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JACK SMITH

Not Just the Facts, Ma'am : Los Angeles Has Become a Haven for the Purveyors and Perpetuators of Urban Trivia That May or May Not Be True

October 04, 1987|JACK SMITH

LOS ANGELES IS SO fragmented, diversified and mythologized that any attempt to picture it in one piece is inevitably kaleidoscopic.

John Weaver's "Los Angeles: the Enormous Village" remains the best short review of our history, our lunacies and our virtues.

Otherwise, the best one can do is acquire one of those little pocket guides that put everything in its place without trying to relate one thing to another or place anything in historical perspective. They are especially good at locating expensive restaurants and stores.

It was inevitable, I suppose, that someone would shovel up hundreds of trivial facts about Los Angeles and put them all into one bag.

Roy Kammerman has done this in "L.A. Superlatives: a Treasury of Bizarre, Offbeat, and Record-Breaking Facts About the Entertainment Capital of the World," which seems itself a title of close to record-breaking length.

The author notes that the facts are correct "to the best of my knowledge," allowing that they are at the mercy of "the ambition and caprice of millions of hyperkinetic Los Angelenos."

I applaud him for a note in which he explains that he has expanded Los Angeles to include Beverly Hills, Malibu, Palm Springs, Newport Beach, Santa Barbara, West Hollywood and other communities. "To separate them from Los Angeles is to separate the Vatican from Rome. So we, like the visitor or the true Los Angeleno, have chosen to wander freely."

(I think, however, that there is no such thing as a Los Angeleno. Los is plural and Angeleno is singular. We are Los Angelenos; but each of us is an Angeleno.)

Many who have specific knowledge of the subjects that Kammerman covers will probably discover minor errors. For most of the alleged facts, there are probably no reliable sources.

Having had some personal familiarity with the Black Dahlia murder case, I know that the victim's body was not found in the Hollywood Hills, as the book says, but on Norton Avenue near 39th Street, in the flats of central Los Angeles.

Another dubious fact, but certainly bizarre, is that Los Angeles has 1,000 mediums, or channels--more than any other American city. Ten years ago, the book says, we had only two. Channels are people who allegedly can communicate with the dead, with extraterrestrials or with some unidentified spiritual force. I doubt that Los Angeles ever had as few as two, and I suspect that today, in the New Age, we have a good many more than 1,000.

Kammerman attests to numerous records, including one allegedly set by Larry Walters in 1982. Walters is said to have ridden an unmodified Sears lawn chair lifted by 24 helium-filled weather balloons to a height of three miles before crash-landing in Long Beach.

When Kammerman says his facts are at the mercy of hyperkinetic Angelenos, he evidently means, for example, that the day after tomorrow some other inspired Angeleno will ride a Sears lawn chair to a height of 3.5 miles.

You may be surprised to hear that Mensa, whose members are selected for their high IQs, has more members in the San Fernando Valley (612) than in any other part of the city. Perhaps that's because UCLA professors can't afford to live on the Westside.

Several alleged facts reveal our city's polyglot and multi-ethnic character: Children in our public schools speak 100 different languages; 100,000 American Indians live here--more than in any other urban area; more blacks, more Latinos and more women own businesses here than in any other city in the nation.

Since the residents of Beverly Hills are usually portrayed on television (and in books) as rich, self-indulgent and primarily occupied with sexual adventure, it is interesting to know (according to Kammerman) that more books are sold in that city (in proportion to its population) than in any other. The most popular subjects, however, are said to be sex, gambling, dieting and show business. Well, at least they aren't illiterate.

The most common tree in Los Angeles, according to Kammerman, is the palm. There are 48,000 of them--more than in Hawaii. And it isn't a native. "But then," Kammerman asks, "who is?"

Some of Kammerman's numerous statements about show business, which may or may not be true: Lucille Ball's home is the one most tourists want to see; Yoko Ono (John Lennon's widow) is "probably" the richest woman in the entertainment industry (Los Angeles is her part-time home), with $200 million plus; Marilyn Monroe's tomb at Westwood Memorial Park is more visited than any other star's; the only dogs on the Hollywood Walk of Fame are Rin Tin Tin and Lassie; A Star is Worn, on Melrose, deals exclusively in celebrities' castoff clothing.

It is not necessarily a fact, but it is nonetheless beyond dispute, that the industry's most successful ex-actor is Ronald Reagan, though a good many ex-actors doubtless have more money.

The most popular name for registered dogs in Los Angeles is Lady.

The most successful shelter in returning lost dogs to their owners is the Los Angeles County Animal Shelter in Agoura.

Whatever you may have heard about the sleeping habits of Angelenos, only five water beds are sold for every 95 box springs and mattresses.

I don't know what to make of all this, but if you're going to lose your dog, you ought to lose it in Agoura.

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