Los Angeles: From no “there” to “too many there“
Until the 1970s Los Angeles’ population influx had mainly come from middle America. Establishment easterners snarked that the place was an intellectual desert. Should the occasional elite Bostonian, New Yorker or Philadelphian venture out there to see the sights, the usual complaint was “there’s no ‘there’ there.”
By 1970 the greater LA area had 9.9 million residents, triple the 1940 level; only six states, including California itself, had more people.
But the sunny Southern California image of a laid back playground for dreamers and escapists, while seductive, seemed a little too hedonistic and flaky to staid folk back east. Ski in the morning, surf in the afternoon. Rub elbows with movie stars. Buy a convertible and a pad at the beach or a brand new tract home with orange trees in the backyard. Maybe start a cult in your spare time.
All that began changing in the early ’70s as soaring Toyota, Datsun and Honda sales brought top New York advertising talent out to “the coast” and most TV entertainment migrated to Hollywood. Overnight, Los Angeles was discovered by hip tastemakers who proclaimed it was cool, super cool.
Within a couple more decades there was a whole lot of “there” there – and too many people as well. With a 1990 population approaching 15 million, LA had become the poster child for congestion and urban sprawl. Forget skiing in the morning and surfing in the afternoon – choose one and go really, really early to avoid traffic.
Farewell in 2015 to three Boomer icons who helped to mainstream LA
Many popular TV shows of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s were set in Los Angeles, inspiring millions to load the family car and head west, all California Dreamin’ of a better life.
Three TV icons who helped to mainstream LA and shape the dream for its Boomer children, passed away in 2015. We bade them a fond farewell.
Martin Milner: December 28, 1931 – September 6, 2015
Michigan transplant – blond, clean cut and surfer-dude handsome – Martin Milner showed America the way to Los Angeles. In a Corvette convertible, no less. Cowabunga!
Actually, few shows were set along US 66 – Milner’s adventures took him coast to coast and north to south. Still, this was the Mother Road from Chicago to the Santa Monica pier that so many heartlanders traveled on their own transformative journey west.
Within just a few years the newcomers had settled into an LA life that was more routine than daily glamor. What paradise needed now was law and order, and in his second hit, Adam-12 (1968-1975), Milner provided it.
For seven seasons Milner and McCord imbued their characters with fortitude, humor and empathy as they handled human-scale problems in the familiar old neighborhoods that LA Boomers remember from their youth.
Although not a huge star, Martin Milner put a decent, friendly face on everyday life in a city that had, finally, grown up into real place.
Donna Douglas: September 26, 1932 – January 1, 2015
One of the most successful TV comedy shows ever, The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1971) humanized Los Angeles as somewhere plain folks could enjoy the good life.
The Premise: the good-hearted, naive Clampett clan, Jed, Granny, daughter Elly May and nephew Jethro strike oil – black gold, Texas tea – on their ramshackle property in hillbilly country, move out to Beverly Hills and buy a mansion.
To the dismay of the establishment, symbolized by their fawning banker’s snooty wife, they retain their old down-home values, live by the golden rule, drive a 1920s truck and eat backwoods cuisine. “Oh boy, possum jowls for supper – and they is just as good the second day.”
Despite being panned by The New York Times – or maybe because of it – mainstream audiences loved the show; it was number one in the Nielsen ratings in its first two seasons and in the top twelve for another five.
Elly May – in real life a former Miss New Orleans, Donna Douglas – was the little kids’ favorite.
Innocently unaware of her beauty, a tomboy who could easily “rassle” her hulking cousin Jethro into submission, and cuddling all kinds of critters season after season, it’s easy to see why Elly May resonated with Boomer youngsters.
During the nine year prime time run of The Beverly Hillbillies, LA’s population grew by over two million people (28%), mostly from middle class backgrounds. Donna/Elly May, who died aged 82 on New Year’s Day, 2015, helped them realize it was okay to still be themselves in tinsel town.
James Garner: April 7, 1928 – July 19, 2015
Oklahoma-born James Garner’s fifty year career reached from the Old West (Maverick) to the Space Age (Space Cowboys).
But it was his role in The Rockford Files series (1974-1980) and made-for-TV movie sequels (1994-1999) that spanned the transition of Los Angeles from a semi-manageable sprawl of 10.5 million to an intense megalopolis of 16.4 million.
In 1974, when the original series debuted, an unprecedented high-rise construction boom was underway. Multi-story condos were springing up in trendy West LA and a flock of skyscrapers had begun to transform downtown. Although a tad stunted by Manhattan standards, anything over 40 floors was considered adventurous in earthquake country.
Through it all, amiable, down-to-earth private detective Jim Rockford maintained his balance, resisting the trends and fads of the day.
Rockford seemed to be a remnant from LA’s past. From his Sears-style outfits, his beach bum trailer lifestyle at Paradise Cove, his all-American wheels – a gnarly copper-mist Pontiac Firebird – to the red naugahyde booths in his favorite old school hangouts, this was a guy comfortable in his forty-something skin. Los Angeles might change, but he sure wouldn’t.
If you want to hear, feel and breathe low-rise Westside LA and the San Fernando Valley back in the SoCal Boomer heyday, head over to Netflix. Sadly, James Garner left us in 2015, but happily, Rockford will never age and 1970s LA lives on – cool at last – forever.
Boomer world: even more changes than TV’s Los Angeles
The Boomer-Plus Generation, born 1940-1965, is 93 million strong – five times more populous, far more affluent and way more diverse than Los Angeles. And, like The City of Angels, we never stopped evolving and changing.
The parallels don’t stop there. Echoing eastern elites of bygone decades who dismissed booming LA, Madison Avenue brushes us off in advertising because outside the 18-49 demo, they say, there’s no “there” there. Fortunately for the venturesome few, experienced Boomer-world tour guides are on hand; we know exactly where to find the “there.”