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The Fast Life of Johnny Exeter Junior

21 Feb

February 21, 2011

Johnny Exeter Jr. lived fast and died young. He was the apple of his father’s eye, but the apple was rotten.

My name is Russell. Hollywood they call me. Hollywood Russell. I hear things. And this is a story of wrecked cars, wrecked marriages, and wrecked lives.

From a young age, it was clear that Johnny Exeter Jr. was trouble. By age 13 Sr. had had enough. More than enough. It was off to the military academy for the kid. It was 1915 and Sr. was angling to get the kid a commission. But like a bad penny, the kid was back- and so were his hell-raising ways.

Sr. pulled some strings and got the kid into Stanford when he was old enough, but they cut the strings soon enough and tossed Jr. out. Allegations of booze and fast women were only the printable rumors.

Records show that Sr. shelled out a lot of dough covering the kid’s bad habits. The small checks were simple- $274 to pay for a wrecked car. The big ones not so simple- $25,000 to send pregnant girlfriend Flossie Windsor to France for a couple of years.

By 1926 Jr. was engaged and it was Daddy buying the ring. And the house, and the honeymoon. In Sr.’s mind, little Johnny Jr. could do no wrong, and his marriage to Helen Audubon was just the thing. Never mind the little matter of the Windsor woman and her little Exeter Junior Jr. cooling her heels in France.

By 1928 Johnny Exeter Jr. had a house in New Haven, a wife, and a blackmailer.

A tiger can’t change his spots, and Jr. was a tiger when it came to women. This is where Tony Sponetti entered the picture.

Sponetti was a cheap hood I’d rolled up a few years before for some petty larceny. Now he was back and the skell had an eye on the Exeter cash. On a trip to Atlantic City while his wife was home, Sponetti noticed that Exeter Jr. was making time with Michelle Lander, a dancer in a small speakeasy off the Boardwalk.

Michelle Lander was a sexy platinum blonde with an eye for money and a body to get it. Exeter was no easy mark- he was the easiest. He hooked himself. Soon Sponetti was getting $500 a week, from daddy Sr.’s account, to keep his trap shut. It was sweet.

Sr. spared no expense when it came to his son. First the wedding expenses, then the Sponetti dough, then the quickie Reno divorce.

By 1929 Helen Audubon, a woman who looked the other way, and often, finally had enough and Jr. dropped her without even a thank you. That put Sponetti on ice, especially when Jr. did the legal ring-a-ding and remarried. But not to Michelle Lander. That honey pot had been left in Atlantic City to attract the local bees.

From here the Exeter Jr. story falls into the usual mess a man with limited morals and unlimited cash makes for himself. Married and divorced three more times by 1935, in debt and bailed out a dozen more, Exeter Jr. was finally making a go of a small gin mill when Sponetti came back.

Sponetti had stewed since he lost the cash from the Lander deal, and now he had a way of making some more. Johnny Jr. was into him for a ton of dough from the dog races and Sponetti was calling in his marker.

But daddy wasn’t going to save him this time. It was 1936 and the balance in the bank account was low enough to notice and Sr. told little Johnny that enough was enough.

Gathering his courage and acting like a man for the first time in his life, he stood up to Tony Sponetti.

And Sponetti shot him dead.

No moral here, no lesson to be learned. Just another story I picked up in the hills of Hollywood.

I’m Hollywood Russell and that was the singular tale of Johnny Exeter Jr.


This story originally appeared in 2007

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