Portrait of L.A. Crime Boss Guy McAfee after He Reinvented Himself as a Leading Citizen in Las Vegas

Guy McAfee was one of the preeminent crime bosses in Los Angeles in the 1920s and 1930s. He spent his early career as an LAPD officer, rising to captain on the vice squad. In the 1920s, he married a madam named Marie, who worked in the sphere of crime lords Albert Marco and Charlie Crawford, top operators in a powerful organized crime racket known as “the Combination” and, because of its entanglements in civic institutions, “the City Hall Gang.” McAfee left the LAPD for a much more lucrative career as a vice lord and soon controlled a criminal operation that included dozen of brothels, bootleg liquor operations and the most lucrative underground casino in town, the Clover Club on the Sunset Strip.

A wave of reform swept the city in the late 1930s, resulting in the recall election of Mayor Frank Shaw, who was defeated by Fletcher Bowron, a former journalist and sitting judge in superior court. Once in power, the forces of reform targeted operations like McAfee’s, and he quickly decided to move east to Las Vegas, where gambling was legal. In an interview with a newspaper there in 1939, however, McAfee, who was by then remarried to actress June Brewster, denied he’d been driven out of Los Angeles:

“I came to Las Vegas because I’m happily married, have a great sized stake and have decided to operate in a community where my business of gambling is a legal proposition,” McAfee said. “I’m not saying the Bowron administration made it too hot for me, for that wouldn’t be strictly true. I’ve cut myself a slice of a new kind of life. Get this straight, no one ran me out of Los Angeles. I’m pulling out because I want to and no other reason.”

His first investment in Las Vegas was the Pair-O-Dice, a casino south of downtown — an area he is credited with naming the “Las Vegas Strip,” a nod to Hollywood’s far more glamorous Sunset Strip. He soon controlled a number of properties along the highway and on Fremont Street dowtown, including the Golden Nugget, which he built in 1946.

Guy McAfee died in Las Vegas on February 20, 1960, at age 71.

7 Comments

  1. jen o - mcafee

    May 3, 2015 at 11:26 pm

    I’m not happy about how he made his money , just glad he took care of my mom when she was alive. Life will pass you by if you dont enjoy every minute of it. Granddaughter of Guy McAFee.

    • Larry Strawther

      May 12, 2015 at 4:02 pm

      Jen – by chance, were you aware of any dealings between your dad and a gambler named Ballard Barron? Barron was very involved with gambling in Seal Beach and Long Beach and seemed to be partners with McAfee confederates (Tutor Scherer etc) in the gambling ships off those cities. Then in 1942 he was involved with the purchase of the Pair-o-Dice and its re-opening as The Last Frontier — the first modern-type casino-hotel on the Vegas strip. He ran the casino there and the Silver Slipper from 1942 thru 1954. larrystrawther@gmail.com

    • Who was your mother
      My great aunt was June Brewster
      Family called her Sis
      Kathaline

  2. The Clover Club was runned by Farmer Page, Nola Hahn, and Eddie Nealis.

    Everybody paid Guy Mcafee to operate in Los Angeles. When Guy moved to Vegas, he went into partnership at the Golden Nugget. The Last Frontier was run by Jake Kettleman.

    When the Clover Club closed, Farmer open the Pioneer Club in Vegas, Nola died, and Eddie ran Caliente Race Track in Tijuana, later the Rosarita Hotel. Eddie was also a motion picture producer at Columbia Studio.

  3. The painting of Guy McAfee was painted by my father, Benton Scott.

  4. I grew up knowing Guy and June McAfee. I called him “Uncle Mac”, though they were no relation. John D. Rockefeller gave children a dime when they met him. Guy would give me a silver dollar. You hear so much bad about him, I think people should l know some of the good. At one time, he owned both the Mayor of Los Angeles and the Governor of California. One night, my parents were at dinner in Guy and June’s home and the butler came to the table and said; “Mr. McAfee: The governor is on the line.” Guy picked up the phone, listened a for about a minute and quietly said: “You’re not supposed to think.”, after which he hung up the phone. When the Administration changed and Guy and June moved their business to Las Vegas, a newspaper ran an editorial lamenting his move, saying that the city of Los Angeles had never been better nor more cleanly run. I recall as a child once going to a birthday party for their adopted daughter, Kathleen. The Beverly Hills Police Department were parking the cars. He built a airport for Las Vegas and spent a million dollars building an orphanage there. (He was orphaned as a child). Guy met June at a party. He followed her around all evening. She went into the ladies’ room and he waited outside the door. So, thinking it would get ride of him, she told him the truth: “I’m dying of tuberculosis.”. Well, it didn’t deflect Guy. He put June in a sanatorium, and after they cured her, he married her. My aunt Charlotte told me that Guy shot his two partners in a restaurant and got on a double- decker bus and went up and down the street until he got it dismissed as self-defense. If that is true, it is the origin of the scene in the Godfather, where a crime lord and a corrupt police captain were gunned down in a restaurant.
    As a side note, The Godfather was one of the funniest movies ever made. In Godfather 1, they spoke Italian. The Corleone family were Sicilians and Sicilians do not speak Italian. Sicilians speak Sicilian. The Italians were and are occupying Sicily by force. It would be like a World War II movie where a French family is sitting around the dinner table speaking German because they were occupied by Nazi troops! People complained, so in Godfather II, they spoke Sicilian. Good … But then they cut the two movies to put them together and in some scenes they are speaking Italian and sometimes Sicilian. One more of the hilarious things about that move was the wedding scene. The band is playing the whorehouse music from the opera “She Who Has Taken the Wrong Path”- La Traviata: an opera about a prostitute! That would guarantee getting the band killed as the supreme insult!
    Richard

    • P.S.
      The proper music for a Sicilian wedding would be the aria “A Virgin in Her Wedding Dress” by Vincenzo Bellini – a Sicilian. One of the most beautiful songs ever written, it is cheerful, lilting, intricate and very appropriate.
      Richard

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