Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history
In honor of the Los Angeles International Auto Show, here are some car photos I found in the archives.
Who owned this bulletproof Cadillac? And why did he need one?
- Vice President Richard Nixon after his visit to Venezuela? Interesting guess! But no.
- Bugsy Siegel? Alas Siegel died in 1947. No.
- J. Edgar Hoover? No.
- Mickey Cohen? (Chris Morales). Exactly. And why did he need a new Caddy?
Its cost has included starvation and dungeons and tortures, like these (I'll give them to you in Szabo's words):
"Every day they were to take me and put me on a desk. Three people sit on my back and legs.
"Other people have a rubber club.
"They hit at the bottoms of my feet.
"They tell me to count after each hit...
"...One, two three.... Once I count to 251 for them.
"My foot was blue and yellow and green and all broke inside. They tell me get up and to walk. Fast. And I was to sing Hungarian gypsy song."
Szabo lay in his bed at Queen of Angels Hospital as we talked. Hanging over the bed's side was the stump that used to be his left leg. Amputation was made just below the knee.
He looked at it quizzically and smiled.
It was grim humor, but maybe it's the kind of humor you have to have to make the adjustment. I guess he thought he had offended me with his bluntness, because immediately he added:
"Honestly, I am still a lucky man. A lot of people in the prisons had worse. They died.
"Only because I was young, they didn't hang me."
He illustrated the statement by encircling his neck with his hands.
He is now 28, he told me. Since he had been a teenager, he said, he had resisted the Communist fist in Hungary.
"At 19, I was sent to prison for almost six years."
His crime was having weapons--although the Communist police didn't actually find them, or know for sure that he had them.
That was what the tortures which eventually cost him a leg were for: To find out where the weapons were.
Joseph told me of other tortures, no less pleasant. They cost him six teeth and some broken fingers.
I asked him when he left Hungary.
He said on Nov. 21 of last year. He came to the United States last January.
"I left my country when I knew we had lost. The Russian was the stronger.
"We try to fight. Free Europe radio tell us when we start just fight for 72 hours and they will come to help.
"But they didn't come."
I asked if our radio--the Voice of America--told him that.
"America has a good soul," he continued. "The United States people give help. But they don't know."
"Don't know what?" I wanted to know.
"Here," he answered, "everything is comfortable. People don't know what is the word Communism. They don't know what they do.
"One person here ask me, 'Where do you come from?'
"I say, 'From Hungary.'
"He say, 'Oh, where is Hungary?' "
We chatted a little more. Joseph told me that the Hungarian families here have helped him very much. for 2 1/2 months, before he started regular stays in the hospital in a vain effort to save his leg, he worked for one of the families in a jewelry store.
Since he has been unable to work, he's been aided by the Catholic Welfare Bureau, hospitals and private doctors.
"There are many fine people," he told me.
"In Hungary," he added, "we thought dollars were in the streets here in America.
"Now I see dollars are not in the streets. You must work hard."
Again Joseph smiled. "When I get my new leg," he said, "I will."
My friends at the 1947project have announced that demon dog James "I will never again publicly discuss the Black Dahlia murder or my mother's death" Ellroy will be hosting a bus tour on Dec. 22.
For a mere $60 you can hear my old pal James not discuss his mother's murder as the bus visits Arroyo High School in El Monte and other sites in L.A.
(At right, as sold on EBay: "Black Dahlia Avenger" autographed by Steve Hodel and inscribed to James Ellroy, who provided the introduction to the book, endorsing Hodel's contention that his father killed Elizabeth Short).
Nov. 13-14, 1957
Although The Times was too squeamish to even allude to homosexuality in the Trick or Treat murder of Peter Fabiano, the Mirror was a bit more brave.
It's fairly evident that the Mirror expected people to read between the lines and figure out this story:
"Strange and unpredictable passions were probably responsible for the trick or treat murder of a Sun Valley beauty shop owner on Halloween, police said today.
"This cryptic comment was all that came from Valley Detective Sgts. Pat Kealy and Charles Stewart after they booked a 40-year-old woman freelance photographer on suspicion of murder."
The Mirror helpfully provides a few more facts about Rabel: She was a Lithuanian immigrant, had a police record for burglary and violating liquor laws, and she had been divorced for a year.
Let the record show that the word "lesbian" appeared only once in a Times news story in 1957 and that was in a direct quote from a prosecution brief against L. Ewing Scott, referring to his fabricated excuses for his wife's disappearance.
ProQuest shows that the word "lesbian" also appeared twice in classified ads, but I suspect these are "false positives" that sometimes confuse the software's search engine.
Stay tuned and I'll go over the ads to see if I can find out what's up.
But why should I have all the fun? Click below to see two pages of Times classified ads that ProQuest says contain the word "lesbian."
Nov. 13, 1957
Let's suppose you are the Ventura County coroner. The body of a man in his 20s is found washed up on the beach near Point Mugu, below Mugu Rock, according to news accounts. He's wearing a sports coat, sports shirt and slacks, but the pockets have been ripped out of his trousers and any means of identification have been removed from his clothing.
Ventura County sheriff's detectives say that the man was murdered, noting that the cuts on his face and head were inflicted before he died.
A foreign auto abandoned near the beach is traced to USC engineering student Clement Bosley, 23, 2403 Garth Ave. Bosley's roommate, Marion Dudek, a UCLA engineering student, says he and Bosley came out together from Detroit the year before and work part time at Hughes Aircraft. Dudek says Bosley "didn't have an enemy in the world."
Dudek says Bosley vanished from their apartment Nov. 10, a Sunday, and had no reason to commit suicide. "It had to be an accident," Dudek says.
Maybe I'm just the suspicious type, but Ventura County Corner Virgil Payton was not. His decision: No inquest. Bosley's death was a "probable accident."
I can find no further information in The Times about Bosley or Dudek. But I have to feel that some part of the puzzle is missing.
Deke Houlgate writes about covering the loss of the Pan Am Stratocruiser "Romance of the Skies" (the lost plane in a publicity shot, below right):
That story was a real panic operation. I came to work for my 3 to midnight shift, and all day long other, more experienced reporters were lobbying for that assignment. Fortunately, I don't remember any names, because I learned later that my selection wasn't popular among the staff. I didn't even know about it till Bill Bastedo called me up to the city desk and told me to get ready to go. Larry Sharkey took me home to my Silver Lake apartment, where Olga had just returned after watching an SC football game with my parents. Larry told Olga to pack me enough clothes to be gone 10 days. I didn't even own that much underwear, but luckily I had a wad of cash from George Rice, the auditor (I got back at him that time), and I bought clothes at the commissary on board the aircraft carrier.
This was a big deal at the time. Life send a photog, a cocky redhead named Bill. In those days they were all cocky, red headed and didn't lack for confidence. AP Photo sent Hal Filan, an old friend from my childhood. No other L.A. newspapers accepted the Navy's invitation to make the trip. I had one competitor, as the San Diego Union-Tribune sent a young copy editor named Gerald Warren. (Gerry became a lot more famous than I did, serving as Nixon's press aide in the final days of Watergate.) I was used to working around the clock in my old job at the Las Vegas Sun. So instead of hitting the officers club I went right to work in the radio room in the fantail of the ship. The enlisted men back there and I got along famously. I was told we would be out of radio range at about 300 miles, but I was still sending copy three days later 1,000 miles out. I don't know what they did to accomplish that, but I found something to write about almost every hour of the day. It must have driven the city desk bonkers. Marvin Miles was doing the rewrite and staying in touch with Pan-Am. He was the real backbone of our team.
Each day I filed stories AP picked them up under my byline, and news agencies all over the world were getting pissed off. The Navy, through my high-ranking friend, the captain of the ship, had clamped a news blackout on the story and was letting only my copy and Gerry's go out. That gave me an idea. We would probably find something in the water, and I needed to control the story. So I made a deal with Gerry to work as a team. I had seen plenty of corpses and debris in my young, misspent life. So I gave that chore to Gerry and I manned the rewrite desk for both our papers. When we found corpses, I relied on Gerry for the words and wrote take after take of copy, 18 hours in all. Around the country news agencies were doing a slow burn. I don't know what was going on in San Diego, but my AP buddies in L. A. were bylining me on every new development. I believe we filed 30 takes or so. Every one a new development.
After 24 hours of exclusive eyeball coverage the captain or his fleet admiral ended our adventure. But we were still 1,200 miles out to sea, and there was no way any news agency could reach the ship till we got back to Long Beach. Heaven! The wire services and networks could communicate with the ship, but we were days ahead of all of them. A lot of stories in Las Vegas were panic button pieces, and organizing the enlisted men on this huge WW II aircraft carrier was a piece of cake. They didn't like the redhead from Life. So as he swamped them with negatives, they put slow fix to work on them. He was the last newsman to leave the ship in Long Beach. Filan, a wily old veteran, had his negs quick-fixed, said nothing to anybody about it and loved his experience.
When I came ashore, I learned how Marvin tickled my copy and made me a hero. The head of the USC journalism department nominated me for an SDX prize, but I didn't win that either. Didn't deserve it. Marvin Miles made me look good. I still have no idea how much of my copy ran, before or after the body count, but I couldn't go anywhere for the rest of the year but somebody would tell me they read my stories.
My heroes were those incredible radio guys in the fantail who kept me in touch with the city desk for almost 900 miles farther than they were supposed to. This is my first chance finally to thank them, 50 years later.
[Note: Deke doesn't like to brag, but The Times nominated him for a Pulitzer for his coverage of the crash--lrh]
Here's an account of the search operation by a former Navy captain, from the Philippine Sea's website.
Because last week I talked to a man who estimated that he has lost, in the last four years, nearly $20,000--gambling on nickel pinball machines.
He did it, he told me, within the limits of Los Angeles County, in towns like Azusa, Bell, Compton, Gardena, El Monte, Maywood and South Gate.
All of the machines he played had "For Amusement Only" signs pasted on them.
But all, he assured me, paid off. (At least, occasionally).
To prove his point, he took Confidential File Staffer Frank Petty on a brief tour of the bars and cafes which he regularly patronized.
The tour lasted about 2 1/2 hours.
Club Balboa, 402 W. Garvey Ave., El Monte, $9.
Pioneer Club, 329 W. Valley Blvd., El Monte, $12.20.
George's Place, 4213 Tweedy Blvd., South Gate, $5.40.
Petty said that he was playing "conservatively." Yet he dropped, on the average, about $10 an hour.
The man whom he accompanied told me that he can remember many nights when he himself was out $90 or $100.
This he has done on a simple nickel machine--a machine which in most instances has the coin slot plugged and is operated by the bartender.
(The procedure being to give the bartender a dollar bill or a five and he pushes a button to register 20 or 100 "free games" on the machine. Then, if you appear to have a good chance of collecting a payoff, you can start pushing your "free game" button--at a nickel a push--to increase your payoff odds and/or chances).
Petty's "guide" on the tour, incidentally, showed us credentials proving that he's a sales representative for a large manufacturer in this area.
His income bracket isn't a low one.
So, while his losses hurt, they haven't crippled him.
But that's not the point.
The point is that state law prohibits use of the machines for gambling purposes--but damn little is being done to enforce it.
I checked with a member of the sheriff's vice squad on this.
"You won't find any pinball machines in unincorporated areas here," he assured me, "because we've got a county ordinance which prohibits the possession of them. And we enforce it."
"What about the cities within the county?" I asked.
He explained that many towns have passed ordinances to supersede the one of the county--"to permit pinball machines as skill games only. No payoffs."
"But there are payoffs," I argued. "Can't you move in?"
The officer explained that the problem was a delicate one of inter-agency politics, so to speak.
"When we get complaints of payoff machines within incorporated towns," he told me, "we forward them by registered mail to the police chiefs of the towns themselves, requesting that they investigate."
He added that most police chiefs take immediate action and inform the Sheriff's Department of the results.
I asked him about El Monte. "Ive been told that there are 22 payoff machines there," I said. "all operating openly."
"I know," he said. "For quite a while now we've been forwarding complains to the El Monte police.
"So far we haven't gotten a reply from them."