1948: Hollywood Agog
On the morning of May 5, 1948, dozens of powerful Angelenos — movie stars, moguls and other movers and shakers — must have done spit takes with their coffee upon opening the Los Angeles Times and seeing this headline: “Names Found in Vice Raid Set Hollywood Agog.” The report that followed contained potentially career-killing news: During a raid on the bordello Hollywood madam Brenda Allen operated at 8436 Harold Way above the Sunset Strip [map], police had confiscated a box of index cards containing the names, contact info and sexual predilections of about 250 men whom the Times article described as “notables of the film colony.” And it got worse: A photo, captioned “Lots of names,” showed a uniformed LAPD officer pawing through the files, which appeared to be casually spread across a desk.
This was not the first time a Hollywood madam’s client list had fallen into the hands of the LAPD, nor would it be the last, and all these incidents tend to follow a similar arc: Initial, barely suppressed panic among the marquee names on the madam’s list followed by secret machinations among lawyers, agents and studio executives leading to quiet, behind-the-scenes negotiations among lawyers and police, as well as, presumably, an exchange of cash in return for assurances that the names will never see the light of day.
We will never know whether a scenario like that played out in the Brenda Allen matter over the summer of 1948. We do know what the outcome was, however. During Allen’s trial on the charge of running a “house of ill fame,” after reviewing the names on the cards, Judge Joseph L. Call issued his decision:
JUDGE CALL: In the box are names of dignitaries of the screen and radio and executives of responsible positions in many great industries. Publication of their names would be ruinous to their careers and cause them great public disgrace. I order the exhibit sealed.
Judge Call found Brenda Allen guilty, and the matter appeared to be settled. But it wasn’t. Like other madams before her, Brenda Allen had been paying corrupt officers inside the LAPD for protection. In fact, Detective Sgt. Elmer “Jack” Jackson, a member of the elite Administrative Vice Squad, which reported directly to Chief Clemence B. Horrall, was both her lover and de facto business partner. Separately, Sgt. Jackson and his boss, Lt. Rudy Wellpott, had been shaking down the mobster Mickey Cohen for several years, or so Cohen will claim.
All of this corruption and much more exploded into public view exactly a year to the day after Brenda Allen was busted. It was then, on May 5, 1949, that Mickey Cohen announced during a trial on an unrelated matter that he had in his possession recordings of telephone conversations between Brenda Allen and Sgt. Jackson — calls made to and by Jackson in his office at LAPD headquarters. Before the summer was over, Chief Horrall had resigned and he and five other top LAPD officials, including Sgt. Jackson and Lt. Wellpott, had been charged with lying to the grand jury — Jackson and Wellpott were also charged with taking bribes from Brenda Allen.
But now, dear reader, here is a test of your insight into how these sorts of things worked in Los Angeles back then. Among the people accused of criminal acts in the Brenda Allen case only one person was convicted and sent to jail. Among the five top LAPD officials, Brenda’s 250 clients and Brenda herself, can you guess who it was who took the fall?
Hint: The jailbird was a woman.