With the news of Mickey Rooney's death making the headlines around the world today, I thought I would post this excerpt from my book, My Father Was a Gangster: The Jim Vaus Story....
My father didn’t make much money working for the police. So, to ease his cash flow problem, he ordered electronic equipment using forged purchase orders. He usually chose major movie studios to sponge off of. He would have the equipment delivered to a phony address then pick it up, but have it charged to the studio. Dad saved a lot of money that way and the police never knew they were solving crimes with stolen equipment.
Wiretapping for the L. A. P. D., along with all the publicity from the Brenda Allen case, led to my father working for a man named Barney Ruditsky, a retired New York cop who ran a private detective agency on the Sunset Strip. Not long after my parent’s return from their honeymoon, Barney called up Dad to say, “Hey Jim, I’ve got a hot job for you if you can get over here right away.” My father responded pronto. When he arrived in Barney’s office he found Mickey Rooney sitting there along with his manager and attorney. The manager was holding a fan made up of five one-hundred-dollar bills. Rooney said, “It’s for you, Vaus, if you can tap into the phone number on this piece of paper in the next five minutes.”
My father was a big man, 250 pounds at the time, but he could move fast when he wanted to. Before the five minutes were up he was recording a conversation on the desired phone number.
“That’s my houseboy,” laughed Rooney. “He’s making a bet. And he always loses money on the ponies, poor guy!”
Rooney wasn’t in Barney Ruditsky’s office to listen to his houseboy. But five minutes later he got what he wanted. My father recorded a conversation where Rooney’s wife was talking intimately to another man. This got Rooney and his lawyer the evidence they needed to prove adultery for Rooney’s upcoming divorce case. It nabbed my father $500 for fifteen minutes of work.
At that time in the State of California, property had to be divided equally upon a divorce, unless one spouse could prove that the other had committed adultery. That day in Barney Ruditsky’s office my father hit the vein of a gold mine. Rooney referred Dad to Errol Flynn, whose wife was having an affair with Dick Haymes. Dick Haymes’ wife was running around with John Ireland, and so on. It was a game of musical beds that would make any television soap opera today look tame by comparison. My father made a lot of cash off of these movie stars and other notables like band leader Xavier Cugat.
There were no collection problems in this line of work either. If someone wouldn’t pay my father for the work he had done, he would threaten to sell the recording to the spouse. This was usually enough to get payment in full, immediately. If it wasn’t, then Dad would sell to the other side of the family.
There were moments when my father nearly got caught, like the time he set out to bug actress Joanne Drew’s house. Dad was flat on his back in the crawl space under the house when he heard footsteps above. He stayed hidden until there was no more noise for quite some time, then casually crawled out from underneath the house. Unfortunately one of Joanne Drew’s neighbors was watching, but that didn’t fluster Dad. He just picked up his tool box, waved and then took off in his car. He found in these sorts of situations that if he acted confident, no one paused to ask questions.
Soon Dad’s wiretapping business grew. It came to include private companies spying on their competitors as well as politicians investigating their rivals. But that was nothing compared to the door of opportunity that was about to open for him.
You may learn more about the book by clicking here: My Father Was a Gangster