Thursday, May 9, 2013

Gatsby, Movie Cliches, and 1920's Vice

My aunts in bathing suits. The one of the left was adopted, as in plucked from the streets and taken in by my bourgeois grandparents. Perhaps she was saved from a life of prostitution, as her family was dirt poor and she was very pretty. Perhaps not.

Ironic, but the day, two years ago, I went to Montreal City Hall to look over the 1925 Coderre Report on Municipal Malfeasance and Police Corruption in their archives, I went to the premiere, at night of the Great Gatsby. A film I still really like.


Because at City Hall I read a bit of the transcript of the Coderre Inquiry into Police Corruption and Vice from 1925.

My grandfather, Jules Crepeau, Director of City Services from 1921-1930, had been implicated in Juge Coderre's Final Report, which made all the newspapers, even the New York Times. ( I wrote a play about it, Milk and Water.) It's available on Amazon.

But this transcript, on PDF, didn't included that incriminating testimony, the testimony of Constable Trudeau, who would immediately be fired by my grandfather.

The transcript did contain all kinds of  other interesting stuff.

And in honour of The Great Gatsby's release :) I am transcribing an exchange between Juge Coderre and a certain George O'Hadale (can't read my notes here) a Private Investigator from Chicago who was brought in by Dr. Haywood of the Committee of Sixteen to investigate bars, disorderly houses and gambling joints in Montreal.

He spent 15 days in March doing his research.

It seems cabbies, bellhops and just about everyone in the tourist industry tipped him off as to where to go.

A Bennet Cab driver asked him if he wanted to see some girls. The biggest place, never raided because they paid protection...

He said yes of course (Just doing research)

George O'H testimony says: At the door the 'housekeeper' said, "Come in the back, boys, the girls are at the rear."

We went back to a small dance hall. There were no girls, just a man sitting at a piano.

Juge Coderre "What kind of piano?"

George O'H: "Ordinary piano"

The dance hall was square. (O'H motions with his hands to show the size as compared to the courtroom.)

The Housekeeper asks "Do you want to see the girls?"

He says "Yes"

The Housekeeper pushes a button and about 30 girls come out in the space of a minute. They are dressed in shimmies.. little dresses "no bigger than a handkerchief" O'H motions "two strips here  and the dress up to here."

Coderre: The knees?

O'H: 6 inches above the knees.

"Some had socks, slippers, others had stockings slippers. The girls circled us. Some of them were sitting down, some kneeling, and some who were standing up began to shake their bodies, exposing their bodies to us. Encouraging us to go to bed with them.

At the same time, about six of them put their arms around us and said.

"Well, now, come on. It's 2 dollars. Three dollars. No fooling here. Let us go to bed, buy a drink , or get out."

So the Madame asked,

"Are you boys going to stay?"

"I said NO."

She said, "You will have to get out. This is a business house."


This place appeared to be one of the more 'genteel' places. O'H describes the prostitutes in one house as "disgusting."

In another, girls are smoking 'dope cigarettes' and snorting powder and there are male prostitutes too.


Apparently, the city had spent 2 years in a campaign trying to clean up the Red Light District but not one house was closed. Also apparently, raids are conducted, the Madames and the girls are brought to court, fined and back at work that night.


A certain prostitute claimed she made 150 to 200 a week. At the going rate, that would be 20 clients a night, the man testifying figures.


There are dance halls too where girls as young as 15 go to 'have fun' and 'meet interesting men" and make a few extra dollars.


The prostitutes all appear to be called "Pearl" or "Rose"...


At the Bagdad Cafe, across from the very respectable Mount Royal Hotel, liquor is served up until 7 am.
 Whiskey, high-balls, wines, beers, champagne.

(After this report, the official closing time for Montreal dancehalls was put back an hour from 1 am to 12 am.

All this is to prove, Movie Cliches come from somewhere.

My story in e-book form, Milk and Water, about Montreal in 1927, has my grandfather and my husband's grandfather waiting for the Prince of Wales, who has planned to escape from his handlers and visit an "after hours" Jazz club. ..

Not too far-fetched.