It says something about how synonymous the TV show Chips was with Los Angeles that a profile of the Olympic city for the Observer Magazine in June 1984 had two LA motorcycle cops on its cover even though the programme had finished in 1983.
Every time Clancy Sigal, the US author and political activist, went to LA, he could almost feel himself ‘passing through a soft membrane that seals Los Angeles off from the real, painful world’. One of the misconceptions, he argued, was that it was laid-back: ‘Disguised by palm trees and swimming pools, the Protestant Ethic flourishes.’ He wrote later in the piece, paradoxically ‘the focus is on health at all costs – even if it kills you’.
Sigal admired its architecture – ‘the ordinary houses, the driveways, the backyards… cheap artisan-built bungalow or one-family adobe house. Siamese pagoda… Japo-Swiss sub-Art Deco Zig-Zag Moderne… These wacky houses might not win a Riba award, but they sure ease the boredom of a morning jog.’
Sigal rather lamented how Dorothy Chandler, the culture philanthropist, had reinvented LA and how, what he cynically termed ‘disease-of-the-week galas’, had taken the place of Hollywood premieres and that ‘Alcoholics Anonymous had replaced deal-making or sex as the social cohesive.’
He reflected on the tawdry reality of 80s ‘Hollyweird’ and how tourists are shocked when they visit. ‘The streets are filthy, the garbage isn’t collected, the buildings are dilapidated and even the police burglarise it.’ But he still liked to go. ‘When LA gets on my nerves I often jump into my battered 65 Volvo and make the rounds in Hollywood, just to remind myself that there is a different reality.’
‘LA is our collective future,’ he wrote. ‘It is too late to escape from LA.’ Indeed it was for Sigal, who moved there in later life and died aged 90 in 2017.