SOME OF YOU may have already seen my announcement on Facebook. For those that have not, my memoir CRADLE OF CRIME- A Daughter’s Tribute, is now available on Amazon in the USA, Canada, and the UK.
I began writing my way home in 1996.
If you choose to read I’d love to hear back from you!
The sunlight shatters the curtain-less bedroom window and burns into my eyes at daybreak. From this unsheltered spot I rise to see a pot of blue sky over the rooftops, and the expectant afternoon showers building up in the clouds. The sky is filled with crows, eagles, and magpies lingering overhead weightless and free-falling, beyond all of us caught behind electronics. The days filled with desert showers that drench the soil and turn the arid dry land green and lush. For this I am thankful. At the end of the day, I am inclined to sit in the courtyard and watch the sky manifest colors unmatched by any Dunn Edwards collection. By the time dinner is topical, I have substituted preparing food, to just snacking, This August underscores the need to sit down, to sort of bob my head to Nancy Wilson music, and do very little. I’m self publishing Cradle of Crime- My Father, Me, and the Mob.
Santa Fe today
Santa Fe today, Friday the 13th. Listening to soundtrack of Man & a Woman, my lyrics, my movie. The end is what I imagine mine. The day was blowing cottonwood and white wisteria in a blow glow of dance. There is a certainty about my movements, different than yesterday. I declare this day of summer, sandals,pedicure, trying on my bathing suit, making a palette change, and putting on the ritz. The gloss and bronze, and maybe even going outdoors. Shopping and going to the Lowriders Day in Santa Fe.
The throw of the dice this week lands on Adventures in Livingness. The last time I wrote a column about life beyond the book was the Malibu series. I’m still tainted by the U-Turn out of Malibu, but as Dad always said, ‘If you fall off the horse you get back on!’ That’s what this book is all about; just how impressionable we are as children.
My pals who have commented after reading this material in six different memoirs are immensely important to this writer. Word press followers, you are recognized with every comment! Pals, Baron, Blair, and Stone who took my hand into the offices of agents and editors thank you for believing in my dice!
Santa Fe. NM 3/26/2016
A photographic day for capturing the stillness of light on the rose buds. Winter was a lot of writing, editing, and films. I must have seen a hundred this winter. All easy paved paths to escape. The one I’d recommend is Divided We Fall; a Polish film set during the occupation of Poland. The Director managed to weave suffering and horror with extraordinary hope and brotherhood. If you like mystery-crime dramas, Nine Queens, an Argentinian film that rattles the roots of a cheaters.
A FEW DAYS LATER
Today is sprayed gray and white cloud cover, and tiny drops of wet snow. I call the climate of Santa Fe, a woman with PMS. I’m listening to Nat King Cole and withering under a hang-over after a sensational evening with Brother Marc, (the son I wanted) White Zen, his Mother, and Rudy. I’ve watched Marc grow up. Over the last seven years he’s transformed from a shy, confused young adult, into a man of the mountain; wilderness is his passion. He drives those big snow plow machines and grooms the mountains in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. He works at night and when he takes a break he looks at the stars. Six-foot thin muscle, shoulder brown curls, and eyes shaped like two row boats filled with blue water. He’s not only handsome, his instincts, original expression, and amusing bellowing deep voice tie this lad up in someone you love. He’s an original. You never get the question or answer you expect; he pulls wisdom from his head and heart as easily as folding a napkin. One two three–a brand of thinking shoots out and I just look at him bewildered. Marc is a twenty-nine year old frontiersman and has been since he was knee high on a San Francisco skateboard. The Revenant!
Easter brings people together and I’ve sensed a developing surge to be in a group. Distanced friends come closer, family is the bread and butter of vacation, I see so many of them at La Posada, and couples are cooperating. No one needs to hug a pillow when they go to sleep is my motto.
My rise above familiar surroundings and comfort began the day Brussels was terror stricken and all Belgians became one. I checked on Twitter that day, and was touched so deeply when I read the dozens of tweets offering shelter, food, and clothes for those in need. If I were a lifestyle journalist I’d go there and write about the emotional and physical patterns that will change over time. Imagine the consciousness’ of those personally affected after experiencing a bomb exploding beside them. I’ve asked a few people how they feel about terrorism. Some are inflamed and others refuse to discuss the matter as it elicits political commentary. Terrorism has infiltrated the shuffle of disappointment and raised the inner riot in my head to world events. The importance of conversation so we don’t feel alone is vibrating. I don’t mean in text and twitter. It is too instant to embrace. What happened to,
‘You’ll feel better if you talk about it’ psychology?
After a few weeks of submitting the book and reading rejection emails, I realized I wasn’t as prepared as I thought. Not taking rejections personally is like a handshake after you’ve been swindled. I moused over to JK Rowlings and read a few rejection letters she posted after submitting a manuscript under the name of Richard Galbraith. One of the letters suggested she join a writers workshop! Anonymous writers like actors, musicians, artists, and photographers are caught in the storm of celebritism. If you are unrecognized the brick and mortar you have to break through is an Olympian challenge.
I was writing a lengthy portrayal of Ben Siegel one day and it occurred to me that he had become a major character in my life. He played a role that someone else should have; a noted author, or journalist, or poet. Ben Siegel changed my history because I had to learn to love him. Learning to love him meant erasing everything I had read or heard. It is said he was a ruthless killer, a savage, violent, and that he loved to kill. I turned to look at a photograph of my mother. I was told that she loved Ben too. Where once I believed my mother was naïve and uninformed, I know this wasn’t the case. She knew from the beginning. Mom fit into this strangely singular and controversial group of people. I see her in the full frame of who she was. (she is on the right in MGM Ziegfeld Follies 1946) I like her this way because it raised my self esteem; my rebelliousness came from both parents.
While writing about Dad I questioned my prolonged interest in his choices, behavior, and his secrecy. I asked Uncle Myron who shared the same history. Myron reaffirmed that my father was a true to the code gangster. No one ever got him to talk about what he knew or had seen.
Children feel the repression of truth as clearly as they do the pain of bruise. The more you hide or bandage the more they seek and peek. At my root is the inclination to question the world around me, and to mend the breaks in life that molded my identity.
Along the way of the first chapter, I discovered that people like to know how it works; how we write in a state of solitude and selfishness. A story or any work of art lives in the artist and God. Miracles do happen!
Submerged in film and gangster history, assembling photographs of my father’s movie star friends, his gangsters’ friends, photographs of the nightclubs he frequented, I pasted these into a collage and posted it above my desk. I played Tommy Dorsey and all the big band leaders of the thirties records imagining these props would provoke memories and a sense of identity to my parents.
Without knowing how deep I had to go or what shattering evidence would cross my path, in my heart, I felt this was crossing a spiritual bridge to my parents. The flip side was a gripping torment tied to my prying mind. Dad’.s compulsorily privacy was in my hands now and so was voice. He was inside my head reading his lines. “Stay out of my room–out of my affairs–out of my life!”
“I have to break into your life to break my silence. I want to understand you and Mommy.”
“Don’t expect any help from me! Put your nose in another book, the Allen Smiley story isn’t for sale.”
No matter what I uncovered I knew it would be ambiguous and controversial. I was certain there would be no record of murder, dope peddling, or prostitution. Even so, I could never understand the similarities we shared, unless I knew them as people. The ethereal staging did more than provoke memories; a sense of belonging rooted me to the golden years of Hollywood.
I was completely uneducated in the craft of research. My first phone call was to the Beverly Hills Police Department. They were not very helpful after I told them who my father was.
‘The Bugsy Siegel case is still open. We cannot release any files on your father. Call the Criminal District Office; they’ll have records of him there.’ The case was open? Sounded a bit squishy to me.
On a stormy day when the queen palms whipped though torrential rain, flooded streets and metallic clouds hanging low like a net over the sky I was on my way to the Criminal District Office in the Hall of Justice on Spring Street. Unfamiliar to me, but somehow as I walked up the prolonged steps it was recognizable from films and television. The Courthouse, the County Jail, all that authority in an unmarked white stucco building. Not a blade of grass out of place. When I arrived at the entrance my heart was racing. My father’s voice did not interfere with my direction but I felt his disapproval. The first person I confronted was an imposing woman with a sternness that studied me.
“May I help you?”
“I hope so. I apologize for the intrusion. I don’t have an appointment.”
“What are you asking?”
“I am looking for whatever files you have on my father.”
She reached for the desk drawer and passed me a form. She asked me to step aside and fill it out.
“My father died twelve years ago. I don’t have any other family to explain things to me.”
“I’m not at liberty to give you any information.”
“I know that. Can you tell me if you have files on Benjamin Siegel?”
“You mean Bugsy?”
“Was your father Bugsy?”
“No, he was … his friend.”
“What was his name?”
“Allen Smiley.” She turned to her computer and entered something. She read from the screen and then removed her glasses and rubbed her eyes.
“Your father is in the system.”
I gave her the form with his FBI number and started to leave.
“Here, come back. I found the criminal case numbers. The numbers are 19778, 19926, and she read out nine different cases. As I watched her write these down I thought they know things about my father that I don’t.
“Bring these to the National Archives in Laguna Nigel.” She said.
Outside the clouds converged over the San Bernadino Mountains. The strain to see through reminded me of my own predicament; how to see through the fog of secrecy and ambiguity. The following day I drove to the National Archives. I didn’t know such a place existed. A polite man took my case numbers and when he returned he was wheeling a shopping cart of files. His name was Bill Doty.
“So your Dad was Allen Smiley?”
“Yes. You’ve heard of him?”
“There’s a lot written about him in Johnny Roselli’s files. I know he was very close to Johnny. We have ten-thousand pages on him.”
I looked at the brown manila files he stacked on a desk for me.
“I’ll be here all day.”
“We close at four o’ clock. Do you want to see the Roselli files?”
“Not just yet–I have to read these first.” The files took me on a criss-cross chase of a man I didn’t know. The case files included testimonies, court transcripts, appeals, and newspaper articles.
“How’s it going?” Bill appeared.
“This is a novel. Like reading about some one else.”
“Do you recognize any of the names?”
Even now twenty-two years later I can conjure up the exact image of that sterile polished reading room, my stomach churning, the sound of the doors opening and closing, and Bill’s footsteps on the waxed tile floor. Crunched over the stack of documents I read my father’s answers to Examining Officers questions, from an Immigration and Naturalization Agency (INS) hearing in 1962.
“ Were you closely associated with Benjamin Siegel for the three years prior to his murder?”
“The only way I could explain it, was a friendly association.”
“Friendly business association or friendly social association?”
“Just the same type of friendly association that I have with people in every occupation of life. By the same token, I have had the occasion to have the President of Notre Dame in my home, Father Cavanaugh, Doctors, Lawyers, people of every description. I go by the golden rule. I treat people the way I like to be treated.”
The faded black type on his three page arrest record elevated my distress; assault, bookmaking, operating without a liquor license, robbery, extortion, contempt of court, suspicion of robbery, suspicion of murder, the words blurred. Suspicion of murder? Maybe Jack was right; Dad had more involvement than a friendly association. Every few hours I went outdoors and sat on a bench to breathe. My stomach was stiff as those fastened files. It was a feeling I’d never experienced in my life.
Bill circled around me as I slumped further into the past, the florescent lights blinding me. When I closed the files, and told him I’d be back in a week, Bill insisted I see the Johnny Roselli archives. There were eight shelves on either side of the aisle, and while I gazed at this galactic inventory the face of Johnny erupted. Seated in a red leather booth at La Dolca Vita, sipping red wine, his eyes
watery pools filled with the density of his life.
“Have you read Ed Becker’s book, All American Mafioso?” Bill asked. He randomly pulled a file from the rack.
“You should; your Dad is in it. Look at this history so few people know about. The government hired Roselli to assassinate Castro! You have to read these files.”
The day I was born, May 11, 1953 the headlines of the The Los Angeles Time read:
GANGSTERS INVADE SOUTHLAND CITIES.
Among gangsters and their hangers-on named were Abe (Longy) Zwillman, Frankie Carbo, Meyer Lansky, Allen Smiley, whose true name is Aaron Smehoff, Gerald Catena and William Bischoff.
When I met Daddy he had salty sea blue eyes and when my actions were worthy of laughter, his eyes retracted into a blur of skin. Dressed in perfectly matched shades of pink, silver and blue my child eyes rested cheerfully on his silk ties, a collage of jewel tones. The feel of his fabric was soft like blankets. He was very interesting to look at when I was a child and open to all this detail.
I clung to his neck in the back seat of his baby blue Cadillac. He sang songs and his hand fluttered about, catching me by surprise behind my head, and his laughter echoed in my ears. Sometimes we drove through the Paramount Studio Gates, and I was chauffeured in a cart to the Western Stage where we watched cowboys and musical dancers. I was too young to understand this was just a film; thus began my insatiable yearning to be a dancer.
Rory Calhoun was one of the stars Dad was close pals with. Just this week I dug into research about Rory Calhoun. I learned he died in 1999, and that he’d also been a ward in Preston Reformatory where Dad was sent at eighteen years old. Rory came a few years later.
We spent a lot of time with the Calhoun family. They had two girls the same age as me. Their exotic Spanish villa on Whittier Drive and Sunset enraptured my girlish senses. Inside it was like a movie set, with animal rugs, oil paintings of Spanish Troubadours and Moorish decorations. Rita, Rory’s wife, wore tiny stacked high heels and she clicked across the Spanish tiles like a flamenco dancer. The whole family was blessed with dreamy looks. I didn’t realize that I was surrounded with extraordinary beauty; everyone had these exceptional vogue looks. The importance placed on that kind of beauty was just as distorted as my examination.
Rita danced a stern feminine demeanor, extremely seductive but not without a battle. I learned my first lessons about temptation just by watching her. She fanned the room with perfume and laughter, and men just succumbed like drugged animals. I felt my first tingle of sexuality in the arms of Rory. He was a treasure of natural emotion, physically and orally. They both gambled, borrowed money from the other, and they bet on everything.
On Sunday we went to Beverly Park, a cherished amusement park across from where the whimsical Beverly Center shopping Mall is today. I was only two years old when Dad slung me over a big stinky pony, and insisted I ride around the ring so he could snap photographs.
Inside the Cadillac, insulated from the outside world by metal and glass, he drove without intention of destination, or so it seemed. Though I didn’t know it, he often changed directions to confuse a tailing federal agent. The places he took me became our secret. Sometimes he asked me to close my eyes and count to a hundred. It was a game; he wouldn’t tell me where we were going. I’d open my eyes and we’d be somewhere unfamiliar, a storefront, hotel room, or someone’s home.
When the Ringling Brothers Circus came to town, Dad took me every weekend and I met some of the performers. He was no less enthusiastic about the circus than I was. Now I understand as I’ve learned he traveled with Ringling Brothers for a year just after he landed in New York. He was in the wardrobe department! How suitable to his style. Everyone we knew was in some kind of act.
I remember places like Canters Deli on Fairfax. We always had the same waitress, the one with a big air-tight bee-hive.
“ What’ll it be today honey?”
“ I’ll have a hot dog.”
“ No. Last time you got sick. Honey, get her a turkey sandwich. I have to talk to some people outside–make sure she doesn’t leave. “
“Sure thing Mr. Smiley, you go ahead.”
“When are you coming back Daddy?”
“When you finish your lunch. Be a good girl.”
While I waited for the sandwich, I watched the waitresses very closely. They entertained me; their husky voices and swift mannerisms as they swooshed between tables, calling out orders, “ Matzo ball soup–chicken on the side, Russian on rye no mayonnaise.” Sometimes he left me long after the sandwich was gone. I’d turn and watch the door, to see if he’d come in, or ask the waitress.
“ Would you please tell my father I’m finished.”
“Finished already! What about dessert? How about a slice of cheesecake?” Even if I said no, she’d bring me dessert. Several times I was left so long that I got up and went outside looking for him. I noticed my father down the street talking with some other men. I ran back to the booth and waited. When he came back to the table, I asked him,
“Where were you Daddy?”
“I had to meet someone about business. You remember what I told you—Mommy doesn’t have to know about this.”
“I remember.” Why my outings with Dad remained fixated as birth marks is because they were filled with wonder, amusement, and mystery. My father mixed a little business with my pleasure, but it wasn’t obvious because no one had an office. His business associates worked out of shoe stores, cigar stands, hotels, barber shops; all sorts of fronts that camouflaged the booking of bets.
I bet too. That when I lose I never give up on the silver lining.
LIFESTYLES, GANGSTERS, LOVE
LIFESTYLES, GANGSTERS, LOVE