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CULTURE | 125 Years | WHAT LOS ANGELES GAVE THE WORLD
| THE PEOPLE

Leaving their mark

December 03, 2006|David L. Ulin | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles is commonly regarded as a city people come to, but there's much more to it than that. For better than a century, it's also been a place that people come from -- even when (as so often happens) they were born somewhere else. Indeed, L.A. is synonymous with personality, whether frivolous or tragic or profound. Here, we celebrate 10 Angelenos who, by dint of either action or circumstance, helped change the way we understand the world.

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Job Harriman

LAWYER, SOCIALIST

The election was supposed to be a shoo-in. Job Harriman, socialist candidate for mayor of Los Angeles, had won the 1911 primary, beating incumbent George Alexander by 4,000 votes. Yet four days before the election, the McNamara brothers -- whom Harriman had served as defense attorney -- confessed to bombing the Los Angeles Times. Harriman lost. He would later found the Llano Colony, and help set the stage for L.A.'s tradition of progressive politics.

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Kathy Fiscus

CITIZEN, MEDIA EVENT

She was 3 1/2 years old, from San Marino, playing with her sister and a cousin when she fell through a 14-inch hole and became trapped in an abandoned water pipe 94 feet below the surface of the ground. In another time, perhaps, it would have been a source of private grief, but Kathy Fiscus disappeared in April 1949, at the dawn of the television era, and for 27 hours, KTLA preempted its regular programming to report live from the scene. It took more than two days for rescuers to retrieve Kathy's body, above, but even before her fate was determined, she had become a kind of legend, as the TV cameras kept vigil at the well site, informing viewers of every development, no matter how small. KTLA wasn't the only news organization to cover the story; newspapers held up deadlines waiting for information, and radio announcers also reported from the scene. The tragedy would even inspire a song, "The Death of Kathy Fiscus," which sold 1 million copies for Jimmie Osborne. But it was the television coverage that made this incident so transformative, a precursor of every wall-to-wall news event that was to come. By the time the dead girl was recovered, the entire nature of news -- and the way we interact with it -- had been irrevocably altered, bringing the most personal of stories to the public with an immediacy that would have been unimaginable just a few short years before.

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Magic Johnson

BASKETBALL PLAYER,

ENTREPRENEUR

He was a star for the Showtime Lakers that won five NBA titles in the 1980s. Yet it was only after he revealed, on Nov. 7, 1991, that he was HIV-positive that Magic Johnson transcended his celebrity. In the years since, he has become a role model, developing the Magic Johnson Theatres and investing in the urban core. His Magic Johnson Foundation helps inner-city kids succeed.

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Leonard Kleinrock

SCIENTIST

We take the ease of e-mail for granted now. But in 1969, when UCLA professor Leonard Kleinrock sent the first electronic message to Northern California's Stanford Research Institute, he was literally initiating a brand-new world. Kleinrock developed the principles of "packet switching" -- the basic technology of the Internet -- while a graduate student at MIT. It was at UCLA, though, that he helped create the ARPANET, the network from which the Internet evolved.

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Richard M. Nixon

PRESIDENT

If Richard Nixon had never been born we would have had to invent him, the dark prince of the American dream. A Yorba Linda boy, he raised himself up from nothing and then couldn't keep from throwing it away. In 1950, as a two-term congressman, he helped usher in the age of red-baiting when he ran for the U.S. Senate (and won) against Helen Gahagan Douglas, whom he derided as the "Pink Lady." Dirty tricks were a staple of Nixon's political life, from the Checkers speech to Watergate, although even in the face of his most devastating setbacks -- losing the California gubernatorial race in 1962, being forced to resign the presidency -- he somehow managed to keep coming back. Complicated and self-destructive, he could be exceedingly insightful as well. "Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty," he told his staff on Aug. 9, 1974, as he left the White House for the final time. "Always remember others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself."

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David Hockney

ARTIST

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