Demons and Dramas

Ben Siegel

To a drama-whore like myself, uncertainty is a cocktail. If my life isn’t wrinkled with folds of conflict, I will invent them. These past recollections were the building blocks of my future; I lived on the edge with my father.
Ann, my therapist, asked me about my mother but there was so little to tell. She was restrained to her secrecy, some vow she gave my father, and the personal veil of repression that cloaked all of her past. I told Ann that I was adopted into my friend’s homes by their mother’s, the ones who had met mine.
My best friend Denise lived in Brentwood with her divorced mother and siblings. We hooked in the dark unfamiliar and confusing imbalance of a broken home life.
Her mother was suffering depression after a recent divorce and I was dangling from my father’s fingertips, helplessly.
After my mother died, Denise wouldn’t let a day go by without calling me. “Are you all right,” she’d say. She didn’t like my father, and her reasons were mature beyond her years, “He frightens me.” Denise wouldn’t spend the night at my house, but once, and she said that I could stay at hers anytime I needed to get away.
After school one afternoon we stopped in the Brentwood Pharmacy. Denise was looking at the book rack and I was following along.
“ Luellen, my mother told me your father is in a book, The
Green Felt Jungle. It’s about gangsters. Want’a see if they have it?”
I agreed to look because Denise was interested, but it meant nothing to me.
Denise twirled the book rack around, and I stood behind her watching.
“That’s the book! Let me look first and see what it says,” Denise whispered. She tensed up; I could feel it in her arm, as I grasped her.
“Oh, my God, there he is,” she said, and we hunched together over the book and read the description of my father, “Allen Smiley, one of Ben Siegel’s closest pals in those days, was seated at the other end of the sofa when Siegel was murdered.” Denise covered her mouth with her hand, and kept reading silently.
“What does that mean? Who is Ben Siegel?” I asked.
“Shush, not so loud. I’m afraid to tell you this, Luellen. It’s awful. ”
“What’s awful? Tell me.”
“Bugsy Siegel was a gangster. He was in the Mafia. He killed people. Your father was his associate.”
“I don’t think I should see this,” I said and started to leave the drugstore. Denise followed me out.”
“ Why did Bugsy kill people?” I asked.
“Because that’s what gangsters do. Luellen, you can’t tell your father you saw this book. Please don’t tell him I told you.”
“Why not?”
“My mother told me not to tell you. Swear to me you won’t tell your father!”
“I won’t. Don’t tell anyone else about this Denise, all right?”
“Luellen, have you met any of your father’s friends?”
” Yes, I’ve met them. I love his friends.”
A short time after that I waited until my father left for the evening, and then I opened the door to his bedroom.
I walked around the bed to a get closer look at the photographs on the wall. It was the first time I could read the
inscription: To Al, my dear friend, Your pal, Ben.
I stared at his eyes, droopy heavy-lidded sexy, and a gleaming boyish smile. It was a different photograph, but it was the same man in the “Green Felt Jungle.” The photograph placed next to it, was of Harry Truman, with a similar inscription dated 1963. The disparity of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel alongside Harry Truman wouldn’t mean anything to me for another thirty years. At that moment I was driven with curiosity and anticipation of what Denise had told me.
I opened the top drawer of his dresser. It was fastidiously organized with compartment trays for rolls of coins, a jewelry tray of diamond cufflinks, rings and watches, and another tray of newspaper clippings. The next drawer was stacked with neatly folded shirts in tissue paper. Under that was a drawer with a lock on it.
“What are you doing in my bedroom?” I slammed the drawer, muted by his stern expression. He pulled a key from his pocket, and locked the drawer.
“ HOW DARE YOU GO INTO MY THINGS! His hands shook, the veins in his neck inflamed.
“What is it you’re looking for? Luellen. Tell me, or else you will not step out of this apartment for a month. LUELLEN! Speak up! What are you looking for?”
“ I was looking for pictures?” I stammered.
“ What kind of pictures?”
“ Photographs. Of…Mommy.”
“ You’re lying to me! Don’t think you can fool me, you can’t. You want to see photographs, have a look at this one.” Then he pointed to the picture of Ben Siegel. Every vein of his neck swelled. He reminded me of a snarling wolf about to rip my head off. I looked down at the ground, and held my breath.
“Now you listen to me and don’t forget this for the rest of your life. This is Benjamin Siegel! He was my dearest and closest friend. You’re going to hear a lot of lies and hearsay about him. They call him “Bugsy,” but don’t let me ever catch you using that term. ” I  have not forgotten.


The throw of the dice this week lands on redefining one kind of relationship for another. It’s also called the breakup.  The words are familiar to most of us.  How we get there is unfamiliar. The exact path each of us takes towards intimacy, and then away from it, is custom-made. 

What brings two strangers together at 25 years old is attic material at 55.  The physical appearance and satisfaction meanders over the dips and dives.  All the quarrels, hardships, and difficult compromises are either dropped, or repeated without sustained anger and outrage. The arguments begin and end within 24 hours. There is a journey between a couple and neither one knows the final destination. For some it is an 8 week affair, others an eternal matrimony, and then there are couples who must battle the journey all the way.  For some unknown reason, two people love unevenly. With every other aspect of life in perfect order, the scenery, replenishment of necessities, even absence of tragic disorder, this couple will never find peace. They are unmatched where it counts the most. They are staring at opposite corners, refreshed by different tastes, and feel almost nothing that the other person feels, with the exception of the feeling they have of comfort and trust. After 25 years, you know where the rumbles and ridges are, and you know how to handle them.

You even get accustomed to the battles, and what defenses you can use. The drama though draining has a certain appeal, in that it is familiar. When the truth rises above the camouflage, you cannot mop it off.  It interferes with the loveliness of a yellowed summer moon, or a morning so beautiful that you want to hold it in your hand.  It is like walking with lead in your shoes, and you freeze the lightness in your heart. With this burden, you cannot balance all the other misadventures in life.

When I was 29, my wings had just been released.  I was alone, without any family around me, and I took the least familiar flight, and moved from my home in Los Angeles to Del Mar.  It is beyond the mist of golden memories, it truly was the most unforgettable 6 months of my life.  I had to rebuild everything from scratch, and in the process, I was building myself, step by step. That kind of work is irreplaceable, even the most adventurous of travel does not compare to rebuilding your life.

Now, is not much different from back in 1983, only I am not alone.  I feel the same yearning for self-discovery. A breakup does not erode the love, companionship and trust of a 25-year friendship.  With all those foundations in mint condition, you should be able to take on the new journey you have missed.

But! It is delayed for the reason that attachment is beyond emotional; it affects financial, social, and business survival. One by one solutions can be created.  Sometime circumstances of life create them for you.  Whenever I am stagnate, and unable to make a move, I have to think of my mother’s life.



I rose at 3:00 AM to turn the heat on, pick up my writing journal, and discern the week’s theme.

The house is unfamiliar at this time, as it is my first middle of the night experience here. I wonder for a moment if I should boil water for tea or coffee, and settle on decaf. Alice and Bugsy follow my footsteps, circle their feeding table, and then begin to cat play. Bugsy gallops around in circles and Alice watches. Their presence kindles the stark rooms. While the water boils, I step outside to the porch I hear the distant sound of pounding surf and sit down to listen. The moon is shaved from the fullness of the previous night, and reflects my own disposition.

The street is hollowed like a tunnel, the light of day is shining in some other distant country, and the sky is appears tinted with primer. Somewhere someone is dressing for work, breathing by the tick of the clock until he must report for work.

The draft of sleep lingers in my eyes, and my feet shuffle on the cold tiles, while I grind the beans and think through the remains of the week. There are themes to our lives. Sometimes a year, sometimes one single day launches the theme, or it may just tumble into our path unexpected and replace whatever we were holding on to dearly, and deliver something unpleasant, like sickness, or separation. The sensations leading up to my theme jilted my creativity, and the pages I wrote were jammed with contradictions, maybe they still are.

Thoughts begin to form and ruminate, what is important? The theme of my week began when I was informed a Frog’s member I knew only slightly died very suddenly. From that day on, conversations, books, and televisions shaped the theme.

I see what is in front of me, and I am dissatisfied with the surroundings. The temperature, color, textures and placement of furnishings is flawed, and I have abated good temperament, creativity, and affection. I have tried to replace my incompleteness with substitutes: new shoes, scarves, and half a dozen books. Ah Hah! I have caught the intruder, the inconsequential  arrangememt of new stuff.

Several more incidents aided my awakening. One came while reading Mark Twain’s “Following the Equator, A Journey Around the World.” It is a first person narrative of his lecturing trip on a sea voyage around the world bound for Australia and New Zealand. His diary pages are as powerful as water sprung from a fire hydrant; and I flowed into the adventure with him. A few days later while I was vacillating between reading and watching television I channeled onto a movie, “Shadows Over Tuscany.” Harvey Keitel emerged as a familiar character; a writer who has stopped writing. Along with the added irony of his resplendent surroundings in a villa over Tuscany, he still could not write.

I have settled into a corner of the sofa by the light, and now Alice is purring into my robe. Writing with pen is so different from keyboard, journaling is always with pen, but columns are on the keyboard. The next incident occurred in conversation with a woman who relayed her elated experience from meditating. She asked me about my own source. I understood that to mean what tranquilizes all the peripheral complaints, mental pains and wounds that lie dormant or at least manageable. Without thinking of the tormented hours, I thought of the comforts of exhibiting my life on paper.

The shallowness of that answer makes me uncomfortable. I return to the porch for one more gulp of landscape that I share with the stars.

The street is unfamiliar, a temporary scene like a bus stop, and I am merely waiting to move on. The neighbors are strangers, and stories do not blossom here. My desk is sealed into a corner of the bedroom, and too small to stack all my photographs, books, notepads, and dice mementos.

It is not the act of writing with pen and paper moving along at a steady rhythm; it’s the activation of the heart and mind, collaborating to unravel the relevant from the irrelevant. To reach this state of matrimony a writer needs not a Tuscan Villa, or a Moorish Castle, but experiences that flake off the skin, or recall of the experience that gives it relevance. A story is flickering at my source, asking to be written and I’m avoiding the introduction. Fear is shining like a spotlight on one end, and insecurity is the temperature that stifles my pen. It is not the cold tiled floor, and cramped desk.

I wrote a novel in a 99 square feet room that SC and I shared for a year and a half.

If I continue to roam around the task of writing this story, the intensity of irritation will escalate, my neck and shoulders will not loosen, my walk will be feigned, my smile forced, my heart longing for padding, my ego striving for recognition in the wrong places, and my soul roaming the hallways at 3:00 in the morning.

My spineless spirit that sends me out shopping for shoes, scarves, and earrings will finally halt. I will return to shopping for inspiration, courage and confidence that I can write the story.


The throw of the dice this week lands on the lost dice.  It was an unusual time to be writing the dice, around four  in the afternoon. The sunshine drew me up  to my writing  desk where the rays of light teased me into believing it  wasn’t cold outside.  I decided to write the column.

I knew I shouldn’t write on my laptop because it is deconstructing. The ports and CD player have malfunctioned, the screen  dotted and the audio goes on and off.  I can’t part with this laptop until I finish the book, ( 5 pages to go). The warmth of the sun and the window that enables me to see the sky, drew me to the desk, and so I work around the errors.

I only had a few paragraphs from the afternoon, and  when I returned to the column after dinner, the whole piece took another course, and I was writing not what I intended but it was like sailing on a perfect course.   It was writing without the editor, meaning the inner editor that sometimes swoops down and cuts your nails off. I was writing about many things that happened.    When I finished I went to the save the document and the laptop responded negatively. It vanished.  I thought about trying to recapture the column, trying to reinvent the stream of consciousness that seemed to be marathoning through my soul.

There were so many voices speaking all at once. I had to figure out how to connect the moment the leaves reminded me of Saratoga Springs,  and how we must place our print, on the tablet, on the screen, and dismiss the resentful reader who judges where writing takes us. Sometimes,  a reader knows me from   the halcyon days, when light was brighter than dark. They don’t want to remember the way I feel it, they want to burn me for my  feelings. And such an email buckles my knees and drips from my eyes. I am sorry they never achieved  more  than hatred.


On Sunday afternoon, while I was sitting in the bridal room at Neiman Marcus, I was in a head on collision with the past and the present. I was not in the bridal room to buy a wedding dress; I was there to store my mink coat. While I waited for a sales clerk, I imagined myself in the chic trench coat with diamond buttons hanging from the rack. If I did have to choose a bridal gown, it would have to be something unconventional, like my mother chose. She wore navy blue taffeta to her wedding. If I did get married, I would have to save my coins for a long time to pay for the reception. Where would I get married? At one time, I dreamt of the Bel Air Hotel, but that was in the 1970s. With inflation, the wedding would cost no less than $100,000 today. By the time, I saved that much, I would be 100 years old! Besides the hotel is not the same. The last time I dropped by, I was chased out of the river walk for taking photographs of the swans. Just before my father took ill in 1982, he told me my wedding would be at the Flamingo in Las Vegas. I remember it, as if it was yesterday. We were walking together in Holmby Park, where he walked his five miles everyday. Very often, he stopped at the public phone booth and made a few calls. He whispered so I could not hear his conversation. I know now he was laying his bets for the day. I waited on the green lawn watching the older men and women playing Croquette. When my father returned from the phone booth, he looked perturbed. That meant he lost money on that day’s sporting event. We walked a long time in heavy silence until he decided to break it.

“You know, I’m very proud of you.” He said looking straight ahead.

“You are?” I was stunned.

“Of course I am! I hope you don’t think any different. I have not said it often, because I’m coaching you all the time, so you will be independent, and know how to look after yourself, after I’m gone. I don’t want you to fall into a rut with the wrong fellow, like so many women. It can ruin your whole life.”

“But I haven’t accomplished anything really great…. like you.”

“What the hell are you talking about!” he stopped in the middle of the path. “I made more mistakes than you ever could. Are you kidding sweetheart, I broke all the rules, and made some new ones, and I’ve paid. Like I’ve always said, you make your bed, and you lie in it. I’m proud of the career you made in real estate, without any help from me. Now you have to concentrate on the right fellow. When you do get around to finding the right one, we’ll have the wedding at the Flamingo.

“The Flamingo? Do you still know people there?” I asked timidly.

“Of course, I was a major stockholder … at one time.” Then he cleared his throat, and I wondered if he was choking on the memories. “That’s where Mommy and I had our wedding reception.” I thought of the photographs of Mommy cutting the white cake. It was the first time he ever mentioned my wedding. It was the first time, he seemed to say, okay find a fellow, and I’ll let you go. I sensed his detachment from everything around us except for me.

“I would like that. How long has it been since you were there?”

“I didn’t want to set foot in that place after Benny… (Benjamin Siegel) I didn’t care if the whole place burnt to the ground. There’s no reason why you can’t have your wedding there. I can still arrange a few things.”

The vision of father, my future husband, and me was an aberration without incident or purpose at that age. However, he was dreaming that the day would come soon. When the sales clerk finally appeared, I was glazed over, in some marbled state of melancholy, clutching the mink coat on my lap. The mink is the oldest garment in my closet. My father gave it to me in 1978.

It’s as if it happened yesterday. My father called one Saturday and asked me to meet him at Mannis Furs in Beverly Hills. When I arrived, my father was seated in a chair, facing a three-way mirror. Manny rushed over to greet me. “This is my daughter, Luellen, “Manny bowed and kissed my hand. In the other hand, he was holding a mink jacket. “Try it on for size,” my father ordered. I hesitated, and looked at him for explanation. It never occurred to me I would be trying on mink coats. He was always asking me to meet him in shops, and restaurants. He held meetings wherever he knew people, so I assumed he had a meeting with Manny.

“Go on—try it on. I didn’t say I was buying it, I just want to see what it looks like.” Manny tucked me into the mink coat, and pulled the waist sash through. He stroked the fur up and down, and then I did the same. The coat was solid, like a cloth wall that buried my body in warmth. I stood before the mirror and watched the transformation.

“Turn around, “my father ordered. I took a few steps in a half circle and slipped my hands into the pockets, and turned around slowly as I’d seen my mother do. Suddenly his eyes welled up with tears and he took out his handkerchief.

“If you dressed in a proper outfit and not those silly jeans all the time, you might look like something!” he barked.

“Well I didn’t know I’d be trying on minks today.”

“What the hell did you think you’d be trying on, pianos? For crying out loud! “I don’t know what you’re thinking sometimes. Take it off.” Manny untied the sash and took the coat. My father was in a mood, it was my fault again. I shouldn’t have worn jeans. Why did he start crying? Manny disappeared, and my father stood in front of the mirror to affirm his reflection. After he took off in his Cadillac, I stood in front of Manny’s and looked at the mink coats. He never mentioned it again, but I knew the coat was going to show up one day. Six or seven months after that first meeting at Mannis, the mink appeared at Chanukah.

“Daddy, this is so extravagant, I won’t have any where to wear it.”

“Oh yes you will! Just wait and see. If you quit going out with those misfits and find yourself a decent fella you’ll have numerous occasions. That’s the reason why I gave it to you, so don’t misuse it!”

When I left Neiman’s I was drenched in his memory. The mink coat has outlived all of my possessions. Every time I put it on, I’m reminded of his wisdom. It’s not the expense or signature status. When I put it on, I feel transformed. I discovered the bill of sale from Manny’s, and the balance due, after my father died. I called Manny and asked him for more time, to pay it off. He told me to forget about it, my father had brought in so much business to the store.

Last year I called Manny to see if I could have the coat remade into a vest; as the sleeves were too short.   ” It’ll cost you the same as the mink,”  he told me.  I had the holes repaired, and the coat glazed and will pack it in the suitcase for the trip to New York, now thrity two years later with a decent fella.



“Americas ‘true romantics will be the jazz musicians and jazz writers, living by their lyrical emotions, senses.”

From The Diary of Anais Nin volume Six.”

The throw of the dice this week lands on mysteries of character. We all have our closet of masks that we reach for when we need to camouflage our fear, insecurity, disdain, or judgment.

I wore a mask the day I went to pick up Jim Marshall at the Albuquerque airport. I didn’t want to appear unprepared, inexperienced, or effusive. As soon as I recognized Jim taking his last step off the escalator, my mask cracked. I ran to him, hugged him, and clichés poured out of my mouth: I’m so happy to see you, how was the flight, welcome to New Mexico. He nodded, smiled with closed lips, and asked,

“How long does it take to get to Taos?”

“An hour and a half.” Jim’s lips tightened.

In the car, Rudy and I whisked up conversation, but the results were drippy. Jim stared out at the window. We were in the valley of lunar like scrub rush, broken down sheds, and absentee human life.

“WHERE THE FUCK ARE WE?” Jim growled

“We’re almost there, another half-hour.”


I tried, unsuccessfully to assure Jim, there were lots of people in Taos.  I read his mind; why did he make the decision to exhibit his iconic rock and roll photography in a gallery in  boon-dust Taos. How much longer before he can unwind with a scotch, and call home for a taste of civility.  Who are these morons driving this car anyway?

Inside the B & B suite we’d rented for Jim, I breezed across to the adobe terrace, and opened the curtains, “You like it?”


“You can borrow mine.”

“Are you hungry Jim?”


“I have a bottle of your favorite scotch.” He picked it up, and looked for a glass. I ran to the bathroom and brought him a glass.

“See you tomorrow. “ He growled.

“What time?”

“I’ll call.”

The next day, I waited for Jim’s call. Instead I heard from Dave Brolan, Jim’s operator to the world; friend, translator, mediator and stabilizer.

“Dave, is Jim all right?”

“He’ll be all right. He’s tired and cranky. He’ll be fine tomorrow night.

“What can I do anything?”

“No, just take care of your opening business. I take care of Jim.”

I sighed deeply, and returned to the chaotic events preceding the grand opening of our gallery. Jim agreed to exhibit along with Baron Wolman and Michael Zagaris, because they hadn’t been together in a long time. I was about to ease-drop on history, with three distinguished rock and roll photographers.

My heart raced ahead of me, until 6 o’clock when Jim and Dave walked into the gallery.

“How are you Jim?” I followed behind him as he viewed the exhibition.

“Looks good.” He said. Then he was swallowed up into a crowd of guests. He stood patiently for photographs, greeted strangers with a boyish smile and brotherly handshake. He sat down at my desk and began to sign books for a tickly line of buyers.  I filled his glass with scotch and he said, “Thanks sweetheart.” My heart returned to my chest. The evening transcended into a kinetic overture of rock n roll music, reminiscing of the sixties, and feverish excitement. Around midnight, after being the center of 250 to 300 Taosaneos, Jim said, “Let’s eat.” It was snowing and pitch black outside.

Our party of seven charged in and rearranged the vibe of the banal atmosphere. Once inside the dining room Michael Z, was exhibiting impersonations of Jim, while we all laughed. Marshall didn’t twitch, or sneer; he accepted being the force of raucous laughter.

A young professional looking man approached our table.

“I apologize for interrupting. When I got to the opening, you all were leaving.  I’m really sorry I missed it; I’m a huge fan of your work Jim.

“How did you know we were here? I interrupted.

“I followed you.” He said.

“Join us.”

That night and the next three nights, Jim was host to a crowd of fans that followed him around.  I watched the mystery of his character, revealed, untouched, in focus, on what the photographs brought back to him. He was anointed by their admiration, without becoming inflated.

At the airport, Jim took me into his arms, “You did good LouLou.”

Two Years later.

I am in Santa Fe, and my social life is Camus strange. While I try to sell my photographs and write, my life is stifled by the absence of friends and parties. Jim called one afternoon.

“Loulou, my friends just moved to Santa Fe. Take down their number and call them.”

I called these new friends of Jim’s, and a week later, a man drove up, and leaped out of his car.

“Hi LouLou, I’m Jock.”  He sat down, but his spirit was an unbolted kinetic burst of energy.

“I brought this for you.” He handed me a beautifully hand crafted book of his Cuban Series photographs.

A month or so later, I received a party invitation from Jock and his wife, Annaliese. The evening was lyrical, as friends circulated between the portals, while Jock mixed  molita’s and Annaliese served Cuban food. That night, I was introduced to their friends. Now, a year later, I consider them my friends.

I called Jim after the party.

“I called to thank you.”

“What for baby?”

“For introducing me to Jock and Annaliese. Now I have friends.” Jim chuckled.

Jim passed away March 23, 2010. He was a romantic and lived by lyrical emotions and senses.


Free your mind and the rest will follow, the words from EnVogue’s latest release became a sort of mantra.

 It was a decision that came at a moment when everything else stopped making sense, except my happiness.  I tossed out the two-piece suits, and turned off the world outside. Insulated in my tiny North Park bungalow, I merged into  music and dance. During the hottest of summer days I was seated cross legged on the worn carpeting  watching MTV and flipping through magazines. 

       Imploded with music videos, magazines, and dancing;   Hip-Hop was the most exhilarating choreography around.  I watched the music videos over and over. When I searched the yellow pages for dance classes; no one was offering Hip-Hop.  With that, I thought why can’t I be the founder of a dance troupe?  

  I needed to find the  dancers to suit my concept of integrating  jazz funk, hip-hop, and Afro-Cuban  into a collage workshop.   

      Piper Jo was the first dancer to join. He came at me with everything he had; talent, faith, intelligence, and belief in this crazy white chick who wanted to hip-hop.  Piper played Miles Davis, emulated jazz-funk, and moved like Michael Jackson.  He was twenty years old and this was his first teaching job. When I asked him who taught him to dance he answered;

“Michael Jackson and James Brown. I danced in my living room every day. My mother couldn’t get me out of the house. God blessed me with this gift, and I want to share it. So if you put me in your dance troupe I guarantee, you won’t be sorry. NO, you won’t.”  

 At our first audition Piper said,  “How you expect to pick dancers, if you don’t know what to look for.  I swear Lue, you are crazy.  But don’t worry,  I’ll show you. And don’t be picking every guy out there cause he can Hip-Hop, there’s nothing to that. We want dancers with classical training.”  He was right.

“Vince Master Jam”  was a former break-dancer and studied classical dance. Vince was the coolest; he sat back and waited for his chance, unhurried, relaxed, but when the music came on, he flipped everyone out. He was thirty. Both of them belonged to the no smoking, no drinking, no drugs, group

At that first audition  I wanted to select half of the thirty some dancers that showed up.  They came dressed in street clothes, wearing scarves and bandannas.  I watched them leap, kick, split and turn inside out for the job.  I knew that I was in the right spot. Then we added Monique, a startling beauty with Afro-Cuban dance training, and a perpetual attitude of carefreeness. 

For the first few months, the Jammers taught classes under a leaky roof, on a tiled floor, without any heat.  Piper rode a bus from the other side of town to get to the building.  Vince drove an hour each way to teach one class at night. The first few months no one showed up for Vince’s Hip-Hop class.  But he kept coming back every week.  When I apologized, he said, “ That’s okay Lue. We get it going on,  they’ll show up soon– I’m sure.” 

They did show up and we moved into a well positioned Health Club downtown San Diego. The classes filled up with students, dancers, and working women looking for a new challenge. They came from all different races;  Asian, White, Hispanic and Black.  I danced with the classes and promoted our troupe. They laughed at my attempt to be a soul sister, and I laughed with them.  We were reviewed by KPBS magazine, and a photographer took photographs of us and featured the Jammers  in the magazine. People began to think I knew what I was doing. The Jammers thought I could take them places.  I pictured them on the front page of Variety, the problem was I was too early. 


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. My father came into the public eye the night of June 20, 1947, when Benjamin Siegel was murdered in his home in Beverly Hills. My dad was seated inches away from Siegel, on the sofa, and took three bullets through the sleeve of his jacket.

He was brought in as a suspect. His photograph was in all the newspapers. He was the only nonfamily member who had the guts to go to the funeral.

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?

Born in Kiev, Ukraine, my dad’s family immigrated to Canada. 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.