No. 118 (essentialsaltes) wrote,
No. 118

Writing Los Angeles

I've been reading Writing Los Angeles, which collects oodles of nonfictional and fictional descriptions of LA, presented in pseudo-chronological order. Lots of great details:

This shows you how ingrained LA habits are - Helen Jackson speaking of Spanish days: "They seem to have been a variety of Centaur ... They mounted, with jingling silver spur and glittering bridle, for the shortest distances, even to cross a plaza."

Vachel Lindsay's description of Hollywood (1915) seems oddly prophetic: "This thinness [lack of history, aesthetics, etc.] California has in common with the routine photoplay, which is at times as shallow in its thought as the shadow it throws upon the screen. This newness California has in common with all photoplays. It is thrillingly possible for the state and the art to acquire spiritual tradition and depth together." Certainly the photoplay and the state have grown up together... not so sure about any added depth.
Lindsay ends with an interesting namecheck: "let [California] forget her seventeen-year-old melodramatics, and turn ot her poets who understand the heart underneath the glory. Edwin Markham ... Clark Ashton Smith, the star treader, George Sterling, that son of Ancient Merlin..." Maybe not so surprising, since Lindsay was also a poet of that circle.

Louis Adamic talks of thousands of realtors, brokers, preachers, etc. "driven by the same motives of wealth, power and personal glory ... Their wives ... listen to swamis and yogis and English lecturers, join 'love cults' and Coué clubs ... And their children - boys and girls in their teens: 'beautiful but dumb' - jazz and drink and rush around in roadsters."
I love Adamic's metaphor for LA: "In Panama, I remember, I once saw a great stretch of jungle country from a mountain top. It was beautiful from the distance. Looking at it, I could not believe that actually it was a dank, unhealthy, dangerous region, into which one should not venture except if properly equipped with mosquito netting and armed with guns and bolos. The same goes for Los Angeles." Just staple that to your copy of Secrets of Los Angeles.

Aldous Huxley's Rhapsody on LA is almost totally dismissive... and yet he came back and happily settled here a decade after writing it. It's almost endlessly quotable. Speaking of seeing a studio film lab: "I forget how many thousands of feet of art and culture they could turn out each day. Quite a number of miles, in any case."

Mencken shows what a master of words he is. He spends 3 pages ripping Aimee Semple Macpherson to shreds, and then spends the last page sympathetically defending her honor (if somewhat paternalistically to the modern ear): "It is unheard of, indeed, in any civilized community for a woman to be tried for perjury uttered in defense of her honor. But in California, as everyone knows, the process of justice is full of unpleasant novelties..."

Edmund Wilson didn't much like Lovecraft, and he didn't like LA either. The homeowners of LA, he says, are "lovers of mixturesque beauty." Man, that stings. Mainly, he's talking about Bob Shuler, a local evangelist: "Bob Shuler first made the front page with a sermon directed against some high-school girls who were reported to have had themselves photographed naked. This stimulated pious people to think about nude high-school girls and at once increased his following." Shuler was evidently instrumental in getting auto parts dealer and former Klansman John C. Porter elected mayor of LA.
Tags: book, la

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