Leaving their mark
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 changed the way we understand the world.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Richard M. Nixon
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.”
In many ways, David Hockney is a quintessential Angeleno, someone who arrived from another country and made this place his own. An English painter born in the industrial northern city of Bradford, he is most renowned for his paintings of light and swimming pools; an accomplished draftsman, he has deliberately used broad shapes and color palettes, as well as collages composed of hundreds of Polaroids, to comment on the glittery veneer of California life. This may seem like the stuff of contradiction, but in fact, it is an expression of opportunity, of the effect Los Angeles had on Hockney when he first came here in the early 1960s. Much of Hockney’s art is deceptively simple, almost childlike in its execution, yet at the same time, emotionally nuanced and complex. Neither a realist, nor an experimentalist, he occupies a middle territory, particularly in his portraits, which often convey a longing or a tension just below the surface of the painting, representing something that the subject might prefer us not to see. This is equally true of his California images, which although still, are far from quiet, as if evoking the moment before or after something important has occurred. His famous painting “A Bigger Splash,” for instance, portrays a burst of water exploding from an otherwise silent pool, the aftermath of a dive from a diving board. The collage “Pearblossom Hwy., 11 - 18th April 1986,” meanwhile, captures the dislocation of the desert, its overlapping photos creating their own subtle semblance of distortion, as if the very image were rippling in the heat.
Sally Ride was not quite a decade out of what was then Westlake School for Girls when NASA chose her to be an astronaut candidate in 1978. Five-and-a-half years later, she became the first American woman to go into space as a crew member on the space shuttle Columbia. Ride went up again in 1984, but her third space mission was cut short after the Challenger disaster and she left NASA in 1987. A longtime professor at UC San Diego, she founded Sally Ride Science, a company that encourages girls to get involved in science and technology.
Max Factor came to Southern California to reinvent himself. Little did he know that he’d invent an industry as well. He arrived in L.A. in 1909, and by 1914, he was doing makeup in Hollywood, where he created the eyebrow pencil, lip gloss and pancake makeup to make actresses look more natural on screen. Once these stars saw what he could do for them on camera, they wanted to wear makeup in their private lives. In 1925, Factor, above with a young Rita Hayworth, introduced his products to the public, giving beauty a brand-new face.
Charles F. Richter
Twenty-one years after his death, Charles Richter remains a mythic presence, the developer (with Beno Gutenberg) of the Richter scale. Although it may no longer be the industry standard — since the early 1990s, seismologists have preferred the moment magnitude scale to measure earthquakes — Richter remains the yardstick all Californians know. How big? we ask when the ground starts shaking, which is what Richter sought to understand. In the process, he created a way to measure our psyches as much as the movements of the earth.
Charles Mingus didn’t spend all that long living in Los Angeles, but it was as a boy growing up in Watts that the seeds of his incredibly complex musical heritage took root. Trained from an early age in formal bass and composition, he also picked up more vernacular forms of music from the church and from the jazz he listened to on the radio. An early advocate of artists’ rights, Mingus settled in New York in the 1950s, where he established his own record and publishing companies and founded the Jazz Workshop, dedicated to helping young composers perform and record their work. Widely considered to be among the most innovative of jazz composers, he recorded more than 100 albums and also wrote concert pieces and ballet scores before his death of Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1979 at age 56.