Monday, November 30, 2009

Bringing in the Christmas Season With James Bond (and John Barry & Louie Armstrong)


One may not think of a James Bond film as traditional holiday fare, but every Christmas season I watch On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

The film, which was released in December of 1969, has a Christmas setting and takes place in the snow-covered Swiss Alps.

The film, despite not having the great Sean Connery as Bond, is one the best in the series, in my view.

Considering that the new Bond, George Lazenby, had to follow Connery in the role, and that he had not acted before, I believe he delivered a better than fair portrayal of Bond.

He looked like Ian Fleming's Bond and he was very good in the fight and action scenes.

The film was also graced with Diana Rigg as Tracy, a strong, yet troubled woman with whom Bond has a serious - if ultimately tragic - love affair.

Telly Savalas was a commanding and truly mad Ernst Stavro Blofeld and the supporting actors were also very good.

The director of this fine film was Peter Hunt. Hunt, who edited the earlier Bond films, was faithful to Ian Fleming's novel, even going with the thriller's dark ending. Hunt gave us a true Bond thriller.

You can watch a trailer of the film via the below link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DVP2n_GcdlQ

And you can listen to John Barry's great love song song by the late jazz great Louie Armstrong via the below link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-BQTnw7g-s

Merry Christmas from Bond, James Bond.

East Meets West Musically With Hiroshima's Japanese/Smooth Jazz Songs

East meets West musically with Hiroshima's blend of traditional Japanese music and smooth jazz.

I truly enjoy their music, which takes me back to when I visited Japan so many years ago.

You can hear two of their hit songs via the links below:

"One Wish."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hv5mmVvdD0g&NR=1

"Thousand Cranes."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDF1UG7ml0c

Sayonara.

My Crime Fiction: "The Small Timer"


The below short story, my first published short story, originally appeared in The Orchard Press Online Mystery Magazine in 2002:

The shooting victims were discovered at 9 o'clock that night in an old warehouse along the Delaware River in South Philadelphia.

I had been on a "ride-along" with a Philadelphia police sergeant when his car radio alerted us to the triple homicide. The sergeant, Bill Francini, was a friend as well as the subject of a column that I was writing for the local paper. Not wearing a seat belt, I braced myself as Francini raced for the river.

Arriving at the crime scene some ten minutes later, Francini pulled into a vacant space among a dozen hastily parked police vehicles. Francini ushered me around to the side of the warehouse bay, where I would not be violating the official crime scene, yet I could clearly observe Philly’s finest do their work.

Francini called out to his lieutenant and introduced me. The lieutenant looked at me sharply, perhaps placing me from the photo that ran with my column, and then simply nodded. He took his sergeant by the arm and they entered the warehouse. From my vantage point I was able to see the three dead men in the center of the warehouse bay. All were dressed casually. A short, elderly man lay crumpled with his squat legs twisted under his torso. A snarl appeared to be etched across his face and a gunshot wound was clearly visible just above his right ear.

The second victim had been a big and heavy man. I’m no little guy, but this guy was truly big. He was face up and stretched out across the ground. He died with a dumbfounded expression on his face, just below the large wound on his forehead. The third victim sat in an upright position against a wooden crate. Like the other two, he had a gunshot wound to the head. His face retained a goofy grin that looked familiar to me.

I heard one of the crime scene investigators from South Detectives tell the newly arrived homicide detective that an anonymous caller had dialed 911 and reported the shooting. The scene looked like a professional execution, organized crime style, so the detectives called the city's organized crime intelligence squad and asked for someone to come and help ID the bodies.

When a detective named McCollum from the squad arrived some 15 minutes later, he quickly walked among the three bodies, sidestepping the spent shell casings and blood puddles. He immediately identified the short older man - the one the detectives with their usual black humor had nicknamed "Grouchy" - as James "Jimmy First Nickel" Martin. Martin was a known associate of the local mob in his capacity as a receiver of stolen goods.

McCollum identified the second victim, nicknamed "Dopey," as Joey Aurelio, a strong-arm enforcer for Martin. The third victim, nicknamed "Happy," was dismissed as some small timer, as McCollum, the organized crime expert, had never seen him before.

"Hey, McCollum," one of the detectives shouted, "This guy should be happy – he’s still alive!"


A month later I entered the Federal Building in Center City Philadelphia and rode the elevator up to the 8th floor. I stood before the FBI’s receptionist, who was securely housed behind a sheet of protective glass. I told her that I had an appointment with Special Agent Frank Kaplan. I had come to interview Kaplan’s protected witness, Harry Sullivan - a.k.a. "Happy."

I had been granted an exclusive interview with the sole survivor of the warehouse murders, who was now a star witness for the prosecution in the upcoming murder trial of Francis "Frankie Raven" Ravelli, a particularly vicious mob captain of a particularly vicious crew of thieves, extortionists and hit men.

Sullivan had granted me an interview, as he liked my column on the warehouse murders and we knew each other from the old neighborhood.

I had joined the Navy on my 17th birthday and traveled to Southeast Asia about the same time the 20-year-old Sullivan was heading to state prison for the first of his many periods of incarceration. Years later, I would see him at neighborhood bars and clubs and he would play the criminal insider, feeding me tips for my column. He liked to show me off to his cronies. He was quite impressed with the notion that I had become a writer. Of course, the only other writers he knew were number writers.

Kaplan came out to the reception area and directed me to a vacant office where I saw Sullivan sitting at a conference table. Sullivan’s head was adorned with a turban bandage and he used a cane to navigate his way back to his chair after he stood and came forward to shake my hand. I sat on the other side of the table, laid my tape recorder down and took out my notebook and pen. I threw out some obligatory questions about his health and his family before I launched into asking him a series of questions about the events that lead up to the warehouse murders.

Harry Sullivan was a small time thief. He was in his early 50s, slightly built with a drawn, pock-mocked face that was framed with longish, unruly and scruffy blond hair. Despite his looks and his profession, he was not a drug addict. Sullivan barely managed to make a proper living from his small time stealing and he often had to supplement his illicit income with a straight job. Despite his failure, he yearned to be an arch-criminal, like Willie Sutton the old bank robber. Sullivan wanted to be respected.

Sullivan’s graduation to the big time came on the day he happened to witness a head-on collision between a Volvo and a city trash truck. The driver of the Volvo was instantly killed and the city workers were unhurt but badly shaken. Sullivan was one of the first to come to the aid of the Volvo driver, but seeing that he was beyond it all, Sullivan's instincts kicked in and he lifted the man’s brown leather satchel from the front passenger seat.

Sullivan slipped away and sprinted the two city blocks to his apartment. Once there, alone in his kitchen, Sullivan broke the lock on the satchel and dropped the contents on the kitchen table. He cried gleefully at the sight of the assortment of diamonds spread across his table. The accident victim must have been a diamond salesman or courier.

Later, after he calmed down, he placed his haul into a large paper shopping bag and walked three blocks to Jimmy First Nickel’s appliance store. Even though Martin had a reputation of being somewhat tight with his money – hence the nickname that indicated he retained the first nickel he ever earned – Sullivan knew that he was mobbed-up and he was the man to see.

Martin was sitting behind the counter, talking to his much younger and pretty girlfriend Gloria when Sullivan walked in. He handed Martin the bag and told him how he came to be in possession of the diamonds. Martin, a short, heavy man in his 70s, breathed hard as he rose from his chair and came around the counter to lock the door and hang the closed sign.

Martin ran his hand through the sparse gray strands of hair that were slicked back across his head as he looked into the bag. Sullivan stood there feeling awkward, smiling a goofy smile at the strikingly beautiful, dark-haired girl. She returned his smile with a cold look of boredom.

"I’m impressed Harry," Martin said. "This is some piece of work here. Lemme make a call and see if I can unload it tonight."

Martin mumbled into the phone for a few minutes and then announced that he had arranged a meeting with "the Man." Sullivan felt a surge of the perverse pride of a professional thief, but he also felt fearful of entering the world of big time crime.

"I don’t know, Jimmy," Sullivan whined. "I think its better wit you as the go-between."

"Harry, this is the big time! There must be $100,000 in this bag," Martin exclaimed. "The Man wants to meet you personally."


A few hours, a few beers later, Martin and Sullivan drove in silence to a riverside warehouse. Inside, Martin introduced Sullivan to a large man named Joey, who lumbered towards them, his hand placed on a gun in the waistband of his slacks. Sullivan knew instantly that this was no major league buyer. He knew that Martin had gotten a bone crusher to help steal his diamonds.

In desperation, assuming Joey had planned to kill him, Sullivan scooped a handful of the diamonds from the bag and flung them towards Joey’s face. Sullivan then dove for some stacked crates half-heartily, fully expecting to be shot and killed.

The blast sounded like heavy artillery in the open warehouse bay. Sullivan, surprised not to be dead, scampered up and saw that Joey was stretched out. He also saw two young dark guys, neat dressers, who looked like a hundred guys Sullivan knew from the bars and clubs of South Philly. One held a large semi-automatic handgun, a Beretta, Sullivan guessed. The other held a shotgun, which was now trained on Martin. Getting a better look, he realized that the one with the Beretta was Frankie Raven.

Ignoring Sullivan on the ground, Ravelli smiled cruelly as he held his Beretta to Martin’s head.

"We’re your life-long partners, Jimmy. Didja think ya could cut us out of this deal?"

"No, no, please," Martin cried. "I was jes introducing a couple of guys, its small time."

"That’s not what Gloria told me, ya fucking weasel," Ravelli said as he fired into Martin’s head.

Martin dropped like a hangman’s weight bag. Ravelli then walked slowly with a bit of a strut to where Sullivan rested against a crate.

"I know you. You’re a small timer from Donny’s bar," Ravelli said.

"I’m not a small timer," Sullivan scoffed. "This was my job."

"When you’re right, you’re right," Ravelli said coolly, shrugged, lifted the Beretta and then pulled the trigger.


Kaplan brought us another refill of coffee just as we were finishing up the interview. Sullivan sat in his chair puffing on one of a long string of cigarettes that he had smoked while telling his story to me.

"You know why I really want to testify against Ravelli?" Sullivan asked.

"Well, for starters, I would think his shooting you," I said in response. "And I know Frankie, he will certainly finish the job if given the opportunity."

"Yeah, yeah, sure. But I really want to get up in court and put that bastard away," Sullivan said. "I want him and everybody else to know that I’m no small timer."


Frankie Raven received a life sentence. Quote the judge, Frankie Raven, nevermore. Sullivan was booked into the federal witness protection program and was moved out west somewhere.

As he wished, Sullivan received his moment of glory, his 15 minutes of fame. But I had to laugh when I spied what my editor placed over my column about the trial.

"Small Timer Testifies Against Mob Boss."

© 2002 By Paul Davis 

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Feeling Italian and Romantic? Here is the Smooth Sound of Chris Botti and Dean Martin

I'm half-Italian, but you don't have to be Italian to feel Italian and romantic. You can listen to Chris Botti's wonderfully smooth sound on his CD Italia.

To place you in an especially Italian and romantic mood, you can listen to Chris Botti accompany the one and only Dino - Dean Martin. The link to I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face is below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PpoaXIzZY0

For an Italian encore, listen to Dino sing Non Dimenticar. The link to the song, which also features photos of Dino, is below:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=vggDRr_ydzQ

Ciao



Thursday, November 26, 2009

My Crime Beat Column: Raymond Chandler's Influence on Crime Novels and Films

I have a couple of unread books on my nightstand next to my bed and about a dozen more on a table in my basement office. But instead of reading these new novels and nonfiction books, I’m rereading Raymond Chandler’s classic crime thrillers.

As I recently read a newspaper piece about Robert Altman’s somewhat loose film adaptation of Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, I had the urge to read the novel again for what is perhaps the 12th time since I first read all of his novels as a teenager so long ago. Chandler is that good, in my view.

The first detectives of popular fiction were gifted amateurs who solved murders like a parlor game, often to the dismay of the clueless, bumbling police. Hard-boiled detective fiction took a somewhat more realistic approach when Dashiell Hammett, a former Pinkerton private detective, wrote short stories for Black Mask magazine in the 1930’s. Hammett would go on to write The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, and other classic crime novels.

“Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not hand-wrought dueling pistols, curare and tropical fish,” Raymond Chandler wrote of his fellow Black Mask contributor.

“He put these people down on paper as they were, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.”

Chandler, in my view, surpassed Hammett to become the best crime writer America has produced. He has influenced several generations of crime writers and a good case can be made that he is the single most influential crime writer.

I recall a Dick Cavett TV program in the 1970’s that had Ed McBain, Robert Parker, P.D. James and Mickey Spillane as guests. Cavett asked the best-selling crime writers who had been their main influence and all save Spillane immediately answered Chandler. (Spillane named a comic book writer whose name escapes me).

Even on Central Avenue, not the quietest street in the world, he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food. - from Chandler's novel Farewell, My Lovely.

Chandler admitted that Philip Marlowe, his Los Angeles wisecracking, incorruptible, hard drinking, tough guy private detective was not realistic. He said that a man like Marlowe would no more be a private detective than he would be a university don.

“The private detective of fiction is a fantastic creation who acts and speaks like a real man,” Chandler wrote in an essay. “He can be completely realistic in every sense but one, that one sense being that in life as we know it such a man would not be a private detective.”

But Chandler also stated that crime fiction should be realistic in its character, setting and atmosphere. Chandler’s realism also clearly comes through in his observations, descriptions and dialogue.

The corridor which led to it had a smell of old carpet and furniture oil and the drab anonymity of a thousand shabby lives - from Chandler's novel The Little Sister.

Chandler led an unusual life. Born in Chicago and raised in Kansas and Ireland, he was educated in England, France and Germany. He worked as a reporter, poet and essayist before joining the Canadian Army to serve in combat during World War I.

He later became a successful oil executive but his heavy drinking caused him to be fired. He began writing crime stories for Black Mask when he was in his forties and at the age of 50, he published his first Philip Marlowe novel, The Big Sleep.

I was wearing my powdered blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display hankerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaven and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars. - from Chandler's novel The Big Sleep.

Chandler was devoted to his wife Cissy, a one-time beauty who was 18 years his senior. They moved frequently to different locations in Southern California and they rarely socialized.

Chandler was an avid letter writer and he corresponded with friends, other writers, editors and fans. I find his letters to be as brilliant as his novels. An editor working on a collection of his letters asked her publisher — has Chandler ever written a dull line?

Chandler was hired by Hollywood to write the screenplay for the film Double Indemnity. Working with Billie Wilder, whom he disliked, Chandler produced a screenplay that was superior to the Cain novel in my estimation. With his screenplays and the films made from his novels, Chandler was a major film influence.

Tom Hiney, in his book Raymond Chandler: A Biography, quoted the movie journal Sequence, “Just as Chandler has many literary imitators, so has his work exercised a considerable influence on the treatment of crime in film. He helped to bring back to the cinema some of the healthy realism lost so carelessly in the 30’s to the demands of a minority censorship. What is certain, at any rate, is that since 1944 his work has done much to form the basis of a school of film making as indigenously American as the Western, the social comedy, the musical, and the gangster film.”

Chandler wanted Cary Grant to portray Philip Marlowe (think of Grant’s tough guy role in Mr. Lucky), but Humphrey Bogart, Dick Powell, Robert Montgomery, James Garner, Robert Mitchum, Eliot Gould, Powers Booth and others would take a turn playing Marlowe in films.

Clive Owen is preparing to portray Marlowe in the film Trouble is My Business.

James Garner, who played Chandler’s detective in 1969’s Marlowe, is my personal favorite.

Garner was big, handsome, tough, and he delivered the wisecracks very well. When Garner sat at his desk and pulled out his pipe, I saw the Marlowe that I envisioned from the novels.

Based on the Chandler novel The Little Sister, the film had a contemporary setting (in 1969). Had the film been properly set in the 1940’s, I think it would have been a near perfect adaption.

It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window. - from Chandler's novel Farewell, My Lovely.

Chandler never fully recovered from the loss of his wife. He said she was the center of his life for 30 years. During Chandler’s final years, he drank heavily and traveled aimlessly. He died on March 26, 1959 at the age of 70.

But Chandler’s influence lives on in crime novels and films. In his oft-quoted essay, The Simple Art of Murder, Chandler presented his definitive view of the private detective in fiction.

"Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world."

Note: The above column originally appeared in The Orchard Press Online Mystery Magazine.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My On Espionage Column: My Q & A With Ben Macintyre, Author of 'Agent ZigZag: A True Story of One of World War II's Most Daring Double Agent,' Part One


GreatHistory.com published part one of my interview with Ben Macintyre, a writer-at-large and associate editor of the London Times, and the author of a fascinating book on Eddie Chapman, who was one of World War II's most daring double agents.

Chapman, a safecracker, con man and philanderer, was captured by the Nazis on the Island of Jersey in 1939. He convinced the Germans that he would make a good spy for them against the British and they trained him and dropped him by parachute into England. Once on the ground, he turned himself in to British intelligence. British Intelligence turned him into a double agent.

You can read my column via the below link:

http://greathistory.com/agent-zigzag-the-story-of-one-of-wwiis-most-daring-double-agents.htm

Saturday, November 21, 2009

My Q & A With CIA Veteran Stuart E. Methven, Author of 'Laughter in the Shadows: A CIA Memoir'


Just out is the latest issue of Counterterrorism, The Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International, a magazine for law enforcement, government and the military world-wide.

I'm a contributing editor to the magazine and my Q&A with veteran CIA officer Stuart E. Methven appears in the current issue.

Methven, 81, is the author of Laughter in the Shadows: A CIA Memoir (Naval Institute Press).

You can read the piece below:




Note: You can click on the above to enlarge.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Patrick McGoohan: The Prisoner, Danger Man, and Secret Agent, but not James Bond


Her Majesty's Secret Servant , an interesting web site dedicated to Her Majesty's Secret Service's most famous fictional secret agent, James Bond, published an interesting piece about Patrick McGoohan and James Bond.

When I was a teenager in the 1960's I was a big fan of Ian Fleming's James Bond thrillers and the early Bond films starring Sean Connery. I was also a big fan of Patrick McGoohan's two great TV series in the 1960's, Secret Agent (Danger Man in the U.K.) and The Prisoner.

When Mr. McGoohan died last year nearly every obituary noted that he turned down the role of Bond as he objected to the sex and violence. This item was repeated in nearly all of the pieces about McGoohan since AMC aired a new version of McGoohan's classic TV series, The Prisoner.

Mike Vincitore's piece in HMSS offers what McGoohan had to say about the Bond role:

"Interviewer: In Danger Man, one of your particular traits is that you never carry arms.

McGoohan: That's going back a long way, you know. The first episode was about 1960. My objection was that the telly goes into people s homes and at that time television was very reserved. For that reason I also refused to allow my character to go to bed with a different girl in each episode. In films, it's not the same thing. If you want James Bond to be armed, it's not a problem.

Interviewer: Is that why you turned down the role of James Bond?

McGoohan: That story has been much exaggerated. Broccoli's partner offered the part to me at the end of the first year of Danger Man. I read the script - not very good for that time, even if it has become so subsequently. The real reason for my refusal was that there was a certain person in the crew I didn't want to work with. In any case, it wasn't a part for me, and Sean was perfect in the role.

You can read the piece at http://www.hmss.com/otherspies/prisoner.htm.

McGoohan did go on to portray a British secret agent on the big screen in Ice Station Zebra. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My On Crime & Security Column: Organized Shoplifters Cost Stores Billions

The national web site Businessknowhow.com ran my On Crime & Security column today.

The column dealt with organized gangs of shoplifters. The shoplifters cost retail stores billions of dollars.

You can read the column via the below link:

http://www.businessknowhow.com/security/shoplifters.htm

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wambaugh on Wambaugh: Joseph Wambaugh Talks About His New Novel, Hollywood Moon

Below is the link to a Youtube.com video of author Joseph Wambaugh discussing his new novel, Hollywood Moon.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6bWDjZ1eLo



My Crime Beat Column: Semper Cop, My Q & A With Joseph Wambaugh


Joseph Wambaugh fans, and there are many, including most of the current crop of crime writers being published today, will find his latest novel, Hollywood Crows, to be as entertaining and poignant as his previous classic novels about cops, crime and how those crimes effect the cops.

As I wrote in my Philadelphia Inquirer review of his previous novel, Hollywood Station, I’ve gone out on many a ride-along with the Philadelphia police and I’ve witnessed the drama, the horror and the comedy that cops encounter on those mean streets. I’ve also witnessed their bravery, compassion and humor in response to the worst possible human behavior.

Joseph Wambaugh, 71, a former Los Angeles detective sergeant and author of 18 novels and nonfiction books, takes the reader on just such a ride-along in his novels.

Hollywood Station offered stark realism, blunt language and abundant humor. In the first of a trilogy of novels depicting the cops who man the Hollywood police station in Los Angeles, California, Wambaugh’s cast of characters include the surfer cops, Jetsam and Flotsam, Hollywood Nate, a patrolman and aspiring actor, and the caring and wise, 69-year-old sergeant known as "the Oracle."

Perhaps only in Hollywood would the police respond to an altercation between Batman and Spiderman, with Marilyn Monroe making the 911 call. And did I mention that the witnesses were not one, but three Elvis Presleys? Wambaugh offers a humorous depiction of the tourist-hustling costumed characters who pose for photos with visitors in front of the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard.

A jewelry store robbery is the key to a series of vignettes involving a meth-addicted thief, Eastern European gangsters and homeless people, who all interact with the Hollywood cops, leading to a climatic shootout at a nightclub.

Wambaugh returns to the scene of the crime in Holywood Crows. The sequel to Hollywood Station offers some of the characters from the previous novel, such as Flotsam and Jetsam, the female officers Ronnie Sinclair and Cat Song, and Hollywood Nat. Unfortunately, their beloved sergeant, the late Oracle, has been replaced by a young, incompetent sergeant named Jason Treakle. Hollywood Nate describes the martinet sergeant’s roll call speeches as "a perfect meld of George Bush’s garbled syntax and the tin ear of Al Gore."

The new sergeant adds to the woe of the Hollywood cops, who since the LAPD Ramparts scandal and the Rodney King incident must contend with cumbersome bureaucratic oversight via a federal consent degree. Hollywood Crows also introduces us to Bix Rumstead, a solid family man and one of several LAPD community relations officers (or Crows).

We also meet Gert Von Braun; a policewoman that the other cops claim has "ETS," or explosive temper syndrome. Prior to being assigned to Hollywood Station, she had shot and killed an armed robber in the act, which made her a "celebrity gunslinger." Another great cop character is "Compassionate Charlie" Gilford. Wambaugh writes that the night-watch detective is lazy and sensitivity-challenged.

The plot of Hollywood Crows evolves around the contentious divorce and child custody battle between Ali Aziz, a sleazy strip club owner and Margot, his estranged ex-stripper wife. Both of them hatch schemes to do the other in, and they draw in several of the book’s characters, including a pathetic, crack-addicted thief named Leonard Stillwell.

I reviewed Hollywood Crows for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and I wrote that although one might think there is nothing funny about drug addiction, greed, murder and suicide, Wambaugh’s black humor and social satire will make you laugh – and then think.

Wambaugh was born in 1937 in East Pittsburgh. The son of a police officer, Wambaugh joined the Marines at 17, married his wife Dee in 1955, and graduated from California State University in 1960. He joined the LAPD that same year and served as a patrolman and later as a detective sergeant.

He wrote his first three novels – The New Centurions, The Blue Knight and The Choirboys while still serving on the LAPD. He retired in 1974 to become a full-time writer.

Wambaugh received the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Allan Poe special award for nonfiction, The Onion Field, in 1974, and he won another Edgar award for best screenplay, The Black Marble, in 1981. He also won the International Association of Crime Writer’s Rodolfo Walsh Prize for Investigative Journalism for Lines and Shadows in 1989.

Many of his novels and nonfiction books have been made into films and television programs, and he was the creator of Police Story, an award-winning and influential television program.

I was very pleased to have been able to speak to Joe Wambaugh over the phone from his home in San Diego, California.

DAVIS: It’s good to talk with you. I’ve been reading your books since The New Centurions, so I feel like I know you.

WAMBAUGH: That was a long time ago.

DAVIS: I think Hollywood Crows is a very good novel. I like so much of the book, but I especially like your portrayal of the costumed street characters who hustle tourists in Los Angeles. So for my first question, is there really an LAPD Street Character Task Force?

WAMBAUGH: Yeah, there is. Every once in a while they got to get out there and work them when they get too aggressive.

DAVIS: Why do you think crime stories are compelling?

WAMBAUGH: I think because there are so many problems in life that are insoluble that people like crime stories because usually things get wrapped up, and the world seems like a more orderly place than it really is.

But not in my books. I don’t write typical crime or mystery stories. Very often, the cops don’t even solve the crimes in my books. Sometimes they solve themselves and sometimes they don’t, but very seldom do the cops do it.

As a matter of fact, my stories could never fit into the thriller or mystery category because there are no extravagant serial killers, there are no flamboyant master criminals - they are the Stillwells of this world, those kinds of people - the little people.

DAVIS: Well, there are more of them than there are serial killers, and you’re more likely to encounter them than serial killers…

WAMBAUGH: Yes, the cops don’t encounter master criminals and serial killers very often in their careers, or ever.

DAVIS: I’ve read that you interview a good number of police officers and used their stories in the books, but how do you plan your novels? Do you start out with developed characters in mind, or a theme or plot, and then incorporate the stories you hear?

WAMBAUGH: No. I start out with nothing but phone calls to cops. You’ll notice in the acknowledgment page on Hollywood Station that I believe I interviewed 52 cops, and for Hollywood Crows I think it was 54.

Right now I’m doing the third book in that trilogy, and it’s going to be another Hollywood sequel, and so far I’m up to 60 cops.
 
So I start out with nothing and I start interviewing the cops at drinks and dining sessions, four at a time until I get enough anecdotal material, dialogue and ideas to begin writing a story.
I have no outline; I have nothing in mind when I sit down with these cops. Nothing at all. They act, I react.
 
DAVIS: Well it certainly works well for you. I talk to a lot of police officers and I go out on a lot of ride-alongs, and I’ve found that most police officers are really good storytellers. They may not be good novelists – you’re the exception – but they are good storytellers. Why do you think cops are such good storytellers?

WAMBAUGH: First of all they get good material in their work. Most of us in life, including me right now, sitting in this house, I don’t gather material. I lead a boring life. They don’t. They’re out there seeing people, doing things, and as the Oracle in Hollywood Station said, "Doing good police work is the most fun you’ll ever have in your life."

So they are out there occasionally having fun when they do good police work and they are gathering material whether they know it or not. And once in a while someone like me will pop up and say, hey, tell me a few stories. And often they are eager to do it.

DAVIS: I especially like the black humor, which I saw in the military as well. In your novels you’ve been very critical of the federal oversight of the LAPD, and you mock the political correctness as well. How much do you think this affects officer morale, which of course affects good police work?

WAMBAUGH: Oh, it’s crushing to morale. It has been going on now for six years. This judge doesn’t want to let go. I think he’s enjoying the power, and of course the auditors that are being hired to do the auditing and overseeing, they love it. They are making millions. The city, the taxpayers, of course they’re paying for it. The cops are just overwhelmed with paperwork.

They feel that 9,300 of them are being punished for the acts of about four. The so-called Ramparts scandal resulted in two cops going to prison. That’s what brought on the federal oversight, that and the Rodney King affair. You have thousands of cops saying, you show me another profession or vocation where only three or four out of 9,300 are crooks. Hell, the U.S. Congress can’t boast those numbers.

DAVIS: Or attorneys.

WAMBAUGH: Right. So cops feel it’s grossly unfair, and as a matter of fact, they caught their own crooks! In the Ramparts scandal, the two bad cops were caught by other cops. So it’s not as though the feds are coming in and catching the occasional bad apple. No, the LAPD are catching their own bad apples.

DAVIS: What advise would you give to a big city police chief concerning officer morale and crime-fighting in general?

WAMBAUGH: I wouldn’t.

DAVIS: (laughs) But I think you do, indirectly, with your novels and nonfiction books.

WAMBAUGH: Well, this is a simple, little morale-boosting technique that the Oracle uses, but I think it should be used more often; during times of stress and distress, when the press is down on them, and the civil libertarians are taking jabs at them, and when they can’t seem to find anybody who likes them, they should be reminded by their administration that doing good police work is the most fun they will ever have in their entire lives.

And you have to live a long time to know the truth of that. Those youngsters should be reminded of that. It is just a little, mild trick that the Oracle in Hollywood Station uses very effectively. Maybe I’d remind police chiefs, if I ever talk to one, to keep that in mind when they are giving their little pep talks.

DAVIS: I’ve read that one of your original goals in writing novels was to humanize the image of police officers – if that’s so, do you think you’ve largely succeeded with your novels, the films and the TV series Police Story?

WAMBAUGH: Oh, yeah, sure. If I don’t humanize them, that is make them come to life as human beings, then no one is going to read my stuff and I’m a failure. That’s what I mean by humanize, bring them to life. I don’t mean clean up their image.

DAVIS: What I liked about Police Story is that we didn’t see the same lead character every week. You see a show like Miami Vice, where the main characters shot and killed about 752 people in just one season. The slaughter never seemed to ruffle their wardrobe or their psych.
 
You know better than I that police officers rarely do that, and perhaps some officers may have to take a life or two in a career, but that would be tops. But with an anthology series like Police Story you have different lead characters, so it seems to be more authentic.

WAMBAUGH: Yes, that’s why we did it that way, but we were the last successful anthology and there have been only a few successful anthologies in all of broadcast television. The viewing public want stories where there are is a continuing cast involved and where they can come back to them each week to feel comfortable that way. And so the anthology just doesn’t sell.

DAVIS: Perhaps cable TV will make a difference. Did you like The Wire?

WAMBAUGH: Yeah, it’s a well-done show.

DAVIS: Did you find the cops to be authentic?

WAMBAUGH: To a point. I’ve never seen the antics pulled that they do there.

DAVIS: Yes, well the fake serial killer plot and the drug-free zone plot was a bit over-the-top.

WAMBAUGH: (laughs) A little over-the-top.

DAVIS: I also think that Kimba, the cop who turned in the detectives for the fake serial killer scheme, would not have been warmly welcomed back by them. I think they would have been pissed at her.

WAMBAUGH: I think so too.

DAVIS: What I liked on The Wire was that we saw a reversal of what one normally sees on TV cop shows. You always saw cops and feds fighting over jurisdiction on most shows. "Back off, this is my case."
 
On The Wire after a dozen Eastern European girls were found dead in a shipping container, we saw the police agencies fight over not having jurisdiction. The Baltimore homicide chief spoke of his stats going up 12 per cent if they were stuck with the case. I got a kick out of that.

WAMBAUGH: That was my experience when I was a detective. We were always trying to give away jurisdiction. When the LAPD caught bank robbers, for instance, they would do the fun work – kicking down the door and catching the guys – and then for all the paperwork and the prosecution, the LAPD was only too glad to turn it over to the feds. Let the FBI handle all of that. And then the FBI would take the credit.
 
DAVIS: Do you think that fiction today still has the power to influence the way we think about police officers, war or anything? Do you think that fiction has the power it had maybe 30 or 40 years ago?

WAMBAUGH: No, I don’t. I think the reason is simple, I believe the percentage of careful readers has declined enormously. The average person does not read the newspaper. The average person doesn’t read even one book a year. Back in my day people used to read, and cops used to read. Nowadays, no way.

DAVIS: Well perhaps the shift is towards the Internet. I write for print newspapers as well as for online publications, and I don’t know if I have more readers online, but I do know that I receive more responses from online readers than I do from print.

WAMBAUGH: Yes, but they are reading short pieces on the Internet. They are not sitting there, as they used to do back in the day, reading a 400-page book.

DAVIS: I went to Drexel University to hear my former editor, Frank Wilson, the retired book-editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer, speak to the students about books. I was pleased to hear the students say that they were in fact reading online. I brought up that I thought the Internet was ideal for short stories, and the Internet may offer a re-birth for the short story.

WAMBAUGH: Short pieces, sure, but we have no hope in the publishing business of doing big money online as far as full-length books are concerned.

DAVIS: Who or what influenced you growing up?

WAMBAUGH: Books did. I went to the library. As a young boy I was influenced by Jack London. He was the favorite for a lot of young boys.

DAVIS: Did you want to become a police officer before you desired to become a writer? What came first?

WAMBAUGH: I was an English major when I got out of the Marines. When I graduated I was going to be a teacher, but the LAPD was paying a lot and I decided to give it a try. So I wanted to be a teacher and ended up being a cop. I thought this would be a good career for me for about 20 years, and then I could become a teacher.

But in the meantime, the writing bug bit, as it does for all English majors, and I started writing short stories. I was a closet writer.
 
DAVIS: What kind of man or woman do you think becomes a police officer today? Is there a common dominator?

WAMBAUGH: I don’t think so. Norman Mailer had a few theories on that, but he was full of bullshit. Someone has to have a bit of assertiveness in their personality, I would think. I’m thinking of women in particular. There has to be a little something there, thinking they can go out and get in somebody’s face and do the job.

DAVIS: I’ve read that you are developing a TV series based on the Hollywood novels with David E. Kelly. Do you have a network or a projected air date?

WAMBAUGH: That fell through. We were together for a year, and as they say in show biz, there were creative differences between us. We were co-writing a pilot and at the end of the year’s option I didn’t renew it.
 
Nice guy, but I just felt that we didn’t have the same vision, and now as we speak, my agent is negotiating with Sony Pictures for a TV project with Hollywood Station.

DAVIS: I hope you go to cable. You have a lot more freedom of expression there. Good luck with that, and I look forward to seeing it.
 
I’ve read you’ve been sued every time you write a non-fiction book. Do you plan to write any more nonfiction books?

WAMBAUGH: I never plan, but it something popped up that interested me, of course I’d love to.

I was sued for every one except for The Blooding, which takes place in England. In England, as in all civilized countries except America, you sue someone at your own peril, because if you fail in your lawsuit against someone, you will pay their legal fees. But not in the United States. Anyone can sue me with impunity, just by getting some ambulance-chaser. And by giving him 35% of whatever he recovers, he’ll file a lawsuit for a couple hundred dollars. And knowing it will cause me thousands to defend, they hope they can blackmail me into paying. I don’t blackmail. I fight them and it costs a fortune.

I don’t think it’s going to change in America because the country is run by lawyers and they don’t want that to change. In every other country in the Western World there is a penalty if you sue and fail. You will pay all, or part, of the prevailing defendant’s legal fees. That’s called "loser pays," and until America adopts that our civil trial system will continue to be the mess that it is.
 
We pay for it in all the goods and services because they allow all the lawsuits they’re going to get.

DAVIS: I’ve read that you have called for a professional jury system as well.

WAMBAUGH: Yes. In criminal cases, I think it’s time for that. Look at the O.J. trial or any of the famous trials where DNA and scientific evidence was involved - the juries don’t have a clue. They don’t understand any of it. They get emotionally involved.

DAVIS: It appears that celebrities can get away with murder in Hollywood – literally.
I used to enjoy your appearances on Johnny Carson and I liked the humorous stories you used to tell about yourself. Good stuff. Have you ever thought of writing a memoir or an autobiographical novel?

WAMBAUGH: No, I would never do that.

DAVIS: Pity, I think it would be interesting. I’ve enjoyed all of your books, and I love The Choirboys, as it was so funny, but in my view, The Onion Field was your best work. That was a great non-fiction book. I think it ranks with Capote’s In Cold Blood.
 
WAMBAUGH: Thank you. I’m proud of the movie too.

DAVIS: James Woods was great, as were the other actors in the film.

WAMBAUGH: Ted Danson too. That was his first movie role.

DAVIS: Lastly, do you still believe that good police work is the most fun one can have? Knowing what you know today, would you still become a police officer?

WAMBAUGH: Yes, it is the most fun I ever had. And I look back in sadness, really, because I realize I’ll never have that fun again.

DAVIS: I recall when another elderly cop tells the Oracle that they have a crummy job in Hollywood Station, and the Oracle simply replies, "It’s all we have – Semper Cop."
 
You can visit Joseph Wambaugh's website via the below link:
 
www.josephwambaugh.net/

Note: The above column originally appeared in The Orchard Press Online Mystery Magazine in 2008.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Ultimate Cold Warrior: President Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Berlin Wall


Below is a good piece by the American Forces Press Service:

Gates Discusses Reagan's Role in Fall of Berlin Wall

By Jim Garamone American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 11, 2009 - A flexible American strategy based on Ronald Reagan's inflexible belief in liberty was key to the fall of the Berlin Wall, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here yesterday.
*
The secretary spoke at the Library of Congress at a ceremony commemorating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall. The Reagan Library sponsored the event. And Gates was in a position to know: he served as the deputy director of intelligence at the CIA, and as deputy National Security Advisor under President George H.W. Bush.
*
When Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, American influence was low: Iran had humiliated the United States in taking hostages at the embassy in Tehran, the country was in what President Jimmy Carter called a malaise and the Soviet Union looked to match or surpass American military might.
*
Gates called Reagan "the ultimate Cold Warrior." The new president's first job was to restore America's military strength. "A broad U.S. defense build-up began early in the Reagan administration, with more advanced planes, ships, submarines, combat vehicles and nuclear weapons added to America's arsenal," Gates said during his speech.
*
And Reagan wasn't afraid to use this new American power. Libya challenged American naval might in the Mediterranean Sea with the "Line of Death" at the Gulf of Sidra. In 1981, Reagan sent two aircraft carriers across the line, and Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi sent two fighters to challenge the American ships.
*
"Big mistake," Gates said. Under Ronald Reagan's new, aggressive rules of engagement, two F-14 Tomcats splashed the two Libyan fighters." Reagan extended the strategy of containment of the Soviet Union far beyond the primary theater of Europe. The Soviets found themselves being confronted in Africa, Asia and Central and South America, Gates said.
*
"While countering the Soviets ... had been a common feature of every administration since the end of World War II, under President Reagan this struggle gained new moral energy, purpose and sense of urgency," Gates said. Reagan believed that the West would triumph over communism in his lifetime, and through his two terms in office he never lost sight of that, the secretary said.
*
On Jun 12, 1987, Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate on the western side of the Berlin Wall and issued a challenge to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
*
"Mr. Gobachev, tear down this wall," Reagan said. Gates said there were some in Reagan's own State Department who didn't want him to say those words, but the president stuck to his guns. But Reagan was not simply an ideologue.
*
"President Reagan also had the insight, the sense of historical moment, to know when it was time to sheathe the sword, soften the tone and re-engage – even with our most implacable enemy," Gates said.
*
Reagan's meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko in 1984, was "a turning point," the secretary said. The president followed this with meeting with new Soviet Leader Gorbachev in 1985. And there were items the two sides could negotiate, Gates said.
*
"He made it clear that we did not value the ICBMs, tanks, or warships in and of themselves. They were negotiable," the secretary said. "No, the West's differences with the East – the democracies' dispute with communism – was, he said, 'not about weapons, but about liberty.'"
Reagan never lost sight of the fact that the Cold War was a struggle of ideas and economic systems at it root.
*
There were treaties with the nation Reagan called "the Evil Empire." Gorbachev and Reagan signed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987, banning the use of these missile systems.
*
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Gates was President George H.W. Bush's deputy national security advisor. He spoke of his wonder at seeing hundreds of thousands of Berliners dancing on the Wall, hacking away pieces of it and knocking down whole sections with bulldozers.
*
"There were hundreds of thousands of people in the streets and virtually no violence," Gates said. "Within two years, the other Soviet satellites had broken free as well, and again, largely without violence. The effort to reform communism, as suspected, actually ended up sweeping it away.
*
For its foundation was force and terror and without them, communism could not survive." The world changed when the wall fell 20 years ago, and people are still trying to devise strategies that work in a different, but still dangerous world, the secretary said.
*
"In many ways geopolitics are much more complex than when two nuclear-armed superpowers tested each other," he said. Still there are lessons to be learned, and first among them is the appeal of freedom – political, economic and spiritual.
*
"And the idea that free men and women of different cultures and countries can, for all the squabbling inherent in democracy, come together to get the big things right, and make the tough decisions to deter aggression and preserve their liberty," Gates said.
*
Each generation must make this choice, he said. "It is a sad reality that in our time and in the future ... there will be those who seek through violence and crimes to dominate and intimidate others," Gates said. "We saw this on (/11, and we see it today in Afghanistan, where more perseverance, more sacrifice and more patience is required to prevent the terrorists who attacked us from doing so again.
*
"We see it anywhere nations, movements or strongmen are tempted to believe the United States does not have the will or the means to stand by our friends, to meet our commitments and to defend our way of life," he continued.
*
President Reagan knew this inherently, Gates said. "Ronald Reagan was a great president who acted and planned, but most importantly, who dreamed and believed," the secretary said. "And
he truly accomplished great things."

Monday, November 9, 2009

My Crime Beat Column: American Spy: Howard Hunt's Secret History in the CIA and Watergate


"I've been called many things since the foiled break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex, including a criminal mastermind, a bungling burglar, and even a bad spy novelist," E. Howard Hunt wrote in the introduction to his book American Spy: My Secret History in the CIA, Watergate & Beyond (Wiley).

"I don't know which accusation hurts most," Hunt continued. "Two are outrageous overstatements and one is a mater of opinion. Need I explain which is which? Whatever the case, none of them describes the whole man, and all disregard over two decades of service to the United States, first as a sailor in World War II, then as an OSS (Office of Strategic Services) operative, segueing into many years as a CIA agent."

Hunt lead an interesting life before, during and after the Watergate incident. His book reads like a thriller when he tells of his stint in the Navy in World War II and his time in the OSS and the CIA, which is not surprising, considering that as a sideline to his CIA career, he was a prolific writer of spy and crime thrillers.

Hunt writes about his involvement in the CIA-engineered coup in Guatemala in 1954 and the less successful Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961. He also disputes the allegations by conspiracy-buffs that he was involved in the assassination of President Kennedy.

After he retired from the CIA he went to work for the Nixon White House as a member of the "Plumbers" team. The team was tasked with stopping the many leaks to the press and performing a number of political dirty tricks.

Hunt spends a good portion of the book describing his role in the Watergate break-in. He tells what led up to it, how they planned it, what happened when they were discovered and the aftermath.

Although Hunt was a war veteran and a long-serving government employee who had never been convicted of a crime, he was slammed hard. His wife died in a plane crash at the time, so sending hunt to prison for 33 months effectively made his children orphans.

The Watergate break-in ruined a good number of lives and forced President Richard M. Nixon to resign. He too might have gone to prison had President Ford not pardoned him.

In my view, Nixon's resignation, along with the Congressional War Powers Act, emboldened the North Vietnamese to invade South Vietnam in 1975.

American combat troops were gone and the Communists knew that without Nixon, American troops would not return to Vietnam and the Americans would not mount a bombing campaign to halt the Communist invasion.

Watergate was a minor break-in that had major consequences.

Hunt is somewhat unrepentant, believing to the end that he was working for the country's good. He failed to see that neither he nor the president are above the law.

In American Spy, Hunt, who died in at 88 in 2007, described his life and offers a whole man - before, during and after Watergate.

Note: The above column originally appeared at GreatHistory.com.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Carl Ballantine, McHale's Navy Crew Member, Has Died. He was 92

Carl Ballantine, a crew member of the 1960s television comedy McHale's Navy, died. He was 92.

You can read about this great, zany entertainer's life via the below link to The Philadelphia Inquirer:

http://www.philly.com/inquirer/obituaries/20091106_Carl_Ballantine___Actor__entertainer__92.html

Ballantine is the tall, lanky sailor in the center at the top of the photo of the McHale's Navy cast.

I loved McHale's Navy as a kid and Ballantine's goofy character helped to make the show funny.

You can visit my web page here

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Prisoner: Then and Now. AMC Remakes a Classic Television Series

I'm watching the classic television series The Prisoner again. I first saw the brilliant TV program when I was a teenager in the 1960s and with this, perhaps the 20th time I've watched the series over the years, I still find it intriguing.

http://www.amctv.com/originals/the-prisoner-1960s-series/

Patrick McGoohan is simply perfect as the defiant, disgruntled secret agent who wakes up in "The Village." The Village is a quaint place where secret agents, military people and others with government secrets end up after resigning from their posts and/or other secret reasons. Once they submit to the will of the bosses of the Village, they live out their lives peacefully.

But not McGoohan, called Number Six. One of the Number 2 bosses of the Village - the great Leo McKern - watched Number Six in his cottage via a camera and remarked that Number Six made putting on a dressing gown (bathrobe) an act of defiance.

The series was way ahead of its time, with hallucinatory drugs, cell phones, cameras and other surveillance techniques and computer technology.

AMC has remade the series and the new version of The Prisoner airs this month. I'm not sure why this remake is needed at all, but I'll probably watch the new series out of curiosity.

http://www.amctv.com/originals/the-prisoner/

Be seeing you, as they say in the village.

You can visit my web site here