» LAUSD is experimenting with a program that’ll offer free one-on-one tutoring to kids who could use the extra help. The initial effort will offer in-person and online tutoring to 500 students from the communities of Huntington Park, Fremont, and Taft, and will later expand to more students. [Spectrum News 1]
» A Trump press conference was briefly interrupted today when an individual was reportedly shot by law enforcement in close proximity to the White House. The Secret Service tweeted that it “can confirm there has been an officer involved shooting at 17th Street and Pennsylvania Ave. Law enforcement officials are on the scene.” [NPR]
» Three black teens who reported being attacked by a homeless man with a knife were held at gunpoint by members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department upon the deputies arrival. The incident was caught on camera and shared on social media by one of the young men’s mothers. [CBS Los Angeles]
» An 18-year-old woman named Brianna Moore was found dead in her tent by Echo Park lake Sunday morning. She’s the second person to be found dead in encampments by the lake this summer. [Eastsider]
When writer-director Tom Holland began shooting his feature directorial debut Fright Night in 1984, vampire films were dead. In the age of the prolific, real-life serial killers of the 1970s, “slashers” made big bucks for studios and independent producers, and the mystique of the vampire waned.
Dracula, as played by the debonair Frank Langella in John Badham’s 1979 adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel, performed modestly at the box office. The comedy Love at First Bite (1979), which saw George Hamilton’s clichéd Count Dracula travel to New York City after being evicted from his Transylvanian castle, was the final nail in the coffin for a monster whose trail of blood dates back to the earliest days of cinema.
“My feeling has always been when a genre goes to farce…it means the exhaustion of the genre, and that’s what Love at First Bite said,” says Holland. “Everything as it is right now [in horror] was totally the opposite back in 1983 or 1984. There was no particular market for horror, and anything to do with vampires was the kiss of death.”
Fright Night focuses on 17-year-old Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) and Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon), the suave, good-looking vampire who moves into the creepy old house next door. When Charley witnesses from his bedroom window—a la Rear Window —his new neighbor about to sink his fangs into the neck of a young woman, Charley finds himself struggling to convince his friends that a vampire lives next door. With no other place to go, Charley turns to “vampire killer” Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), an aging, washed-up horror movie star, hosting a local monster movie program called “Fright Night.”
Released on August 2, 1985, Fright Night has become a cult favorite over the last 35 years and is, arguably, responsible for resurrecting the popularity of vampire films that continues to this day. But while vampires remained elusive on screen, sci-fi and horror narratives were being injected into teen movie fare. E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982), Poltergeist (1982), Christine (1983), and Gremlins (1984) all take place in suburban neighborhoods or small towns. Directors, who grew up in suburbia watching monster movies and reading comic books during the 1950s, were now in a position to make movies in which they saw themselves as teens or adolescents.
“I don’t remember feeling like I was one of a group with putting Fright Night into the suburbs,” says Holland, who was a much in-demand writer after penning Psycho II (1983). “If I was going to have the kid see into the house next door, and see through the window and what was going on, I had to be in suburbia, didn’t I?”
As the country transitioned from the tumultuous 1970s into the Regan era of multiplex cinemas, urban vampires, as seen in Count Yorga, Vampire (1970), Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) and Blacula (1972), also faded from view.
“Today it would be very easy to set the whole Fright Night package in an urban, downtown apartment world,” says Fright Night production designer John DeCuir. “I believe we felt that in the ‘80s the stereotype for easily spooked and vulnerable teens was suburbia, not a gritty urban environment.”
Originally hired as a production assistant on Fright Night, Steven Housewright became the film’s uncredited location manager after a colleague left the production. “They [the studios] definitely weren’t marketing films for urban kids,” he says. “You’ve got to figure most of the kids that are going to go out and see those movies to begin with are all kids living out in the suburbs.” Housewright worked in locations for about two decades before returning to his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, ten years ago to start a non-profit music education program for kids in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Holland grew up in a number of places, but he thinks mostly of Highland, New York, a small bedroom community across the Hudson River from Poughkeepsie, the birthplace of cult film director Edward D. Wood Jr. and today a declining stronghold of IBM. “It’s a one-street town. There certainly wasn’t anybody that was interested in show business or film like I was. I was a one-off. I was the mad movie fan wandering around with nobody to talk to,” says Holland. “I was Charley Brewster. I would have loved to have had the experience that Charley did as long as I was guaranteed that I didn’t get bitten and lose.”
Fright Night began filming in Los Angeles at the end of 1984 and continued into the early part of 1985, but Holland never wanted the setting to appear as L.A. “It wouldn’t have felt right,” says Holland. “Too sophisticated. You needed someplace in the heartland.”
“I never got the impression that Tom felt, nor did I, that we needed to visually sell that we were in a particular city or state,” says DeCuir. “I think the character of the narrative environments trumped any particular geography,” he says.
The town in which Fright Night takes place appears as an Anywhere, USA, which was a common aesthetic of suburban-based movies of the 1980s in an effort to appeal to a wide audience.
Holland imagined the town from Fright Night—called Rancho Corvallis in the script, but that name is never mentioned in the film—might be somewhere outside of Los Angeles. But the film’s locale is set in stone by a momentary insert shot; it’s just not the setting Holland had written. When Peter Vincent receives an eviction notice at his apartment, the address is written as the fictional town of Corvalis, Iowa. “My God, man! I forgot that,” says Holland, stunned. “I must have approved it, but when I wrote it in the script it was Rancho Corvallis.”
Though seemingly unintentional, setting the film in Iowa presents a unique spin on the character of Peter Vincent. Like all of the film’s sets, Peter’s apartment was built at the historic Culver Studios—then Laird International Studios—in Culver City. The apartment was modeled off of classic Hollywood courtyard apartments, says DeCuir. Therefore, if the characters of Fright Night live in the Midwest, Peter could bask in his Hollywood days by seeking out the only apartment in this small, Iowa town that would provide that sense of nostalgia.
While house interiors were built on stage, an estimated budget of $9 million meant that it was imperative to scout for existing house exteriors, and the search for Jerry and Charley’s respective houses proved lengthy.
“I didn’t go through holy hell finding [them], but he [DeCuir] did,” says Holland.
“Our primary focus was trying to find Jerry’s house and have that Victorian, vamp-ish, Gothic look, next door to Charley’s suburban house,” says DeCuir. “We scouted all over L.A. to see if we could find that combination of looks side-by-side. In fact, we scouted both houses in two separate places and tried to figure out, how do we bring those worlds together given multiple scenes that demanded intercuts between the two houses?”
The classic Victorian has, for decades, lent itself to the haunted house aesthetic in our collective cinematic consciousness. “At the turn of the century a Victorian mansion might be built with plenty of acreage surrounding it,” says DeCuir. “Then, over the course of fifty to one hundred years, plots would be subdivided and more contemporary housing would be nudged right up to the old mansion, and so the Victorian house became the weird, old, spooky house in the neighborhood.”
Housewright recalls scouting Carroll Avenue, just on the edge of downtown L.A. The famed street of classic 19th century Victorians had just been filmed for the archetypal haunted house in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video. “It was so recognizable to a lot of people. I think that was one of the things that excluded that,” says Housewright. He also remembers that Heritage Square Museum, the preserved collection of Victorian structures just off the 110 freeway, was scouted. The idea was abandoned due to freeway noise.
When DeCuir suggested looking at the residential street on the Disney backlot in Burbank, serendipity struck. The filmmakers found two houses—one a Victorian—positioned side-by-side. The street had recently been used for another macabre picture, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983).
The houses were originally constructed in 1960 for The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), in which the film’s villainous businessman, Alonzo P. Hawk (Keenan Wynn), lives in what would later become Jerry Dandridge’s house. Throughout intervening years the houses would be seen in Disney films including The Shaggy D.A. (1976), Pete’s Dragon (1977), and That Darn Cat! (1965), in which Roddy McDowall appears on the street he would revisit on Fright Night.
Post Fright Night, Jerry’s house was seen in the ghostly “Magical World of Disney” movies, Mr. Boogedy (1986) and Bride of Boogedy (1987). By the early ‘90s, the Disney backlot, once located on the east end of the studio, was razed to make way for more soundstages and a parking lot.
Fright Night is largely a set-bound film with a good deal of action having been shot at Laird Studios and the Disney lot. There are only seven practical locations featured in Fright Night and they are not as widely dissected as other popular films of the 1980s. Some locations appear on screen for a just few minutes, at most; some are shot with a shallow depth of field making the background indiscernible; a couple of them appear at night making it difficult to find identifying markers. Thirty-five years later, comparing the film to Google maps is like looking at a vampire’s nonexistent reflection in a mirror, and the search for enduring locations is as challenging as trying to convince your friends that a vampire lives next door. Nonetheless, the quest for the small handful of locations in Fright Night—some found only by using 1980s phone books and archival newspapers—provides a deeper appreciation for what DeCuir calls the “narrative environment.”
As is often the case, there are Fright Night locations that were chosen purely out of convenience. The house of Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys), Charley’s eccentric, misunderstood friend and horror movie aficionado, was a block away from Laird Studios.
A grade school seen on screen for only 30 seconds was a needle in a haystack search until Holland recalled it being somewhere in the Culver City/Santa Monica area. The only unique identifying feature was a covered walkway leading toward a major street. Searches of the Santa Monica and Culver City school districts were unsuccessful. Finally, a Google search of LAUSD schools with 310 area codes provided a match in Palms Middle School. A covered arcade runs from the middle of the campus to Palms Blvd. that provided an appealing depth perspective for filmmakers. “You’re choosing locations for production value,” says Holland. “You want to be able to look down the corridor and see the depth of the outside school.”
As locations radiated away from the studio, they became more intricate and, in some cases, historic.
The first day of filming on Fright Night took place inside Heaven, a novelty shop in the old Century City mall that featured a retro ‘50s diner in the rear of the store. Opening in Century City in 1984, it was brand new when the filmmakers used it for Fright Night. The company soon thereafter began franchising, and other locations opened around California.
“It had the brightness and it was a change of pace and mood,” says Holland of the location.
The 1980s saw a spike in ‘50s nostalgia. Everything from oldies radio stations, novelty candies, and a return to the ‘50s diner aesthetic were “in,” and the Baby Boomers who grew up on the stuff were now in a position to expose their kids to their memories, and spend money on it.
“Everybody’s taste was kind of in that direction. If it was a teen place, what was cool back then was Mel’s [Drive-In], that sort of Googie architecture,” says Housewright. “If you go back and look at ‘80s movies, you’ll see that same type of location.”
Just like the ribbon Charley’s girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse) wears in her hair, the diner evokes a theme of youthful innocence, which starkly contrasts the pilfering of that innocence in the film’s hellish third act.
The brick exterior of the historic KCET Studios on Sunset Boulevard appears briefly as KBHX, the local TV studio where Peter Vincent shoots the wraparound segments for “Fright Night.” Built in 1912, the Los Feliz studio is the longest continuously producing studio in Hollywood.
“The brick there gets it into a kind of Anywhere, USA [look],” says Housewright. “Because otherwise you could have done it right there at Laird.”
The final settings of Fright Night span almost 14 minutes of continuous screen time and the sequences are interconnected through multiple locations.
When Evil Ed decides to take a shortcut home through a dimly lit alley, Jerry stalks Ed, pinning him into a dead-end before sinking his fangs into his neck.
The first part of the sequence was shot behind the Alexandria Hotel in downtown’s Historic Core. The shooting situation was not ideal, as tenants of the Alexandria were less than thrilled about a nighttime shoot below their windows. “The A.D. was just screaming at me over the walkie talkie, ‘I got somebody throwing garbage,’” says Housewright. “So I’d have to find my way through the building, knocking on doors, trying to figure out who it was who was screaming at them or throwing garbage cans down on them. I remember having a wad full of 20- and 50-dollar bills and I was paying off people constantly to go back to bed.” Housewright adds that the permit office, pre-FilmLA, was not strict about getting the approval of tenants in downtown L.A. in the 1980s. “A lot of those people were just inches [from] being off the streets,” says Housewright. “They [the permit office] did care if you went to the Valley areas, or something like that, or Hancock Park, which was being filmed all the time.”
The climax of the sequence was shot in another alley a mile away.
Housewright was instructed to quickly find a narrow alleyway close to Santa Fe Avenue and the 1st Street bridge, where Holland was shooting pickup shots including that of Charley and Amy walking alone at night when, off camera, Jerry tears apart a transformer box in a fit of rage. Because of the rapid turnaround there was no time to develop scout photos, so Housewright grabbed a Polaroid camera and shot an alleyway off of Santa Fe Ave. alongside the 1st Street bridge. Housewright calls it a “nightmare location” due to the prep and cleanup to make it filmable. “On the night shoots down there, you’d see rats come out that were the size of small dogs,” he says.
The largest practical location for Fright Night, and perhaps its biggest set piece outside the soundstage, was Club Radio, a fictional downtown nightclub. To find the location, we took to a 1987 L.A. phone directory. Upon searching “Nick’s Original Burger,” a corner market seen on film across the street from the nightclub, we came up with a matching location at 1600 W. 7th Street. Further research on the building proved to be of interest beyond its use in Fright Night. Today a WSS shoe store, the building at 7th Street and Union Avenue opened in 1925 as fine-foods specialty store Young’s Market Co. The architecture incorporated both Art Deco and Egyptian design motifs, and a series of animal mosaics on the interior, which can be seen in the film. In 1959, Andrews Hardware and Metal Co. moved into the building, using many of the original cases left over from the market. The hardware store had moved out just prior to the filming of Fright Night and it proved a perfect space.
“What was hip back in those days was to take spaces like that and convert them into nightclubs,” says Housewright. “People were converting old bank buildings into discos.” A perfect example is the ‘80s nightclub Scream, once located inside the Park Plaza Hotel at MacArthur Park, as seen in Less Than Zero (1987).
DeCuir vividly remembers his friend Ray Bradbury patronized Andrews hardware store, and the author visited the set of Fright Night when they filmed at the location. “Ray often mentioned his love for browsing through hardware stores,” says DeCuir. “We used to call Ray the metaphor man and he told me that he came across some of his best metaphor moments while rummaging around in hardware stores on Saturday mornings.”
The nightclub also represents the greatest example in Fright Night in which a location motivates action. Holland took advantage of a parking garage ramp at the rear of the building. As Charley and Amy try to evade Jerry at the bottom of the ramp, the two run into the garage, only to find Jerry magically appearing at the top of the ramp a moment later.
Holland says he fell in love with the location because of a balcony where Jerry could gaze out over the dance floor. “It had been built more like a Masonic temple or something,” says Holland. “The balcony, the woodwork, the stairs, it was a very impressive space.” The location was used as a nightclub a year prior to Fright Night in Brian De Palma’s Body Double (1984), which is bookended with a glam-rock vampire movie being filmed.
When speaking with Holland today, it seems as though there was no grand scheme behind the film’s locations, and it’s suburban setting was a means to create the film’s inciting incident: spying out a bedroom window and seeing a vampire in the house next door. But over time it’s clear Fright Night fans have identified with the film’s observations of the suburbs. Holland, who has a new novel called The Notch, says, “The few times I have been out at horror conventions, three generations will come up to me that love the movie,” says Holland. “I haven’t had that experience with Child’s Play. Well, a little bit. I think Child’s Play was too scary, especially if you were a little kid. … Five-year-olds love Fright Night.” Though Holland’s Child’s Play (1988) introduced audiences to the infamous possessed killer doll Chucky, the film takes place in a wintery Chicago, far from the insular and familiar comforts of Anywhere, USA, where children happily play in front yards while a mysterious stranger from who knows where moves in next door.
In June, a group volunteers gathered at the fence around the Silver Lake Reservoir to create a 2.2-mile-long memorial to Black people killed or harmed by police in the United States. Called “Say Their Names: Silver Lake Memorial,” the community art project used bits of fabric and other materials to weave the names of more than 100 people into the chain link fence. Now, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is demanding the memorial be removed.
According to LADWP, the creators of the memorial did not have proper authorization to install it on city property, and it has to come down by August 15.
“I feel really sad, because it just deserves more time. There’s been so little done in terms of policy with the LAPD. And I feel there shouldn’t be an end to memorializing these people who have been so forgotten,” Micah Woods, one of the memorial’s co-organizers, told the Los Angeles Times.
Organizers of the project point out that the memorial has been a way to put the names of the dead in a place where residents of the largely affluent and white neighborhood would have to see them while out for a jog or taking their pets to the dog park.
“It’s something people are forced to reckon with on their daily walks,” Woods told the Times.
While they hoped it would stay up longer than it has, the project’s creators note that it was never intended to be permanent. A smaller group of volunteers will return to the Silver Lake Reservoir to cut down the ribbons and zip-ties in the coming days.
Going forward, they hope to find a way to create some kind of permanent memorial–with city permission, next time.
Newly released numbers from the California attorney general’s office reveal that the state has spent $43 million suing the Trump Administration in the last four years, but Attorney General Xavier Becerra says the lawsuits have actually saved the state billions in funding it would have lost had the White House been allowed to carry out its full wish list of policies.
“Every single case is based on Donald Trump and his administration doing something against the law,” Becerra told the Sacramento Bee. “We didn’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to sue Donald Trump again?’”
The cases have so far stymied Trump’s attempts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, end the Obama administration’s DACA protections for child immigrants, weaken climate change rules, and put California car emissions standards under federal authority.
The state’s aggressive litigation has also halted Trump’s dream of building a wall on the Mexican border, abolishing the Affordable Care Act, and led to a Supreme Court decision that California law enforcement could not be compelled to assist federal authorities in arresting and transferring immigrants.
California has filed or joined more than 90 lawsuits against the Trump administration, with legal costs rising from $3.7 million in the budget year ending in June 2017, to $11.3 million in 2018, $12 million in 2019, and $16 million this year.
While no one in the Trump White House commented for the Sac Bee article, a Justice Department official pointed out a Wall Street Journal op-ed in which U.S. Attorney General William Barr claimed the administration was being treated unfairly.
“Shrewd lawyers have learned to ‘shop’ for a sympathetic judge willing to issue such an injunction,” Barr wrote. “These days, virtually every significant congressional or presidential initiative is enjoined—often within hours—threatening our democratic system and undermining the rule of law.”
Some legal experts, like Berkeley Law dean Erwin Chemerinsky, say Trump has only himself and his enablers to blame.
“Obama pushed executive power, like DACA, but it’s nothing compared to what the Trump administration has done in pushing the boundaries of the law,” Chemerinsky told the Bee. “Like rescinding DACA, or funding the border wall after Congress refused, or arguing the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. This is one of the most radical administrations in memory.”
In a TikTok video with millions of views, influencer Kels McGriff glides backwards down a palm-tree-lined street in L.A. on a pair of yellow roller skates. “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac is playing, and in her bell-bottom jeans and crochet fringe top, McGriff looks like she’s straight from another era.
“Can we all just go back to 70’s [sic] vibes and forget 2020,” one top comment says.
Roller skating videos like McGriff’s have exploded online in the past few months. Desperate for quarantine-friendly activities and inspired by the breezy, feel-good aesthetic evoked in the videos of popular creators, more and more people are picking up roller skating as their new summer hobby. Retailers around the world report selling out of skates left and right.
But while a spate of viral videos on TikTok and Instagram have been credited with sparking the recent surge in interest, many skaters stress that this is not a roller-skating “revival” or “comeback.” In reality, skating never really went away—it’s been an integral part of the Black community for decades.
Los Angeles is home to a long, rich history of Black skate culture, as chronicled in the 2017 documentary Roller Dreams. As segregation kept Black skaters out of L.A.’s indoor rinks, Venice Beach became a place where the Black skate community could thrive. In the 1970s, Venice became ground zero for the roller dance style of skating that became a global phenomenon, and when the skate scene took off, police tried to suppress Black roller dancers by implementing laws that banned loud music.
“Knowing the history of dance forms how you approach your movement, and that informs how you approach skating as well,” says Keon Saghari, 30, who started skating while transitioning out of her professional dance career. “From one skater to another, know your roots because it enriches you. It helps form you and shape what you do.
But on TikTok, these roots are not always apparent. Given skating’s fraught racial history, the uncritical 1970s nostalgia that abounds on the app can feel callow, especially given that TikTok has been accused of suppressing Black creators. Many of the highest-performing roller skating videos on the platform feature white and white-passing women.
“Black people are being overlooked in a lot of cases,” says Lily Ruiz, 22, who first learned how to skate from her father. “In L.A. especially, there are people who have been skating since they were children, and…it’s questionable when you have someone who just started skating not too long ago receive a lot of popularity on social media platforms.”
Additionally, while some describe L.A.’s skate community as welcoming and inclusive, others cite experiences of discrimination and a lack of diversity. “There were moments where you don’t feel very included, because you look around and everyone’s…partnering with a white girl, and no one’s really asking you to skate with them,” says Kelsey Guy, 28. “Those little moments kind of make you feel left out.”
Fellow skater Kamry James, 25, says she’s felt alienated at local rinks, including Moonlight Rollerway in Glendale, where the mini and fiberglass wheels that are popular in Black skating styles are banned. Even as a regular going to Moonlight three times a week for eight months, Guy says she’d still sometimes be asked to show her wheels, while she noticed others could enter the rink unbothered.
“Honestly, I didn’t feel very included going there,” says James, 25. “There weren’t a ton of Black and brown people, and the music they played made it feel like they didn’t want that type of people coming there.”
James recently partnered with Guy and Ruiz to launch Sista Skaters, skate classes taught exclusively by Black women. Through the classes, she hopes to foster diversity in the skate community and raise money to donate to Black Lives Matter L.A.
“I want it to be a community space for all women, but specifically Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, because there’s not a huge representation of that here in the Los Angeles area,” James says. “I want us to build each other up within our own community, so we can make money as a community and give that back.”
Ruiz has also embarked on a project called Casting Black Skaters, which connects Black skate talent with opportunities in the entertainment and media industry. In the month and a half it’s existed, the Instagram account has received submissions from talent across the country and the United Kingdom.
Is the current TikTok skate frenzy just a fad? Maybe, but it doesn’t seem to be dying down any time soon.
“Skating has always been incredible, and it maybe just hasn’t had a light shining on it as strongly as it is now,” says Saghari. “Maybe a new style of skating will come out from all of this, and that’s going to be a part of the history of skating, and in the future we would want people to know this history. I think that goes beyond skating, with anything you do, know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.”
Quarantine has taken a toll on the concept of overachievement; any American who can both brush his teeth and empty the dishwasher in the span of one Earth turn feels Nobel-worthy. In order to prepare for a (hopeful) return to normalcy and recalibrate national accomplishment meters, consider the case of Danny DeVito, icon and true super-achiever.
Fairbank’s disease might have prematurely stopped his vertical growth, but he blossomed in virtually every other way. In his 75 years, he’s starred in (and won an Emmy for) one classic sitcom, Taxi, and continues to plumb the depths of degeneracy in another future-classic, as Frank Reynolds in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which will become the longest-running live-action situation comedy in history when its 15th season airs.
In addition to his movie roles (Terms of Endearment, L.A. Confidential), he’s directed (Throw Momma From the Train, War of the Roses), produced (Pulp Fiction, Erin Brockovitch), and reproduced (he fathered Lucy, 37; Grace, 39; and Jacob, 40, with wife Rhea Perlman, who lives separately, but amicably).
With a smidgeon of CGI assistance, DeVito will now break the species barrier by transmogrifying into Bob, a stray mutt and gorilla companion in Disney+’s soon to stream family tearjerker, The One and Only Ivan.
In researching you, I discovered something that kind of blew my mind. Were you aware there’s an entire genre of Danny DeVito adult coloring books?
No, I’m not, but that’s really cool. I was always a coloring book fan, always trying to stay within the lines.
I’m curious. Has quarantine radically affected your daily habits?
Well, the thing is, I’ve always been pretty solitary. You work alone. Even though actors work collaboratively, when they’re studying they work alone. I’m really careful; I don’t want to be exposed to it. I have a mask with me always. I’ve been very conscious of my kids, too: Lucy, Jake, and Gracie. We do social distancing visits in the yard.
Have you been behaving yourself during all the downtime?
There’s phases I’ve gone through. The initial phase was sitting in one spot, watching TV and movies, eating a lot, cooking a lot of dinners and drinking a lot of booze—doing a lot of that. There were two or three weeks where I was having a cocktail every night. I couldn’t wait for five o’clock. I’d start with gin and lime—squeeze half a lime into a shaker, like a daiquiri without the sugar. Then sometimes a quick gin and tonic. Every night I was doing a different routine: a margarita, a Manhattan, then go rum and Coke. It got to be like, “What the hell, man? Every night?” Lately, for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been doing it very little. Lately, I’ve been more conscious about exercising. I do Pilates and yoga and bounce around on a trampoline, which is really the coolest thing in the world. It moves the lymph around, keeps that stuff flowing good. I’ve also done two juice fasts.
I’d love to lose some weight but I think juice fast and imagine horrible diarrhea.
Not to get into your gastric system, but it’s not going to happen. No, it’s not about that at all. And you drop pounds, even though you’re a couch potato.
You grew up in Asbury Park, New Jersey. I gather your parents had some tragedy in their lives before you came along.
My grandparents came over from Italy in the 1800s, didn’t speak English. They were laborers. They went through very difficult times. My father used to boast about how he got to sixth grade. My parents had five children, two I never met. One died in the hospital, and one died from whooping cough, from a pandemic. Maybe that’s a reason that I haven’t been out of the house for four months.
Is it true you worked as a hairstylist when you were young?
When I was about 17, my oldest sister, 16 years older, opened a beauty salon, and said, “Why don’t you come to work for me?” She sent me to beauty school; I learned how to do it. At first, she started giving me all the old ladies. So there was a lot of dyeing and a lot of dying. She called me Mr. Dan. And it was a performance, in a way. I did all kinds of hairstyles, shampoos and sets. If anybody’s in the business in those days, they know what I’m talking about. Pin curls, permanent waves, shampoo sets.
You were much, much younger than your two sisters, do you suspect you might have been a mistake?
I don’t know. They never called me a mistake. There was funny story they always told. When my mother got pregnant, she went to her doctor in like 1944. The doctor said, “You’re either pregnant or you have a tumor, let’s check this out.” I don’t know how long after, the doctor said, “Mrs. DeVito, you’re pregnant.” She said, [very disappointedly], “Oh.” They loved telling that story.
What I don’t understand is that you went off to New York to learn makeup, but somehow became an actor, is that right? I wondered how this great transition came.
My sister wanted me to learn makeup, because she wanted to have her own line of makeup. Very enterprising, my sister. So she sent me to New York to go find a place where I could learn how to do it. I found a woman who said she’d teach me makeup and all about the different Queen Helene products, but I had to enroll in the school where she taught at night. It was the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Now I had never thought about being an actor. I’d never seen a play. I never thought about going on stage. So I went, and I would audit all the other classes. I dug it. I started reading plays. But you know I was a big movie fan. I’m like a teenager, basically 18, 19. So I thought, God, who are these guys? Why can’t I do it?
Coming from your background, this isn’t something I imagine that seemed like a practical goal. Was your family supportive?
They were really pulling for me at every turn. I’d done a Starsky and Hutch, a couple of little movies. Then I got a big movie: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Then once, if you’re very fortunate and in the right place, something comes that breaks. You break through the ice, which for me was in 1978. That was Taxi.
You did Martin Brest’s NYU thesis film, Hot Dogs for Gauguin, and then famously get Martini in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. One is mentally ill. The other wants to blow up the Statue of Liberty. Did you have this energy of being able to play off-kilter roles?
Yeah. Extreme. Not your average normal walk-in-the-door, buy-a-donut person. The parts I’ve played on TV were always bookmakers, safecrackers, shady characters of some sort. Somebody who had a twisted past—or has a twisted future.
I’ve read a lot about how fraught it was shooting one One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in a mental hospital in Oregon. You played Martini. I read Jack Nicholson wasn’t even speaking to Milos Forman, the director.
Oh no, that’s not true. It was more fun than fraught. Everybody got along. One night we all drove from Salem to Portland to see a basketball game, because if you’re near a basketball arena, Jack wants to go. And he was a big star at the time. Nobody knew who the rest of us were. We had floor seats and there was press and the photographers. It was one of the first experiences I ever had with that kind of attention; people were chasing us. Jack’s friends grabbed me a huge Coke. Huge. Suddenly we were down right on the middle of the court, right on the floor. The ref threw the ball up in the air for the first tip. Exactly as the ball hit the apex, I kicked over my coke and the entire tub went out into the middle of the floor. Whistles blew from every fucking place, and they yelled, “Stop!” and came out with spray bottles and towels. Nicholson just looked at me and said, [doing a Nicholson impression] “You want another Coke, D?” I said, “Yeah.’” He said, “Get Danny another Coke.”
So you didn’t, in fact, have an imaginary friend during the shoot?
Oh, I had an imaginary friend, but why is that crazy? The character Martini’s friend was not like Harvey or anybody like that. It was just a buddy he talked to. It’s an actor’s thing. You have secrets.
How’d you land Taxi?
Joel Thurm is a casting director who worked a lot at the time. He used to send me up for all these parts. I didn’t have an agent and every once in a while, Joel would say, “Go audition for that.” I went to plenty and didn’t get them. Once he said, “This is something that’s really great. You’ve got to go.” All my friends were saying, “Movies are the way to go. Don’t worry about television.” Anyway, Joel sent me this pilot and I read it. Louie De Palma was a character I loved. I went to Paramount to audition, and there were Ed Weinberger, Stan Daniels, Dave Davis, and Jim Brooks, all from Mary Tyler Moore. They were the best. I didn’t know them from Adam because I had never seen Mary Tyler Moore. I might not have had a television. But I know I want this part, because it’s a really cool part and Louie was a particularly well-drawn character. Everybody was sitting down. It was a scary moment. I had the script in hand and I said to them, “Nice to meet you. One thing I want to know before we start: Who wrote this shit?’” And I threw it on the table.
That’s a big gambit.
There was a one-second pause. Then Jim Brooks almost died laughing. Basically, it was one of those things where Louis actually walked into their office. From then on, I could say any word I wanted and get a laugh. If I said, “And?” I’d get a laugh. Anything!
Whenever I think of Louie De Palma, I think about him in that taxi dispatcher cage. Did you know he was going to be performing pretty much in the cage?
Yeah. It was all in the script. Later on I heard that Louis was originally only going to be a voice. The cage worked out great for us. If you remember the pilot episode, I was ripping people, everybody was getting the wrath of this character out of the cage. When I finally walked out, that was a big reveal.
It got a huge laugh. I guess people didn’t know that you were smaller. Is that what it was?
Yeah, it was a sight gag.
The thing that’s so interesting about your career is that height is not something that figures much in most of your roles. But it was something that actually they took advantage of in Taxi. The year you won the Emmy there was an episode in which you have an emotional monologue about the humiliation of having to shop in a boy’s husky department.
Oh, yes, I tell the story about my pants. That’s my story. Once I got to this size, I stopped growing, but I wasn’t skinny. So, I couldn’t go to a store and get clothes right off the rack. So, I used to have to go to the large boys’ department. I told [producers] Ed [Weinberger] and Jim [Brooks] this story. We put that in the show. It’s always good to draw from your life if you can.
There’s some controversy about Man on the Moon, which you produced and starred in. Andy Kaufman is now considered a comedy God, and in the vein of Elvis and Jim Morrison, there’ve been all these rumors that he faked his death and is going to come back. Most of the Andy Kaufman mystique has been fanned by Andy’s longtime writer and friend Bob Zmuda. But then the late Sam Simon, a writer on Taxi, says that Andy Kaufman, despite being portrayed by Bob Zmuda as an outlaw and guy whose process would make everybody’s life miserable, was actually a pretty nice guy and easy to work with.
Andy didn’t make everybody’s life miserable on Taxi. Andy Kaufman was a simple guy. Not a bad guy. Andy was a performance artist in an actor’s role on a popular television show. But I think he would have been happier if he could just go out on stage and play the bongos at clubs and stuff like that. He probably would be happier if he wasn’t on a TV show every week, even though we were blessed to have him.
This documentary about the making of the film, Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond, came out a couple years ago, using a bunch of behind the scenes footage that had never been seen of Jim Carrey disappearing into the role of Andy and his loutish lounge-singer alter ego, Tony Clifton. I have to say, it look highly unpleasant for those who were working there because of Jim’s process. Was it?
Yeah, but it was because of Tony because Tony was an asshole.
Tony was an asshole.
Pretty much. I mean, to everybody. When Jim was Tony, he tried to do it to the fullest, as you would say.
In the documentary, Jim says that Ron Meyer, who was the head of Universal, didn’t want the footage to get out because people would see it and think that Jim, their star, was an asshole. After seeing it, I kind of agree with his instinct.
Jim was obviously trying to channel anything that he thought Andy would do, and Tony was the offensive side of Andy. You can’t even put Andy and Tony, oddly enough, in the same breath because Tony was like Tony, and Andy was just a sweet guy from New York. Jim was trying to be involved in all that because that’s the performance art.
My kids and I just rewatched Batman Returns, a fantastic movie, scarier and darker than I remember, in which you played Penguin. So that fish you’re gnawing on…
Salmon. Yeah, I ate the fish. And people said, “You ate a raw fish?” I said, “Yeah.” Like nobody’s ever had sushi? It’s the same thing.
It’s sort of denatured when you go for sushi and they cut it up so nicely. As The Penguin, you’re holding a whole fish and taking a bite out of it.
Yeah, man. Did you ever see Lifeboat?
I did, but a long time ago. What do they eat?
They eat a fish. I’m from New Jersey: raw fish, clams, shrimp, crab.
I finally watched “A Very Sunny Christmas” from the sixth season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It’s so wrong, but so funny, and there’s a scene in which you’re sewn into a leather sofa, you seem to have been lubricated beforehand—and you’re nude.
Well, you’re supposed to believe I was sewn into the leather sofa and it got so hot I had to take my clothes off, and it still was like in a sweat lodge. So when I come out I’m covered with sweat, like a newborn halibut.
And there’s a lovely long shot of your bare bottom which I felt was impressive. Not a double?
Oh no, no, that was me.
It’s totally shocking. It made me wonder if the producers or writers ever asked you to do something and you were like, “Nah, too far.”
No, not really.
They’ve taken five episodes of Sunny off that include blackface. I think you guys might have the record. The whole show is wrong in so many ways. You waterboarded your daughter in a urinal. I think if you took everything out from It’s Always Sunny that was socially wrong, inappropriate or offensive, there’d be no show.
Right. We have to keep provoking. But there is a limit.
You’ve done 14 seasons of Sunny. How much longer can you do it?
Yeah, we don’t know what we’re doing. But we could probably go some more. We could do this show forever. I could. Now, I recommend every actor out there do theater, do movies. But if you can find a bunch of people to work with on a television show do it, man, have some fun. You go to work every day with a bunch of people that you really like, and what are you doing? You’re making people laugh hopefully, you’re having a good time, it’s a great living. Come on.
Since we’re on Zoom, I can see you have an extraordinary bar behind you. It’s making me thirsty. We’re almost done, so I’m ready for a drink. You see what I’m pouring? It’s limoncello in your honor.
Oh yeah, but that’s not mine. We stopped making [Danny DeVito’s Premium Original Limoncello.] So let me see you drink it, go for it.
I’d never heard of limoncello until you mentioned it on that memorable drunken episode of The View. Your excuse was, you’ve been out with George Clooney, consuming limoncellos.
Yep. It was those last seven limoncellos that got me.
» California health officials have issued guidance on how college campuses may begin to reopen to students for the fall. Rules will severely limit on-campus activity, including prohibiting indoor lectures for counties on the COVID watch list. [Los Angeles Times]
» A Pasadena city councilmember is under investigation, accused of creating fake online identities to submit public comments in favor of her political allies–and attacking her opponents. Marina Khubesrian has announced she will not run for reelection in light of the allegations. [Pasadena Star-News]
» Drought conditions continue to expand across the region. Monsoon rain that normally fills the Colorado River–a major source of water for Los Angeles–has failed to arrive this year. [Los Angeles Times]
» Berkeley, California, is now offering COVID-19 testing via a self-testing kiosk. After a successful pilot program, the offering could expand–and could make quicker, easier testing far more accessible. [KRON]
» The Apple Fire is approaching containment. The blaze, burning since July 31, has scorched around 33,000 acres so far. [NBC Los Angeles]
When Comedian Laurie Kilmartin’s Mom Was Dying of COVID-19, She Tweeted Her Way Through the Pain
Laurie Kilmartin writes jokes for a living. The Emmy-nominated comic has been a writer for Conan since 2010, and in her stand-up routine she riffs on everything from sex and relationships to her family and having a child in her 40s. She can crack wise about anything, even her mother’s death from COVID-19.
Original photographs of Katie Hill for Los Angeles by Scott Suchman
This story contains graphic descriptions of self-harm that could distress some readers. Lifeline Network—800-773-8255—offers free emotional counseling 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
On November 6, 2018, I was elected to Congress as one of the youngest women ever. One year later, I was sitting on a train to New York to meet with my newly hired victims’ rights attorneys about suing the Daily Mail for cyber exploitation—and I was no longer a member of Congress. Sitting on that train just a couple of days after my resignation had taken effect, I realized that it was one year, almost to the minute, from when I’d received the call from my predecessor to concede, the day I found out that we had done what many said was impossible—we had flipped a historically red congressional district. I was going to be a congresswoman.
Within a matter of weeks of being elected, I was one of a handful of people working closely with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the most powerful Democrats in the House. But, oddly, I knew I belonged there; I didn’t feel awkward or unsure. I was confident. Don’t get me wrong, the job was hard. I had made plenty of mistakes. But I was figuring it out fast. I was good at this. So much hard work by so many people went into flipping my district and getting me elected to Congress, and it felt good to be able to deliver for them.
But my home life was another story. That day on the train was also five months to the day from when I moved out of my house and told my husband, whom I’d been with since I was 16 years old, that I wanted a divorce. On that day in June, my dad, a cop, came with me to our house because I was afraid to go alone. My husband was unpredictable, had dealt with substance abuse issues at various times in his life, owned guns, and was incredibly controlling. Of course, I was afraid. I got my things, moved in with my mom, and didn’t look back.
But when I’d tried to leave before, my husband had said that he would ruin me. That threat itself was abusive, and kept me in the relationship for far too long. Knowing that he could make good on it was the reason I always went back. Midway through my first year in Congress, though, I reached the point when I knew I couldn’t keep going. I had to get out.
But those words “I’ll ruin you” hung over my head every day after I moved out. I knew the risk when I left, but I felt I didn’t have a choice. Despite the looming threat, being out of that house, away from him, made me feel better than I had in years.
The day my staff ran into my office and showed me the nude photos and private text messages that had been published on a right-wing website called RedState, the hammer that had been hovering—the threat to “ruin” me—finally dropped. I didn’t quite accept it until a few days later, but the future I had imagined as a leader in Congress, the job I was good at and loved and knew I was making a difference by doing, was over.
I was thinking about all of this as I went to see my lawyers. Then the train suddenly stopped. We sat there for a long time, and it was finally announced that someone had jumped in front of us. It was a fatality. My thoughts shifted to the person on the tracks while we waited for the police to investigate, for the coroner to come. I know the despair that leads someone to that place all too well. I had been there just a week before.
I announced my resignation knowing it was the right thing to do, the right decision for me, my family, my staff, my colleagues, my community. But that didn’t make it any easier, and in the days that followed, I was completely overwhelmed by everything: how many people had seen my naked body, the comments, the articles, the millions of opinions, the texts, the calls, the threats. I would start shaking, crying, throwing up. It was hard to talk to my family because I knew they were going through so much, too. I didn’t want to talk to my friends because I was humiliated, I didn’t want to hear more pity, and I just didn’t know what to say. Many of my staff had been with me for years at this point, and we were, for better or for worse, very close. Now I felt like they all hated me.
I didn’t leave my sparse DC apartment. I felt so alone and didn’t know what to do. It was two days after I announced my resignation. I don’t even know how I spent the day. Probably reading articles (and comments on those articles) about myself that I shouldn’t have read or noticing the silence of my colleagues. I was grateful that “the squad” (representatives Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) immediately came out in support of me, but the only other vocal defender I had was Republican representative Matt Gaetz, one of Trump’s strongest allies in Congress. To the surprise and criticism of many in his own party, Matt stuck his neck out for me, and I will always appreciate him for that. I understood why my other colleagues stayed quiet publicly, but it hurt nonetheless.
I ignored more text messages and calls and fell in and out of a restless sleep. But when it got dark, I drew a bath, lit candles, and brought over a whole bottle of wine. It might have been my second bottle of the day … I’m not sure.
I lay in the bath and thought about what I’d lost. The betrayal. The people on my team and in my life who had been hurt, although they’d done nothing wrong. Everyone I’d let down, everyone who worked for me, who campaigned for me, who believed in me. The future I’d thought was in store for me was suddenly and irrevocably gone. I was grappling with, and felt endlessly guilty about, my own responsibility in my downfall and knew that there were other factors at play below the surface that people could just never understand. And those pictures—no one should have ever seen those. I didn’t even know many of them existed, seeing them for the first time with the rest of the world.
How could I ever face anyone again, knowing what they’d seen? What they knew?
The bathwater had gone cold. The wine bottle was empty. Suddenly and with total clarity I just wanted it all to be over. I got up and looked for the box cutter, dripping water all over the floor. I couldn’t find it. A part of my brain was saying, “Stop it. This is stupid. You’re not going to do it; go drain the bathtub and get your shit together.” But I felt like I was out of my body, like it was moving without me. I got a paring knife —not quite as sharp as a box cutter, but I figured it would do—and got back into the cold bath.
I stared at the veins in my wrists. They were so thin. They were green in the candlelight. I started tracing them with the edge of the knife, lightly at first, then pushing harder and harder. The knife was duller than I thought. It surprised me how hard I had to push to even scratch the surface. Fine red lines started to appear and I knew that if I pushed just a tiny bit harder, I would start to bleed. A couple of droplets started to form on the surface of my skin, like when a leak is beginning to come through the ceiling: one drip at a time, but you know the crack is coming soon. This wasn’t the first time I’d hovered at that edge, thinking it should all just end, knowing how I’d do it, and knowing I could, whenever I wanted to. A little more than a year before, I’d come so close.
That time, it was late at night on my way home, in the final stretch of the campaign. I hated going home. I had known for a long time that my relationship with my husband was bad. I knew that M, the woman who had worked on my campaign, and with whom I’d developed a relationship despite my better judgment, was sucked into it now, and it was my fault for exposing her to it in the first place. But I thought there was no way I could escape: we had a house and animals and a backstory that had become part of the campaign. There was the public perception and the money and the logistics and the things my husband took care of that I just didn’t how I’d do with only a month left until Election Day, let alone after.
Every night was a horrible fight. He said the most vicious and demeaning things to me, and he was getting less stable and much scarier. He wouldn’t get help, and he said everything was my fault. People had no idea from the outside. I pretended everything at home was fine, and I looked like a successful candidate about to win an election and make history, but my life was held together by a thread and I was hanging on by a fingernail.
I’d driven past the big oak tree just off the side of the remote highway on the way to my rural house twice a day nearly every day for years. The tree had been struck by lightning years ago, and there was a burn scar that looked just like the Virgin Mary. People often came to pray at that spot, and would leave flowers and candles and framed pictures and beads. But recently I had started to feel it beckoning to me in a menacing but somehow hypnotic way. I would take a different route as often as I could to avoid passing it, because that feeling scared me. But then I started taking the highway again, as though the burn scar was sending me magnetic signals I couldn’t resist. I would stare at it every time I passed and think about being held in the comforting arms of the Blessed Mother, and closing my eyes forever.
That night driving home, the dark music and the dark sky and the dark road and the feeling of depletion and of being trapped added up, and before I realized what I was doing, I’d taken off my seat belt and was pressing all the way down on the gas pedal and driving straight toward the tree. But after a few seconds, when the speedometer hit 80 and I was a couple hundred yards from the tree, I thought of my family, whose lives I would ruin if I did it. I thought of how it would destroy the various religious offerings and how people might stop praying there and might even lose their faith. I thought of my dogs and how I’d never said goodbye. I thought of my staff and all the volunteers and how we wouldn’t be able to flip the district because there wouldn’t even be a Democrat on the ballot, and what if ours was the district that determined whether we got the majority in the House?
I braked hard and swerved back onto the curve of the road before it was too late. I fumbled with my seat belt as I buckled back up, then pulled over and caught my breath. I drove home in silence with the windows down, trying to keep the car under control with my hands shaking on the steering wheel.
I sat in the driveway for a while, working up the courage to go in. I really didn’t want to, but I knew that this was a close enough call that I should tell my husband what had happened. And maybe if he understood how miserable I was, he would finally start acting differently or agree to get help.
I walked into the house and told him what had happened and how deeply unhappy I was because of our relationship. I asked him to see a therapist, to think about the way he was acting and how toxic his behavior had become. He wouldn’t hear it, and it set him off in a way I wasn’t ready for, despite at least somewhat expecting it.
It’s hard to explain how his rages would escalate, but it’s like he wasn’t there anymore. He didn’t make sense, and he would yell and take the fight in the strangest directions, telling me how it was my fault that he got this mad. By the end, I’d believe it and just keep saying, “I’m sorry—can you please forgive me?” because that’s the only way it might ever end.
That night was no different, but this time as it all escalated I cried and said I just couldn’t do this anymore. Instead of calming down and trying to talk and make things better, he took a gun that he kept by the side of our bed and shoved it at me, saying, “Here, here, take it! If you want to kill yourself, then why don’t you go fucking do it.” I kept pushing his arms away and saying no, and he was in my face and I was backed into a corner in the room, and in that moment I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would not be OK if I stayed there. But I felt paralyzed.
Eventually he stormed out of the house with the gun. I took a sleeping pill and prayed that he wouldn’t drink too much and come in and start raging again with a loaded gun in his hand. I almost locked the door to our bedroom that night, but I knew that if he tried to come in and found it locked, it would be so much worse. And he could get in anyway. I don’t remember falling asleep, but I guess I did.
When I got up, I found him sleeping in the guest bedroom at the back of the house. I recognized that this could be my moment to leave, since I knew I’d never be able to do it with him there and he was never gone when I was home. So before I could talk myself out of it, I packed up everything from our room that I thought I’d need, but that wouldn’t be too obvious—I didn’t want him to have any heads-up that I wasn’t coming back. When I got on the road, I called my mom and asked if I could come stay with her for a while. She was very worried, of course, but I said I was fine and I would tell her more when I saw her that night. The next person I called was my campaign manager, who had to not only help manage the logistical challenges and fallout this might create for the campaign, but who also had become a tremendous friend and support to me as well.
All day, my husband texted me, apologizing for the night before, and sent memes and I love yous and lots of smiley emojis. I replied more or less as I normally would, not wanting him to suspect anything. But when I finished my campaign events that evening, I crafted a long text about how I wasn’t coming home. I tried to articulate why and asked him to give me the space I needed. Of course, he started calling me over and over until I finally turned off my phone. He then called everyone in my family and said he was going to come to my mom’s house. My mom asked my dad (the cop) to come over and wait with us at her place until he calmed down. Meanwhile, my stepfather and my campaign manager met up with him in a parking lot to try to calm him down, and they almost came to blows when he repeated to them what he’d already told me: that he’d ruin me if I left him. Eventually my dad convinced him that coming to my mom’s house was a really bad idea and that he should go home.
I stayed away from my house for a couple of weeks. My husband told me he’d started going to therapy and gone back on his meds. He promised he’d change, and he brought me cards and flowers all the time and told me how he couldn’t live without me. I missed my dogs so much, and I just couldn’t imagine how to actually make the separation permanent. And with Election Day nearing, I didn’t know how I would deal with everything, including the threats, and I thought maybe this time the good phase could last until after November 6, at least.
The absolute last thing in the world I wanted to do was walk back into that house, into that life, into our marriage. But there were always those words “I’ll ruin you.” So I went back.
That night in the tub brought me full circle to the night with the tree, the day I’d left, and his threat. I finally did leave my husband for good. And, sure enough, he fulfilled his promise by releasing those images and texts that ended my career. So here I was again, not contemplating death with a car and a tree, but this time with a bath and a knife. But those things that had made me veer off to the side before, made me pause this time, too.
Lying in the cold water tracing my veins, I thought about the people I had already let down so much with my scandal and by resigning. What would this do to my parents? To my brother and sister? To my staff and volunteers and supporters, just like before? Except now, even though I was resigning. I felt an even greater sense of responsibility. Because we’d won, and we’d showed people it was possible for someone like me—someone like them—to make it into power, to achieve something people said we couldn’t do. I thought about the high school students who said how inspired they were by me, the Girl Scouts whose troops I’d visited, who told me they wanted to grow up to be like me, and how their parents would explain it if I killed myself, and what it would do to them.
I couldn’t do it. This whole thing was bigger than me before the election, and it had only grown since then. I didn’t get to quit. I had to keep pushing forward and be part of the fight to create the change that those young girls are counting on, even if it’s not in the way I thought.
The next day was my true day of reckoning, of coming to terms with what had happened, what it meant for me, and what I needed to do. I spent the day writing my floor speech. Everyone who has taken a basic psychology class has learned about the stages of grief. That day I cycled through all of them over and over. But writing the speech alone in my apartment gave me an outlet to work through them and what had led me to this point in my life and to the decision to resign. I looked back at the ten days or so leading up to that horrible moment in the bathtub.
We first heard rumors that pictures might be coming out a few days before they did, but I was in total denial at that point. First, I didn’t even know about all the photos that would have been damaging. I didn’t know my husband had taken them, so I didn’t quite grasp what that meant. Second, I honestly didn’t think he would stoop to that level. When you’ve known and loved someone for your entire adult life, no matter how bad things get, you just don’t think the person you’ve trusted with everything would be capable of such cruelty.
But on October 18, 2019, RedState, the right-wing online publication that often posts conspiracy theories and all kinds of hit pieces on Democrats, published the first in a barrage of articles that included pictures and text messages related to the most intimate details of my life. When it first started, I thought that I could stay in office and we could fight it, ride it out. Then more and more photos were released. The harassment was incessant. And it became clear that the longer I resisted, the further those who were launching these attacks would go. A local Republican operative said they had a shared drive with more than 700 photos and text messages (this operative said they were supplied by my ex, though my ex has claimed he was hacked), and would keep releasing them bit by bit until I resigned or was forced out. Literally every single day from when the first article was posted, RedState published a new slew of images or texts taken out of context, fodder provided by my ex for that takedown he’d promised.
Then I saw how my colleagues—especially other freshmen from tough districts—were put in the position of having to either denounce or defend me. My roommate, Representative Lauren Underwood, said that trackers (people paid to chase politicians with cameras and catch them with a bad answer or in a gaffe) were following her around and asking her how, as my roommate, she didn’t know this stuff about me, and why she didn’t do anything about it.
I knew I was going to have to step back from my position as freshman representative to leadership. I couldn’t risk harming my colleagues by being the face of the class. I also knew I should step back from being vice chair of Oversight, since a huge part of that role was acting as a spokesperson. The day before the RedState article was posted, we’d learned of the tragic passing of Chairman Elijah Cummings, a hero and a mentor to me. Serving as his vice chair was the honor of my lifetime, and, honestly, I’m glad that he didn’t have to see everything that happened. But because of his passing, the role of vice chair, if I stayed in it, would have been even more magnified. And with my controversy, I was no longer even remotely the right person to discuss the committee’s work in front of the press.
Finally, and perhaps most important, was the fact that the House was about to vote to officially open an impeachment inquiry into the president, and undergo an intensive investigation process during which the right-wing media and Republicans would be seeking any opportunity they could find to distract from the issue at hand: a corrupt and dangerous president. I would not allow myself to be that distraction.
I was supposed to go to Chairman Cummings’s funeral on Friday, October 25. I stayed home, not wanting my presence to take away any of the attention that should be paid to celebrating the life of such a great man. But I was heartbroken. It was the day I fully realized that I didn’t know how things could go back to normal, how I could be an effective legislator, an effective leader. I tried to imagine what Chairman Cummings would have said to me about my situation if he were alive and could give me advice. I honestly didn’t know what he would say—if he would tell me to keep going and stick it out or to step aside. He had often reminded me of my grandfather, Papa, who had passed away from Alzheimer’s in 2011. Papa was the other person whose advice I desperately wanted at that point because he was the person who always told me to never quit, never give up.
Sad, scared, and looking for answers, I did what I’ve always done when I feel that way. I called my mom. I had been talking to her every day, of course, but until this point, my posture had been to stand strong. Fight it out. Don’t let them—don’t let him—win. Finally I cracked. I told my mom how miserable I was. How I couldn’t sleep because of the anxiety over what was coming next. How I felt about the impossibility of going back to the roles that mattered so much to me. How horrible I felt for the team, for my family back at home, for my colleagues, knowing that the only way it would all end was if I stepped down. But how I felt like stepping down was giving in, showing I’d been broken, letting down all the people who believed in me.
My mom finally said to me, “Katie, you don’t have to keep doing this. You’ve already done so much by running, by showing it was possible, by flipping the seat, by making sure people know they can have a real representative who works for them. None of that will ever go away. It’s up to you.”
I mumbled weakly, “Yeah, I guess that’s true.”
She went on, “I know you’re thinking about how Papa would say to never quit. But you wouldn’t be quitting—you’d be moving on to another fight.” And she said exactly what I needed to hear.
After we got off the phone, I called my sister, my dad, my chief of staff, and a couple of my closest advisers who had been with me from the very beginning. They supported my decision and knew exactly how hard it was for me. Over the next couple of days, I worked with my chief, my top advisors, and a legal team to put a plan in motion to announce my resignation. The plan needed to be executed quickly so the right people knew in the right order before something was leaked to the press. Of course, the first person on that list was the Speaker of the House.
I had been so fortunate to work closely with Nancy Pelosi during my time in Congress. As the freshman leadership rep, I got to participate in leadership meetings with her, along with fewer than ten other members, at least twice a week. I was able to see her in action, to learn from her behind the scenes, to see her masterful strategy, to see how she managed the complex and often conflicting wings of the Democratic Caucus and somehow kept the whole thing together, especially during the chaos that was the Trump presidency. I had the privilege of traveling with her on two Speaker’s Congressional Delegations—once to the Munich Security Conference and later to Central America’s Northern Triangle and the U.S. border as we dealt with the immigration crisis and the inhumane and disastrous policies of the Trump administration.
I respected Speaker Pelosi more than anyone, and I, along with so many members of the Democratic Caucus, had come to see her as a matron of sorts—one who is incredibly powerful and tough but also compassionate and kind. I dreaded that call so much, and I couldn’t contain my tears by the time she got on the phone. Before anything, she said, with the utmost concern in her voice, “Are you OK? I’ve been so worried about you. What they’re doing is so nasty. Tell me what you need, how I can help.”
My voice shaking, I told her that I was so incredibly sorry for the position I’d put her and my colleagues in. She tried to stop me and said, “Please, don’t worry about that right now.” But I continued. I explained that there was more coming, that my ex had provided endless ammunition to the Republicans, and that I didn’t know what to expect but that I knew I was going to be at best a distraction and at worst a liability, especially during the impeachment. And more than anything, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do the kind of job that I wanted to do and that my constituents deserved. She knew what I was about to say, and said, “Oh, no, Katie, you don’t have to do this. We need you. You’re so talented.” I could tell she meant it. Her voice was pained. She had invested in me. She had believed in me. She had, publicly and privately, given me opportunities and praised me as one of the promising new leaders within Congress and within the party. As far as I could tell, she actually valued my opinion and the contributions I made at leadership meetings, in committee, and to the caucus as a whole. She asked me not to resign, reinforcing her belief in me and my future. But ultimately she understood my decision and thanked me for my service. I just prayed she could one day forgive me, because I knew I had let her down.
What happened here is so complex, with so many layers. I was exploited online by my abusive ex-husband and the right-wing media in a coordinated attack. I was a victim. But I also made serious mistakes that I will always regret. Worst of all, I had a relationship with a campaign staffer. I understand power dynamics; I know that having a relationship with someone on my staff is inappropriate. I also know that sometimes it’s not that simple—that a gray area does exist. I loved this woman, and it was a consensual relationship with an adult. And I was nearly fifteen years into a very abusive relationship, and looking for a way out. But right now there’s no space for gray.
I know my story plays a part in all of this, and it doesn’t create an easy or simplistic narrative. But I’m trying to figure out how to make the most of it—how to keep pushing forward, despite my mistakes, my flaws, and all the times I’ve wanted to quit. I have to know I am still a warrior—an imperfect one, with many scars—but I have more to offer in the battles to come, and I refuse to let my experience deter others.
» After just 90 days on the job, WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar announced a major shakeup: two of the company’s top programing chiefs, Bob Greenblatt and Kevin Reilly, are departing. Greenblatt’s mandate upon being hired in 2019 was to help with the launch of HBO Max, which has reportedly gotten off to a rocky start. [Variety]
» Celebrity “news” program E! News is going off the air after 29 years, along with two other programs that rely on paparazzi photos and red carpet happenings, which have been nearly nonexistent during the pandemic. [CNN]
» Opening a food hall in Thai town seemed like a good enough idea, but for Chancee Martorell, it’s turned into a nightmare. “It’s just the most complicated and torturous and painfully excruciating process and I would not want anyone to have to go through that,” she says. [The LAnd]
» A former spokesman for the Anaheim Angels is being charged in connection with pitcher Tyler Skaggs’s fentanyl overdose in 2019.[CNN]
» A Hasbro doll themed to the movie Trolls World Tour is being recalled for featuring a crotch button some parents worry will groom their children to be molested by pedophiles. In a breathless petition, one parent wondered, “What will this toy make our innocent, impressionable children think? That it’s fun when someone touches your private area? That pedophilia and child molestation are ok? It’s not ok!” [Refinery 29]
Below is the current breakdown of coronavirus cases as of 8 p.m. on August 6. Data may be incomplete due to a delay in the state’s electronic lab reporting system.
There are now 204,167 total confirmed cases (+3,116 from prior day). There have been 4,918 deaths (+53 from prior day). The regions with the highest rate of infections per capita are Saugus, Castaic, and City of Industry. The most deaths have been recorded in Glendale (144), Westlake (126), and El Monte (101).
Novel Coronavirus Cases in Los Angeles County, by Neighborhood
Agoura Hills 122
Agua Dulce 20
Angeles National Forest 7
Angelino Heights 54
Athens Village 178
Atwater Village 171
Avocado Heights 211
Baldwin Hills 490
Baldwin Park 2183
Bel Air 61
Bell Gardens 1478
Beverly Crest 88
Beverly Hills 549
Bouquet Canyon 2
Boyle Heights 3476
Canoga Park 1392
Canyon Country 88
Century City 95
Century Palms/Cove 1219
Cheviot Hills 51
Country Club Park 237
Covina (Charter Oak) 243
Crenshaw District 252
Culver City 336
Del Aire 53
Del Rey 282
Del Sur 8
Desert View Highlands 33
Diamond Bar 428
Eagle Rock 517
East Covina 4
East Hollywood 521
East La Mirada 79
East Los Angeles 4974
East Pasadena 57
East Rancho Dominguez 511
East Whittier 54
Echo Park 177
El Camino Village 120
El Monte 3417
El Segundo 100
El Sereno 938
Elizabeth Lake 6
Elysian Park 81
Elysian Valley 209
Exposition Park 1028
Faircrest Heights 26
Figueroa Park Square 258
Glassell Park 530
Gramercy Place 191
Granada Hills 908
Green Meadows 751
Hacienda Heights 779
Hancock Park 179
Harbor City 383
Harbor Gateway 736
Harbor Pines 16
Harvard Heights 458
Harvard Park 1279
Hawaiian Gardens 407
Hermosa Beach 158
Hi Vista 5
Hidden Hills 6
Highland Park 872
Historic Filipinotown 349
Hollywood Hills 235
Huntington Park 2242
Hyde Park 631
Jefferson Park 210
Kagel/Lopez Canyons 27
La Canada Flintridge 132
La Crescenta-Montrose 122
La Habra Heights 30
La Mirada 666
La Puente 1136
La Rambla 75
La Verne 370
Ladera Heights 66
Lafayette Square 70
Lake Balboa 748
Lake Hughes 1
Lake Los Angeles 152
Lake Manor 14
Lakeview Terrace 451
Leimert Park 243
Leona Valley 15
Lincoln Heights 869
Little Armenia 338
Little Bangladesh 399
Little Tokyo 55
Littlerock/Juniper Hills 7
Los Feliz 154
Manchester Square 136
Mandeville Canyon 18
Manhattan Beach 279
Mar Vista 256
Marina del Rey 62
Marina Peninsula 27
Miracle Mile 134
Mission Hills 577
Monterey Park 677
Mt. Washington 430
North Hills 1367
North Hollywood 2652
North Lancaster 18
North Whittier 152
Northeast San Gabriel 268
Pacific Palisades 100
Padua Hills 3
Palisades Highlands 19
Palos Verdes Estates 76
Palos Verdes Peninsula 3
Panorama City 2142
Park La Brea 86
Pellissier Village 20
Pico Rivera 1852
Playa Del Rey 20
Playa Vista 106
Porter Ranch 256
Quartz Hill 128
Rancho Dominguez 64
Rancho Palos Verdes 235
Rancho Park 61
Redondo Beach 441
Regent Square 23
Reseda Ranch 87
Reynier Village 29
Rolling Hills 5
Rolling Hills Estates 32
Rosewood/East Gardena 14
Rosewood/West Rancho Dominguez 68
Rowland Heights 511
San Dimas 397
San Fernando 675
San Gabriel 441
San Jose Hills 553
San Marino 62
San Pasqual 9
San Pedro 1635
Sand Canyon 5
Santa Catalina Island 11
Santa Clarita 2376
Santa Fe Springs 408
Santa Monica 675
Santa Monica Mountains 93
Saugus/Canyon Country 1
Shadow Hills 45
Sherman Oaks 785
Sierra Madre 60
Signal Hill 195
Silver Lake 512
South Antelope Valley 1
South Carthay 91
South El Monte 676
South Gate 3574
South Park 1637
South Pasadena 227
South San Gabriel 142
South Whittier 1306
Southeast Antelope Valley 11
St Elmo Village 113
Stevenson Ranch 123
Studio City 196
Sun Valley 1129
Sun Village 104
Sunrise Village 40
Sycamore Square 5
Temple City 421
Thai Town 123
Toluca Lake 85
Toluca Terrace 17
Toluca Woods 14
Twin Lakes/Oat Mountain 10
University Hills 46
University Park 610
Val Verde 47
Valley Glen 438
Valley Village 414
Van Nuys 2134
Vermont Knolls 582
Vermont Square 273
Vermont Vista 1490
Vernon Central 2398
Victoria Park 169
View Heights 35
View Park/Windsor Hills 112
Walnut Park 556
Wellington Square 96
West Adams 722
West Antelope Valley 4
West Carson 306
West Covina 2245
West Hills 401
West Hollywood 447
West LA 39
West Los Angeles 400
West Puente Valley 290
West Rancho Dominguez 19
West Vernon 1788
West Whittier/Los Nietos 733
Westfield/Academy Hills 4
Westlake Village 22
White Fence Farms 36
Wholesale District 1986
Wilshire Center 890
Woodland Hills 687
Under Investigation: 4143