May 19, 2008
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.”
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.”
(Jew) 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.
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.
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 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.
“All of Hollywood knows Nick Adams was knocked off.”
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.
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.’”
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?
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.
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.
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.
My question here, I guess, is this: what do you suppose the odds are that all of that just came together purely by chance?
June 6, 2008
"Call them freaks, the underground, the counter-culture, flower children or hippies – they are all loose labels for the youth culture of the 60s …" ~ Barry Miles, author of Hippie
“We had them all. We had Jack Nicholson dancing, we had Peter Fonda dancing with Odetta, and we had Vito and his Freakers.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
“The customers came to see the freaks dance. Nobody ever talks about that, but that was the case.”
“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.”
June 6, 2008
“Vito 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
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.
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.’”
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.
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.
“Vito was just like Frank, he never got high either. They were both ringmasters who always wanted to be in control.”
“recalls men with straggling beards, body odour and bad posture who crouched naked near her playthings …”
“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.
http://ci.cotati.ca.us/sections/about/history5.cfm ("Popup Exhibits" at the bottom of the page)