A full transcendental moon dipped into the black-out mountain evening, has cured me of interior turmoil for the time being. This is part of adventures in livingness what locals call the bu. TO BE CONTINUED
I WALKED ALONG THE BLUFF OF DECKER CANYON overlooking the Santa Monica mountains and listened to the breeze stream through palm and eucalyptus trees. Medication from nature loosened the wires in my guarded nervous system. A new current of suspicion, tension and distrust entered the zone between Madam C. As a woman who beholds her best gal pals, and runs into the arms of women who send out invitations for friendship, I’m susceptible and gullible to hidden motivations.
After the rain walk, doused in mist and droplets I scurried up the hill to my shack. The room I rented from Madam C smelled musty after the rain. It is linked to her boudoir by an open patio where we shower. During the day, our paths cross a dozen times in the kitchen, in the hallway, and in my room.
“ LouLou, are you there? LouLou, let me see what you are wearing, I love those earrings, where did you get them? LouLou we are going to Westlake tonight. There are a lot of very rich men there. Is my hair color okay? Yes you look beautiful. Loulou did you lock the door? Did you close the gate? You left your clothes in the dryer. Where is Lily, (the cat) Will you watch Koui, (her furry partner) for me tonight? Yes, yes yes.
As I entered my room, rain water was dripping in bold droplets on the rock floor. Madam stuck her head in to speak.
“Oh my god, what is this? Oh I can’t believe it. Her hands massaged her forehead, and her face twisted into a vaccination of anguish.
“ It’s not that bad, ” I assuredly replied. I meant it too.
“ Oh the money I will have to spend! Juan, (her runaround helper) is called and ordered to come at once.”
“ Look Juan! What are we going to do?”
Juan mumbled something I can’t recall and we all stared at the rain coming down.
“ You will have to move, you can’t stay there. I will put you in the Artists Studio. It’s more money. That’s all I can do”
“ How much more?”
“ Two hundred.”
“Or you can leave?”
I turned away to hide my alarm.
That night I watched over Koui in C’s living room and played with the remote mostly because the screen wasn’t taking effect on my disposition. I felt a bit unwelcome, as if I pulled the rain from the sky.
In the morning, she greeted me courteously, “ Are you ready to move.. Juan and I moved my suitcases, bedding, photos and twelve pairs of shoes to the studio. It was lovely, a high-pitched ceiling, aquamarine walls, and private patio with shower, bathroom and kitchen.
“ Well, you like it?”
“ I love it!”
“ Well then show it. You should be happy all the time. Life is not easy, I know my dear. Adjustments are necessary. You don’t have a mama and papa to look after you. It’s up to you.
“ But C I am happy?”
Later on she sent me a text. She invited her neighbor Andrew to dine with us, “ I am doing this for you. He is a producer, Maybe he can help you.”
I prepared dinner in my new studio, listening to Ray Charles, dancing in a celebratory mood.
“ LouLou, Andrew is here, C breezed into the patio, draped in scarf, and a exotic maxi dress. I waved them in.
Andrew handed me a lemon frosted cake and a bottle of red wine.” We all chatted at once. then C blurted out, “Why didn’t you use my kitchen?”
I am making dinner and cleaning up. You just sit and enjoy.
Dinner rocked along with intensity; C and Andrew discussing water rights, neighbors, and her vacation rentals. After dinner Andrew stood up, 6’3” and whispered , ‘ can we go into your area?’ C must have heard, because she spun away.
We drank wine and Andrew unbuttoned his witty humor, on-set stories, and compliments. I immediately caressed his presence and we ended up at his quarters; an unruly wedge of land so blackened we could not see anything but the stars. Behind us was his lodge; a spit and glue log cabin covered in palm frowns. I found his eccentricity appealing as his smile. He really didn’t give any thought to conventionality.
“ What kind of movies do you make?” I asked.
“ Rotten ones, I mean really bad. The last one I didn’t even see. B sci-fi flicks, reality shows, that I can’t stand to watch, and documentaries.”
“ Documentaries have turned into dramas, I love them.”
“Yea, they’re good. I filmed Sundance and Cannes. Listen, I’m not a devotee of the business, I don’t kiss ass, and I don’t go to star parties, or read about them. I got fired off a film because I addressed Reese Witherspoon without knowing who she was.”
“ Yea, there’s a hierarchy to the business you have to deal with. Are you cold? You’re shivering. Here put my jacket on. “
Andrew walked me down the uneven dirt road with a flashlight and a steady arm. His size in height and bulk denotes power, but it is his effortless mannerisms, laughter and shuffling footsteps that remind me of a comfortable sitting chair.
‘ Do you like museums?”
“You want to go tomorrow? You been to LCMCA?”
I wasn’t even sure which one he meant but I said yes!
We took off the next morning in my Rover, so I would adjust to driving in Los Angeles again. We stopped at Duke’s for breakfast, sat on the patio under a canopy of bougainvillaea.
“ I am having a panic attack.”
“ I’m so happy!” Life was so spectacular at that moment; to lean back and set my heart into the sea, sky, and eat a fish sandwich.
Andrew threw his head back and laughed.
“ Could we make one stop first at Saks. I have some jewelry they have to send out?”
“ Do you know how to get there?” He asked. Andrew moved from Manhattan four years ago. “ “Are you kidding? Saks Beverly Hills is my Tiffany’s.”
To be continued
In a current of unexpected waves I floated towards the Pacific Ocean, and landed along the anfractuous Santa Monica Mountains. Malibu where exotic fish are silhouettes behind glass aquariums perched on sand dunes or in swank foreign carriers has bitten my interest to understand how an exotic lives.
The salty seaweed smell of the ocean streams through my car, driving down Pacific coast highway on my way to buy groceries. Vintage Market is new to Malibu, and clerks are giddy about their jobs. They may be aspiring actors or were aspiring actors. I walk in and get a phone call that I’d been waiting for so, I set my cart down on a shelf and took the call. During the half hour call, my eyes were fluttering through the scene: tanned surfers, affluent college students, and diamond rich men and women of age, that don’t check their bank balance. Because of this, expressions are chilled as fine wines, and smiles are polite or radiating. They are a content population of 13,000, median home price is $901,000, and the median income household is $127,000. Here in Malibu every thing looks different from Santa Fe: The staging of ‘was in the business, am in the business, or want to be in the business,’ surfaces and dominates the scenery.
They are beautiful-the young teenagers who surf and paddle are true blondes, the blue eyes scintillating pools of water, young women are saddled onto 6” platforms, and then there are the stand-out power people, who will not acknowledge anyone, and expect everyone to acknowledge them. Tucked in the mountains, are extraordinary artists who live off the grid the way most people prefer to live in Santa Fe.
I am learning slowly and still hiding out at Chantal’s. Where I am living, two miles up from PCH off a dirt road, behind a gate, there are Bohemians, artists, home-office screenwriters, producers, and famous heirs of recognizable movie stars.
In the last two weeks my head feels lighter, and my heart is not aching for the Thinker, or my sunken red room where I dreamt of moving to Malibu. What I began twenty years ago is my primary act of indulgence; completion of my book, “Growing Up with Gangsters.”
In the last hour I walked down the road in the hands of sloping hillsides, horse ranches, and signature homes behind walls as high as the palm trees, built to withstand the typhoons of mankind. In daylight swirl of rain and clouds, it was as if I was in Ireland, walking along a road in Kilkenny, and then I roped in my imagination and returned to the mountains here, that will teach me how far to go, how to duck a car, or confront a coyote or a snake.
A full transcendental moon dipped into the black-out mountain evening, and has cured me of interior turmoil for the time being. This is part of adventures in livingness in what locals call the bu. TO BE CONTINUED
THE MOST RECENT POST WAS A DRAFT. Please don’t think I lost my mind, that was a draft of notes for a post. I don’t know how to spell parallel when I am speed writing. Now you know!
This is a previous post (2011) that I am re posting for new readers.
MY FAMILY history was brought to life in an unpublished memoir. The stories lived on during a long arduous journey of research and trying to get published. Sometimes I read pages to get close to my parents. I squeeze in between them like a ghost, hear their voices, and see their expressions. If I remove the outside world, the hum of the hotel air-condoning , the delivery trucks, and speeding motorcycles, I can remember swimming in the pool with my mother. I see her bathing cap strap pulled down across her chin, her red lipstick, and her one-piece strapless bathing suit. I can see her freckles, and her long slender arms backstroking as she swam.
Early in 1960 my father decided to build a swimming pool in the backyard of our house on Thurston Circle. I had just completed swimming lessons and asked my father for a pool. Years later he told the story: “My little girl asked for a pool, and I built her one.” I think he built the pool for my mother. He was under investigation with the FBI and Department of Justice, and spent most days in court defending himself against a deportation order to Russia. Subpoenas, arrests, and trials were routine events that tied my parents together against a world of misunderstanding. After eleven years of nail biting suspense, my mother just wore out. The pool was built with the intention of removing my mother’s anxiety and sadness. My father designed the shape of the pool around the original pool at the Garden of Allah, a highly scandalous Hollywood hotel apartment that attracted starlets and gangsters in the early 30’s. I know this tiny detail from photographs I’ve seen of the Garden pool. More obscure details surrounding the building of our pool were found reading his FBI files.
My father accused the pool contractor of being an informant for the government. One sunny afternoon he marched him out of the house. I was hiding behind a drape when the confrontation broke out. I recall the big shouldered contractor running from my father’s threats. Most likely an FBI agent was parked outside and followed the man after he scampered out.
The pool was finally completed in mid 1961. There are photographs of my mother and I in the pool; her smile is radiant and naturally composed. She and I swam everyday. My father loved to swim too, but he was busy with court proceedings and meetings. Before the year ended my mother filed for divorce, the house burnt down, and I was released from childhood. I don’t regret those events any longer. They were steps that shaped my character, and what brings me back to the topic of growing up with gangsters.
The best memories of my childhood are in swimming pools and restaurants with gangsters and gamblers. They were part of the family, and when they were around my father was on very good behavior, and my mother defenseless against their irresistible humor, pranks, and generosity. She just sort of glided in and out of activities, and helped me ride the vibrations. She didn’t laugh out of herself like I do, and she rarely yelled. The older I get, the less I seem to be like her. Maybe the passage of life experiences determines which parent you will take after. Had I married and had children, maybe I’d be more like her. Since I get into all kinds of tricky situations, and throw the dice, I need my father’s strength more.
Over the years, I have forgotten some of the dead reckoning discoveries I made about our family history. Still nothing compares to reading about my Aunt Gertie. She was my father’s sister. Until I read about her in the FBI file, I didn’t know she existed. I haven’t figured out why my father left her out of our life. According to the FBI files she was a remarkably loyal sister. Gertie was the one who confronted the federal agents when they arrived at the family home in Winnipeg, Canada. She pushed my grandmother out of the interview, and spoke for the family. The agents showed her a recent photograph of my father. She told them that her brother left home when he was twelve and they had not seen him since. She could not verify the identity of the photograph because almost twenty years had passed. The agents left without any evidence and continued to search for the birthplace of my father. Every time he was arrested, he entered a different birthplace. He named Chicago, New York, Detroit, and Los Angeles. His origins were discovered through a letter that his mother had written when he was fifteen and confined to a boys reformatory. The letter was turned over to the FBI, and that is how they discovered his parents lived in Winnipeg. The government could not deport my father to Russia without verification from his family. Eventually my father won the battle. He was granted citizenship in 1966, two weeks after my mother died.
Gertie died after my father. I don’t know if they corresponded over the years. I have learned enough about my father to know he was protecting her from further harassment. Maybe if my father lived longer they would be coming after me.
By MARTIN ZEILIG
On the evening of June 20, 1947, less than six months after he opened the Flamingo Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas, Ben “Bugsy” Siegel died in a barrage of bullets through the front windows while sitting on a couch in his Beverly Hills mansion at 810 Linden Drive.Assassinated at the age of 41, Siegel was one of the USA’s most notorious gangsters.
Al Smiley (1907-1984), a former Winnipegger, was with Siegel that evening.
“My dad was seated inches away from Siegel, on the sofa, and took three bullets through the sleeve of his jacket,” said Luellen Smiley, a creative non-fiction writer, award-winning newspaper columnist and Mob historian, who lives in Sante Fe, New Mexico.
She consented to an interview with The Jewish Post & News earlier this winter.
“He was brought in as a suspect. His photograph was in all the newspapers,” said Luellen.
“He was the only nonfamily member who had the guts to go to the funeral.”
So who was Al Smiley?
Born in Kiev, Ukraine in 1907 as Aaron Smehoff, Smiley and his family – father Hyman, mother Anne, sister Gertrude (who became a school teacher and lived in Winnipeg until her death many decades later), brothers Samuel and Benjamin – immigrated to Winnipeg when he was five, said Luellen Smiley, during a recent telephone interview with this reporter from her home in Sante Fe, New Mexico.
“My grandfather was a kosher butcher and delicatessen owner,” she continued, noting that the family home and butcher shop was located at 347 Aberdeen Avenue.
“He maintained an Orthodox household and expected that his eldest son would become a rabbi. But, my father was rebellious and interested in sports, especially hockey.”
This caused conflict between the willful youth and his rigid, religious father.
So, the teenager fled Winnipeg for greener pastures in Detroit, Michigan via Windsor, Ontario in 1923.
He got a job travelling with the Ringling Brothers Circus and ended up in California where he was arrested for a drugstore robbery in San Francisco and sent to Preston Reformatory School in Ione, California, Luellen noted.
“It was there that he met legendary movie director Cecil B. DeMille,” she said.
“He was doing some sort of research for a movie. My father asked him for a job in the movie industry upon his release, and DeMille agreed. He found my dad work in a wardrobe department.
He later became a property man, then a grip, the person in charge of production on a set, and eventually a producer.”
He befriended celebrities like George Raft, Eddie Cantor, Clark Gable, Lauren Bacall, along with such gangster associates as Ben Siegel.
“I’m pretty sure Dad met Ben through George Raft,” Luellen Smiley speculated.
With Siegel’s help he opened a nightclub in L.A. sometime in the late 1930s.
Smiley would later tell his daughter that Siegel was “the best friend I ever had.”
In her soon-to-published memoir, excerpts of which she agreed to let this newspaper print, Luellen Smiley reveals the conflicted feelings she had growing up, and into later life too, about her father:
“Some children are silenced. The pretense is protection against people and events more powerful than them. As the daughter of Allen Smiley, associate and friend to Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel, I was raised in a family of secrets.
“My father is not a household name like Siegel, partly because he wore a disguise, a veneer of respectability that fooled most. It did not fool the government.
“When I was exposed to the truth by way of a book, I kept the secret, too. I was 13. My parents divorced, and five years later, my mother died. In 1966, I went to live with my father in Hollywood. I was forbidden to talk about our life: ‘Don’t discuss our family business with anyone, and listen very carefully to what I say from now on!’ But one night, he asked me to come into his room and he told me the story of the night Ben was murdered.
“When I was spared death, I made a vow to do everything in my power to reform, so that I could one day marry your mother.
“Ben was the best friend I ever had. You’re going to hear a lot of things about him in your life. Just remember what I am telling you; he’d take a bullet for a friend.
“After my father died, I remained silent, to avoid shame, embarrassment and questions. But 10 years later, in 1994, when I turned 40, I cracked the silence. I read every book in print – and out of print – about the Mafia. Allen Smiley was in dozens. He was a Russian Jew, a criminal, Bugsy’s right-hand man, a dope peddler, pimp, a racetrack tout. I held close the memory of a benevolent father, wise counselor, and a man who worshipped me.
“I made a Freedom of Information Act request and obtained his government files. The Immigration and Naturalization Service claimed he was one of the most dangerous criminals in the country. They said he was Benjamin Siegel’s assistant. They said he was poised to take over the rackets in Los Angeles. He didn’t; he sold out his interest in the Flamingo, and he went to Houston to strike oil. I put the file away, and looked into the window of truth. How much more could I bear to hear?
“He stowed away to America at 16, and was eventually doggedly pursued for never having registered as an alien. He had multiple arrests – including one for bookmaking in 1944, and another for slicing off part of the actor John Hall’s nose in a fracas at Tommy Dorsey’s apartment. He met my mother, Lucille Casey, at the Copacabana nightclub in 1943. She was onstage, dancing for $75 a week, and my father was in the audience, seated with Copa owner and mob boss Frank Costello.
“‘I took one look, and I knew it was her,’ was all he had told me on many occasions.
“On a trip to the Museum of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles, I was handed a large perfectly pristine manila envelope, and a pair of latex gloves with which to handle the file. Inside were black and white glossy MGM studio photographs, press releases, and biographies of my mother’s career in film, including roles in ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,’ ‘Ziegfeld Follies of 1946,’ ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ and ‘Harvey Girls.’ She was written up in the columns, where later my father was identified as a ‘sportsman.’ The woman who pressed my clothes, washed my hair, and made my tuna sandwiches was an actress dancing in Judy Garland musicals, while her own life was draped with film noir drama.
“My father wooed her, and after an MGM producer gave her an audition, he helped arrange for her and her family to move to Beverly Hills, where she had steady film work for five years. He was busy helping Siegel expand the Western Front of the Costello crime family and opening the Flamingo casino in Las Vegas. They were engaged in 1946.
“Still, the blank pages of my mother’s life did not begin to fill in until I met R.J. Gray. He found me through my newspaper column, ‘Smiley’s Dice.’
“One day last year, R.J. sent me a book, ‘Images of America: The Copacabana,’ by Kristin Baggelaar. There was my mother, captioned a ‘Copa-beauty.’ Kristin organized a Copa reunion in New York last September. I went in place of my mother, but all day I felt as if she was seated next to me. I fell asleep that night staring out the hotel window, feeling a part of Manhattan history.
“Now, the silence is over. I don’t hesitate to answer questions about my family. I have photographs of Ben Siegel in my home in Santa Fe, NM, just as my father did. Every few months I get e-mails from distant friends, or people who knew my dad.
“It seems there is no end to the stories surrounding Ben and Al. I am not looking for closure. I’ve become too attached to the story. To me, he was a benevolent father, a wise counsellor and a man who worshipped me.”
Luellen Smiley can be contacted via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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