Yesterday we lost Big John, our dear friend who was the most extraordinary portal to the weird, creative, anything-goes Los Angeles that used to be. John was a master craftsman, a builder of car washes, a teetotaler nightclub owner, designer of crooked gambling devices, fabricator of Bertoia Dandelion sculptures and Tesla inventions, desert rat prospector, Korean War hero, bookworm, linguist, mensch.
It is impossible to think we’ll never pick up the phone again to hear his sweet, sing-song voice and embark on whatever wild ride John’s imagination had in store for us. John was interested in everything, and knew more than was good for him. (Now that he’s gone, we can tell you that a mafioso regular at his La Cienega Boulevard piano bar Excusez-Moi told him, confidentially, that he was the one who shot John Kennedy.)
John spent the last few years of his life at the VA in Westwood, and the last ten months in strict COVID lockdown, with the telephone his escape from monotony. We handed John’s number out widely to pretty girls of Slavic descent and folks with questions about Los Angeles history, and he never failed to charm or to educate. But the virus got onto his floor in January, and after a brief illness, he succumbed to this damned disease and the government’s pandemic mismanagement.
While we can’t give you his phone number, we can share a slice of the big man’s storytelling. We recorded several podcast interviews with him in 2013. Here he tells the story of managing mid-century West Hollywood nightclubs. This episode is about his pal Charlie Sample, legendary Western silversmith and madcap Jazz Age millionaire. And here, he tells his father’s incredible journey to America. This only scrapes the surface, but what a surface.
There won’t ever be another one like Big John Maljevic. Goodbye, dear friend, with love.