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Tuesday, October 10, 2006



For a book I am writing, I have had ooiasccn to research both the interesting history of Morrow Mayo Louisville, Ky native, AP newsman, magazine writer, social critic and poet who died in the 1970s and the bona fides of his one book, Los Angeles . I agree that very little in the book can be taken as fact without a third-party verification. Like you, I have run into any number of factual mistakes, including, in my judgment, his account of the Owens Valley water deal. Mayo had a tremendous ability to turn a phrase in the aftermath of Aimee Semple McPherson, it was hard to top, Los Angeles leads the world in all the healing sciences, except perhaps medicine and surgery. But I think part of the enduring influence of Los Angeles stems from a chain of circumstances somewhat beyond his control. The brief passage in Carey McWilliams' Southern California Country describing Owens Valley was largely sourced in the text itself, no less to Morrow Mayo and Los Angeles. And that passage, in turn, was the inspiration for Robert Towne's Academy Award-winning screenplay for the 1974 movie Chinatown, which twisted the story even more (not to mention putting it 30 or so years later). My friends don't believe me when I say that the only historically accurate thing in the movie (aside, perhaps, from the fleeting reference to the 1928 collapse of the St. Francis Dam) was the notion that tycoons tried to profit from water in the San Fernando Valley.

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I'm an editor in the Style section at The Washington Post, and I've written about arts, entertainment, business, and technology for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Slate, Los Angeles Magazine, and other publications. I was previously deputy editor at L.A. Weekly, overseeing arts and culture coverage. I've won awards for my stories about slash fiction, magicians, and television in India, among others. I've appeared on CNN and NPR and I wrote a book about Avenue Q. I've taught journalism at Loyola Marymount University and creative nonfiction at the University of Virginia Young Writers Workshop.

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