Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Carey Alive and Well at the LA Times


Gustavo Arellano, best known as the author of Ask a Mexican!, has a piece today in the Los Angeles Times on day laborers in Orange County. The story could have been taken out of T.C. Boyle's The Tortilla Curtain, which we finished reading last night at San Francisco State.

That alone would have been grounds for inclusion on this blog, but there's more. Turns out Gustavo has become a McWilliams aficionado, and he drops a reference in the middle of his piece.

Orange County's approach to troublesome immigrants is so notorious that no less an authority than labor historian Carey McWilliams became radicalized here. In a 1940 interview, the writer who went on to edit the Nation magazine said: "I hadn't believed stories of such wholesale violation of civil rights until I went down to Orange County to defend a number of farm workers held in jail for 'conspiracy.' When I announced my purpose, the judge said, 'It's no use; I'll find them guilty anyway.' "

I think Gustavo might have come across this reference in American Prophet. Fanatical readers of this blog will recall that he interviewed me for an OC Weekly story he wrote on the citrus strikes of the 1930s.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Steve Martin's Born Standing Up


I'm reading Steve Martin's memoir, which has already produced two points of contact with this blog's fixations. The first is Martin's youthful encounter with screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, whose Hollywood Ten experience figures in the Carey McWilliams bio and California Culture class. Martin dated Trumbo's daughter Mitzi, it turns out. I didn't know that Trumbo smoked pot in an effort to cut down on his drinking, or that he smoked it like a cigar, puffing more than inhaling, and therefore never got high. Duly noted.

I was aware of the Martin-Trumbo connection from the recent New Yorker excerpt, but I had no idea that Martin also knew Victoria Dailey, lead author of LA's Early Moderns (see my Amazon.com review on your starboard). Here's the relevant passage from Born Standing Up.

Victoria was a young rare-book-and-print dealer in Los Angeles whom I had stumbled upon in my collecting quests ... and over the next few years we cemented an enduring relationship that has been complex and rewarding. We have been connected over the past thirty years intellectually, aesthetically, and seemingly, gravitationally. In my latest conversation with her, I complimented her recent essay on early Southern California history. I said, "Do you realize you're going to be studied one day?" She replied, "Only one day?" (158-59).

As it turns out, I was at the UCLA Library when Victoria and her co-authors discussed LA's Early Moderns. One of her co-authors was Michael Dawson, who graciously invited me to speak about McWilliams at his cool Los Angeles bookstore/gallery.