Tag Archives | LA Times

Southern California Stories

I’m working on private writing assignments and creating some summer lessons but I’ve gathered a few links to recent Southern California-themed articles for those who might be interested and may have missed reading them online or in the newspaper. My exclusive interview with the Ayn Rand Institute’s new CEO, Jim Brown, who talked with me at his Irvine office about management, including what he’s learned from serving in the United States Air Force, was published in the Los Angeles Times Orange County edition; you can read it here. Brown, whom I think is planning to attend and address next month’s OCON in Pittsburgh, names his favorite Ayn Rand lecture and works by longtime Orange County resident and ARI founder Leonard Peikoff. Brown also identifies what he considers the institute’s greatest success.

The head of another Southern California institute, the newly formed Institute for the Study of Los Angeles (ISLA), recently sat down with me at the host campus quad at Occidental College for a wide-ranging interview about plans for the future. Professor Jeremiah Axelrod discussed his family’s unique migration to LA from Alabama, restrictive covenants and the top places to visit in LA in my exclusive new piece about his thoughts and interesting historical facts about the region. The article, which runs this week, is available to read here.

One sordid chapter in LA history is the serial crimes by the Hillside Stranglers, which was integral to the downfall of one of the city’s first prominent shopping malls. I recently profiled Eagle Rock Plaza, which has since been nicknamed the Mall of Manila but was once a popular attraction for events featuring a teen idol, Olympic gold medalist and a movie starlet. Tenants over the years included Howard Johnson’s, May Company, The Wherehouse, See’s Candies, Bob’s Big Boy, Baskin-Robbins and Vroman’s Bookstore. Before the mall opened, local LA residents were so excited, they demanded to have “Eagle Rock” put in its name and the city of Glendale was so nervous about losing tax revenue to the competition that the local government mandated free downtown parking — before Eagle Rock Plaza even opened. But when two serial rapists and murderers showed up, posing as policemen, stalking a bus stop by the shopping center and picking up their youngest victims there, business slowed. Read the shopping center story here.

Event Review: Festival of Books

The 22nd annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is a unique combination of book sales, signings and promotional events. I’ve attended for years and, still, I enjoy it while acknowledging its deficiencies. My top complaint is the same as always: volunteers, event staff, venue staff and security are poorly equipped and trained to direct the over 150,000 people who come to the University of Southern California campus. Event maps are lacking. One volunteer in a festival information booth gave me the wrong directions to the Salvatori Computer Science Center, not to be confused with an arts and letters building donated by a Salvatori with that name emblazoned on it. Getting around the festival, important if you favor lectures and panel discussions as I do, gets worse every year (read my thoughts on last year’s festival here).

Once at the destination, which could be anywhere around USC’s wonderful campus near downtown Los Angeles, you’re often afforded outstanding opportunities to listen, learn, ponder, explore and examine the world of books and ideas. I spent much of the two-day weekend event roaming around booths, visiting small university presses, independent booksellers, university writing programs, USC’s many schools’ showcases and booths for various authors, theaters, publications, schools and products, from Atheists United, Titanium sponsor Acura dealers of Southern California and the Ayn Rand Institute to author Zoe Summer and YaYa’s Creole Products. Add music—the Trojans’ marching band is always a favorite—cooking and kids’ areas, and C-Span’s Booknotes interviews and scads of other contests, prizes and free samples, from books and prints to power bars and bags (which come in handy with California’s plastic bag ban, which amounts to a tax) and the book fair truly is a festival. Subtract the presence of book publishers that dominated early festivals, however, and there are fewer and fewer books, especially new, major books and authors.

I had previously attended a conversation with author Glenn Frankel at an event at the Autry Museum of the American West in LA’s Griffith Park several weeks ago. His book about High Noon and what he and many others in Hollywood refer to as the blacklist (Hollywood’s highly touted 1950s’ blackballing of presumed Communists or Soviet sympathizers, not the list of unmade scripts) makes Frankel, who won a Pulitzer Prize for international reporting and worked for the Washington Post, an attractive guest speaker. So, I already knew that Frankel, who also taught journalism at Stanford and the University of Texas, knows his subject well. He’d told the Autry audience, for instance, that High Noon was shot in 32 days on a low budget, that screenwriter Carl Foreman was called to testify to a congressional committee about his membership in the Communist Party and that star Gary Cooper was the son of British immigrants, that he may have been impacted by childhood visits to Montana’s state house, where he saw a painting of Lewis and Clark, and that he was not very political.

When I saw that Frankel was on a book festival panel on classic Hollywood, I decided to attend. Knowing that, at the Autry, he had dropped the context that the United States was under threat of attack by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), something that people who talk about the Hollywood blacklist usually do, and that we know that the Soviets funded subversive efforts to undermine the U.S. government, I wanted to hear a detailed analysis of classic Hollywood, including the blacklist, through panel discussion.

Instead, the panel was the opposite. Moderated by USC writing instructor, Newsday political cartoonist and author M.G. Lord, who wrote a book on Elizabeth Taylor titled The Accidental Feminist, the panel was a barrage of uncorroborated claims and arbitrary assertions about the blacklist which turned into a political rant against Trump and conservatives with hardly any discussion of classic Hollywood. Author Jon Lewis, a movie professor at Oregon State University, declared that Trump’s election means democracy is dead in America (seriously). Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times film critic, whom apparently everyone calls Kenny, barely spoke about classic film, though he did mention being raised as an Orthodox Jew. Frankel, who is both extremely knowledgeable and fundamentally mistaken in his book’s assertion that Ayn Rand is to blame for what he sees as the injustice of a Hollywood blacklist, gave the most substantial classic Hollywood analysis. Others went for laughs and digs at Trump or the blacklist.

To her credit, Karen Maness, a scenic artist and co-author of The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop and painting instructor for the University of Texas Department of Theatre and Dance and scenic art supervisor at Texas Performing Arts, gave very interesting facts and insights about classic movies’ backdrops.

The classic movies discussion was disappointing but a panel on writing short stories was worse, despite efforts by PEN Center USA literary programmer, author and moderator Libby Flores. Given the team’s credentials, I was astonished that no one really talked about writing short stories. Channelle Benz, who earned her MFA at Syracuse University, has published short stories in The American Reader and is the recipient of an O. Henry Prize. Author Dana Johnson is an English professor at USC and winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. Brooklyn writer Rebecca Schiff graduated from Columbia University’s MFA program and her stories have appeared in The Guardian. Deb Olin Unferth, who writes in Austin, Texas, was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award and her work has appeared in Harper’s, the Paris Review, and Tin House. So I was looking forward to a detailed examination of writing short stories. The panel started late and veered into the writers’ rambling thoughts on why they are fascinated by “the color of blood” and admissions and confessions of personal tastes and idiosyncrasies. When I asked if they have an explicit theme in mind when they write a story, only Schiff answered and she didn’t say much. No one else spoke.

Unferth was the most entertaining short stories panelist, using humor to lighten the dense discussion, which did not include mention of a single writing habit. Unferth, who told the audience about a story she wrote in which a shooter contemplates whether to gun down a child at the top of a hill, was asked about the most memorable reader response to her writing. She made the audience laugh when she admitted that a blogger once posted—and apparently kept posting—about how he hated one of her stories, which he wrote was a downer that kept dragging him down. Imagine that.

When Flores asked everyone to name the first story to make an impression, no one could think of a single story to name. At some point, Schiff did manage to credit Kurt Vonnegut with the advice to “make your character want something—even if it’s just a glass of water.”

Titles among their material might have been a cautionary clue that they aren’t terribly interested in breaking down the writing, let alone editing and publishing, process. Benz is the author of The Man Who Shot Out My Eye is Dead. Johnson’s newest book is titled In the Not Quite Dark: Stories. Schiff’s latest book is called The Bed Moved.

Easily the most stimulating panel came late in the festival on Sunday. Whereas the short story writers gave the impression that writing is mysterious, magical and indecipherable, the writers on the “From Page to Screen” panel stressed the opposite idea.

Panelists included Brian McGreevy, author and screenwriter (and co-creator of AMC’s The Son with Pierce Brosnan), who was a James Michener Fellow at the University of Texas. His latest novel is The Lights. Also on board: novelist Tod Goldberg, who wrote novels based on USA Network’s Burn Notice and co-authored the Hammett Prize finalist Gangsterland, for which he’s writing a sequel, Gangster Nation, scheduled for publication this fall; Los Angeles writer Pamela Ribon who recently co-wrote Disney’s Moana and former Dark Shadows actress Lara Parker, author of three novels based on NBC’s cult soap opera, who attended Vassar College, graduated from Rhodes College in Memphis with a BA in philosophy and received her MFA in creative writing from LA’s Antioch University. The moderator, USC writing instructor Richard Rayner, who’s written nine books, including an LA crime history, A Bright and Guilty Place, and an interesting article on Rudyard Kipling, liked to talk more than he liked to let the panelists talk.

When they did, the page-to-screen writers were hilariously insightful and incisive, generously sharing their insecurities, showing their battle scars and being utterly candid in every detail about their writing. Contrary to the painfully pretentious short stories panel, these writers were quite self-aware and purposeful in trying to help the audience grasp the hard work and wrenching business of writing. They fed off of Goldberg’s delightful banter with Ribon, which was at once politically incorrect and perfectly suited to the occasion, delivering with good humor the necessary tips, tools and knowledge to manage Hollywood’s often anti-conceptual handling—more like belittling—of the writer. Goldberg wisely explained that he knows his limits (he didn’t put it this way) by focusing on prose writing. McGreevy had said something similar.

Everything Tod Goldberg said, and he is enormously successful, and, not coincidentally, decent, kind and gracious in person, tracks to not letting the pain of pursuing a livelihood in writing go too deep down into your soul. In his own introverted way, McGreevy, too, let the audience know how to let off steam and cope with adversity in the potentially ruinous page to screen process, alluding to horror stories while delivering a blistering breakdown of the term “showrunner” as a total lie. McGreevy, who explicitly embraced writing’s solitude and said that he really doesn’t like spending a lot of time with people, explained that he studied the creative process from a primarily different orientation—that of the perspective of those titans of the technology industry. He said he read many of their books on being productive and gained real value. He also encouraged writers to take breaks often to give detachment and distance to the material (my writing class students may recognize this particular writing lesson).

Parker shot down the moderator’s attempt to credit her acting with any meaningful tie-in to her writing, crediting her own reading of great works of horror literature, from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula to more recent novels and, finally, her decision to mimic the structure and approach of Daphne Du Maurier (Rebecca, Jamaica Inn). She derided the box office bomb movie version starring Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins (“Tim Burton is not interested in story”, she said) and, having played a villainess, the witch, she pointed out that the franchise Dark Shadows is a supernatural thriller rooted in serious, universal themes of life and death through gothic romanticism. Asked by Rayner after she griped about having to deliver bad lines as an actress to name the worst line, Parker fingered The Six Million Dollar Man on ABC, in which she played Col. Steve Austin’s love interest who told him at the end of the weekly episode that: “There will always be a candle buring for you in the window, Steve.” To which Mr. Goldberg deadpanned, a moment after audience laughter subsided: “Was this during the Civil War?”

All of which only made this writer want to read their books.

LA’s Eagle Rock

The northeastern part of Los Angeles contains a neighborhood known as Eagle Rock with a population of about 30,000. I’ve enjoyed visiting and writing about the hillside section of LA for years. I almost bought a mid-century modern house near there some years ago and I write about Eagle Rock for a newspaper owned by the LA Times.

That’s why I’m disturbed by this week’s reports by the LAPD and an Eagle Rock campus club of an attack on a police vehicle and an apparently unrelated siege against a 9/11 memorial display at a small liberal arts school located there. Both incidents are under investigation.

Eagle Rock is tucked away by Glassell Park, Glendale and Highland Park in the northeast section of the city. Its main artery is Colorado Boulevard, which runs into Pasadena in the San Gabriel Valley where the Tournament of Roses parade strolls every year on New Year’s Day. The boulevard used to be lined with motels, Italian family restaurants and antique shops from Glendale to Eagle Rock before the Colorado Street Bridge.

latimeslobby2016It’s still somewhat like that, though this small and interesting part of LA is changing. Crime has been a problem in Eagle Rock ever since I can remember. Homelessness, too. Pockets of the northeastern section, which, like Los Angeles, is part suburb, part urban, contain a variety of LA points of interest, from the actual hillside ‘eagle rock’ (because it resembles an eagle) for which the neighborhood is named to the 1953 recreation center at 1100 Eagle Vista Drive, conceived and designed by Richard Neutra. The rec center, with Neutra’s retractable walls, includes basketball and tennis courts and areas for children’s play and gymnastics. Its need for improvement is among several topics addressed at last week’s local council meeting, which I wrote about here in a piece posted on the Los Angeles Times website.

This week’s attack against police off the 134 freeway and anti-American vandalism and assault on freedom of speech at Occidental College, where Barack Obama and Jack Kemp, the 1996 vice-presidential nominee, once took classes and graduated, respectively, are major events and ought to cause Eagle Rock residents, schools and businesses serious concern. When I attended the all-volunteer council’s meeting, I found those attending and presiding to be very engaged, especially about the prospect for worsening crime, so I anticipate a strong reaction.

But I also think Eagle Rock is a microcosm of the country, with crumbling infrastructure and more government control, with some focused more on punishing the productive and profitable than on improving the quality of life by protecting the First Amendment and property rights. I’ve also found decent hardworking individuals in the community who have lived, bought, traded, worked and invested there for years.

As with good Americans everywhere, they must rise to the challenge of this new siege on free speech and assault on law enforcement by showing up at council meetings, speaking out, exercising the freedom of speech and defending the rights of the individual.

Eagle Rock, like America, certainly has what it takes to end the attacks.

From the shops, boutiques and eateries along Eagle Rock Boulevard to Eagle Rock’s library and the wine tasting room on Colorado Blvd., which I wrote about last week, there’s more good than bad in this uniquely mixed LA neighborhood. As the wine tasting room’s owner, an Occidental alum and businessman who spoke of his plans to host a talk by Oxy scholars on Greek mythology, said when he showed a tattoo of Achilles: “I love the classics.”

This display of pride in explicit free expression and support for the foundations of Western civilization is just what besieged Eagle Rock needs.


Related

Articles about Eagle Rock by Scott Holleran

Businessman Sponsors Local Artists at Wine Tasting Room

Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council Meeting on Sign, Property Regulations, Neutra-designed Rec Center

Photo Exhibit at Eagle Rock Branch Library

Springtime Festivals

This spring, two annual festivals caught my attention. The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at University of Southern California (USC) is always interesting for its literary lectures, panels and appearances. I usually learn about new stories, books and publishing deals, trade trends and developments and run into someone I know or want to know and this year was no exception. I learned about everything from new literary journals and adapting Greek plays to new small publishers, printers for self-published books and blogs, resources and programs for writers.

FOBooksUSC2016The Festival of Books panels, in particular, can get pretentious as writers and editors share their thoughts from the ivory tower and some of the comments reinforce that today’s dominant intellectuals are disconnected—some knowingly—from audiences and reality. For instance, a dramatic arts dean at the university, a published author, admitted that he hadn’t read the play he was adapting. He added that he’d read it once decades ago but seemed oddly proud of his not having studied and mastered his topic, as if this was the point of adaptation; to evade the cause of the work. Others rambled and most speakers at the panel discussions talked as if everyone was familiar with every term, work and literary reference, though moderators tried to keep them grounded in communicating with a wide, general audience.

Listening to writers talk about writing makes me think about better habits, tools and techniques and the event offers an opportunity to meet other writers, editors and publishers. For some of my contracted projects, it’s especially helpful to know about new producers in the market at any point in the writing-to-publishing process. So, overall, I’m glad I went.

Turner Classic Movies hosts a classic movie festival in Hollywood every year, which I attended for the first time in 2015 and again this spring (read my roundup of 2015’s event here and a preview of 2016’s festival here). The panels are, perhaps not surprisingly, less pretentious than the book festival’s, though I found myself wanting more of the exchanges than some of the brief interviews and panels delivered, though Faye Dunaway’s interview was extensive and the star of Network, The Towering Inferno and The Thomas Crown Affair was thoughtful and gracious (more on this later).

ClubTCMBWA panel discussion on journalism and movies with writers, editors and a producer, which I wrote about for LA Screenwriter (read my report here), could have lasted another 45 minutes and I would have stayed. TCM’s panel, which was moderated by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, a TV journalist earlier in his career, included writer/director James Vanderbilt (Truth), Oscar-winning writer Josh Singer (Spotlight), broadcast news producer and author Mary Mapes (portrayed in Truth by Cate Blanchett) and journalist/editor Ben Bradlee, Jr., portrayed by John Slattery in Spotlight—Bradlee was partly responsible for managing the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal, the subject of Spotlight, which won 2015’s Oscar for Best Picture.

This year, I was able to see at least one past Best Picture Oscar winner on the big screen as with last year’s screened classic movies—Too Late for Tears (1949) with Lizabeth Scott, Gunga Din (1939), Malcolm X (1992), Viva Zapata! (1952), So Dear to My Heart (1949) and The Sound of Music (1965)—and this one, Sylvester Stallone’s 1976 hit Rocky, was a film I had never seen in any format. Read the reviews, which include notes on accompanying festival interviews where applicable, either on The New Romanticist or here on the blog as available. So far, besides Rocky, I’ve reviewed Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) with Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, John Singleton’s Boyz N The Hood (1991) with Cuba Gooding, Jr., Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne, Josef von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express (1932) with Marlene Dietrich and Elia Kazan’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) with Dorothy Maguire. I’ve added a review of The Virginian (1946) starring Joel McCrea, which recently screened at the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, too, and there are a few more reviews to come (of The Manchurian Candidate (1962), The Band Wagon (1953) and I’ve Always Loved You (1946).

Additionally, I plan to post a roundup of 2016’s TCM Classic Film Festival, themed this time to “Moving Pictures”, including coverage of other lectures, interviews and related news, such as TCM’s new fan club, Backlot, and its new streaming partnership with the Criterion Collection. ‘Like’ my Facebook page for regularly posted mini-reviews of films on TCM’s lineup.

For live instruction, evaluation and discussion of movies, books and media, and studious breakdown of the writing process, feel free to attend my classes if you’re in Los Angeles this summer. Space is limited for updated courses on social media (read more and register here) and Writing Boot Camp (read more and register here) in Burbank. If you want help with a project and you’re unable to attend, let me know (I can probably help by phone, FaceTime or Skype). Otherwise, read the monthly newsletter for tips, tools and thoughts. Look for new reviews, articles and stories to come.