The Ontario Daily Report ran a feature story on me and my project in its Sunday centerfold“ about how a weird guy in Cucamonga was trying to make a science fiction movie called Captain Beefheart vs. the Grunt People. It was probably that story which caused the San Bernardino County vice squad to take an interest in me.
This was in 1962, my hair was short then, but the local folks thought I had long hair. The unspoken dress code for a Cucamonga male of that period, for all occasions, was a white, short-sleeved sports shirt with a bow tie (Pee-Wee Herman would have been a fashion plate). T-shirts were considered avant-garde.
I put out a casting call for local people to play in the movie. A man came to audition for the role of the arsshole Senator Gurney. I later found out that he was a member of the San Bernardino vice squad, sent to entrap me.
The vice squad had bored a hole through the studio wall and was spying on me for several weeks. The local political subtext to all this had something to do with an impending real estate development which required the removal of the tenants before Archibald Avenue widened.
The other part of the subtext had to do with a girl I met in a restaurant in Hollywood. She had a friend & a white girl with a black baby. They needed a place to stay. Next stop, Cucamonga.
She and her girlfriend used to play with the baby on the sidewalk in front of the studio, in plain view of the Holly Rollers lurking in the church across the street. Apparently this caused some psychological stress on the congregation and, shortly thereafter, I was visited by the man who had auditioned. He didn"t get the part, but he did turn out to be quite an actor.
A few weeks later he returned, disguised as (don't laugh) a used-car salesman. He told me that some of his friends were having a party the following week. Since I had a sign outside the studio (purchased at the auction) that said "TV Pictures" he wanted to know if I could make him an "exciting film" for the entertainment of his brethren. Eager to help (as opportunities to entertain the gentlemen in this fascinating profession do not occur every day), I explained that films cost a lot of money and suggested instead an audio tape.
He gave me a verbal list of all the different sex acts he wished to have included on the tape. I didn't know at the time, but he was broadcasting our conversation to a truck parked outside the studio through his (don't laugh) wristwatch.
I told him I could make a tape like that for one hundred dollars, and have it for him the next day. That evening, I manufactured the tape with the help of one of the girls about half an hour's worth of bogus grunts and squeaky bedsprings. There was no actual sex involved.
I stayed up all night to edit out the laughs and then added some background music & a complete production. The next day the auditionee, whose name was Detective Willis, showed up and handed me fifty dollars. I said the deal was for one hundred dollars and refused to hand over the tape & it never changed hands. In spite of that, the doors flew open, flashbulbs popped, reporters ran all over the place and handcuffs were slapped on my wrists.
The vice squad arrested me and the girl, and confiscated every tape and every piece of film in the studio. They even took my 8mm projector as "evidence."
I was flat broke and couldn't afford a lawyer. I phoned my Dad, who recently had a heart attack & he couldn't afford a lawyer either. He had to take out a bank loan in order to bail me out.
Once I got out, I went to see Art Laboe. He had released some of my material on his Original Sound label ("Memories of El Monte" and "Grunion Run" and got me an advance on a royalty payment, which I used to bail out the girl.
I tried to get the ACLU to take an interest in the case but they wouldn't touch it. They said it wasn't important enough and that, yes, there had been quite a few cases of illegal entrapment in the area. By then my Dad had been able to hire a lawyer, who said my only hope was to plead nolo contender (no contest or, "I'm so broke I can't even buy justice in Cucamonga, so I'll give a thousand bucks to this lawyer here and keep my [freakin'] mouth shut, hoping you don't give me the death penalty").
Before the trail, my white-haired legal expert asked me, "How could you be such a fool to let this guy con you? I thought everybody knew Detective Willis. He's the kind of guy who earns his living waiting around public restrooms to catch queers."
I answered, "I don't stand around in toilets!" I never heard about guys that get paid to do that. What was it? My fault that I never dreamed that scum like Willis existed, or that somebody in the government set aside tax dollars to provide guys like him with a salary and a "research budget?" I was going to have to crank up my imagination a little to compensate for this dreadful revelation.
I was charged with "conspiracy to commit pornography." The pornography charge was, under state law, a misdemeanor. The conspiracy charge, on the other hand, was a felony & requiring impressive amounts of penal servitude.
So, how does one engage in "conspiracy to commit pornography?" In California, if two or more people discuss the commission of any crime & no matter how small (like jaywalking maybe) & it magically becomes a conspiracy, and the penalties escalate beyond reason. It was presumed that I had discussed the making of the tape with the girl and, therefore, was eligible for ten to twenty years hard time. Still want to move to California folks?
At one point in the trail, the judge took me and the girl into his private chambers, along with all the lawyers, listened to the tape and started laughing. It was funny and nowhere near as bizarre as the vocal noises eventually released on side four of the Freak Out! album.
The laughter infuriated the twenty-six-year-old assistant DA who prosecuted the case. He demanded, in the name of justice, that I be forced to serve time for this heinous offense.
The final verdict: guilty of a misdemeanor. The sentence: six months in jail, with all but ten days suspended, and three years probation & during which I could not violate any traffic laws or be in the company of any woman under twenty-one without the presence of a competent adult.
The sentence also provided for the expungement of my "criminal record" & after one year there would be nothing on the books saying that I ever went to jail. After the sentence had been pronounced, I was placed in the holding tank in the back of the courthouse, to wait for the sheriff's bus to take me to the county jail. I was reading a long piece of jailhouse poetry scribbled on the wall ("The Ballad of Do-Do Mite") when Detective Willis walked in and said, "If you'll give me permission to decide which of those tapes we confiscated are obscene, we'll give you back all the rest of them erased."
I said, 'First of all, I do not have the authority to change you from a policeman into a judge, and furthermore, you have no right to do anything to those tapes & the case is closed and I'm going to come after you to get them back," but I never was able to get any of the stuff back, and to this day I don't know what happened to it." (pp 53-8; TRFZB) (ed: For what its worth, he spent ten days in Tank C at the San Bernardino County Jail)
More Information About What I Eat: After I got out of jail I realized that they were going to tear down the studio and widen the street, and there was nothing I could do about it. It was so sad. I had to get the wire cutters and yank my equipment out of there and evacuate Studio Z. I had to leave all those sets I had painted, the rocket ship, the mad scientist's lab everything. I moved from Cucamonga into a little apartment at 1819 Bellevue Avenue, in the Echo Park section of Los Angeles, and got a job at Wallich's Music City, a record store in downtown L.A. I worked as a salesman in the singles department. (pp 60-1; TRFZB)
Hopefully..... SOMEDAY.. we shall see what ever happened to these tapes!!! You're right BBP
.... they might even be in detective Willis's attic???