Posts Tagged ‘humorist’

SERIES – Harry Golden: Epilogue

PART SIX (of 6): Excerpted from “Los Angeles, Los Angeles” by Harry Golden, circa 1960.harry_small

In closing this series, I’ll leave you with the final two paragraphs of Harry’s essay on Los Angeles and his fifty year-old predictions for this city’s future…

“In the next generation, as it has come to all frontiers, a rigid stratification will appear in Los Angeles. Mobility will come to an end and the city will take its place as the greatest single empire in the western world.

And here, too, it is well to record that in the tempest and turmoil among faith healers and movie stars, Rosecrucians and baseball fans, I have met some of the kindest people in the world.”

THOUGHTS: Wow, the GREATEST SINGLE EMPIRE of the Western World? Looks like Harry really overestimated us, eh? I’m actually glad he was a little off there though, because he also predicted we’d have 25 million people living here. And man, that would suck. (more…)


SERIES – Harry Golden: LA Cemeteries

PART FIVE: Excerpted from “Los Angeles, Los Angeles” by Harry Golden, circa 1960. harry_small

“(In Los Angeles,) the Jewish cemetery has billboards advertising plots with the single word, “Foreverness,” and the Christian cemetery (owned by the same syndicate) advertises with a similar billboard and the single word, “Devotion.” The chapels of both are air-conditioned, with flourescent lighting in all crypts, and a Muzak which plays Bach and Schubert for the Christians, Verdi and Rossini for the Jews.”

THOUGHTS: I’m pretty sure he’s referring to Forest Lawn and Mount Sinai here, and I’ll confess I haven’t spent much quality time in either so I can’t report on the current status of their muzak or crypt lighting. I was driving to the LA Fair last month and I did notice a billboard for Forest Lawn in Covina that got my attention, though. The billboard showed a photo of an old woman… and then next to her the headline said something like: “26 year old football linebacker, father, son.” Confusing, right? See, that’s the point… the payoff tagine underneath said, “Don’t have someone else’s funeral.” Ahah! I get it!

Moral of the story, I guess people nowadays don’t expect quite as much “devotion” and “foreverness.” They just really want to make sure the mortuary’s gonna give them their money’s worth and get their names right on the tombstone. Sigh. Our expectations of customer service have really been sadly lowered over the last 50 years…

COMING ON THURSDAY… THE EPILOGUE: Harry Golden on LA


SERIES – Harry Golden: Real Estate

PART THREE: Excerpted from “Los Angeles, Los Angeles” by Harry Golden, circa 1960. harry_small

“What this frontier (Los Angeles) substitutes for the six-shooter is the real-estate advertisement. All of the daily papers carry from twenty to thirty pages of classified realty. This is the greatest mobility in all history within a single community. A welder from Akron moves into a $14,000 house and a month later finds he can sell it for $17,000, which he does, and finds himself a second home to live in for $15,000. He probably even has a charge account at all the newspapers’ classified advertising departments – “For Rent,” “For Sale,” “Want to Buy.” Six hundred people come into the city every day. The welder has no trouble.”

THOUGHTS: Okay, so clearly 1960 was a LONG TIME AGO.

COMING SOON… PART FOUR: Harry Golden on LA and Religion


SERIES – Harry Golden: LA’s Heritage Clubs

PART TWO: Excerpted from “Los Angeles, Los Angeles” by Harry Golden, circa 1960.
harry_small

“In Los Angeles there are thousands of fraternal organizations and societies based upon places of origin. There is the Minneapolis Canasta Club, the Iowa Society, the Friends of the Mid-West, the Lower East Side Association, the Oregon Friendly Social Club.

In this, the newcomers to California are following the pattern of America’s immigrants from Europe, who organized themselves into fraternal societies of people from the same town or area.

One of the real reasons for so many societies was the fact that a fraternity could have only one president, one secretary, and one treasurer, and there was always the need for another organization. History hasn’t changed much since those days. Many of our organizations today are broken down into five or six separate groups – Mr. and Mrs. clubs, adult study groups, auxiliaries, and of course “youth.” And each organization has a staff of officers, banquets and social functions.

I can just see the old gents of the “Zegeefska Chevra” stroking their beards in wonder at the “Tuesday Ladies of Flatbush” playing canasta in a vestry room of the San Fernando Valley.

The very composition of the City of Los Angeles has banished one form of bigotry. No one ever sneers, “Why don’t you go back where you came from?” because if anyone took this to heart, the whole joint would empty overnight and the only ones left would be a few bemused Indians.”

THOUGHTS: Seems our vast array of domestic heritage societies, canasta clubs and social vestry rooms faded into the shadows over the last fifty years. (But what the frickity frack is a “Zegeefska Chevra”!!!??? Does anyone here know what he’s talking about?) I actually don’t think we’ve become such a melting pot that people don’t congregate towards finding comfort in heritage the way they used to, though. By the warm reaction to my North Dakota post, I know that people do still light up when they find something here that reminds them of home… but it seems like where you’re from isn’t always worn as a lifelong badge of bonding the way it once was. Long Beach is no longer ground zero for people from Iowa and Minneapolis (it was once called Iowa By The Sea for a reason), and it’s no longer common knowledge that Pasadena was actually a colony settlement of people solely from Indiana. Our modern-day Indians are less bemused, too.

After thinking about it a bit, I realized that perhaps the key reason we don’t have all of these clubs has nothing to do with anti-socialism or lack of civic pride, though. A lot has changed since the Camelot of 1960 when this article was written and John F. Kennedy had just been elected President. Truth is, contrary to the image this article describes… people aren’t fighting each other to be the President of much of anything any more. In 1960 that title was the highest and proudest aspiration you could aim for, but the shine has long since worn off the turd of power. Clubs always need leaders, and not only is leading is a lot of work, but it always involves politics. Our perceptions have changed a lot since 1960: perhaps we’ve seen for ourselves that being President can be kind of a crappy, thankless job we might not want to take on. But I could be wrong.

COMING SOON… PART THREE: Harry Golden on LA’s Real Estate of the 1960s


SERIES – Harry Golden on LA Smog & Sprawl

PART ONE: Excerpted from “Los Angeles, Los Angeles” by Harry Golden, circa 1960. harry_small

“The City of Los Angeles lies in the flat part of a huge saucer. The Indians, who prowled and hunted in this saucer long before the arrival of the white men, called it, “the place of everlasting smoke.” Long after they had broken up their hunting camps, the smoke from their fires would hang over the saucer. Today Los Angeles is enveloped by a smog from the factories which makes the eyes sting and produces a rasping cough. Eventually, however, they will dissipate this smog – as soon as Los Angelenos muster the courage to stand up to the oil and rubber industries which produce it. Right now these industries pay over a hundred million dollars in taxes, but the day is fast coming when the citizens of the city will no longer tolerate this blemish, a hundred million or not.

Because Los Angeles will one day have 25 million people. It is inevitable. Even now it is the phenomenon of mid-twentieth-century America. It has been described as two hundred suburbs in search of a city, but this is only because Los Angeles is the new frontier. The reason writers have not made literature out of this fantastic city is that they associate the frontier with the wide-open spaces, Tonto, and the six-shooter. They have not yet realized that there is an urban frontier, too. Los Angeles in 1960 is the perfect symbol of the urbanization of our civilization.”

THOUGHTS: Unfortunately, even though we did fight to get those World War II era factories to stop pumping smoke into the air… we still live in a smoke crater with some big ozone issues. But as far as the quality of air particulates we’re breathing, the people of Pittsburgh, Cincinnatti, Birmingham and Detroit have it worse than we do. So do the people of Fresno and Bakersfield, for that matter. Truth is, the air quality in Los Angeles today is actually significantly better than it was in the 1960s. And thank God, our population is nowhere near 25 million people yet! I cringe at the thought.

People around America *still* love to use that “suburbs in search of a city” quote about L.A. Fact is, the phrase was originally coined by Dorothy Parker – but she said Los Angeles was only 72 suburbs in search of a city. (We’ve grown since then.) As any local knows… it doesn’t even seem a reasonable goal to reduce the vastness of what Los Angeles offers down to something that fits the stereotype of a single-minded metropolis, though. Rather, Los Angeles often feels more like a small world with many different countries nested inside of it. There are a variety of independent heartbeats here… not just one. Many of us love that about it, but in some ways, perhaps that’s our problem. That vastness is what makes Los Angeles still seem like a barbaric, untamable frontier to people from more easily digested and categorized places, which in turn makes it a far cry from a “perfect symbol of urbanization of civilization.” By sheer size, it seems too overwhelming to be palatable. Such opinions probably won’t be changing any time soon, but a few more Dorothy Parker quotes come to mind: I don’t care what anybody says about me as long as it isn’t trueand “I shall stay the way I am because I do not give a damn.” :)

Coming Soon… PART TWO: Harry Golden on LA’s Heritage Clubs


SERIES – Intro: Harry Golden on Los Angeles

enjoy, enjoy!I have a love for thrift store books. I’ve discovered the most amazing, unexpected things through them.

“Enjoy, Enjoy!” by author, humorist, publisher, ex-convict, buddy of Carl Sandburg and civil rights proponent Harry Golden (1902–1981) was this weekend’s found treasure. I wasn’t familiar with Harry Golden before, but wow… I wish I knew the guy for his openly sarcastic stance towards bigots alone. As a Jew living in racist South Carolina in the 60s, he came up with various methods to fight racism with humor… one being his proposition that if black people were to be called colored, white people should in turn be referred to as “colorless” (as in, “This is Joe, my colorless friend”). Also…

“Golden’s various schemes for solving the racial problem in America were most memorable. Observing that white Southerners were loathe to sit with African Americans on buses or in restaurants, but noting that whites often stood in line with African Americans at grocery stores and other places, Golden called on the public school to remove all chairs from their classrooms. This “Vertical Negro Plan” would thereby overcome Southern reservations about sitting in the same room with the other race.

Heh.

But I digress. Starting tomorrow I’ll be sharing some of Harry Golden’s 50 year old impressions of Los Angeles with you. What’s amazing is how in so many ways his insights were so brilliant. But in other ways, he makes it clear that Los Angeles in 1960 was a very, very different place with very different priorities… for better and for worse. I hope you find it as interesting as I did. :)