'Mob City': Author of the series' source book John Buntin discusses organized crime in L.A.
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Los Angeles was "Mob City" in the 1940s, as the title of a new TV miniseries puts it. The second pair of episodes of the TNT crime show air tonight, continuing to track the real-life era of Bugsy Siegel, Mickey Cohen, and a deeply corrupt LAPD.
"Mob City" is based on the 2010 book "L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City" by John Buntin. I reached Buntin in Nashville, where he lives with his family, and asked him to describe how organized crime and corruption came to dominate the City of Angels.
Q: What made Los Angeles fertile ground for crime and public corruption?
A: L.A. was a dusty pueblo of 5,000 souls until the railroads connected it to the rest of the country in the 1880s. By the 1920s, it was home to 500,000 people and the largest city in the West.
It was an anonymous city, filled with newcomers. It lacked machine politics and ethnic and neighborhood loyalties weren't established. So politicians needed a lot of money to run for office since you had to spend money on media to reach people.
The anonymity, lack of connections, and the need to have a lot of money to fund political campaigns combined in a dangerous way.
Q: Was the interaction between criminals and the corruption establishment different in L.A. than back East?
A: People don't think about Los Angeles as a mob city like Chicago or New York, but the mob had a much bigger influence on L.A. than it did in those other cities.
In New York City, the police and judges were bought off, and that happened in parts of L.A., to be sure. But in L.A., the police weren't just bought off. They'd actually crack down on the competition.
The implication was that the police department was an enforcer. If you were in good standing with the powers that were, you'd get a heads-up when there might be a raid on your establishment. Or it might be that your competitor would find himself the target of the most zealous and effective law enforcement.