The Price of Experience: Money, Power, Image, and Murder in Los Angeles
by Randall Sullivan
Atlantic Monthly Press, 706 pp., $27.50
You’ll Never Make Love in This Town Again Parrent
by and Tiffany Robin, Liza, Linda. as told to Jennie Louise Frankel, Terrie Maxine Frankel, and Joanne
Dove Books, 251 pp., $22.95
The most important fact to remember about Joseph Gamsky, other than his conviction for murder in the first degree and subsequent sentence to life imprisonment in the California penal system, is that during the mid-1970s he was a high school debater. Gamsky, in fact, was so confident of his ferocious forensic skills that, according to Randall Sullivan’s account in The Price of Experience, he was thrown off the debating squad after challenging his coach for not appointing him to the team captaincy he regarded as his by merit; the coach’s decision, he argued, was a deliberately ignominious slight that could not be countenanced.
This dust-up occurred at the Harvard School in the San Fernando Valley, at that time the best known of the private preparatory schools catering to the male children of well-to-do Los Angeles families. An Episcopalian military institution when it was founded near the turn of the century, Harvard for years had an implicit quota system that effectively limited the number of Jewish admissions. Then deep into the l960s, the military affiliation was eliminated, secularism encouraged, and quiet signals of acceptability were sent to the largely Jewish show-business community on the West Side of Los Angeles. Harvard remained the sort of school, however, where the apocryphal was accepted as fact; students were said to light their cigarettes with hundred-dollar bills, and it was claimed that a mother once drove her Rolls-Royce onto the football field to remove her injured son.
Joseph Gamsky was a scholarship student of ambiguous sexuality and a family background he preferred to keep mysterious. He took the bus to school, unlike most of his classmates, who arrived in their own cars, not a few of which were top of the line foreign models. After the failure of his debating team putsch, Gamsky maintained that he could no longer apply to Yale or Stanford, his early choices, because he did not wish to matriculate with the kind of people he had met at the Harvard School. When he graduated in 1977, he went to the University of Southern California, a school better known for its football team and Heisman Trophy winners (O.J. Simpson being the most prominent) than for academic excellence. One semester into his sophomore year, Gamsky dropped out of USC, never to return.
Then, in the spring of 1980, he ran into two Harvard School acquaintances, Dean Karny and Arben (“Ben”) Dosti, both of whom were studying at UCLA. Gamsky, now a six-foot-five-inch beanpole, had not lost the gift of gab that had served him so well as a school debater, or his flair for inventive personal aggrandizement. He told Karny and Dosti he had graduated from USC in three semesters, had been the youngest person ever to pass the CPA exam, was working in an accountancy firm in downtown Los Angeles, and had uncovered in his spare time the key to mastering the commodities market. If Gamsky was not exactly truthful, neither were his fabrications the kind Karny and …