Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Polk-Ing Around San Francisco: Anton LaVey in the City Directories

According to Blanche Barton's The Secret Life of a Satanist, after his September 4, 1951 marriage to Carole Lansing
Anton... combined his education in Criminology with his talents in photography in a job with the San Francisco Police Department as a police photographer. Once again, he was faced with the worst side of human nature on a daily basis. On call 24 hours a day, he would race across town to photograph a murder site, suicide, auto accident, explosion – anything that required an investigation because of the gravity of the situation.
This claim (like many others) has been disputed. Lawrence Wright found:
According to the San Francisco Police Department, no one named Howard or Anton LaVey or Levey ever worked for the force, nor does City College have a record of his enrollment. Frank Moser, a retired police officer who worked in the photo department during that time, says that LaVey was never in that department under any name.
Though I have not yet contacted the SFPD or San Francisco City College, I have examined some contemporary San Francisco city directories.  (The SFPL has kindly made a near-complete collection of directories from 1850 to 1982 available online).  Here are two listings for Anton S  LaVey: I've emphasized his stated career for each year.

While the 1952 directory is unavailable, I found this listing on page 719 of the 1953 directory.
Anton S (Carole) photographer h729 47th Ave  
And though there's no listing for Anton S or Carole LaVey in 1954,  page 750 of the 1955-6 city directory has:
Anton S (Carole) legal photographer h729 47th Ave 
So why were there no SFPD employee records for an Anton LaVey, Tony Levey, Howard Levey, etc.? One possible answer can be found in The Black Pope, Burton Wolfe's second edition of 1974's Devil's Avenger.  In the account LaVey gave Wolfe, after his marriage to Carole and the birth of his daughter Karla in 1952
Anton survived financially through part-time jobs playing organ and piano, and by shooting photos of damage caused in traffic accidents, fires, and street brawls... 
As Anton traveled around San Francisco looking for opportunities to sell photographs to insurance companies and the police, he sometimes came upon the results of humanity at its worst: homicides, suicides, damage from arson-caused fires, wrecked vehicles with injured or dead drivers or passengers immersed in blood, bodies hauled out of the San Francisco Bay where they had been tossed after murders or where they had wound up in a submerged automobile, the bodies of women maimed or killed by jealous lovers, men stabbed or shot by their “best friends,” children whose bodies were splattered on the sidewalk or street after being blasted by hit-run drivers. What sickened Anton almost as much as the disgusting scenes were the usual hordes of gawkers sucking sadistic pleasure out of the tragedies: sometimes after they had the opportunity to help prevent the outcome, but did nothing.  
While many police departments did and still do use freelance photographers, I do not know if the San Francisco Police Department ever did.  Even if they worked with freelancers I could not tell you how many pictures, if any, the SFPD purchased from a young Anton LaVey. And the directory publishers stated that they "cannot and do not guarantee the correctness of all information furnished to them." But what I do know is this: from 1953 to 1956 Anton LaVey listed himself as a "photographer" and then a "legal photographer" in the San Francisco City Directory. And I wonder why, more than fifteen years before The Satanic Bible saw print, he would lie about such a thing repeatedly.  Especially since there's abundant evidence that he was telling the truth when he later listed himself as an "organist" and then "organist at the Lost Week-End."

Were he not deceased, I'd talk to retired SFPD Inspector Jack Webb.  Inspector Webb told Lawrence Wright he "knew LaVey in the late forties or early fifties." It is a pity Wright didn't ask him about LaVey's early photography career or about his criminology courses. (If Webb's obituary was any indication, he would have been taking classes around the same time as LaVey). I wonder what that conversation might have revealed.