the current Laurel Canyon Association notes, "restrictive covenants were attached to the new parcel deeds. These were thinly veiled attempts to limit ownership to white males of a certain class. While there are many references to the bigotry of the developers in our area, it would appear that some residents were also prone to bias and lawlessness. This article was published in a local paper in 1925:
Frank Sanceri, the man who was flogged by self-styled 'white knights' on Lookout Mountain in Hollywood several months ago, was found not guilty by a jury in Superior Judge Shea's courtroom of having unlawfully attacked Astrea Jolley, aged 11.
"Wealthier residents were also attracted to Laurel Canyon. With the creation of the Hollywood film industry in 1910, the canyon attracted a host of 'photoplayers,' including Wally Reid, Tom Mix, Clara Bow, Richard Dix, Norman Kerry, Ramon Navarro, Harry Houdini and Bessie Love."
The author of this little slice of Laurel Canyon history would clearly like us to believe that the "wealthier residents" were a group quite separate from the violent hooligans roaming the canyon. The history of such groups in Los Angeles, however, clearly suggests otherwise. Paul Young, for example, has written in L.A. Exposed of Los Angeles' early "vigilance committees, which stepped in to take care of outlaws on their own, often with the complete absolution of the mayor himself. Judge Lynch, for example, formed the Los Angeles Rangers in 1854 with some of the city's top judges, lawyers, and businessmen including tycoon Phineas Banning of the Banning Railroad. And there was the Los Angeles Home Guard, another bloodthirsty paramilitary organization, made up of notable citizens, and the much-feared El Monte Rangers, a group of Texas wranglers that specialized in killing Mexicans. As one would expect, there was no regard for the victim's rights in such kangaroo courts. Victims were often dragged from their homes, jail cells, even churches, and beaten, horse-whipped, tortured, mutilated, or castrated before being strung up on the nearest tree."
And that, dear readers, is how we do things out here on the 'Left' Coast.
Before moving on, I need to mention here that, of the eight celebrity residents of Laurel Canyon listed by the Association, fully half died under questionable circumstances, and three of the four did so on days with occult significance. While Bessie Love, Norman Kerry, Richard Dix and Clara Bow all lived long and healthy lives, Ramon Navarro, as we have already seen, was ritually murdered in his home on Laurel Canyon Boulevard on the eve of Halloween, 1968. Nearly a half-century earlier, on January 18, 1923, matinee idol Wallace Reid was found dead in a padded cell at the mental institution to which he had been confined. Just thirty-one years old, Reid's death was attributed to morphine addiction, though it was never explained how he would have fed that habit while confined to a cell in a mental hospital.
Tom Mix died on a lonely stretch of Arizona highway in the proverbial single-car crash on October 12, 1940 (the birthday of notorious occultist Aleister Crowley), when he quite unexpectedly encountered some temporary construction barricades that had been set up alongside a reportedly washed-out bridge. Although he wasn't speeding (by most accounts), Mix was nevertheless allegedly unable to stop in time and veered off the road, while a crew of what were described as "workmen" reportedly looked on. It wasn't the impact that killed Mix though, but rather a severe blow to the back of the head and neck, purportedly delivered during the crash by an aluminum case he had been carrying in the back seat of his car. There is now a roadside marker at the spot where Mix died. If you should happen to stop by to have a look, you might as well pay a visit to the Florence Military Reservation as well, since it's just a stone's throw away.
Harry Houdini died on Halloween day, 1926, purportedly of an attack of appendicitis precipitated by a blow to the stomach. The problem with that story, however, is that medical science now recognizes it to be an impossibility. According to a recent book about the famed illusionist (The Secret Life of Houdini, by William Kalush and Larry Sloman), Houdini was likely murdered by poisoning. Questions have been raised, the book notes, by the curious lack of an autopsy, an "experimental serum" that Houdini was apparently given in the hospital, and indications that his wife, Bess, may have been poisoned as well (though she survived). On March 23, 2007, an exhumation of Houdini's remains was formally requested by his surviving family members. It is unclear at this time when, or even if, that will happen.
Houdini's death, on October 31, 1926, came exactly eight years after the first death to occur in what would become known as the "Houdini house." In 1918, not long after the home was built, a lover's quarrel arose on one of the home's balconies during a Halloween/birthday party. The gay lover of the original owner's son reportedly ended up splattered on the ground below. According to legend, the businessman managed to get his son off, but only after paying off everyone he could find to pay off, including the trial judge. The aftermath of the party proved to be financially devastating for the family, and the home was apparently put up for sale.
Not long after that, as fate would have it, Harry Houdini was looking for a place to stay in the Hollywood area, as he had decided to break into the motion picture business. He found the perfect home in Laurel Canyon - the home that would, forever after, carry his name. By most accounts, he lived there from about 1919 through the early 1920s, during a brief movie career in which he starred in a handful of Hollywood films. A key scene in one of those films, "The Grim Game," was reportedly shot at the top of Lookout Mountain, near where the Lookout Inn then stood.
On October 31, 1959, precisely thirty-three years after Houdini's death, and forty-one years after the unnamed party guest's death, the distinctive mansion on the corner of Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Willow Glen Road burned to the ground in a fire of mysterious origin (the ruins of the estate remain today, undisturbed for nearly fifty years). On October 31, 1981, exactly twenty-two years after the fire across the road, the legendary Log Cabin on the other side of Laurel Canyon Boulevard also burned to the ground, in yet another fire of mysterious origin (some reports speculated that it was a drug lab explosion). And twenty-five years after that, on October 31, 2006, The Secret Life of Houdini was published, challenging the conventional wisdom on Houdini's death.
Far more compelling than the revelations about Houdini's death, however, was something else about the illusionist that the book revealed for the first time: Harry Houdini was a spook working for both the U.S. Secret Service and Scotland Yard. And his traveling escape act, as it turns out, was pretty much a cover for intelligence activities. Just as, as I think I wrote in a previous newsletter, John Wilkes Booth used his career as a traveling stage performer as a cover for intelligence operations. And just as - sorry to have to break it to you - many of your favorite movie and television actors and musical artists continue in that tradition today.
The book, of course, doesn't make such reckless allegations about any performers other than Houdini. I added all of that. What the book does do, however, is compellingly document that Houdini was, in fact, an intelligence asset who used his magic act as a cover. Not only did the authors obtain corroborating documentation from Scotland Yard, they also received an endorsement of their claim from no less an authority than John McLaughlin, former Acting Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (who knew it was that easy? - maybe I should give John a call and run some of my theories by him).
It appears then that, of the eight celebrity residents of Laurel Canyon listed on the Laurel Canyon Association website, at least two (Novarro and Houdini), and possibly as many as four, were murdered. That seemed like a rather high homicide rate to me, so I looked up a recent study on the Internet and found that, on average, a white person in this country has about a 1-in-345 chance of being murdered. Non-white persons, of course, have a far greater chance of being murdered, but nowhere near the 1-in-4 to 1-in-2 odds that a white celebrity living in Laurel Canyon faces.
Statistically speaking, if you were a famous actor in the 1920s, you would have been better off playing a round of Russian Roulette than living in Laurel Canyon.
Anyway ... two ambitious projects in the 1940s brought significant changes to Laurel Canyon. First, Laurel Canyon Boulevard was extended into the San Fernando Valley, providing access to the canyon from both the north and the south. The widened boulevard was now a winding thoroughfare, providing direct access to the Westside from the Valley. Traffic, needless to say, increased considerably, which probably worked out well for the planners of the other project, because it meant that the increased traffic brought about by that other project probably wasn't noticed at all. And that's good, you see, because the other project was a secret one, so if I tell you about it, you have to promise not to tell anyone else.
|Lookout Mountain Laboratory
What would become known as Lookout Mountain Laboratory was originally envisioned as an air defense center. Built in 1941 and nestled in two-and-a-half secluded acres off what is now Wonderland Park Avenue, the installation was hidden from view and surrounded by an electrified fence. By 1947, the facility featured a fully operational movie studio. In fact, it is claimed that it was perhaps the world's only completely self-contained movie studio. With 100,000 square feet of floor space, the covert studio included sound stages, screening rooms, film processing labs, editing facilities, an animation department, and seventeen climate-controlled film vaults. It also had underground parking, a helicopter pad and a bomb shelter.
Over its lifetime, the studio produced some 19,000 classified motion pictures - more than all the Hollywood studios combined (which I guess makes Laurel Canyon the real 'motion picture capital of the world'). Officially, the facility was run by the U.S. Air Force and did nothing more nefarious than process AEC footage of atomic and nuclear bomb tests. The studio, however, was clearly equipped to do far more than just process film. There are indications that Lookout Mountain Laboratory had an advanced research and development department that was on the cutting edge of new film technologies. Such technological advances as 3-D effects were apparently first developed at the Laurel Canyon site. And Hollywood luminaries like John Ford, Jimmy Stewart, Howard Hawks, Ronald Reagan, Bing Crosby, Walt Disney and Marilyn Monroe were given clearance to work at the facility on undisclosed projects. There is no indication that any of them ever spoke of their work at the clandestine studio.
The facility retained as many as 250 producers, directors, technicians, editors, animators, etc., both civilian and military, all with top security clearances - and all reporting to work in a secluded corner of Laurel Canyon. Accounts vary as to when the facility ceased operations. Some claim it was in 1969, while others say the installation remained in operation longer. In any event, by all accounts the secret bunker had been up and running for more than twenty years before Laurel Canyon's rebellious teen years, and it remained operational for the most turbulent of those years.
The existence of the facility remained unknown to the general public until the early 1990s, though it had long been rumored that the CIA operated a secret movie studio somewhere in or near Hollywood. Filmmaker Peter Kuran was the first to learn of its existence, through classified documents he obtained while researching his 1995 documentary, "Trinity and Beyond." And yet even today, some 15 years after its public disclosure, one would have trouble finding even a single mention of this secret military/intelligence facility anywhere in the 'conspiracy' literature.
I think we can all agree though that there is nothing the least bit suspicious about any of that, so let's move on.
In the 1950s, as Barney Hoskyns has written in Hotel California, Laurel Canyon was home to all "the hippest young actors," including, according to Hoskyns, Marlon Brando, James Dean, James Coburn and Dennis Hopper. In addition to Hopper and Dean, yet another of the young stars of "Rebel Without a Cause" found a home in the canyon as well: Natalie Wood. In fact, Natalie lived in the very home that Cass Elliot would later turn into a Laurel Canyon party house. A fourth young star of the film, Sal Mineo, lived at the mouth of the canyon, and the fifth member of the "Rebel Without a Cause" posse, Nick Adams, lived just a mile or so away (as the crow flies) in neighboring Coldwater Canyon.
With the exception of Hopper, all of their lives were tragically cut short, proving once again that Laurel Canyon can be a very dangerous place to live.
First there was that great American icon, James Dean, who ostensibly died in a near head-on collision on September 30, 1955, at the tender age of twenty-four. Next to fall was Nick Adams, who had known Dean before either were stars, when both were working the mean streets of Hollywood as young male prostitutes. Adams died on February 6, 1968, at the age of thirty-six, in his home at 2126 El Roble Lane in Coldwater Canyon. His official cause of death was listed as suicide, of course, but as actor Forrest Tucker has noted, "All of Hollywood knows Nick Adams was knocked off." Nick's relatives reportedly received numerous hang-up calls on the day of his death, and his tape recorder, journals and various other papers and personal effects were conspicuously missing from his home. His lifeless body, sitting upright in a chair, was discovered by his attorney, Ervin "Tip" Roeder. On June 10, 1981, Roeder and his wife, actress Jenny Maxwell (best known for being spanked by Elvis in "Blue Hawaii"), were gunned down outside their Beverly Hills condo.
Next in line was Sal Mineo, whose murder on February 12, 1976 we have already covered. Last to fall was Natalie Wood, who died on November 29, 1981 in a drowning incident that has never been adequately explained. Before being found floating in the waters off Catalina Island, Wood had been aboard a private yacht in the company of actors Robert Wagner and Christopher Walken. She was forty-three when she was laid to rest.
The list of famous former residents of the canyon also includes the names of W.C. Fields, Mary Astor, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Errol Flynn, Orson Welles, and Robert Mitchum, who was infamously arrested on marijuana charges in 1948 at 8334 Ridpath Drive, the same street that would later be home to rockers Roger McGuinn, Don Henley and Glen Frey, as well as to Paul Rothchild, producer of both The Doors and Love. Mitchum's arrest, by the way, appears to have been a thoroughly staged affair that cemented his 'Hollywood bad boy' image and gave his career quite a boost, but I guess that's not really relevant here.
Another famous resident of Laurel Canyon, apparently in the 1940s, was science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein, who reportedly resided at 8775 Lookout Mountain Avenue. Like so many other characters in this story, Heinlein was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis and he had served as a naval officer. After that, he embarked on a successful writing career. And despite the fact that he was, by any objective measure, a rabid right-winger, his work was warmly embraced by the Flower Power generation.
Heinlein's best-known work is the novel Stranger in a Strange Land, which many in the Laurel Canyon scene found to be hugely influential. Ed Sanders has written, in The Family, that the book "helped provide a theoretical basis for Manson's family." Charlie frequently used Strange Land terminology when addressing his flock and he named his first Family-born son Valentine Michael Manson, in honor of the book's lead character.
David Crosby was a big Heinlein fan as well. In his autobiography, he references Heinlein on more than one occasion, and proclaims that, "In a society where people can go armed, it makes everybody a little more polite, as Robert A. Heinlein says in his books." Frank Zappa was also a member of the Robert Heinlein fan club. Barry Miles notes in his biography of the rock icon that his home contained "a copy of Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince and other essential sixties reading, including Robert Heinlein's sci-fi classic, Stranger in a Strange Land, from which Zappa borrowed the word 'discorporate' for [the song] 'Absolutely Free.'"
And that, fearless readers, more or less brings us to the Laurel Canyon era that we are primarily concerned with, the wild and wooly 1960s, which we will take a closer look at in the next chapter of this saga.
So what, if anything, have we learned today? We have learned that murder and random acts of violence have been a part of the culture of the canyon since the earliest days of its development. We have also learned that spooks posing as entertainers have likewise been a part of the canyon scene since the earliest days. And, finally, we have learned that spooks who didn't even bother to pose as entertainers were streaming into the canyon to report to work at Lookout Mountain Laboratory for at least twenty years before the first rock star set foot there.
One final note is in order here: we are supposed to believe that all of these musical icons just sort of spontaneously came together in Laurel Canyon (one finds the words "serendipitous" sprinkled freely throughout the literature). But how many peculiar coincidences do we have to overlook in order to believe that this was just a chance gathering?
Let's suppose, hypothetically speaking, that you are the young man in the photo at the top of this post, and you have recently arrived in Laurel Canyon and now find yourself fronting a band that is on the verge of taking the country by storm. Just a mile or so down Laurel Canyon Boulevard from you lives another guy who also recently arrived in Laurel Canyon, and who also happens to front a band on the verge of stardom. He happens to be married to a girl that you attended kindergarten with, and her dad, like yours, was involved in atomic weapons research and testing (Admiral George Morrison for a time did classified work at White Sands). Her husband's dad, meanwhile, is involved in another type of WMD research: chemical warfare.
This other guy's business partner/manager is a spooky ex-Marine who just happens to have a cousin who, bizarrely enough, also fronts a rock band on the verge of superstardom. And this third rock-star-on-the-rise also happens to live in Laurel Canyon, just a mile or two from your house. Just down a couple of other streets, also within walking distance of your home, live two other kids who - wouldn't you know it? - also happen to front a new rock band. These two kids happened to attend the same Alexandria, Virginia high school that you attended, and one of them also attended Annapolis, just like your dad did, and just like your kindergarten friend's dad did.
Though almost all of you hail from (or spent a substantial portion of your childhood in) the Washington, D.C. area, you now find yourselves on the opposite side of the country, in an isolated canyon high above the city of Los Angeles, where you are all clustered around a secret military installation. Given his background in research on atomic weapons, your father is probably familiar to some extent with the existence and operations of Lookout Mountain Laboratory, as is the father of your kindergarten friend, and probably the fathers of a few other Laurel Canyon figures as well.
My question here, I guess, is this: what do you suppose the odds are that all of that just came together purely by chance?
“This is how I remember my life. Other folks may not have the same memories, even though we might have shared some of the same experiences.”
So begins David Crosby’s autobiography, Long Time Gone (co-written by Carl Gottlieb). As it turns out, quite a few other folks seem to remember some people in Crosby’s life who are all but ignored in the lengthy book. The names are casually dropped only once, and not by Crosby but rather in a quote from manager Jim Dickson in which he describes the scene at the Sunset Strip clubs when The Byrds played: “We had them all. We had Jack Nicholson dancing, we had Peter Fonda dancing with Odetta, we had Vito and his Freakers.”
Following that brief mention by Dickson, Gottlieb briefly explains to readers that, “Vito and his Freakers were an acid-drenched extended family of brain-damaged cohabitants.” And that, in an incredibly self-indulgent 489-page tome, is the only mention you will find of “Vito and his Freakers” – despite the fact that, by just about all other accounts, the group dismissed as “brain-damaged cohabitants” played a key role in the early success of Crosby’s band. And the early success of Arthur Lee’s band. And the early success of Frank Zappa’s band. And the early success of Jim Morrison’s band. But especially in the early success of David Crosby’s band.
As Barry Miles noted in his biography of Frank Zappa, “The Byrds were closely associated with Vito and the Freaks: Vito Paulekas, his wife Zsou and Karl Franzoni, the leaders of a group of about 35 dancers whose antics enlivened the Byrds early gigs.” In Waiting for the Sun, Barney Hoskyns writes that the early success of The Byrds and other bands was due in no small part to “the roving troupe of self-styled ‘freaks’ led by ancient beatnik Vito Paulekas and his trusty, lusty sidekick Carl Franzoni.” Alban “Snoopy” Pfisterer, former drummer and keyboardist for the band Love, went further still, claiming that Vito actually “got the Byrds together, as I remember – they did a lot of rehearsing at his pad.”
And according to various other accounts, The Byrds did indeed utilize Vito’s ‘pad’ as a rehearsal studio, as did Arthur Lee’s band. More importantly, the Freaks drew the crowds into the clubs to see the fledgling bands perform. But as important as their contribution was to helping launch the careers of the Laurel Canyon bands, “Vito and his Freakers” were notable for something else as well; according to Barry Miles, writing in his book Hippie, “The first hippies in Hollywood, perhaps the first hippies anywhere, were Vito, his wife Zsou, Captain Fuck and their group of about thirty-five dancers. Calling themselves Freaks, they lived a semi-communal life and engaged in sex orgies and free-form dancing whenever they could.”
Some of those who were on the scene at the time agree with Miles’ assessment that Vito and his troupe were indeed the very first hippies. Arthur Lee, for example, boasted that they “started the whole hippie thing: Vito, Karl, Szou, Beatle Bob, Bryan and me.” One of David Crosby’s fellow Byrds, Chris Hillman, also credited the strange group with being at the forefront of the hippie movement: “Carl and all those guys were way ahead of everyone on hippiedom fashion.” Ray Manzarek of The Doors remembered them as well: “There were these guys named Carl and Vito who had a dance troupe of gypsy freaks. They were let in for free, because they were these quintessential hippies, which was great for tourists.”
If these folks really were the very first hippies, the first riders of that ‘counter-cultural’ wave, then we should probably try to get to know them. As it turns out, however, that is not such an easy thing to do. Most accounts – and there aren’t all that many – offer little more than a few first names, with no consensus agreement on how those first names are even spelled (“Karl” and “Carl” appear interchangeably, as do “Szou” and “Zsou,” and “Godot” and “Godo”). But for you, dear readers – because I apparently have way too much time on my hands – I have gone the extra mile and sifted through the detritus to dig up at least some of the sordid details.
By all accounts the troupe was led by one Vito Paulekas, whose full name is said to have been Vitautus Alphonsus Paulekas. Born the son of a Lithuanian sausage-maker circa 1912, Vito hailed from Lowell, Massachusetts. From a young age, he developed a habit of running afoul of the law. According to Miles, he spent a year-and-a-half in a reformatory as a teenager and “was busted several times after that.” In 1938, he was convicted of armed robbery and handed a 25-year sentence following a botched attempt at holding up a movie theater. By 1942, however, just four years later, he had been released into the custody, so to speak, of the US Merchant Marine (a branch of the US Navy during wartime), ostensibly to escort ships running lend-lease missions.
Following his release from the service, circa 1946, Vito arrived in Los Angeles. What he did for the next fifteen years or so is anyone’s guess; there is virtually no mention of those years in any of the accounts I have stumbled across. What is known is that by the early 1960s, Vito was ensconced in an unassuming building at the corner of Laurel Avenue and Beverly Boulevard, just below the mouth of Laurel Canyon (and very near Jay Sebring’s hair salon). At street level was his young wife Szou’s clothing boutique, which has been credited by some of those making the scene in those days with being the very first to introduce ‘hippie’ fashions. Upstairs was the living quarters for Vito, Szou and their young son, Godot. Downstairs was what was known as the “Vito Clay” studio, where, according to Miles and various others, Paulekas “made a living of sorts by giving clay modeling lessons to Beverly Hills matrons who found the atmosphere in his studio exciting.”
According to most accounts, it wasn’t really the Mayan-tomb decor of the studio that many of the matrons found so exciting, but rather Vito’s reportedly insatiable sexual appetite and John Holmesian physique. In any event, Vito’s students also apparently included such Hollywood luminaries as Jonathon Winters, Mickey Rooney and Steve Allen. Nevertheless, though Paulekas claimed to be a serious artist (a painter, poet, dancer and photographer, in addition to a sculptor), there is scant evidence that I have seen that supports such claims (I am not, however, the most objective of art critics, as I am, as best I can determine, apparently not cultured enough to ‘get’ the majority of what passes for art).
As for his erstwhile sidekick, Carl Orestes Franzoni, he has claimed in interviews that his “mother was a countess” and his father “was a stone carver from Rutland, Vermont. The family was brought from Italy, from the quarries in the northern part of Italy, to cut the stone for the monuments of the United States.” That would make his father, I’m guessing here, someone of some importance in the Mason community, if Carl is to be believed. By Franzoni’s own account, he grew up as something of a young hoodlum in Cincinnati, Ohio, and later went into business with some shady Sicilian characters selling mail-order breast and penis pumps out of an address on LA’s fabled Melrose Avenue. As Franzoni remembered it, his business “partner’s name was Scallacci, Joe Scallacci – the same name as the famous murderer Scallacci. Probably from the same family.” Probably so.
Franzoni, born circa 1934, hooked up with the older Paulekas sometime around 1963 and soon after became his constant sidekick. As previously mentioned, the group also included Vito’s wife Szou, an ex-cheerleader who had hooked up with Paulekas when she was just sixteen and he was already in his fifties. Also in the troupe was a young Rory Flynn (Errol Flynn’s statuesque daughter), a bizarre character named Ricky Applebaum who had half a moustache on one side of his face and half a beard on the other, most of the young girls who would later become part of Frank Zappa’s GTO project, and a lot of other oddball characters who donned ridiculous pseudonyms like Linda Bopp, Butchie, Beatle Bob, Emerald, and Karen Yum Yum.
Also flitting about the periphery of the dance troupe were a young Gail Sloatman (the future Mrs. Zappa, for those who have already forgotten) and a curious character on the LA music scene by the name of Kim Fowley. The two were, for a time, closely allied, and even cut a record together as “Bunny and the Bear” that Fowley produced (“America’s Sweethearts”). In 1966, Fowley produced a record for Vito as well, billed as “Vito and the Hands.” The 7” single, “Where It’s At,” which featured the musicianship of some of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, came no closer to entering the charts than did Fowley and Sloatman’s effort. Sloatman, by the way, soon found work as an assistant and booking agent for Elmer Valentine, who we will meet shortly.
Fowley, as with so many other characters in this story, has a rather interesting history. He was born in 1939, the son of actor Douglas Fowley, a WWII Navy veteran and attendee of St. Francis Xavier Military Academy. According to the younger Fowley’s account, he was initially abandoned to a foster home but later taken back and raised by his father. He grew up in upscale Malibu, California, where he shared his childhood home with “a bunch of actors and guys from the Navy.” At the age of six-and-a-half, Fowley had an unusual experience that he later shared with author Michael Walker: dressed up in a sailor suit by his dad and his Navy buddies, he was taken “to a photographer named William, who took a picture of me in the sailor suit. His studio was next door to the Canyon [Country] Store.” Right after that, he was driven down Laurel Canyon Boulevard to the near-mythical Schwabs Drugstore, where “everybody cheered and two chorus girls grabbed my six-year-old cock and balls and stuck a candy cigarette in my mouth.”
Nice story, Mr. Fowley. Thanks for sharing.
It’s probably safe to assume that childhood experiences such as that helped to prepare Fowley for his later employment as a young male street hustler, a profession that he practiced on the seedy streets of the city of angels (by Fowley’s own account, I should probably add here, just as it was James Dean himself who claimed to have worked those same streets with Nick Adams). Following that, Fowley spent some time serving with the Army National Guard, after which he devoted his life to working in the LA music industry as a musician, writer and producer – as well as, according to some accounts, a master manipulator.
Around 1957, Fowley played in a band known as the Sleepwalkers, alongside future Beach Boy Bruce Johnston. At times, a diminutive young guitarist named Phil Spector – who had moved out to LA with his mother not too many years earlier, following the suicide of his father when Phil was just nine – sat in with the group. During the 1960s, Fowley was best known for producing such ridiculous yet beloved novelty songs as the Hollywood Argyles’ “Alley Oop” and the Rivington’s “Papa Oom-Mow-Mow,” though he also did more respectable work, such as collaborating on some Byrds’ tracks and having some of his original songs covered by both the Beach Boys and the Flying Burrito Brothers.
In 1975, Fowley had perhaps his greatest success when he created the Runaways, further lowering the bar that Frank Zappa had already set rather low some years earlier when he had created and recorded the GTOs. The Runaways featured underage versions of Joan Jett and Lita Ford, whom Fowley tastefully attired in leather and lingerie. As he would later boast, “Everyone loved the idea of 16-year-old girls playing guitars and singing about fucking.” Especially, I would imagine, their mothers and fathers. Some of the young girls in the band, including Cherie Curry, would later accuse Fowley of requiring them to perform sexual services for he and his associates as a prerequisite for membership in the group.
Prior to assembling the Runaways, one of Fowley’s proudest accomplishments had been producing the 1969 album “I’m Back and I’m Proud” by rockabilly pioneer Gene Vincent, featuring backing vocals by Canyonite Linda Ronstadt. Just two years later, Vincent – a Navy veteran raised in that penultimate Navy town, Norfolk, Virginia – permanently checked out of the Hotel California on October 12, 1971 (there’s that date again), due reportedly to a ruptured stomach ulcer. Not long before his death, Vincent had been on tour in the UK, but he had hastily returned to the US due to pressure from, among others, promoter Don Arden. Known none-too-affectionately as the “Al Capone of Pop,” Arden had a penchant for guns and violence and he was known to openly boast of his affiliation with powerful organized crime figures. In addition to being a business partner of the equally nefarious Michael Jeffery, Arden was also the father of Sharon Osbourne and the former manager of her husband’s band, Black Sabbath … but here I have surely digressed, so let’s try to bring this back around to where we left off.
One other accomplishment of Fowley’s bears mentioning here: he received a guest vocalist credit on the Mothers of Invention album “Freak Out,” as did both Vito Paulekas and his sidekick, Carl Franzoni, to whom the song “Hungry Freaks, Daddy” was dedicated (some sources claim that Bobby Beausoleil also provided guest vocals on Zappa’s debut album, though his name does not appear in the album’s credits).
By at least as early as 1962, not long before Carl Franzoni joined the group, the Freak troupe was already hitting the clubs a couple nights each week to refine their unique style of dance (perhaps best described as an epileptic seizure set to music) and show off their distinctively unappealing, though soon to be quite popular, fashion sense. In those early days, they danced to local black R&B bands and to a band out of Fresno known as the Gauchos, in dives far removed from the fabled Sunset Strip – because, Franzoni has said, “There were no white bands [in LA] yet,” and “There were no clubs on Sunset Boulevard.”
That, of course, was all about to quickly change. As if by magic, new clubs began to spring up along the legendary Sunset Strip beginning around 1964, and old clubs considered to be long past their prime miraculously reemerged. In January 1964, a young Chicago vice cop named Elmer Valentine opened the doors to the now world-famous Whisky-A-Go-Go nightclub. Just over a year later, in spring of 1965, he opened a second soon-to-be-wildly-popular club, The Trip. Not long before that, near the end of 1964, the legendary Ciro’s nightclub began undergoing extensive renovations. Opened in 1940 by Billy Wilkerson, an associate of Bugsy Siegel, the upscale club had flourished for the first twenty years of its existence, with a clientele that regularly included Hollywood royalty and organized crime figures. By the early 1960s though the Strip was dead, and the once prestigious club had gone to seed.
Ciro’s reopened in early 1965, just before The Trip opened its doors and just in time, as it turns out, to host the very first club appearance by the musical act that was about to become the first Laurel Canyon band to commit a song to vinyl: The Byrds. By 1967, Gazzaris had opened up on the Strip as well, and in the early 1970s Valentine would open yet another club that endures to this day, The Roxy. Smaller clubs like the London Fog, where The Doors got their first booking as the house band in early 1966, opened their doors to the public in the mid 1960s as well.
The timing of the opening of Valentine’s first two clubs, and the reopening of Ciro’s, could not have been any more fortuitous. The paint was barely dry on the walls of the new clubs when bands like Love and The Doors and The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield and the Turtles and the Mothers and the Lovin’ Spoonful came knocking. The problem, however, was that the new clubs were not yet well known, Ciro’s had been long left for dead, and nobody had the slightest idea who any of these newfangled bands were. What was needed then was a way to create a buzz around the clubs that would draw people in and kick-start the Strip back to life, as well as, of course, launch the careers of the new bands.
The bands themselves could not be expected to fill the new clubs, since, besides being unknown, they also – and yeah, I know that you don’t really want to hear this and I will undoubtedly be deluged with letters of complaint, but I’m going to say it anyway – weren’t very good, at least not in their live incarnations. To be sure, they sounded great on vinyl, but that was largely due to the fact that the band members themselves didn’t actually play on their records (at least not in the early days), and the rich vocal harmonies that were a trademark of the ‘Laurel Canyon sound’ were created in the studio with a good deal of multi-tracking and overdubs. On stage, it was another matter entirely.
Enter then the wildly flamboyant and colorful Freak squad, who were one key component of the strategy that was devised to lure patrons into the clubs (the other component of the strategy, hinted at in one of the quotes near the top of this post, will be covered in installment #7). Vito and Carl’s dancers were a fixture on the Sunset Strip scene from the very moment that the new clubs opened their doors to the public, and they were, by all accounts, treated like royalty by the club owners. As John Hartmann, proprietor of the Kaleidoscope Club, acknowledged, he “would let Vito and his dancers into the Kaleidoscope free every week because they attracted people. They were really hippies, and so we had to have them. They got in free pretty much everywhere they went. They blessed your joint. They validated you. If they’re the essence of hippiedom and you’re trying to be a hippie nightclub, you need hippies.”
As the aforementioned Kim Fowley put it, with characteristic bluntness, “A band didn’t have to be good, as long as the dancers were there.” Indeed, the band was largely irrelevant, other than to provide some semblance of a soundtrack for the real show, which was taking place on the dance floor. Gail Zappa candidly admitted that, even at her husband’s shows, the real attraction was not on the stage: “The customers came to see the freaks dance. Nobody ever talks about that, but that was the case.” Frank added that, “As soon as they arrived they would make things happen, because they were dancing in a way nobody had seen before, screaming and yelling out on the floor and doing all kinds of weird things. They were dressed in a way that nobody could believe, and they gave life to everything that was going on.”
For reasons that clearly had more to do with boosting attendance at the clubs than with any actual talents displayed by the group, Vito and Carl seem to have become minor media darlings over the course of the 1960s and into the 1970s. The two can be seen, separately and together, in a string of cheap exploitation films, including Mondo Bizarro from 1966, Something’s Happening (aka The Hippie Revolt) from 1967, the notorious Mondo Hollywood, also released in 1967, and You Are What You Eat, with David Crosby, Frank Zappa and Tiny Tim, which hit theaters in 1968. In 1972, Vito made his acting debut in a non-documentary film, The White Horse Gang.
Paulekas reportedly also popped up on Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life, and Franzoni made an appearance on a 1968 Dick Clark TV special. The golden child, Godot Paulekas, was featured in a photo in Life magazine circa 1966, and the whole troupe showed up for an appearance on the Tonight Show. According to Barry Miles, Vito also “appeared regularly on the Joe Pyne Show and in between the bare-breasted girls in the late fifties and early sixties men’s magazines.”
Joe Pyne, for those of you too young to remember (myself included), is the guy that we have to thank for paving the way for the likes of Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Don Imus, Morton Downey, Jr., Jerry Springer and Wally George. For Mr. Pyne, you see, was the guy who pioneered the confrontational interview style favored by so many gasbags today. The decorated Marine Corps veteran debuted as a talk-radio host in 1950 and quickly became known for insulting and demeaning anyone who dared to disagree with him, guests and listeners alike. In 1957, he moved his show to LA, and by 1965, he was nationally syndicated both on the radio and on television. His favored targets, as you may have guessed, included hippies, feminists, gays, and anti-war activists, and his interviews frequently ended with his guest either walking off or being thrown off the stage. Nearing the peak of his popularity, Pyne died on March 23, 1970 at the age of forty-five, reportedly of lung cancer. His ideological offspring, however, live on.
Vito was in his fifties, but he had four-way sex with goddesses … He held these clay-sculpting classes on Laurel Avenue, teaching rich Beverly Hills dowagers how to sculpt. And that was the Byrds’ rehearsal room. Then Jim Dickson had the idea to put them on at Ciro’s, on the basis that all the freaks would show up and the Byrds would be their Beatles.” —Kim FowleyRecruits for Vito and Carl’s dance troupe weren’t likely hard to come by, given that, according to Miles, Vito operated “the first crash pad in LA, an open house to countless runaways where everyone was welcome for a night, particularly young women.” By the mid 1960s, the group had expanded into a second communal location in addition to the basement studio at 303 Laurel Avenue: the ubiquitous Log Cabin. According to Jack Boulware, writing in Mojo magazine, architect Robert Byrd and his son built a new guesthouse (aka ‘the treehouse’) on the property in the early 1960s, and “The following year, a communal family of weirdos moved into the cabin and treehouse, centered around two underground hipsters named Vito Paulekas and Carl Franzoni, organizers of freeform dance troupes at clubs along the Sunset Strip.” By 1967, the dancers were splitting “their rent with staff from the hippie publication The Oracle. Retired journalist John Bilby recalls at least 36 people living and partying at the Log Cabin and treehouse, including the band Fraternity of Man. ‘Tim Leary was definitely there, George Harrison and Ravi Shankar were there,’ Bilby says.”
For those who may not necessarily be ‘in the know’ about such things, the Fraternity of Man were best known for the novelty song, “Don’t Bogart Me,” Tim Leary was best known for being a painfully obvious CIA asset, and The Oracle was a San Francisco-based publication with intelligence ties that specialized in pitching psychedelic occultism to impressionable youth.
According to Barry Miles, “Franzoni’s commune ended in May 1968,” as that was when The Oracle moved out and our old friend Frank Zappa moved in. The lead Mother “had visited Karl at the log cabin on a previous trip and realized it was perfect for his needs.” And it was an easy move for Frank, since he was already living in the canyon at the home of Pamela Zarubica (aka Suzy Creamcheese) at 8404 Kirkwood Drive, where Zappa had met his new wife, Gail, and where Gail’s old kindergarten pal, James Douglas Morrison, was known to occasionally pass the time. Ms. Zarubica/Creamcheese was yet another member of Vito’s dance troupe.
As multiple sources remember it, Miles is mistaken in his contention that Franzoni’s commune came to an end; Frank Zappa took over as ringmaster, to be sure, but Franzoni and all his cohorts stayed on. Carl had a room in the basement, where he was known to bowl, usually naked and intoxicated, in the middle of the night. The doomed Christine Frka had a room down there as well, as did other future GTOs. Various other members of the dance troupe occupied other nooks and crannies in both the main house and the guesthouse/treehouse. Indeed, as Miles noted correctly, the Freak dancers became so closely associated with the Mothers of Invention that “they got dubbed as ‘the Mothers Auxiliary’ and Karl Franzoni, in particular, was included in a lot of group photographs.”
And that, my friends, is the story of Vito’s Freakers – or at least a sanitized version. Because there is, as it turns out, a very dark underbelly to this story. And much of it is centered around that angelic hippie child that the readers of Life magazine met in 1966, and who we now must sadly add to the Laurel Canyon Death List. For young Godot Paulekas, you see, never made it past the age of three (by most accounts). The specifics of the tragedy are all but impossible to determine, unfortunately, as there is little agreement in the various accounts of the event. Left unclear is exactly how the child died, when the tragedy occurred, and what age the boy was.
According to Barry Miles, “Vito and Szou’s three-year-old son Godo had fallen through a trapdoor on the roof of the building and died.” Michael Walker tells of a “two or three” year old Godot “fall[ing] to his death from a scaffold at the studio.” An article in the San Francisco Weekly had it as “a 5-year-old boy” who died when he “fell through a skylight.” Super-groupie and former Freak dancer Pamela DesBarres agreed with the skylight scenario, but not the age: “Vito’s exquisite little puppet child, Godot, fell through a skylight during a wacky photo session on the roof and died at age three-and-a-half.” Alban Pfisterer of the band Love recalled a much darker scenario: “[Vito] got married, had a baby, gave it acid, and it fell off the roof and died.”
When Robert Carl Cohen recently digitally remastered his notorious Mondo Hollywood for DVD release, he added postscripts for all the famous and infamous people who were featured in his film. For “Godo” Paulekas, he inserted the following caption: “Died age 2 – victim of medical malpractice.” Thus we now have a further muddying of the waters. Since Cohen’s claim though is so clearly at odds with every other account of the incident, and since he was quite close to Vito and thus inclined to cast his friend in the best possible light, we can probably safely disregard Cohen’s belated postscript.
The details of the incident that can be ascertained are, to put it mildly, rather disturbing. We know, for example, that a musician and writer named Raphael told writer Michael Walker that, before the child’s death, he had been present one evening at Vito’s place when Godot was brought out: “They passed that little boy around, naked, in a circle with their mouths. That was their thing about ‘introducing him to sensuality.’” We also know that Vito and Szou had a rather odd reaction to the death of their first-born son and only child, as recounted by Ms. DesBarres: “I was beside myself with sorrow, but Vito and Szou insisted on continuing our plans for the evening. We went out dancing, and when people asked where little Godot was, Vito said, ‘He died today.’ It was weird, really weird.”
That it was, but perhaps even weirder is the full text of the quote from the San Francisco Weekly that I earlier presented you with an edited version of: “[Kenneth Anger’s] first candidate to play Lucifer, a 5-year-old boy whose hippie parents had been fixtures on the Los Angeles counterculture scene, fell through a skylight to his death. By 1967, Anger had relocated to San Francisco and was searching for a new Lucifer.” As many readers may be aware, he soon found his new Lucifer in the form of Mansonite and former Grass Roots guitarist Bobby “Cupid” Beausoleil.
And so it was that the soon-to-be convicted murderer replaced the cherubic hippie child as the face of Lucifer. But what was it, one wonders, that drew Anger’s twisted eye to the young boy? And how close a relationship did Anger have with Paulekas and Franzoni? And most importantly, how did Godot Paulekas really die? We will likely never know for sure, but let’s just quickly review some of the factors that might come into play when searching for a solution to this mystery:
- The young boy was reportedly subjected to pedophilic treatment by his parents and others.
- The boy’s parents displayed a truly chilling indifference to the child’s death.
- Kenneth Anger had expressed an interest in filming the boy.
- Pamela DesBarres contends that the toddler died during a “wacky photo session.”
- Alban Pfisterer has claimed that the child was drugged.
- Bobby Beausoleil has said that some of Anger’s film projects were for private collectors: “every once in a while he’d do a little thing that wouldn’t be for distribution.”
- Finally, according to biographer Bill Landis, Kenneth Anger was at one time investigated by the police on suspicion that he had been producing snuff flicks.•
You all will have to draw your own conclusions on this one. As a responsible journalist, I obviously cannot indulge in any reckless speculation here, and I think we can all agree that I have not tried to lead you in any specific direction, but have merely laid the facts out on the table for your review. Moving on then …
Pamela DesBarres shed further light on the dark edges of the Freak troupe with this description of a scene that Vito had staged one evening in his studio: “two tenderly young girls were tonguing each other … everyone was silently observing the scene as if it were part of their necessary training by the headmaster, Vito … One of the girls on the four-poster was only twelve years old, and a few months later Vito was deported to Tahiti for this very situation, and many more just like it.”
It was actually Haiti that Vito appears to have fled to, and then to Jamaica (which at the time had no extradition treaty with the United States), accompanied by his wife Szou and their new baby daughter Groovee Nipple (or possibly Gruvi Nipple; does anyone really care which is the proper spelling?) According to Miles, this occurred in December of 1968, though other accounts vary. Carl Franzoni, meanwhile, became embroiled in some unspecified legal troubles of his own and went into hiding, resurfacing in Canada by some reports. At around that same time, Frank Zappa moved on to yet another location in Laurel Canyon, a high-security home on Woodrow Wilson Drive.
Also at around that same time, according to author Ed Sanders, the Manson Family came calling at the Log Cabin: “One former Manson family associate claims that a group of four to six family members lived on Laurel Canyon Boulevard in the log cabin house once owned by cowboy-actor Tom Mix. They lived there for a few weeks, in late 1968, in a cave-like hollow in back of the residence.” According to Franzoni, Manson also came calling at the Vito Clay studio on Laurel Avenue: “Applebaum took over Vito’s place when Vito vacated at Beverly and Laurel. So he inherited all the people that came after that … he was the beginning of the Manson clan. Manson came there because he had heard about Vito but Vito was gone.”
It does not appear as though Vito was actually deported, by the way, but rather that he fled the country in a very Mike Ruppertian fashion to avoid likely prosecution. In any event, it makes perfect sense, in retrospect, that Charlie Manson and his Family came calling just as Vito fled the scene, and that a Mansonite replaced the Freak child as the embodiment of Lucifer. For the truth, you see, is that, in many significant ways, Charles Manson was little more than a younger version of Vito Paulekas. Consider, if you will, all of the following Mansonesque qualities that Vito (and to some extent, Carl) seemed to share:
- Vito appears to have spent a good portion of his younger years in prisons and reform schools, as did, as we all know, Charles Milles Manson.
- Vito considered himself to be a gifted artist and poet, as did our old friend Charlie Manson.
- Vito, according to Miles, “was something of a guru,” as was, quite obviously, Chuck Manson.
- Vito surrounded himself with a flock of very young (often underage) women, as did Manson.
- Vito was considerably older than his followers, and so too was Charlie.
- When Vito addressed his flock, they listened with rapt attention as though they were being delivered the word of God, as was true with Charlie as well.
- Carl Franzoni was known to wear a black cape and refer to himself as “Captain Fuck,” while Manson was also partial to black capes and declared himself to be “the God of Fuck.”
- Vito is said to have had a virtually insatiable libido, as did, of course, Chuck Manson.
- Vito’s flock adopted nicknames to aid in the depersonalization process, as did Charlie’s.
- Vito’s troupe included a Beverly Hills hairstylist named Sheldon Jaman, while Charlie’s included a Beverly Hills hairpiece stylist named Charles Watson.
- Vito believed in introducing children to sexuality at a very young age, while in the Manson Family, as Sanders has noted, “Infant sexuality was encouraged.”Vito apparently liked to stage live sex shows for his followers, usually involving underage participants, which was also a specialty of Charles Milles Manson.
- Finally, Vito encouraged his followers to drug themselves while he himself largely abstained, thus enabling him to at all times maintain control, while Manson limited his own drug intake for the very same reason.
Franzoni and Manson were not, by the way, the only folks on the Laurel Canyon/Sunset Strip scene who developed a fondness for black capes in the latter half of the 1960s. As Michael Walker noted in Laurel Canyon, during that same period of time David Crosby had “taken to wearing an Oscar Wilde/Frank Lloyd Wright-ish cape wherever he went.”
In unrelated news, Ed Sanders notes in The Family that, “Around March 10, 1968, a convoy of seven Process automobiles containing thirty people and fourteen Alsatian dogs journeyed toward Los Angeles.” Vincent Bugliosi added, in his best-selling Helter Skelter, that in “1968 and 1969, The Process launched a major recruiting drive in the United States. They were in Los Angeles in May and June of 1968 and for at least several months in the fall of 1969.” The Processians, it should be noted, were instantly recognizable on the streets of LA due to the fact that they had a curious habit of donning black capes wherever they went.
In other news, it appears as though Frank Zappa also displayed some of the same less-than-admirable qualities shared by Manson and Paulekas. As DesBarres observed, “Vito was just like Frank, he never got high either. They were both ringmasters who always wanted to be in control.” And as Barry Miles noted in his Zappa biography, Frank’s daughter Moon “recalls men with straggling beards, body odour and bad posture who crouched naked near her playthings …” Also, the “Zappa children watched porn with their parents and were encouraged in their own sexuality as soon as they reached puberty. When they became teenagers, Gail insisted they shower with their overnight guests in order to conserve water.” Because, you know, apparently the Zappas were having a hard time paying their water bill.
By the early 1970s, Vito Paulekas had resurfaced up north in Cotati, California, with Carl Franzoni once again at his side. The two were, by all accounts, treated like rock stars in the funky little town, and they are to this day proudly and prominently featured on the city’s official website. By some accounts, Vito even served as mayor of the town, with Franzoni assisting as his Director of Parks and Recreation. Paulekas also taught classes at Sonoma State College, presumably in the art department. Szou eventually split from Vito and went to work for an attorney, leaving the hippie life (and hopefully the “Z” in her name) behind. Franzoni, meanwhile, turned up now and then on that early version of America’s Got Talent known as The Gong Show (apparently as one of the ‘Worm Dancers’).
The Gong Show, of course, was the brainchild of Chuck Barris, who famously claimed that during the days when he appeared to be working as a mild-mannered game show producer, he was actually on the payroll of the CIA, and that while he was ostensibly serving as a chaperone to the couples who had won trips on The Dating Game, what he was really doing was carrying out assassinations. Kind of like, I guess you could say, that Harry Houdini guy. One reader, by the way, insists that “Chucky Baby” was at one time a resident of – guess where? – Laurel Canyon (though I have not been able to confirm that).
Anyway, during those same 1970s, “The cabin and treehouse scene,” according to Jack Boulware, “grew creepy.” Actually, it had always been pretty creepy, it likely just became a little more openly creepy. Eric Burden of the Animals moved in after Zappa vacated and the property continued to be communally occupied. In fact, it appears to have remained something of a commune throughout the 1970s, quite possibly right up until the time that it burned to the ground on October 31, 1981. Who paid the rent is anybody’s guess – as is why such a prestigious property seems to have been made available for dirt cheap to pretty much any “communal family of weirdos” who wanted to move in.
Vito Paulekas and Carl Franzoni appear to have remained in northern California throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. Franzoni was still milling about the area as recently as 2002. In February of this year, the aging Freak, now reportedly 74, rode along on a tour of 1960s hotspots offered by a local tour company and delighted the crowd by reenacting his distinctive dance style in front of Vito’s former studio. The tour operator billed Franzoni as “the King of the Freaks,” a title formerly held by his mentor, Vito Paulekas. The original king, alas, had died in October of 1992. His memorial service was held, appropriately enough, on October 31, 1992.
“As all halfway-decent managers in the rock era have done, [Jim] Dickson worked on seducing the in-crowd and creating a buzz around [The Byrds] … The timing was perfect … LA’s baby-boomers were mobile, getting around, looking for action. And now they were joined by the hip elite of Hollywood itself, from Sal Mineo and Peter Fonda to junkie comic Lenny Bruce.” —Barney Hoskyns, Waiting for the Sun
As important as the Freaks were to building an audience for the new Laurel Canyon bands, there was another group that played a key role as well: Hollywood’s so-called “Young Turks.”
Many of these young and glamorous Hollywood stars forged very close bonds with the Laurel Canyon musicians. Some of them, including Peter Fonda, found homes in the canyon so that they could live, work and party among the rock stars (and, in their free time, pass around John Phillips’ wife to just about every swinging dick in the canyon, including Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, Warren Beatty, Roman Polanski, and Gene Clark of The Byrds). Some of them never left; Jack Nicholson to this day lives in a spacious estate just off the portion of Mulholland Drive that lies between Laurel Canyon and Coldwater Canyon. Not far west of Nicholson’s property (which now includes the neighboring estate formerly owned by Marlon Brando) sits the longtime home of Warren Beatty.
Like the Freaks, the Turks became an immediate and constant presence on the newly emerging Sunset Strip scene. And as with the Freaks, their presence on the Strip was heavily promoted by the media. Locals and tourists alike knew where to go to gawk at the Freaks and, as an added bonus, quite possibly rub shoulders with the likes of Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Dennis Hopper and Warren Beatty, along with their female counterparts like Jane Fonda, Nancy Sinatra and Sharon Tate.
Occult imagery from the film The Trip.
From the symbiotic relationship between Laurel Canyon actors and Laurel Canyon musicians arose a series of feature films that are now considered counter-cultural classics. One such film was 1967’s The Trip, an unintentionally hilarious attempt to create a cinematic facsimile of an LSD trip. Written by, of all people, Jack Nicholson, the movie starred fellow Turks Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Bruce Dern. Seated in the director’s chair was Roger Corman, who, throughout his career, worked side-by-side with David Crosby’s dad on no less than twenty-three feature films. Recruited to supply the soundtrack for the film was Gram Parson’s International Submarine Band (Parson’s music, however, was ultimately not used, though the band does make a brief on-screen appearance). The house where most of the film was shot, at the top of Kirkwood Drive in Laurel Canyon, was the home of Love’s Arthur Lee.
Another ‘psychedelic’ cult film of the late 1960s with deep roots in Laurel Canyon was the Monkee’s 1968 big-screen offering, Head. Also scripted by Nicholson (with assistance from Bob Rafelson), the movie included cameo appearances by canyon dwellers Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson and Frank Zappa. The music – performed, of course, by The Monkees – was a mix of songs written by the band and contributions from Canyon songwriters like Carol King and Harry Nilsson. And shockingly, some of that music is actually pretty good. Even more shockingly, the movie overall is arguably the most watchable of the 1960s cult films. It is certainly a vast improvement over, for example, 1968’s wretched Psych Out (starring Nicholson and Dern).
I do realize, by the way, that some of you out there in readerland cringe every time that I mention The Monkees as though they were a ‘real’ band. The reality though is that they were every bit as ‘real’ as most of their contemporaries. And while the made-for-TV Beatles replicants were looked down upon by music critics and fans alike, they were fully accepted as members of the musical fraternity by the other Laurel Canyon bands. The homes of both Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork were popular canyon hangouts in the late ‘60s for a number of ‘real’ musicians. Also regularly dropping by Dolenz’ party house were Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson.
The difference in perception between their peers and the public was attributable to the fact that the other bands knew something that the fans did not: the very same studio musicians who appeared without credit on The Monkee’s albums also appeared without credit on their albums. And then, of course, there was the fact that so many of Laurel Canyon’s ‘real’ musicians had taken a stab at being a part of The Monkees, including Steven Stills, Love’s Bryan MacLean, and Three Dog Night’s Danny Hutton – all of whom answered the Monkees’ casting call and were rejected.
There were undoubtedly other future stars who auditioned for the show as well, though most would probably prefer not to discuss such things. Despite persistent rumors, however, there was one local musician who we can safely conclude did not read for a part: Charles Manson. Given that the show was cast in 1965 and began its brief television run in 1966, while Charlie was still imprisoned at Terminal Island awaiting his release in March of 1967, there doesn’t appear to be any way that Manson could have been considered for a part on the show. And that’s kind of a shame when you think about it, because if he had been, we might today remember Charlie Manson not as one of America’s most notorious criminals, but rather as the guy who made Marcia Brady swoon.
And, let’s be honest here, would that really have been any worse than seeing her go ga-ga over the likes of Davy Jones? I mean, I could have understood if she had gotten weak in the knees over, you know, a real man like David Cassidy or Bobby Sherman. Now, I hope we can all agree that those guys were cool … right? Is everyone with me on this? Anyone? … Anyone? …
You know, I’m thinking back right now as I sit here, and I can actually picture in my mind the covers of a couple of Bobby Sherman albums that I had in my personal coll … err, that we had lying around the house for some reason, I’m not really sure why, and … come to think of it, I think there might have even been a Bobby Sherman poster or two pulled from the pages of Tiger Beat magazine, and, uhmm, I suppose I can see how that might seem a little bit, uhhh, what’s the word I’m looking for? … ‘gay’ or whatever to a modern, twenty-first-century-man-about-town, but I’m sure that, if you checked into it, you would find that there were a lot of young boys back ‘in the day’ who just really dug Bobby Sherman and those great songs like “Julie (Do You Love Me)” and “Easy Come, Easy Go” and … uhmm … maybe this is a good time to get back to where we left off.
Returning then to the counter-cultural films of the 1960s, the most critically acclaimed of the lot, and the one with the deepest roots in Laurel Canyon, was Easy Rider. Directed (sort of) by Dennis Hopper, from a script co-written by he and Peter Fonda, the film starred Fonda and Hopper along with Jack Nicholson (the only one in the movie who did anything resembling actual acting). Hopper’s walrus-mustachioed character in the film was based on David Crosby, who was regularly seen racing his motorcycle up and down the winding streets of Laurel Canyon (that motorcycle, by the way, had been a gift from Crosby’s good buddy, Peter Fonda). Fonda’s absurd ‘Captain America’ character was inspired either by John Phillips’ riding partner, Gram Parsons, or by Crosby’s former bandmate in The Byrds, Roger McGuinn (depending upon who is telling the story.) That very same Roger McGuinn scored the original music for the film. His contributions were joined on the soundtrack by offerings from fellow Canyonite musicians The Byrds, Steppenwolf, Fraternity of Man and Jimi Hendrix. And the movie’s hippie commune was reportedly created and filmed in the canyons, near Mulholland Drive.
Since Easy Rider had such deep roots in the Laurel Canyon scene, we need to briefly focus our attention here on one other individual who worked on the film: art director Jeremy Kay, aka Jerry Kay. Before Easy Rider, Kay had worked on such cinematic abominations as Angels from Hell, Hells Angels on Wheels (with Jack Nicholson), and Scorpio Rising (Kenneth Anger’s occult-tinged homage to gay bikers). In the mid-1970s, Kay would write, direct and produce a charming little film entitled Satan’s Children. Of far more interest here than his film credits though is his membership in the 1960s in a group known as the Solar Lodge of the Ordo Templi Orientis (or OTO), which found itself in the news, and not in a good way, just after Easy Rider opened on theater screens across America.
Two weeks after Easy Rider premiered on July 14, 1969, police acting on a phone tip raided the Solar Lodge’s compound near Blythe, California and found a six-year-old boy locked outdoors in a 6’x6’ wooden crate in the sweltering desert heat. The young boy, whose father was a Los Angeles County probation officer (as was Michelle Phillip’s father, by the way), had been chained to a steel plate for nearly two months in temperatures reaching as high as 117° F. According to an FBI report, the box also contained a can “partially filled with human waste and swarming with flies … The stench was nauseating.” Before being put in the box, the child had been burned with matches and beaten with bamboo poles by cult members. The leader of the cult, Georgina Brayton, had reportedly told cult members that “when it was convenient, she was going to give [the boy] LSD and set fire to the structure in which he was chained and give him just enough chain to get out of reach of the fire.” Killing the child had also been discussed (and apparently condoned by the boy’s mind-fucked mother).
Eleven adult members of the sect were charged with felony child abuse, the majority of them young white men in their early twenties. All were brought to trial and convicted. In a curious bit of timing, the raid that resulted in the arrests and convictions coincided with the torture and murder of musician Gary Hinman by a trio of Manson acolytes. Though it is, not surprisingly, vehemently denied by concerned parties, various sources have claimed that Manson had ties to the group, which also maintained a home near the USC campus in Los Angeles. There is no doubt that Charlie preached the same dogma, including the notion of an apocalyptic race war looming on the horizon. The massacre at the Tate residence occurred less than two weeks after the raid on the OTO compound. Manson’s Barker Ranch hideout would be raided a few months later, on October 12, 1969 – the birthday, as I may have already mentioned, of Aleister Crowley, the Grand Poobah of the OTO until his death in 1947.
Sorry about that little digression, folks. I’m not entirely sure how we ended up at the Barker Ranch when the focus of this installment was supposed to be on the Young Turks. So having now established that those Turks were a fully integrated part of the Laurel Canyon/Sunset Strip scene, and also that they played an important role in luring the public out to the new clubs to check out the new bands, our next task is to get to know a little bit about who these folks are and where they came from. Let’s begin with Mr. Bruce Dern, who has some of the most provocative connections of any of the characters in this story.
It is probably safe to say that Dern’s parents had rather impressive political connections, given that baby Bruce’s godparents were sitting First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and future two-time Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson (he lost both times, in 1952 and 1956, to Eisenhower). Bruce’s paternal grandfather was a guy by the name of George Dern, who served as Secretary of War under President Franklin Roosevelt (for the youngsters in the crowd, ‘Secretary of War’ is what we used to call the ‘Secretary of Defense’ in a slightly less Orwellian era). George had also served as Governor of Utah and Chairman of the National Governors’ Association. Bruce’s mother was born Jean MacLeish, and she happened to be the sister of Archibald MacLeish, who also served under Franklin Roosevelt, as the Director of the War Department’s Office of Facts and Figures and as the Assistant Director of the Office of War Information. In other words, Archibald MacLeish was essentially America’s Minister of War Propaganda. He also served at various times as an Assistant Secretary of State and as the Librarian of Congress. By far the most impressive item on his résumé, however, was his membership in everyone’s favorite secret society, Skull and Bones (class of 1915, one year before Prescott Bush was tapped in 1916).
It would appear then that, even by Laurel Canyon standards, Mr. Dern has friends in very high places. Let’s turn our attention next to the guy being embraced by Dern in the photo above, Mr. Peter Fonda. Of course, we all know that Fonda is the son of good ol’ Hank Fonda, lovable Hollywood liberal and all-around nice guy. And certainly even a contrarian such as myself would not be so bold as to suggest that Henry Fonda might have some skeletons in his closet … right? Just for the hell of it though, there are a few chapters of the Hank Fonda saga that we should probably review here.
We can begin, I suppose, by noting that Hank served as a decorated US Naval Intelligence officer during World War II, thus sparing Peter the stigma of being the only member of the Laurel Canyon in-crowd to have not been spawned by a member of the military/intelligence community. Not too many years after the war, Hank’s wife, Francis Ford Seymour, was found with her throat slashed open with a straight razor. Peter was just ten years old at the time of his mother’s, uhmm, suicide on April 14, 1950. When Seymour had met and married Hank, she was the widow of George Brokaw, who had, curiously enough, previously been married to prominent CIA asset Claire Booth Luce.
Fonda rebounded quickly from Seymour’s unusual death and within eight months he was married once again, to Susan Blanchard, to whom he remained married until 1956. In 1957, Hank married yet again, this time to Italian Countess Afdera Franchetti (who followed up her four-year marriage to Fonda with a rumored affair with newly-sworn-in President John Kennedy). Franchetti, as it turns out, is the daughter of Baron Raimondo Franchetti, who was a consultant to fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. The countess is also the great-granddaughter of Louise Sarah Rothschild, of the ever-popular Rothschild banking family (perhaps you’ve heard of them?)
Before moving on, I should probably mention that Hank’s first wife, Margaret Sullavan – who was yet another child of Norfolk, Virginia – also allegedly committed suicide, on New Year’s Day, 1960. Nine months later, her daughter Bridget followed suit. In 1961, very soon after the deaths of first her mother and then her sister, Sullavan’s other daughter, Brook Hayward, walked down the aisle with the next Young Turk on our list, Dennis Hopper. For those who may be unfamiliar with Hopper’s body of work, he is the guy who was once found wandering naked and bewildered in a Mexican forest. And the guy who, after divorcing Hayward in 1969, married Michelle Phillips on Halloween day, 1970, only to have her file for divorce just eight days later claiming that Hopper had kept her handcuffed and imprisoned for a week while making “unnatural sexual demands.”
Without passing judgment here, I think it’s fair to say that Michelle Phillips has been around the block a time or two, if you catch my drift, so if even she thought Hopper’s demands were a bit over the top, then one can only wonder just how “unnatural” they might have been. For what it’s worth, Hopper just recently told a journalist that he “didn’t handcuff her, [he] just punched her out!” In his mind, apparently, that makes him somewhat less of an asshole.
Most official biographies of Hopper would lead one to believe that he was the son of a simple farmer. Dennis recently acknowledged, however, that that was clearly not the case: “My mother’s father was a wheat farmer and I was raised on their farm. But my father was not a farmer.” To the contrary, Hopper’s dad was “a working person in intelligence” who during WWII “was in the OSS. He was in China, Burma, India.” Hopper has proudly proclaimed that his father “was one of the 100 guys that liberated General Wainright out of prison in Korea,” which might be a little more impressive were it not for the fact that it was actually the Red Army that freed Wainright and other prisoners; the US intel team just came to pick them up, debrief them and transport them home … but that, I suppose, isn’t really relevant.
After the war, according to Hopper, his dad carried a gun, which I suppose is what most lay ministers in the Methodist Church do. The family also left the farm in Kansas and relocated to San Diego, California, home of the Imperial Beach Naval Air Station, the United States Naval Radio Station, the United States Naval Amphibious Base, the North Island Naval Air Station, Fort Rosecrans Military Reservation, the United States Naval Training Center, the United States Marine Corps Recruit Depot, and the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station. And just north of the city sits the massive Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base. Other than that though, San Diego is just a sleepy little beach town where Hopper’s dad ostensibly worked for the Post Office.
The modern version of Dennis Hopper, by the way, is wildly at odds with the hippie image that he at one time tried very hard to cultivate. Today’s Dennis Hopper is an unapologetic cheerleader for Team Bush who proudly boasts of having voted a straight Republican ticket for nearly thirty years. He could very well turn up on the campaign trail in the coming months with his lips firmly planted on the ass of war criminal John McCain.
To briefly recap then, we have thus far met three of the ‘Young Turks’ and we have found that one of them is the nephew of a Bonesman, another is the son of a Naval Intelligence officer who was once married to a Rothschild descendent, and the third is the slightly deranged son of an OSS officer. Come to think of it, we have actually covered one of the ‘Turkettes’ as well, since Jane Fonda obviously came from the same family background as her younger brother, Peter. As for the other female members of the posse, Sharon Tate was the daughter of Lt. Col. Paul Tate, a career US Army intelligence officer, and Nancy Sinatra is, of course, the daughter of Francis Albert Sinatra, whose known associates included Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Sam Giancana, Carlo Gambino, Goetano Luchese and Joseph Fishetti (a cousin of Al Capone).
10050 Cielo Drive (now 10066 Cielo Drive), as it looks today.
Frank Sinatra was also a client of hairdresser-to-the-stars Jay Sebring, as was Henry Fonda, who also at one time, strangely enough, lived in the guesthouse at 10050 Cielo Drive. Yet another client of Sebring’s was the next Young Turk on our list, Warren Beatty, whose father, Ira Owens Beaty, was ostensibly a professor of psychology. Young Warren, however, spent all of his early years living in various spooky suburbs of Washington, DC. He was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1937, after which his father moved the family to Norfolk, Virginia, which I think I may have mentioned is home to the world’s largest Naval facility (the reason for that, by the way, is that Norfolk is the gateway to the nation’s capital). The family later relocated to Arlington, Virginia, home of the Pentagon, where Warren attended high school and where he was known on the football field, as John Phillips (who attended a rival school) remembers it, as ‘Mad Dog’ Beaty.
Ira Beaty’s relatively frequent relocations, and the fact that those relocations always seemed to land the family in DC suburbs that are of considerable significance to the military/intelligence community, would tend to indicate that Warren’s dad was something other than what he appeared to be – though that is, of course, a speculative assessment. But if Ira Beaty was on the payroll of some government entity, working within the psychology departments of various DC-area universities, then it wouldn’t require a huge leap of faith to further speculate about what type of work he was doing, given the wholesale co-opting of the field of psychology by the MK-ULTRA program and affiliated projects.
The next Young Turk up for review is the one who went on to become arguably the most acclaimed actor of his generation, Mr. Jack Nicholson. The following is a biographical sketch of Nicholson as presented by Wikipedia: “Bundy was born at the Elizabeth Lund Home for Unwed Mothers in Burlington, Vermont. The identity of his father remains a mystery … To avoid social stigma, Bundy’s grandparents Samuel and Eleanor Cowell claimed him as their son; in taking their last name, he became Theodore Robert Cowell. He grew up believing his mother Eleanor Louise Cowell to be his older sister. Bundy biographers Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth state that he learned Louise was actually his mother while he was in high school. True crime writer Ann Rule states that it was around 1969, shortly following a traumatic breakup with his college girlfriend.”
Uhhm … hang on a minute … I think I might have screwed up. Something doesn’t seem quite right, but I’m not exactly sure what …. Oh, shit! I see what I did wrong! I accidentally cut and pasted ‘serial killer’ Ted Bundy’s bio instead of Jack Nicholson’s. Sorry about that. This is how Jack’s bio is supposed to read: Nicholson was born at some indeterminate location to an underage, unwed showgirl. The identity of his father remains a mystery … To avoid social stigma, Nicholson’s grandparents John Joseph and Ethel Nicholson claimed him as their son; in taking their last name, he became John Joseph Nicholson, Jr. He grew up believing his mother June Francis Nicholson to be his older sister. Reporters state that he learned June was actually his mother in 1974, when he was 37 years old. By then, June had been dead for just over a decade, having only lived to the age of 44.
It is said that Nicholson was born at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City, but there is no record of such a birth at the hospital or in the city’s archives. As it turns out, Jack Nicholson has no birth certificate. Until 1954, by which time he was nearly an adult, he did not officially exist. Even today, the closest thing he has to a birth certificate is a ‘Certificate of a Delayed Report of Birth’ that was filed on May 24, 1954. The document lists John and Ethel Nicholson as the parents and identifies the location of the birth as the Nicholson’s home address in Neptune, New Jersey.
It appears then that there is no way to determine who Jack Nicholson really is. He has told journalists that he has no interest in identifying who his father was, nor, it would appear, in verifying his mother’s identity. What we do know is that the nucleus of the 1960s clique known as the Young Turks (and Turkettes) was composed of the following individuals: the nephew of a Bonesman; the son of an OSS officer; the son of a Naval intelligence officer; the daughter of that same Naval intelligence officer; the daughter of an Army intelligence officer; the daughter of a guy who openly associated with prominent gangsters throughout his life; the son of a probable spychologist; and a guy whose early years are so shrouded in mystery that he may or may not actually exist.
I should probably also mention here that Henry Fonda scored his first acting gig through Dorothy “Dodie” Brando, the director of a local theater and the mother of Jack Nicholson’s future neighbor, Marlon Brando. Being the small world that it is, Marlon’s mom happened to be a good friend of Hank’s mom, Elma Fonda. Truth be told, the families had likely had close ties for a long time. A very long time. The ancestors of both Marlon Brando and Henry Fonda, you see, arrived in New York at nearly the same time, roughly three-and-a-half centuries ago.
Marlon Brando is in a direct line of descent from French Huguenot colonists Louis DuBois and Catharine Blanchan DuBois, who arrived in New York from Mannheim, Germany circa 1660 and promptly founded New Rochelle. Other descendents of DuBois include former U.S. Senator Leverett Saltonstall, former Massachusetts Governor and CFR member William Weld, current California First Lady Maria Shriver, and quite likely U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Zachary Taylor.
Henry Fonda, on the other hand, is a direct descendent of Jellis Douw Fonda and Hester Jans Fonda, Dutch colonists who arrived in New York circa 1650 and settled near what would become Albany. The Fondas had sailed out of Friesland, Netherlands on a ship dubbed the Valckenier, which happened to be co-owned by a very wealthy Dutchman by the name of Jan-Baptist van Rensselaer. And Mr. van Rensselaer, as those who have been paying attention in class will recall, happened to be from the bloodline that would one day produce a guy by the name of David van Cortland Crosby.
It would appear then that Peter Fonda kind of owed Crosby that Triumph motorcycle that he gave him back in the ‘60s, what with David’s ancestors having been cool enough to give Peter’s ancestors a lift over to the New World and all.
One other thing we could note here about Hank Fonda before wrapping up this installment: on September 28, 1919, when Henry was just fourteen years old, he bore witness to a crime so brutally sadistic and depraved that one wonders what such an event would do to a young boy’s psyche. According to an account published at the time, a young black man named Will Brown, accused of raping a white girl, was beaten unconscious by an angry mob. His clothes were then torn off and he was hanged from a lamppost. Though quite dead, his corpse was then riddled with bullets, after which he was cut down and dragged behind a car. His body was then doused with fuel and burned. Following that, Mr. Brown’s charred, battered, bullet-ridden corpse was proudly dragged through the streets of downtown. To commemorate the event, the lynch rope was cut into small pieces that were sold for 10 cents each to eager buyers.
And that, my friends, is a snapshot of the sick society we live in … but here, perhaps, I have digressed.
Another view of 10066 Cielo Drive; now as in the sixties it is accessed via the private road that runs behind the stilt homes.
Let’s wrap up this installment with a quick review of what we have learned about the people populating Laurel Canyon in the mid-to-late 1960s. We know that one subset of residents was a large group of musicians who all decided, nearly simultaneously, to flood into the canyon. The most prominent members of this group were, to an overwhelming degree, the sons and daughters of the military/intelligence community. We also know that mingled in with them were the young stars of Hollywood, who also were, to an astonishing degree, the sons and daughters of the military/intelligence community. And, finally, we know that also in the mix were scores of military/intelligence personnel who operated out of the facility known as Lookout Mountain Laboratory.
I got to tell you here folks that, given the relatively small size of Laurel Canyon, I’m beginning to wonder if there was any room left over for any normal folks who might have wanted to live the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. But even so, I’m sure that there are still some hardcore ‘coincidence theorists’ in the crowd who will still see all of this as “much ado about nothing.” I am committed though to helping those folks see the light, no matter how much it might hurt their sensitive eyes, so I am going to toss one more provocative element into the Laurel Canyon mix, courtesy of Paul Young’s L.A. Exposed:
“The most infamous male madam [throughout LA’s sordid history] would have to be Billy Bryars, the wealthy son of an oil magnate, and part-time producer of gay porn. Bryars was said to have a stellar group of customers using his ‘brothel’ at the summit of Laurel Canyon. In fact, some have claimed that none other than J. Edgar Hoover, the founder and chief executive officer of the FBI, was one of his best clients … when Bryars fell under police scrutiny in 1973, allegedly for trafficking in child pornography, officers obtained a number of confessions from some of his hustlers, and some of them identified Hoover and [Clyde] Tolson as ‘Mother John and Uncle Mike,’ and claimed that they had serviced them on numerous occasions.”
It appears then that the top law-enforcement officials in the nation were also a part of the Laurel Canyon scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s, along with various other unnamed persons of prominence. And we also find, not too shockingly at this point, that Laurel Canyon was a portal of child pornography, which of course goes hand-in-hand with the reports that we have already reviewed of organized, multi-perpetrator child sexual abuse. And lest we forget, we also have that long and bloody Laurel Canyon Death List, which, in the next installment, is going to get even longer, and even bloodier.
Stay tuned …
* * * * * * * * *
And now, faithful readers, allow me to address a few common questions that have arisen, beginning with:
1. What is the subtitle of the series, “The Strange but Mostly True Story …” supposed to mean? Do you just make this shit up as you go along?
The subtitle alludes to the fact that when dealing with anything concerning Hollywood, there is almost always more than one version of the ‘truth.’ Much of what passes for truth in Hollywood is actually legend and mythmaking, and much of what is dismissed as rumor and legend is actually at least an approximation of the truth. I have endeavored to report this story as accurately as humanly possible by utilizing my finely-honed bullshit detector to separate fact from fiction. Most of the important details of the story, in any event, are not disputed.
2. Are you planning on ultimately publishing this as a book?
I doubt it. I considered putting it together as a book manuscript, but I ultimately decided to put it out on the Internet instead, for a couple of reasons, the first of which is that I wanted people to actually read it. And you people, if we’re being honest here, aren’t really into that ‘old school’ concept of buying and reading books. The reality is that, based on the traffic to my site of late, far more people have read this series in the couple of months that it was been in progress than have read my last book after four years in print.
The other reason that I chose to present this material via the Internet is so that all of you can help to insure that the story is told as accurately as possible. This is, in a sense, a collaborative effort. Though I am willing to do most of the heavy lifting, I am relying on all of you to point out any gaffes or omissions. In other words, this is very much a work in progress and I have already made some minor corrections in previous posts thanks to feedback from readers.
Thanks to one particularly helpful reader who has access to California’s Birth, Death, Marriage and Divorce Indexes, as well as U.S. Census information, we now know a little more about the Paulekas clan than we did before. Vitautas Alfonso Paulekas was born on May 20, 1913 in Massachusetts, the son of John and Rose Paulekas. He had one older sister, Albena, and two younger brothers, Bronislo and John. Vito married Szou (real name Sueanne C. Shaffer) on July 7, 1961, when he was 48 and she was just 18. If they met when she was 16, as seems quite probable, then Vito was 46 at the time, rather than in his fifties as previously reported.
By far the most interesting information to surface concerns young Godo Paulekas. Born on December 1, 1963, Godo died on December 23, 1966, having just made it past his third birthday. December 23 was, curiously enough, the winter solstice (or very close to it). And it wasn’t just any winter solstice, mind you, but specifically the first winter solstice in the Age of Satan (as declared by Kenneth Anger’s buddy, Anton LaVey, on April 30, 1966). The date of his death also means that young Godo died less than 48 hours before Christmas morning, and yet his parents still thought it a good time to go out dancing.
Vito and Sueanne divorced in Northern California in March of 1975. Before doing so, they produced several more children, each given increasingly ridiculous names. Gruvi Nipples Paulekas was born on June 23, 1967, exactly six months after Godo’s death and, therefore, very near the summer solstice. Bp Paulekas was born on December 29, 1969, just days after the third anniversary of Godo’s death. Bizarrely enough, Sky Paulekas was born on December 1, 1971, on what would have been Godo’s eighth birthday. Last but certainly not least, Phreekus Mageekus Paulekas was born on January 28, 1974, a little over a year before Vito and Sueanne divorced. According to one report, Gruvi has joined Godo in the great beyond, a victim of her voracious appetite for drugs and alcohol.
As for Carl Franzoni, there were indeed a couple of brothers named Franzoni who were brought over from Italy in the early 1800s to carve the Masonic monuments of Washington. According to Ihna Thayer Frary’s book, They Built the Capitol, Guiseppe Franzoni (and his brother Carlo) “had especially good family connections in Italy, he being a nephew of Cardinal Franzoni and son of the President of the Academy of Fine Arts at Carrara.” Also shipped over were Francisco Iardella, a cousin of the Franzoni brothers, and Giovanni Andrei, a brother-in-law of Guiseppe Franzoni. Thus far, I have been unable to verify that Carl Franzoni is in fact descended from these men, but it seems quite likely given that Carl would probably not be aware of such an obscure chapter of American history were it not for a family connection.
One final note: I looked it up and it turns out that Bobby Sherman ended up becoming a sheriff’s deputy. For real. Unlike his late-1960s Here Comes the Brides co-star, David Soul, who later became fake bad-ass cop ‘Hutch,’ Bobby became a real bad-ass cop. So I guess he was pretty cool after all. Except for, of course, the hair. And the clothes. And the sappy songs. And the bad acting. And …
Let’s just forget that I ever brought it up.
“No one here gets out alive” —Jim Morrison
MY APOLOGIES TO readers for the long delay in getting this post up. These past several weeks have not been easy ones for your fearless host. Things started going south near the end of June, when our beloved family cat was taken ill and died upon arrival at the local vet’s office. To many readers, this may seem a rather insignificant loss, but I have to say, in all honesty, that Thomas just may have been the coolest cat to ever prowl the streets of Los Angeles. His presence in our home is surely missed.
Not too long after Thomas’ passing, my computer became quite ill as well. At first, it looked as though there was little hope of saving her. My tech buddy had all but pronounced her DOA when he unexpectedly detected a faint spark of life and a will to live. She could be saved, he proclaimed, but it would take some time and money. Given her advanced age (2 in human years, which is about 137 in computer years), he suggested I might be better off buying a new model. But then, of course, I would find myself face-to-face with the dreaded abomination known as Windows Vista. Also, I didn’t really need the headache and tedium of setting up a new machine, transferring everything over, etc.
So I decided to wait it out, and for several days I found myself completely lost in the world. My computer and my cat, you see, were my two very best non-human friends. They were also, more importantly, my research assistants. I am a night-owl by nature and it is in the wee hours of the morning, when the wife and kids are fast asleep, that I create literary masterpieces (like the one you are reading right now). My two trusted and loyal companions in those endeavors have long been my computer and my cat. And now they were both gone. Fuck.
The computer ultimately made a full recovery and returned home ready for action. Thomas, unfortunately, would not be coming back, so we would have to soldier on without him. But then, alas, came news of a far greater tragedy: a friend of 20+ years had succumbed to injuries sustained in a rock-climbing accident near his home in Superior, Colorado. Just 47 years old and an avid outdoorsman, rock climber, mountain biker and hockey player, he leaves behind that which he cherished most in his life – three young kids, the oldest of whom is just 14. He was a good man and a good friend who touched many lives during his relatively short stay here on planet Earth, and he will not soon be forgotten.
It is, therefore, with a heavy heart that I return now to my position as self-appointed Laurel Canyon tour guide.
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Sometimes pieces of the puzzle just seem to fall from the heavens. I don’t really know why that happens – and to be honest, I find it somewhat disconcerting at times. On Sunday, July 6, the venerable Washington Post, in a most timely manner, generously provided a new piece of the puzzle that even I, your jaded host, find rather remarkable. It seems that a former reporter and novelist by the name of Alex Abella “has written a history of RAND, which was founded more than 60 years ago by the Air Force as a font of ideas on how that service might fight and win a nuclear war with the USSR … Abella focuses on Albert Wohlstetter, a mathematical logician turned nuclear strategist who was the dominant figure at Rand starting in the early 1950s and whose influence has extended beyond his death in 1997 into the current Bush administration … Wohlstetter epitomized what became known as the ‘RAND approach’ -- a relentlessly reductive, determinedly quantitative analysis of whatever problem the independent, non-profit think tank was assigned, whether the design of a new bomber or improving public education in inner-city schools.”
Let me interrupt here for just a brief moment to note that the RAND corporation is a lot of things, but “independent” has never been one of them. Anyway, getting back to the Post’s timely book review, we find that “it was not so much Wohlstetter himself as his acolytes … who had a major impact in Washington.” Most of those acolytes need no introduction, as the names should be instantly recognizable to just about everyone: Richard Perle (who once dated Wohlstetter’s daughter), Paul Wolfowitz, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Andrew Marshall (“formerly a RAND economist, who, as promoter of the high-tech ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’ in Donald Rumsfeld’s Defense Department, was dubbed the Pentagon’s ‘Yoda.’”)
In the latter half of the 1950s and the early 1960s, while Wohlstetter was with the RAND corporation and also a professor at UCLA (and while his wife Roberta also worked as an analyst for RAND), Albert and his followers – the men who now serve as the apparent architects of US foreign policy – regularly met in a heavily wooded neighborhood in Los Angeles known as … actually, I think I’m going to defer back to the Washington Post’s book review and let journalist Gregg Herken tell you how “those bright, eager and ambitious young men … had sat cross-legged on the floor with their mentor at his stylish house in (drum roll, please!) Laurel Canyon.”
The title of the Post’s book review is “Dr. Strangelove’s Workplace,” which presumably is a reference to the notorious RAND corporation. But I think that we can all agree that the title could just as easily apply to Wohlstetter’s stylish Laurel Canyon home. In fact, as the pieces of this puzzle continue to fall into place, it is beginning to seem as though “Dr. Strangelove’s Workplace” might be a good title for the entire damn canyon. We now know that, in addition to hosting both a secret military/intelligence facility and a call-boy/kiddy-porn operation servicing prominent public figures, Laurel Canyon was also the birthplace and meeting place of what we now know as the ‘neocon’/PNAC crowd, as well as the home base of the guiding light of the Rand corporation.
Thus far in our journey, we have encountered Masons, the FBI, the OSS, the CIA, the secret society known as Skull and Bones, the Rothschild family, military intelligence of every conceivable stripe, the OTO, the RAND corporation, the ‘neocon’ cabal, and just about every other nefarious group that regularly pops up in the ‘conspiracy’ literature – with one very obvious exception: we have not yet met up with any member of the legendary Rockefeller clan. Luckily though, we’re about to remedy that oversight.
This next contribution comes from deep within the archives of Time magazine, from an article entitled “The Bride Wore Pink,” published six decades ago on February 23, 1948: “One morning last week, bespectacled Bryant Bowden, editor of the weekly Okeechobee (Fla.) News, sauntered into the Okeechobee courthouse and stopped to eye the bulletin board in the main hall. Among the marriage-license applications, which, by Florida law, must be publicly posted for three days before a ceremony, he saw something which made him goggle. Winthrop Rockefeller, 35, of New York – the fourth of John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s five sons and one of the most eligible bachelors in the world – had stated his intention of marrying one Eva Sears, also of New York.”
“Editor Bowden had a bitter moment – his paper would not be published for two days. Then he remembered that he was the Okeechobee correspondent for the Associated Press. He telephoned the AP office in Jacksonville. A few hours later, the whole U.S. journalistic horizon glowed a bright pink with the fireworks he had touched off.”
“While the first headlines blazed (and while Manhattan gossip columnists scrambled to assure their readers that they had known all about the romance for months), herds of reporters were dispatched to find an answer to the question: Who is Eva Sears? Hearst’s Cholly Knickerbocker (Ghighi Cassini) haughtily announced that she was Mrs. Barbara Paul Sears of the fine old Philadelphia Pauls and thus a society girl of impeccable pedigree. He was wrong.”
Indeed he was. So who was this mystery woman – this woman who had once had a brief career in Hollywood before moving to Paris and taking a job as a secretary at the U.S. embassy? She appears to have gone by many names at different times in her life, including Eva Paul, Eva Paul Sears, Barbara Paul, Barbara Paul Sears, and “Bobo” Rockefeller. None of them, however, was the name she was given at the time of her birth. As Time magazine noted so many years ago, “Her parents were Lithuanian immigrants and she was born Jievute Paulekiute in a coal patch near Noblestown, Pa.” Even that, however, was not her real name – at least not by American custom and tradition.
In her parents’ homeland, I am told, “Paulekiute” is the feminine version of a surname we have previously encountered: “Paulekas,” which was her parents’ surname. Eva Paul’s father, as it turns out, just happened to be the brother of Vito Paulekas’ father (a fact verified by – and brought to my attention by – a member of the Paulekas family.) I’m no genealogist, but I’m pretty sure that that means that the self-styled "King of the Hippies" was a first cousin of "Bobo" Rockefeller, and a cousin-in-law (or something like that) of Winthrop Rockefeller himself. Vito was also a cousin of the couple’s only child, Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, who would later serve as the Lieutenant Governor of the state of Arkansas.
The Paulekas family, alas, missed the couple’s day of celebration. According to Time, “Bobo’s mother and stepfather … were unable to attend the ceremony because they were making a batch of Lithuanian cheese on their Indiana farm.” I guess we all have our priorities. Truth be told though, the Paulekas clan has a somewhat different explanation: they were deliberately excluded from the ceremony as it was felt they were a bit too uncultured to break bread with the likes of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and the Marquess of Blandford.
We will be revisiting Vito Paulekas in an upcoming edition, to review other new information that has come my way. For now, we will just note that we can add the Rockefellers to the list of folks connected to the Laurel Canyon scene. And that, of course, made Laurel Canyon the ideal place for all the rock musicians and hippies and flower children to hang out in the 1960s and 1970s, even with the stench from all the dead bodies that kept piling up. Speaking of which, let’s check in and see what names have been added to the Laurel Canyon Death List since we last took a peek.
The first new name I see is Mr. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, who purportedly drowned without assistance in his home swimming pool on July 3, 1969, at the age of 27 (Jim Morrison would allegedly die precisely two years later, also at the age of 27). Just three days after Jones’ tragic death, the Stones, with the Hells Angels providing security, played a previously-scheduled concert in Hyde Park, footage of which appears in Kenneth Anger’s Invocation of My Demon Brother. Despite being the founder of the Stones and being widely regarded as the main creative force within the band, Jones had been unceremoniously dumped by the group on June 9, less than a month before his death. He was replaced just four days later by the vastly inferior talent known as Mick Taylor (who would later be replaced by Ron Wood). It would later be claimed that Jones was booted from the band due to his chronic substance abuse problems, although Keith Richards’ legendary intake of drugs never seemed to pose a problem for the group.
Anton LaVey of the Church of Satan from Invocation of my Demon Brother
“Fair enough,” you say, “but what does any of that have to do with Laurel Canyon? Clearly the Stones were not a Laurel Canyon band.” True enough, but as Barney Hoskyns has written (in Hotel California), “In the summer of 1968 the English band was flirting heavily with Satanism and the occult … and spending a lot of time in Los Angeles.” A lot of time, that is, in and around Laurel Canyon – and during that time, Mick Jagger was involved in two occult-drenched film projects: Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising and Donald Cammell’s Performance.
Jagger was the first musical superstar tapped by Anger to compose a soundtrack for his Lucifer Rising project, which at the time was to star Mansonite Bobby Beausoleil (who had, as we all remember, replaced Godo Paulekas). Anger would later solicit a soundtrack for the long-delayed film project from Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, the proud owner of one of the world’s largest collections of Aleister Crowley memorabilia, including Crowley’s notorious Boleskine estate on the shores of Scotland’s Loch Ness. When ultimately released, however, the film featured a soundtrack by neither Jagger nor Page, but rather one that was composed, recorded and arranged inside a prison cell by convicted murderer Bobby Beausoleil. The pre-prison footage that Anger had shot of Beausoleil, meanwhile, ended up in a different film: the aforementioned Invocation of My Demon Brother. Starring in Lucifer Rising, as Osiris, was Performance writer and co-director Donald Seaton Cammell.
Donald Cammell as Osiris from Lucifer Rising
Donald Cammell was the son of Charles Richard Cammell, who happened to be a close friend and biographer of notorious occultist and British intelligence asset Aleister Crowley. Donald himself was the godson of the Great Beast. Cammell’s decidedly Crowleyian film was originally to star his good friend Marlon Brando, but the role ultimately went to actor James Fox. Brando and Cammell, by the way, once wrote a novel together – a novel so horrifyingly bad that I dare not mention its title here for fear that some of you may purchase it out of curiosity and then blame me for any trauma you endure while attempting to actually read it.
Speaking of Brando, by the way, have I mentioned yet the curious string of deaths that began eighteen years ago, on May 16, 1990, when Marlon’s son Christian gunned down Dag Drollet, the father of his sister Cheyenne’s unborn child, in Marlon’s Laurel Canyon-adjacent home? Though convicted, Christian got off with a rather light sentence, thanks primarily to Marlon having had his own daughter, the prosecution’s potential star witness, locked away in a mental institution in Tahiti, safe from subpoena. A few years later, on April 14, 1995, 25-year-old Cheyenne was found swinging from the end of a rope, her death unsurprisingly ruled a suicide. The next year, Christian Brando was released from prison and promptly became involved with a woman by the name of Bonnie Lee Bakley, who caught a bullet to the head on May 4, 2001 while in the company of new hubby Robert Blake (her tenth husband). Marlon dropped dead next, on July 1, 2004 (though his death wasn’t particularly suspicious, given that he was getting on in years). His home was promptly purchased by good friend and neighbor Jack Nicholson, who immediately announced plans to bulldoze it, declaring the structure to be decrepit. He never did though explain why a man wealthy enough to own his own chain of Polynesian islands was purportedly living in a derelict abode. A few years later, on January 26 of 2008, Christian Brando dropped dead at the relatively young age of 49.
Returning now, after that brief digression, to our discussion of Donald Cammell’s Performance, we find that Mick Jagger was cast to play the role of ‘Turner,’ a debauched rock star (which, obviously, was a real stretch for Mick). Fox played ‘Chas,’ a violent organized-crime figure. He was trained for the role by David Litvinoff, a real-life crime figure and associate of the notoriously sadistic Kray brothers. Litvinoff reportedly sent Fox to the south of London for a couple of months to hang out with his gangster buddies; when he returned, according to various accounts, Fox had literally become the violent character he portrayed in the film.
Bobby Beausoleil from Invocation of my Demon Brother
Recruited to create the film’s soundtrack was Bernard Alfred “Jack” Nitzsche, an occultist and the son of a supposed ‘medium.’ Nitzsche, along with Sonny Bono, had begun his music career as a lieutenant for gun-brandishing producer Phil Spector (Nitzsche was one of the architects of Spector’s famed “wall of sound”). Nitzsche was also a familiar presence on the Laurel Canyon scene, collaborating with such noted bands and artists as Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young, Crazy Horse, Randy Newman, Michelle Phillips, The Turtles, Captain Beefheart and Carole King. Nitzsche also worked with several of the people we will be adding today to the Laurel Canyon Death List, including David Blue, Ricky Nelson and Sonny Bono. And one guy who was already added to the list: Tim Buckley.
Nitzsche’s Performance soundtrack was composed, according to author Michael Walker, “in a witch’s cottage in the canyon” (I’m not exactly sure what a “witch’s cottage” is, but it’s nice to know that Laurel Canyon had one). One of the musicians hired by Nitzsche to play on that soundtrack was Lowell George, who we will also be adding to the Laurel Canyon Death List. For now, let’s add Donald Cammell to the list, since on April 24, 1996, he became yet another of the characters in this story to catch a bullet to the head (need I add here that the wound was reportedly self-inflicted?) Nitzsche died five years later of a heart attack, on August 25, 2000. A few years earlier, he had made an appearance on primetime television – as a gun-brandishing drunkard arrested on the streets of Hollywood on Cops.
Before moving on, there is one other thing I need to mention about Cammell’s film: John Phillips once stated that Performance was about estranging one’s self from society in order to create a new, better social order. “With really intelligent people,” according to Phillips, “it’s almost a matter of inbreeding at this point.” I don’t know about all of you readers out there, but when I first stumbled upon that quote, it suddenly dawned on me that one element that was previously missing from this story was a pro-eugenics comment from one of our flower-power icons, so I’m glad that we were able to squeeze that in.
Since we now seem to have segued onto the topic of John Phillips, let’s go ahead and add his good friend Steve Brandt to the Death List. Brandt, who was also a close friend of the victims at 10050 Cielo Drive, allegedly overdosed on barbiturates in late November of 1969, some three-and-a-half months after the Manson murders. In the days and weeks following those murders, Brandt had placed numerous phone calls to the LAPD. Those calls became increasingly frantic in nature, and Brandt became increasingly fearful that his own life might be in jeopardy. He soon decided to put some distance between himself and LA, so he headed for New York City. On the night of his death, according to Phillips’ autobiography, Brandt attended a Rolling Stones concert at Madison Square Gardens, where he attempted to run on stage but was repelled and beaten by a security guard. He then went home and, according to official mythology, overdosed.
It seems obvious that if someone had information that desperately needed to be made public, and if it was the kind of information that authorities had, say, willfully failed to act upon, and if the information was of the type that could not, needless to say, be taken to the mainstream media, and if the year was 1969 and the mass communication technology that we now take for granted did not yet exist, then grabbing the mike at a Stones concert at Madison Square Gardens might just be one of the most effective means of disseminating that information. Brandt failed in what may have been an attempt to do just that, and he turned up dead just hours later. Shit happens, I guess.
Aleister Crowley makes an appearance in Lucifer Rising with Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.
Moving on, I couldn’t help noticing that when I mentioned David Blue a few paragraphs back, a lot of you scratched your heads and asked, “David Who?” Allow me then to quickly introduce you to another of the forgotten talents of Laurel Canyon. Blue was born Stuart David Cohen on February 18, 1941; shortly thereafter, his father was deployed overseas. According to David, his dad “came hobbling home on crutches and stayed depressed all his life” (not unlike, it seems fair to say, the family situation of our old friend Phil Ochs). David and his slightly older half-sister, Suzanne, endured a hellish existence consisting of alternating periods of rages and silences. Suzanne got out first, only to end up busted for prostitution in New York City in 1963. Suzanne’s next stop, just a few months later, was at the county morgue.
David, meanwhile, had gotten out of the house as well, by dropping out of school and joining the US Navy at the age of seventeen – just as Lenny Bruce had done. Like Jimi Hendrix, Blue was purportedly booted out of the service, after which he decided to become a folk singer. His first album was released in 1966; a later effort was produced by Graham Nash, who also, as everyone surely recalls, produced a record for Judee Sill, with whom Blue had much in common (you people had better be paying attention because – I’m warning you! – there will, at some point, be a quiz on all this shit, and if you miss too many questions on that quiz, you will be locked out from further access to these articles!)
… … … … Just kidding!! I don’t even know how to set that shit up! But if I did, I would totally fucking do it! Anyway, let’s get back to our story …
Like Judee Sill, David Blue was one of the Laurel Canyon stars who never quite shone as brightly as they should have. And also like Sill, Blue was one of the first few acts signed by David Geffen’s fledgling Asylum label. Finally, as with Judee, David was long forgotten by the time of his death, on December 2, 1982, when the forty-one-year-old Blue dropped dead while jogging in New York’s Washington Square Park. The former rising star (and occasional actor) lay in the morgue for three days before anyone noticed that he was missing.
“Everybody was experimenting and taking it all the way. It opened up a negative force of energy that was almost demonic.” —Frank Mazolla, editor of the film Performance
“There were a lot of weird people around. There was one guy who had a parrot called Captain Blood, and he was always scrawling real cryptic things on the inside walls of my house – Neil Young’s too.” — Joni Mitchell, describing the Laurel Canyon scene at the tail end of the 1960s
Like Brandon DeWilde, Kenneth Anger, Mickey Dolenz and Van Dyke Parks, Ricky Nelson began his Hollywood career as a child actor. He was the son, as everyone surely knows, of America’s favorite 1950s TV mom and dad, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson. Ricky began his rock ‘n’ roll career in 1957, when he was just seventeen. By 1962, he had scored no fewer than thirty Top 40 hits, trailing only superstars Elvis Presley and Pat Boone.
That reminds me that, before I forget, I need to add Elvis to the death list as well. And before you send me letters of protest, let me assure you that I do indeed know what a lot of you are thinking: “But Dave, Elvis isn’t dead! I just saw him the other day at the 7-11 right around the corner from my house. And, sure, he was looking a little bloated, but he was definitely alive. I mean, unless you’re going to try to convince me that I watched a dead guy put away a ¼ lb. Big Bite.”
Oh wait … that might not be right … what you are probably really thinking is: “Elvis?! The King?! You can’t be serious! How the hell does The King figure into any of this? What are you going to tell us next – that comedians John Belushi and Phil Hartman belong on the death list as well?”
Uhmm, have you been peeking at my notes or something? Because I actually am, as a matter of fact, going to include Mr. Hartman on the list (and I could include Mr. Belushi as well, since he did die at the Chateau Marmont Hotel, which happens to lie at the mouth of Laurel Canyon). But we’ll get to Phil Hartman later; for now, let’s talk a little bit about Mr. Presley and his admittedly tangential connections to Laurel Canyon.
Elvis arrived in LA in 1956, to begin what would prove to be a prolific film career that would continue throughout the 1960s and would result in the inexcusable creation of nearly three dozen motion pictures, each one arguably more appalling than the last. In the early years of his film career, Elvis reportedly spent his off-hours hanging out with his two best Hollywood pals – a couple of young roommates and Canyonites named Dennis Hopper and Nick Adams. In later years, Presley’s backing musicians – considered to be among the best session musicians in the business – were in high demand among the Laurel Canyon crowd. Elvis’ bass player, for example, can be heard on some of the Doors’ tracks. The entire band was recruited by “Papa” John Phillips to play on his less-than-memorable solo project. Mike Nesmith’s critically-acclaimed post-Monkees project, the First National Band, featured Presley’s band as well. Gram Parsons also hired Elvis’ band to back him up on the two solo albums he recorded at what proved to be the twilight of his life and career.
Those two solo efforts by Parsons, by the way, prominently featured the voice of a young singer/guitarist named Emmylou Harris, a relatively late arrival to the canyon scene. Harris is the daughter – brace yourselves here for a real shocker, folks – of a career US Marine Corps officer. As with so many other characters in this story, she grew up in the outlying suburbs of Washington, DC, primarily in Woodbridge, Virginia – which happens to be the home of an imposingly large Army ‘research and development’ installation known as the Harry Diamond Laboratories Woodbridge Research Facility. In other words, Emmylou Harris fit right in with the rest of the Laurel Canyon crowd.
But here I seem to have digressed from our discussion of Elvis (which was, if I remember correctly, itself a digression from our discussion of Ricky Nelson). Given though that he had only peripheral connections to Laurel Canyon, I guess I don’t really have much more to say about Elvis, other than that he reportedly died on August 16, 1977, the victim of a drug overdose at the young age of forty-two. As with Morrison, however, there have been persistent rumors that Elvis didn’t actually die at all, but rather reinvented himself to escape from the fishbowl.
As for Nelson, in the mid-1960s he successfully shed his ‘teen idol’ image and emerged as a respected pioneer of the country-rock wave that Canyonites Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles would soon ride to dizzying heights of commercial success. One future member of the Eagles, Randy Meisner, played in Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band. As the name of the band would seem to imply, Nelson did not live in Laurel Canyon but rather in one of the many neighboring canyons, but he and his band were very much a part of the early country-rock scene that included Laurel Canyon bands like The Byrds, Poco, the Flying Burrito Brothers and the First National Band.
Nelson was killed on New Year’s Eve, 1985, in a rather unusual plane crash. According to Nelson’s Wikipedia entry, “the original NTSB investigation long ago stated that the crash was probably due to mechanical problems. The pilots attempted to land in a field after smoke filled the cabin. An examination indicated that a fire originated in the right hand side of the aft cabin area at or near the floor line. The passengers were killed when the aircraft struck obstacles during the forced landing; the pilots were able to escape through the cockpit windows and survived.”
I can’t be the only one here who is pondering the obvious question: exactly when was it that the pilots were able to escape through the cockpit windows? I assume that they did not parachute out when the aircraft was still at altitude, leaving the passengers to crash and die. And they certainly couldn’t have bailed out and survived while the aircraft was coming in for a landing. So was it after the plane touched down? If so, exactly how much time was there between when the plane touched down and when it impacted the fatal obstacles? How long was this ‘escape window,’ as it were? I would think it was mere seconds, if even that, which wouldn’t seem to be enough time to execute an escape. And if the plane was going fast enough on the ground that the impact killed all aboard, what are the odds that anyone would survive such an escape attempt? I think maybe the NTSB needs to take another look at this one.
For the final eight years of his life, Nelson lived in a rather unusual home. In 1941, swashbuckling actor Errol Flynn had purchased an eleven-and-a-half-acre chunk of the Hollywood Hills just off Mulholland Drive and had a sprawling home built to his specifications. According to Laurie Jacobson and Marc Wanamaker, writing in Haunted Hollywood, the mansion featured “several mysterious secret passageways, and more than a few peepholes.” The home appeared to have been designed to allow for surreptitious observation of guests in the home’s numerous bedrooms. It is claimed that Flynn incorporated the unusual design features so that he could satisfy his own voyeuristic impulses. Researcher/writer Charles Higham, however, has cast Flynn as a Western intelligence asset (and Nazi sympathizer). And if Flynn was an intelligence operative, then it is far more likely that the home was built not so much for Flynn’s personal pleasure, but rather as a means of compromising prominent public figures (much like the home of, for example, Craig Spence).
After Nelson’s death, the palatial home stood vacant until a curious incident took place; referring once again to Jacobson and Wanamaker, we find that “A gang broke in and murdered a girl in the living room. Then a mysterious fire burned half the house. The ruins were torn down.” Shit like that has been known to happen to folks foolish enough to leave their expensive canyon homes sitting vacant … well, except for the part about the “gang.” As far as I know, the canyons have never had much of a “gang” problem. In the Hollywood Hills, the words “crime” and “gang-related” never show up at a party together. And when was the last time anyone ever heard of a “gang” kidnapping a girl and then taking her to a remote, isolated mansion to murder her?
All things considered, I’m thinking that perhaps what the authors meant to say was that “a group of people broke in and murdered a girl …” But that, of course, raises the question of exactly what sort of group of people jointly commit a premeditated murder? Other than death squads, the only such groups that come to mind are generally referred to as “cults,” which I’m guessing are far more common in the canyons than are “gangs.”
In addition to having a fondness for multi-perpetrator murders, it appears as though cults also like to start fires, oftentimes because fires are a really effective way of destroying evidence. Some of you may, however, be thinking that since the Hollywood Hills are plagued by wildfires on a more or less annual basis, then there is nothing particularly unusual about the fact that Nelson’s home, and more than a few of the other homes in this story, were destroyed by fire. For the most part though, the fires that destroyed these structures were not natural wildfires but rather fires of mysterious origin that seemed to target specific buildings. As Michael Walker noted, “Laurel Canyon would burn and burn again, targeting with uncanny precision the homes of its seemingly enchanted rock demimonde.”
(One exception was the Laurel Canyon home of blues-rocker John Mayall, which burned down to its foundation in a ferocious wildfire on September 16, 1979; that wildfire also claimed the home of Whisky owner Elmer Valentine. It was from Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, by the way, that the Rolling Stones recruited guitarist Mick Taylor, who I regrettably disparaged in the initial version of the last installment of this series. Taylor was actually quite an accomplished guitarist whose work with the Stones was frequently uncredited and who was underutilized by the band. My apologies to all the fans of the Rolling Stones that I offended.)
Moving on then to the next new name on our list, we find that on December 31, 1943 – precisely forty-two years before the plane crash that would claim the life of Ricky Nelson – Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr., better known as John Denver, was born in Roswell, New Mexico. A few years later, the town of Roswell would make a name for itself and become something of a tourist destination. But that is not really our focus here today, though it should be noted that Henry John Deutschendorf, Sr. might well have known a little something about that incident, given that he was a career US Air Force officer assigned to the Roswell Army Air Field (later renamed the Walker Air Force Base), which was likely the origin of the object that famously crashed in Roswell.
After spending his childhood being frequently uprooted, as did many of our cast of characters, Denver attended Texas Tech University in the early 1960s. In 1964, he apparently heard the call of the Pied Piper and promptly dropped out of school and headed for LA. Once there, he joined up with the Chad Mitchell Trio, the group from which Jim McGuinn had recently departed to co-found The Byrds. By November 1966, Denver was front-and-center at the so-called ‘Riot on the Sunset Strip,’ alongside folks like Peter Fonda, Sal Mineo and a popular husband-and-wife duo known as Sonny and Cher.
A decade later, in the latter half of the 1970s, Denver could be found working alongside a spooky chap by the name of Werner Erhard, creator of so-called ‘EST’ training. After graduating from the ‘training’ program, Denver penned a little ditty that became the organization’s theme song. In 1985, Denver testified alongside our old friend Frank Zappa at the PMRC hearings. Twelve years later, in autumn of 1997, Denver died when his self-piloted plane crashed soon after taking off from Monterey Airport, very near where the Monterey Pop Festival had been held thirty years earlier. The date of the crash, curiously enough, was one that we have stumbled across repeatedly: October 12.
The next name we need to add to the list is one that has already worked its way into this narrative a time or two: Sonny Bono. As previously noted, Bono began his Hollywood career as a lieutenant for reclusive murder suspect Phil Spector. In the early 1960s, Bono hooked up with an underage Cherilyn Sarkisian LaPierre to form a duo known first as Caesar and Cleo, and then as Sonny and Cher. The pair were phenomenally successful, first on the Sunset Strip and later on television. Bono, of course, ultimately gave up the Hollywood life and found work in a different branch of the federal government: the U.S. House of Representatives.
On January 5, 1998, Sonny Bono died after purportedly skiing into a tree. At the time, Bono occupied a seat on the House Judiciary Committee, which was about to come to sudden prominence with the investigation and impeachment of President Bill. The ball was already rolling by the time of Bono’s death, and on January 26, 1998, just three weeks after the alleged skiing incident, Clinton held the now-notorious press conference in which he uttered the fateful words: “I did not have sexual relations with that skank, by which I mean that the executive penis did not, at any time, penetrate her womanly parts, though it is possible that she may have taken a few puffs on the presidential cigar, if you fellas know what I mean. Does anyone else have a question?” By that time, of course, Bono’s seat on the panel had been set aside for his robowife (who was, perhaps, more willing to act out the charade).
And now, as promised, let’s turn our attention to Phil Hartman. As everyone likely remembers, Saturday Night Live alumnus Hartman was murdered in his Encino home on May 28, 1998. That much is not in dispute. Decidedly less clear is the answer to the question of who it was that actually shot and killed Hartman. The official story, of course, holds that it was his wife Brynn, who shortly thereafter shot herself – with a different gun, naturally, and reportedly after she had left the house and then returned with a friend, and after the LAPD had arrived at the home. There is a very strong possibility, however, that both Phil and his wife were murdered, with the true motive for the crime covered up by trotting out the tired but ever-popular murder/suicide scenario.
In most people’s minds, of course, Phil Hartman is not associated with the Laurel Canyon scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s. But as it turns out, Hartman did indeed have substantial ties to that scene. To begin with, during the time that Jimi Hendrix lived in LA (in the spacious mansion just north of the Log Cabin on Laurel Canyon Boulevard), Hartman worked for him as a roadie. Soon after that, Phil found work as a graphic artist and he quickly found himself much in demand by the Laurel Canyon rock royalty. In addition to designing album covers for both Poco and America, Hartman also, believe it or not, designed a readily recognizable rock symbol that has endured for nearly forty years: the distinctive CSN logo for Crosby, Stills and Nash.
Hartman had ties to the darker side of Laurel Canyon as well. He was, for example, a high school chum of Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, who would later find herself living alongside Charlie Manson at the infamous Spahn Movie Ranch. In bygone years, by the way, that very same Spahn Movie Ranch was frequently used as a filming location by western star Tom Mix, who was, as we all know, the man whose name was forever tied to the Log Cabin. Curiously enough, the Log Cabin’s guesthouse (aka the Bird House), which is still standing, was designed and built by architect Robert Byrd, who also, according to one report, designed the house at 5065 Encino Avenue where Phil Hartman was murdered, and the house at 10050 Cielo Drive where Sharon Tate and friends were murdered.
While we’re on the subject of the Bird House, I should mention that you can find numerous photos of the guesthouse and the grounds of the property at this website. Notice that among its other amenities, the house features a rather medieval-looking dungeon, because one never knows when a dungeon might come in handy for, uhmm, storing roots or something. Notice also that what was built as a ‘guesthouse’ probably makes your own home look like it belongs in a shantytown, which would tend to indicate that the property’s main residence, the Log Cabin, was a decidedly opulent dwelling.
One more curious factoid that I feel compelled to toss out here, since I did reference the Spahn Movie Ranch, is that during the days of the Manson clan’s stay at that now infamous former film set, there was a similarly dilapidated movie set that was located right across the road from Spahn. It’s name, in case you were wondering, was the Wonderland Movie Ranch.
Speaking of Wonderland, let’s turn our attention next to four individuals whose names will probably not be familiar to most readers: Ronald Launius, Billy Deverell, Barbara Richardson and Joy Miller. All died on July 1, 1981, all by bludgeoning, and all at the same location: 8763 Wonderland Avenue in Laurel Canyon. All were members of a gang that trafficked heavily in cocaine and occasionally in heroin. The leader of the group was Ron Launius, who reportedly embarked on his criminal career, and established his drug connections, while serving for Uncle Sam over in Vietnam, which is also where he began to build his carefully-crafted reputation as a cold-blooded killer. At the time that he became a murder victim himself, Launius was a suspect in no fewer than twenty-seven open homicide investigations. He was also a drug supplier to various members of the Laurel Canyon aristocracy.
The death house at 8763 Wonderland Avenue, as it looks today
Victim Billy Deverell was Launius’ second-in-command, and victim Joy Miller was Billy’s girlfriend as well as the renter of the Laurel Canyon drug den. Victim Barbara Richardson was the girlfriend of another member of the gang, David Lind, who conveniently was not at the home at the time of the mass murder. That could well have been due to the fact that Lind was, according to various rival drug dealers, a police informant for both the Sacramento and Los Angeles Police Departments. He was also a member of the ultra-violent prison gang known as the Aryan Brotherhood (as is, by several accounts, a guy that we have bumped into several times during this journey: Bobby Beausoleil). Lind, who met Launius when the two had served time together, is alleged to have overdosed in 1995, though it is widely believed that he actually went into the federal witness protection program.
The next name to go on our list is that of Brian Cole, bass player for The Association, an LA folk-rock band known for the hit songs “Along Comes Mary” and “Never My Love.” The Association was not a Laurel Canyon band but they did have close ties to the scene. The group was formed by Terry Kirkman and Jules Alexander; Kirkman had formerly played in a band with Frank Zappa, while Alexander was fresh from a stint in the US Navy. Jerry Yester, a guitarist and keyboardist with the band, was formerly with The Modern Folk Quartet, a band managed by Zappa manager Herb Cohen and produced by Byrds’ manager Jim Dickson. Guitarist Larry Ramos had formerly been with the New Christy Minstrels, which also produced Gene Clark of The Byrds.
On June 16, 1967, Cole and his band were the first to take the stage at the Monterey Pop Festival, followed by such Laurel Canyon stalwarts as The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and the Mamas and the Papas. Five years later, on August 2, 1972, Cole was found dead in his Los Angeles home. The cause of death was reportedly a heroin overdose. Cole was one month shy of his thirtieth birthday at the time of his death.
Another new name on the Laurel Canyon Death List is Lowell George, the founder and creative force behind the critically-acclaimed but largely obscure band known as Little Feat. George was the son of Willard H. George, a famous furrier to the Hollywood movie studios. Lowell’s first foray into the music world was with a band known as The Factory, which cut some demos with a guy by the name of Frank Zappa. The Factory evolved into the Fraternity of Man, though without George, who had left to serve as lead vocalist for The Standells. George returned, however, to join the band in the studio for the recording of their second album. By that time, as we have already seen, the Fraternity of Man had taken up residence in the Log Cabin, alongside Carl Franzoni and his fellow Freaks.
George next joined up with Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, though his tenure there was destined to be a short one; like so many others, Lowell left embittered by Zappa’s dictatorial approach to making music and his condescending treatment of his bandmates. During his time with Zappa, George helped Frank out in the studio with the GTOs’ first (and only) album, as did Brits Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart (who, readers of Programmed to Kill will recall, was one of the last people known to have been in the company of a pair of underage girls before they became victims of a ‘serial killer’ in June 1980).
After parting company with Zappa, George formed Little Feat, a band composed mostly of musicians from the Fraternity of Man sessions. Lowell, who is credited with being a pioneer of the use of slide guitar in rock music, served as singer, songwriter and lead guitarist for the band, which released its debut album in 1970. Though well regarded within the industry and by critics, the band’s albums failed to sell and George ultimately announced the demise the band and recorded a solo album. After playing a show on June 29, 1979 at George Washington University in support of that album, George was found dead in an Arlington, Virginia hotel room, very near the Pentagon. Cause of death was said to be a massive heart attack, though George was just thirty-four years old at the time.
According to Barney Hoskyns (writing in Hotel California), “A regular social stop-off for George was a Laurel Canyon house on Wonderland Avenue belonging to Three Dog Night singer Danny Hutton. A drop-in den of debauchery, the Hutton house featured a bedroom with black walls and a giant fireplace. Lowell would often swing by and entertain the likes of Brian Wilson or Harry Nilsson.” Nilsson and his regular drinking buddy, John Lennon, were frequent guests at this “den of debauchery.”
Former Beatle John Lennon is, to be sure, one of the most famous names to be found on the Laurel Canyon Death List. Lennon also has the distinction of being one of the few Laurel Canyon alumni whose cause of death is acknowledged to have been homicide. The ex-Beatle, of course, never lived in the canyon, but he was a fixture on the Sunset Strip and at various Laurel Canyon hangouts, frequently in the company of Harry Nilsson. And as readers surely recall, he was gunned down on December 8, 1980 – purportedly by Mark David Chapman, but more likely by a second gunman.
Lennon was, as everyone knows, murdered in front of New York’s Dakota Apartments, which had been portrayed by filmmaker Roman Polanski in the 1960s as a den of Satanic cult activity (in his film Rosemary’s Baby). Not long before Lennon’s murder, Chapman had approached occult filmmaker Kenneth Anger and offered him a gift of live bullets. Just days after Lennon was felled, Anger’s long-delayed final cut of Lucifer Rising made its New York debut, not far from the bloodstained grounds of the Dakota Apartments. And not long after that, the ‘Reagan Revolution’ began to transform America.
Exactly three weeks after Lennon’s death, Tim Hardin – Canyonite, folk musician, close associate of Frank Zappa, author of Rod Stewart’s “Reason to Believe,” onetime tenant in Lenny Bruce’s Laurel Canyon-adjacent home, and former U.S. Marine – died of a reported heroin and morphine overdose in Los Angeles. At the time of his death, on December 29, 1980, Hardin was just thirty-nine years old.
Eight years later, on July 18, 1988, singer/songwriter/keyboardist Christa Paffgen, better known as Nico, died of a reported cerebral hemorrhage in Ibiza, Spain under unusual circumstances. After achieving some level of fame as a vocalist with the Velvet Underground, Nico had left the Warhol stable and migrated west to Laurel Canyon, where she formed a bond with a then-unknown singer-songwriter named Jackson Browne, who contributed a few songs to Nico’s 1967 debut album, Chelsea Girl (so named for New York’s Chelsea Hotel, from where Devon Wilson took a dive, and where the persona of John Train murdered the persona of Phil Ochs). Also contributing a song to Nico’s solo debut was Mr. Tim Hardin.
On December 4, 1993, some five years after Nico’s curious death, Frank Zappa died in his Laurel Canyon home of inoperable prostate cancer. Some have speculated that the cancer could have developed as a result of the chemical agents Zappa was exposed to throughout his early childhood at the Edgewood Arsenal.
And so it goes. In the next installment, we will add two more famous names to the death list, and we will use them as springboards to launch into two rarely-told stories that will add new levels of complexity to the Laurel Canyon saga.
Until then …
“By the time Manson shifted base from Rustic Canyon to an old ranch in Chatsworth, he'd begun formulating the notion that he and his followers had to prepare themselves for a race war with Black America.” —Barney Hoskyns (in Hotel California, his take on the Laurel Canyon/Sunset Strip scene)
“There were a lot of weird people around. There was one guy who had a parrot called Captain Blood, and he was always scrawling real cryptic things on the inside walls of my house – Neil Young’s too.” — Joni Mitchell, describing the Laurel Canyon scene at the tail end of the 1960s
|Dennis Wilson, Beach Boys
In this outing, we will be temporarily leaving Laurel Canyon. But don’t worry; we won’t be traveling far, and we’ll be returning soon enough.
Today we will be exploring Rustic Canyon, which lies about nine miles west of Laurel Canyon. It was there, in Lower Rustic Canyon, that Beach Boy Dennis Wilson lived in what Steven Gaines described in Heroes and Villains as “a palatial log-cabin-style house at 14400 Sunset Boulevard that had once belonged to humorist Will Rogers.” The expansive home sat on three landscaped acres of gently rolling hills.
In the summer of 1968, as is fairly well known, Charlie Manson and various members of his entourage moved in with Wilson. “Tex” Watson, curiously enough, was already living there. As many as two-dozen members of Manson’s clan spent the entire summer there, with Wilson picking up the tab for all expenses. The Mansonites (mostly nubile young women) regularly drove Wilson’s expensive cars and demolished at least one of them. Dennis didn’t seem to mind; he was busy recording Manson in his home studio and inviting fellow musicians, like Neil Young, over to the house to hear Charlie perform (Young was so impressed that he urged Mo Ostin to sign him).
The floor of upper Rustic Canyon
Dennis would later claim that he had destroyed all the Manson demo tapes, that he remembered almost nothing of his time with Charlie and the Family, and that he certainly knew nothing about the Tate and LaBianca murders, which were committed in the summer of 1969, about a year after the Family had vacated the Rustic Canyon residence.
At some point in time, Wilson had a change of heart and decided that maybe he did indeed know a little something about the murders. “I know why Charles Manson did what he did,” said Dennis. “Someday, I’ll tell the world. I’ll write a book and explain why he did it.” Needless to say, that book was never written and Wilson’s story, if indeed he had one, was never told. Instead, Dennis Wilson drowned under questionable circumstances on December 28, 1983, in the marina where his beloved ship was docked.
But this story isn’t really about Dennis Wilson; it’s about Charlie Manson and his alleged motive for allegedly ordering the Tate and LaBianca murders. According to the ‘Helter Skelter’ scenario popularized by lead prosecutor/disinformation peddler Vincent Bugliosi, Manson was hoping to spark an apocalyptic race war. It is said that Charlie believed that America’s black population would prevail over whitey, but that, having won the war, the victors would be incapable of governing themselves. And that, alas, is when Charlie and his retinue would emerge from the shadows to take command.
According to Barney Hoskyns, Manson began formulating his race war theory during his stay in Rustic Canyon. If true, then Charlie appears to have been following in the footsteps of a former Rustic Canyon guru – one who preceded him by a few decades, and who, like Charlie, had a certain fondness for swastikas.
Just to the north of Dennis Wilson’s old home is a vast wilderness of undeveloped canyon lands. Lower Rustic Canyon soon gives way to Upper Rustic Canyon, and all signs of human civilization abruptly vanish. The land remains wild and undeveloped save for an old fire road that winds along the summit between Rustic Canyon and a neighboring canyon. That road is closed to the public and vehicle traffic is nonexistent. Aside from an occasional hiker wandering in from nearby Will Rogers State Park, there is nary a human to be seen.
A Mansonesque artifact on the floor of Rustic Canyon
The farther in one hikes, the more wild and untamed it becomes. Along with the sights of the city, the sounds and the scents quickly disappear as well. Within a very short time, it is surprisingly easy to forget that one is still within the confines of the city of Los Angeles. In its fall splendor, the canyon looks nothing like the Los Angeles that I know and don’t quite love. It is beautiful, serene, pastoral. And yet, filled with mist and heavily overgrown, it is also vaguely ominous.
If one knows where to look, there is a narrow concrete stairway that is accessible from the fire road. This stairway descends down to the floor of the canyon, and it is a very, very long descent. Five hundred and twelve steps long, to be exact. As one makes the descent, this stairway, which seems to go on forever, seems wildly out of place. With time to kill on the way down, one finds oneself pondering (actually, most people probably wouldn’t, but I did) how many man-hours it took to set forms for 512 poured concrete steps, and how truckloads of concrete had to be poured out here in the middle of nowhere.
The end of the line for the stairway leading to the floor of Rustic Canyon.
Reaching the canyon floor, one finds that, though the native flora has struggled mightily to reclaim the land, remnants of a past civilization can be seen everywhere. Some structures remain largely intact – a nearly 400,000-gallon, spring-fed reservoir serving a sophisticated potable water system; a concrete-walled structure that once housed twin electrical generators capable of lighting a small town; more concrete stairways hundreds of steps long, each snaking its way up the canyon walls; weathered livestock stables; professionally graded and paved roads; countless stone retaining walls; an incinerator; concrete foundations and skeletal remains of former dwellings; the rusting carcass of a Mansonesque VW bus; and, at the former entrance, an imposing set of electronically-controlled, wrought-iron security gates.
The now colorful water reservoir.
It is the kind of place that seems tailor-made for Charlie and his Family – remote and secluded, yet accessible by the Family’s custom-built dune buggies; with just enough crumbling infrastructure to provide rudimentary shelter for the clan; and with elaborate security provisions, including sentry positions and a formerly-electrified fence completely encircling the 50-acre compound (as well as, by some reports, an underground tunnel complex). And it was located just a short hike up the canyon from the place that Charlie Manson called home in the summer of 1968.
A former entrance to the tunnel complex?
While exploring this place, obvious questions begin to come to mind (they would, that is, if I didn’t already know the answers, but try to work with me here): who developed this remote portion of the canyon? And why? Why here, in what feels like the middle of nowhere? The goal appears to have been to create a hidden and completely self-sustaining community, and an extraordinary amount of money was invested in infrastructure development … but why?
Very few Angelenos know of the curious ruins in Rustic Canyon, and fewer still know the history of those ruins. Every now and then though, a local reporter will pay a visit and the story will make a one-time appearance in a local publication, briefly casting some light on a bit of the hidden history of Los Angeles. In May 1992, Marc Norman of the Los Angeles Business Journal was one such reporter (“Hermit Chic – Rustic Canyon”).
Murphy Ranch’s generator station as it looks today.
According to Norman, “County records show ‘Jessie Murphy, a widow,’ purchasing 50-plus acres north of [Will] Rogers’ property in 1933, but the owners were actually named Stephens – Norman, an engineer with silver-mining interests, and Winona, the daughter of an industrialist and a woman given to things supernatural. Local lore has it that Winona fell under the spell of a certain unnamed gentleman …” This trio, along with unnamed others, began “a 10-year construction program costing $4 million … starting with a water tank holding 375,000 gallons and a concrete diesel-powered generator station with foot-thick walls – both of which are still visible. The hillsides were terraced for orchards, an electrified fence circled the boundaries and a huge refrigerated locker was built into a hillside … The one thing Murphy/Stephens couldn’t seem to get right was their main house. The first architect hired was Welton Becket, but there are also sketches by Lloyd Wright, and in 1941, Paul Williams drafted blueprints for a sprawling mansion with 22 bedrooms, a children’s dining room, a gymnasium, pool and a workshop in the basement.”
Security gates still stand at the former entrance to the compound.
Thirteen years later, in September 2005, Cecelia Rasmussen of the Los Angeles Times added a few details to the story (“Rustic Canyon Ruin May Be a Former Nazi Compound,” September 4, 2005): “Southern California has been the cradle to many odd cults, credos, utopias and dystopias. Among the most mysterious are the ruins of a Rustic Canyon enclave once known as Murphy Ranch … on [Rustic Canyon’s] secluded and woodsy floor stand the eerily burned-out and graffiti-scarred remains of concrete and steel structures, underground tunnels and stairways leading from the top of the canyon to the bottom … Behind the locked and rusted wrought iron entrance gates and flagstone wall stand the traces of a small community that had the capacity to grow its own food, generate its own electricity and dam its own water … The hillsides were terraced with 3,000 nut, citrus, fruit and olive trees, and fitted with water pipes, sprinklers and an elaborate greenhouse. A high barbed-wire fence discouraged intruders … research indicates that it could have been home to up to 40 local Nazis from about 1933 to 1945 … armed guards patrolled the canyon dressed in the uniform worn by Silver Shirts, a paramilitary group modeled after Hitler’s brownshirts … A man known through oral histories only as ‘Herr Schmidt’ supposedly ruled the place and claimed to possess metaphysical powers.”
A portion of the over-grown foundation of what was once a state-of-the-art greenhouse.
Herr Schmidt, needless to say, was the gentleman whose spell Winona Stephens fell under. According to Marc Norman, Schmidt “convinced her that the coming world war would be won by Germany, that the United States would collapse into years of violent anarchy and that the chosen few (read: the Stephenses, the certain gentleman and other true believers) would need a tight spot in which to hole up, self-sufficient, until the fire storm had passed. Then they could emerge not only intact but, thanks to the superiority of their politics, rulers of the anthill and, not incidentally, the origin of its new population.”
Murphy Ranch also reportedly featured a 20,000-gallon diesel fuel tank, livestock stables, and dairy and butchering facilities. Along both sides of the compound “rise eight crumbling, narrow stairways of at least 500 steps each,” as the LA Times noted. Those stairways apparently led to sentry positions high on the canyon walls (for the record, they are not actually crumbling, though most are overgrown with impenetrable vegetation). During Murphy Ranch’s years of operation, nearby residents reportedly complained of late-night military exercises and the sounds of live gunfire echoing through the canyons.
The rusted and twisted remains of a residential structure.
To summarize then, it appears that the city of Los Angeles was home to a secret, militarized Nazi compound that was in operation both before and during World War II. Remnants of that blacked-out chapter of LA history can be seen to this day, though few make the trek. The purpose of the decaying compound was to ride out an anarchic, apocalyptic war, so that the chosen few could emerge as the rulers of the new world.
It was all so very Mansonesque, and, ironically enough, Manson and his crew spent an entire summer camped out at a home that was within a two-mile hike of this curious place. It should have been something of a Mecca for Charlie, and yet he apparently knew nothing of its existence. It seems somehow disrespectful that the Family didn’t choose to set up camp here rather than at, say, Barker Ranch. At the very least, they should have paid a visit.
Former fruit and nut orchard with remains of a sophisticated irrigation system.
In the late 1940s, after the close of the war, Murphy Ranch was reportedly converted into an artist’s colony. Architect Welton Becket, who designed several of the structures at the ranch, went on to design two of LA’s landmark structures: the Capitol Records building and the Music Center. In 1973, the property once known as Murphy Ranch was purchased by the city of Los Angeles. As far as I know, the city has no plans to reopen the facility.
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“Van Cortlandt and Untermyer functioned as outdoor meeting sites for the cult.”Maury Terry, referring to the cult behind the ‘Son of Sam’ murders (from The Ultimate Evil)
Just to the west of Laurel Canyon, and slightly to the east of Coldwater Canyon, lies a large estate known as Greystone Park, home of the long-vacant Greystone Mansion. The home, and the grounds it sits on, is said to be, to this day, the most expensive private residence ever built in the city of Los Angeles. Constructed in the 1920s, the home and grounds carried the then-unfathomable price tag of $4,000,000 (by way of comparison, the Lookout Inn, built a decade-and-a-half earlier, was projected to cost from $86,000-$100,000; in other words, the single-family residence cost at least 40 times what the lavish 70-room inn cost – and the inn required bringing infrastructure and building materials to a remote mountaintop).
The massive, 46,000 square-foot edifice sits amid 22 lavishly landscaped acres of prime Hollywood Hills real estate. This rather ostentatious home was built by uberwealthy oil tycoon Edward L. Doheny as a wedding present for his son, Edward “Ned” Doheny, Jr.. If that plotline sounds vaguely familiar, it is probably because Edward Doheny was the inspiration for Upton Sinclair’s Oil, and thus for the homicidal Daniel Plainview character in There Will Be Blood (some of the interior shots near the end of that film, of expansive, marble-floored rooms, could very well have been shot in the real Greystone, though the exterior shots certainly were not).
Upon the home’s completion, in September 1928, young Ned Doheny and his new bride moved into the humble abode. Within months, the home would be bloodstained; soon after, it would be permanently abandoned.
Poor Ned, you see, was found dead in the cavernous home on February 16, 1929. Near him lay the lifeless body of his assistant/personal secretary, Hugh Plunkett. Both men had been shot. Despite persistent rumors of an inordinately long delay in reporting the deaths, and of the bodies having been moved to re-stage the crime scene, no formal inquest was ever conducted and the case was written off as a murder/suicide arising from a gay lovers’ quarrel. Plunkett was said to be the triggerman and the media quickly went into a frenzy playing up the scandalous homosexuality angle and portraying young Plunkett as positively demented.
It is anyone’s guess whether or not the two really were gay lovers, but it matters little; the rest of the story was almost certainly a work of fiction. In reality, both men were likely murdered as part of the massive cover-up/damage-control operation that followed the disclosure of the Harding-era Teapot Dome scandal, which the Doheny family, as it turns out, was very deeply immersed in. The murder/suicide scenario was then trotted out because, as we all know, if the alleged perpetrator is already dead, it pretty much eliminates the need for things like investigations and trials.
Some forty years after those gunshots rang out in the opulent Greystone Mansion, a new Ned Doheny, scion of the very same Doheny oil clan, would join the ranks of the Laurel Canyon singer-songwriters club. Like Terry Melcher and Gram Parsons, Doheny was viewed by some as a ‘trust-fund kid.’ His closest circle of friends included country-rockers Jackson Browne, J.D. Souther and Glen Frey. In addition to recording his own solo albums (his self-titled debut was released in 1973), Doheny contributed to albums by such Laurel Canyon superstars as Don Henley and Graham Nash.
Strangely enough, New York City once had a large estate known as Greystone as well. That Greystone was donated to the city as parkland, and it thereafter became known as Untermyer Park – the same Untermyer Park identified by Maury Terry as one of the two principal ritual sites used by the Process Church faction behind the ‘Son of Sam’ murders. The other site used by the cult was Van Cortlandt Park, named for Jacobus Van Cortlandt, a former Mayor of New York and one of David Van Cortlandt Crosby’s forefathers. Another of Crosby’s forefathers lent his name to Schuyler Road, which happens to run along the western boundary of the Greystone Park in the Hollywood Hills.
I have no idea what, if anything, any of that means, but I thought it best that I toss it into the mix.
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Before wrapping up this installment, this seems like as good a time as any to introduce you all to a couple of Laurel Canyon characters who we haven’t yet met, and who would attain a certain amount of fame, though not in the entertainment industry.
One of the two, whom we’ll call Jerry, had a decidedly conservative upbringing. Born into a politically well-connected Republican family, Jerry devoted his early years to pursuing a career in the Jesuit priesthood. His father, an active Republican Party operative, was an aspiring politician who initially had no luck in getting himself elected to office. Ultimately though, he succeeded in capturing the coveted California Governor’s seat in 1959, and he did it by employing a simple gimmick: he merely changed the “R” after his name to a “D.” He held the seat for two terms, through 1967, and then was replaced by a fellow who had employed a similar trick: replacing the “D” after his name with an “R.”
That gentleman, of course, was Ronald Wilson Reagan, who would govern the state through 1975, when he handed the reins over to Jerry, who, like his dad, had decided that he was a liberal Democrat. In fact, according to the media, Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, Jr. was an ultraliberal extremist whose politics fell somewhere to the left of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.
During Laurel Canyon’s glory years, Jerry Brown resided in a home on Wonderland Avenue, not too many doors down from the Wonderland death house (and from the homes of numerous singers, songwriters and musicians). His circle of friends in those days, as some may recall, included the elite of Laurel Canyon’s country-rock stars, including Linda Ronstadt (with whom he was long rumored to be romantically involved), Jackson Browne and the Eagles.
Another figure making the rounds in Laurel Canyon during the same period of time was a gent by the name of Mike Curb. At various times, Curb worked as a musician, composer, recording artist, film producer and record company executive. He also had the notable distinction of serving as the musical director on the notorious documentary feature Mondo Hollywood, which ostensibly chronicled the emerging Laurel Canyon/Sunset Strip scene. Filmed from 1965 through 1967 (well before the Manson murders), the film featured representatives from the Manson Family (Bobby Beausoleil), the Manson Family’s victims (Jay Sebring), the Freak troupe (Vito, Carl, Szou and Godo), and Laurel Canyon’s musical fraternity (Frank Zappa and his future wife, Gail Sloatman). It also featured acid guru Richard “Babawhateverthefuckitwasthathecalledhimself” Alpert.
Mondo Hollywood, as I mentioned in a previous installment, was the creation of filmmaker Robert Carl Cohen, who, as it turns out, has an interesting background for a guy whose destiny was to capture on film the emerging 1960s countercultural scene. In 1954, Cohen served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. The following year, he was on assignment to NATO. Following that, he served in Special Services in Germany. The very next year, he produced, directed, edited and narrated a documentary short entitled Inside Red China. Two years later, he wore all the same hats for a documentary entitled Inside East Germany. A few years later, he put together another documentary entitled Three Cubans.
Cohen has proudly proclaimed that he was the first (or at least among the first) Western journalists/filmmakers allowed to enter and shoot footage in each of these countries. In the case of Cuba (and likely the others as well), he did so under the sponsorship of the U.S. State Department. Mr. Cohen would like us to believe that he undertook these projects as nothing more than what he outwardly appeared to be – an independent filmmaker – but I have a hunch that few readers of this site are naïve enough to believe that a private citizen not working for the intelligence community could land such assignments.
Have I mentioned, by the way, that Cohen is not a fan of this website? I know this because he sent a few e-mails my way in which he denounced my site as being “based on slander and third-party hearsay,” or some such gibberish, and he followed that up by issuing some empty legal threats. As it turns out though, I don’t much give a fuck what Robert Carl Cohen thinks of my website.
And now, after that brief digression, we return to our discussion of Laurel Canyon’s dynamic duo of Jerry Brown and Mike Curb. In addition to his work on Mondo Hollywood, Curb also served as ‘song producer’ on another key countercultural film of the era, Riot on the Sunset Strip (which, despite its title, had little to do with the actual event). In addition, Curb scored a slew of cheaply-produced biker flicks, including The Wild Angels, Devil’s Angels, Born Losers, The Savage Seven and The Glory Stompers. Along the way, he worked alongside many of Laurel Canyon’s ‘Young Turks,’ including Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper.
It is unclear whether the paths of this odd couple crossed during Laurel Canyon’s glory years, but as fate would have it, they were to cross in 1979 in Sacramento, California. Mike Curb, you see, after being encouraged by Ronald Reagan to venture into politics, was elected to serve as Governor Jerry Brown’s second-in-command. And so it was that these two men, both veterans of the 1960s Laurel Canyon scene, came to sit side-by-side in the governor’s mansion, one sporting a “D” after his name, and the other an “R.”
Governor Brown, however, had little time to spend on actually governing the state of California. Tossing his hat into the presidential ring, he spent much of the first half of his second term out of the state, working the campaign trail. This allowed Lieutenant Governor Curb, as acting governor of the state, to sign into law a withering array of reactionary legislation that was far removed from what the people had in mind when they elected ‘Governor Moonbeam.’ This arrangement allowed the nominal liberal of the Laurel Canyon tag-team, Jerry Brown, to keep his hands clean even as his administration moved far away from its originally stated goals – and even as he made little effort to rein in his wayward underling.
These days, Jerry Brown maintains little of his liberal façade. As California’s Attorney General, he works hand-in-hand with the state’s Nazi-loving governor, Ahhnuld Schwarzenegger. Of course, if his carefully-crafted image is to be believed, Schwarzenegger is practically a liberal himself. The truth however, is something much different … or maybe not. Given that we are living in an era when a straight-faced media can routinely describe Bill and Hillary and Barry O as liberals, then I suppose Jerry and Arnie have as much right to wear that label as anyone. But then again, so do George and John.
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