Good day, book people. If you follow my blog, and I hope that you do, you’re probably already familiar with today’s guest due to an early post for The Company Files: The Good Man that posted earlier this year. Today, I’m pleased to welcome Gabriel Valjan, author of The Company Files 2: The Naming Game. Mr. Valjan will be sharing with us the importance of place, especially forgotten places in his latest book. Thank you, Mr. Valjan for stopping by today, I appreciate your time and the information you’ll be providing. Fellow readers, I encourage you to sit back, enjoy your beverage of choice, and let’s armchair travel back in time together to forgotten LA with Mr. Valjan.
In The Naming Game, I introduce readers to several locations of Forgotten LA. I’ve listed four below, but read the novel and you’ll visit many more places in my tale of noir with a historical twist.
All excerpts from The Naming Game are used with permission from the author and publisher, Gabriel Valjan and Winter Goose Publishing.
“The Windsor was French elegance of dark wood and red leather booths. Ben Dimsdale ran the establishment, designed the menu, and collected the hefty price for the privilege of dining there.”
Ben Dimsdale was a fixture on the LA culinary scene, introducing Angelenos to fine dining at his Windsor, at the intersection of Seventh and Catalina, and east of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Mr. Dimsdale would lend his personal touch with customers until he relinquished the Windsor in the early Nineties. The Prince, the last incarnation of the restaurant, would not survive in Koreatown. Dimsdale himself died in 2003. Movie aficionados may recall seeing a bandaged Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) across from Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) in an atmospheric restaurant in the classic neo-noir film Chinatown. That was filmed inside The Windsor, circa early Seventies.
“The Cocoanut Grove was dedicated to nocturnal decadence. Palm trees were imported inside, stuffed monkeys sat on top of them, their choreographed arms groping the leafy foliage and their glass eyes forever gazing at a ceiling painted midnight blue with unmoving stars. Here the desert people came to dance and forget their troubles and mingle with matinée royalty. Here they dined and here they listened to music beneath Moorish arches and tried to forget the Crusades and the inconvenience of Christ on the cross. On a grand night they might see ghosts or the gauzy image of Pola Negri walking her pet cheetah on a long leash through the garden.”
The Ambassador Hotel and its legendary nightclub used to sit on a generous parcel of land at 3400 Wilshire Boulevard. The Cocoanut Grove hosted the second Academy Awards in 1930 and several more ceremonies in subsequent years. Obscure fact for movie buffs: the film White Shadows in the South Seas, which won an Oscar for Best Cinematography in 1930, is the first film in which Leo the Lion roars for MGM. In its heyday, the Cocoanut Grove was the happening place for Hollywood royalty and partygoers. Sadly, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated at the Ambassador in 1968 and his death signaled the beginning of the end for the hotel and nightclub, although the hotel would remain open as a film location for studios. Donald Trump tried to acquire the property and failed. The hotel was demolished in 2005 and the Los Angeles Unified School District has built a learning center on the site, along with a park in honor of the late Senator Kennedy.
“The man used his cigarette like a prop to indicate Billy Gray’s, “There are two tales about this club and its former owner, the boxer Max Rosenbloom. Story one says George Raft discovered Max one day in a street fight in East Harlem. Story two says Mickey Cohen discovered Max. Which one do you think is the truth?””
Slapsy Maxie’s, named after the boxer Maxie Rosenbloom, moved from Beverly Boulevard to 5665 Wilshire Boulevard in the Forties. Maxie’s served as a popular scene for music and the latest in comedy, and as a front for Mickey Cohen. The gangster used the nightclub’s address as a mail drop under the alias Mr. O’Brien. The IRS didn’t catch onto Mickey’s game of Mr. Postman until 1961.
At the time of the novel, 1951, the nightclub was known as Billy Gray’s Band Box, so named after the comic and dancer. Jackie Gleason tried out his persona of Reggie Van Gleason III on regulars. Poor health and legal troubles forced Billy Gray to sell the property. Gray’s manager Sammy Shore, actor Pauly Shore’s father, took over the business until it closed in 1966, but would go on to create The Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard with his wife, Mitzi, in 1972. An Office Depot now stands where the original Billy Gray’s Band Box stood.
The Company Files: 2.
The Naming Game
by Gabriel Valjan
on Tour April 22 – June 22, 2019
Whether it’s Hollywood or DC, life and death, success or failure hinge on saying a name.
The right name.
When Charlie Loew is found murdered in a seedy flophouse with a cryptic list inside the dead script-fixer’s handkerchief, Jack Marshall sends Walker undercover as a screenwriter at a major studio and Leslie as a secretary to Dr. Phillip Ernest, shrink to the stars. J. Edgar Hoover has his own list. Blacklisted writers and studio politics. Ruthless gangsters and Chief Parker’s LAPD. Paranoia, suspicions, and divided loyalties begin to blur when the House Un-American Activities Committee insists that everyone play the naming game.
Praise for The Naming Game:
“With crackling dialogue and a page-turning plot shot-through with authentic period detail, Gabriel Valjan pulls the reader into the hidden world of the 1950’s Hollywood studio scene, involving murder, McCarthyism and mayhem.”
~ James L’Etoile, author of At What Cost and Bury the Past
“Terrific historical noir as Gabriel Valjan takes us on a trip through post-war Hollywood involving scandal, McCarthyism, blacklisting, J. Edgar Hoover and, of course, murder. Compelling story, compelling characters – and all the famous name dropping is great fun. Highly recommended!”
~ R.G. Belsky, author of the Clare Carlson Mystery Series
“Brilliantly written, Gabriel Valjan’s
The Naming Game whisks the reader back in time to postwar Los Angeles. Spies, Communism, and Hollywood converge in a first-rate thriller.”
~ Bruce Robert Coffin, Agatha Award nominated author of Beyond the Truth