The year 1964 really began on November 22nd, 1963, with the tragedy of the assassination of a president. That singular event led to the 60s, as we know it. The letting loose of everything. It would be the year when change was inescapable, the moment that fundamentally altered the kind of nation America would become. 1964 was the year that changed American politics, absolutely.
In early January 1964, the nation’s press assembled on the lawn of a hilltop house in Phoenix. Arizona’s two-term Senator, Barry Goldwater, was about to make a dramatic announcement, one that would not only reshape the politics of 1964, but transform the American political landscape for generations to come. Goldwater told us as conservatives we could take this party over. Before that, we didn’t have a voice; we didn’t have anybody speaking for us. We believed that we had the right ideas. You know, limited government, individual freedom, free enterprise, traditional American values, a strong national defense. These were not only conservative ideas, but were American ideas. We would organize ourselves into some kind of youth group, a political action group; and coming out of that was Young Americans for Freedom. And really, from the beginning, we looked to Barry Goldwater. He believed in a balanced budget, he believed in limited government, he believed in increasing liberty and freedom for the individuals. Finally somebody was saying what we’d been thinking about.
At 1:20 pm on February 7th, Pan Am Flight 101 touched down at New York's recently renamed John F. Kennedy Airport, and the Beatles arrived in America. Ladies and gentlemen, The Beatles! They did scare a lot of parents. These kids, they were the first generation who had been brought up in the well-ordered, comfortable life of suburbia and, therefore, many of them were quite bored. And so they were beginning to rebel in sort of harmless ways. You know? Boys stopped cutting their hair. And there were fights in households. You have to get a haircut. I won’t get a haircut. And that became kind of almost a public issue.
In 1964, we were literally beside ourselves. Pop psychologists and sociologists were trying to figure it out. What did it mean that young women were willing to violate police barricades, ignore police authority completely so that they could try to touch Ringo’s hair? What adults were seeing was a new youthful energy just being released by thousands and thousands of girls. It was kind of a collective jailbreak. On March 15th, 1964, the work of a magazine writer and student of psychology named Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, hit the bestseller lists. It would become one of the most popular paperbacks of the year, and one of the most influential books of the century. In its pages, Friedan defined something that afflicted millions of American women; she called it "the problem that has no name."
On May 22nd, 1964, the largest class in the history of the University of Michigan gathered to hear its commencement address delivered by the president of the United States. You had this long, pent up fight with civil rights reaching a crescendo the summer before. President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed: “In your time, we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society. The Great Society demands an end to poverty and racial injustice... So will you join in the battle to give every citizen the full equality which God enjoins and the law requires? Whatever his belief, or race, or the color of his skin." It had this kind of aching utopian energy of the sort that you can’t even imagine a presidential candidate speaking about now.
The problem for Johnson in pushing through the Civil Rights Bill was the same problem it had been for Kennedy and for anyone who wanted to promote civil rights: it had this solid Deep South core of Senators solidly opposed to any federal action on civil rights, and a handful of other conservative Republicans, outside the region, which made it impossible to move forward. To defeat the South’s filibuster and break their stranglehold on the measure, Johnson needed 67 votes in the Senate. That meant 23 Republicans had to cross the aisle and support the bill. What Lyndon Johnson had that John F. Kennedy didn't was an unbelievable power to sway legislators. There was this thing called the Johnson treatment. He’d kind of plant his shoes next to you, he'd tower over you, he'd literally grab your lapels, his hot breath would be six inches in front of your face. If the senator said, “You know, that’s gonna kill me with my constituency,” he would refute, he would cajole you, threaten you, or bribe you. Anything he had to do to get your vote. Richard Russell, the leader of the South, said, flatly: "We could’ve beaten Kennedy on civil rights, we could’ve stopped ‘em in the Senate, but Lyndon Johnson, he says, will beat us. He’ll tear your arm off at the shoulder and beat you over the head with it. But he will get this passed. We’re going to lose."
The Civil Rights Bill laid out all of these divisions in American society. Whether it is social divisions, culture divisions, racial divisions. Suddenly you couldn’t escape from them anymore.
All during the summer of 1964, new forms of rebellion were taking shape. Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello’s sexy, skin-filled beach movies raised eyebrows and packed summer movie theaters; pop artist Andy Warhol thumbed his nose at the art establishment, with silk screens of Campbell’s soup cans that would appear in a gallery made to look like an American supermarket; and novelist Ken Kesey, and his band of Merry Pranksters, hopped on their brightly painted Magic Bus, setting off from California on an LSD-infused road trip across the country.
In the summer of ’64, young people were proposing that an entrenched way of life be dismantled and superseded. Young vs. old, and the new vs. the old. "It was about that. You know, because we were young, and we knew better than anybody else. And it was about our youthful ideals and our youthful beliefs and what we wanted society to be."
Malcolm X made a very famous speech, a break in the civil rights movement that happened right there in the summer of '64. Riots erupted. By the end of July, the Freedom Summer project had nearly 900 volunteers at work on voter registration in Mississippi. But hanging over everything was the disappearance of the three civil rights workers, who had been missing for almost six weeks. Freedom Summer stirred the beast. All of a sudden, these Freedom Schools and houses were popping up all over Mississippi. And with them came burnings and explosions.
As the November election approached, Lyndon Johnson could look back on his first months in office with "justifiable pride." He had steadied the nation in the wake of President Kennedy’s death, passed historic civil rights legislation, and launched ambitious plans for the Great Society. On the campaign trail, the President was leading Barry Goldwater in the polls, running on a platform of prosperity at home and peace overseas.
Then, on the morning of August 4th, events on the other side of the globe threatened to derail Johnson’s plans: North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked United States naval vessels patrolling in international waters. Johnson was running for election as a peace candidate, and all of a sudden there’s this incandescent war moment. There’s a hysteria about our ships being fired upon, and suddenly we were involved in a shootout. Although there was considerable doubt about whether the second attack against American destroyers had even happened, Johnson took decisive action -- ordering airstrikes in retaliation and asking Congress for increased authority to prosecute the war. Johnson availed himself of the moment to cash in on the avalanche of support. He went to Congress with what became known as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Johnson wanted a free hand. And it was relatively easy for him to get it, because people didn’t realize, the Congress didn’t realize, the Senate did not realize what we were getting into.
In the autumn of 1964, after months marked by racial violence and echoes of war overseas, Americans revisited the event that had so shaken the national confidence: “The final verdict on the fateful tragedy that engulfed the nation 10 months ago.” On September 27th, the Warren Commission announced that Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole gunman responsible for the assassination of President Kennedy.
In November 1964, Johnson received 61 percent of the popular vote, winning every state except for a few in the South and Arizona, which Barry Goldwater barely won; and the mandate for liberalism and the Great Society and civil rights had been achieved. Not only was Johnson’s presidential victory unprecedented, he had carried with him huge new majorities in both houses of Congress. Now the astonishing ambition of the Great Society seemed possible. Bill after bill -- for Medicare, federal aid to education, voting rights, environmental protection -- were all within reach, and the conservative opposition had been vanquished.
Notice the 50th anniversary of the British invasion in the drum set and guitar on the lower left of The Economist's cover above (click on the image for the high-resolution image). It could represent the 50th anniversary of the elites total takeover of music and a reshaping of Western civilization through music and drugs (1965 is when new-Rock, Beatles, Stones, Laurel Canyon bands really took off). In the drum's reflection you can see 20 f μ. The the symbol μ (Greek: mu) is used to denote the arithmetic mean of an entire population. The magazine cover, dubbed “The World in 2015,” contained several strange and sinister images appearing to announce a violent year. Considering the facts that The Economist is partly owned by the Rothschild banking family of England and its editor-in-chief, John Micklethwait, attends Bilderberg Conferences, one should take heed of warnings issued by those who can make them a reality. [Source]
"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." - Ephesians 6:12 KJV
Inside The LC: The Strange but Mostly True Story of Laurel Canyon and the Birth of the Hippie GenerationBy DAVID MCGOWAN
May 8, 2008
PART 1Join 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. [War generates huge profits for the military industrial complex; war is the biggest U.S. industry.]
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.
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)
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.
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."
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.
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 Mitchell in her Laurel Canyon home, 1968
photo: Baron Wolman
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.)
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:“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.
1. 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 (precursor to the CIA). 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Jimi Hendrix, who reportedly briefly occupied the sprawling mansion just north of Frank Zappa's '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
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.)
11. 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
12. 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.
13. “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.
14. 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.”
15. 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.
16. 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.
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.
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.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."
"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."
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?
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
“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 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.
PART 6Vito 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 Fowley
Recruits 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 (earlier, I presented you an excerpt): “By 1967, [Kenneth] Anger had relocated to San Francisco and was searching for a new Lucifer. Angler's first candidate to play Lucifer, a five-year-old boy whose hippie parents had been fixtures on the Los Angeles counterculture scene, fell through a skylight to his death.” 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.
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.