The Georges Montalba Mystery
Magistra Blanche Barton, Anton LaVey’s biographer, responds to an article published in the Village Voice which doubts a connection between LaVey and Montalba.
Dear Mr. Bosler,
I feel compelled to clear up a few misconceptions you have about Anton LaVey. When you wrote your article, “Satan’s Helper…” for the Village Voice a couple of weeks ago, you obviously had only limited information from a single, very unreliable, source (namely his disgruntled daughter, Zeena Schreck). As a journalist, I’m sure your calling is to seek the truth, not to blindly slander those who are no longer around to defend themselves. So, in case you write any further on the subject or know someone who is planning to, here are some facts to rebut Mrs. Schreck’s self-serving lies. Let’s take it from the top:
1) Anton LaVey doesn’t have a reputation for making claims that are untrue, except in Zeena Schreck’s mind. He had a varied and fascinating life. Some people who no longer live lives but only watch them on the big screen, on CNN or on the Internet have a hard time believing that imaginative, driven people used to actually do wild and unexpected things. In 1960, people didn’t have a hard time believing that the same man who once played oboe in the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra could also have been a circus roustabout and cage boy, or a runner for the early Vegas boys. He was standing right in front of them—he demonstrated his skills and shared his recollections. And the people that he had known in the circus, in the carnival, from his musical days and on the police force, were all hanging out together at his house by the beach, or in the notorious Victorian on California Street. They had lived varied lives and done some interesting things themselves, or they wouldn’t have been sitting there. But times, and people, have changed. And a vocal few, who are offended by Anton LaVey’s philosophy or jealous of his success do their best to undermine him any way they can, including “robbing” him of his memories, as he used to say. Sometimes those who are offended or threatened by Satanism are fed by the convenient lies of those who are emotionally and intellectually withered. Do you see how that might happen, Mr. Bosler?
2) There was no “divorce case” between Diane Hegarty and Anton LaVey—they were never married.
3) Diane “LaVey” was never a co-founder of the Church of Satan. She was never listed as such on any Church of Satan corporate papers. She was the acting High Priestess from 1966 to 1984, during the time of her relationship with Anton LaVey.
4) Anton LaVey did not “die destitute.” He made more money the last year of his life than he’d ever made before. He grossed well into the high five-figures in 1997. I should know; I lived with him for 13 years and it was up to me to prepare his accounts for his tax man. He was never a millionaire, but he always had plenty of money to buy whatever cars, keyboards, books and guns he wanted.
5) There were no “forged Church of Satan documents” claiming Anton LaVey died on Halloween. Dr. Giles Miller didn’t get around to issuing the official death certificate until November 4th, 1997. He’s the one who listed the date of Anton LaVey’s death as 10/31/97. No one from the Church of Satan had anything to do with it—we couldn’t have if we’d wanted to. It’s an official document, filed with the city. I don’t know why the attending physician listed Halloween as the Satanic High Priest’s date of death; I never even met Dr. Miller until the night before Mr. LaVey passed away. I simply took it as one more interesting grace note in LaVey’s fascinating legacy. But it is telling that Mrs. Schreck was so offended by it she had to file an amendment to her father’s death certificate to make sure that it didn’t go into the history books that way.
6) About the royalties for the Montalba recordings that weren’t listed in the court records of Diane’s 10-year legal rampage against Anton LaVey…. I don’t believe LaVey ever did get paid for the Montalba recordings. That’s why there were no royalties or rights listed. And besides, as you say, the records were originally pressed many decades ago, so any payment Anton LaVey might have received would have been a long time ago, and no longer pertinent.
7) “Howard Stanton Levey,” as Mrs. Schreck is so fond of calling her father (when she isn’t calling him her “unfather” among other more unprintable epithets) was far from being simply an “organ enthusiast.” He was a classically- trained, professional violinist, oboist, organist, calliopist (the only musician listed under calliope in the San Francisco union directory for at least one year…also the only one listed under “band organ” and “una-fon”). His parents saw he had musical talent when he plucked out a tune on a harp in a music store when he was five. They paid for violin lessons, but LaVey was more drawn to the piano and oboe. As a youth, he became the second chair oboist for the S.F. Ballet Orchestra. LaVey was hired to play the largest pipe organ west of Chicago—the huge Austin concert model in San Francisco’s Civic Auditorium. The people who hired him were so floored by his playing that LaVey eventually became the city organist, playing for San Francisco cultural events, games, and conventions. He was chosen to be the last person to play the grand organ in the San Francisco Fox Theater, which was, before the city dunderheads decided to tear it down, probably one of the more elaborate and opulent movie theaters ever built. Zeena’s mother, Diane, was there. They were dating at the time and Diane wanted to attend the gala farewell to the Fox. When she couldn’t get the night off, she quit. LaVey had a repertoire of thousands of songs committed to memory, and he practiced his compelling arrangements several hours each day on keyboards he painstakingly programmed. All this is to say, Anton LaVey was not just an “organ enthusiast.” Music defined his life and much of his philosophy.
8) The name issue is a big one for Zeena Schreck; only her psychiatrist could say why. I’ve seen Anton LaVey’s social security card and it says “Howard Anton LaVey”. I’ve also seen books from his childhood that are inscribed, in a child-like hand, “Anton Szandor LaVey.” His father spelled his last name “LeVey”; Anton’s uncle spelled his name “LaVey.” Their original family name was “Boehm,” which was changed to “LeVey” at Ellis Island when Anton’s grandfather came into this country from LeVey, France. LaVey’s birth name might have been “Howard Stanton LeVey” for all I know; I’ve never cared enough to actually send to Chicago for his birth certificate (but it matters so much to Zeena that she probably has). It should go without saying, of course, that if it’s good enough for Bernard Schwartz and Reginald Dwight and Norma Jean Mortenson and Thomas Mapother, IV (Tom Cruise’s original name), it doesn’t offend me that Anton Szandor LaVey altered his name to one more reflective of his personality and imagination. Parents can be supportive and loving, but shouldn’t be expected to be prescient. We don’t assume Tony Curtis or Elton John are any less sincere, talented or truthful regarding their past just because they changed their names. (I’m sure Mr. Dammit would agree.) Zeena seems to want to make some leap that if LaVey “lied” about his name, then he’s lied about his past and his writing and his philosophy. That simply is not true. I did the responsible and necessary research to support the facts of LaVey’s life when I wrote my biography of Anton LaVey. Beyond that, I was close enough to him for 13 years to run across many documents and people from his past that all reflect the extraordinary life he’s led. Why does the NAME bother Zeena? Perhaps Zeena and her neo-Nazi husband (who has also changed his name) are offended by the possibility that her own father’s original name (if it is truly “LeVey” on his birth certificate) might be read as “Levy”? As I say, only her psychiatrist knows for sure.
9) I won’t try to clear up any of your misconceptions about Satanists. Your personal feelings come through loud and clear in your description of us as an aggregate of disenfranchised, clueless, suburban youth. This wasn’t supposed to be an article about contemporary Satanism, so I wouldn’t have expected you to do even the most elementary reading on the topic, like The Satanic Bible. A quick peek at The Secret Life of a Satanist would have served you well, but it seems you either chose not to read it or ignored it because Mrs. Schreck no doubt said it was fluff. The accuracy and tone of your article suffers greatly as a result.
10) “He (LaVey) released two classical gothic albums”…. I don’t know what “classical gothic” music is, but I assure you Anton LaVey’s recordings are neither classical music nor Gothic music. Anyone picking them up expecting either of those broad types of music would be sorely disappointed. He has always favored, as I discussed extensively in the biography, what he best called “No Bullshit music.” As he said, he liked, “Straight renditions, not jazzed up or be-bopped; but augmented, supercharged, to bring out the real strengths of the piece.” That was true whether he was playing circus music or romantic popular ballads from the 30’s and 40’s. He was an advocate for evocative music and, though I’m sure it’s another thing he’ll never receive due credit for, he was one behind the 80’s “rediscovery” of the beautiful music and styles from the 1940’s and 1950’s. LaVey never claimed to be a “musician’s musician,” but as you rightly say, he was indisputably a captivating and unique organist.
11) Ah, Zeena Schreck—musician, actress, photographer, writer, ex-High Priestess extraordinaire…. Well, you’ve obviously had more recent contact with her than I have. Perhaps you’ve heard some of her music that convinced you of her qualifications as a musician. All I’ve heard are a bad rendition of “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ ” and some tortured, pretentious recordings she’s done with her husband and their “Radio Werewolf” band. Writer? She wrote an introduction to her father’s book, The Satanic Witch, which the editor had to rewrite almost entirely and is replacing for the new edition. I haven’t seen anything else except a slanderous multi-page rage against her father (do you see a theme emerging in Mrs. Schreck’s life, Mr. Bosler?). Photographer? Actress? I haven’t seen evidence of either skills. She called herself “High Priestess” in a couple of interviews when she was promoting her father’s book in 1989. Her sister, Karla, has done the same thing. Zeena never actually helped in the day-to-day administration of the Church since she was in high school (if then) nor were either of them listed on any Church of Satan documents as “High Priestess.” I do agree that, at age three, she was the world’s first famous Satanic toddler. But as far as I can see of her accomplishments, it’s all been downhill from there.
12) Short version of the story: Zeena Schreck got mad at Daddy because he wouldn’t give her the Church of Satan. She asked for it, he said no. She stomped her feet, picked up her toys and fabricated reasons to hate him. She’s still doing it. Like so many celebrity kids, she’s built an identity for herself by painting her father as a lying, abusive, talentless, selfish S.O.B. That’s why she’s “dealt with an endless list of untruths from LaVey’s name to his Gypsy heritage….” She finds great joy and satisfaction in trying to discredit her father, and, by doing that, gains praise from all the wrong people, who have their own agendas which she’s feeding. She was more than willing, however, to acknowledge Anton LaVey as her father when it came time for the division of his assets after his death, even though she’d refused to speak to him for the last 7 years of his life, and gave herself credit for killing him with a “ritual curse.” I could bore you with a long list of negative adjectives describing Mrs. Schreck, such as ungrateful, short-sighted, self-absorbed, cruel to her father, her son and to most of us who have tried to extend friendship to her...but that’s subjective and unnecessary. Her motives should be transparent to a writer of your position. I’ll simply repeat the phrase I’m sure you’re familiar with but didn’t apply to your advantage in this case: “Always consider the source.”
Now that I’ve tried to clear away some of the dross, let’s get to the real point of your article. Was Georges Montalba really Anton LaVey? The answer is “yes”—part of him was. And the funny thing is (I hesitate to use the word “ironic” because of overuse, but that’s a word that fits here), it was Zeena herself who promoted the idea that Georges Montalba was her father. Zeena was living in Los Angeles in the late 80’s and she walked into a friend’s house (she had friends in those days, not just toadies)—the friend happened to be playing a Montalba record. She immediately recognized LaVey’s style of playing Danse Macabre and blurted, “That’s my father!” The orchestration and phrasing on that recording are unmistakably Anton LaVey. I’ve heard him play the precise percussion and voicing note for note at least 200 times. Other cuts on the “Fantasy in Pipe Organ and Percussion” album, as well as most of Montalba’s “Pipe Organ Favorites,” are clearly LaVey playing. Some of the songs are just as clearly not LaVey playing, and the styles are distinctly different. Zeena herself enthusiastically pointed out the obvious Montalba connection whenever she could...not Anton LaVey. LaVey probably never got a penny from the recordings. It’s likely he didn’t even know he was on them until someone brought the records to his attention. But I do know he was spending a lot of time in Los Angeles studios in the late 40’s and early 50’s—even in San Francisco in the early 1960’s when he was still playing the mighty Wurlitzer at the Lost Weekend cocktail lounge in the Bay Area, among others gigs. He was paid to accompany many giggling would-be singers who had sugar daddies who believed in their musical careers enough to finance a demo. LaVey was never shy about playing; it was a method of enchantment and communication for him. I can well imagine him gleefully carrying on with one terrific song after another into the wee hours of the morning with some sound engineers, who might not have even gotten his name. But when it came time to fill out a “Montalba” record that was running short, why not throw on some of that good stuff from that guy that was in here last month?
I don’t want to take away anything from Mr. Hunter, or his family. He was an accomplished musician with a remarkable past who deserves due credit for his lengthy career. It’s great when any organist gets this kind of attention in today’s synthesized society. I’m sure Mr. Dammit was thorough in his research and most likely did track down one of the “Montalba”s. But it’s clear from listening to the recordings that one man did not do them all. Just as the pulp magazines like Amazing Stories and Weird Tales used “house names” under which several different writers wrote stories, it seems there were at least two people recorded under the Montalba name. Pulp collectors take great delight in tracking down the names of the various writers who used a particular house name. There might be more musicians besides Mr. LaVey and Mr. Hunter that were the “real” Montalba. If I wanted to develop a list, I’d try to find the producers or sound engineers for Stereo-Fidelity Records, or the manufacturer of the Montalba “Fantasy” recording—Miller International Co. in Media, PA. Even if Stereo-Fidelity is no longer in existence, there would have to be court papers filed somewhere for the company, on which names would be included. I would think they would be much more reliable and objective sources than obviously envious, vindictive offspring. I can’t believe this is the first time you’ve encountered such people in your professional career. Do you usually give them such credence, or was Mrs. Schreck just feeding into your expectations so much you couldn’t resist using her as your primary source?
When all is said and done, I’m sure Mr. Dammit and yourself would admit that the recording of Danse Macabre that Mr. Dammit enjoyed so much isn’t suddenly less enjoyable just because you know it was recorded by the Devil’s Advocate. I love “Montalba” ’s distinctly wicked renditions and will be among the first to purchase them. As long as the recordings are being re-issued, they’ll be available to those who know the real story—whatever you choose to think the “real” story is. I guarantee that both you and Mr. Dammit, if you’d had the opportunity, would have enjoyed a much more invigorating and enlightening evening of music and jokes with Anton LaVey than you ever would suffering through an evening of strained bitterness with Zeena Schreck. LaVey was an authentic, deep-feeling man, as anyone who really listens to his music can immediately tell—his intensity shines through in every carefully-crafted chord. Would Mr. Dammit have been so eager to re-issue these gems if he thought they were recorded by the Black Pope? Perhaps not. The funniest thing is that, were he still alive, Anton LaVey might very well remember Robert Hunter, as he remembered so many musicians in those circles. He would probably have gotten a good chuckle from the whole convoluted tale, and be pleased that the recordings are gaining the appreciative audience they deserve.
San Diego, California
13 August, 2002 C.E.