In this second part of this series, we’re going to look further into Karl Franzoni, Vito Paulekas, and the GTOs, since it appears that they may have been far more responsible for creating the Laurel Canyon scene in the 60s than Frank Zappa ever was.
(Note 1: Since I wrote the first part of this series, I’ve learned that both Carly Simon and Doors band member Robbie Krieger were also from ‘connected’ families. Carly Simon comes from the Simon’s of the Simon & Schuster book publishing dynasty, and Robbie Krieger’s father was head of the Rand Corporation.
Note 2: I’ve also come across a published letter from Jim Morrison’s father to his deceased son, in which the man expresses incredible pomposity and self-glorification while demeaning his son Jim in every possible way. It reveals a lot about the strained relationship between these two, and I warn those who respect Jim and his work that they will probably be angered by his father’s utter ignorance and disrespect of Jim and his accomplishments. It’s a slap in the face to all of Jim’s fans. For some of you, like me, it will sound very familiar to how your own parents and family have treated or spoken about you for making your own choices in life. For those interested, you can read it at this link:
Note 3: I’ve also discovered that another member of Vito’s dance troupe, Lewis Beach Marvin III, was the heir to the S&H Green Stamp fortune, as well as the leader of the ‘Moonfire’ family commune which preached a militant, fire and brimstone mantra of “Love Animals, Don't Eat Them” from makeshift tents along the Sunset Strip. I’ll have to research him further.)
VITO, KARL, AND THE FIRST GROUPIES
As we discovered earlier, Frank and Gail Zappa were absent from the Laurel Canyon scene for about eighteen months, between 1966 and 1968 – a crucial period in the development of the music scene that was developing in California. In fact, contrary to what David McGowan states in his Inside the LC series, Frank and Gail weren’t even living at the Log Cabin until the summer of 1968, when it was already occupied by Karl Franzoni and served as a hangout and crash pad for a group of girls who were eventually known as the GTOs. The GTOs were part of a dance troupe that was led by Vito Paulekas, and this group was better known at the time as Vito and the Freaks. The dance troupe had been around since 1962, although they weren’t really recognized until they started dancing at performances of the Byrds in 1965. Vito Paulekas, who was already in his 50s at the time and therefore quite a bit older than the others, had been operating an art studio in Laurel Canyon throughout this time, and his wife Szou, who was more than thirty years younger than him, ran a clothing store nearby, selling the fashions that would become so popular among the hippies and flower children in the years ahead. Karl Franzoni was a businessman who met Vito in 1964 and soon became a member of the troupe. Karl decided to give up his business to join up with these dancers.
In his own words from an interview*:
I gave up my cars and motorcycles and just would show up at the Whisky and places like that and dance every night.
What sort of business was Franzoni in that he would give up all the material benefits it brought and join up with this group? In researching him further, I discovered that he arrived in Los Angeles in the early 60s when he was already in his 30s, and he became a street hustler, pimping young runaway girls. He soon met up with two other Sicilians and went into business with them selling breast and penis-enlargement pumps. He must have been doing quite well at it, since he could afford cars and motorcycles through his sales. Or did he make all that money from pimping?
I’ve also discovered that the famous writer of the earlier beat generation, Jack Kerouac, who wrote On the Road, which inspired hordes of young people to take to the highway and hitchhike around America, grew up in the same small town as Vito (Lowell, Massachusetts), knew him from high school, and had been inspired by him.
Vito apparently had a criminal history, and was in and out of reform school throughout his youth. When he was 25 years old he was convicted to a 25 year sentence for robbery, but avoided a life in prison by joining the US Merchant Marines when the judge offered it to him as an alternative. So he had a military past as well. Interestingly, Jack Kerouac also happened to serve in the US Merchant Marines as well (add two more to the growing list of military-connected players). Where the younger Kerouac had left off leading the beat generation of the 50s, Vito picked up the loose ends and transformed it into the hippie generation of the 60s.
In his interview,* Karl explains that when he met him in 1964, Vito had been looking for a band to play at a teen dance that was a ‘Stop the War in Vietnam’ affair, and the Byrds happened to audition and got the gig. After this, the Byrds were suddenly (within the next night or two) playing regularly at a nightclub where a lot of movie stars were known to hang out, called Ciro's Le Disc, and Vito’s dance troupe would tag along to add flavor to the performance and get the crowds going. Members of the dance troupe (mostly girls) were later taken along on tour with the Byrds, acting as the first groupies while introducing their unique dance style to the world. The hippie clothing that these girls wore were the creation of Vito’s young wife Szou, so it was a way for her to advertise her fashions as well. By the way, Szou had been a high-school cheerleader who was only 16 years old when she married Vito. She had been smitten by his ability to charm people. Vito is described as having great leadership skills as well… two qualities that make a good cult leader/mind-control programmer.
So, with just Vito and Szou alone, we have the origins of the hippie/flower child scene, already well planted in Laurel Canyon before anyone else of significance started arriving on the scene. They literally set the stage for what was to come, providing a distinct look and using promiscuous young runaway girls as part of the lure to entice thousands of young people to California. By 1965, David Crosby’s band the Byrds got involved with them, acting as the original musical sound for the new hippie culture that was about to develop. And we should take note that Vito was involved in organizing at least one teen dance at that time, where he might easily have acquired young girls for his little group. Where he found his girls is otherwise unknown.
Let’s not forget here that David Crosby, the leader of the Byrds, had deep military roots. Let’s also not forget that many Hollywood insiders and many movie stars were also deeply tied to military/intelligence organs in one way or another, and so there would obviously be an inner circle of people who could be called on to help each other and make things happen that might not have otherwise. So the fact that the Byrds instantly got a regular gig at a nightclub that catered to Hollywood’s biggest stars is not likely to be by chance alone. Let’s also not ignore the fact that a bunch of sexy young girls showing such adoration to the band would have been a definite attraction to any young men in the audience, and would certainly have instilled a desire in more than a few of them to want to become musicians.
Franzoni and the rest of Vito’s dance troupe later toured with Frank Zappa as well, helping to propel him to fame, and the girls became the first groupies for him and many other bands that were to make it in those formative years of rock n’ roll music. So McGowan had it wrong. Zappa adopted Vito and the Freaks, so to speak, and eventually took over control of them, but this wasn’t until several years later in the summer of 1968.
And we shouldn’t ignore what McGowan revealed about the death of Vito and Szou’s young child, Godot, who the parents may or may not have given LSD to just before he died under suspicious circumstances, and whose death seemed so inconsequential to the parents. Nor should we ignore the sexual antics that Vito engaged the young groupies in, encouraging them to make out with each other while everyone else watched. Here’s another description of those antics, provided by Pamela DesBarres, who was herself one of the dance troupe:
[T]wo tenderly young girls were tonguing each other … everyone was silently observing the scene as if it were part of their necessary training by the headmaster, Vito … One of the girls on the four-poster was only twelve years old…
Apparently, Vito and his wife had to flee the country a few months later because of these antics, around the same time that the Manson murders took place.
As for Karl Franzoni, at about this same time or soon after, he got caught up in some sort of drug deal gone bad, and ran for the Canadian border, but when he later found out that the charges had been dropped he returned, and eventually became the Commissioner of Parks and Recreation in the small community of Cotati, California, where Vito Paulekas had gotten himself elected as the mayor.
Frank and Gail Zappa moved out of the Log Cabin and into another Laurel Canyon residence on Woodrow Wilson Drive soon after as well, but not before Charles Manson and a few of his followers had dropped by for a short stay.
Speaking of Charlie, the source for the above quote by Pamela DesBarres makes this comparison between him and Vito:
- Vito appears to have spent a good portion of his younger years in prisons and reform schools, as did, as we all know, Charles Milles Manson.
- Vito considered himself to be a gifted artist and poet, as did our old friend Charlie Manson.
- Vito, according to [Barry] Miles, “was something of a guru,” as was, quite obviously, Chuck Manson.
- Vito surrounded himself with a flock of very young (often underage) women, as did Manson.
- Vito was considerably older than his followers, and so too was Charlie.
- When Vito addressed his flock, they listened with rapt attention as though they were being delivered the word of God, as was true with Charlie as well.
- Carl Franzoni was known to wear a black cape and refer to himself as “Captain Fuck,” while Manson was also partial to black capes and declared himself to be “the God of Fuck.”
- Vito is said to have had a virtually insatiable libido, as did, of course, Chuck Manson.
- Vito’s flock adopted nicknames to aid in the depersonalization process, as did Charlie’s.
- Vito’s troupe included a Beverly Hills hairstylist named Sheldon Jaman, while Charlie’s included a Beverly Hills hairpiece stylist named Charles Watson.
- Vito believed in introducing children to sexuality at a very young age, while in the Manson Family, as [Ed] Sanders has noted, “Infant sexuality was encouraged.”
- Vito apparently liked to stage live sex shows for his followers, usually involving underage participants, which was also a specialty of Charles Milles Manson.
- Finally, Vito encouraged his followers to drug themselves while he himself largely abstained, thus enabling him to at all times maintain control, while Manson limited his own drug intake for the very same reason.
The source for the above list also points out that Vito and Manson weren’t the only ones adopting black capes, since David Crosby also began to adorn one as well. And if you’ve read McGowan’s Programmed to Kill, you’ll know that the members of a certain satanic cult that was operating in the area at the time – the Process Church of the Final Judgment – was also big on wearing black capes, and Manson was very connected with that group.
Some other interesting information I’ve come across that relates to Courtney Love’s father Hank Harrison, who, as I mentioned in the first part of this series, was involved in a secret government program in Berkley during the early 50s that was similar to the one Jack Sarfatti was in. Apparently Harrison was the manager of an early 60s rock band called the Warlocks, later to be renamed the Grateful Dead. His wife and Courtney Love’s mother, Linda Carroll, who just happens to be a psychotherapist, accused him of feeding LSD to Courtney when she was 3 years old, just like Vito and Szou were accused of doing to their own young child, Godot. And according to author Jim Keith, Grateful Dead band member Robert Hunter had previously been part of a government study at Stanford University where he was given LSD.
I have to say that I’m becoming overwhelmed with all of these connections and the rather small circle of people who seem to have held it all together, and I still have much more to add. There’s still the whole drug aspect of this tale that needs to be put into proper perspective, as well as the various cults that emerged in California and the killings associated with them, and all the rest of the darker shit that came about.
In the next part of this series, we’ll look at the drug aspect of all this. Stay tuned…
* See ‘Carl Franzoni: The Sundazed Interview’