May 17, 1939
Toward evening, we came into downtown Los Angeles--perhaps the ugliest city on Earth. It was Saturday night, and the streets were swarming with drunks. We saw three sailors carrying a girl into a house, as though they were going to eat her alive.
Next day, we took a taxi into Hollywood. I was amazed at the size of the city, and at its lack of shape. There seemed no reason why it should ever stop. Miles and miles of little houses, wooden or stucco, under a Technicolor sky. Miles of little gardens crowded with blossoms and flowering bushes; the architecture is dominated by the vegetation. A city without privacy, where neighbors share each other's lawns and look into each other's bedrooms. The whole place like a world's fair, quite new and already partly in ruins. The only permanent buildings are the schools and the churches. On the hill, giant letters spell "Hollywoodland," but this is only another advertisement. It is silly to say that Hollywood, or any other city, is "unreal." But what the arriving traveler first sees are merely advertisements for a city which doesn't exist.
January 4, 1940
Lectured to an English class at the Beverly Hills High, on Expressionist drama. The teachers were rather depressing--hanging on to Culture by their eyelids. The pupils, in their casual, friendly way, were quite responsive. You could catch their attention for about a quarter of a minute at a time. The girls are powdered and painted, elaborately dolled up. The boys dress like tramps--in a gaudy, ragbag assortment of sweatshirts, lumber-jackets, jeans and cords. There is no discipline whatsoever, in the European sense. The lecturer is merely allowed, by courtesy, to speak a little louder than the class. But--having seen the beautifully planned classrooms, the wonderfully equipped theater, the swimming baths, the gymnasium and the library--one can't help wondering; how long will this strange homage to education continue at all? The barbarian students are so much more vital than the culture they are supposed to be acquiring. This place is simply a temple to a dead religion. Study has become a cult, fossilized in ritual. Most of the questions they asked me were basically economic in interest. For example: "Can the theater compete with the movies?" When the bell rang, they stopped me instantly, by clapping.