Sunday, June 5, 2011

LA NOIR: Tales from the Gangster Squad



A couple of years ago on a visit to Los Angeles I fell back into my old 80's habit of reading the L.A. Times. Now, if you're a newspaper reader, like me you probably remember back when newspapers on Sunday were inches thick. Full of great stories and features. Well, the L.A. Times is still like that, whereas many newspapers across the country are not, and several years ago that's what I discovered.

I like history, all kinds of history. And although I'm from Texas and my interests have primarily been in American and Texas history, as well as world history, I've always been interested in crime history. With a degree in Criminal Justice, what would you expect?

The unique American history of crime and criminality can be found in stories from New York to Miami to Chicago to New Orleans and to a thousand other cities and towns. But the big stories, the outlandish and outrageous crooks and their stories, came from the big cities mostly. Not always, remembering Bonnie and Clyde et al, but mostly. And over the years, the stories from L.A. somehow escaped me until I found this column in the L.A. Times called  The Daily Mirror , where writer Larry Harnisch does an excellent job of capturing some of the very interesting history of L.A.

Of course, there are other writers at the Times, and some of them write stories that involve some of the tawdry history of L.A. and it's bright lights of the entertainment industry and how those bright lights and criminal folks mingled in the same circles sometimes, and that's part of the connection. You remember the stars and already know who they are.

For example, the series by Times writer Paul Lieberman that caught my eye a few years ago involved well known actor Max Baer (Jethro Bodine from The Beverly Hillbillys) who was a friend of an "alleged" mobster named Mickey Cohen. Seems like Jethro once chased down a car thief/dog thief for Mr. Cohen. The last of seven parts is here at Noir Justice catches up with Mickey Cohen. Here's the link to all seven installments, a cast of gangster characters from the story and a picture and video link called: LA NOIR: Tales from the Gangster Squad. This last page also has a link to all seven stories.

These stories will keep you busy for awhile and if you have ever heard the names of various crooks and gangsters in American history, you're bound to hear a few names you've heard before in this series. Moreover, it wasn't just in New York and Chicago that the mob was making itself felt back in the old days. There was plenty of money to be made in L.A. and the mob wasn't missing out on that.

There's another column in the LA Times that deserves a mention, and I cannot seem to find a link to it's home page right now. It's called L.A. Then and Now, and it involves some interesting stories as well. Here's a great story from today about Frank Sinatra, Joe Dimaggio, Marilyn Monroe and The Wrong Door.

Here also is a cool story from April of this year about how the L.A.P.D. and their SWAT team had some rough going early on.

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