Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Johnny Lewis, Son of Anarchy, or the Perils of being a Hollywood Landlord

Last week the Internet was abuzz with the story of Johnny Lewis, a 28-year-old actor, who’s had supporting roles in action flicks like Aliens vs. Predator (Requiem). Until recently Lewis was best known for playing Kip "Half-Sack" Epps in the first two seasons of Sons of Anarchy, an FX series about an outlaw biker gang. After leaving the show, he had multiple run-ins with the law for real. In the past year alone, he was arrested three times, on charges ranging from burglary to assault. Drug abuse and mental illness were apparently at the root of his problems, which reached a sad resolution on September 26 when he fatally bludgeoned his landlady, then jumped or fell to his death.

I can’t help taking these matters somewhat personally. You see, I too have been involved in renting out Southern California apartments. Fortunately, I’ve never run into anyone (in or out of the Industry) as anarchic as Johnny Lewis. But when you’ve got rental units to fill in the L.A. area, there’s a good chance that some of your applicants will have show biz connections. One candidate, I remember, was employed by Wesley Snipes’ production company. He had a responsible position, but I was worried about the long term. With justification, as it turns out —- Snipes is now serving a prison sentence for tax evasion. Then there was the tenant who had just split from her husband, a member of a gold-record-winning rock group. She had plenty of money . . . and a parade of suitors who did not make my life any easier.

I recently met a couple who, in their retirement years, moved into a swanky condo perched just above the beach in Santa Monica. The view is spectacular, and the building attracts high-living Hollywood types. As an investment, the couple purchased a second unit, which they rent out to the occasional celebrity. Sad to say, the Backstreet Boys trashed the place. But a more recent tenant, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, turned out to be a neat freak, much interested in matters of interior décor.

When I first heard the news about Johnny Lewis, I was immediately bothered by the fact that all the sympathy seemed to be going to him. One early Los Angeles Times article opened with Kurt Sutter, the creator of the Sons of Anarchy series, who had tweeted, “it was a tragic end for an extremely talented guy, who unfortunately had lost his way.” In L.A., it seems, it’s all about the celebrity, never the civilian who stumbles into his path.

It’s taken almost a week for the news media to turn its attention to Lewis’s victim, the unfortunate 81-year-old landlady. What I’ve learned about her is heartbreaking. And shocking to me personally, because I realized I had met her. Catherine Davis was the mother of Margaret Leslie Davis, an award-winning journalist and biographer whom I got to know while hobnobbing with a local biographers’ group. Mother and daughter came together to one of our gatherings, and they made a delightful pair.

What I didn’t know then is that Catherine Davis, who regularly rented out rooms to actors and writers, was considered by those who knew her “a Hollywood legend. A near saint.” Her charming 1927 hillside home in the Los Feliz district was informally known as the “Writer’s Villa,” because of the way Davis collected creative types and gave them TLC in a salon-like atmosphere. Among her former tenants are such luminaries as George Clooney, Parker Posey, Val Kilmer, Paula Poundstone, and Thomas Jane. But now she’s gone. Catherine Davis deserved so much better.


  1. Wow. She did. The story seemed to be skewed differently over this way - as the young man was not treated so sympathetically. However, there also was little focus on his victim, Catherine Davis.

    I was planning to watch Sons of Anarchy at some point - I probably still will, but it will be marred for me when this murderer appears onscreen. The same is true for movies that star a certain former Hertz spokesman. It's just no fun to see him pop up in the movies he did in the 70's any more.

    I hope your tenants all prove more stable, amen.

  2. Yes, amen to that. Under the circumstances it's hard to differentiate: was Lewis a monster, a brain-addled addict, or a very sick young man? But, needless to say, the end results are the same. Given what I've been reading, it's shocking that he was ever released from jail so quickly after his other recent heinous acts.

  3. Somehow or other I've missed this story, but what terrible news. And equally terrible that the salacious and savage take precedence over the kindness and normality of distinguishably good people.