Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I Love L.A.

Well, actually I'm not sure I would say I love Los Angeles. More like I live in its proximity and feel drawn to knowing more about it.  While I can't resist a French Dip sandwich and pickled egg from Philippe's before going to a Dodgers game or riding the Live Steamers at Griffith Park, I am totally intimidated by the one-way streets, scarier parts of town, and the nightclub scene (although, my sister says the clubs are awesome).  I'd rather spend the day at the Skirball Center (coolest Noah's Ark exhibit ever--the animals are made out recycled materials!) or the Autry Museum, followed by a grilled sausage at Wurstkuche.
Philippe's Famous
Beef Dip Sandwiches

Live Steamers
Zebras made out of old ceiling
vents and keyboards
Gene Autry Museum

What I do love about Los Angeles is reading about its crazy history.  So far this year, I've read two books on the subject.  Both of them were written quite a while ago which is both good and bad.  Bad because (obviously) we're missing the next thirty years of mayhem. Good because they are both pre-"political correctness" and have no qualms about laying things out the way they really were.

Triforium (a.k.a.
Three Wishbones
Looking for a Turkey)

The first book is Jack Smith's L.A. (1980) written by famed Los Angeles Times columnist (you guessed it) Jack Smith.  This was a compilation of articles he had written over the years that specifically dealt with the personality of the city. And yes, Los Angeles definitely has its own personality.  From the uproar that was caused by city officials renaming Westlake Park to MacArthur Park complete with statue of the general without getting any buy-in from the community to the public's reaction to the controversial Triforium sculpture placed in the Civic Center (the first sculpture to use a computer to manipulate light and sound) you get a real sense of the push and pull between the crazy prevalent culture and the average citizen who just stands back and tries to take it all in.  Jack Smith's voice is simultaneously loving and sarcastic as he describes all the day-to-day happenings of a place which is basically "67 suburbs searching for a city."  Interesting side-note: Smith claims that he is the first person to coin the moniker "Black Dahlia" in that famous murder investigation.

The second book is All Star Cast: An Anecdotal History of Los Angeles (1977) by Stephen Longstreet.  I love me a good anecdote and this book was chock full of of them from the time of the Spaniards all the way to the Golden Age of Hollywood.  I loved that, in an act of resistance after the unseating of Pio Pico, some Mexican women went to American officer Archibald Gillespie (a real jerk who effectively lost an already secured town by treating its citizens like dirt) with a basketful of peaches in which they had embedded long cactus thorns. Brilliant!  Additionally, I was surprised to find out that Clarence Darrow (of Scopes Monkey Trial fame) was put on trial for bribing potential jury members in the famous case of the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building.  I'm not kidding!  No sign of this on wikipedia--I'm tempted to edit the Clarence Darrow page.  I loved Longstreet's gossipy prose and wide range of anecdotes.  I especially found interesting the passages about F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner who came to Hollywood in hopes of making some quick money screenwriting.  Longstreet, a fellow author, knew them both, if only in passing.  Quite sad stories.

I'll admit, I need to find something written more recently (suggestions anyone?). But, I thought these two were great and highly recommend that you find them at your library or ILL them (that's interlibrary loan for you non-library-jargon-understanding-folks) as they are both out of print.

<I checked these out of my library.>

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