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Dark Side of Fortune

Triumph and Scandal in the Life of Oil Tycoon Edward L. Doheny

Margaret Leslie Davis (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 357 pages
ISBN: 9780520229099
May 2001
$33.95, £24.95
Dark Side of Fortune contains all the elements of a Hollywood thriller. Filling in one of the most important gaps in the history of the American West, Margaret Leslie Davis's riveting biography follows Edward L. Doheny's fascinating story from his days as an itinerant prospector in the dangerous jungles of Mexico, where he built the $100-million oil empire that ushered in the new era of petroleum. But it was a tale that ended in tragedy, when—at the peak of his economic power—Doheny was embroiled in the notorious Teapot Dome scandal and charged with bribing the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.

Few captains of industry have matched Doheny's drive to succeed and his far-reaching ambition. Drawn to the West in search of fortune, he failed at prospecting before finding oil in a smelly, tar-befouled lot in Los Angeles in 1892. Certain that the substance had commercial value, he envisioned steamships and locomotives no longer powered by coal, but by oil. After developing massive oil wells in Mexico, Doheny built an international oil empire that made him one of the wealthiest men in the world. But in 1924 the scandal of Teapot Dome engulfed him. As accusations mounted, he hired America's top legal talent for his defense. During the ten-year-long litigation, Doheny's only son was mysteriously murdered by a family confidant. The government's case against Doheny ended in an astounding jury decision: The cabinet official accused of taking a bribe from Doheny was found guilty and sent to prison, yet Doheny was fully acquitted. Despite the verdict, the scandal had overshadowed the achievements of a lifetime, and he died in disgrace in 1935.

Margaret Leslie Davis recreates the legal drama and adds details of behind-the-scenes strategy gleaned from the personal diaries and archives of Doheny's famed defense attorneys. Previously hidden personal correspondence adds to this first complete portrait of the man and answers questions about Doheny that have eluded historians for almost seventy-five years.
Margaret Leslie Davis is the author of Rivers in the Desert: William Mulholland and the Inventing of Los Angeles (1993), winner of the Western Writers of America Golden Spur Award for Best Nonfiction Book. Davis is a California lawyer and graduate of Georgetown University. She is the former editor of Arts and Humanities at the Excite Network.
"Dark Side of Fortune is a brilliant biography of the tarnished oil tycoon, Edward Doheny, whose importance as an American industrial pioneer ranks with such better-known figures as Rockefeller and Carnegie. Margaret Leslie Davis has written a superbly researched and definitive account of the founder of the modern petroleum industry in California and of his machinations in Mexico and the involvement in the notorious Teapot Dome scandal. Davis has a sympathetic understanding of Doheny but tells his story warts and all. He emerges from the compelling biography as a conflicted man who is at once a hero and a scoundrel—and above all an American original who seems larger than life."—Lou Cannon

"The life of Edward L. Doheny offers a fascinating saga of early twentieth century American triumph and tragedy. Dark Side of Fortune, based on significant new archival discoveries, resurrects Doheny in a sympathetic, yet not uncritical, and always readable, biography, shedding new light on the oil industry, U.S. relations with Mexico, and the political scandals of the 1920s."—Jules Tygiel, San Francisco State University

"In terms of family saga, the Doheny story is the Ariadne's thread of Los Angeles history. It is perhaps the best pathway both into—and out of!—the labyrinth of the founding era. Thanks to Margaret Davis's Dark Side of Fortune, the full story of this previously mysterious Los Angeles Founder, his determined wife, and their murdered son stands revealed in all its resonant complexity. Ours is rapidly becoming a golden era of California biography, and here (once again, UC Press!) is further proof."—Dr. Kevin Starr, State Librarian of California

"Margaret Davis' Dark Side of Fortune is pure California gold, a biography laced with adventure and misadventure, a carefully researched history that reads like today's investigative reporting, a briskly told tale rife with international hugger-mugger and domestic hanky-panky. And best of all, it just might rewrite the story of that White House horror of another year, the Teapot Dome scandal."—Ed Cray, University of Southern California; author of Chief Justice: A Biography of Earl Warren

"Once again, Margaret Davis has demonstrated that she is a gifted writer and that truth is more fascinating than fiction."—Burt Kennedy, Brigade Productions

"Behind Doheny's brash self-confidence and his mighty oil empire lurks the image of la calavera, like a skeleton in the closet. Death would undo many—from Doheny's murdered son to the fallen reputation of Harding's administration after the Teapot Dome scandal. This dramatic and historical tale reads like a novel. Davis has once again revealed a vital part of Los Angeles history and its national implications."—Noel Riley Fitch, author of Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child

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