Before my father became a tool of the fabulous Las Vegas Mafia, paid like Frank Sinatra & Dino to lure high stakes suckers to Vegas with his dark timbre, he had to make his money the old fashioned way — by being the tool of drug companies and entrepreneurial doctors, many of whom had found themselves out of work after the collapse of Nazi Germany. Papa and Cary Grant were both early advocates of the mental health benefits of LSD. Papa introduced Errol Flynn to novel & experimental kinds of aphrodisiac — a tiny cut was made and then pills & monkey glands were inserted under the skin in some discrete place, such as the shoulder blade — and it was my father who first taught Tony Curtis that when doing lines he must never use denominations under $50 [eventually Tony switched to free-basing].
Archie Shitsville was once a scabby little boy, a filthy, gappy-toothed ragamuffin. Let’s imagine him kicking along one of those post-industrial revolution slum dwellings in the North of England that George Orwell liked to complain about. Archie and my grandmama Gladys lived in the last house in a row of cottages crumbling between an abattoir, a baby farm and a hospital for Unreclaimed Lunatics. In those days when little Archie was the picture of family life on the dole, how little he suspected what the future held in store: the streets would run with champagne, gardenias float in his swimming pool, the ceilings in every room of his house would be mirrored and of a morning the butler would serve his cornflakes on an onyx tray in a silver goblet that had once belonged to Henry the VIII. Everything changed when his toothless step-father died, only after having spent Archie’s formative years drinking away the money for shoes. [Shitsville was Gladys’ maiden name; Archie’s father was whoever Gladys’ most regular client was at the time of conception.] That was when Gladys and little Archie tied their rags in a bundle at the end of a stick and used the dead man’s left over pittance & the money they had got selling his cracked dentures to leave Shytsvllfwy — and then in some way that’s never been explained to me, Mrs. Shitsville & Archibald ended living respectably in a little white wooden house in Bowie St, Beeville, TX, US — where the sunlight coming in through the trelliswork is so thick and honeyed it looks like an old lady has knitted it.
In Beeville Gladys Shitsville married a Doctor named Alfred Pleasance. Around that time her name changed to Gladys Marylouanna Pleasance-Shitsville and all traces of any unsavoury past dropped from the record. She became adept at tatting, making jam and thrice won a ribbon at the Beeville county fair for her apricot pie; no one ever wondered why she went on wearing elbow-length gloves outside of church picnics (she used to go with a lot of sailors) or why in 1929 when everywhere across America prohibition was repealed she trembled and grew pale when the townsfolk voted 36 to 2 for Beeville to continue as a ‘dry’ town.
In Beeville Archie learned to tan and throw Swiss balls for health; he cultivated a universal accent, he learned to sing in church, O Lord Thou Art a Comely Hick, The Devil is a Black Man and other approved numbers, then at age of 16 when he became a man, Archie again took up his old bundle-on-a-stick and hitch-hiked all of the way to California garbed in Doctor Pleasance’s oldest suit of clothes (bowler-hat and striped trousers as was the fashion for Beeville doctors in 1900).
It’s hard to imagine what young and sunny California looked like to this eager eyed English lad in those golden days, when for miles on end the highways were lined with highly coloured, striped canvas tents in which you could get $1 fucks from girls who may have looked over fourteen if you kept your eyes tight closed. At the entrance to one of these tents, back of a gas station somewhere just outside of Hollywood, Archie met a man who looked a lot like Charlie Chaplin coming out. After first remarking on Archie’s improbable tramp’s clothes the man flipped him a buck while buttoning his flies & walking hurriedly away. This was the very first of Archie’s gambles and the only one that ever came up trumps: the girl inside the tent ended by being my mother.
Cont’d next post.