Title : Portland Confidential : Sex, Crime & Corruption in the Rose City
Author : Phil Stanford
Cover : Photographic collage[Portland, Or.: WestWinds Press, 2004. Paperback. Second printing. ISBN 1558687939. The subtitle pretty much says it all. Hollywood Babylon with feeling, if you will.]
The subtitle says much of this delicious quasi-exposé of Portland’s colorful history – there’s plenty of sex, crime and corruption to go around. Focusing on the vintage years of 1935-1955, the eminently readable text presents Portland’s seedy underside through the many personalities of the era. And all without a trace of wholesome environmentalism or double lattés! The Rose City’s noirish little secret indeed has remained elusive, its seamier past being well hidden by the coifurred, cultivated face. However, present book delivers the dirty laundry in admirable fashion.
From its wonderful Weegee-like cover dominated by the imposing figures of Candy Reneé and Big Jim Elkins (different kinds of figures, each, to be sure!), through Stanford’s chatty text with accompanying tabloidy photos, the book is a pure delight. But what really makes the story stick is the coverage - often quite sympathetic - of the many colorful personalities in all their small-time glory. The luminaries include the aforementioned Ms. Reneé, “Diamond Jim” Purcell, Blubber Maloney, Little Rusty, Tempest Storm, and the ever-present Big Jim Elkins. Even Bugsy Siegel makes a fleeting appearance, stopping by to check out Portland as a place to build one of his casinos. Alas, it rained every day he was in town, so he set his sights southward to the sunny climes of Hollywood and Las Vegas, and the rest, as they say, is history.
If there’s a weakness, it’s that the book stops fairly abruptly, ca. 1957, and many questions linger. When exactly did Portland stop being a corrupt and vice-ridden town, and why? How did a place with such a shadowy history transform itself, relatively quickly, into an anti-sleaze mecca of coffee shops, used bookstores, and progressive thought? Who were the principals involved, and when did it take place? Most of all, can we hope for a sequel to sort out all the mysteries? For the moment, however, we’ll have to settle for savoring the current book, and indeed there’s much to savor.