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Paul Coates -- Confidential File, January 31, 1959

January 31, 2009 |  2:00 pm


Junks 'Junk'; Grads Applaud

Paul_coates It's commencement week, but the proudest graduate in Southern California today isn't from any institution of learning.

He went through his ceremony in a shabby Ocean Park store-front dwelling crowded with friends whose combined arrest records could overflow the filing cabinets of any middle-sized town in the country.

Most of the guests, like the graduate, were former gutter dope addicts.

A couple of months ago I wrote about their experiment in "communal kicking" of the habit.

The group calls itself Synanon.

This week's "grad" was a man named Jesse, who at 35 -- for practically the first time in his adult life -- is free.

The arrests for narco, burglary, theft and half a dozen other crimes are behind him, he thinks.

'Clean' for Seven Months

Life After Synanon

March 29, 1998

By Ted Rohrlich
Times Staff Writer

In the turbulence of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the Vietnam War was at its peak and faith and society’s institutions were becoming unmoored, a small drug and alcohol program in Santa Monica became an unlikely buoy in a storm.

   Synanon had been heralded by Time magazine for its supposed 80% success rate and touted by a politician as “a man-made miracle on the beach.”

   Its founder, a charismatic former drunk, may have been so intoxicated by fabulous press that he decided he could make the “miracle” apply to everyone. In 1969, Charles E. Dederich stopped graduating drunks and drug addicts to the larger society and instead invited the larger society to join his drunks and drug addicts in a Utopian quest to perfect communal life.


At the weird exercises Jesse was honored for (1) receiving his discharge papers from his parole officer, and (2) having stayed "clean," off the junk, for a personal record of seven months.

* *

Last Saturday I devoted this space to a situation which I considered a very unfortunate one.

At that time, the body of Carl (Alfalfa) Switzer, a onetime "Our Gang" star, lay in the County Morgue, and because of legal technicalities which delayed its release, a funeral planned by his parents had to be postponed.

The body was being held at the morgue by coroner's officials, who claimed they couldn't release it to the family until Switzer's ex-wife, Dian Collingwood Switzer, gave them approval. The family indicated to me that they had tried unsuccessfully to contact Mrs. Switzer at her home in Hutchinston, Kan.

I printed the story. And it's one of the perils of journalism that as it was going to press, Mrs. Switzer's wire arrived in the coroner's office

Wanted Legal Advice

It should be made clear that the young lady wasn't deliberately avoiding giving consent to release of her ex-husband's body for burial. Because of the divorce situation, she wanted the telegram to be dictated by her Los Angeles attorney. And, as soon as she was able to reach him, the telegram went out.

* *

The question of who wrote the original story for the motion picture "The Brave One" has been dumped into the laps of the Screen Writers Guild this week.

A leading contender for the honor is the deceased Spanish-born writer-dancer-actor, Juan Duval, whose posthumous candidacy I revealed last week.

And adding new support to his claim is Dale Robertson. The western star telephoned me after reading my column- with the information that he, personally, had taken Juan Duval's script about a boy and a bull to a number of producers in town.