Oral History: James Ellroy Explains What Makes L.A., L.A.

by Jack Tewksbury May 1, 2019
Author James Ellroy

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For over 40 years the HFPA has recorded famous and celebrated actresses, actors and filmmakers. The world's largest collection of its kind - over 10,000  items- is now in the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences Margaret Herrick Library.

In this excerpt from our archives from 1996, author James Ellroy,  whose eponymous book is the foundation of director Curtis Hanson's L.A. Confidential, explains the forces that shaped the City of Angels in the 1940s.

“L.A. is the big league for people who want to be somebody else. It’s a magnet that attracts the hip, the hung, the good-looking and the damned. A lot of crazy guys that couldn’t fit back into their hometowns after World War II came out here. It was an era of boosterism and yahooism that sprang directly from the greatest conflict in human history of a genocidal lunatic that tried to wipe out an entire race of people. Well, that’s some crazy shit, yeah, and even though we come out on the top with a booming economy, it all filtered down. It all went into peoples’ heads. It got things all screwed up. 

Here are a place and the movies are out here and radio is out here and television started out here. The best-looking women are out here and the beaches are out here, snow-capped mountains are a short drive away and all the crazy romantics, all the people that couldn’t go back to Dog  Dick, Delaware and Moose Fart, Montana just all come out here. 

A lot of them wanted to be movie stars and generations of these people lodged here. Every waiter who comes over to serve you your espresso is really an actor, is a rock star waiting to happen or God forbid a novelist, a screenwriter or a movie director. 

You get generations of this crazy shit. If an atom bomb ever drops out of the sky of its own volition it’s going to land here.  Yeah.”