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By 1955 a twenty-year-old Victor was entering the new culture of beatniks, music, art and drugs

that Jack Kerouac would capture in On the Road, which was published in 1956. He and his
friend Herb Cohen decided to open a coffee shop. They would become partners in the traditional
sense; Herb would manage the business, and Victor would design and build the look and feel of
the cafe. That year, in all of the city, there wasnt a single counterculture hangout or coffee shop.
What they were planning was the first of its kind for Los Angeles: a home for live music and
poetry; a reading room with a collection of hip books and ample space to play chess. It would
quickly become a place where rebellion could thrive.
They found a perfect location in the heart of Hollywood at 8907 Sunset Blvd, the center of the
Sunset Strip. Together they named the cafe: the Unicorn. For marketing they put posters up in
liberal bookstores, music venues and any place that had a sense of hipness and a taste for folk
music. Their posters were hand drawn with large hippie-looking characters playing guitars and
sipping espressos. Swirling lines intertwined with slogans such as, Where casual craznicks
climb circular charcoal curbs for cool calculated confabulations and Espresso espression
sessions on the patio. The cafe was painted entirely black inside and pictures of nude women
hung upside down on the walls. They were defining what hip was and they nailed it. Once the
place was built, Victor would reach out to musician friends and poets to book performances at
the cafe.
When they opened the doors, the Unicorn was instantly a hit. Queues would stretch down the
street and around the block. They had tapped right into something bigger than themselves, a
cultural divide precipitated by the strict mentality of the 1950s. What they created didnt happen
by chance, it was built by the entropy of a jaded youth reaching out for something to identify
with. My father told me on many occasions about the feeling in the air at this time, as if everyone
was waiting for something to happen. Some change of consciousness, like a giant wave that
starts way out in the middle of the ocean. You know its coming, you just dont know when itll
arrive or how big its going to be. The venues for this revolution were being built, like the
Unicorn; Victor would say they just needed a figurehead, a voice. They were waiting for
someone to show up on the scene, someone who could reach across the oceans and connect
people.
Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper, Odetta, Peter Fonda and many other Hollywood A-listers would
come to the Unicorn and hang out. Victor came up with a novel idea of putting brandy extract in
lattes, which then became the must-have trendy drink of 1958. Worried parents would call in,
asking why their teenage daughters and sons smelled like whiskey after an evening at the cafe.
Police would routinely stop in and check for alcohol in the drinks but to their dismay couldnt
find any, despite the strong odor of whiskey.
In the evenings Lenny Bruce would come by after working at Duffys Gaieties and stage his own
special comedy shows. Bruces rise to the status of cultural icon began in the mid-1950s. The
iconoclastic edginess that would be his trademark was developed at the Unicorn and other clubs
on the Sunset Strip. In his autobiography, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, Bruce
describes the importance of the freedom that came from venues like this:
Four years working in clubsthats what really made it for meevery night: doing it, doing it,
doing it, getting bored and doing different ways, no pressure on you, and all the other comedians
are drunken bums who dont show up, so I could try anything.
Police were troubled by Bruces use of the word cocksucker, and his use of the phrase to
come (in a sexual sense) to the point that he was arrested for a performance at the Unicorn.
Herb and Victor also hired the hippest waitresses. They were referred to as being as mean as
snakes, women fallen from grace. Waitresses would stare you down with menacing glares and
have little appetite for wasting their time with your service. Departing from the chivalry of the
1950s, when service was king, these unruly waitresses were trend-setters in their own right.
Once, Steve McQueen was accidentally denied entry due to overcrowding, when the hostess
tending the door didnt recognize him and didnt care. It was the hottest spot in Hollywood,
which put Victor in the center of the counterculture movement in Los Angeles. The following
year, people trying to replicate the success of the Unicorn would open clones all around Los
Angeles.
Paul Butterfield was an American blues vocalist and harmonica player who founded the Paul
Butterfield Blues Band in the early 1960s and performed at the original Woodstock Festival. In
1966 Paul used the Unicorn to record his bands album The Butterfield Blues Band Live at
Unicorn Coffee House.
During the time of the Unicorn Cafe, Victor moved to Topanga Canyon, a hippie community on
the outskirts of Los Angeles in the Santa Monica Mountains. There he settled in with his friend
Will Geer, who had a large estate. The same A-list attendees of the Unicorn would also take
refuge at Will Geers place with Victor. Woody Guthrie, Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, the group
Peter, Paul and Mary and the singer Odetta were just a few of the people Victor became close
friends with while living there.
Victor and his business partner started having issues with each other. Money and greed caused
conflict in their relationship. Herb had a reputation for being abrasive and tough. The American
folk rock musician, record producer and arranger Jerry Yester is quoted as saying:
Herbie was a lot scarier than people would think. Theyd think he was a kind of pudgy Jewish
guy, but he was absolutely terrifying in conflict. I mean, he had a box of hand grenades in the
trunk of his car.
Herb Cohen started managing bands in the early 1960s. The first band was the Modern Folk
Quartet, followed by the Mothers of Invention with Frank Zappa. Later Cohen and Zappa created
several record labels, DiscReet, Straight and Bizarre. Alice Cooper, Captain Beefheart, Lenny
Bruce, Ted Nugents band the Amboy Dukes all released albums through Cohen and Zappas
record labels. Linda Ronstadt once said that Cohen wasnt one to coddle his artists, he didnt let
me get caught up with my reflection in the mirror. Herb Cohen signed Linda Ronstadt after
hearing her perform at the Troubadour in Los Angeles during an open mic night. Victor wasnt
the only one who found it difficult to maintain a relationship with Herb Cohen; one by one his
business ventures with Frank Zappa, Linda Ronstadt and even Tom Waits ended in lawsuits. Jac
Holzman, founder of Elektra Records, says that something always went wrong at the end
regarding Cohens business relationships.
After a falling out with Herb Cohen on the business side of the Unicorn, in the late 1950s Victor
moved on to promoting concerts and getting deeper into the music scene. He partnered with Dan
Gordon, Odettas husband, to form a production company. They named themselves Dandetta
Productions and started putting on shows with Miles Davis, Hugh Romney (Wavy Gravy), the
Clancy Brothers, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, Lenny Bruce, Ramblin Jack Elliott and most
importantly Odetta herself. Their main venue was the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. In
addition to promoting concerts, Victor took on trying to manage Wavy Gravy and Ramblin Jack
Elliott and began booking shows for them at cafes and little clubs around the country.
Wavy Gravy, born Hugh Nanton Romney, was a clown in the literal sense and used his talents in
comedy to become a political pundit. Romneys clown persona actually resulted from his
political activism. The police at demonstrations frequently apprehended him, so he decided he
would be less likely to be arrested if he dressed as a clown. Clowns are safe, he would say.
Ramblin Jack, on the other hand, was a folky country singer who Victor met in 1952. Ramblin
Jack was born as Elliot Charles Adnopoz in Brooklyn to Jewish parents in 1931. He acquired his
fascination with cowboy culture as a boy from attending rodeos at Madison Square Garden. His
fascination led him to run away from home at age fifteen and join a touring rodeo founded by
Colonel Jim Eskew. His rebellion was fueled by his fathers relentless pressure on him to
become a surgeon. Young Ramblin Jack lasted three months on the tour before his parents
tracked him down and had him sent home. His parents physically removed him from the cowboy
lifestyle but the impression left by a singing rodeo clown on the tour named Brahmer Rogers
imprinted options for a new identity that he would later adopt in life. Back home, rather than
taking up medical school, Elliott taught himself guitar and started busking for a living. Through
the years, his love of music took him on a path straight to Woody Guthrie, with whom he stayed
and worked as an apprentice. In 1952 Ramblin Jack introduced Victor to numerous provocative
people, including Ralph Bellamy, then president of the Screen Actors Guild, Woody Guthrie and
his close friend Cisco Houston, an American folksinger who lived over the hill from Los Angeles
in the San Bernardino Valley. It was Ramblin Jack who originally brought Victor to Will Geers
in Topanga Canyon. Victor would continue to work with Wavy and Ramblin Jack throughout
the fifties and early sixties.
Then in 1961, Ramblin Jack and Wavy, on separate occasions, told my father that he needed to
go to the Gaslight in New York City and meet a promising new kid on the folk scene by the
name of Bob Dylan.

Copyright 2014 by Jacob Maymudes