Re: RARA-AVIS: Los Angeles

From: Philip Benz (
Date: 07 Sep 2001

Kevin said:
> >Um, was it? The film industry preceded Prohibition, so the Mob, if it
> >existed at all, wouldn't have been this big powerful entity at the
> >time.

And Chris said:
> It's my understanding that Hollywood as a centre for the film industry
> didn't really take off until the nineteen teens. Nestor Studios was first
> in 1910, ironically the same year movie theaters were banned in the town.
> If I remember right, there wasn't a (legal) movie theater in Hollywood
> until 1914. So with the Volstead Act coming in 1919, film and bootlegging
> in LA are close, historically. One theory might be that as Hollywood became
> a centre for debauchery, Prohibition couldn't have been far behind.

I have a hard time seeing any direct causative links between localized debauchery in Hollywood and the Volstead act. Surely the idea that the evil and debauched modern world of the inner city is in need of "uplift" began much further back than that. Munby, in _Public Enemies, Public Heroes_ cites Jacob Riis's book _How the Other Half Lives_ (1890) as an example, and the first gangster feature film, _The Musketeers of Pig Alley_ (1912) continues the trend.

Without getting into details, there was certainly plenty of organized crime in cities like Chicago and New York before prohibition. You see that in films like _Public Enemy_, which begins in 1909 Chicago -- plenty of organized crime there. The term itself was apparently coined around 1919 by the Chicago Crime Commission, also refering to pre-prohibition crime. In New York, the Five Points gangs go way back, into the 1800s.

But did organized crime *control* film production? It seems far fetched, although guys like Al Capone apparently thrived on film and newspaper portrayals of his actions. Dillinger was gunned down coming out of a movie theatre. But by the time of the talkies, film production was so closely under the control of the studio system and the burgeoning Hays commission that any notion of organized crime control seems impossible.

Cheers, --- Phil Lyc饠Astier, Aubenas, France

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