50 L.A. Stories - The Culture Files Blog - Los Angeles magazine
 
 

50 L.A. Stories

In a city famously filled with so many people from elsewhere, it’s the locals who are exotic. They’ve grown up here, seen the city evolve, and share what more recent transplants often lack: a sense of place

STEVE MARTIN

Comedian, actor, writer, producer, banjo player

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If cities could be given an EKG, New York’s readout would be Andean and Los Angeles’s would be a sandy beach.* New York is exterior and L.A. is interior, even though L.A. has the weather and New York doesn’t. It’s completely backward. When I’m in L.A., I always find myself pausing to feel the weather or look at the sky or feel how vivid everything is. How fertile and verdant.

I moved to L.A. when I was five. We lived in Hollywood, and my father worked at the Callboard Theatre on Melrose Place. I went to see him in a play there once. Of course, I didn’t understand what a play was—I was too young. But I watched him perform. My first job was at Disneyland selling guidebooks. I was 10. Then I worked in the magic shop until I was 18. Disneyland was literally like living in heaven. You could go to Frontierland or Tomorrowland. But to me they weren’t lands, they weren’t fantasy. They were a kind of reality—paradise. I saw my first live comedy show at Disneyland: Wally Boag at the Golden Horseshoe Revue. He was fantastic. I was enchanted by the idea of a live comedian. I have a very soft spot for Disneyland in my heart. Anything they ask, I do.

In 1967, the biggest change in my life happened in L.A.—I got a job as a writer on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. It was magic to me that you could be working in a folk club for nothing and then the next day you’re working at CBS for writers’ scale, which was a fortune. That’s very L.A. From nowhere to somewhere, overnight. While I was on that show, I was a contestant on The Dating Game three times. I got picked three times. Three for three. I won a trip to see Wayne Newton perform at Melodyland, I won a trip to Tijuana to the bullfights, and then the big one was I won a trip to Portofino, Italy, with Deana Martin, Dean Martin’s daughter.

I left L.A. in 1970, and one of the reasons I left was the horrible smog. And then they cleaned it up. That was one of the greatest things the government has ever done for me. You have beautiful days now. It’s a much, much nicer place to live. It’s kind of a grander place now.

You know, when you’re doing a movie, it’s often at odd hours. I always think of these moments, driving home, maybe from Pasadena, going toward Los Angeles at 5 a.m. The sun is coming up behind you. You’re on a freeway, but it’s elevated, so you can really see almost the whole city. It’s so starry and vast. The freeway is empty, so it’s this glorious time—like being alone in the city. By yourself. And it’s warm. » Martin, 65, just won his third Grammy, for Best Bluegrass Album. He next appears in the comedy The Big Year.

*This sentence is good enough to be in a novel.  In fact—it is, on page 160 of Martin's latest, An Object of Beauty.

DIANE WARREN

Songwriter

When I got my star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, they shut the street down. And I was thinking the last time I was on Hollywood Boulevard with police this near me was when I was getting arrested for selling fake drugs on the corner of Highland. My friends and I—we were 14—took these capsules and put flour in them and were selling them as mescaline. I told you I was a bad kid.

I was very rebellious. I was kicked out of a bunch of schools and went to juvenile hall a couple of times. When I was 19, I used to go to Cal State Northridge and break into the practice rooms. Recently the school wanted to give me a distinguished alumni award. I said, “I’m a college dropout, and not only that, I’m a vandal.” But they didn’t care. They gave me the award and a new key to the practice rooms.

Growing up in Van Nuys was like growing up in the Midwest. I craved for something to be going on. I had dreams of going to see publishers and getting my songs heard. And I knew that was over the hill in the big bad land of Hollywood. Me and my friends used to hitchhike there. We’d walk down Sunset. My friends were always trying to meet guys. I just wanted to meet people in the music business. I had a hunger. It wasn’t the Valley I was trying to leave. I was just trying to be successful. I live on this side now, in the Hollywood Hills, but in a lot of ways the Valley’s kind of cooler—more chilled out.

I just bought an apartment in New York, thinking maybe I’ll go sometimes for the weekend. But I don’t think I’d ever live anywhere else than L.A. I can’t stand the cold. I’m someone who doesn’t like to travel that much. I like to be in my studio writing. I’m there all day. I’ve been in this space 25 years, and it’s never been cleaned. It’s really dirty and dusty. There are all variety of insects. There are phone messages from 1995 on cassettes on the floor. It’s like being in the room you grew up in as a kid. Either I am immune to diseases or I am going to get diseases from being in there. Hopefully I am immune.

I like this area of Hollywood where my studio is—by Vine and Sunset—because it’s kind of sleazy. I’m bummed that it’s getting less sleazy. There used to be prostitutes on the corner, which was cool because I’d talk to them and they were really nice. Now you walk down Vine and it’s like, “Whoa, where did that Trader Joe’s come from?” Or the W Hotel. “How’d that happen?” » Warren, 54, is the first songwriter in Billboard history to have seven hits recorded by different artists on the singles chart at the same time.

DAVID ARQUETTE

Actor

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I grew up off of Melrose and Gower, right down from Paramount Studios. We would go roller-skating on Hollywood Boulevard because the pavement was so smooth. My favorite thing was climbing the hills overlooking the city. When I was a teenager, my friends and I packed our sleeping bags and decided we were going to go sleep up by the Hollywood sign. So we rode our bikes all the way up Beachwood, up those little roads to the sign, and we get there and run into the cops. And they’re like, “Turn around right now. Go home. You’re not allowed here.” So I was like, “Umph.” We went back to my house, went to sleep, and when we woke up in the morning, the sign said HOLYWOOD. It was the day the pope was coming to town, and they had changed it to HOLYWOOD! The pope cockblocked us! » Arquette, 39, is related to many other actors named Arquette and next appears in Scream 4.

ERIC GARCETTI

L.A. City Council President

There’s this cliché: You see the face of the world in L.A. Having grown up here, though, I see the face of L.A. in the world. Being from L.A. made me familiar with almost anywhere else. It prepared me for more than I imagined. A friend of mine says if you don’t like L.A. at any given moment, drive ten minutes and you will. I have an 18-month theory: If you last that long, you’ll never leave. But for the first 18 months, it’s very complicated. » Garcetti, 39, is the son of an Italian Mexican dad and a Russian Jewish mom. 

JON JERDE

Architect

When I was 17, I was fixated on being the coolest hot-rodder around in my 1932 Ford roadster. I would drive along Sunset Boulevard looking for the beach. Being from Belmont Shore, I was moving through L.A. with not much but my sense of discovery to guide me. Later I was hired to head a team of architects and artists to design the 1984 L.A. Olympics—to transform 1,000 square miles of the endless city into a festive public realm. I like to think those hot rod adventures were the catalyst. » Jerde, 70, has designed spaces that draw one billion visitors a year.

MARK HARMON

Actor

I spent a lot of time at the Coliseum  when I was growing up. My dad broadcast there. And then I was part of that first Super Bowl, when there were 62,000 people in the stands. So for me to get a chance, as a student at UCLA, to come out of that tunnel for the first time to play Nebraska was just like a dream. My dad broadcast that game, too. He called me “the quarterback” instead of calling me by my name, which was his way of avoiding bias. We won. My dad came down to the locker room because he had interviews to do—he was working. I made my way to the shower and got dressed, and he was waiting outside. When I walked out, he said, “Hey!” I turned around, and he was standing on the wall of the Coliseum. He said, “Great game.” It was a great moment. » Harmon, 59, stars in the CBS series NCIS. Born in Burbank, he followed in the footsteps of his father, Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon, and played football for the UCLA Bruins.

GEORGE LOPEZ

49, comedian, actor

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I grew up in San Fernando, but we said ‘Mission Hills’ because it seemed classier. What divided them was the Golden State Freeway. But on the phone the cars sounded like waves. So I’d tell the girls ‘Malibu.’ My earliest L.A. memory is when I was about four. My grandparents and I would go see Mexican movies at the Million Dollar Theater. Walking down Broadway after the movies and eating lunch on Olvera Street—puro L.A.!

NANCY SINATRA

Singer

My main growing-up spot was Toluca Lake. My two front teeth came out on the neighbor’s dock because I slipped getting out of a boat. We had a sailboat, a rowboat, a canoe, and a kayak. They stocked the lake with rainbow trout. I had to learn to put a worm on a hook—in the Valley, in the middle of L.A.! I’m a beach bum at heart. After school, my girlfriends and I would take the bus down to the beach and do our homework on the sand. Every now and then, when I need to get cobwebs out of my head, I go to the ocean. It makes you think—it makes you know—that there is something bigger than we are.  » Sinatra, 70, is the eldest child of Ol’ Blue Eyes. She hosts a weekly satellite radio show, Siriusly Sinatra , on Sirius.

RANDY NEWMAN

Composer, songwriter

The reason I wrote “I Love L.A.” in the early ’80s was really just that I needed an up-tempo song for the record I was doing at the time. I remember Don Henley saying that since I’m actually from here, and since everyone else is writing California or L.A. songs, why don’t I write one? So I did. I was happy with how it turned out. I had no idea it would be received the way it was. Then as now, the principal thing about L.A. is that even though the weather lacks variation, it’s a big deal. The fact that you can go outside and you don’t have to think about it—it doesn’t seem like much, but it’s a very big deal. Oh, and there are beautiful, beautiful women here. » Newman, 67, has won an Oscar, an Emmy, and several Grammys. He belongs to the film-scoring dynasty that includes uncles Alfred, Lionel, and Emil.

BIG BOY

41, radio host, voice of Power 106 FM’s morning show

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Growing up I listened to KDAY 1580 AM. It was homegrown L.A. hip-hop—all day. I would bring my Walkman to school. Do you know a guy by the name of Bobby Jimmy? He was the same as what I am today. We have so many hometown heroes who were right there on that station, cats really getting on the turntables.

JOHN DENSMORE

Comedian, actor, writer, producer, banjo player

In the ’50s, West L.A. was like Kansas. I had no clue of Hollywood until I became a teenager. Then I got a fake ID in Tijuana and discovered Shelly’s Manne-Hole, on Cahuenga and Selma, where I saw John Coltrane and his piano player, McCoy Tyner, and Elvin Jones, the drummer—my idol. I was afraid to even look at him. But he was my mentor. He affected how I accompanied Jim Morrison: you know, the power of improv. After Coltrane died, I got the nerve to introduce myself to Jones. He was really gracious, and at the end of his life I’d help him to the car with his cymbal cases when he was in town. In the ’60s, the Sunset Strip became insane. The sidewalks and the traffic were jammed. It was a renaissance. Sometimes after playing at the Whisky, Jim and I used to go to the Chinese restaurant next to Greenblatt’s for breakfast, where we could get egg-fried rice for $5. I had found my tribe. » Densmore, 66, was the drummer for the rock band the Doors.

MELISSA GILBERT

Actor

I remember like it was yesterday leaving MGM when I was 17, driving my Toyota Celica convertible, wearing my Ditto jeans and a T-shirt with the sleeves and neck cut off and red heart-shaped Lolita sunglasses, and stopping at the corner of La Cienega and Wilshire because I was going to buy a dress for the Golden Globes. And meeting Rob Lowe in the car next to me. Our relationship started there. We were together for six years. He was the first real love of my life. He was a struggling actor, on his way to audition for a commercial, and I was the girl from Little House on the Prairie.

We started Little House at Paramount Studios. My lunch hours were spent mostly with Henry Wink­ler, when they were taping Happy Days there. When I met Scott Baio for the first time—he’s been a friend ever since—I got all googly-eyed over him. I took him to my homecoming dance. The line between real and reel is pretty blurry. It’s all mixed together.

I was almost 20 when I got my star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I was the youngest ever. Britney Spears beat me years later. My father, Paul Gilbert, has a star not far from mine. It’s outside a building that used to house Mannis Furs, where my mother worked. She’d leave for the day and walk across my father’s star long before they’d ever met. After my dad passed away, I got my star. Remember when they were building a subway under Hollywood? (It kills me that they were building a subway in a place that could be decimated by an earthquake at any moment.) Well, a huge chunk of Hollywood Boulevard became a sinkhole during construction. Alison Arngrim, who played Nellie Oleson on Little House, called me and said, “I just heard on the radio that your star is sinking.” And I said, “Is this some new kind of rating system or something? I’m still working!” She said, “No, schmuck! There’s a hole in Hollywood Boulevard, and your star is one of the ones that’s sinking into the earth.” But it got saved.

Another time my friend Sandy Peckinpah and I were at Ruby’s in the Valley having burgers with our kids, and the waiter came over—this is maybe ten years ago—and he was clearing the plates, and he said to me, “Are you still working?” I looked at him totally insulted and said, “Um, yes. I just did a movie for CBS. Hello?” And he said, “No, I mean are you working on your food?” » Gilbert, 46, played Laura Ingalls, aka Half Pint, on Little House on the Prairie and is a former president of the Screen Actors Guild.

CEDD MOSES

Nightlife impresario

CM

Power Tools was the greatest club ever in the history of L.A. It was started in the ’80s in a small space on Washington Boulevard. It was a constant mash-up of rock and roll, hip-hop, skate punk, surf punk. You’d walk in and Warhol would be standing next to David Bowie. But it wasn’t about celebs there. It was about the music and the energy. In the ’80s, there was an amazing nightlife scene in L.A., but it was all illegal. That downtown scene at the time was really influential for me. I always knew downtown would come back, but the missing element was a residential population.  » Moses, 50, is the son of artist Ed Moses. He owns nine bars and restaurants downtown, including Seven Grand, Golden Gopher, and Cole’s.

Photograph courtesy Gregg Segal

MONA SIMPSON

Writer

MS

I spent my teenage years taking the Wilshire bus to the beach, where kids our age could still make bonfires and bring their dogs. But like all my friends, I wanted to go away, and I left for a long time. I came back just after the birth of my first child. The move had the feeling of a lark. Seven months pregnant, I’d flown out to look for a place. My brother and sister-in-law met us, and we drove around in a rented pink convertible Cadillac. It had the feel of Lucy and Desi go to Hollywood. We didn’t sell our New York apartment. We kept saying we’d return in one more year. Five years later we applied to kindergartens in both cities. My son attended school here, I found friends, and we started a Shakespeare group in the canyon. This summer I was in New York and told friends who’d known me for years that I’d probably stay in Los Angeles even after my son went to college. I realized that though this was news to them, I’d already assumed it for a very long time. Like most love, it snuck up on me. » Simpson, 53, published her fifth novel, My Hollywood, this year.

Photograph courtesy  Gaspar Triangle

WARREN CHRISTOPHER

Diplomat

After Pearl Harbor in 1941, when I was just finishing Hollywood High School, Japanese submarines were lurking off the coast here and L.A. was blacked out for a couple of weeks. I remember going around trying to ensure that my neighbors closed down their lights. Around that time I was working for the Hollywood Citizen-News. They promoted me from copyboy to junior reporter at 16 and started giving me assignments. I covered the Los Angeles Angels at Wrigley Field in my old Model A Ford. That’s when I felt that L.A. was becoming my town, because I would get around to cover stories. From the start I liked its breadth, how much creativity there was, how diverse it was. But that’s when I really dug in. » Christopher, 85, served as secretary of state under President Bill Clinton.

LANCE ITO

60, Superior Court Judge, presided over the O.J. Simpson trial

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When I was seven, there was this heat wave. We were sleeping outside because it was so hot, and the Good Humor man came by at two in the morning. My parents had given me $2 because I had passed a swimming test, so I treated all my buddies to Popsicles.

MIRANDA COSGROVE

Actor, singer

Once during my lunch break at work, I decided to go pick up a book at Borders and grab something to eat at Magnolia, one of my favorite restaurants near the set. At Borders I spotted Gwen Stefani and her son. While I was waiting for a table at Magnolia, I noticed Ashton Kutcher. I literally ran back to the set and told everyone. I came back to Magnolia with about 20 girls and accosted Ashton. Gwen got away safely. » Cosgrove, 17, is the star of Nickelodeon’s iCarly. She was born in Los Angeles.

DEAN TORRENCE

Singer

I met Jan Berry at University High in West L.A. One of our earliest gigs was at Pacific Ocean Park. “Playing,” in our day, was lip-synching. I think we had a gold record before we ever played live. We were college students then—Jan was premed, I studied architecture—so we really didn’t have a band. We had studio musicians who cut our records. It was a couple of years before we put together a touring band. I used to meet Brian Wilson at Pink’s hot dog stand late at night. It was about the only place open until one or two in the morning. Ah, Pink’s. » Torrence, 70, was half of the ’50s and ’60s rock and roll duo Jan & Dean.

PETER SHIRE

63, artist, lifelong echo park dweller

L.A. is an illusion. It’s a desert, so none of this should be here in the first place.

JODIE FOSTER

Actor, director, producer

I don’t consider Los Angeles a city. I consider it a series of small towns that come together. You have all the things you need from a big city. If you need to go to a 14-plex or you need to buy kimchi or you need a weird book on something no one else has ever heard of, you can do it here. You have to look, but you can do it. But it doesn’t feel like a city at all.

I grew up just across Highland Avenue from the Hollywood Bowl. My mom and we four kids lived right beneath that cross off Cahuenga Boulevard. We were sandwiched between the hill and the freeway. We didn’t go to the Bowl a lot, but we would hang outside my mom’s bathroom window and listen to it, because the sound bounced off the hills. You could hear perfectly.

My mom was kind of a frustrated city planner. That’s what she was fascinated by. She’d buy all these books about architecture. She was a very visual person. When we were little, none of us liked the same food. We were so difficult that my mom stopped wanting to cook. So she would take us to various fast-food places. We’d go to Der Wienerschnitzel, and whoever wanted a hot dog would have that. Then we’d go to this weird place outside the Farmers Market that sold cooked chicken gizzards and livers, and my sister liked that. Then we’d go to Taco Bell. Then we’d all have our food in the car—maybe we’d go and get ice cream—and then my mom would take us up and down all the streets in Hancock Park. She would analyze each house: “That column doesn’t belong there because you can see that the original house was meant to be here.” Or, “That’s a Doric column.” She would talk about each house and what she liked and what was good and what was bad: “This is Tudor, this is colonial, this is Spanish.”

I am the queen of what things used to be. Where the Beverly Center is, was Ponyland. And Tail o’ the Pup, the giant hot dog house, was there, too. You know where Pan Pacific Park is? There used to be a great drive-in. My mom would take us there, and she’d make us all go in the trunk. She’d take maybe one of the kids in the front and say, “Just one child!” And then we’d all tumble out of the trunk. We thought that was so fun. One of my really early memories is going there to see Doctor Zhivago. We brought our sleeping bags, and my mom had us put them on the roof of the station wagon, up on the luggage racks. After we got bored with buying popcorn, we lay on the roof. She watched the movie, and we’d fall asleep. That’s one of my earliest memories: opening my eyes and seeing frozen tundra, then closing my eyes and going back to sleep, then opening my eyes again—more Omar Sharif! » Foster, 48, is a two-time Academy Award winner.

BELINDA CARLISLE

Singer

My first apartment I picked because it was within walking distance of all the clubs: the Whisky, the Roxy. We had no furniture—it was a party pad, really. But those times on Sunset Boulevard were exciting. It was a new energy. New music. I always loved playing the Whisky. We were practically the house band. It was just a magical time. I saw everybody perform in L.A.—Blondie, Iggy, Queen, the Ramones. Much later, after I discovered Buddhism, I also did my first chanting in L.A. I live in France now, but whenever I am back, I go to the Friendship Center to chant. » Carlisle, 52, was the lead singer of the Go-Go’s. She grew up in Burbank and Thousand Oaks.

JAMIE LEE CURTIS

Actor, writer

JLC

My first childhood memory is the smell of eucalyptus trees. I grew up in a fairly rustic environment—very countrified. Dirt road. Donkey in a stable across the street. And eucalyptus trees everywhere.

One of the earliest sounds that I can remember is Jerry Dunphy’s voice. I guess my parents watched him on the news. And the way that he opened his news broadcast every day was, “From the desert to the sea to all of Southern California, a good evening.” That to me is Los Angeles: from the desert to the sea and everything in between. And I lived in between. I lived the canyon life that exists when you have a city that is bisected by mountains—a community cleaved. I grew up in Benedict Canyon. I drove over Coldwater Canyon. I dated a boy in Laurel Canyon. I had friends who lived in the Hollywood Bowl canyon. And Runyon Canyon and Nichols Canyon. And my favorite album growing up was Ladies of the Canyon. I had the best of both. I was neither a beach nor a desert dweller. I was really a canyon dweller. And by the way, I now reside in a canyon and have for the last 15 years or so. I raised my children in a canyon near the ocean.

The ocean and its tumultuous nature and the cold of the waves and sand in every crevice of your body and every crevice of your possessions did not yield for me a great love of the ocean. I grew up around pools. The beautiful clean warm water of pools. My parents owned a home in Palm Springs when I was a child. I have slivers of memories of this 1950s-modern house with its cinder block walls and sunken bathtub. Little mosaics of memory.

I’ve often felt that L.A. people get a bad rap. I take great pride in being a native Angelena. I am surrounded by people who have come here for work and have stayed for the benefits Los Angeles offers but secretly hate it. Everyone comes here, and everyone says they want to leave here. And I want to tell them to get the hell out of here and leave us all alone. Because they’re sucking us dry, complaining every day. They’re all snobs. I don’t like them. I am very protective of Los Angeles. I put up with people who claim that they’re from here when in fact I can see through them. When I meet someone who claims to be from L.A., I give them the Curtis Quiz [below]. » Curtis, 51, is the daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. She appeared most recently in the comedy You Again. She also writes children’s books.

The Curtis Quiz
You say you’re from L.A.? Jamie and her sister, Kelly, have a few questions

[ 1 ] What used to be where the Beverly Center is now?

[ 2 ] What does PMK stand for?

[ 3 ] Name the bread bakery warehouse in Beverly Hills that’s across the street from the Lichine School of Ballet.

[ 4 ] Name the Santa Monica amusement park that closed in 1967.

[ 5 ] What was the name of the cafeteria in the original Century City mall?

[ Bonus] What was the jingle for radio station KHJ?

Answers: 1. Beverly Park and Ponyland 2. Pickwick, Maslansky, Koenigsberg 3. Wonder Bread 4. P.O.P. (Pacific Ocean Park) 5. Clifton’s Bonus: The lyrics were “93 KHJ—Los Angeles.” The tune? You’re on your own.

Photograph courtesy Jamie Lee Curtis

ICE CUBE

Rapper, actor

When I traveled as a youngster to Australia and New Zealand, I saw slums, and I thought, We live in ghettos, but what they are dealing with here is ten times worse. That was in ’92, ’93. It made me appreciate the new L.A. You look at other people’s situations and you realize, I don’t have it that bad. » Ice Cube, 41, was born O’Shea Jackson in South-Central Los Angeles.

A. SCOTT BERG

Writer

In college I would try to describe Palisades High to these eastern kids. They couldn’t believe that I went to a high school that overlooked the Pacific Ocean, where there wasn’t even an indoor cafeteria, where there were no interior halls, just sort of overhangs between buildings. In high school there were mornings that a bunch of us would go down to the beach and have breakfast, and you could hear the bell ring and still make it up in time for homeroom. The first semester of 11th grade, we had to do a report about an American author, and at my mother’s urging I wrote about F. Scott Fitzgerald. I got so carried away, reading everything of, from, by, and about Fitzgerald, that when it came time to apply to college, I thought I’d apply where Fitzgerald went: Princeton. All his papers were there, and I discovered the correspondence between him and his editor, Maxwell Perkins, which became my senior thesis and eventually my first book. In order to write that, though, I moved back home, back into my high school bedroom. Most people think that to be a writer, you need the angst and the energy of a New York City. But I found that all so distracting. Perkins used to tell his writers, “When you write, you must go into a kind of trance state.” Los Angeles is a wonderful place for that because there’s so little change in the weather and the atmosphere that there’s very little sense of the passage of time. I sat down one day at the end of May, and when I looked up it was September and I had 1,200 pages of my first draft. And I don’t remember writing them. » Berg, 61, won a Pulitzer Prize for his book Lindbergh and is working on a biography of Woodrow Wilson.

JOSH GROBAN

29, Singer, just released the album Illuminations

L.A. has been such a good luck city for me. The whole way that my career got started—my big break was when I filled in for Andrea Bocelli during a Grammy rehearsal at the Shrine—and then singing in so many backyards of so many people in Bel-Air for charity events that I eventually got signed. When I released my first record, I’d spent my entire career in L.A.

JOHN CHO

Actor

JC

One day I woke up, and I wasn’t sure I could live anywhere else—in part because I couldn’t give up L.A. sushi. The sushi culture here kind of mimics the immigration patterns to L.A. Take Koreans. The generations that immigrated here in the ’70s and ’80s are more Korean than Koreans are. They carried this culture and preserved it in a jar in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, back in Korea, the culture did what it does: It evolved. You go back to Korea, and it’s culture shock. So bizarrely enough, this snapshot of Korean culture only exists in America. I feel like a similar thing happened with sushi. It soared to new heights in this city. Nobu Matsuhisa came here and experimented with garlic. The Japanese don’t use garlic or chilis. And then that was exported back to Japan. It’s like a cultural exchange program. » Cho, 38, stars in the Harold & Kumar films. Born in Seoul, he graduated from Hoover High in Glendale.

MAYA RUDOLPH

Actor, comedian

MayaRudolph

The W was not the W when I was a kid. It was the Westwood Marquis. It was the fancy hotel—at least I thought it was fancy. It’s gone now. But it had a little elevator on the ground floor instead of stairs, and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world that when my grandparents came into town I got to use the mini elevator. Westwood was pretty awesome then. On Friday nights people would go there just to cruise and check each other out. One time me and my brother and this friend of ours, Brad, took one of those plastic phones from the early ’80s, and we drove around in Brad’s car pretending we were talking on the phone. We invented the cell phone! It was so stupid, but we were being cool.

I have a game I play with my husband—we both grew up in L.A. but not in the same neighborhood. I’ll say to him, “Hey, where do you think I saw this movie?” Because I remember very clearly every movie I saw and where I saw it. I saw Footloose at the Mann National. I saw Weird Science there and Raiders of the Lost Ark. The theater’s gone now, which is not cool. That is unacceptable to me.

I met Jack Black in middle school when we ran an improv competition together. He and I became friends very quickly, and he was the first person to take me to see the Groundlings when I was, like, 14. Becoming a member of the Groundlings was really the first time I felt like I found my people. It was like grad school for me in a lot of ways. Just being with my people studying the things I wanted to study.

I lived in New York for years, doing Saturday Night Live, and I love New York. It’s important to leave home. But after a long winter with my baby daughter having wind-chapped cheeks—bundling her up to get her outside only to get her undressed again inside—I love being back here. I grew up running around half naked with no shoes in the backyard all year-round. Seeing my kids do that I think, “Where else can this happen?” » Rudolph, 38, is the significant other of director Paul Thomas Anderson and will next be seen in the Judd Apatow comedy Bridesmaids.

Photograph courtesy Shawn Bishop

THOM MAYNE

66, architect, moved to Whittier when he was 10

It was absolutely like the photographs: palm trees, orange groves. My grandmother had tons of avocado trees. So I show up, and I get the avocados and the palms. It was amazing.

ROGER MAHONY

Cardinal

RogMah

My dad was in the poultry-processing business. Our plant was on Chandler by Laurel Canyon. There were four or five men who worked for my father, and they were all of Mexican descent. I came to know them and their families, and something about their culture—the sincerity, the generosity—I just fell in love with. They helped me learn some Spanish. One day, when I was maybe ten, my dad’s plant got raided by what was then called the Border Patrol. These guys came running in with guns drawn. I’ll never forget how intimidating it was, especially for those four or five men. If I remember correctly, almost all of our employees had papers. What struck me, though, was the terror that those men with their guns created in the workplace that day. That really clinched my commitment to work with immigrant people. » Cardinal Mahony, 74, is the Roman Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles.

GEORGE TAKEI

Actor

GT

My father knew my theatrical bent. “There is a form of theater that’s dying,” he said. “I’ll take you to see it.” This was not long after we came out of the internment camps.I assumed he was going to take our whole family, but he took just me. We rode the Red Car and transferred to the P Car. We got off on Broadway and went to the Orpheum Theatre—that amazing marquee, with the zigzag lines that popped and moved, and the bubble lights. We bought two tickets and walked into the lobby, and my head snapped back. It was incredibly gorgeous. We went up the stairs, and the thickness of the carpet was an incredible, sensuous feeling. We were on the balcony level, in the cheapest seats, but to me they were the best seats in the world. My father had taken me to see vaudeville. I saw the trapeze artists and the horses that could add: “How much is two plus three?” Pound, pound, pound, pound, pound—with a hoof. The comedians came out. I had never experienced anything like it. Then vaudeville died, and the Orpheum became a movie house, and then it closed. It was heartbreaking. Finally the Orpheum was restored, and the L.A. Conservancy asked me to be the emcee for the reopening event. I said, “When I look up in that balcony at that last row, I see my father sitting there, smiling down.” I had a very special father. We were destitute then, but he cared enough to give me that experience. » Takei, 73, played Sulu in the original Star Trek series. He was born in Los Angeles.

Photograph courtesy George Takei

TORI SPELLING

37, actor, daughter of TV producer Aaron Spelling

We didn’t move to the manor until I was 17. And yes, it’s huge. You have to get on the intercom to hear people. But my fondest memory is of my dad and me raking leaves and picking up dog poo in the backyard. We bonded over the dogs.

ROBERT IRWIN

Artist

One thing that pisses off the New York art world is when you tell them you had a happy childhood—like I did. ’Cause the idea is art comes from suffering. In 1946, I went to Paris. It was stunning. But being an artist is about change, and I realized that in Paris, I would never want to change anything. I came home, got in my car, put the top down, had my big-band music playing. I was sailing along the freeways and, man, I knew who I was. I was as L.A. as you could get. » Irwin, 82, designed the Central Garden at the Getty Center.

MARISELA NORTE

Spoken-word artist, poet

The bus is like my studio. You don’t know what you’re going to see. The other day I saw a pair of pink bedroom slippers on the sidewalk. Then a pickup truck went by with green watermelons in the back. Gorgeous. You’re an archaeologist here, finding all these artifacts and wondering how they got there and what they mean. I was in the bar of a Chinese restaurant and someone got up to sing karaoke, and it was the bus driver of the 31! » Norte, 55, was born in East L.A.

SERK TANKIAN

43, singer-songwriter front man for System of a Down

We’re not used to walking next to each other like in New York or Chicago. So we have this weird sense of insecurity about other human beings. When people look at you in a car, you look away and you’re like, ‘Why did I just look away?’ And then you look and they look away, and you’re like, ‘Why did they just look away?’

FATHER GREG BOYLE

Priest

I know two L.A.s. Half my life was around the house my folks had for 46 years at 3rd and Norton. The other half was in Boyle Heights on the Eastside, working with gang members. The city I knew when I was a kid was its own little world, but we still ventured out—to the Wiltern for a matinee or to ride our bikes along the L.A. River. When I first arrived on the Eastside as a pastor 25 years ago, I was struck by how kids in the projects had never been to the beach. They’d never seen snow. That was always something, to fill a van with kids from the projects and drive them into areas they’d never seen—Beverly Hills or the beach. I remember driving a youth group on a Friday night and watching Hasidic Jews walking down Beverly Boulevard in the Fairfax area. The kids were out the window going, “Who are these people?” and “What’s this about?” They knew the Eastside—they just didn’t know anything else. » Boyle, 56, is executive director of Homeboy Industries, where his motto is “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.”

JOEY LAWRENCE

Actor

I remember going on The Tonight Show for the first time. I was five and a half years old. We pulled into the gates of the old NBC lot in Burbank, and Johnny was there smoking a cigarette. He looked just like my grandfather. I went out there and did my thing—I sang and danced. I was fairly unknown other than doing commercials. But that started it all. Afterward NBC added me to Gimme a Break!, and then Blossom came from that. It was surreal in a lot of ways, being the most popular 16-year-old in the world at the time. Everywhere I went, people were freaking out. It was great but crazy. We had security all the time because we had some stalkers. That’s something I won’t forget. » Lawrence, 34, stars in the ABC Family show Melissa & Joey.

ADAM LEVINE

Musician

L.A. is not a normal city. You grow up seeing people—a politician, an actor, a musician: “Oh, that’s so-and-so!” It made me indifferent to it. It was just part of life. At the same time, when I met Stevie Wonder, it blew my mind. I was overjoyed. But being enamored of fame as a concept? My parents raised me to never pay any mind to it.

I grew up all over the Westside—Marina del Rey, Brentwood. But the Beverly Center was the jam back in the day. Starky’s Deli was my spot, on the top floor. It was owned by the same guy who owned Jerry’s. That’s where you would play video games, eat some pizza, talk to pretty girls who didn’t want to talk to you. That was the spot. It is no longer, unfortunately. I probably still would hang out there now.

I remember Pirate Radio 100.3. I had a boombox in my room with a huge Pirate Radio sticker on it. I was cool—I was so much cooler when I was a kid. My first concert I went to, I was 11. My dad took me and my best friend to see Warrant at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. I had just started playing guitar, and I was obsessed with Warrant. This was the time when glammed-out pop was at its finest. I don’t even remember the show as much as I remember just being so blown away by the scene. It looked like a costume party—all this hair spray and boobs and leather and crazy shit that I had never been exposed to. I remember my dad put me up on his shoulders the whole time because I couldn’t see. There was too much hair in the way.

Around the same time my grandmother took me to the Pantages Theatre to see Les Mis. It was a matinee, and I was so unbelievably bored. So I asked my grandma, “Can we go to Guitar Center?” And she said, “Of course!” Guitar Center was my Toys R Us. It still is. It was like heaven. I’d walk in there and hear people playing, and I was so completely excited. I loved to go and scout out the most expensive guitar and start playing it. So on this afternoon a salesman came over and said, “Sorry, little dude”—you know, he was one of those kinds of guys—“Sorry, little man, can’t play this one.” And he grabbed it out of my hand and put it back on the rack. I remember thinking to myself, “I’ll show you! One of these days I’ll come back in here and buy that guitar!” And you know what? Mission accomplished. Years later I marched right in there—I’ll never forget it—told them the story, and bought the guitar I wanted. It was exactly like in Wayne’s World: “It will be mine. Oh yes.” » Levine, 31, is the front man for Maroon 5. He bought the guitar of his dreams in 2004, after the release of the band’s breakthrough album, Songs About Jane.

CHEECH MARIN

Actor, comedian

My dad’s early beat when he was a cop was downtown L.A.—Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Olvera Street—so that’s where I grew up, and at night he’d bring me home different types of food from his beats. I was born in South-Central L.A. Every once in a while I go down there when I want to show somebody where I came from. It’s now all Latino, 100 percent Latino. Before it was almost 100 percent black, and I was one of the few Mexicans in my neighborhood. When I was ten, we moved to Granada Hills in the Valley, which was all white. It was like going from Nigeria to Knott’s Berry Farm. » Marin, 64, a major collector of Chicano art, just wrapped his “Get It Legal” tour with longtime partner Tommy Chong.

RITA WILSON

Actor

RW

My driver’s ed teacher at Hollywood High would take us up to Mulholland Drive, all the way down to Beverly Glen, and then we’d have lunch at Bob’s Big Boy, the drive-in on Van Nuys Boulevard. As a teenager I worked at Fred Segal and then at Star Sporting Goods on Highland Avenue—it’s no longer there. Then at the Universal Amphitheatre when it was still open air, I had a uniform that was an orange-and-blue plaid cape, with a hat, kind of like Sherlock Holmes, so forget ever trying to meet a cute guy. Still, it was amazing because I saw Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell, the Eagles, Steve Martin. That was during his arrow-through-the-head phase. He could not have been hotter. » Wilson, 54, is completing her first screenplay, Terms of Embarrassment.

DEAN ZANUCK

Producer

DZ

I like different surf spots for different reasons. Malibu’s great, but it’s crowded. Westward Beach, just south of Zuma, is great for sheer adrenaline. I’ve been to them all. I grew up on Pacific Coast Highway in the house that my grandfather had lived in and where my dad was born. As a kid I’d go right out the back door, between tower 4 and tower 6. I thought those waves were incredible, but it wasn’t about how big they were. It was about getting in the water. That was what gave you that good feeling, no matter what the conditions were: paddling out. We’d always go really early to beat the crowds. We were often the first ones in the water, well before the sun came up, often just using the moonlight to get out there. That first dive in—ducking under the water—always gets you going. » Zanuck, 38, produced this year’s indie hit Get Low. His grandfather, Darryl F. Zanuck, cofounded 20th Century Fox. His father is producer Richard Zanuck.

Photograph courtesy Zanuck Family

JULIETTE LEWIS

37, actor, costars in Due Date

JL

We weren’t considered wealthy, but we had horses and chickens. In Tarzana I grew up riding horses. All my girlfriends and I rode bareback. We would ride to Will Rogers State Park, bring a bag of candy, and just adventure all day. We were these little renegade riders. I was all of nine or ten. Two blocks from my house was a 7-Eleven. We’d pull our horses up and tie their reins to a post. Those were our summers.

EVAN KLEIMAN

Restaurateur

Every week when I was a kid, my dad used to take me to a place on Hillhurst and Sunset, where the Good Luck Bar is now. We would sit in a tufted booth and he would order a hot chocolate for me and it would come with little marshmallows on top. And every week he would tell me to wait until it cooled off, but I could never wait. So for the rest of the week the roof of my mouth would be burned. » Kleiman, 57, is the chef-owner of Angeli Caffe and has hosted KCRW’s Good Food since 1998.

RAY BRADBURY

Writer

One night when I was 14, I roller-skated to the Uptown Theatre on Western. A limousine pulled up, and Norma Shearer, the greatest actress at MGM, came out wearing a silver lamé gown. She was accompanied by her husband, Irving Thalberg, the greatest producer at MGM. That was my first contact with famous people. The next day I roller-skated to Paramount and saw W.C. Fields. I got his autograph. He said, “There you are, you little son of a bitch.” On Friday nights I would go to boxing matches and stand outside, and coming out the door would be Mae West and Cary Grant and George Burns and Jack Benny. I wanted to be a writer, so I read everything. I went to the Central Library downtown. Then, when I couldn’t afford an office, I discovered UCLA’s Powell Library, where I could rent a typewriter for ten cents for half an hour. I went to my bank and got a big package of dimes and moved into the typing room. In nine hours I wrote the first version of Fahrenheit 451. » Bradbury, 90, graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1938.

BODHI ELFMAN

Actor

I was born on a kitchen table in Hollywood. My mom was very much a Southern California hippie—all of us were born at home. I met my wife at an audition for a Sprite commercial in 1991. We both got the job, but it kept getting rained out. We spent seven days in a trailer together on the set, so by the time the commercial wrapped, it was kind of a done deal. » Elfman, 41, is the nephew of Danny (the composer) and the husband of Jenna (the actor).

TRACY AUSTIN

Tennis pro

I started playing the competitive tennis circuit in my teens, about 20 tournaments a year. I was the youngest of five; my mom worked at the Jack Kramer Tennis Club. I spent my life there, which is where my memories were formed. There was this empty lot nearby, and we would go into it and pick the lupines and sell them to the club members. There was freedom. There was a swamp with frogs and tadpoles, and we would scoop them up with tennis ball cans. We walked up to Jack in the Box and into the store next door and got gum. That was our little two-block area—we could climb under the fence and collect golf balls at the country club. Those were our adventures. You can make a lot out of a tiny area when you have 30 friends to do it with. » Austin, 48, is a two-time U.S. Open winner and grew up in Rolling Hills.

ADAM CAROLLA

46, grouch, hosts The Adam Carolla Show podcast

AC

Everyone does this thing where they go, ‘You can get to the ocean in 25 minutes. You can get to the mountains in an hour. Isn’t that wonderful?’ I guess the answer is yes. But the school system is unusable, the traffic is horrible, businesses are fleeing. I don’t give credit to Villaraigosa or the city council for the mountains or the oceans. That has to do with plate tectonics. I give them credit for a graffiti problem that’s so bad, the street signs have to be covered with barbed wire. I give credit to God for doing a fair-to-middling job creating the place and to Villaraigosa and the city council for fucking it up. Potholes and a-holes. That’s Los Angeles.

LARRY MANTLE

Radio host

LM

 

I went to Crozier Middle School during the first year when what had been a historically overwhelmingly white school became a school that was half-and-half. African American kids were bused from the Morningside Park area, and there was a lot of tension. The kids were good kids, but everybody was sort of on edge. The second year I was there, things were considerably better because we got to know each other just as kids. Even with the undercurrent of tension, Inglewood still had a real Mayberry small-town feel to it. When we moved to Beachwood Canyon in Hollywood, everybody seemed so much slicker to me. It was like, “Boy oh boy, I’m in the big city now.” » Mantle, 51, has hosted KPCC’s AirTalk since 1985.

Illustrations by Tim Bowe

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