I keep hearing that back in the day, Portland was a mob town full of hit men, bootleggers and women of easy virtue. Could our currently milquetoast city really have such a colorful past? —Multnomah Fats
I was going to say I was wounded by your offhanded dismissal of the Rose City, Fats—“milquetoast”?—but then I realized that, given local levels of professed lactose intolerance and gluten allergy, we’d probably be hard-pressed to live up even to that dishwatery designation.
But it was not always thus, O weakly named, tubby pool-player of yore: Although (sadly for your oh-so-transparent fantasies) the women-of-easy-virtue business is a bit overstated, it is entirely true that, for one brief, shining moment, Portland was a national catchword for graft, corruption and guys with guns who addressed other guys with guns as “sweetheart.”
Return with us now to 1957: In an issue that, I shit you not, featured then-Sen. John F. Kennedy on the cover, Life magazine put Portland on the scumbag map with a photojournalistic package (“Senators Hear Tales of Scandal!”) on graft among Northwest Teamsters union officials.
Prodded by lead counsel Robert F. Kennedy (!), local racketeer James Elkins dropped the dime on Teamsters bigwigs Frank Brewster and Dave Beck, blowing the lid off Portland rackets from pinball to prostitution.
(As a labor Democrat, I would like to point out that any organization can fall temporarily under the sway of criminal elements, whether that organization is a union, Congress or—most frighteningly—a homeowners’ association.)
This local airing of Beck and Brewster’s dirty laundry cleared the Teamsters decks for a bright and (ahem) squeaky-clean newcomer named James P. “Jimmy” Hoffa to ascend to the Teamsters throne.
The whole fracas generated enough heat to spawn an exploitation film noir, Portland Exposé, that same year. First to find and screen a print wins an artisan meth lab.