Dad’s Old Fashion Root Beer

Dad”s Old Fashion

By Paul Morantz
(C) may 2011

“There is no such thing as dying, only living.” said Dederich. “Until you die, you are living, so think that way…The trick is to live until you die.”

And living was good in Tamales in l973 where Synanon properties had a combined value of $3,367,800, a population of 558 and fields of broccoli, beans chard, asparagus and tomatoes to go with their livestock. It raised oat hay and had 100 head of cattle and pigs. It had a number of boats docked in the bay and had begun work on an airstrip.

West Marin planning commissioners, however, complained they could not get answers on Synanon’s future saying the Foundation brushed questions aside without commitment. As West Marin was devoted to agriculture and recreation with growth limited mostly to existing villages it begin discussing limiting permits to control Synanon’s population. Synanon responded saying the population would not likely exceed 500. The County took action to protect itself by passing a law applying the same density limits to agricultural families as to non-agriculture. The effect was to limit Synanon’s population on its three Marin properties to 650.

The Foundation started a PR campaign proclaiming itself Everybody’s Good Neighbor. Synanon provided free of charge the services of the best equipped ambulance in the area, a Tomales Bay rescue boat complete with scuba team and a voluntary bright yellow fire truck that had been first on the scene of several fires. But some locals felt Synanon only fit that description when they wanted something, liking buying your property. Many were upset Synanon didn’t pay property taxes and seemed to be changing its plans each year without submitting to county controls. Supervisor Gary T. Giacommi admitted he was “scared stiff” when he visited Synanon in 1972 and saw a wall map indicating Synanon had knowledge of all the ownerships of ranches in the area and had studies on the owners children’s attitudes toward ranching. Synanon seemed out to acquire another ranch in every year yet were careful not to promise an exact population figure.

Synanon applied for permits when it was likely they would be granted, or if forced, otherwise it did not. When applying an ex dope fiend would go or a good-looking woman, each trained in seeking sympathy. Dederich continued to teach labeling. Instead of saying a school, the building is for ” tenant activity.” It was all right to lie, Dederich said, because the outside world was run by morons and he knew best how to build. Civil servants were enemies who wanted to destroy Synanon. They always had. When a planning director decided to make a Sunday goodwill visit with his family he was told to leave when they entered the parking lot.

“If we play the word game and get a permit, that’s ok,” Dederich instructed. “If not, build it anyway. That’s why we have a legal department, just like every other successful corporation in America.”


In a recorded speech, Dederich addressed the former Academy stewdents concern over the rising role of squares. These people, he explained, were needed to make the foundation rich allowing them leisure time in order to become the New Profession and do its job of changing the world. To be able to demonstrate a new way of living they needed “buildings, land, sewage treatment plants and people working their assess off.” To illustrate he reminded them of what he had done for them.

“You say you believe in community, you believe in revolution. Well, I removed all of the people that I guess you thought and I thought were standing in the way. I have removed the old superstar people from their positions and I’m telling you, they did it goddamned well, they did a fantastic job. There are 1500 people living in our community. We are world famous. We have more clout and impact of any group of people our size on the face of the earth…. Now, I took young people, I took your generation of people and put them in significant posts. I put you, the working stiff, into the very crucible of Synanon. My baby, the thing that I have been dreaming about, that I have waited and waited for was to get that hot nuclear pile with gaming and the dissipating and the tripping and the whole works — — the New Educational System — — the center of where people would learn this new trade. You see, I put in new young directors.

He spoke of Synanon history. As people had done in electronics, he said, he had experimented with “a new form of communication, a new trade, a new kind of people, a new branch of knowledge, that would possibly have as great in impact on the world as Freud’s discoveries in psychoanalysis at the end of the 19th-century.

“And as a result of that, people begin to join us. They came to live in our house. They brought help and food and goods and money and everything else, and after a little while, more and more people came seeking help. To give it we had to have goods, services money, buildings, and so on. And for some strange reason, there was always enough.

“More and more people — — fancier and fancier people — — all kinds of college graduates — — doctors, lawyers, Ph.D. people, rich people, very intelligent people, came knocking on our door saying, “I want to live in your house.” None of them said–certainly not I–“No, I’d like to come live in your house. I like the way you live, I want to live that way.” None of us here did that. Nobody could stand that. They couldn’t even stand it themselves. They came down to our house to live because their lives were so rotten. They all came to us begging for a piece of this action because they are people, because they are human, they wanted to live on the results, on the fruits of our actions. They liked what they saw and smelled and so on…not educated people, fancy-pants conversations, and so on. They didn’t want that; they were leaving that. They wanted what we have. What they saw was that we are trying to change the world.

“But to live here they had to live the way we live. They had to play the Synanon game honestly and truthfully. They could not form contracts.”

Dederich explained the need for wealth as anything of “any consequence” done in the world was been done by rich people who had the time, education and thinking ability to do it. Squares provided that. “Nothing is ever done by people who have to scramble all the time for something to eat. Most people who get rich go into a torpor, of course. But a few who don’t are the ones who change the world. And that’s why I don’t believe the world can be changed from an orange crate in a Salvation Army dump. That’s why I want Synanon people to think like rich people, to think like people who have power, not to be inferior to people. I want them to do the things that rich people do. Rich people play tennis, play golf, ride horses, and have leisure, play instruments, listen to music, some know-how to write it, and so on. This is what we want. We are trying to provide leisure time.”

The Academy gang would be then free to spread its skills. They were communicators. That was their trade. Dederich visualized to them a future wherein a Synanon Chautauqua would travel the country having games and teaching a new culture. He imagined a Synanon game on the British Broadcasting Co. as they “love conversation in England, all they do is sit and yap at each other all the time.”


In 1973, a year marked by Israel’s victory in the Yom Kippur War, the Sperry Rand Corporation donated a five-year old RCA Univac Series 70/35 computer worth several hundred thousands of dollars which was quickly refurbished by the Corporation in Tomales Bay and put in use to handle Foundation paperwork. SCRAP continued to raise money for the fight against the Examiner by auctioning off Synanon hustled clothing and other contributions.

Frank Rehak and Al Bauman opened a music department in Oakland. Santa Monica and Oakland had the bulk of the lifestyler population. San Francisco with warehouses had maintained supplies. Attorney Howard Garfield became the Secretary of Synanon Foundation, Inc. Medical clinics manned by square physicians, nurses, pharmacists and paramedics were established in Santa Monica, Oakland and Tomales Bay. The medical staff gamed to determine a patient’s course of treatment.

On Nov 4, a second mass wedding was held in Santa Monica for 15 couples that had not made the trip the previous year. All had been married prior and some as long as 10 years. For the event the couples wore long ceremonial robes. On September 2, Synanon, in Tomales Bay held a 12 hour musical picnic for 1,600 persons dubbed the First Annual Synanon Music Festival. The event began at 11 a.m. with Ralph Waldo Emerson readings on self-reliance. In addition to jazz and rock there wee 3000 barbecued hamburgers, 1600 salads and countless roasted marshmallows.

The school had 200 children. Most were in Tomales Bay. Every department was state certified to act as a vocational school including auto repair, sales, even the sewage treatment department. Adult reading courses caused some illiterates to fail and split so they were canceled. Synanon College offered courses training for Synanon services and teaching Synanon history. It taught accounting and “How to Fix a Room.” Some of the classes were bite-sized lasting just two weeks. Garrett said it was like the University of California operating a ranch. But this University was not accredited and could not issue degrees. Dederich said they shouldn’t care and taught them not to be jealous of the professionals who had degrees. Again he reminded, “They came here to observe you because they have miserable lives. Get the same kind of education, learn the same things they did? What for? Synanon University is non-accredited but so what?”

Old timer Dibble, known for his Edward G. Robinson and Ronald Coleman impersonations, ran a boot camp for 100 newcomers, Dederich had taught him to say “no” to every fourth request regardless of what it was to establish power. Dibble also put through old timers as a refresher course in basic Synanon.

And once again Dederich had Synanon unite as pathfinders. The organization’s fleet of 170 sedans, trucks and jitneys traveled approximately 32,000 miles a month and it prided itself that its maintenance program resulted in the need to only replace about six cars a year. But now the nation-wide gas shortage was leading to an energy crises, high prices and long auto lines at gas stations. A law would be passed temporarily reducing maximum speed from 65 to 55 mph. and car pool lanes would spring forth. But by then Synanon had already leaped forward. It limited the speed of its vehicles to 50 mph and through coordination of the transportation desk arranged for multiple passenger transit, including use of a Synanon taxi cab system.

Radio stations donated 30-second public service spots to aid Synanon’s recruitment drive, stating Synanon totaled 375,000 clean days the prior year and had space available for “600 addicts who want to do something about their lives.” ADGAP salesman doubled as TV and radio interviewees when they hit their targeted areas.


In the spring of 1973 Synanon Research University presented a series of lectures on the history and goals of Synanon. Tom Patton, a heroin addict who in l965 at age 36 entered Synanon at the Seawall in San Francisco, summarized the Synanon Philosophy. His speech was published by the Synanon Research University Press.

Patton compared Synanites to Romulus of Roman mythology, a wolf-child raised by a she wolf and converted to modern myth in a French film L’Enfant Sauvage where a social scientist raises a wolf-child who goes on to be a pillar of the community but once in awhile still “chases a car up the street barking at hubcaps.” In Synanon, such reversions are “no big thing.”

Synanon philosophy was based on “Act as if” and ignoring genetics or environment impact. Act as if free will and make responsible choices, Dederich had stated, “I don’t give a god damn if everything is determined by something I don’t know about.” One was to act as if he may determine his own destiny. By practicing a new form one can dissolve old habits and internalizes new ones. Practice the Form to Achieve the Essence was how it was called in the early days.

Synanon, Patton stated, was based on the Emerson laws of compensation. A Karmic “What goes around comes around.” You can’t get it for yourself unless you give it away. Can’t learn unless you teach. Trust enough to give away whatever you possess. Can’t be a good speaker without becoming a listener. People should not be concerned with obtaining justice as it will take care of itself. People who live by principle get what they have coming, others get what they deserve. Compensation was built into the social order per “in the game and out of game, “the more one puts in the more one gets out.

“The Synanon game,” he said, “is our tetrahedron, always oscillating between one extreme experience and another.” He compared it to Buckminister Fuller calling equilibrium the most dangerous state one could be in and Emerson, in Circles, saying people wish to be settled, but being unsettled is their only hope.

Synanon also had Gilbran’s concept of being thy Brother’s Keeper. Criminal A cures Criminal B and all are both. “…the wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all.”

Synanon was a place to self- actualize, but life was not all above line, Patton said “If you don’t work, hustle (below the line) above line will be not be nirvana, but sayonara.”

He traced origins of Synanon thinking to Latose’s philosophy, Emerson’s transcendentalism and Fuller’s comprehensive design all unified into an environment of human social intercourse. While Western philosophers exercised the laws of logic, rationality and precise language, the East offers play, puzzles, riddles, enigmas, aphorisms and insights, paradoxes and contradictions. In the latter you can’t reason your way to right answers “you must snap to it.” You must play and be trapped to have an insight. And to know anything you must first know yourself. Emerson called it The One. The knowledge we are not all separate, “we’s” divided by nature, our owns skins and space between us. There is Humankind, not a mob of humans. A basic Synanon assumption.

Dederich, Patton stated, had built a community which has compression and tension paradoxically complementing each other, thrusting leisure and art and then springing back with enterprise, public life and responsibility. He cited Emerson in Circles, “Every end is a beginning.”

Change was the Synanon cornerstone. But Flipping the boxes did not necessarily mean 180 degrees but could be just 90 degrees.


Psychology student Steve Simon had just come for a six month internship in 1969, at the suggestion of Maslow himself, who told his students if you want to learn real psychology, “Go West to Synanon.” But after seven weeks Simon felt he had gone from outsider to insider and wrote Harvard:

“In the past eight days I have been through two long Synanon games, a 44 hour dissipation and a 48-hour trip. I stayed awake for hours and days on end, along with groups of other people — hollering, crying, laughing and learning together. I am very impressed by the Synanon game. I think I did bit off to large a bite to chew, though. I am disoriented and coming down with a cold, and my mind feels as if all of the lines of twenty four years of life have been erased clean. But on the other hand, I feel better than I have ever felt in my life. I am in the center of a cyclone. I wonder what kind of a psychologist I would have become if my internship were at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center. I think everyone in the health profession should be made to play the Synanon game.”

It was during the long dissipation that Simon converted. The conductor, Dan Garrett, asked Simon “what do you think of this place that we have here?” Simon, still the hippy, said, “it’s a pretty good… But it based on power, it’s not based on love, and nothing can change the world if it is not based on love.” The next morning at breakfast, Simon having been awake for 24 hours, was joined by Dederich who wrote a on napkin “Power= Love.”

“That’s your problem,” Dederich said to Simon. “You think they are two different things … you think there’s a dichotomy there. There is not. Power is love, and love is power. Power is the responsible use of love and love is the responsible use of power. That’s the kind of thing you learn in the Synanon game. Now go back in there and play the hell out of it.”

Following, Simon wrote Harvard again saying he would like to do to his Ph.D. dissertation on Synanon as no social scientists had stayed in Synanon long enough to truly investigate this “laboratory of human laboratories” because psychologists, he said, avoid situations that might change them as they expect their clients to change.

A year later Simon, who had done a second 6 month internship at Palo Alto Veterans Hospital while living at Synanon, wrote Harvard that doing research at Synanon “puts one through a lot of changes. I’m never quite sure who is the guinea pig and who is the experimenter. Dan Garrett said they were ‘disabling me as a psychologists and enabling me as a human being.’ I’m not sure if I am supposed to be pleased about that, or dismayed. Certainly it is difficult to maintain objectivity when I am reminded in every game ‘How can you write about something that it is changing your life as if it had nothing to do with you.'”

The game, he wrote, was a group-size teacher “whose lessons or like arrows that enter immediately and deeply into the most unconscious regions of the self.”

Simon married Dan Garrett’s daughter, Glenda, proposing to her in a game, and said, “I am, you might say, a guest who came to dinner and stayed.” He also referred to himself as a “Synanon Zealot.” In l971 and 72 he taught at the Synanon High School.

In 1973, Simon submitted his 341-page glowing dissertation on Synanon which holds the group experience as the center of Maslow’s human potential movement. He mentioned many critics–Friedenberg, Ruitenbeek, Kanter, Rogers–but like Yablonsky he claimed these professionals were ignorant as they had not themselves experienced Synanon; they did not have the advantage of being a participant observer. As did Yablonsky, Simon never understood fully the dangers of what he reported, and, like Yablonsky, acknowledged Synanon techniques were similar to Lifton’s “Thought Reform” but never understood the “washing” and that this was the true difference between himself and non-experiencing critics.

He did admit that participation could effect one’s perception as there was “possible over identification” and the game “forces a person to risk his world view and his convictions.” One purpose of the Synanon game, he wrote, is to embroil a person in the excitement, the turmoil and the chaos so that his ordinary life perspectives are taken away. “These experiences,” he noted, “cause people to reach out for the nearest point of stability which is the other members of Synanon and Synanon’s way of life.”

The game, he wrote, coerces gamers to conform to norms: collectively shared judgment or attitudes. He acknowledged the stress could lead to psychotic breaks but accepted Synanon’s belief that no one can get hurt as skillful players are expected to intercede before a player “breaks.” In Synanon the idea was to bend people not break. Indictments could be exaggerated to the preposterous and Ridicule was the Queen as it could paralyze a person’s defenses.

The Trip purpose, Simon stated, was to breakdown all defenses resulting in feelings of love and transcendence with a theme of forgiveness. The first Trip game was the attack, the second game was the surrender followed by an immersing ceremony. Those still not broken were to be broken in the wrap-up. This was not difficult as after being up 44 hours nonstop the egos were “for the most part, shattered” and asking for kindness and love. Simon compared it to Lifton’s “stripping” process, an assault upon identity and establishment of guilt and self-betrayal that pushes to “let go” with the entire group. Simon credited the conversion not only to the forty-eight hours of tripping but to all the gaming throughout residency as well the Synanon haircut and general meetings where the entire house encourages the person to copout and confess. Long games, he penned, dissipate the ego so the participant could be instructed and switched to a “reasoned commitment to Synanon.” After the personality is demolished it is important for meaningful personal contact with the other members, the group becoming the teacher and alivator of guilt, confession giving rise to atonement. Simon called it a classic pattern of establishing a new life in a peer group and an “indoctrination procedure and commitment mechanism.” What he described was a classic example of Lifton’s brainwashing (and the model for est and all the other self-help encounter empires that followed).

Simon saw this, too, but had no problem with it. The process, he wrote, fit the Sarbin-Adler model for “conduct reorganization” a term, he said, that passes by different names including “thought reform and brainwashing” and Synanon terms character modification, self-actualization, the Synanon Professional, the Whole Man, the 21st Century Man, growing up, and adulthood. He stated the new person will be internalized when the former self renounced.

Simon called the game the greatest evolutionary tool discovery of all time. It develops a community conscious. It is a management and initiation tool. It provides “social solidarity and group cohesion.” Simon quoted Dederich saying he did not invent Synanon Foundation, Inc. but only the game and the game did the rest. In Synanon everything that happens is because of the game.

Simon described the Angel –Devil Ploy: Two points of view set up, one favoring each side, members backing one point of view and putting down the other. A young man said during this process he “snapped” and chose to become a plumber and added “the Synanon game in the wrong hands could be a real disaster, cause you can really motivate people to do things.”

Citing Oringer’s 1972 Power and Dissent, Simon agreed noting that ranking members do often dominate a game and stifle opinion rather than liberate and force conformity to policies. Synanon authorities recognized this, he said, but point out it is precisely this power of the game to exact conformity and coerce social control that makes it a great powerful agent for behavior change. Simon accepted that Synanon corrected negative behavior and produced positive action. Never the reverse.

The game could be a tool for hierarchy and if so group pressure would then be the “crushing heel of official policy.” And while Simon believed Synanon would never let it happen he observed that the dichotomy between in-the-game and out-of- the-game was not always present and the game often directs what behavior should be.

While in the early days members worshiped Dederich as a God, Synanon, wrote Simon, was based on secular conversion rather than a religious. The policies are not explicitly religious but function like a religious doctrine so members do not challenge the entire Synanon social system and accept norms and group cohesion. Dederich’s power was rarely questioned and rules were created by edict and obedience was expected under threat of sanctions. Within months of so writing, Simon, as directed, would reverse the secular position.

Both character disorders and squares are converted to a different type of human being, the conversion continual, never-ending. Synanon was anti-therapy; a person’s nature cannot be changed only his behavior. Therapy sympathizes with a person for his problems thus reinforcing them. Synanon punishes bad behavior.

One can only speculate if anyone at Harvard who read the paper, or other professionals as it was published in Dissertation Abstracts International, Vol. XXXV1, and available from Xerox University Microfilm, got the chills, as did Friedenberg when he read Yablonsky, or reminded Simon that Lifton said the process was one of man’s greatest threats and leads to Holy Wars. If anyone did, Simon ignored it. He went on over the next two years to teach humanistic psychology at my alma mater, USC, and two night courses at UCLA, one on Synanon. Never did he dream soon he would be forced to have a vasectomy, give up his wife, commit perjury, condone violence, destroy evidence and plea bargain so his prison sentence would not exceed five years.


When Dederich wanted something done he would do exactly what neither Patton, Oringer or Simon had believed he would ever do– put the fix in a game. Before the game started CED would gather big shots and point out his target, what he wanted to make the person do and tell them how to back his play. He also could get his way bullying: “Throw his ass out of his high class living quarters… Now. Right now.. Like that. Put the son of a bitch in the dorms with the other fruit cakes…. Put a dunce cap on this clown and let him clean pots for the next couple of months. And if he doesn’t like it then kick his sorry ass out. See… It’s simple.”

Thus CED ended free speech in the game, and dissolved the “in an out” of the game dichotomy.

But still Synanon members believed the theory: It was a game with the upmost freedom of speech where you were free to scream at anyone, including your bosses and when the game was over whatever was said was left in the game.

All that came to an end on an evening in l973 that would go down in Synanon infamy. Many Synanites later on reflection call it the day the game died. In truth the game from its inception had steadily morphed from cure to coercion but this incident in a Monday night game accelerated the transformation. Lillian Fishman, a middle age square who had not been in Synanon too long, as witnesses stated, was acting obnoxious, but that was her right in a game. Fishman kept interrupting Betty who was trying to make a point and arguing with her. Dederich tried to get her to back off and she attacked him, saying “This is my game, too.” Dederich brought forth all of his bag of tricks to silence her but somehow she survived and kept talking. Suddenly Dederich stood up, walked over to her and poured a can of root beer over her head. The room went silent. Not only had the rule against game violence finally been broken but the crime was by the man who created the game and its rules.

Word of the event traveled swiftly. People immediately feared the implications. Then Chuck came on the wire and offered an apology. There was a collective sigh of relief. But a few hours later Dederich came back on the wire and withdrew the apology. “I gave her a lesson in manners,” he said. “The game must be protected from crazies who would destroy it with insane filibusters.”

One member tried to make a joke of it and opened an umbrella in a game. The players laughed but not Dederich when he found out. The jokster was demoted. The wind was blowing again. This time it whispered be careful what you say or do in the game. Ritchie Gross didn’t check the weather report. He said in a game he would like to punch the Founder. He was sent out to work and eventually squeezed out. The same happened to Steve DeRosa. First boot camp for a refresher course then out the door.


Tamales Bay’s population reached 558, with 422 on the two ranches, enough to keep the locals uneasy, but overall growth was stagnating and it no longer seemed likely that Synanon would ever recruit the big numbers Dederich had hoped for. Society’s rebellions were diminishing in l973 as the last U.S. troops left Vietnam after Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho signed a treaty in Paris and South Vietnamese forces crumbled. The searchers of the ’60s were no longer seeking to drop out into communes but were instead converting to yuppies who could attain their “benefits” in new age religions and est many of which used similar but less stressful thought reform techniques, promising to transform lives but without requiring the same full-time commitment. Synanon’s self- focus made game clubs less attractive in this new era of competitive “insight” marketing. Even for addicts there were many choices and, unlike Synanon, the copycat rehabs helped addicts return to society.

Synanon tried at first to compete by changing its jargon from far out hippie talk to the “got it” language of the human potential movement. Dederich looked at the population decline also from another angle and decided it was all right. Less people meant more wealth and goodies for those there. It was easier to make demonstrations on how to live to the world at large with a smaller population, one with resisters, like smokers, squeezed out.

Dederich concentrated on making his existing communities stronger. He spoke of Banking Character, placing it in the minds of his executives so when the time comes for withdrawal they will have it in reserve, the ability to demonstrate. To walk the walk and not just talk the talk. He spoke of having honesty, loyalty and guts.

He had tired of the bureaucrats with only their silly zoning laws and permits. They had been there everywhere Synanon set up house. They all just wanted to hold Synanon back, maybe put him in jail again. And the locals it seemed just didn’t give enough respect to all of Synanon’s good works. They were dangerous. He instituted a concept of Eternal Vigilance, self-defense exercises and a careful watch over the property. Hey Rube drills, taken from an old carnival’s cry intended to bring help in a hurry, were held to test defenses. Upon hearing it one was to grab an ax handle and come running.

Dederich also now had new worries. At the insistence of Marin County Assessor Bert W. Broemmel Synanon finally had to pay some taxes. Walker Creek was assessed $7,152 because some of the cattle pastured at the Ranch belonged to the rancher who sold the property, Boyd Stewart. But this was still far less than the $73,220 that would be owed on all Marin properties if there was no exemption.

And the IRS, as the Examiner had predicted, taxed Synanon $3,400 as it concluded some of its income for years 1969 through 1971 was supporting a lifestyle rather than rehabilitating addicts. Synanon industries had claimed it did not have to pay taxes because it’s employment of addicts was a significant part of the reeducation and rehabilitation program. The IRS did not buy it nor Synanon’s argument that cars, boats, motorcycles, and other amenities were needed in order to teach dope fiends a trade in carrying for and repairing such items. Synanon had to worry that in the future the tax bills could increase immensely.

And despite expense-saving community child rearing, Dederich fretted over the time and money even that spent on children with no guarantee the child would not later split and not be of value.

In Synanon III Dederich devised solutions to all problems.

Edward Gould university of San Francisco study Synanon child rearing and concluded that plainly game was a mechanism for peer pressure to resolve conflicts and at the same time the peer pressure became responsible for socialization, and Synanon children in early developed their own social isolation, peers and as a result would maintain close to the friendships throughout their lives long after the community ended. Some however, maintained and anger towards Synanon for the violence that would start against them and outsiders in 1974, while others would pay homage to Synanon, carrying less to the point of in some absence of feelings at all about the destruction to others that took place.

Gould noted further that parents at Synanon did not know their roles and that distrust existed between parents and school. What he missedwas the 6th decision to add some “old fashion” procedures. “I was educated that way in aJesuit high school. I think it did me a lot of good to have some great big son–of-bitchin a black night Occasionally put his nose right up to mine and grout, Dederich, do you want to have your teeth rattled?”
Some of my PD work was quite comical. A man charged with possession of a gun that probably would not have stuck tried to be helpful from his defendant’s seat by telling the police officer on the stand how the gun was loaded. Two burglars robbed their neighbor but when they came home they discovered they were robbed. They called the police so of course the two officers taking the report from their neighbor victims walked over to take this report, too, and then observed the stolen items from the neighbors report. I remember the 72 year old addict charged with possession. His rap sheet indicated that in l936 in Kansas City he had been arrested, convicted and fined $200 for “Being in the presence of Negroes.” When I, a bailiff and the deputy DA asked him if this was true he responded, “Yes, sir. But young man I want you to know just one thing….I was framed.”

In the beginning at the PD I had been quite gung ho. As most of our clients were guilty victory was usually obtained by proving the police had violated search and seizure law by conducting either an arrest or search that was unreasonable and unwarranted under the circumstances. If this was found to be true then all evidence seized or later obtained as a result of the illegality (called “fruit of the poisonous tree”) were not allowed into evidence. And when that happens is the case usually collapsed. I loved winning especially as I was beating the DA’s office that wanted to cut and comb my hair for me. It was even more fun when I was able to show a cop was lying as to his “story” re the search by proving some physical aspects made it impossible for the search to have occurred as testified.

But in l973 my attitude began to change. When I got a gun suppressed for a gang banger who had done a vicious robbery he asked me if I could get him his gun back. It was obvious what he wanted it for. I also began to believe the suppression of evidence rule made no sense. The idea was to punish the officer by not allowing his evidence obtained by violating citizen’s Constitutional rights to be free of unreasonable arrest, search and seizures. This would protect us from officers creating a police state. The problem was that it didn’t work. Officers who would intentionally break the rules, the ones we had to worry about, didn’t lose their cases. This was because when they made the decision to break the rule they also made the decision to lie about how they obtained the confession or evidence. As a result their evidence, wrongfully obtained, usually was admitted. The officers who did lose cases were the honest ones we didn’t have to worry about in the first place. As the line was very thin between what is reasonable and unreasonable–often decided on a case by case basis–they made sometimes a good faith mistake. It was their truthfulness about it that resulted in suppression and dismissal. What point, I thought, is made letting the guilty go under these circumstances? Wouldn’t it be better to dock police pay and wouldn’t that deter the bad cops more? They might risk case dismissal but their check?

Before the decade would be out I would feel even stronger about the suppression rule as I would observe it not as an attorney but through the eyes of a victim desperately wanting justice.


The Defender’s office got upset with me again. I had been assigned to a nineteen year-old, Becky, who came to L.A. to be a star, went broke and then used her co-ed good looks to help a ring pass forged checks and credit cards. Caught she was now turning evidence in turn for immunity. But when she went back to her apartment she shared with the ring head, a street-wise black, to get her things he was there and begin to threaten her. She called me. I thought to call the police but instead I went there myself. I questioned my own decision and I admit it was a bad one. But something inside me was curious. I wanted to know how I would measure up to the confrontation. As it was we just stared at each other. Becky then got her things. I mentioned it to another deputy and the word spread and I was summoned to the head office again. “Didn’t you even learn anything from the Vengi story you wrote?” my boss screamed. “From the cases you handled? We defend these people here. But out there they kill. Don’t forget it.”

This time I had to admit I was wrong. Maybe even lucky I didn’t end up a victim on a crime report. I had even jeopardized my client.


I started missing sunshine. There is none in a courthouse, the courtrooms sans windows, and that is where we were all day. My environment got darker when I was assigned to handling prelims in Judge Noel Canon’s courtroom. Her reputation for abuse of power was legendary: binding defendants over to Superior Court that should not be; locking public defenders in jail if she felt they did not follow her rules. Even Judges were not safe. As the Municipal Court Presiding Judge she arranged for one judge who had criticized her to receive nothing but drug prelims all day, every day. Courthouse buzz referred to her as Loose Canon or the Pink Lady for the consistent color of attire under her rob. Her dog and a gun often sat on her lap. The first day I arrived a bailiff looked at me and said I better bring a toothbrush as I was her type that she liked to lockup.

It wasn’t long before she and I were at odds. I would not back down on my cross-examination and she threatened me so much that once when she harangued a deputy D. A. she said she did it to “give equal time for Morantz.” She had a rule that Public Defenders could not leave her courtroom without her permission so to handle Becky’s case I had to have her see me in the courtroom. Canon recognized her and ordered me up to the bench, accused me of “amorous conduct” with a client and ordered the bailiff to lock me up. Imagine poor Becky seeing her appointed lawyer, her hope, dragged off. My only experience with handcuffs.

At Christmas time, per my urging, me and a diabetic deputy, who she had taken away his medicine before locking up, sent her a card with the embossed words “Noel….Noel” on the outside. Inside it was printed “One of the nice things about Christmas was knowing there are people like you in the world.” We both signed it. When she called my boss he assured her we really meant it as a true Christmas greeting. Then he gave me hell.

But Canon got back at me. The law stated if a preliminary hearing was not held within a specified time a case must be dismissed. Since the defendant can be re-arrested he usually agrees to the continuance in exchange for a release free of bail. My client, just 18, was accused of being part of gang that took a watch from a young kid. The people were not ready. Judge Canon continued the prelim 2-weeks past the last day allowed and would not release him as required on his own recognizance. His family was too poor to make bail. As I wasn’t allowed to leave the courtroom by telephone I arranged for another deputy to seek dismissal by a special writ in Superior Court. When the arresting detectives were notified upstairs he would be released they responded that it was OK as their investigation revealed the kid was in fact innocent. He just happened to have been at the scene when the police arrived. The D.A. said on the record charges would not be refiled.

I was in the court room when the order on the writ was handed to Judge Canon. She looked at me and then stormed off the bench to her chambers, ordering the bailiff to have a district attorney deputy come over and explain why the office did not try to support her ruling. I was enjoying it all very much.

Unfortunately no one ever explained to the defendant why he was released from jail. He thought he had been released on his own recognizance (0R) and being the good kid he was he returned to Judge Canon’s courtroom on the date she had continued his prelim to. By then I had been transferred to another court room. When Canon saw him in the morning she ordered him locked up. At the end of the day she brought him out and said his case had was dismissed and he could go home. When I heard what she did I made a report indicating by the writ order she knew the case had been dismissed when she incarcerated him. I went to the DA’s office and asked they arrest Canon for false imprisonment. The office declined. I took the report to U.S. Attorney’s office but it didn’t do anything either. Finally, I referred the kid to a civil lawyer and told him to sue the county.

The end finally came when I defended an hispanic Uncle accused of having his five year-old twin nephews each orally copulate him. The case was dismissed as the kids were too confused and uneducated to qualify to testify. It was clear they were scared. Outside, the Uncle thanked me. I looked at him and said, “I suggest you leave town. Go near those kids again and I will come after you myself.”

I knew then being a criminal defense lawyer was not my calling. I left the office in the spring of l973 and went back to dreams of writing.

Before doing so I asked out a court reporter I met in the Criminal Courts Building. We had been flirting a while and she said yes. But when I called her she told me she was not allowed to go out with me. She said she was very hurt by the breakup of her last relationship and she was being counseled by a group she joined to improve herself and they had instructed her not to go out with a man for six months. I could not change her mind and was surprised that some group could have such control over a person’s life. The group it turned out was Nichiren Shoshu. More and more I felt I was in Steve Brandt’s debt.


Television had begun making movies. Most were of the “T&A” variety. I thought maybe this new medium could be used for docudrama; serious stories that would entertain on the tube that could never be produced for theatrical audience desiring more entertainment. I whipped out a teleplay called the “Trials of Billy G.” based on my experiences as a public defender working juvenile and my experiences in college as a noon duty aid at a nearby all black grammar school. There I had spent a lot of time with the kids and was aware that older kids forced them to do burglaries because if they were caught they were treated leniently due to their age. Yet I felt they were great kids. I was at the school when news broke that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated and on their own a group of 10-to-12 year olds surrounded me and safely escorted me through the neighborhood to my car.

In my story a talented black Jr. high basketball player idolizes UCA’s Jamal Wilkes and dreams of playing for UCLA coach John Wooden. But his older brother is a gang banger and the local police expect him to follow in his footsteps. He’s a good kid but when forced to do burglaries he is caught and plunged into a cold hearted juvenile system. The story had a down ending.

Producer George Schenck of the famous Schenck movie mogul family read it but said stories like that are hard sells. He wanted to hire me to write on his projects. I declined wanting to do my own. Another producer that had just done a TV movie called “Gargoyles” said he wanted to produce it but let it sit for several months so I took it back. Beau Bridges said he would like to direct it but there it sat too. In the end it was never submitted anywhere. I believed when they told me TV would not go that direction and then watched as it did and saw many stories like mine appear.

I returned to straight journalism and began researching the story of pop singers Jan Berry and Dean Torrence (Jan and Dean). I had met Jan during a Palm Springs vacation while I was still at USC. The duo along with the Beach Boys sang the surf songs of the 60’s many written originally by the Beach Boy’s Brian Wilson and rewritten by Jan. The groups were so close they sang on each others songs. Dean even did the lead for the Beach Boy’s Barbara Ann. Jan and Dean hits included Little Old Lady From Pasadena, Sidewalk Surfing, Ride the Wild Surf and Linda. Their most known song, Deadman’s Curve, had become Jan’s personal paradox. Life had been easy for him. Handsome, a football star, “A” student , pre-med, his date list included Ann Margret and Yvette Mimieux. At the height of their career, Jan was drafted. Angrily he left the board and sped away in his stingray only to crash. Months later when he finally came out of a coma, one leg and hand were partly paralyzed and he suffered from aphasia. He had to learn to read, write and speak all over again. He fought back over years, learned humility he never had, and eventually went back on stage with Dean.

While researching the story I met a young reporter for the Los Angeles Times at a party thrown by ex journalism class mates. Narda Trout was nice, attractive but married to a deputy sheriff. At my request she agreed to read over my draft on Jan and Dean and one day we met for lunch to discuss it, although my real intent was to get to know her in case she got divorced. Neither of us had any idea that a year later by coincidence we would be following the same stories for almost a decade, only I would be a participant not a writer. She would divorce later and remarry and her by-line would change to Narda Zucchino. It was a meeting that years later I hoped Synanon would never discover as we were then thought of as “co-conspirators.”

My brother had an office in Westwood and for rent money I did part-time legal work for him and other lawyers on the same floor. I was pleasantly surprised when I got a call from Kent Richland of the State Attorney General’s office. He had my earlier report on Judge Canon and they were bringing administration proceedings to remove her from the bench based on my report and other violations. I ended up testifying while she sat in the defendant’s chair. She was permanently removed.

I revisited England for a month. While I was gone my Mother sold the house I was raised in on Cresta Dr. As if an omen, shortly after I returned, Cresta was run over by a car, dying in my arms. After grieving, I got a new border collie, Devon, named after a countryside I had been to during my trip where the sight of a border collie had made me miss her. Finding out later Cresta’s parents had another litter I walked off with a second male, Tommy; a round-about way of naming him after my first dog Troy (Tommy Trojan). I had thought then to find Devon a new home, but when someone answered an ad to buy him I couldn’t let him go. So I ended up renting a small run down bungalow in Culver City, the type of place renters end up with if they have two dogs.

Ultimately the three of us would have quite an experience together. My collision with Synanon was just a few years away.