Every word of what you are about to read is true.
In 1971 I was in my last year of art school and living in Hollywood. I regularly picked up The Los Angeles Free Press, an informative free weekly hippy newspaper. The Freep always had a variety of ads in their back pages. One ad seized my attention, as the advertiser was looking for an artist for a job that involved the occult, witchcraft and other dark or supernatural subject matter. Perfect! I had been painting the covers and creating interior illustrations for the horror pulp magazine Coven 13 for the past couple of years. I loved monster and horror movies as well, so this job seemed like it could be right up my proverbial dark alley. I called the phone number listed in the ad and made an appointment to show my portfolio the following Friday night.
When the evening arrived, I drove to the nearby address on Orange Avenue in Hollywood. The apartment I was seeking was on the second floor. I double-checked the address and apartment number, then knocked on the door.
The door creaked open to reveal a medium sized bald man. He had crinkly eyes and a slightly mischievous grin. I identified myself, although I’m sure the bulging portfolio under my arm told him exactly who I was. He greeted me in return.
“I’m Mr. X (I have forgotten his real name). Come in, come in!”
He handed me his business card (I recently ran across his card about a month ago — then immediately lost it again. Sorry).
I stepped over the threshold and WHAM! It suddenly felt as if I had smoked an entire gram of high quality hashish. I was stoned out of my gourd, totally blitzed.
My host beckoned me to sit down on the sofa. I did, while attempting with every fiber of my being to hold it together. After all, this was a job interview!
The man looked through my portfolio. I tried to clear my head but couldn’t. I noticed other people moving throughout the room, men and women, all around his age (he seemed to be in his fifties or sixties but then, I was twenty, so everyone over thirty looked like they were in their sixties to me). They didn’t appear to be stoned at all. I noticed there were black candles on the mantle as thick as my arm. Between them was a reproduction of an old engraving that I had seen before in one of my reference books on witchcraft. It was a full-length portrait of Satan as a goat.
Satisfied I could do the job, my host refocused on me. He explained that Anton Szandor LaVey (1930–1997), whom I knew to be the head of the Church of Satan (based in San Francisco) had just made him the leader of the new Los Angeles branch of the Church of Satan. His ambition was to spread Satanism throughout southern California. He then proceeded to explain the church’s philosophy. To my heavily blasted brain, Satanism all seemed to boil down to being exactly like Christianity ––– but with more sex.
What the church needed from me was a nice, large painted portrait of Our Lord and Master Satan. He wanted Satan’s goat head inside a pentagram (an upside down star. The points of the star hold the goat’s horns and ears; the bottom point is the goat’s beard). He asked if I could complete it in two weeks. I said I could. We agreed upon a price. I promised to return on Friday two weeks later at the same place and time.
I struggled to my feet, shook hands with him and approached the door. As soon as I stepped outside, WHAM! My head instantly became clear again. I was no longer high, not even slightly.
I drove back home.
The painting didn’t take very long, even though I added elements beyond the simple job description. I always like to give my clients more than they’re expecting. Part of that comes from really doing my homework. I heavily researched previous portraits of Satan as well as Satanic pentagrams. I discovered they often included Hebraic letters as part of the design, so I included those letters. I didn’t make the goat just a goat; I added some humanity to his leering face.
I finished well before my deadline and I was pleased with the results (I’d do it differently now, of course. I like to think that with over forty more years of painting under my belt that I’ve become a better artist).
Friday rolled around. I arrived right on time, re-consulting the address on the same piece of paper I had taken with me two weeks ago. I knocked on the door, portrait of Satan under my arm.
The door opened — but this time it was a good-looking young man in his mid-to-late twenties.
“Can I help you?”
“I’m here to see Mr. X. I’ve finished his portrait.”
“There’s no one here by that name.”
“Did he step out?”
“No. What I mean is, there has never been anyone here by that name. At least not in the last three years since my wife and I have lived here.”
“Wait a minute. I was here three weeks ago. This is your address, right?”
He looked at my scrap of paper.
“Yes; that’s our address.”
“Well, two weeks ago I was commissioned to paint a portrait of Satan and deliver it here tonight.”
The young man looked back into his apartment and shouted.
“Honey, do you know anything about a portrait of Satan?”
As he was turned away, I looked inside the apartment. His wife was an attractive young blonde. In front of her was the same sofa on which I had sat. On the wall opposite the sofa was the same mantle from two weeks ago. The mantle no longer had the black candles, however, nor the old engraving of Satan on the wall above it.
“No, dear ––– nothing.”
He turned back to me.
With nothing more I could do or say I returned back home to my Beachwood Drive apartment in the foothills of Hollywood with my unpaid-for portrait.
To this day, I have no explanation for what happened. How did they instantly make me feel so heavily stoned? How did I instantly lose that sensation when I stepped out of the apartment? What happened to Mr. X. and the Los Angeles Church of Satan? Was the young couple claiming no knowledge of the church lying to me? Were they actors, hired by the church for some kind of cover-up? Had the head of the church run into some kind of trouble?
I guess I’ll never know.
I thought I had sold the portrait to my friend Terry Stroud, co-owner back then of the American Comic Book Company. I vaguely recall him buying it because he liked the story so much. When I contacted him, though, Terry told me that he never purchased it and didn’t have it. So, I never knew what had happened to it.
I had to vacate my studio about a year ago when the building was sold. In the process of moving I found all kinds of things I had forgotten I had. One of them was my portrait of Satan. I thought posting it here would make a fitting end to this story.