Anton LaVey: Legend and Reality
- Anton LaVey: Legend and Reality
compiled by his daughter Zeena and Nikolas Schreck
February 2, 1998
Anton Szandor LaVey (1930-1997), along with Charles
Manson, Timothy Leary, and other messianic pop gurus,
was a notorious figure of the 1960s' subculture of
social experiment. As the flamboyant High Priest of
the Church of Satan and the author of the Satanic
Bible, he served as an ideal bogeyman for the
sensation-seeking American media of that tumultuous
His curious celebrity was based largely on a
self-created legend. This carefully-orchestrated
legend may, in the final analysis, be LaVey's most
enduring legacy. LaVey disseminated his legend through
interviews with journalists, personal discussion with
his disciples, and two LaVey-approved
[auto]biographies (apparently ghostwritten by LaVey
himself). The first of these, 1974's The Devil's
Avenger (credited to LaVey associate Burton Wolfe),
embellished on the fabrications Wolfe had already
sketched in his introduction to the Satanic Bible. The
second, 1990's Secret Life of a Satanist (credited to
Blanche Barton, LaVey's live-in secretary and mother
of his son), contradicted many of LaVey's own claims
in the earlier volume, while putting forth new legends
for public consumption. As social historians and
scholars of occult movements begin to study LaVey's
life and times in an objective historical context, a
wealth of information concerning the man beneath the
Devil horns has come to light. This brief checklist is
a concise guide to separating the deliberate
prevarications from the human, all-too-human facts.
For brevity's sake, only the most well-known aspects
of the legend will be clarified here.
LEGEND: Claimed that "Anton Szandor LaVey" was his
genuine birth name.
REALITY: Born "Howard Stanton Levey".
SOURCES: Birth certificate 4/11/1930, Cook County,
Illinois. Confirmed by relatives.
LEGEND: Claimed his parents were Joseph and Augusta
REALITY: Parents were Michael and Gertrude Levey.
SOURCES: Birth certificate 4/11/1930, Cook County,
Illinois. Confirmed by ASL's daughter Zeena and
daughter Karla according to her entry on ASL's death
LEGEND: Claimed he was introduced to the Dark Side by
his Transylvanian Gypsy grandmother, who regaled him
as a child with supernatural folklore and tales of
vampires and werewolves.
REALITY: ASL's grandmother was not Transylvanian nor
of Gypsy stock. She was a Ukrainian named Cecile Luba
Primokov-Coulton ("Coulton" was Anglicized from
"Koltonoff"). Despite his frequent claims, ASL had no
SOURCES: Relatives, including ASL's parents.
LEGEND: In 1945 the 15-year-old ASL was brought to the
ruins of postwar Germany by his uncle, a U.S. Coast
Guard officer. There the teenaged ASL was shown
top-secret films inspired by Satanic cult lodges and
their rituals. ASL claimed that the "German" rituals
in his 1972 book The Satanic Rituals were actual
transcripts of the filmed rituals he saw as a youth.
REALITY: Young Howard spent the entirety of 1945 in
suburban northern California, and never visited
Germany at any time in his life. The uncle who he
claimed brought him to Germany was incarcerated at
McNeill Island Penitentiary for involvement with Al
Capone-related criminal activity during 1945, and was
never in the armed forces. Allied martial law forbade
U.S. citizens from visiting postwar Germany. The
"German" rituals in the Satanic Rituals are written in
extremely poor, Anglicized German. They are clearly
uncredited adaptations of the short story The Hounds
of Tindalos by Frank Belknap Long and H.G. Wells'
famous novel The Island of Dr. Moreau.
SOURCES: ASL relatives, former wife Diane LaVey, The
Hounds of Tindalos, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The
Satanic Rituals, Church of Satan member Rosalind
Herkommer (who translated ASL's rituals into German).
LEGEND: The 15-year-old ASL played second oboe with
the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, making him the
youngest musician ever to play with that prestigious
REALITY: There was no "San Francisco Ballet Orchestra"
in 1945. The San Francisco Ballet was accompanied by a
local orchestra, whose records show that none of its
three oboists was named "Levey" or "LaVey".
SOURCES: San Francisco Performing Arts Library &
Museum, San Francisco, California.
LEGEND: In 1947 ASL ran away from home and joined the
Clyde Beatty Circus. The Circus employed the
17-year-old as a lion tamer. He then replaced the
Circus calliope player, accompanying such famous
Beatty acts as the Concellos, Harold Alanza, and the
REALITY: The voluminous Beatty archives show no record
of a "Levey" or "LaVey" as lion tamer or musician. The
Concellos, Alanza, and Cristianis were never Beatty
performers; they worked exclusively for the Ringling
SOURCES: Beatty 1947 Route Books, Circus World Museum,
Baraboo, Wisconsin (Wright, "SD", page 67); ASL
LEGEND: In 1948 the 18-year-old ASL was engaged to
play organ at the Mayan burlesque theater in Los
Angeles. There he met a young stripper named Marilyn
Monroe, with whom he had a passionate love affair in
the period before her rise to film stardom. According
to ASL, Monroe had resorted to stripping to pay her
rent. As proof of his relationship with Monroe, ASL
later showed visitors a copy of Monroe's famous nude
calendar inscribed "Dear Tony, How many times have you
seen this! Love, Marilyn".
REALITY: ASL never knew Monroe. Monroe intimate Robert
Slatzer and Harry Lipton, Monroe's agent in 1948, have
exposed and discredited this tale. Lipton paid
Monroe's expenses, including her rent. Paul Valentine,
director of the Mayan Theater, has stated that the
Mayan was never a burlesque theater, and that neither
Monroe nor ASL ever worked for the Mayan in any
capacity. Diane LaVey, ASL's former wife, has admitted
that she forged the "Monroe" inscription on the
calendar. ASL's former publicist Edward Webber claims
ASL admitted he never knew Monroe.
SOURCES: Diane LaVey, Paul Valentine (Wright, "SD",
page #68), Harry Lipton (Aquino-Lipton conversation
12/1/82), Robert Slatzer (letter to Aquino 11/27/82),
Edward Webber (interview by Aquino 6/2/91).
LEGEND: ASL was exposed to the savagery of human
nature during his stint as a San Francisco Police
photographer in the early 1950s.
REALITY: San Francisco Police Department past
employment records include no "Howard Levey" nor
"Anton LaVey". Frank Moser, who was a SFPD
photographer in the early 1950s, said that ASL never
worked for the Department.
SOURCES: SFPD records, Frank Moser (Wright, "SD", page
LEGEND: ASL studied criminology at San Francisco City
College during the Korean War.
REALITY: SFCC has no record of ASL's enrollment at any
SOURCES: SFCC records (Wright, "SD", page 68).
LEGEND: ASL purchased the house at 6114 California
Street (which would later become the headquarters of
the Church of Satan - the infamous "Black House")
because he discovered on first inspection that it was
the former brothel of Barbary Coast madam Mammy
Pleasant. The house was honeycombed with trapdoors and
secret passageways, built by Pleasant to elude police
REALITY: 6114 was ASL's parents' home. It was never a
brothel, nor did Mammy Pleasant ever live or work
there. ASL's parents first allowed ASL and his first
wife Carole to live in the house, then transferred
ownership of it to ASL and his second wife Diane in
1971. Such secret passages and hidden rooms that exist
were constructed by ASL.
SOURCES: Relatives, San Francisco property records
(Michael & Gertrude Levey, Joint Tenancy Grant Deed,
July 9, 1971).
LEGEND: In the 1950s ASL traveled to Nice, France,
where he recorded an album of organ music under the
pseudonym of "Georges Montalba".
REALITY: ASL's first and only trip to France was in
the mid-1970s, when his Dutch disciple Maarten Lamers,
Amsterdam sex club owner, financed his voyage. The
"ASL=Montalba" story appeared in 1989, when a gullible
Church of Satan member found a Montalba album and
suggested that it was similar to ASL's own music. ASL,
never pleased by competition, responded with the
preposterous "pseudonym" claim - which is still
ardently supported by his posthumous followers.
SOURCES: Diane LaVey, Zeena LaVey.
LEGEND: ASL was the official city organist for San
Francisco until 1966, playing for gala events such as
government banquets and political meetings.
REALITY: San Francisco has never had an "official city
organist". According to ASL's first wife Carole, his
only income of $29.91/week was generated by his
regular engagement at the "Lost Weekend" nightclub,
where he was the house Wurlitzer organist.
SOURCE: Julie Burford, Civic Auditorium, San
Francisco, California (Wright, "SD", page 68). Carole
LaVey's divorce proceeding records (Wright, "SD", page
LEGEND: On the night of April 30, 1966 (the German
Satanic festival of Walpurgisnacht), ASL in a
"blinding flash" declared himself the High Priest of
Satan, proclaimed that the Age of Satan had begun, and
founded the Church of Satan as a religious
REALITY: In 1966 ASL supplemented his income by
presenting weekend lectures on exotic and occult
topics, and by conducting "Witches' Workshops". He
charged $2 a head, filling his living room with the
curious and establishing a local reputation as an
eccentric. Professional publicist Edward Webber
suggested to ASL that he "would never make any money
by lecturing on Friday nights for donations ... it
would be better to form some sort of church and get a
charter from the State of California ... I told Anton
at the time that the press was going to flip out over
all this and that we would get a lot of notoriety". In
the summer of 1966, long after the fictional
founding-date invented later, a newspaper article
about ASL's lectures offhandedly referred to him as
"priest of the Devil's church". This mixture of
Webber's idea and the newspaper's characterization
resulted in the creation of the Church of Satan as a
business and publicity vehicle. Jack Webb, a San
Francisco Police investigator who knew ASL from the
"Lost Weekend" nightclub, also suggested that he
should form a church of some kind to exploit his
SOURCES: Edward Webber (interview by Aquino 6/2/91),
Jack Webb, Diane LaVey.
LEGEND: ASL's trademark shaved head was the result of
a ceremonial head-shaving on April 30, 1966, to
formalize his role as High Priest of Satan. This
ritual was performed in the tradition of the Yezidi
devil-worshipping tribes of Iraq, who were said to
have carried out a similar ceremony.
REALITY: ASL shaved his head in the summer of 1966 due
to a light-hearted dare from his wife. The "LaVey
look" had nothing to do with the Church of Satan
founding nor any mystical meaning attached to it
later. Nor do Yezidi qawwals (religious teachers)
shave their heads.
SOURCES: Diane LaVey; Ethel S. Drower, Peacock Angel,
1941; C.J. Edmonds, A Pilgrimage to Lalish, Royal
Asiatic Society, 1967.
LEGEND: In 1966 ASL personally designed the Baphomet
emblem of the Church of Satan. He owns the right to
this design, claiming it cannot be reproduced without
obtaining licensing rights from the Church of Satan.
REALITY: The Baphomet emblem used by the Church of
Satan was neither original to it nor created by ASL,
hence cannot be trademarked. The original Baphomet
dates at least as far back as the medieval Knights
Templar. The artwork for the current emblem's
goat/pentagram first appears in a 1931 book by Oswald
Wirth. The complete emblem with the added circles and
"LVYThN" Hebrew letters appears on the cover of a book
by Maurice Bessy two years before the creation of the
Church of Satan. Early photos of Church activities
often show ASL or his disciples using the Bessy book
as a photo-prop because of its prominent
cover-Baphomet, and he included that book in his
Compleat Witch bibliography. The Baphomet, including
this rendition of it, is clearly in the public domain.
SOURCES: Oswald Wirth, La fran-maconnerie rendue
intelligible a ces adeptes - II, "Le compagnon",
Paris: Derry-Livres, 1931, page #60; Maurice Bessy, A
Pictorial History of Magic and the Supernatural,
London: Spring Books, 1964 [the original edition of
this work - Histoire en 1000 images de la magie - was
published in 1961 by Editions du Pont Royal]; Thomas
H. Hilton, Sex and the Occult, Vol. I, Los Angeles:
Centurion Press, 1974;Church of Satan members, The
Black Flame (a 1980s Church of Satan magazine).
LEGEND: One of ASL's most widely-accepted falsehoods
is his claim that he served as technical advisor for
the 1968 Roman Polanski film Rosemary's Baby. ASL also
claimed to have played the curiously-uncredited part
of the Devil in that film.
REALITY: ASL had no involvement with Rosemary's Baby.
Polanski's close friend Gene Gutowski (original
producer of the film) stated that there was no
technical advisor, nor did ASL ever even meet
Polanski. Producer William Castle, who details all
aspects of the film's production in his autobiography,
never mentions ASL. He does describe Polanski's
diligence in basing the film exactly on the Ira Levin
novel from which it was adapted, eliminating any need
for technical advice. The father of the actress who
played Mia Farrow's body-double in the Devil scene
recalled that a young, very slender professional
dancer played the part, dressed in a small rubber
suit. In 1971 this suit was acquired by Studio One
Productions in Louisville, Kentucky, for use in a
low-budget horror film Asylum of Satan. Michael
Aquino, technical advisor for that film, examined the
suit and concluded that the 200-pound, 6-foot ASL
could not possibly have worn it. [The suit was worn by
a girl in the Asylum film.] Not a single member of the
cast or crew of Rosemary's Baby has ever mentioned
ASL's involvement. In 1968 a San Francisco theater did
ask ASL to make an appearance at the film's local
opening as a promotional event. This appears to have
been ASL's only connection with the film that
engendered the 1960s' popular interest in Satanism.
SOURCES: Gene Gutowski; William Castle, Step Right Up!
I'm Gonna Scare the Pants off America, New York:
Pharos Books, 1992; Diane LaVey, Michael A. Aquino
(COS, page #17).
LEGEND: Jayne Mansfield, Hollywood sex symbol and
actress, was a card-carrying Satanist and had an
affair with ASL.
REALITY: Publicity agent Tony Kent, an associate of Ed
Webber, arranged the meeting between Mansfield and ASL
as a publicity stunt. ASL was smitten with the
actress. Mansfield, who made no secret of her many
affairs, denied knowing ASL intimately, and no
associate of hers has ever confirmed any supposed
romance with ASL. In a 1967 interview she said, "He
had fallen in love with me and wanted to join my life
with his. It was a laugh." According to ASL's
publicist Edward Webber, Mansfield would ridicule her
Satanic suitor by calling from her Los Angeles home
and seductively teasing him while her friends listened
in on the conversation. ASL's public claims that he
had an affair with Mansfield began only after
Mansfield's death in an automobile accident, which he
also claimed was the result of a curse he had placed
on her lover Sam Brody.
SOURCES: Edward Webber (interview by Aquino 6/2/91);
interview with Mansfield quoted in Jayne Mansfield by
May Mann, Pocket Books, 1974.
LEGEND: ASL wrote the Satanic Bible, his principal
work, to fulfill his congregation's need for a
REALITY: The Satanic Bible was conceived as a
commercial vehicle by paperback publisher Avon Books.
Avon approached ASL for some kind of Satanic work to
cash in on the Satanism & witchcraft fad of the late
1960s. Pressed for material to meet Avon's deadline,
ASL resorted to plagiarism, assembling extracts from
an obscure 1896 tract - Might is Right by Ragnar
Redbeard into a "Book of Satan" for the SB, and
claiming its authorship by himself. [Ironically these
MiR passages are the ones most frequently quoted by
ASL disciples.] Another third of the SB consists of
John Dee's "Enochian Keys", taken directly but again
without attribution from Aleister Crowley's Equinox.
The SB's "Nine Satanic Statements", one of the Church
of Satan's central doctrines, is a paraphrase, again
unacknowledged, of passages from Ayn Rand's Atlas
Shrugged. The last words in the SB - "Yankee Rose" -
have been puzzled over for years by readers. "YR" is
actually the name of an old popular tune in ASL's
SOURCES: ASL, The Satanic Bible; Ragnar Redbeard,
Might is Right, Port Townsend: Loompanics (reprint),
1896; Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (Galt's speech, ca.
pages #936-993); "Yankee Rose" by Sidney Holden & Abe
Frankl (Irving Berlin Music, 1926).
LEGEND: ASL claimed that at the height of the Church
of Satan's popularity there were hundreds of thousands
of formal members.
REALITY: Diane LaVey (who administered the Church as
High Priestess 1966-1984), Michael A. Aquino (senior
Magister of the Church and Editor of its Cloven Hoof
newsletter 1971-1975), and Zeena LaVey (High Priestess
of the Church 1985-1990) have all affirmed that the
figures claimed by ASL were grossly exaggerated. The
membership of the Church of Satan never exceeded 300
individuals, several of whom were nonmember
subscribers to the newsletter or ASL friends receiving
SOURCES: Diane LaVey, Michael A. Aquino, Zeena LaVey.
LEGEND: ASL claimed to be a multimillionaire, owning
three homes in northern California, a convent in
Italy, a chateau in France, a fleet of luxury
automobiles, a 185-foot yacht, three salvage ships,
and other property.
REALITY: During Diane [LaVey] Hegarty's 1988-91
lawsuit against ASL, and ASL's subsequent 1991 filing
for bankruptcy, ASL stipulated under oath that he
owned nothing more than 50% of the house his parents
had given jointly to him and Diane, along with the
personal items he kept therein. ASL's final years were
subsidized by California state aid. Assessors declared
the house to be in such poor repair as to be nearly
worthless on the real estate market. Family members
have attested to the fact that by the mid-1970s the
LaVeys lived in near-poverty, frequently having to
rely upon ASL's father's generosity. According to
other LaVey relatives, ASL continued to rely on
handouts from friends and relatives until the end of
SOURCES: Hegarty v. LaVey (San Francisco Superior
Court Case #891863), Anton LaVey Bankruptcy, Chapter 7
(U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Northern California, Case
#91-34251), Zeena LaVey, other relatives.
LEGEND: ASL was a close friend of Sammy Davis, Jr. and
inducted him into the Church of Satan.
REALITY: Sammy Davis, Jr. was invited to accept an
honorary membership in the Church of Satan by Michael
Aquino. After Davis sent Aquino his acceptance on
March 17, 1973, he was presented with the honorary
membership on April 13, 1973 by Aquino and Karla LaVey
alone. ASL did not meet Davis until August 1973.
SOURCES: Davis letter to Aquino 3/17/73; Church of
Satan Priesthood Bulletin 4/30/73; Aquino, COS,
Chapter 23; Sammy Davis, Hollywood in a Suitcase
(pre-publication text, printed in Daily News, New
York, 9/11/80), Karla LaVey.
LEGEND: ASL presented himself as a loving family man.
REALITY: ASL violently beat his wife Diane throughout
their marriage. In 1984 a police report was made
describing Diane being strangled into unconsciousness
by ASL, who was in such a murderous rage that his
daughter Karla had to pull him off Diane and drag her
outside the house to save her life. ASL routinely
physically beat and abused those of his female
disciples with whom he had sex, forcing them into
prostitution as part of his "Satanic counseling" and
collecting their earnings. In 1986 ASL was a passive
witness to the sexual molestation of his own grandson
by a longtime friend who was later convicted of sex
crimes with minors. In 1990 ASL informed a
mentally-ill stalker of his daughter Zeena of her
whereabouts and the time & location of a public
appearance she was scheduled to make, deliberately
endangering her life.
SOURCES: San Francisco Police records of ASL attack on
Diane LaVey, Zeena LaVey, Diane LaVey, Stanton LaVey.
LEGEND: ASL had a deeply affectionate relationship
with Togare, his pet lion.
REALITY: While ASL was always careful to portray
himself to the public as an animal lover, in private
he was cruel to and neglectful of his pets. When he
was given Togare as a cub in 1964, he was ill-equipped
to deal with such an exotic, wild animal despite his
pretensions as a circus lion-tamer. As Togare became
larger and more unruly, ASL frequently used an
electric cattle prod to hurt and frighten him into
submission. Many animal-rights proponents, including
Togare's final owner Tippi Hedren, agree that it is
detrimental to a wild animal's development to be
raised in a domestic environment. ASL was arrested due
to Togare's unruly behavior, and ASL was ordered to
donate him to the San Francisco Zoo. After complying,
ASL made only two visits to Togare. Due to the trauma
of his early life, Togare needed special care at the
Zoo and at every animal-care facility in which he
SOURCES: Jack Castor (Lion Keeper, San Francisco Zoo),
Diane LaVey, Zeena LaVey, Tippi Hedren (The Cats of
Shamballa, McGraw-Hill, 1985).
LEGEND: ASL had a deeply affectionate relationship
with his other pets.
REALITY: In the late 1960s ASL acquired a Doberman
Pinscher (Loki) as an accent to his "sinister" image.
ASL never took the time to housebreak or train Loki,
and relegated him to the overgrown and unkempt
backyard of the house, regardless of weather. If Loki
ever tried to slip into the house for shelter, ASL
routinely used Togare's cattle-prod on him to terrify
him back outside. In his old age Loki developed such
severe arthritis that he could not climb the stairs to
the back door to eat, and began wasting away from
malnutrition. ASL then gave him to one of his
prostitute "students", who at least saw that Loki had
a warm, inside home until he died a few months later.
During her young childhood ASL's daughter Zeena once
awoke late at night to hear slamming sounds and the
shrieking of her German Shepherd puppy. Running
downstairs, she saw ASL savagely beating the cowering,
cornered dog with a wooden plank. When Zeena begged
ASL to stop and asked him what the dog had done to
deserve such treatment, ASL screamed, "She won't
listen to me! I'm going to force her to obey me!" ASL
continued beating the dog until her face was covered
with her blood, then dropped the plank and left the
dog quivering in the hallway, so injured and
frightened that she wouldn't let even Zeena come near
her. This incident left the dog traumatized for a long
SOURCES: Diane LaVey, Zeena LaVey.
LEGEND: On ASL's original death certificate the date
of his demise was recorded as October 31, 1997
REALITY: An official investigation by the City of San
Francisco determined that ASL's actual date of death
was October 29, 1997 and that the "Halloween" date had
been illegally written on the document.
SOURCES: Death Certificate #380278667, San Francisco
Department of Public Health; Dr. Giles Miller
(attending physician at ASL's death), Physician's
Amendment to Death Certificate, 11/26/97.
RESEARCH REFERENCES: Wright, Lawrence, "Sympathy for
the Devil", Rolling Stone #612, September 5, 1991,
Saints and Sinners. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.
Aquino, Michael A., The Church of Satan. San
Francisco: Temple of Set, 1983. We extend our thanks
to ASL's relatives and associates who contributed
Nephilim's Paranormal Investigations - http://paranorm.cjb.net
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