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California VIII: White Jazz

March 14, 2009

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Yesterday, Dad and I toured the Warner Brothers Studio, browsed the signatures outside Mann’s Chinese Theatre and the stars along the Walk of Fame, and fumbled our way past some of the houses of the stars, including those owned now or once owned by Steve Martin, Jack Benny, Lucille Ball, and Jimmy Stewart (Dad navigated; I drove). Among the more… gruesomely curious stops we made was at the house where Lana Turner’s lover, Johnny Stompanato, was stabbed to death by her daughter, Cheryl Crane. It’s at the corner of Bedford Drive and Lomitas Avenue in Beverly Hills, and it’s pictured below.

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Fans of James Ellroy’s novels knows that Turner and Stompanato are regulars in the books, so it’s only fitting that I sample a little something from the author’s L.A. Quartet. My personal favorite of the books is the last one, White Jazz, because it represents the point at which Ellroy completes his stylistic transformation — hardening and refining that staccato rhythm, those bursts of information — and because it marks a final launching point from those hard-boiled detective novels with their rich, historical context onto a much, much broader canvas of crime and corruption. Here’s a sample, from the opening of chapter 1:

The job: take down a bookie mill, let the press in — get some ink to compete with the fight probe. 

Some fruit sweating a sodomy beef snitched: fourteen phones, a race wire. Exley’s memo said show some force, squeeze the witnesses at the hotel later — find out what the Feds had planned.

In person: “If things get untoward, don’t let the reporters take pictures. You’re an attorney, Lieutenant. remember how clean Bob Gallaudet likes his cases.”

I hate Exley.

Exley thinks I bought law school with bribe money.

I said four men, shotguns, Juniot Stemmons as co-boss. Exley: “Jackets and ties; this will end up on TV. And no stray bullets — you’re working for me, not Mickey Cohen.”

Someday I’ll shove a bribe list down his throat.

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