L.A. Exposed: Strange Myths and Curious Legends in the City of Angels

L.A. Exposed: Strange Myths and Curious Legends in the City of Angels

by Paul Young

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Every city has its urban legends, its tall tales, and even its outright lies, and Hollywood and Los Angeles have enough to fill a book--and Paul Young has done just that.

L.A. Exposed includes the facts behind the myths surrounding everything from the tall tales of tinsel town, to the legend and lore of LA landmarks, to rock n' roll rumors, to Southern


Every city has its urban legends, its tall tales, and even its outright lies, and Hollywood and Los Angeles have enough to fill a book--and Paul Young has done just that.

L.A. Exposed includes the facts behind the myths surrounding everything from the tall tales of tinsel town, to the legend and lore of LA landmarks, to rock n' roll rumors, to Southern California's unnatural history, to the city's crime lore, to tales of corruption and conspiracy in the land of sunshine and health; LA Exposed dares to ask the hard questions. Does L.A. really have earthquake weather? Did Alfred Hitchcock ask Grace Kelly to do a strip teast in her front window? Is there treasure buried in the Watts Towers? Are there still opium dens in Chinatown? Was Barbara Streisand ever in a porn film? Young gives readers the lowdown on the city's most enduring myths, exploring their origins, and whether there is an ounce of truth to any of them.

L.A. Exposed, inventive, witty, and addictive, is sure to be a hit in L.A. and beyond.

Editorial Reviews

LA Times Book Review)
L.A. Exposed...is tempting to pick up and almost impossible to put down.
Publishers Weekly
Was Fidel Castro an extra in a Hollywood movie? Did Hitchcock ask Grace Kelly to do a strip tease in her window? Do murder rates go up when the Santa Ana winds arrive? These and other rumors are explained and dispelled (or verified) in L.A. Exposed: Strange Myths and Curious Legends in the City of Angels. Paul Young (Buzzwords: L.A. Freshspeak, with Anna Scotti) researched dozens of persistent urban myths and scandals surrounding the celebrities, landmarks, natural history, politicians and criminals of Los Angeles. Writing in the breathless, hyperbolic style of the tabloid stories he investigates, the knowledgeable Young is not immune to stirring up a few conspiracy theories of his own. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Young (coauthor, Buzzwords: L.A. Fresh Speak) has compiled a wide collection of stories about the many myths, rumors, urban legends, and flat-out lies surrounding Los Angeles and Hollywood. The book has limited academic value, but fans of popular culture in general and those who enjoy stories about the City of Angels in particular will find a treasure of fascinating tales. Young tends to focus on the sexually lurid aspects of Hollywood mythmaking, with many stories fit for the National Enquirer. He considers such rumors as Jamie Lee Curtis's being a hermaphrodite, Errol Flynn's spying for the Third Reich, whether Tom Cruise is gay, and so on. Also recounted are specific claims about the city, such as the treasure buried in Watts Towers and the mythic opium dens in Chinatown. The author seldom reaches any conclusions about these stories; mostly, he simply tells us that many rumors are false. Diehard fans of L.A.-style sensationalism might appreciate this collection, but those looking for any real conclusions about the city and its inhabitants will be disappointed. Recommended with reservations for public libraries specializing in popular culture. Tim Delaney, Canisius Coll., Buffalo Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
"L.A. Exposed...is tempting to pick up and almost impossible to put down." —Los Angeles Times Book Review

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L.A. Exposed

Strange Myths and Curious Legends in the City of Angels

By Paul Young

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2015 Paul Young
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-6327-5





The actress Virginia Rappe died after silent movie star Fatty Arbuckle raped her with a Coke bottle in 1921.

What People Are Saying:

While this rumor was rampant throughout the early part of the twentieth century, it wasn't until the release of Kenneth Anger's classic tome of Hollywood debauchery, Hollywood Babylon, that it found a place in the firmament of L.A. lore. Before that, opinion was sharply divided over Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle's complicity in the death of a young actress named Virginia Rappe. But since then perception has shifted slightly, with the majority of Angelenos leaning toward Anger's construction of the events. And according to Anger, the entire fiasco went down something like this:

On Labor Day weekend 1921, Arbuckle invited a select group of fellow actors to San Francisco to celebrate his new $3 million contract with Paramount Studios. After checking into the luxurious St. Francis Hotel and taking over three adjoining rooms, the 300-pound star began a three-day carouse that included illegal bootleg liquor, nude dancing, and nonstop orgies. As Anger put it:

Some shed their tops to do the shimmy; guests were trading pajama bottoms and the empty beer bottles were piling up. About a quarter after three (P.M.), Arbuckle, flapping around in pajamas and a bathrobe, grabbed Virginia and steered the tipsy model to the bedroom of suite 1221. He gave the revelers his famous leering wink, saying, "This is the chance I've waited for a long time," and locked the door. Bambina Maude Delmont (Virginia's close friend) later testified that the festivities were stilled when sharp screams rang out in the adjoining bedroom. Weird moans were heard through the door. After much pounding and kicking, a giggling Arbuckle sallied forth in ripped pajamas, Virginia's hat squashed on his head at a crazy angle, and quipped to the girls, "Go in and get her dressed and take her to the Palace (Hotel). She makes too much noise." When Virginia kept screaming, he yelled, "Shut up or I'll throw you out of the window." Bambina found the girl nearly nude on the disordered bed, writhing in pain, moaning, "I'm dying, I'm dying ... He hurt me."

Virginia's pain was real enough. She died four days later at the age of twenty-five. According to the official coroner's report, she suffered from a ruptured bladder, which in turn led to a fatal case of peritonitis. Yet to this day no one really knows how the injury occurred. Some have suggested that Arbuckle jumped on top of her and literally "popped" her bladder during sex. Yet when physicians denounced that theory, arguing that bladders do not pop under that kind of weight, a handful of journalists and gossip hounds speculated that he must have used a device of some sort — an idea that Anger exploited in Hollywood Babylon. "Enraged at his drunken impotence," wrote Anger, "Arbuckle ravaged Virginia with a Coca-Cola bottle, or a champagne bottle, then repeated the act with a jagged piece of ice."

What Really Happened:

According to the most credible accounts, Arbuckle never touched Rappe, much less had sex with her. Evidently, he found her on the floor of his bathroom drunkenly vomiting into the toilet. After wiping her mouth with a towel, he picked her up and carried her to the bed. But as soon as he set her down, she began crying out and grabbing her stomach, complaining of severe pains. "It's too hot in here," she screamed, plucking at her blouse furiously. "I'm burning up!" Hearing the screams from the other room, Rappe's friend, Maude Delmont, came running in just as Arbuckle began applying some ice to her abdomen. Horrified, Delmont pushed Arbuckle out of the way and ordered him out of the room. Arbuckle then returned to the party and thought little of the episode. But when he returned thirty minutes later, after a physician appeared on the scene, he was shocked to hear Rappe drunkenly scream, "Get away from me! You did this to me!"

... she was in San Francisco getting an abortion — her sixth apparently — and just happened to run into a friend of Arbuckle's who extended her the invitation — despite Arbuckle's protests.

While it was hardly reported in the press at the time, Rappe was never actually invited to the party. In truth, she was in San Francisco getting an abortion — her sixth apparently — and just happened to run into a friend of Arbuckle's who extended her the invitation — despite Arbuckle's protests. In any case, there's a good chance that her injuries actually came from her abortion the day before. After all, her abortionist, Dr. Rumwell, was the same doctor that appeared at the hotel after Arbuckle supposedly ravished her, the same doctor that took care of her during her hospital stay, the same doctor that performed the autopsy after she died, and the same doctor that destroyed her bladder before the trial.

Yet even if Dr. Rumwell was responsible for Rappe's death, he wasn't responsible for shifting the blame onto Arbuckle. That was mostly due to the accusations made by Maude Delmont. In fact, Delmont, a notorious figure in her own right, with previous experience in extortion, prostitution, and theft, not only came up with the idea to extort money out of Arbuckle in the first place but convinced Rappe that she could make a fortune on the deal.

What Could Have Happened:

Yet there is another theory, too, that's just as plausible and just as consistent with the facts. And it's a theory that Adolph Zukor, the then-president of Paramount Studios, orchestrated the entire sequence of events. Apparently Zukor had a long-standing feud with Arbuckle, one that had to do with previous misunderstandings and Arbuckle's continual disrespect of the producer. In Zukor's mind, Arbuckle "blackmailed" him into increasing his salary to $1 million per year — an outrageous sum at the time — and that's to say nothing of the actor's repeated snubs toward publicity. (In fact, Arbuckle was supposed to do some publicity on the weekend that he ran off to San Francisco, which apparently made Zukor "livid.")

That's why many believe that Zukor may have pulled some strings to make sure that there was illegal booze and known prostitutes at Arbuckle's party. Because if Arbuckle's party just happened to get raided by the police, and if Zukor could come rushing in to save the day, he could certainly "knock Fatty down a few pegs," as he once threatened. But Zukor failed to foresee Rappe's accidental death, or the extraordinary media frenzy that would ensue. So when he found himself in a scandal of dizzying proportions, he decided to not only lead the charge against Arbuckle's victimization, pushing Hollywood's moral czar, Will Hays, to have him blacklisted and removing his entire film catalog from distribution, but to work behind the scenes to push Arbuckle's trial toward conviction. That way he could draw attention away from himself and Hollywood in general.

... if Arbuckle's party just happened to get raided by the police, and if Zukor could come rushing in to save the day, he could certainly "knock Fatty down a few pegs," as he once threatened.

During the research for her book Frame Up!, author Andy Edmonds found evidence that Zukor undoubtedly financed some of the overt bribes, perjured testimonies, and coverups that occurred during Arbuckle's trial. In fact she found a cancelled check for $10,000 made out to the prosecutor in the case, Matthew Brady, the San Francisco D.A. — a check that was endorsed by none other than Zukor himself.

The Aftermath:

Arbuckle was eventually acquitted on April 12, 1922, after three previous scandal-plagued mistrials. And when the jury read the verdict they added: "Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel a great injustice has been done to him." Yet it was too late. The rumors had already eclipsed the facts, and continue do so to this day.

What It All Means:

Symbolically speaking, Arbuckle, by no fault of his own, became the prodigal son, deeply despised for doing little more than "making silly faces" at a time when the country was reeling from financial woes, war inflation, foreign threats, and Bolshevik panics. In other words, Arbuckle had to be scapegoated to appease the mounting anxieties of the age. Yet it wasn't the public that placed him on the cross, but Hollywood itself, as represented by Zukor, who not only buckled under his own fear of anti-Semitism, but his own self-hatred and greed.


A group of Hollywood actors stole John Barrymore corpse from a funeral parlor, set it up in a chair, and threw a party in his honor.

A Little Background:

In his day John Barrymore (Drew's grandfather) was considered an actor's actor. His theatrical performances were — and still are — the stuff of legend. Unfortunately, Hollywood failed to offer him the kind of material worthy of his abilities, and he ended up squandering his talents on cheap roles and silly comedies. His secondary talent, meanwhile, blossomed amidst Hollywood's sybaritic set, and that was his talent for consuming liquor. According to some sources he could down just about anything, anything with a kick that is, including his wife's perfume, cleaning supplies, and high-octane fuel. W. C. Fields — who was arguably Hollywood's second greatest drinker — recalled that he once watched him siphon the alcohol out of his boat's cooling system and fix himself a "diesel martini" without so much as a flinch.

Barrymore's bad habits finally caught up with him, however. He passed away in a hospital room apparently while trying to make a pass at a nurse on May 29, 1942, at the age of sixty. His best friend, Gene Fowler, accompanied his body to the Pierce Funeral Home and claimed that he was the only one there, save for an old prostitute that showed up for a few minutes and left without saying a word.

... fix himself a "diesel martini" without so much as a flinch.

What People Are Saying:

It all started as a prank, really, just a humorous joke between friends. Yet it has grown into one of the most talked-about anecdotes in Hollywood history. Apparently it went something like this: After Barrymore's funeral, his drinking buddies — known as the Bundy Boys — gathered at the Cock and Bull restaurant in Hollywood to reminisce about their friend's life of contumacy. Errol Flynn was particularly saddened by Barrymore's death, and took it badly. In fact, he left early to drown his sorrows in the arms of a seventeen-year-old model that he picked up earlier in the week. Raoul Walsh, the director of such classics as High Sierra and a notorious prankster, also left early. But rather than return home, he went straight to the mortuary to see if he could convince the caretaker to lend him Barrymore's corpse. "John's sister is ill and can't leave the house," he explained to a mortician. "And she's terribly distraught over the fact that she can't pay her last respects to her dearly beloved. It would mean a great deal to her — and the entire, great, Barrymore family — if I could bring him to her so that she can say good-bye before he's laid to rest."

The caretaker refused, however, at least until Walsh produced a crisp $100 bill. "This is very unorthodox," exclaimed the now-sweating mortician. "You must have him back here in less than an hour, or it will mean lot of trouble for the both of us." Walsh smiled, and assured him that he would.

Flynn returned home about an hour later, feeling a bit worse for wear when suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of his old buddy sitting in his favorite chair with a fresh martini in his hand. "Can you imagine the shock I felt after being at Jack's wake to come home and find that son of a bitch sitting there?" he later told columnist James Bacon. "I aged thirty years on the spot. It scared the living bejesus out of me, but you know what I did? I just sat down in the chair next to him and had a drink with him.... Then Raoul, that prick, came in and had a big laugh. And so did I. It was the crazy sort of thing that Jack would have appreciated.... And then we had more drinks."

The Truth:

According to Bob Engles, a sixty-year veteran of the Pierce Funeral Home, nothing of the sort ever happened. "I saw Barrymore's body," he recalls. "And I can tell you it never left the building. If it did I would have known about it. And I can tell you this: There's no way on earth that anyone else would have let that body out of the mortuary without a signed authorization from the family — especially a big star like Barrymore. Imagine if something happened to it and it wasn't returned? I can assure you it never happened. That's just a bunch of Hollywood hokey."


Fidel Castro appeared in numerous Hollywood movies before his career as Cuba's communist dictator.

The Context:

While the attraction between Hollywood and Washington may be a fairly recent phenomenon, there's some evidence that it goes back much further, almost to Hollywood's infancy. It's no secret, for instance, that scores of dignitaries made their way to Hollywood in the 1920s to seek fame and fortune on the silver screen. The Russian General Lodijenski, for example, appeared in King Vidor's His Hour in 1924. The Archduke Leopold of Austria appeared in John Ford's Four Sons in 1928. Leon Trotsky, one of the architects of the Russian revolution of 1917, appeared in Emil Vester's World War I spy drama, My Official Wife, as an extra. And Pancho Villa, the lawless leader of Mexico's revolution of 1910, appeared in a number of pictures for Mutual.

The trend slowed down after World War II, but still continues to this day. John Lindsay, for example, the former mayor of New York, took a role in 1975's Rosebud and was nearly laughed out of the theaters. Julian Bond, the Georgia State legislator, had a similar experience with his performance in Greased Lightning in 1977. And more recently, L.A.'s own mayor Richard Riordan has taken more than his share of stage time, including a part in a 1997 production of Love Letters at the Madrid Theater, and a role in P. G. Wodehouse's The Inimitable Jeeves in 1998.

What People Are Saying:

Since the 1960s there has been a persistent rumor that Fidel Castro, Cuba's flamboyant dictator, appeared in at least one Hollywood movie in his early years. Columnist L. M. Boyd for example, of the Herald Examiner, once confirmed the rumor, by stating that Castro appeared in several movies — all with his Cuban compatriot, bandleader Xavier Cugat — including You Were Never Lovelier (1942), The Heat's On (1943), Bathing Beauty ( 1944), and Holiday in Mexico (1946).

The Truth:

Yet according to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, no one has been able to find Castro's name in the credits of a Hollywood movie made between 1940 and 1960 — not as an extra, bit player, or crew member. Meanwhile, historians have flatly denied that he ever came anywhere near the West Coast during that period, save for his four-year-stay in Mexico when he was preparing for his Cuban coup. (He visited Miami and New York in 1955, but failed to make it to L.A..)

Where It Comes From:

According to the Hollywood Reporter, there were over twenty films being shot in Mexico in 1955, many near the ranch where Castro was holding combat exercises, including Comanche, Serenade, Seven Cities of Gold, The Treasure of Pancho Villa, The Last Frontier and The Come-On. (None of which included Xavier Cugat, however.)

According to most historians, it's certainly possible that Castro could have poked his nose around one of those productions, but it doesn't seem very likely. As his biographer Robert E. Quirk points out, Castro was a strong disciplinarian with little tolerance for play. As one friend described him, "He is not a Cuban at all. He doesn't like music, he doesn't drink, and he works eighteen to twenty hours a day." (His associate, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, on the other hand, was known to be a true cinephile.)

The Legacy:

In recent years Castro has warmed slightly to the idea of being in front of the camera. As the daily Variety reported in 1984 he invited the producers of the show OceanQuest — Jon Peters and Peter Guber — to produce a segment in his country. Apparently he was a fan of the short-lived series which followed the adventures of a team of researchers exploring the Caribbean on their ship, Oz. According to Variety, the producers accepted the offer, and were thrilled when Castro himself, an avid diver, donned some scuba gear and explored Havana's harbor at Peters's direction.


Excerpted from L.A. Exposed by Paul Young. Copyright © 2015 Paul Young. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Paul Young is a frequent contributor to L.A. periodicals including Los Angeles, and a former art and culture editor at Buzz. He is the co-author of Buzzwords: L.A. Fresh Speak (with Anna Scotti). He lives in Los Angeles.

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