A cop and onlookers stare through the bullet-riddled window of a crime scene, circa 1953.
A cop and onlookers stare through the bullet-riddled window of a crime scene, circa 1953.
USC Libraries Special Collections/Courtesy Taschen

Meet the Killers, Cults and Crackpots That Influenced L.A. Noir

Los Angeles. Its name alone has stirred visions of romance and adventure: Hollywood, sunshine, beaches, endless rows of orange trees. This glowing and glossy image that was offered to the world by city boosters and the chamber of commerce was produced in an endless cycle, the slick promotional propaganda spewing forth for more than a century. Meanwhile, just below the surface of the public relations campaign lurked another side of the City of Angels. The underbelly of Los Angeles was festering like oranges rotting in the perpetual sun.

Primary to the city's image were its commercial and newspaper photographers, who, in the years that framed its intense development, captured a precise portrait of a city in the process of inventing itself. Photographs from the 1920s through the '50s show a changing landscape of altered streets, leveled hills, and buildings constructed and then eliminated to accommodate even more change. The photos also detail the nightclubs and bars, the buried bodies, the lifeless forms on coroners' slabs, Hollywood celebrities, politicians, boulevard degenerates and self-proclaimed saviors of the soul. These images expose both the bright and the dark sides of a city absorbed in the present and looking toward the future. They document a city in constant change, rapidly evolving from adobe squalor to "The Wonder City of the West."

Photographers could make the town look good and bad. The glamour shots helped bring thousands of new residents to the Southland. Promotional imagery of mountains, sun and surf promised a better life and unlimited possibilities, but newspaper and tabloid photos showed newcomers that the seductive vision wasn't the whole story. The flip side of paradise was a different Southland, one where dope rings, petty criminals, sensational murders, ladies of the night, bullet-riddled bodies and a notoriously corrupt police force flourished. It was the other Los Angeles — a city awash in corruption and sin. The posed and the candid. The good and the bad. A city to aspire to and a city to revile. Both versions were responsible for creating the mythic City of Angels. The photos and stories told of a town on the backslide, documented in black and white, and furnishing the reality behind the writers' fiction.

The press photographers who created those images were a wide cadre of lensmen who often had inordinate access to crime scenes, morgues and places few others could enter. Striking up friendships with police personnel, they roamed the streets following leads and sniffing out the next great shot. Many of their names have faded over time, though consummate pros included Perry Fowler, Agness "Aggie" Underwood and Paul Dorsey, all from the Los Angeles Herald-Express, along with Cliff Wesselmann, who worked for the Hollywood Citizen-News, and George Watson of the Los Angeles Times. Watson, along with his six nephews, created a family business, producing over a million images of the city in its ascendency.

A corpse lies in the bed of the L.A. River in a bleak noir tableau, circa 1955.
A corpse lies in the bed of the L.A. River in a bleak noir tableau, circa 1955.
Los Angeles Police Museum/Courtesy Taschen

The Los Angeles Police Department photographers, often the first at the scene of the crime, were a mostly anonymous bunch who did a perfunctory job but often with an experienced and artistic eye. Among the commercial photographers in Los Angeles, the "Dick" Whittington Studio, led by founder Wayne Whittington and his son Ed, and the J. Howard Mott and Bernard Merge Studios were in a position to do a studied documentation of the city in all its dense glory.

Among the countless scribes who followed the trail of crime and corruption was Aggie Underwood, who was undeniably "top of the heap." Her fearless and aggressive style got her where no one else dared tread and she got the dirt, the story and the picture. Working her way from the ground up, she covered both routine and headline crime in L.A.'s noir heyday. Made city editor of the Los Angeles Herald-Express, she had a style of investigating and writing that could be seen as the prototype for many novelists whose glib and callous style echoed Underwood's hard-boiled prose.

The L.A. that most of the early noir writers found was unlike any place they had known. There was the physical beauty of the mountains, the coast and the agricultural plains within earshot of slums and urban grime. A polyglot of races walked the sidewalks. The architecture was bizarre, borrowed or modern beyond a Midwesterner's imagination. There was Filmland — imagined and real. Hollywood and Vine, mansions, movie premieres and night spots. Studio fences obscured the movie-making fantasy, but the celebrities, crackpots, cults and cemeteries for burying your deceased pets were real. Floods, fires and earthquakes reminded residents that nothing here was permanent. The lack of history suggested an opportunity to shake off the past, leave everything behind and create something new. It was a chance to experiment and reinvent. And there was crime, just like any other city. But here everything seemed exaggerated and just a bit skewed. Prostitution, gambling and drugs provided a livelihood for thugs as well as cops. Both factions served as enforcers. All of this came to be filtered through pen and paper — and later celluloid — to become L.A. noir.

Almost from its start, Los Angeles had a reputation as a hellhole. In the mid-1800s the city was filled with murderers, vigilantes, thieves and prostitutes. Streets were rutted paths where mongrel dogs roamed and dead animals were dumped. L.A.'s first bit of notoriety in the national headlines was spurred by the massacre of Chinese immigrants near the old city plaza on the Calle de los Negros. It was described as "... a dreadful thoroughfare, 40 feet wide, running one whole block, filled entirely with saloons, gambling houses, dance halls and cribs. It was crowded night and day with people of many races, male and female, all rushing and crowding along from one joint to another. Every weekend three or four were murdered."

In 1871, this crowd experienced a killing spree that made national headlines. A Chinese immigrant, shooting wildly in the streets, accidentally hit a white man. Within minutes, denizens of the area swarmed the Chinese enclave, lynching, ransacking, stabbing and beating "the heathens." Eventually, 19 victims were found dead. The grand jury indicted 150 men, with six sent to jail. Several days later, the six were released on a technicality. A pattern was set. It's no wonder the city was given the cynical sobriquet "Los Diablos" by newspapers around the country.

The back alleys of Chinatown were the spawning ground of two-bit hoods and hookers around 1930.
The back alleys of Chinatown were the spawning ground of two-bit hoods and hookers around 1930.
USC Libraries Special Collections/Courtesy Taschen

Things changed as the century turned, but not much. Corrupt city officials and a police force of dubious reputation greeted masses of gullible newcomers who flocked to the "Athens of the West." Many transplants found plenty of sunshine but little else. Water — a key ingredient that was brought to the Southland under questionable circumstances, making millions for a privileged few — had in just a few years transformed the desert into a mock Eden replete with imported vegetation and made-up architecture. Fortunes were made on oil and land, scandals ensued, and crime became part of the picture. The population rush unearthed scam artists, fakes, frauds and nut cases who joined the parade and were quick to take advantage of the situation. To fill their physical and mental voids, many newcomers joined clubs for the lonesome or sought solace in healers of the soul — evangelists who rushed to assuage the "lost sheep" with calls for prayer and money.

Things changed as the century turned, but not much. Corrupt city officials and a police force of dubious reputation greeted masses of gullible newcomers who flocked to the "Athens of the West." Many transplants found plenty of sunshine but little else. Water — a key ingredient that was brought to the Southland under questionable circumstances, making millions for a privileged few — had in just a few years transformed the desert into a mock Eden replete with imported vegetation and made-up architecture. Fortunes were made on oil and land, scandals ensued, and crime became part of the picture. The population rush unearthed scam artists, fakes, frauds and nut cases who joined the parade and were quick to take advantage of the situation. To fill their physical and mental voids, many newcomers joined clubs for the lonesome or sought solace in healers of the soul — evangelists who rushed to assuage the "lost sheep" with calls for prayer and money.

In the early part of the 20th century, Los Angeles seemed like many other large American cities on the rise. Corruption and vice came with the territory. What made L.A. different was how new it was, its topography, the omnipresent car and Hollywood. The car made a big difference. Other cities had developed around traditional horse-drawn vehicles or railroads, and their growth was usually hard, steady and finite. L.A. was a 20th-century city and the first metropolis to come of age with the automobile as its primary means of transportation. With 500 square miles filled with roads, L.A. had plenty of leeway and the city boomed. Hollywood was part of that boom. The mere mention of its name made headlines blossom quicker than any other city in the world. Hollywood set itself apart from the rest of the world and made everything seem larger than life. It was an easy mark, and a seemingly ceaseless fountain of inspiration for writers.

Follies strippers strut the runway to the rhythm of a saxophone and piano, circa 1939.
Follies strippers strut the runway to the rhythm of a saxophone and piano, circa 1939.
Photo by Cliff Wesselmann/Courtesy Gregory Paul Williams, BL Press LLC/Taschen

With the onset of Prohibition, problems increased. A dry city was still a thirsty city, one that had to be supplied, and plenty of hoodlums bribed local law enforcers to place a keg or case into the right hands. Culver City, "The Heart of Screenland," was a case in point. Home to MGM, Hal Roach, Ince, and a host of other studios, its main drag, Washington Boulevard, was a hotbed of speakeasies, gin joints, roadhouses and cafés. Film money and the town's "open" reputation brought crowds to back rooms filled with gambling, bookmaking and prostitution. The city soon built a racetrack, boxing ring and dog racing arena — all magnets for hoodlums. With direct access to Pacific Coast rum runners and local stills, the town was afloat in illegal booze. The Culver City Police Department was notorious for looking the other way, losing evidence and bungling raids, so life and crime went on undisturbed.

Culver City wasn't alone. Venice, Vernon and the outlying suburbs of Southern California seemed to have an unquenchable thirst for liquor, vice and corruption — and you could always count on Hollywood to make national headlines. The film industry, firmly entrenched by the '20s, provided more than enough money for the movie colonies' excesses. A series of scandals early in the decade finally brought to the front page what had been simmering for years behind closed doors: Fatty Arbuckle's alleged rape and murder of Virginia Rappe, the drug-related death of Wallace Reid, and the murder and questionable sexual orientation of William Desmond Taylor gave the public a ringside seat to Hollywood. Orgies, hoodlums, ignominious death — Hollywood had it all.

Gangs and crime bosses knew a good thing when they saw it and came crawling across the country to set up shop. Bootleggers controlled the business. Vice lords Guy McAfee, Nola Hahn, Jack Dragna and Bob Gans commandeered their turf, laying claim to numbers rackets, prostitution, gambling and slot machines. They were local hoodlums and they liked it that way in return for a bit of profit sharing. The local police were expected to protect them from East Coast concerns muscling in on their territory. When Al Capone came calling in 1927, he was met by a couple of detectives and a vocal chief of detectives who made it clear that the welcome mat wasn't out. Rumor had it Capone was scouting a coastal ranch to serve as a drop point for Canadian liquor. After a visit by the cops, he headed back to Chicago, ending his California "vacation." It would be a few more years until real East Coast muscle dropped an anchor in the City of Angels.

Strip City was a well-known hoodlum hangout in the mid-1950s.
Strip City was a well-known hoodlum hangout in the mid-1950s.
Jim Heimann Collection/Courtesy Taschen

The cops could be counted on for more than just keeping East Coast gangsters at bay. The linchpin of police corruption was chief of police Ed "Two Gun" Davis. He and his City Hall cronies made sure L.A. remained safe for bribes and graft, which escalated in the 1920s and '30s to a wholesale spoils system. Their regime culminated in 1938 with the car bombing of private investigator Harry Raymond, an ex-LAPD detective who was in the process of exposing the corruption. The bombers were traced back to LAPD's intelligence squad, and the ensuing public outrage ousted Mayor Frank Shaw, while Chief Davis and 23 of his fellow officers were forced to resign.

By 1920, real estate booms had expanded the population of Los Angeles to just over 500,000 people. By the end of the decade there would be more than a million Angelenos, making it the fifth-largest city in the country. With this population explosion, L.A. fueled unending headlines of sensational crimes.

Armour Phillips was an ambitious oil stock salesman who started to drift from his wife, Clara, when times got tough. By 1922, he was having an affair with a bank clerk named Alberta Meadows. Clara, who was wise to his antics, spent July 12 drinking in Long Beach with her friend Peggy Caffee. Intercepting Alberta after work in a downtown L.A. parking lot, Clara convinced her to give them a ride to her sister's house in Montecito Heights. Clara confronted Alberta about carrying on an affair, and a heated argument ensued. Pulling the car over in a vacant lot, Clara and Alberta got out. Clara withdrew a claw hammer from her purse and bludgeoned Alberta. Peggy, who witnessed the violent murder, vomited when Clara rolled a boulder over the corpse. An exhausted Clara headed home and blurted out to her husband, "She's dead and I killed her!" The press coined her "Tiger Woman" based on the vicious attack. Clara, assisted by her husband, fled to Arizona but was caught and returned for trial. Convicted, she escaped her prison cell and ended up in Honduras. Caught and incarcerated once again, she was paroled in 1935 and disappeared from the public eye.

In 1937, James “Two Gun” Davis was the emblem of L.A. police corruption.
In 1937, James “Two Gun” Davis was the emblem of L.A. police corruption.
Photo by Cliff Wesselmann/Courtesy Gregory Paul Williams, BL Press LLC/Taschen

The murder of Ned Doheny — son of oil scion Edward Doheny — had all the markings of L.A.'s rampant amorality. One of the richest citizens of '20s Los Angeles, Edward had purchased 429 acres in Beverly Hills and given it to his son for his wedding. He subsequently built Ned and his family a mansion, which they christened Greystone. The Teapot Dome scandal, in which the elder Doheny was accused of bribing federal officials to receive a favorable oil lease, also jeopardized Ned: He and his personal assistant and close associate Hugh Plunkett were the bagmen for the bribe. As a Senate investigation tightened its noose, Plunkett sensed he would be the fall guy for the scheme. His close relationship with the family allowed him complete access to the mansion, and he had separate quarters where he periodically stayed. On the night of Feb. 17, 1929, a distressed Plunkett showed up in Ned's bedroom and a heated argument ensued. Shots were fired and the two bodies were discovered by Ned's wife, Lucy. The family doctor was called first, with authorities being informed three hours later, giving plenty of time to formulate a cover-up. Within 24 hours the whole affair disappeared from the press. No inquest and no autopsy were ordered. Edward Doheny's power over Los Angeles prevailed. The official story was a murder-suicide, but evidence at the scene suggested otherwise. Hints of a homosexual liaison lingered, but the truth would never be known. Crushed, the elder Doheny produced a massive funeral for his only child and proceeded to withdraw from public life, dying five years later.

Ruthless Hollywood reared its head in the months preceding the Wall Street crash of 1929. In case of inflated yellow journalism, theater tycoon Alexander Pantages, who was vilified by the Hearst newspapers, was accused of rape by a 17-year-old aspiring actress named Eunice Pringle. Pantages maintained he was framed, but he was convicted nonetheless and sentenced to one to 50 years in prison. Acquitted two years later in a retrial, Pantages was financially destroyed while rumors circulated that Joseph Kennedy, a friend of William Randolph Hearst, had set up Pringle in effort to gain his theater circuit. Kennedy and his theater consortium, RKO, were able to purchase the Pantages holdings at a fraction of their worth. A destitute Pantages retired and died several years later.

L.A.'s increasingly unsavory reputation gave pulpit pounders plenty to sermonize about. To the newly arrived masses who flocked to see and hear them, evangelists and preachers such as Aimee Semple McPherson and "Fighting Bob" Shuler offered the healing balm of acceptance for lost souls — as long as the collection plate was full.

Occasionally, as in the case of Reverend Shuler, his investigations into civic affairs exposed a graft that had become an indelible part of the city. Going after both real and perceived moral enemies, the preachers sometimes actually helped reform the tarnished city — at least temporarily. Their antics were used for atmosphere in several L.A. films and novels.

L.A.'s eccentric side was punctuated by other cult leaders. The Church of I Am was started by a husband-and-wife team, Guy and Edna Ballard, who hit town in 1932 and immediately started peddling their new religion, which was based on St. Germain, a murky deity who supposedly gave off a violet ray of supernatural powers. The Ballards accepted "love offers" for their preaching efforts. At their temple near downtown L.A., topped by a blazing neon sign, as many as 10,000 worshippers were encouraged by a purple-attired and orchid-swathed Edna to purchase products such as "New Age Cold Cream" and "Flame in Action" electronic devices. Their son, Donald, claimed he had an invisible power, K-17, derived from ascended spirits, which was so powerful it had sunk several Nazi submarines. The Ballards eventually were prosecuted for mail fraud, but by the time the charges were overturned, the steam had run out of their cult and the guileless and gullible moved on to different saviors.

Mickey Cohen observes the remnants of his Brentwood home after a bomb exploded there in a 1950 attempt to kill him.
Mickey Cohen observes the remnants of his Brentwood home after a bomb exploded there in a 1950 attempt to kill him.
USC Libraries Special Collections/Courtesy Taschen

The '30s saw L.A. expanding. The disjointed communities that had spread over the land began to congeal into a mass of endless streets. Newcomers arrived daily. Potential stars, "Okies" looking for work, displaced wanderers and dream seekers filled the apartments, bungalows and skid rows. This constantly evolving city proved irresistible for local writers, who observed and translated what they saw around them into vivid passages that contrasted the physical beauty with the gaudiness. Even the architecture cooperated. Oddball buildings in the shapes of toads, pigs and frogs were passed off as a common cityscape, and while it was true that Los Angeles supported the avant-garde in architecture, more common were the one-story horizontal buildings and bungalows.

The year 1938 was a turning point in Los Angeles crime annals. The bombing of private investigator Harry Raymond's car and the ensuing investigation had exposed corruption in the police force and among city officials. Mayor Frank Shaw was implicated, and eventually was replaced by reformist Fletcher Bowron. Raids increased on night spots, gambling joints and other sources of vice. Feeling the heat and having lost their close political ties, some of the era's top crime bosses headed out of town to Las Vegas.

As the Second World War loomed ahead, officials paid attention to eliminating graft, and after Pearl Harbor, war reporting replaced the sensational crime headlines. The war also exposed darker problems involving the black market, gangs and mobsters such as Mickey Cohen. Generally acknowledged as a loudmouthed thug, Cohen was one of the city's splashiest underworld characters. Attracted to vice in all its forms, he dressed the part, hung out at all the right places and made enemies with all the wrong people. Constantly in the news, he was trailed by the LAPD and Sheriff's Department, who periodically busted him for small-time infractions that eventually led to larger crimes. Several attempts on his life by rival gangsters kept Mickey moving, but not fast enough for the local cops and feds, who eventually put him behind bars for 15 years on tax evasion charges.

When the war hit Los Angeles, the suppressed racist attitudes of a white majority were exposed as the streets of downtown became clogged with soldiers and sailors out for a night on the town. The tabloids inflamed a negative bias against Mexican-American youths — especially when a local murder involving several neighborhood gangs roiled the headlines for months in August 1942. The "Sleepy Lagoon Murder," a precursor to the Zoot Suit Riots, accelerated the prejudice against brown-faced "juvenile delinquents" who draped themselves in zoot suits, which they wore to distinguish themselves and to project an attitude. Military personnel on leave and looking for a fight provoked verbal altercations, and an undeclared turf battle was in the making. Things came to a head in June 1943 when mobs of servicemen descended on Main Street and other Mexican enclaves for almost a week, systematically beating up anyone wearing a zoot suit while the police stood by. Part of the ire was directed at the defiance of the suit wearers in the face of government standards that rationed the amount of material that could be used in making suits. But racial tensions were also at work, especially those targeting the un-patriotic "pachucos."

Tattoo parlors were a stock-in-trade business for Main Street, the city’s premier sinister avenue in the mid-1940s.
Tattoo parlors were a stock-in-trade business for Main Street, the city’s premier sinister avenue in the mid-1940s.
USC Libraries Special Collections/Courtesy Taschen

Hollywood was changing. As the '40s progressed, the old star system and the stranglehold studios held on their stars' lives began to disintegrate. Studios faced increased competition and began to lose their influence on the public. Postwar movies reflected this different mood in the pronounced pessimism of crime films (later termed film noir) that were created during this period. The rise of Las Vegas after the war emptied many night spots of top-tier talent, leaving a vacuum in L.A.'s entertainment scene. Small, hip joints became increasingly popular. The essence of cool, they prospered on main drags and side streets all over town. Joining them were the stalwarts of the club scene such as Ciro's, Mocambo and the Crescendo on Sunset. Criminals backing many clubs on "the Strip" heightened the street's tawdry allure.

One district that matched Sunset's popularity was in the heart of L.A.'s black community. In the 1930s and '40s in L.A.'s so-called "Darktown," Central Avenue was a hotbed of juke joints, jazz clubs and glorified seediness. Its reputation as ground zero for music and drugs drew cops trying to keep things in check. Some whites and celebrities went "slumming" for authentic jazz and were seldom disappointed. In Little Tokyo (called "Bronzeville" during the war years when blacks occupied the section vacated by local Japanese who had been interned) were the Cobra Club and Shep's Playhouse. The music scene and the pervasive hint of danger made "the Avenue" a prime destination for hipsters and an inspiration for writers. By the early '50s, as restricted housing covenants were rescinded, the black community began to dissipate and its main drag started to evaporate.

In unincorporated parts of L.A. County, strip joints, burlesque halls and card clubs also kept things rolling. Places such as Gardena, south of downtown L.A., found loopholes in the law and set up legal gambling zones with a series of card clubs that gave local vice lords new territory. In the late '40s, the Monterey Club, the Normandy, the Horseshoe and others provided a mini-Vegas-style strip where sanctioned illicit activity could simmer in relative obscurity. Likewise, beachfront communities including Long Beach, Venice and Santa Monica hosted "games of chance" that were just another form of illegal gambling. Bridgo, keno, tango and bingo parlors were everywhere. These thinly veiled gambling dens fed small-time bunco artists for a short period after the war but were slowly eliminated by the mid-'50s.

In counties and towns adjacent to Los Angeles, cockfights, nudist colonies and various other recreational offerings provided Angelenos with plenty of places to enjoy their vices. Beach villages up and down the coast were favored as a rendezvous for those wanting to escape the scrutiny of cops and photographers.

Postwar L.A. kept corruption at a respectable level with enough high-grade crimes to keep newspapers supplied and writers inspired. The sex trade was kept alive by Brenda Allen, one of L.A.'s most prominent madams, who faced a series of raids at her house of ill repute above Sunset Boulevard. When she was hauled into court, the case escalated into a full-scale scandal when it was discovered that a member of the vice squad was cozy with Brenda and hush money exchanged hands to keep the cathouse open. Other police officers were implicated, and a healthy batch of movie stars and executives were listed in Brenda's "little black book." Like many vice cases in L.A., nothing much happened. Brenda was finally thrown in jail, the police chief resigned, and the cops in question were demoted.

Marijuana, never a high-profile drug in prewar L.A., got a boost in popularity in September 1948 when Robert Mitchum and starlet Lila Leeds were arrested for possession at a "reefer resort" in a Laurel Canyon bungalow. Mitchum became tabloid fodder when his trial went public. "I'm ruined," Mitchum declared. But his reefer habit hardly dented his bad-boy image. After serving a two-month sentence in county jail he was released, and his popularity index shot up, giving credence to the Hollywood system of justice.

Bouncer “Cairo Mary” ejects a customer at the notorious waterfront dive Shanghai Reds, at Beacon and Fifth Streets in San Pedro, circa 1953.
Bouncer “Cairo Mary” ejects a customer at the notorious waterfront dive Shanghai Reds, at Beacon and Fifth Streets in San Pedro, circa 1953.
USC Libraries Special Collections/Courtesy Taschen

As the '50s progressed, L.A.'s noir reputation, both real and invented, was beginning to play itself out. The city was evolving and its dark side was beginning to look a little too bright and worn. Los Angeles was being boosted to death in unbridled optimism. The Southland's huge influx of postwar population inundated the virgin agricultural plains with crackerbox houses and shopping centers, moving nickel-and-dime crime to the suburbs. Those suburbs, forever in search of a city, were congealing into an endless mass of concrete crisscrossed by freeways. An emptying city center and the installation of a succession of new police chiefs diluted the free-range crime of previous decades. Real hoodlums hightailed it to Las Vegas, where murder and mayhem were a bit easier to commit. Many scribes sensed this change and shifted their interest to other genres.

Though newspaper writers and photographers still followed crime and the festering underbelly of the city, tabloids such as Hush Hush and Confidential were happy to provide a healthy dose of lurid stories to displace the more subtle scandalmongers of the past. What was left of L.A.'s crime and corruption was enhanced with the creation of TV's Dragnet. The escapades of L.A.'s petty crimes narrated in the spare tone of Sergeant Joe Friday were great fodder for the new medium, but the hit show failed to re-create the noir writers' descriptive nuances.

By the time the 1960s rolled around, L.A. was no longer seen as a brooding and crime-infested metropolis. It had competition. Almost every major city in the United States could compete with L.A.'s crime record. In fact, the city seemed to be getting a bit homogenized. Contemporary writers such as James Ellroy, Walter Mosley and several others would successfully recapture the head-thumping crime of bygone years, and films such as Chinatown and L.A. Confidential exposed the underlying evil of historic events. But the real L.A. noir, that black-and-blue vision of Los Angeles where fast-talking dames and hardened detectives filled pulp pages and theater screens, had faded. Eventually, popular culture claimed it. What remains are the photographs that tell another story — a razor-sharp, singular, unfiltered documentation of the real pain and torture of a city grasping through adolescence, a Los Angeles full of pleasure and stained by sin.

This excerpt is used with permission from Taschen's forthcoming book Dark City: The Real Los Angeles Noir by Jim Heimann, out Dec. 20. taschen.com.

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