It was still hot in Los Angeles, the Santa Ana winds were blowing in from the desert. I went up to the studio and opened the windows. The smell of the restaurant downstairs drifted up, the traffic moved slowly on the boulevard and I stood there watching the lights change for a long time.
What this town needs is a good map, one with every location from Raymond Chandler’s books, one that shows everything from the Sternwood Mansion and Gieger’s bookshop to Union Station and the spot where Romanoff’s used to be, from Puma Point to the Lido Pier where no one is really positive about who killed Carmen’s chauffer.
I called up an old friend, Ben Olins, he works at a place that makes maps and guidebooks. His voice was relaxed and cool. “Herb Lester Associates.”
“Hello Ben, what this town needs is a good map, one with every location from Raymond Chandler’s books, one that shows everything from the Stern”–
He cut me off, “Yeah, sounds good. How much is this going to cost me?”
“I get $50 a day plus expenses.”
“You don’t put up much of a fight”
“There’s not a lot of money in this business if you’re honest.”
“Are you honest?”
“No.” I lied.
“What about a design that looks like one of those Dell Mapback books from the 1940s?” Ben was on the right track, as usual. He was talking about a series of cheap paperbacks that had a map on the back cover that showed the locations from the story. They had a nice quality to them and the style was a perfect fit for this new map.
“I’ll send you something in a few days.” I hung up.
I went home and started re-reading Chandler’s novels, and making a list of every location in every book. Some were actual buildings that were still standing, others were long-gone, some spots were real places but had fake names; private-eye Philip Marlowe’s office building on Hollywood and Cahuenga is still there, Florian’s Nightclub was a fictional joint down on Central Avenue, Bay City stands in for Santa Monica. I watched every movie made from the novels and also made a list of important locations from Chandler’s life.
I was going to need some help on this job. Someone was going to have to write the text for the back of the map, someone who knows these mean streets but who is not themselves mean, a writer who is not tarnished or afraid. A complete man and a common man, yet maybe someone who is not a man at all. A writer who writes with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness.
“Kim Cooper.” She answered her own telephone.
“What this town needs is a good map, one with every location from Raymond Chandler’s books, one that shows everything from the Stern” –
She cut me off, “Yeah, sounds good. Is there any money in it?”
“I think my client can cover your expenses, maybe enough for a couple of gimlets.” She laughed into the phone. “Send me your list of locations and I’ll see what I can do.”
Kim is a historian and novelist, she and her husband Richard Schave run a nice little racket called Esotouric taking people around the city on bus tours of historic and literary locations. She knows some things about Raymond Chandler that nobody else does. She knows that Mike Mazurki, the actor who played Moose Malloy used to run a restaurant in the Elks Building across from MacArthur Park. Jack Smith also knew that, but he’s dead.
The map doesn’t include everything, no map could. We probably missed one or two important spots, we left off some of the joints that are only memories; drive-ins with gaudy neon and the false fronts behind them, sleazy hamburger joints that could poison a toad. Los Angeles has changed a lot since Chandler’s day when it was just a big dry sunny place with ugly houses and no style, when people slept on porches and lots offering at eleven hundred dollars had no takers.
But you can still make the drive down Wilshire all the way to the ocean, you can still poke around the alleys and side streets of Hollywood, and the eucalyptus trees still give off a tomcat smell in warm weather. You can’t get a drink at Victor’s any more but Musso’s is still open. Park out back, only tourists and suckers go in the front door.
The Raymond Chandler Map of Los Angles is available from the legendary Herb Lester Associates.
Map is A2 (16.5 x 23.4 inches) folded to A6
Dell Mapbacks, 1945
Detail,Text side. Written by historian/novelist/Chandler expert Kim Cooper
Mock-paperback covers using spot illustrations from text to promote the map.
The Los Angeles Times asked me to go over to Union Station at rush hour and make some sketchbook drawings of the scene. I can’t walk in the main entrance without thinking of William Holden and Nancy Olsen in the 1950 movie "Union Station" and I always pause at the spot Holden gets shot to see if everything looks the same. The architecture hasn't changed much, the combination of Mission Revival and Streamline Moderne makes this a quintessential L.A. landmark. There’s those great waiting room chairs and the cork-lined walls keep the giant room as quiet as a church. It’s still a busy transportation hub, but no one dresses like people did in 1950, that’s for sure.
I did spot a very hip cowboy who looked like he was right off a movie location, or perhaps he just arrived from Tulsa with dreams of being discovered.
The New Beverly Cinema is a legendary revival house in LA, I used to go to there a lot in the seventies and eighties. Lately I’ve been whining about how VCRs and DVDs have shut down all the great theatres that used to show old movies. There used to be about six or eight of them in LA , and they showed double features and changed movies every three or four days. Everybody I knew had the schedules stuck to their refrigerators or in their studios.
A couple of weeks ago my son, Nate told me he heard that Quentin Tarantino bought the New Beverly, saving it from the wrecking ball. It turns out that Tarantino had been helping keep the place afloat for a while and now he’s made it as permanent as anything can be in LA. He’s quoted in Vanity Fair “I just couldn’t live with myself if that theater shut down while I could do something about it.”
So this weekend, I went down there to check out the David Carradine Tribute. I saw a wonderful film Carradine directed, and starred in, called “Americana,” and the great 1980 Western “The Long Riders.” Tarantino was there, he introduced each film, told some nice stories about his friend Carradine, sat in the audience with everyone else and stood around talking about movies during intermission. Like a lot of people, I’ve been a Tarantino fan since I saw “Reservoir Dogs,” and this easily makes him my favorite living director.
The LA Times asked me to join a Los Angeles Conservancy Saturday Walking Tour of Broadway’s historic theatre district and make some drawings. None of these movie palaces show films anymore except for special screenings, they have all been adapted for use as filming locations, concert rentals, and retail.
Our guide, Tony Valdez, told us that when he was a kid, he had to use the side staircase entrance for the segregated balcony, that’s some California Jim Crow.
The interior of The Orpheum is beautifully restored and has a busy schedule of concerts and events.
You can park here for six bucks and get “the best taco in town”
The LA Times asked me to make some drawings during rehearsal of the Los Angeles Ballet . The company was working on a program of three George Ballanchine ballets, “See the Music, Hear the Dance.”
It was a real privilege for me to have a chance to observe these wonderful dancers up close in their rehearsal studio in West LA. I could feel the energy in the room the minute I arrived, and it was clear that I was watching artists perform at a very high level. I also learned why visual artists have drawn and painted dancers so often throughout history; even when dancers are at rest, they seem to be striking poses that exude elegance and strength.
We’ve been doing some on-location drawing in my Illustrative Storytelling class at Art Center this summer. This week we took in a ballgame from the left field bleachers at Dodger Stadium. A lot goes on out there that has nothing to do with the proceedings on the field.
I started this drawing when the Dodgers were down 3-0 and by the time I finished they were up 6-3. The students are figuring out what it takes to become an illustrator, and I tell them you gotta have some “ass-power.” Quincy Jones used the term to describe what made Michael Jackson better than a lot of other singers he’d worked with, Michael was willing to sit his ass down in the studio and do the work required to make a great record. Sometimes ass-power beats raw talent.
The Los Angeles Times asked me to attend a dress rehearsal for the LA Opera's production of "The Birds," a fable written by Walter Braunfels in Munich in 1920. I hung around backstage and in the empty Dorothy Chandler Pavillion and watched as all the parts to the opera came together: no sign of Bugs Bunny.
The LA Times ran a few sketchbook drawings about the transformation my Pasadena neighborhood goes through during the holiday season leading up to the Rose Parade. A village of activity springs up as bleachers and TV towers loom over the homes and apartment houses along Orange Grove Blvd. Homeowners line their front yards with folding chairs and camping equipment. Thousands of people sleep overnight to get a good spot to watch the parade on New Year's Day.
I usually sleep until 10 and miss the whole thing.
The Los Angels Times is running an article this Sunday on the closing of Dutton's Books in Brentwood and they've interviewed a few writers about their favorite independent bookstores in town. Paul Gonzalez, the greatest art director on earth, calls and asks me to do some drawings of the stores to accompany the article. So, I make the rounds, do the drawings and send him these. He likes them so much he ups the budget!
The fee now just about covers what I spent on books in the stores this weekend.