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City of Angles

Getting Confidential With James Ellroy

July 02, 2002|GINA PICCALO and LOUISE ROUG

It was a perfectly brilliant Sunday afternoon, custom-made for the roller-blader and mountain bike set. Consequently, the discussion inside the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills seemed a bit incongruous. Noir novelist James Ellroy, 54, was detailing the long afternoons in the late 1960s he spent injecting liquid methamphetamine and hallucinating. "I would look at women in Playboy magazine and they would talk to me," he told a crowd of writers and fans. At the time, he explained, "I was an acquired taste that no one acquired."

Ellroy, who was interviewed by noir writer Bruce Wagner as part of the Writers Bloc literary series, wore a beige jacket, tangerine pullover and his trademark round-framed glasses. He leaned back in his chair and spoke deeply into his microphone, filling the auditorium with prose rich in obscenities. Ellroy spun colorful tales of sex, drugs, murder and his awkward adolescence. The crowd hung on every word. As a teenager, he recalled, he shoplifted steaks from the Hollywood Ranch market and stuffed them into his pants. "Sometimes, the plastic wrapping would break and blood would run down my legs," he said, savoring the macabre nature of his tale.

Ellroy's writing career coincided with sobriety after years of drinking and drug use ("I was on marijuana maintenance until 1977," he said. "As you know, it's not habit-forming, so you can do it every day."). Since then, he has written more than 15 novels, including a series of four that offer a brutal portrait of 1950s Los Angeles. He's best known for "The Black Dahlia" and "L.A. Confidential," which later became a film starring Russell Crowe.

When the conversation turned to politics, he shared his disdain for former President Bill Clinton with a phrase that cannot be printed here. He cited "The No-Spin Zone" by Fox News Channel talk show host Bill O'Reilly as his favorite nonfiction work.

Ellroy left L.A. in the early '80s. He and his wife, writer Helen Knode, live in Kansas City. "It's the white trash comfort zone to which I've long aspired."

A Different Kind of Drama in Hollywood

It was crisis time at the closing gala of the Los Angeles Film Festival. The Saturday night screening of "The Good Girl" was already 30 minutes late, its star, Jennifer Aniston, was nowhere in sight, and there were no empty seats in the Pacific Theater in Hollywood. David Duchovny and Ben Stiller wandered the aisles. A few women in headsets searched frantically for open seats. "How was the press line tonight?" one man asked another. "Actually, it was kind of nice." Just ahead of them, Heather Graham had slipped in with a few friends, after rushing down the red carpet, ignoring the crowd of photographers, who roundly "booed" her into the theater. Inside, a man working the event was shouting across the theater: "David Duchovny!" The actor looked up. He was led with Stiller to a seat. As Duchovny passed Graham, she joked about her poor reception on the carpet. "It was trauma!" Everyone had grown a little anxious waiting for Aniston. Finally, the film's director, Miguel Arteta, took the podium. Seconds later, Aniston arrived sans husband Brad Pitt and discreetly took an aisle seat. Arteta summed up the scene with his opening line: "We are a tough town here in L.A."

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Quote/Unquote:

"This is the first time I've really had the guts to go for something knowing I might get critically savaged for it," pop star George Michael told the London Daily Mirror this week, in reference to his new single, "Shoot the Dog." In the animated video, Prime Minister Tony Blair is portrayed as a poodle being tickled by George W. Bush. "There's always been this nagging worry of people saying, 'Look, mate, you're a rich pampered pop star, what ... do you know about it?' But now I feel confident enough to just go for it. And I should have a right to say these things without being ripped to pieces."

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City of Angles runs Tuesday and Friday. E-mail: angles@latimes. com.

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