On the Town

We may be onto something here. People seem to agree that it wouldn't hurt our tourism business at all if we put out the word that something actually happens here in P-town.

Furthermore, a fairly inexpensive way to do so would be to put nice-looking plaques around town, reminding everyone of some of P-town's more fascinating characters.

Such as John Reed, homegrown writer and political romantic, who died of typhus in Moscow in 1920, after covering the Russian Revolution.

His adventures were chronicled in the Academy Award-winning movie 'Reds.' In fact, some of the movie was even set here.

And if Reed deserves a plaque - which he certainly does - then there should be one for Louise Bryant, whom he swept off her feet while she was still married to a Portland dentist who once lived at the Portland Yacht Club down by the Sellwood Bridge.

Every city needs a great love story, and this is ours. As usual, all we have to do is stake our claim.

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And, of course, there's Portland's celebrity cookbook author, James Beard - the 'original foodie,' as one reader noted after I left him off the initial list of candidates.

That list, for the record, includes Sammy Davis Jr., Woody Guthrie, Christopher Isherwood, Tempest Storm, Rod McKuen, the Kingsmen, Willie Nelson, Mel Blanc, Matt Groening and Gus Van Sant.

Other P-town luminaries suggested by readers:

Lincoln High grad Mark Rothko, an early abstract expressionist painter. As noted recently in this space, one of his paintings is about to be auctioned off in New York for more than $400,000.

Johnnie Ray, the Franklin High graduate who, back in the early '50s - after Frank Sinatra peaked and before Elvis came along - had the smash hit 'Cry.' Before he hit the big time, Johnnie was a regular on Portland's bustling nightclub scene.

Speaking of which, how about a plaque for rackets boss Al Winter, who, during Portland's wide-open, post-World War II years, operated the Turf Club, an all-purpose gambling establishment, at 525 S.E. Stark St. The building's still there, if you want to take a look.

If I were you, though, I wouldn't say no to Big Al.

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Not that Portland has ever suffered from a lack of colorful scoundrels, you understand - starting at least as far back as the famed Bunko Kelly, king of the crimps.

What that means, of course, is that he was in the business of shanghaiing sailors.

During the late 1800s, Portland was notorious throughout the civilized world for the shanghaiing that went on here. Since it's a fact, anyway, why not celebrate it?

And while we're at it, how about Liverpool Liz, who operated a floating brothel in the middle of the Willamette back in those good old days.

Or celebrity gangster Mickey Cohen, who used to do business for the mob here in P-town in the '50s. When in town, he liked to stay at the old Multnomah Hotel, or the Embassy Suites, as it's called today.

Or D.B. Cooper, who, on a cold dark November night in 1971, hijacked a Northwest Orient flight out of Portland International, then parachuted into the night with $200,000, never to be seen again.

And to think, it all happened in P-town.

Contact Phil Stanford by phone, 503-546-5166, or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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