DARK SIDE OF FORTUNE by Margaret Leslie Davis


Triumph and Scandal in the Life of Oil Tycoon Edward L. Doheny
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California historian Davis (Rivers in the Desert: William Mulholland and the Inventing of Los Angeles, 1993) revisits Teapot Dome, the cause cÇläbre that began in the time of Warren Harding, to tell the story of one of the scandal’s prominent actors, now largely forgotten. As the Gilded Age turned into the Jazz Age, Edward Doheny, hitherto a feckless prospector, peered into the La Brea tar pits and saw a fortune. He punched the first hole for oil in the city of Los Angeles. Successful, he turned to wildcat drilling in the jungles of Mexico. Gusher followed gusher and the shrewd Doheny became wonderfully rich, the master of a great mansion, a private railroad car, and all the accoutrements of great wealth. It was a world of puissant bigwigs, of powerful cronies, extravagantly mustachioed. It happened one day that the oilman transmitted $100,000 in cash to a cash-poor old crony, Albert Fall, who was then Harding’s secretary of the interior. He called it a loan. Just about the same time, the Department of the Interior granted Doheny’s company favorable leases in fields dedicated to naval oil reserves. Harry Sinclair, another oilman, obtained similar leases in a field known as Teapot Dome for its odd rock formation. When the deals came to light, a battle between conservationists and exploiters erupted. A Senate investigation turned the transactions into scandal, and civil and criminal trials followed. Fall took the Fifth, but was jailed anyway. Sinclair did time, too. Doheny, though, was found innocent of any criminality. His story and that of his family and friends is told expertly, though with a clearly sympathetic bias, while some questions remain (e.g., why was the “loan” made in cash?). Drawing on a new-found trove of Doheny’s personal correspondence, and well researched and narrated, this revisionist biography is an interesting addition to the social history of the times. (50 b&w illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-520-20292-9
Page count: 440pp
Publisher: Univ. of California
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1998


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