March 23, 1939 – To Most People L.A. Is Just Another City, But To Clifford Clinton It Was A Hot-Bed Of Sleaze, Vice And Corruption
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Los Angeles in the 1930s. Despite the travel posters and promises of year-round sunshine and warm-weather, Los Angeles had problems just like every other city in the country; Big City Crime and City Hall Corruption.
One of those people bent on exposing this virtual rats nest of avarice was Clifford Clinton. Known primarily as the owner of Clifton’s Cafeteria; one of the cultural landmarks in early 20th century Los Angeles. Clinton was a tireless muckraker; exposing crime and naming names. He was the object of several bungled assassination attempts and most likely served as the inspiration, if not the prototype for films like Chinatown or L.A.Confidential.
Publicly pointing out corruption had its drawbacks, especially in 1930s Los Angeles. During that time, corruption was the norm in the city. Gambling and prostitution establishments operated with impunity and often under the protection of the police. Bribery was a way of life. And the corruption extended all the way into the offices of the mayor, district attorney, and police chief.
Clinton’s own establishments suddenly started being visited by city health officials and cited for multiple violations. Being confronted with this type of pressure from a corrupt city hall, many restaurant owners would likely have backed down. But not Clinton, he doubled down and got himself appointed to the county grand jury. And once appointed, Clinton pushed the grand jury to investigate vice conditions in L.A. When he met resistance from other grand jury members who had ties to the mayor or the underworld, he started his own Citizen Independent Vice Investigating Committee, or CIVIC. CIVIC’s investigation revealed hundreds of brothels and gambling houses, over a thousand bookie joints, and thousands of slot machines. When the Grand Jury refused to publish, or even accept the report, Clinton produced his own Minority Grand Jury Report. And it was scathing. The report alleged that the District Attorney, Sheriff and Chief of Police “work in complete harmony and never interfere with the activities of the important figures in the underworld.”
Retaliation was swift. Clinton’s real estate taxes were mysteriously increased. He was denied a permit for a new cafeteria. And “slip and fall” and “food poisoning” lawsuits started pouring in at Clinton’s establishments. And then things started getting violent.
In October 1937, a bomb exploded in the basement of Clinton’s home in Los Feliz. Luckily, no one was hurt. After the bombing, Clinton received a phone call saying that this little “puff puff” was just a warning of worse to come if he didn’t “lay off.”
A few months later, a bomb exploded in the car of an ex-cop named Harry Raymond who was doing his own investigation into corruption while also feeding information to Clinton. Amazingly, Raymond survived even though he suffered over a hundred shrapnel wounds. An LAPD Captain was implicated and later put on trial for the bombing. During the trial, it was revealed that, in addition to planting a bomb, the LAPD Captain was also running a secret spy squad that used wiretaps to gather information on the mayor’s opponents and other prominent Angelenos. The LAPD Captain was convicted of the bombing and sentenced to 10 years in prison. But more importantly, the corruption and spying done by the LAPD was exposed to the public. After the mayor refused to fire the police chief, Clinton and his allies launched a successful recall effort and sacked the mayor. The new mayor, Fetcher Bowran, then pressured the chief of police as well as the entire police commission to resign. It had been three years since Clinton was asked to investigate corruption in the city’s hospital. In that time, Clinton not only helped topple the mayor and police chief, but he also dealt a major blow to corruption and organized crime in L.A.
This broadcast, on the eve of the Municipal elections on April 4, 1939 was part of a 4-times daily series of broadcasts Clinton did as part of his ongoing campaign of exposing corruption.
To get an idea what L.A. was up to in 1939, here is one of those broadcasts from March 23, 1939.