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"...you write in a way that is very visual, 
 you paint with words."
Michael Martin, Photojournalist
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Don is a 4th generation Angelino with family arriving in LA  c. 1886. 

He has written as an avocation for 35 years about the 
people of Los Angeles, California, and the world. 

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READ ANOTHER OF DON'S TRUE STORIES BY CLICKING HERE


A GAY GANGSTERS' LIFE

as told to Don Noyes-More in 1971

Part 1

A true story of a boy from an Immigrant Family

Lost in America’s Dangerous Great Depression.

Names and some locations have been changed to protect the privacy of the families 

and friends.


     Dedicated to the Memories of RG, Little Bobby, Dale C, Tim Passadore, Peter Gasperelli, Baby John & Big Orsi. Of course a special and fond dedication to "Peter" of whom I write this story, (decessed). A thank you to Mary Ann McConnell of Chicago (now deceased)  friend of Peter's and ex-girlfriend of a Purple Gang member in Detroit. She was drinking buddy's with "Wise Guys" all her life, she gave me dditional insight into Chicago and Detroit Mob behavior, Mob color, and introduced me to a few of her friends. Mary Ann would say of herself, "I pray like a nun, smoke like a trucker, drink like a sailor, and fuck like a whore". And so it was. - DNM

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July 1936

2:30 PM at the Paso Robles junction off 

Old California Highway 101 

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     Peter Bulovich stood looking down the road for a car, sweating from the sun; cigarette hanging from his lips, he was on the old California Highway 101 at the Paso Robles Junction. He was 16 years old and hitching his way to San Francisco in search of a job. His immigrant mother and father were from Croatia and had died in a terrible auto accident in Los Angeles only two weeks after arriving from New York with their only son, Peter. Peter spent most of the family money on a sad, quick burial at Evergreen Cemetery on LA’s Eastside. He sold the house furniture at auction.

    After the brief burial, there were no options left, Peter would have to find his own way in life. Turning his back on Los Angeles he set off on the road to San Francisco catching a farm truck ride from LA. He was a tall and strong blond 16 year old with watery blue eyes and good-sized muscles. He was quick to laugh and always made people feel welcome. There was also another side that was not to surface until a few years later, it was waiting in the dark. He was also known to be moody and at times quick tempered.  

    He carried on him $63 and his father’s gold pocket watch, it was all he had in the world; he took off to San Francisco to start a new life. His whole life history and belongings were pressed tightly into a cane suitcase and a sailor’s type of duffle bag; it was from his dad who had once been a merchant seaman. The duffle bag contained clothes, some photographs, dried fruit, beef jerky, cheese, crackers and his first carton of Lucky Strike cigarettes; smoking was to be a life long habit.

    So that fateful day in 1936, Peter found himself waiting for another ride to San Francisco at the Paso Robles Junction. The old farm truck only went as far as the Junction.

    The long black automobile caught Peter’s attention as he saw it take the dusty curves on the winding road to the Paso Robles junction. As the car came ever closer he could make out a long dark blue limousine. As the car approached Peter could see the sleek lines of a 1936 Cadillac limousine, roaring down the road towards him. The car passed Peter in a bellow of dust, then slowed down and pulled to the side of the road, waiting. Peter went running up to the car suitcase in hand and a duffle bag over his shoulder.

    Slowly the front seat window opened, a man was stretched across the seat, “hey you, you get in, where’s you going anyways?” “I’m going to San Francisco” Peter answered. “Good, you leave you’ things on the floor here, and get in the back with The Mr. and his son. Brush you’ self off good.” 

    Peter dusted himself off shaking his hat against him. Slowly he opened the car door. “Hurry up and get in, we’re late” came a demanding voice from a darkly handsome and swarthy man sitting with a cigar. Peter was shocked as he recognized the man, it was John “The Gun” a big Eastern gangster who had been in the news in regards to MGM studios. Seems he was consolidating mob power with the studios for the eastern syndicate, the studio labor unions were heavily run by mobster orders. The eastern mob had been consolidating its influence with the studios for about 7 years with Jack Dragna (LA Boss) and others. With word from the mob labor / crafts unions could strike the studios, studio production could just shut down. There was a lot of “corrompere i funzionari” (bribing of union officials) in those days. 

    Sitting with the man on the plush backseat of the limousine, was a young Italian teen, he leaned forward and pulled a small jump seat down for Peter to sit on. He smiled at Peter and said, “Hello I’m Gabriel get in, we have a long way to go.” Peter smiled back and said, “My name’s Peter” as he climbed in the car and sat down. 


Journal Entry: Sunday, December 10th, 1971, 11:30AM  

A large Victorian home in a small town northeast of San Francisco:


    Peter entered the breakfast room in a long, well worn, forest green, smoking jacket. He had a cup of Java with rye whisky in his hand, his silver hair looked sprayed on. He had a lit cigarette with a platinum cigarette holder given to him by Gab, pointing straight out from his tight lips. He sat down and started to recall that day in Paso Robles as though it had just happened. He clearly remembered that life-changing day on the road to San Francisco, “the moment I saw Gab I was in love, I always blocked the idea of ’Gay’ from my mind. But when I saw Gab I was totally beside myself. He would forever be the one person I loved, no others… not even so much as compassion for others, just him.” Peter turned his head aside and down, hurt memory and a rising tide of emotional pain sweeps across his ashen face. “I made him and he ‘made’ me in Family lingo, it was a lucky break in my life. I will always love him, I see him every day in my head. Peter pulls a cross on a gold chain from around his neck, “see, he gave this to me, I keep it on all the time, even after all these years,” he pauses, his voice gets lower, “we did the best we could’ a, I love him.”

    Gab’s notorious father had always known Gab was Gay. He was not averse to finding it for his son, whom he knew as a bit “Delicato” or delicate. But physically Gab looked 20 at 16 and very masculine. He was Italian tall, 5’ 9” he already had to shave, and he had arm and chest hair. His father blamed himself for his sons “condition”, he felt personally responsible. The “Gun” kept his son securely in the hands of “la Familia”.  Nothing went unnoticed.

    Gab went to an Italian private school in San Francisco and would see his father on holidays in Los Angeles or San Francisco. They spent every summer together, once they shared a happy week in San Simeon with William Randolph Hearst and a few famous movie people. Gab’s 2nd “School” was the Family school. He was the only teen in high school allowed to have a car. The Family donated large amounts of money to the school. Gab also had a private room and bathroom. Of course he was popular with all the students because he could get cigarettes and booze. He even had a little racket going getting the school’s Catholic teaching Brothers booze and cigarettes.

    Physically and mentally frail, Gab’s mother was in New York aided by a private nurse for a serious “nervous condition” (depression) she had been suffering since Gab’s birth. He had two younger sisters that went to convent school in upstate New York. He had only met them a handful of times. Gabs family was his father's family, no one else. He was his father’s joy and only love. Gab’s father never communicated nor visited his wife, as it was to be until she died in 1949. He never spoke of her to anyone else with the one exception his Jewish financial advisor and professional money launderer Ben. Ben made monthly payments into an account for his wife.

    The instructions were strict, only the girls were to visit the mother; her own family turned their backs on her as an inadequate mother and woman. In Gab’s mind she just became a nonperson, a shadow. He never saw his mother past his 9th birthday. He was to tell Peter “it was my last birthday party”. 

    That 9th birthday was held at a fancy New York restaurant, a party his mother sat out drunk and slumped on a chair covered in her black sable coat. “I forgot to get a present for you but I’ll give you some money later dear” as she kissed him with smearing wet drunken lipstick. He was only to entrust these memories to Peter. Gab never wished to see his mother; in his mind she was dead. What he wanted emotionally from his mother he gained emotionally in Peter, and their sexual encounters made the bond all the more strong. They seemed complete together, whole, fitted to each other.

    “The One I Love” The same phrase was written in the same way on both their tombstones. It was a family mystery. Peter told me years before his death about this “little thing” they did. It was something they did often, Peter said they would point at the other and say, “the one I love” and smile. It was also the last words Gab would say to Peter on the telephone from a New York hospital bed. But that is many years off from that chance meeting on Old California Highway 101.

 

 Family of Choice

PART II


     Peter sat as politely upright as possible on the limousine leather jump seat. The air in the car was thick with cigar and cigarette smoke from the Father and son. There was no conversation. The older man, “John” sat looking at Peter intently. Peter could clearly see that the man was sizing him up, trying to figure him out, but more like a doctor checking the health of a patient through moments of observation.

     Peter sat watching the stone mileposts come and go, dotted along the roads he could see billboard-advertising signs, some dilapidated, paper tearing off the signs like yellow torn pages of an old book.

     John took a long puff from his cigar and then leaned towards Peter, “You know who I am?” Peter’s faced flushed with both fear and excitement. “Yes sir, you’re famous and powerful.”  The man leaned back in his seat smiling, “so who the fuck says that, son? “Newspapers sir.” “Yeah”, was John’s response, “well they are telling you the fucking truth.” The man began laughing, then his son and Peter began laughing.  John’s son leaned over to Peter and handed him a cigarette, “come on over on the seat, “here”, he patted the seat with his hand, “there’s room”. Peter was to recall many years later that he felt in that moment a reconnection to a sense family and a sense of belonging. He went on to say he felt he had to lose his old family to gain his new family. 

     Peter started to talk about the reason for his journey, “a new start and a job”. John listened carefully to Peter’s story, interrupting him from time-to-time to ask him questions about his family history and health. John was satisfied the boy had no connections to another living soul, none. Peter was a feral teen in America’s Great Depression. He was also like new fresh clay to be molded and manipulated.

     The car pulled to the side of the road to a clearing in some California Oak trees. “Supper”, John said. So there in 1936 Central California a well know gangster, his son, and Peter sat at a table being served a complete supper with a couple bottles of “Dago red wine” and fresh Italian bread. The table was filled with over a dozen Italian specialties of cured meats and cheeses. The chauffeur served them and then ate in the car.

     Over lunch the conversation turned to topics like “loyalty to family”. John seemed pleased with Peter’s intelligence, manners, and obvious healthy physicality, a good mix in what John was starting to plan for the young man. He liked the fact that Peter had no known family living. But Peter could never be a fully “Made Man” (a member of the Italian Cosa Nostra).

     John raised his glass of wine to his lips, took a sip, “you need a job so I’m gonna give you a job. “You're going to watch my son’s back so you’re going to school again”. John stood up, pointing his finger at Peter and said, “I trust you to take care of my boy, run any defense, you got me?” Peter looked stunned. “Yes sir”, Peter said firmly. “Good, I like the way you think,” “Tu sei un ragazzo fortunato” (“you are a very fortunate boy”) John said under his breath. You have to get good grades too, you understand?” “Yes sir”, came the response. “Good, any trouble with you would not be healthy”, he sent a cold chill of a look into Peter. “You make $100 a week; (an immense amount of money for a 16 year old in 1936), every thing is paid for,  just like my son." Peter understood what it meant. “Loyalty above all else” Peter said. Peter made a decisive move on a very dangerous journey that was to change his life forever.

     Peter got up from the table and went to the car, he opened his duffle bag and pulled out a picture of his family, sitting back down at the table he handed it to John.  John looked at it without making comment. As he started to give it back to Peter, Peter said “No, Keep it for me, you are my family now. Give it back if I ever betray you.” If Peter had ever betrayed John it would mean more than returning a picture, it would have meant his death. John pulled the picture back to himself, he looked at it, and then placed it face down on the table and smiled and said "done". The agreement was complete. John had taken care of a number of problems by hiring Peter but John got more in Peter than he ever bargained for. It was John's nature and important business trait to know who he was doing business with, any flaws of judgment might prove fatal. 


The New Life

Part III is dedicated to R.S.

Journal Entry: Sunday, December 10th, 1971,

A large Victorian home in a small town  northeast of San Francisco

 

     Peter fidgeted nervously; he kept turning his watch around his wrist. He was chain-smoking and drank through our early afternoon conversation. He seemed determined to talk and I was happy he chose me. It was starting to rain outside. That Bay Area winter slate-gray hovered low and created a forlorn atmosphere. Peter never told me why I was to be the bearer of his story, but journal in hand I continued to take notes and ask questions, some of which he refused to respond to, some he got angry at, and a few times he just cried. From time-to-time a blond kid about 19 would look into the kitchen without saying a word and then disappear, it was Peter’s “boyfriend” of the minute, a toy; eye candy. I always assumed Peter picked him up to attempt a recreation of himself, which in reality would have been delusional and sad. The kid was just another of a long line of hustlers and punks Peter engaged since the death of Gabriel. He said, “I never fell for anyone else, all these years, crazy huh?” He took another sip of his spiked coffee and continued his story.

San Francisco 1936 ~ St. Francis Hotel

     John, Gabriel, and Peter entered the St Francis Hotel suites tired and in need of rest after a long and eventful trip. Peter gawked at the lavishness of the hotel and the lushness of the suite Gab and him were to share until the start of school in late August. Gab sat on an oversized dark-green velvet chair looking intently at Peter. “You need clothes. Tomorrow we go to the tailor… and we need to get school uniforms too,” Gab’s eyes smiled, he seemed content with his new “bodyguard” who seemed more like a paid companion.  

     “Waiting for school to begin was a real lesson in San Francisco 'family business'. I met local and national ‘family’ business people, among them San Francisco Boss Francesco ‘Frank’ Lanza, who I was introduced through Gab’s dad on a Sunday afternoon after mass at Saints Peter and Paul Church in Little Italy. Funny, I still attend mass there every Sunday,” Peter interjected. “Frank was a gruff, hard looking man with steel eyes, Standing outside church he said to me”, ‘You do good and you go places.’ “He shook my hand like a vice”, Peter said with a smile. “That was the last year of his life. Anthony Lima took over business after him. I always liked and trusted Tony”, Peter took a drag off his cigarette holder and paused on a private memory.

Journal Entry 1971

     I left Peter’s house that day exhausted by his ponderous pauses and alcoholic ramblings that went into endless digressions and sub-stories. I was not to meet with him again until just prior to one of his famous New Years parties, which was a Bay Area event by invitation only. You could meet some of the most interesting Gay people at these parties, which were planned all year long. Of course there were always slot machines, a roulette table and a craps table for guests to play,  “proceeds going to charity” (sure), and the jock-strapped bar-tenders behind the bars made drinks at lightening speed. Airmen and sailors from the local bases, especially Travis Air Force Base and the local submarine base came in uniform and 'civies'. I met people at those parties that I’m still in contact. The house had a high stone wall around it to keep people from knowing what was going on. The local police directed cars and made sure there were no disruptions. Peter had seven police officers on his personal payroll. The police chief got a cut from the illegal gambling, vending machines and prostitution done in the city. Everyone got a cut. Peter was always fair but if you crossed him he could be dangerous and brutal. Once a well known local restaurant "Juanitas" run by the oddest character in the Bay Area, 'Crazy Juanita', was torched because she was not paying her protection dues, killing her much loved pet monkey and prized parrots. She reopened in Vallejo three months later under Peter's watchful eyes. This time she saw how important 'dues' were and made sure to pay up. 

     Peter in those days (60's-70's) was alligned with 'Eddie the Hat' who was also running 'business' in Hollywood as well as the Bay Area. I met Eddie a couple times, once at a Hollywood Hills party and the second time a party my brother gave, I was 16 and 17. He was always polite and smiled at me.  He was well known around the semi-legal and legal Gay bars and after hours clubs, such as "Ginos" on Melrose at Robertson Blvd. in West Hollywood, officially known as an "Opera Club" but was used to launder Mob money. It was a spot for older guys to pick up younger boys. The club was run by Gino an older semiretired Mob figure. Eddie's people also ran The 8727 Coffee House on Melrose, and the Pharoah's Tomb on North La Brea Avenue, an after hours club featuring drag shows. Eddie ran prostitutes, both male and female for wealthy clients including well known gay Hollywood agent William "Bill" Balasco. Bill died in an odd accident on Mulholland Drive in his Rolls Royce in the early 1980's. Some said it was Mob related. Eddie's 'sellers' supplied marijuana and drugs in the West Hollywood unincorporated areas. 

     In the late 60's and early 70's "Transister Sister" an odd geek of a man, smallish, balding and with a thin long nose, was hired to hang in the Gay bars and afterhours to spy and report back to Eddy's people. He was called "Transister Sister" because he always had a white transister radio with him. He only spoke with people who, oddly enough, weeks later seemed to get hurt or go missing. I once smiled and said "hello" to him at Gino's. He responded with, "ya' want to sell your ass?" I said "no" and walked away. About 6 months later I heard that Transister Sister was found dead in his seedy red brick apartment on Western Ave and Hollywood Bl. It seems Transistor Sister crossed Eddy by holding out that he was making money off a runaway underage boy. The prostitute boy, a mixed Asian 16, and known as "Little George" to everyone was found on the Mohave Desert dead a few  weeks later. I was his age.

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School Day Enforcer 

Part IV

A bar in Benicia, Northern California

Sunday, January 24th, 1972 1:00pm

     Peter and I met at a bar in the little town of Benicia, once the capital of California; in the early days of California independence. The bar was a “workingman’s” bar, smokey, dark, with sawdust on the floor. It was the type of place that the workers from the nearby docks and shipping facilities would come to. It was also a bar that Peter owned and used to launder ill gotten gains from his other business enterprises.  

    Peter looked a bit gaunt and gray in the face as he slowly made his way to the booth at the end of the bar. I stood up as he came to the table, Peter raised his hand, “sit down for Christ’s sake, don’t treat me like a fucking homo.” Peter always put on the fašade of the tough macho guy. He sat down and before he said another word the bartender placed a drink in front of him and a pack of cigarettes, which he opened. Peter took out a $10 bill from his shirt pocket and gave it to the bartender saying, “Get something for the wife”. The man took the money and thanked Peter. He took my drink order and walked away.

    I asked Peter, “What happened when you and Gabriel started school?” After a few swigs from his drink and lighting a cigarette, he closed his eyes and started speaking.

    “Gabriel and my room connected together by a large bathroom dividing the two spaces. The rooms were in the back of one of the older buildings, away from the regular dorm rooms and the shitty discipline that went with dorm living. Those Brothers were pretty tough on the boys. We were school royalty of sorts.” Peter got a grin on his face, he grabbed his drink and gulped it down, and gestured the bartender for another drink. “Yeah those fuck’in Brothers came one by one for their gifts. Each got a box we put together, a large bottle of Irish whisky, 2 cartons of cigarettes and $50 in cash. Suppose, like a fuck'in payoff to God. The Head Master, Father Aquinas, got 3 bottles of whisky, 1 bottle of brandy, 3 bottles of red wine, 4 cartons of cigarettes and $200 in cash. They just walked in the room, took what was handed them, and walked out. They never said a word to us, not a fuck'in word. They were a greedy bunch of bastards. But this was part of the payoff for our special treatment. I remember that day like it just fuck'in happened, I was young, shit where'd all that time go?" Peter looked down at his drink, moving it around in the little ring of condensation created at the bottom of his glass. "I got an education by those Brothers, a fuck'in good education. They got an education in who not to fuck'in mess with. They never fucked with us or else they'd get hurt, you know what I mean?" Peter winked at me, and took a long drag from his cigarette. "Fuck'in nobody messed with us. We we're fuck'in bigshots at school. We passed out packs of cigarettes and those faggots would suck our cocks. We ran it all. But we had more things to do than school. Being underage meant we could run errands and packages. We'd pick up a couple packages from a swanky apartment on Russian Hill, all wrapped up like birthday presents, bow and everything, and deliver it to a man waiting at the transbay ferry terminal, always the same guy. We'd go up to him, say 'goodday Mr. Peters', hand him the packages and wait for him to get on a ferry to Oakland. Then we would go to the telephone and make a call, 'we delivered the birthday presents...' Never knew what those boxes contained", Peter started to laugh. "Fuck yeah, never knew!" He kept laughing and smoking.

 Part V

     Peter and I sat talking in the bar for a few hours, he was getting tired and drunk, so we agreed to meet in a couple weeks. I left the bar about 4:30pm, almost dark outside. I stepped out onto the wet pavement in a swirl of bay fog. I was feeling like The Thin Man, my mind was filling with Peter’s stories. I was being pulled into Peter’s life, forever. I realized: I was the official Keeper of his Story; it took 40 years. I feel as though I am fulfilling a promise never made, but understood. I interviewed Peter for about a year. When I was done I was never to hear from him again. He did not return calls nor would I ever get any invitations to his dinners or his parties. The holder of his truth was banished from the kingdom. Once Peter told his entire story to someone I suppose he felt relief and release, finally the truth he never spoke to anyone about directly, especially about himself and Gabriel, was out. If Peter were mad at me his reaction would have been very different and physical, I am sure. He never told me to do anything with his story. Once during a New Years party he whispered to me, "you'll remember me" and kissed me on the cheek. At the time I thought he was trying to make a pass at me. Years later I realized I was in charge of his life story.

PART VI

Han’s Speckmann’s German Restaurant

Oakland, California - Sunday February 21st, 1972 2:00pm 

     We finally met again over brunch at Han Speckmann’s German Restaurant in Downtown Oakland, California. It was a bright and particularly sunny day for February, which usually meant dark, gloomy and rainy.  Peter put up some of the money for the restaurant and had his own special private dining room upstairs. Han’s had very dark interiors; forest green, leather, and dark wood paneling. The restaurant drew a large Gay crowd for dinner and drinks.

     When I walked in the Host met me at the door. I told him whom I was meeting. He asked me my name, made a call from his podium, said my name, then he immediately asked me to follow him. We walked up one flight of stairs to large double wooden doors. The Host knocked twice and opened the doors for me. Peter was at the end of a horseshoe shaped table. “You’re here, good” he said with a half smile. There was a knock at the door, a waiter walked in the room with a drink and a pack of cigarettes for Peter. The waiter carefully opened the pack of cigarettes and put them on the table. Peter ordered a German brunch of Goulash soup, German black bread, Bratwurst and Knockwurst, roasted Pig’s knuckles, Spatzle, sour kraut, and potato salad. I understood by the menu it was going to be a very long Brunch. The waiter returned a few minutes later with a bottle of Rhine wine and poured two glasses.

     Peter looked at me from the rim of his wine glass and said, "I never denied loving Gabriel. We would have loved each other regardless if we were gay or straight. It was one of those strange chance meetings, it was love." Peter closed his eyes, and laughed, seemingly remembering something he did not want to share with me. I am sure all the best of Peter's stories died with him. He was painfully private so our meetings were difficult, painful, and personally stressful for him.

I was scheduled to meet Peter months later. He decided he had said enough.

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