In this encyclopedic double biography author John Buntin digs the dirt…and the clean…that modernized Los Angeles so that the city becomes the volume’s third protagonist along with its notorious gangster, the colorful Mickey Cohen (who did not learn to read until he was 30 something) and its most famous police chief, William Parker (who became a policeman to pay for law school). Moving chronologically from the 1920’s to the 1970’s, Buntin alternates his focus between the two men. He reveals actions and reactions which changed policing, politics, and race relations, some changes the result of Parker vs. Cohen, some the result of passing time and tide. Every detail you could ever imagine about Cohen, Parker, and the people involved with them is included. Many are fun facts; all are interesting; the sheer number makes daunting reading.
Cohen arrived from Brooklyn as a toddler; Parker from Deadwood as a teenager. Both made an indelible mark on their new hometown; readers learn how and why. Parker takes on the city council for power; stalks Cohen to defeat the underworld and its police ties. Vignettes include Prohibition, the Kefauver hearings, Dragnet, Watts Riots; Kennedy connections and killing; Rodney King, and Gene Roddenberry, who wrote speeches for Parker before Star Trek, in addition to failings of the main personalities: one drank, one washed hundreds of times daily (guess which did which!). Parker’s story is more suspenseful; Cohen’s includes hindsight hilarity with his conversion brush with Billy Graham and his wild interview with Mike Wallace where heslandered Parker. It is disturbing to bask in the fame of a Jew, famous because he broke many of the Ten Commandments, especially murder. As much information as the book contains about the city, there is scant if any about LA’s Jewish population and their reaction to Cohen as he acts before their eyes.
Ellen G. Cole, a retired librarian of the Levine Library of Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, is a past judge of the Sydney Taylor Book Awards and a past chairperson of that committee. She is a co-author of the AJL guide, Excellence in Jewish Children’s Literature. Ellen is the recipient of two major awards for contribution to Judaic Librarianship, the Fanny Goldstein Merit Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries and the Dorothy Schroeder Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries of Southern California. She is on the board of AJLSC.