The continuing assault of the surveillance state


Because of an important development in the news today, I’m postponing the blog post about Sandy Koufax I promised yesterday. I will publish it tomorrow.

Glen Greenwald of the Guardian in the U.K., Democracy Now, ZDNet, and others have reported that the encrypted email provider Lavabit which Edward Snowden used, has voluntarily shut down rather than comply with a government investigation. Lavabit posted a letter from its founder, Ladar Levinson, in which he wrote that he was legally restrained from sharing the events that led to his decision to shutter his company after 10 successful years. Levinson concluded, “I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.”

Another email encryption service, Silent Mail, has also shut down its service, its founder Phil Zimmerman stating that he sees the writing on the wall, “…and we have decided that it is best for us to shut down Silent Mail now.”

These two events may seem small in themselves, but looked at against the background of what we know about the abuses of NSA and the surveillance state it commands, they become ominous. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to figure out that secret court orders demanding encryption keys and email addresses of those who may have communicated with Edward Snowden have been served on Lavabit.

An attack on a perfectly legal encryption service to violate the privacy of its users, and the gag orders to compromise the free speech rights of the company owners to explain what is happening, smacks of the actions of a corrupt and coercive police state. Those actions fall right in line with the seizure a few months ago of the contact information of sources of national security reporters at AP and Fox. And of the DEA receiving secret NSA intercepts to launch criminal investigations and then being instructed to “recreate” an investigative trail to cover up the sources of their information.

America’s assault on its own freedom of speech and privacy is going on behind the scenes, but you can bet that we will continue to see more examples of our government’s totalitarian behavior.

The U.S. government and Obama’s administration are doing their best to hide the many ways they are spying on Americans, even as they hypocritically insist that they seek to reform the NSA, the FISA court, and the Patriot Act.

In the end, it’s all just the shit you feed the folks at home to keep them quiet, while dismantling the last vestiges of their personal freedom and privacy.


The squeaky clean Leo Durocher story


In 1963 I got in touch with Leo Durocher—Leo the Lip as he was known—to get Sandy Koufax’s telephone number. I was on a bit of a left-handed pitcher rampage then, being in the midst of one of my break-ups with Bo Belinsky. We had broken off our engagement and it seemed to me the best way to get back at Bo was to make him jealous with another southpaw. Leo told me he wouldn’t give me Sandy’s number on the phone, but to come up to his house and he would.

Leo Durocher had a tumultuous career as a baseball player and, most famously, as a big league manager. He skippered the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants, where he won his only World Series title. Leo had been married to Laraine Day, but was divorced in 1960. He was living in L.A. and working as a coach for the then relocated Dodgers. (In one of those weird six degrees of separation coincidences, Leo would be the manager the Chicago Cubs in 1967 when my husband, Lee Meyers, was traded there.)

When we met, Leo was in his late fifties and I in my early thirties. To begin with, he was charming and very different from his reputation as one of the most combative managers in baseball. He had a beautiful home tucked away in a canyon up in the Hollywood Hills.

Inside, the house was completely, spotlessly clean. In fact, it looked so sterilized it was hard to imagine anyone living there. We made small talk in the living room for a while and at some point I asked for a glass of water. We went into the kitchen, which looked every bit as free of living organisms as the rest of the house and Leo poured me a glass of water. After I drank it and set glass on the countertop, Leo immediately snatched the glass and washed it in the sink. I mean he really washed it vigorously—steaming hot water and soap—then carefully dried the glass and placed it back among the neatly aligned rows of glasses in the kitchen cabinet.

I commented about what a lovely home it was and asked how many bedrooms it had. Three, he said, and then commenced telling me about his brand new bed. He led me into the master bedroom and proudly showed off a king-sized bed with an enormous, ornate, Moroccan-looking headboard.

“That’s really gorgeous,” I fibbed, looking at its intricately bizarre carving. Then I sat on the edge of the bed and bounced a couple times.

“No, no!” Leo shouted.

Frightened, I jumped up and looked around to see if I had broken something. Leo quickly straightened the coverlet, making sure it was back in perfect alignment.

“Well, Leo,” I said awkwardly, feeling like I was in a flashback to my days with Howard Hughes, “it’s been lovely to meet you, but I suppose I should be going. Could you give me Sandy’s number now?”

I had not heard of obsessive compulsive disorder back then, but it was clear to me that Leo and I were not going to be pals. He jotted down Kofax’s number and ushered me to the door. I thanked him and he replied, “Just don’t tell him I gave it to you.”

Next time, Kofax, another left-handed pitcher.

A brush with Che Guevara


In 1960 I was in Buenos Aires for several months filming The Blonde From Buenos Aires, starring opposite the handsome French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont. During WWII, Jean-Pierre had fought the Nazis with the Free French forces and was very left-wing in his politics. Being on the left was a somewhat dangerous thing in post-Peron Argentina, then the hideout for Nazis who had fled Germany.

Jean-Pierre was married to Marisa Pavan at the time, but she was never in Buenos Aires during the months we were filming. Jean-Pierre and I had a sweet but casual love affair. We stayed in the same hotel, where I had a large suite to accommodate Perry and his nurse as well as myself. Jean-Pierre’s suite had a fabulous canopy bed with curtains that closed, making you feel like you were in a luxurious sheik’s tent.


On one occasion we went to see a then-controversial movie by a left-wing French director, The 400 Blows, directed by Truffaut, if memory serves. The theater was unbelievably crowded and people were shoulder to shoulder jostling to get in. It was a frightening crowd scene and I wanted to run, but Jean-Pierre guided me into the theater and we found seats. Part way through the movie, the house lights went on and armed soldiers rushed down the aisle. They announced there was a report of a bomb in the theater. The audience rushed out as the soldiers began searching the movie house. When I stood up to leave, Jean-Pierre pulled me back into my seat.

“It’s fake,” he said, “they’re just trying to get everyone to leave.” When I told him I had no desire to sacrifice my life for French cinema, he only laughed. “Sit down. It’s a great movie.”

I retreated to the ladies room until the lights went down again. When I returned, there were few audience members, but Jean-Pierre was still in his seat.

Jean-Pierre and I had many lunches and dinners together. We were invited to a dinner party at the home of a prominent left-wing writer and activist, where Jean-Pierre said we would meet someone special. Their home was a huge, well-appointed top floor loft in a downtown B.A. building. We sat at a long table for one of those extended late dinners so popular in Latin America. Through my little knowledge of Spanish I could understand some of the conversation and occasionally some of the guests would engage me in English.

The guest of honor for the evening was a polite young man with a scraggly beard, introduced to me as simply “Che.” We made pleasant conversation for a few moments with his halting English and my elementary Spanish before he moved on. He was under the watchful eye of his wife that night.

It was a momentary brush with a revolutionary character. Che was quite charming and unquestionably handsome in our brief encounter, with no hint of his true place in history. I would not realize until some years later that he was the Che Guavara, whose charismatic style, ruthless actions, and connection to Fidel Castro shaped Latin America and the United States.

Good programming makes good citizens


The recent trial of Bradley Manning and the situation of Edward Snowden have brought to light how completely Americans are programmed to believe the fantasy of good intentions of our government. Charges of traitor and spy have been hurled around like confetti, yet the illegal activities of the government against its own citizens brought to light by Manning’s and Snowden’s revelations remains unspoken.

From our earliest days we are taught that we are the good guys. We are the new sheriff riding into town to clean out the bad guys. It is unpalatable for us to see beyond that Old West mythology that we are in fact an international bully and a force of imperialist expansion around the world. You need only look to the unnecessary wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, undertaken on the pretext of fighting terror, yet obvious to everyone in the world but Americans as military actions whose purpose was to solidify the U.S.’s control of countries with major concentrations of oil and natural gas.

Worse yet, beyond our wars of conquest abroad, a war has been turned inwardly against us. In the name of a war on terror, Americans have given up without a fight their personal liberties and rights of privacy to a police state engaged in global surveillance and oppression of dissent, propped up by secret courts and laws, and claiming to have our best interests at heart—if we just trust them. Whether revelations from Seymour Hersh about the Mei Lai massacre in Vietnam, Daniel Ellsberg about the Pentagon Papers, Bradley Manning about the Collateral Murder video in Iraq, or Edward Snowden about the NSA’s massive collection of citizen’s phone calls, text messages, and emails, our government has shown time and again that the things they tell us are lies and the things they hide from us under the veil of National Security are inevitably dangers to our liberty and our lives.

As a people, however, Americans stare at their televisions, ignoring that perhaps we are only one major terrorist incident away from martial law. Once martial law is imposed, ostensibly for our protection, it will be next to impossible to end it, leaving us at the mercy of a power structure willing to put troops in the streets, conduct warrantless searches, imprison people indefinitely on suspicion alone, and put an end to the pretext of America the free.

Fear keeps us in line, for we have no weapons against the troops of our modern forces. We keep our mouths shut, turn away from the truth of what we have become.

Alone against the police state we could be seen as helpless—or very powerful. When we are many we are conspicuous, but when we are alone we are hard to detect. A well-informed, thinking person, even if she is solitary, is dangerous to the state. Take a lesson from history. Dinosaurs once dominated the earth, while small mammals occupied obscure niches in the ecosystem. But when the dinosaurs died out, the mammals had so perfected their varied survival skills that they came to dominate the planet.

Lesson: stay low, stay smart, and stay ready.

Happy Birthday, Alan Mercer

MAMIE flying sml
Dubbed “The Classic” from our first shoot. Photo by Alan Mercer

Friends are something to be thankful for. If we’re smart, we cherish them. But it’s not often that a friend comes along who has an influence as great as Alan Mercer’s has been for me.

Alan and I met–can it be that long ago?—in 2005. That first long, busy afternoon photo shoot showed me what a gifted artist he is. We have shot many pictures since then, with always spectacular results. Countless photographers have taken my picture—the greats like Tom Kelly, George Hurrell, and John Engstead, and some of the not-so-greats. Alan Mercer’s name is definitely among the greats who have snapped my picture. And no one has had a more important influence on today’s Mamie Look than Alan.

On the occasion of your birthday today, Alan, I can only say many happy returns, may you have many more, and may all your dreams come true.

All my love,

p.s. Let’s schedule a shoot soon.

Mamie Van Doren 364 red garters
Red Garters, photo by Alan Mercer

The Watergate Breakfast


Last night’s CNN film Our Nixon was a unique look back in time at Richard Nixon and the Watergate era, mostly through the eyes of H.R. Haldeman’s and John Ehrlichman’s Super 8 cameras. Haldeman especially was addicted to taking movies, and shot thousands of feet of film during his years working in the Nixon White House, all confiscated by the FBI during the Watergate investigation. It was particularly interesting for me to watch this newly released footage intercut with the actual voices of Nixon, Haldeman, and others recorded by the infamous White House taping system. I knew or met a quite a few of the people involved in Watergate.


If you haven’t read Playing the Field or some of the other writing I’ve done on my relationship to Nixon, here’s the short version. I was one of a number of celebrities who volunteered to make appearances at fund raisers around the country for CREEP, the Committee to Re-elect the President to a second term. Later I was invited to the White House for a State dinner honoring Germany’s Chancellor Willy Brandt and to the San Clemente White House to meet Soviet First Secretary Leonid Brezhnev. Here’s an excerpt from Playing the Field.

    In mid-June I received an invitation to a celebrity breakfast with John and Martha Mitchell in Pacific Palisades at the home of a prominent L.A. Republican. I accepted.

    Saturday morning, June 17, 1972, in the big house overlooking the Pacific, a group of us gathered to meet with John Mitchell, chat with Martha, and in general be stroked by the hierarchy of CREEP for our good works thus far, and encouraged to do more between then and the election in November. Among those gathered were Terry Moore, Chad Everett, Pat Boone with two daughters in tow, Maureen Reagan, and me. I recall there was a lot of lofty talk about the Nixon reelection and some scoffing at the opposition.

    Oddly enough, Martha Mitchell and I hit it off. She was nursing a hangover with a little hair of the dog, and gabbing away a mile a minute about how much she enjoyed herself in Southern California and how about if we got together for lunch in a day or two?

    As the breakfast got under way in our host’s large sunny living room, John Mitchell began to speak to us about the progress the campaign was making and what a grand mandate the President would get in November from a voting public grateful for the way he was handling the country.

At some point, one of Mitchell’s aides bustled into the room and whispered in the attorney general’s ear. The color drained out of Mitchell’s face and he asked, “Are you sure?” In a few moments, he unceremoniously dragged Martha out of her seat and hurried out of the room with his entourage in his wake.

Without knowing it, we had witnessed Mitchell being told of the arrest of the Watergate burglars. It was the beginning of the Watergate scandal.

Watergate surely changed the face of American politics, ushering in an era of investigative journalism and forever eclipsing whatever good works Richard Nixon may have done. Without making excuses for them, for all their sins the Nixon people were invariably nice to me.


Looking back, the Watergate affair was a clear cut us-or-them kind of battle, conservatives against liberals, the press against the administration. Watergate seems quaint now compared to the massive crimes committed today by so many government officials who are sworn to protect our constitutional rights. Wars started with lies, torture legalized, CIA kidnappings, secret courts, indefinite imprisonment, murder by drones, and press freedom in jeopardy—the list grows daily. In the forty years since Watergate, a giant, secret government has been quietly put into place beyond elections and above its own laws. The fiction is that this secret government has been created to protect us. The fact is that it was created to control us, the world.


Nick the Greek & Lolita Lady Luck, part three


I often accompanied Nick in the casinos, but a gambler as famous as Nick the Greek was bound to attract too much attention during the peak hours when the amateurs were crowding the tables. Nick preferred the quiet of early mornings for his serious gambling when few people were in the casino.

Vegas was then, as it is now, a 24-hour town and I would find Nick at five a.m., alone at the end of a crap table, shrouded in cigar smoke, deep in concentration on the dice. I would get his attention by gently touching his arm. When he turned to me, his eyes would light up and a smile would frame the omnipresent cigar. I learned to be a pretty good crap shooter thanks to Nick, though he always tried to convince me to bet with the House the way he did. I could never do it because it seemed counterintuitive to bet against myself.

I had quit the Ted Fio Rito band and had begun singing with J.C. Heard’s combo at the Jungle Club across the street from the El Rancho. The Jungle Club was owned by Jack Dennison, who would later become Dorothy Dandridge’s husband, and featured black entertainment—hot jazz and a cool atmosphere designed to provide what Dennison hoped would be a Harlem-like experience for white patrons. In a reverse of the racism typical in Las Vegas then, my job lasted until some of the white customers complained about a white girl singing with a black group.

Nick always encouraged me to be more than just a hanger-on in Las Vegas, to make something of myself as a singer or actress. The end of my job at the Jungle Club brought that into sharper focus for me.

I have written extensively in Playing the Field about how I got acquainted with the handsome and debonaire gangster Charlie Fischetti at the Flamingo Hotel’s pool, and how I fell for him in a big way. I had not told Nick I was having a romantic affair with Charlie, but when Charlie and I attended a prize fight, we were seen by someone Nick knew. After dinner one night Nick confronted me in his soft-spoken way.

“Joan, it makes me very unhappy that you’re seeing Charlie Fischetti,” he began, choosing his words carefully to make his point. “The Fischettis are very dangerous people and you do yourself a disservice by being seen with him.”

I looked at him sheepishly.

“Fischetti’s a member of a powerful crime family,” Nick went on. “Getting associated with someone like that can have permanent consequences.”

“What do you mean?”

“Fishchetti is under investigation by the Kefauver Congressional Committee looking into organized crime. That could get very messy. You’re a talented girl, Joan. You’ve got a fine singing voice and you’re very beautiful. You can be somebody on the stage or in movies. You don’t want to just be the girlfriend of some mob boss. An association with someone like Fischetti can turn out to be a serious liability when you become famous someday.”

Nick sipped his wine thoughtfully and lit a fresh cigar. “I’ve seen them come and go in this town. Pretty girls get trapped by the bright lights and the smell of money—and tangled up with gangsters—” he paused a moment and examined his cigar, “—and gamblers. You have too much going for you to let that happen, Joan.” He smiled and put his hand over mine. “Think about it. I’m only telling you this because I care about you very much.”

I took his hand in mine. “I know, Nick.”

I thought about what Nick said, even while I secretly visited Charlie Fischetti in Chicago. Charlie had also encouraged me find a good acting coach and make my way in Hollywood, and had promised to help me with money to pay for it. When I returned to Vegas from my visit with Charlie, I knew it was time to go back to L.A. and Hollywood where my real dreams were.

After I settled back in L.A., Nick often visited me at my parent’s flat on Harvard Boulevard. We would go to dinner at his favorite Greek restaurant, a romantic little cafe in Santa Monica. Nick never drove, but always showed up at our doorstep with a car and driver. As always, there were the expensive suits, the cloud of pungent cigar smoke, and there was always that courtly air about him, treating me with avuncular kindness. If there was no romance between us by then, Nick seemed not to mind. We thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company.

When I got a job in New York in Jackie Gleason’s “Billion Dollar Baby” on broadway, Nick and I stayed in touch by telephone. During the months I spent in New York working in Babies and living at the Barbizon women’s hotel, I drank in the exciting nightlife, much as I had in Las Vegas. I became engaged to former Heavyweight Champion Jack Dempsey and made the rounds of the hot night spots in New York City. Once again, Playing the Field documents how my relationship with Dempsey eroded over time and how Hollywood continued pulling me back.

After Babies closed and I made my way home from New York, I began in earnest to search out my place in the Hollywood movie landscape. I had met the composer Sammy Cahn in New York, and on his recommendation I sought out his friend and fellow songwriter Jimmy McHugh to be my manager. In spite of the sabotage by McHugh’s girlfriend, Louella Parsons, the all-time bitch goddess of Hollywood columnists, Jimmy positioned me perfectly to get the role of a nightclub singer in “Forbidden” starring Tony Curtis and Joann Dru—the role which served as my screen test for Universal and made it possible to get my contract there.

My first starring role as a contract player—introducing “Mamie Van Doren”—was in the “The All American,” opposite Tony Curtis. The first day on the set an enormous bouquet of flowers and a small package were delivered to my dressing room. First day jitters had me ready to jump out of my skin, and the bright colors and soft scent of the flowers was strangely calming. I opened the package to find a beautiful pearl bracelet, encrusted with emeralds and diamonds. The small card inside had this simple message: “I’m betting that you are going to have huge success. With love, Nick.”

Though I was in Las Vegas many times after becoming Mamie Van Doren, both as a performer and for fun, I never saw Nick the Greek again. Nick understood better than I that the new world I had entered would have no room for mobsters and high rolling professional gamblers. Nick died in 1966 at age 84, penniless.