A Fragile Commodity
Post date: Sep 08, 2019 10:55:37 PM
John Edward Donovan (November 13, 1891–December 5, 1963) was an American gangster, bootlegger and enforcer for organized crime before becoming a film studio executive and producer. He is best remembered for his work protecting Hollywood stars as a “fixer,” a person paid to disguise details of these individuals’ colorful, distasteful, and sometimes illegal private lives to maintain their public personas.
Johnny “Not Come Lately” Donovan, as he was called by those in the industry, maintained detailed records of every case he ever worked on. He did it to protect himself from those who thought he had become too powerful. Johnny made it emphatically clear that if anything happened to him, he wouldn’t go down alone. It was ironic that his worse enemies often became his fiercest protectors.
Johnny was always on call; it could be a hand delivered message from a studio head or a frantic phone call from a hysterical star. He was a unique man who operated under his own set of rules and used every trick in the book, including using cash and various products to buy off police, politicians, and reporters. Johnny also had connections to hardened criminals who were willing to beat, threaten, and even eliminate uncooperative individuals for a price. Not every star wanted help though. When closeted actor Boris Asher refused to keep up his sham marriage, Johnny greenlighted an article in Screenland Magazine about Asher’s drug use and preference for deviant behavior, and the aspiring actor’s career was subsequently destroyed.
Perhaps the wildest example of Johnny’s intricate work was a famous movie star’s adoption of her own biological daughter. The actress became pregnant by her costar while filming the movie The Wilderness Calls, but she was Catholic and refused to have an abortion. The studio sent her into hiding and told the press she was on extended vacation. When the actress missed her sister’s wedding, reporters went into a frenzy of speculation. Johnny arranged for an interview with Beau Canter, a journalist at MoviePlay who was on his payroll.
“How do you want to do this?” Beau suspiciously asked.
“Like normal,” Johnny replied.
“Like normal?” Beau repeated. “You need to be a little more specific.”
“Don’t ask any health-related questions and don’t assume anything,” Johnny's words were a warning that Beau immediately picked up.
“Oh, that kind of normal,” Beau countered.
Johnny responded, “Be expecting a little extra this month if you do this right.”
During the interview, the actress remained in a bed piled high with strategically placed pillows and blankets for the interview. A studio nurse was sent in several times to replace a prop intravenous bottle. Beau Canter was an astute reporter and he had a pretty good idea what was going on, but he went along with the subterfuge. One thing he knew for sure was you didn’t double-cross Johnny Donovan and live long enough not to regret it. After the actress gave birth to a daughter, the baby girl stayed at a bungalow with a family in Oceanside, California for several months, then was placed in an orphanage in Vista, California at the appropriate time.
The actress publicly announced that she planned to adopt an orphan child and Johnny planned every aspect of the elaborate story so that the actress could adopt her biological child without arousing any suspicions. The truth only came out two decades later when the actress’ memoirs were printed after her death.
When one of the studio’s top actors would go on an alcoholic bender, bartenders were told to call Johnny any time of the day or night and he would have one of his men pick up the inebriated star before he could create a disturbance, get arrested or cause any negative publicity that even Johnny couldn’t cover up. He also helped cover up Joan Crawford’s involvement in X-rated movies, Errol Flynn’s lecherous ways, George (Superman) Reeves’ mysterious death, Judy Garland’s eating disorder and drug addiction, Howard Hughes reckless directing of a movie that caused the deaths of three pilots and one mechanic, and Charlie Chaplin’s marriages to underage girls.
The notorious fixer married a studio dancer in 1946 after returning from World War II combat in the Pacific. They had a son and two daughters who went into the family business. The entertainment industry was changing and Johnny decided if there was going to be any future and financial security for his family, he would have to change with it. He opened a public relations firm that gave the appearance of propriety and incorporated new ideas from his children. That didn’t mean that Donovan didn’t blur the lines between legal and illegal with clients and adversaries whenever the situations warranted.
The infamous John Donovan passed away on June 7, 1969 from a variety of physical ailments that were magnified in severity by enough stress to kill a dozen men. He was buried next to Rudolph Valentino in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery and none of his clients showed up for the funeral. They were too afraid of being associated with him. His oldest son Edward took control of the family business and expanded it to include the business and political sectors. Instead of delegating authority and learning from the errors of his father, Edward worked incessantly and died from a massive heart attack while visiting a movie director who got into trouble with the Italian authorities while shooting a movie in Rome in 1981.
His daughter, Stephanie who had just graduated from SMU law school, stepped into the leadership role. She got married in 1988 to a real estate broker and had three children of her own. Her husband Victor had a serious gambling addiction and, to pay off some of his debts to some nefarious gamblers and big time bookies, he began trading confidential information of the Donovan Agency to his debtors. When Stephanie found out her husband’s betrayal, she had to make a serious decision to protect the family and its legacy of discreetness. Two weeks later, Victor drowned off the coast of Dana Point when he slipped and hit his head on the deck of the boat one dark night and fell overboard. The investigators concluded it was accidental drowning. Stephanie was asleep below deck at the time…supposedly.
With the help of some powerful New York underworld figures, Stephanie bought back the stolen materials and negotiated a deal to pay off her husband’s debts for ten cents on the dollar. She made it emphatically clear, “This concludes your business with the Donovan family and if any of this information ever becomes public, I will have all of you killed. There is no statute of limitations on this deal.”
The gamblers and bookmakers knew that Stephanie Donovan was not bluffing.
Paul and Ava went into the family business without argument, it was just a natural progression for them. But Stephanie’s youngest child, Roy was a different story. Even as a young boy he was always strong-willed, almost to the point of defiance, if he believed in something. Stephanie was an expert at manipulating situations and people, but had long ago accepted the harsh reality that it was a useless endeavor to try and convince Roy to enter the family business and if she pushed the issue, he would leave. She wished she could have said she was surprised, but that would have been a lie when Roy said to her after graduating from high school, “I’m joining the Marines.”
“That’s it, no discussion, no hey mom, what’s your opinion?”
“You start questioning my decisions and I’ll have to start questioning yours. I’m pretty sure we don’t want to go down that path. It will be all downhill from there,” Roy smiled mischievously.
“Do you ever wish that we weren’t born into this kind of life?”
“That is the question that pertains more to you than it does to me,” Roy said, “You’ve given me options, I’m sorry that grandfather didn’t show you the same courtesy.”
Stephanie kissed her son on the cheek, “It is what it is. Life happens while we’re out making other plans. Of course looking back on my life, I can’t imagine what else I’d be doing.”
“You’re a credit to the Donovan Code.” There was a mixture of sarcasm and truth in Roy’s statement.
Eight years later, Roy was out of the Marine Corps after serving three combat tours. He was back in the family business, with one serious stipulation; the Marine Corps had instilled in him a code that was even stronger than the one he was raised with. His brother Paul and sister Ava were meeting with their mother in the conference room.
“How come Roy gets to pick what cases that he wants to be involved in and we’re stuck with whatever you give us?” Paul asked.
“You ask me that question every time you’re having trouble with a client,” Stephanie responded. “Your brother has a special set of skills that only works to our advantage in certain situations. Who’s the client that has you all riled up?”
“George Pittman refuses to listen to anything I tell him. Instead of letting things cool down, he’s back on his Twitter account criticizing the judge, the district attorney, and the entire legal system,” Paul grumbled.
“He’s right, our contact in the D.A.’s office was ready to misplace some key evidence, but now he’s too nervous to make a move,” Ava added.
“Set up a meeting with Pittman and his lawyer. I’ll lay it out plain and simple for him. If he’s wants to do it his way, we’ll cut him loose and he’s on his own,” Stephanie vowed, “There’s the Donovan’s way and then there’s the highway. Our clients only get to choose one.”
When she noticed Roy standing outside, she said, “Get on it, I need to talk to your brother.”
Paul and Ava smiled at their younger brother who was wearing workout clothes.
“It’s a good thing we don’t have a dress code around here,” Paul quipped.
Roy playfully rubbed his hand through his brother’s neatly combed hair, “Not all of us are Nordstrom regulars.”
“Don’t mess with my hair!” Paul pushed Roy against the wall.
“Boys, play later…work now,” Stephanie smiled.
After Roy entered the room, his mother closed the soundproof door. “We are representing a client whose daughter was an aspiring actress. She was beaten and drugged by Joshua Feingold, the big-time movie producer at a party at his mansion in Hidden Hills. She had to be hospitalized for three broken ribs and internal injuries.”
“Feingold is a well-connected poisonous spider,” Roy said. “And his web entangles a lot of powerful people, some of those people are former and current clients. Have you thought about that?”
“Our loyalty is to this girl and the hell with the others. They knew the risks by getting involved with Feingold. We owe them nothing, not even a warning. Feingold has always been able to buy his way out of his previous indiscretions, but this time when he offered the family a six-figure settlement, they filed charges instead. Usually he preys on vulnerable girls who are either too poor to stand up to him or so desperate to make it in the movie industry that they’ll let him get away with anything. This family is extremely wealthy and will not be intimidated.”
“Sounds like a good family,” Roy said. “What’s the current status?”
“The girl has been taken and the family received a call that unless the charges are dropped, she isn’t coming back,” Stephanie explained.
“Even if they agree, Feingold knows that they can always refile once she’s released and back home,” Roy reminded his mother.
“I didn’t want to tell them that. They have enough to worry about.”
Stephanie pushed a folder across the table. “Right now Feingold is buying himself enough time to plan his escape to a country with no extradition where he can pay off the politicians. The girl will have no value after those plans are finalized. The clock is ticking: tick, tick, tock. Get her back and we’ll figure the rest out after that.”
“Any particular instructions?”
“Do what you do best,” Stephanie smiled. “I got a lead on where she is being held.”
“Roger that,” Roy picked up the folder and left the room.
* * *
The well-guarded mansion was on the outskirts of Cabo San Lucas in a small village called Arriba de la Roca. One by one, the guards were dispatched without a sound. Twenty–two year-old Patricia Winton was in a locked bedroom on the second floor. She heard a sound outside the door, rolled over on her back and listened more closely. When she didn’t hear anything else, she closed her eyes. Suddenly a hand covered her mouth and a reassuring voice whispered, “Let’s go.”
Three hours later, Patricia Winton and her rescuer Roy Donovan arrived at the three-story beachfront home in Oceanside that was titled under a bogus shell company.
“Did my parents send you?” Patricia asked.
“Actually my boss sent me after your parents asked my agency to get you back from your captors,” Roy responded.
“When I am going home?” Patricia asked.
“That might be a while.”
“I’m still in danger, aren’t I?”
Roy handed Patricia a manila envelope with her new identification, Kelli Taylor, that included a driver’s license, ATM cards, and keys to a BMW convertible. “Until we’re sure that the situation has been resolved, it’s best if you live down here and go by this name at all times.”
“I should contact my family to tell them I’m safe,” Patricia said.
“They’ve already been notified,” Roy answered.
“What happens if I don’t want to stay here?”
“Then you are free to leave, the locks are on the inside, not the outside. It’s not my job to protect someone who doesn’t want it. Remember if you go back now, you’ll endanger your own life and your family’s as well. These are very dangerous and powerful men that we’re dealing with. They have serious addiction issues and you are a serious threat to their deviant lifestyle.”
“When you put it that way, I guess it isn’t so bad around here. What’s for dinner?” Patricia asked.
“The refrigerator is stocked or you can call Doordash,” Ray suggested. “Make yourself at home, you could be here a while.”
Joshua Feingold was out on ten million dollars bail and meeting with a group of politicians, businessmen and entertainers that were part of his inner circle. He was both angry and fearful as he ranted and raved about the situation. “If this girl testifies then it will encourage the others to come forward. Is she back with her family?”
Donald Hughes replied, “We’ve got our best people on it, but so far, no sight of her. The only thing we know for sure is that 11 armed men were terminated and not one of them was able to sound the alarm. That is highly impressive work.”
“Save the compliments for your Twitter account. Find her!” Feingold screamed.
* * *
The best efforts of Feingold’s hired thugs had failed and they were no closer to finding Patricia Winton now than they were six months ago. Little did they know that she had transitioned into her alias with amazing ease and made new friends in the Oceanside/Carlsbad areas. She thought less and less about the traumatic incident back at Feingold’s mansion, but one night a vivid nightmare came back to haunt her. She woke up screaming and Roy was there in an instant to console and comfort her.
Roy continued to work on other cases, but made it a point to check in on Patricia on a regular basis either by phone or in person. Sometimes they would have dinner or go down to the beach for long walks along the water’s edge. There was no mistaking that a connection was developing between them, but two things happened that changed the current situation. Patricia’s grandfather became seriously ill and she wanted to see him before he passed away and the U.S. Attorney in New York found another female victim who was willing to come forward and testify. Feingold’s bail was revoked and he was placed in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City under 24-hour surveillance.
“The time for hiding is over, I can’t let that girl testify alone,” Patricia vowed.
Once Feingold realized that Patricia Winton was coming out of hiding, he paid a Russian mercenary and his associates to help him escape before the trial. Five men disguised in correctional officers’ uniforms were parked down the street from the jail in Manhattan and were ready to make their assault. A city worker in an orange vest and hardhat approached their car and knocked on the driver’s side window. The man rolled lowered it and asked, “Yeah what?”
Roy pulled out his pistol with the noise suppressor and shot all five men in less than two seconds. Feingold was nervously pacing in his cell when Roy dressed in a correctional officer’s uniform opened his cell door. Feingold smiled, “Let’s get out of this place, my jet is ready to go.”
Jail officials found Feingold’s body the next morning, dead from an apparent suicide with a rope tied around his neck and the other end around his cot. Roy told Patricia, upon his return from the East Coast, “I know you wanted to face him in court, but the wrath of God will have to do. He was never going to make it to trial, Feingold was either going to escape or be killed by his accomplices. This way he went out on our terms. The good news is that you can go back to your family.”
Patricia was visibly disappointed for more than one reason, “Will I see you again?”
“Maybe,” Roy smiled.
* * *
The plane landed at St. Thomas and Roy met with several men. They drove to the harbor and boarded a boat and headed to a private island nicknamed “Little Saint Josh.” Roy disembarked in the middle of the night and made his way along the shore to the mansion on the hill where a party was in progress. The other men on the beach guarded the area until they heard the sound of gunfire and saw Roy coming toward them a few minutes later. The sky was aglow in shades of oranges and reds as flames engulfed the massive structure.
Patricia Winton was celebrating her 23rd birthday at her family’s vacation home in Pismo Beach when Roy made a surprise appearance. When she saw him, Patricia rushed into his arms and gave him a passionate kiss.
* * *
Roy returned to the Donovan offices on Monday and his mother met him at the front door.
“Good job, son.”
“I heard you showed up at Patricia Winton’s birthday party.”
“Just making sure she was alright,” Roy replied defensively. “It is called customer service.”
“Is that what they call it?” Stephanie kissed her son on the cheek and walked off.
Roy called to her, “I’m a former Marine who comes from a long line of Fixers.”
“Love is a fragile commodity, protect it at all costs!”
He could hear his mother’s laughter as she entered her office, and her warning, “Make this one count because I’ll fire you the next time you get involved with a client.”