By Gant Gaither
They were the highest-octane of LA’s high-powered couples, Gant Gaither and Bradley Little. Gaither, best known as the theatrical producer who first put Grace Kelly on the stage and Little, the editor of the influential shelter magazine Architectural Digest, lived a life in Los Angeles right out of a storybook. Chic movie star friends, glorious vacations, festive parties filled their lives. And then one night it all came to a hideous end. On April 9, 1971, on the mean streets of Los Angeles, two gunmen entered their fragile lives and changed it forever. Gaither has written about this incident in the autobiography he has written called After Broadway & Hollywood, You Can't Go Home Again. (Readers who want to know more about Mr. Gaither will find him profiled in the June 2000 issue of Palm Springs Life.)
Two police officers frisked me and pushed me against a brick wall. "Stay there," the stouter one barked at me.
There was a feeling of being outside myself, detached, and staring at Bradley. He was lying face down in the street at the awkward angle only a lifeless body can fall into. He, so still, so dead, and yet so much activity and life going on all around us. Numb. Could we both be dead and me simply looking on?
Nothing could have averted the godforsaken tragedy unfolding, but where was my ESP? Several years ago, it was loud and clear. Now at this precise moment, nothing.
After an interminable lapse of time, the policemen led me to the rear door of the black and white L.A.P.D. car. They all but lifted me inside and shut the door. The car was parked just behind the ambulance, its back doors opened wide, the empty stretcher sitting on the street. They hadn't yet picked Bradley up. No longer a crowd standing above him in muffled conversation, he was alone.
"Before we ask you any questions you must understand your rights. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in court…"
This humdrum recitation was spoken into a handmike by the cop in the front seat. They think it was me. How could they, but they do? The police car pulled onto La Cienega Boulevard, its red lights flashing with a vengeance, but no siren. Where they were taking me didn't matter much. The Los Angeles traffic was light, allowing us to move along at a good clip. There was conversation going on up front, all pantomime. Silence engulfed me. My clothes were comfortable enough when we left home, but now the black linen slacks and black silk shirt weren't warm enough. Chills kept making me shiver.
Nothing made any sense. How could it when the evening had started so easily? The next afternoon we planned to drive to Palm Springs. Bradley was feeling very lord-of the-manor, especially wonderful since he now owned property there.
"What's the schedule for tonight?" he had asked, arriving from the office at the magazine Architectural Digest where he served as the top editor.
"You've been wanting to see John Pike's new puppy; he brought it over. And Steve Preston asked us to dinner before they go to the club." (John owned the elegant new Club John on La Cienega. Steve was his housemate.)
"That's great. I've just put the magazine to bed. I'm tired. We can play with the puppy then come home when they go to work. Where're the dawgs?" Bradley pronounced dog with his Texas drawl.
The pugs heard his voice and fell all over each other getting to him, eager to give him a tail-wagging welcome.
Steve was a gourmet cook, serving a far better dinner than what we would have had at home. Bradley played with the puppy, fully sharing Charles Schultz' philosophy: "Happiness Is A Warm Puppy."
"It's the way they smell," Bradley said, turning the little dog over and sniffing her tummy. "Fresh. Like a baby."
"Why don't you two drop me off at the club?" asked John.
We rode three-deep in the front seat of Bradley's spanking new dream-come-true navy blue Cadillac. A balmy night, the white top was down, the windows up to keep the wind out. Two fiberglass chairs Bradley was taking to Palm Springs lay across the back seat. When we drove up to John's club’s canopied entrance, the doorman let John out.
"Come in for a drink. You've never heard Ann Dee sing and she's terrific! She's going on right now."
"Let's go," said Bradley, looking at me for approval.
"Oh, not tonight, Bradley. We said we'd get home early." After a few drinks, Bradley was always ready to go on into the night. Once out, it was hard to get him home. "I don't have any money, do you?"
"Only a few bucks."
"You won't need any. You're my guests, " said John.
"I'll just park back there under the street light. I don't want the parking attendant scratching the car on the lot."
"What about the chairs in the back? You have to put the top up."
"I'll tip the doorman to watch the car." He took out two one-dollar bills, all he had, and handed them to the doorman.
The spotlight came up on Ann Dee, a good-looking fortyish blonde with a great voice for the Forties and Fifties standards. The moment she sang, Bradley was enthralled with her performance. Usually, very conservative in his enthusiasms, that night he was in a state of exhilaration, granted Ann Dee was indeed a spellbinder. John brought Miss Dee to our table after her last set. Bradley wanted to know all, who, what and where.
When we left the club, Bradley was dragging his feet. "My mother always said not to drool out. When you're ready to leave, go."
"I'm not drooling out. Just saying a proper goodnight."
As Bradley got into the driver's seat, a body loomed up. He stood next to Bradley. In a low tone not to panic him, I said, "Bradley, there's a man with a gun at the back of your head."
Two men, both black, must have hidden behind the car then popped up after we got inside.
"Give me everything you've got before I blow your head off!" ordered the one holding the pistol to Bradley's head. His bloodshot eyes were those of a half-crazed demon. The other man, with strong African features, was heavy set, much bigger than the one with his hand on the trigger. The frantic guy had a reddish-brown complexion and wore a little black bowler hat.
Bradley made no move, both hands gripped the steering wheel. Keep cool, Gant, I said to myself. Brad apparently hasn't heard and doesn't realize what's happening. He sat immobile. He must be catatonic. The two men climbed into the back of the car to avoid being noticed by the busy traffic. Half standing, half-squatting, unable to sit because of the two chairs.
"I told you! Give me everything you've got!" shrieked the angry gunman, getting nastier by the second and pressing the muzzle of the revolver against Bradley's neck.
Bradley, traumatized, said nothing.
Whispering to him, "Bradley, give him your ring and your new Bulgari watch."
He made no effort to remove the watch or ring. Then he spoke in a loud hollow voice, still with a vice-like hold on the steering wheel. "Take the car!"
Whatever gave Bradley the idea this insane creature wanted his car? Because he loved it? They wanted money. Bradley's 'take the car' so inflamed the man he reached between us and cracked him across the forehead with the butt of the gun. Blood trickled down his face.
"Oh, my God, Bradley! Give him your watch and ring," I screamed, no longer keeping my voice low. It didn't matter anymore.
Bradley still didn't move a muscle and made no attempt to wipe away the blood. Now he was really out of it from the blow to his head. The second man tried to calm the wild one. Nothing could.
"I don't have any money. Only this gold ring and gold watch," stressing 'gold'. The nearest thing to money either of us had. The cretin made a gimmie-gimmie sign with the fingers of his left hand.
"Hurry up, before I cut them off." Each came off just in time.
"Now, you get out of the car," dropping my watch and ring in his shirt pocket.
Bradley had brought me a gold and onyx Dupont lighter from Europe, very expensive. It was in my trousers' pocket. Terrified, but determined no way was this fiend going to get it, very slowly, the lighter slid out of my pocket and fell to the floor beneath the glove compartment.
"Get out of the car! I'm going to kill you too," he screeched. The instant my feet hit the sidewalk, my body did an about face. His gun was at the front window aimed at my chest. He kept the gun on me for an eternity, then, for no reason, turned away. As he was getting out of the car, he buried the pistol in Bradley's neck and pulled the trigger. No sound. The two men ran across the street and jumped into an old white sedan.
Bradley was suddenly aware of me running toward the club.
Gant!" he shouted, struggling out of the car He stumbled to the sidewalk. "My God, Gant! I've been shot!"
"I know, Bradley. I'm going for help."
"Oh, my God! Help! Help!" he cried with unforgettable anguish. He died standing there. His knees buckled and, like a rag doll, his huge body crumpled. He fell into the street with an unspeakable thud.
My voice rang through the club foyer, "Bradley's been shot! Please get help!" My legs almost gave way running back to kneel beside him. By then, a small crowd gathered.
"He's dead," one woman said.
Refusing to allow myself to believe it, "No, he's not. He's still breathing."
"That's just the air still in his lungs. He's dead."
A terrible dark red spot of blood formed in the center of his blazer. Then there was no more breathing. The body lay there.
A police car with sirens blaring and red lights flashing drew up. Someone pointed at me. Two policemen stood me against a red brick building, frisked me and told me not to move.
Such unreality, watching the psychedelic panorama of the red lights and sirens and an ambulance with its yellow lights flickering across Bradley's body.
Never taking my eyes off him lying there in the street, my thoughts turned to how often he said, "I have no stamina." Yet tonight, he opened the heavy car door, climbed out, walked around the car and got up on the sidewalk. The autopsy read the aorta to his heart was severed. A doctor later said nobody could survive longer than twenty seconds, but Bradley did. He was wrong about his stamina.
The police car turned into the lot beside the Hollywood division police station. They led me through a side door.
"May I go to the men's room?"
"Through that door there."
Not a minute passed before there was a bang on the door.
"What're you doin' in there?"
"Trying to take a piss."
"It sounded like you wuz raisin' a window."
"That was a squeak when I raised the toilet seat."
Sergeant Turner pointed to a chair in front of his desk. The room was small and crowded with files and cardboard boxes. The door was left open to the hallway, full of late night activity. He was kind in his questioning, considerate enough to recognize shock when he saw it. The interrogation went on at a snail's pace, very precise, as he wrote down every word. When he got to our names and who we were and our professional backgrounds, he called in a man from across the hall.
"You've got to alert the press," said the sergeant.
My heart sank. Why do you have to do that?"
"You and James [Bradley’s rarely-used first name] are VIPs, him editor of that magazine and you a producer. The law says we have to let the press know."
"Yes, I'm sorry about that."
"Where was Mr. Little shot?" the sergeant asked.
"There was a big bloody spot in the middle of his back. I presume he was shot there."
My answer made no sense and he realized it. How could Bradley have been shot in the middle of the back when his back was against the seat? Somewhere during the questioning, a detective came into the room.
"Ever see this?" he asked, opening his hand.
"It's my cigarette lighter. I threw it when the gunman told me to get out of the car."
He handed it to me. Then he held out a bullet. This is the bullet that killed him. It was buried in the floorboard of the car."
How insensitive, to flash the bullet in my face.
"May I make a telephone call?" To hear Marion's voice would bring some comfort. [Marion is Marion Lederer, a friend of Mr. Gaither’s and wife of famed actor Francis Lederer.] The sudden death was a fact, but impossible to accept.
"Marion, it's Gant," spoken in a quiet, even voice.
"Yes, dear. Where are you?" she asked, her voice betrayed concern due to the late hour.
"At the police station in Hollywood." The words didn't come out right away and then a stream blurted out, "Marion, Bradley's been killed. Shot. On La Cienega coming out o f John Pike's club."
"Oh, my God. I can't believe it. Why are you there?"
"Until they questioned me, they weren't sure I hadn't done it."
"Are they going to let you go home?"
"How much longer will I be here, Sergeant Turner?"
"I'm driving you home as soon as you finish that call."
"Francis and I will meet you there."
"Mr. Little's car is impounded until they finish studying it for fingerprints and bloodstains. You'll be notified where to pick it up."
"I don't have my keys to the house. We would have used Bradley's."
"How can you get in?"
"There's an extra set in the poolhouse. They've never been used. Hope they're still there."
Day was lighting up the sky when the sergeant brought me home. It was hard to put one foot in front of the other climbing the back steps. The four pugs barked when they heard the iron gate open. The back door key was on the nail where it hung since July 1957. The dogs were cuddled together on their bed in the pantry. They stretched and looked about, but didn't jump up and climb all over me as they normally would. They sensed something was amiss with me coming through that door.
Each received an affectionate pat, especially Ping. "Bradley's not coming home. Not anymore. You have to be good little dogs and help me through a very bad time."
They behaved as expected, each cocked their head to one side, trying to understand.
Marion and Francis arrived. "It's the most obscene thing I've ever heard," said Marion, embracing me.
Charles Northrup and Manuel Alvarez, a leading Los Angeles designer and an old friend, rang the front doorbell.
"I heard it on the radio. Manuel saw it on television."
More friends arrived and the telephone rang incessantly. Many dreadful responsibilities have been faced in my life, but nothing ever so harrowing as having to tell Bradley's mother her son was dead. My thoughts were far away, plotting what to say to Julia Stanton Little.
"Julie, it's Gant. I have terrible news. Bradley was killed last night. An armed robbery on the street. We were in his car." It was my duty to tell his mother what he wanted, beyond that it was not up to me. "Bradley said he wanted to be cremated and his ashes thrown over Monte Carlo." His mother chose not to carry out his request. She wanted him brought back to Waco and buried there. Bradley detested Waco.
Ethel Bryan, a friend of Mother's, was at Bradley's desert house looking for work. She would get here as fast as she could.
My now-late sister Jane caught the next plane to Los Angeles, appearing almost before we hung up the phone. We stood in the Garden Room, looking out toward the ocean.
"I've just lost the love of my life. And was loved in return." No emotion, simply a statement of fact.
"At least you've known love. I never did and have five sons." Jane's revelation jolted me out of my agony by the irony of it. Somehow her devastation was worse than my own. We never spoke with such intimacy before. There was comfort in it for me, maybe for her too. We've never talked like that again, but have been forever closer.
Marie de Raad called. She was Bradley's assistant at Architectural Digest and madly in love with him.
"I heard it on the morning news. It's not true, is it?"
Marion drove me downtown to the Los Angeles County Morgue to identify the body. We were led into an empty room with marble floors and told to face a window wall, a curtain across it. A harrowing moment as slowly the curtain drew back and there lay Bradley wrapped in a white shroud.
"Did you ever see anything as beatific as his smile?" asked Marion in hushed tone. "Such contrast to the violent way he died."
Bradley always maintained great personal dignity. My one concern through this private-turned-public holocaust was to keep a sense of it no matter what. My parents brought us up to remain stoic in the face of tragedy. Never before were my deepest emotions so brutally tested. Some moments were consumed with abject fear while at other time there was anger at the senseless loss of so remarkable a young man in his prime. A bitter edge crept into my personna. God willing, with time it would be expelled.
John Pike told me the entire tragedy took no more than two minutes from the time we left until my return for help. Living it was a lifetime and would change the course of my life forever.
New York actress Edith Meiser came to the house, after buying out Farmer's Market with every imaginable cheese, fruit, cakes, and a case of champagne. "I'm going to put up five thousand dollars for anybody who can find Bradley's killer."
Architectural Digest owner Bud Knapp and his wife Colleen were away on an Easter holiday. Nobody knew how to reach them. We need not have been concerned, Bud heard a radio newscast and would return to Los Angeles immediately.
Marion was with me when the Knapps appeared. We sat in the living room and, over a glass of champagne, they were told the whole story. Bud and Bradley were very close, complementing each other in up-grading the magazine. Bradley's taste and unlimited knowledge in interior design, which is was Architectural Digest was all about, remains intact today. Bud Knapp was the first to say it was Brad's imprimatur which set the magazine's standard for all time. His shock and grief were almost as bad as mine.
A different kind of shock came when Colleen blurted out, "Well, I've been in love with two men in my life. Buddy and Bradley Little."
Theatrical legend Helen Hayes' reaction was like a lot of others. "I can't conceive this happening to two of the most gentle people in the world." Howard Erskine said NBC announced on the morning news: "Bradley Little, the arbiter of good taste in the home, was murdered this morning in Los Angeles."
Actress Merle Oberon and Bruno called. "Remember, Merle, on the beach when you said I was happy" And I said 'Don't say it,' I was afraid to even think it. They is why."
Sloane Simpson, widow of former New York mayor and Ambassador to Mexico, was surprised when told Bradley would be buried in Waco. "But he loathed Waco."
Princess Grace, on the other side of the world, couldn't get out of her commitments, but would be coming to California in early June and see me then. Interior designers Arnold Scaasi, the Erskines and Helen and Chuck Hollerith were all insistent on my coming East as soon as possible.
"The police want me here to try and identify the killer."
At such time of emotional stress, one's senses are keener. The three people who professed inalterable devotion to Bradley: Designers Tony Hail in San Francisco, Valerian Rybar in New York and Arthur Elrod in Palm Springs, chose to ignore his heinous death.
Jane accompanied me to Waco. Colleen and Bud Knapp flew out for the funeral. No word from Bradley's ex-wife, the other Colleen. We were guests of Dr. and Mrs. Aubrey Goodman the two days we were in Texas. Aubrey, Jr. was a friend of Bradley's from childhood. Doctor Goodman wanted to give me a sedative.
"No thank you, Dr. Goodman, I don't need anything."
"Oh, you're a delayed reactor."
Julia, Bradley's Mother, insisted on me going to the mortuary. She thought he looked fine. Somehow seeing him was a consolation for her. A good thing Mothers are blind.
Bradley was dressed in new gray flannel suit, never worn. He coveted a burgundy paisley silk handkerchief David Janssen gave me and was buried with it in his jacket pocket, the only recognizable thing in the casket.
After the way Bradley looked in the morgue, the morticians should have left him alone. An eight-by-ten photograph was sent to guide them. They never even glanced at it. By the time they coated his face with make-up to cover the gash across his forehead, parted his hair on the wrong side, he was somebody else. A painful way to remember him.
Bradley was buried on Easter Monday by a preacher who called him ‘Jim.’ "I saw Jim on the street not long ago and I said, 'Jim…'" The man never knew Bradley. Nobody ever called him Jim. He wasn't a Jim. His Mother called him J.B. Poor Bradley, what a travesty.
A simple memorial was held in the little chapel beside All Saints Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills. A brief service conducted by a young minister, Reverend Barry Woods, who began by reading, "We give him back to thee, Oh Lord" and concluded with the comforting phrase, "May God hold him gently in His hands." My prayer for him too. After the shocking horror that took so mild a man, he deserved serenity in his eternal life. A memorial Bradley would have approved.
After the service, close friends came back to the house. Francis Lederer and Geoffrey Swaebe, chairman of the May Company, were concerned about my being the only witness. The murderer could very well decide to finish what he started and eliminate me. Neither Francis nor Geoff said anything, but Francis got in touch with Chief of Police Tom Reddin, who assigned a special detail to surround my property indefinitely.
My address was printed in every Los Angeles newspaper and quoted on radio and television news broadcasts. A steady stream of sensation-seekers drove up and down the mountain, slowing down or stopping in front of the house. Some of the insatiables sneaked into the carport.
"They want to see the car. The bloodstains. Anything they can find," said Ethel Bryan.
My black and white Camaro convertible was the only car there. They expected to see the Cadillac, still impounded and best left that way until some other tragedy grabbed their attention. Those 39 steps down to the carport, gaping eyes following each step, was a nauseating experience.
A week after Bradley's death, the stoplight on Sunset and Horn turned red. A black man ran up to the passenger's side and tried to open the door. Thank God, the top was up and both doors locked. He kept pulling on the handle with all his strength. His grotesque face brought back all the terror of the homicide. Without waiting for the light to turn green, the accelerator was pushed to the floor, leaving the man sprawled on the street.
Sergeant Turner came to the house with three large books of photographs for me to identify the killer. Hundreds of faces and, after a while, they all looked alike.
"We think he was killed by a druggie. Some fellow on drugs badly in need of a fix."
The homicide division assigned an artist to make a composite sketch of the man. My description of the hat the murderer wore prompted Sergeant Turner to say, "It's called a Stingy Brim."
Ethel gave me loving care and attention and tried to get me to snap out of it.
"Bradley thinks so-and so, or Bradley says so-and-so…"
"Gant, you've got to stop talking and thinking about Bradley in the present. He's dead, honey."