Patricia Morison, 1915 – 2018

Morison Dressed to Kill

Edmund Breon and Patricia Morison in Dressed to Kill, 1946

I grew up watching the Sherlock Holmes films made in the 40s with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. A few months ago I found out a number of them were on YouTube, and one night I took a look at Dressed to Kill. I don’t know how many times I’d seen it before, but this time I was really struck by the woman who played the heavy, Hilda Courtney. Somehow I’d never noticed how good this actress was, and I stopped the movie to look her up on IMDB.

I didn’t start the movie again for quite a while. I spent a long time reading about Patricia Morison, an actress who spent years in Hollywood and never attracted any serious attention. She made films at Paramount, Universal, and Fox, but never got the parts that might have made her a star. Like so many talented actors, nobody knew what to do with her. In 1948, frustrated by her lack of success, she quit Hollywood and went back to the New York stage, and that’s when she became a star.

I won’t spend a lot of time reciting the details of her career, because you can read the Wikipedia entry for yourself. But just briefly, Cole Porter chose her for the lead in his production of Kiss Me Kate, and she was a hit. Her ability as an actress and her singing voice made her a favorite with audiences on Broadway. She later appeared in The King and I, and was active for the rest of her life on stage, in film, and on television.

So tonight I got off the subway at the Hollywood/Vine station. As I walked up to street level, I looked at the Pantages and saw this.

Morison 3

Morison actually passed away a few weeks ago. She had lived in LA from the 60s up to the time she died, and obviously made an impression on many people. In 2012 she had appeared at the Pantages in an evening titled Ladies of an Indeterminate Age. In 2015 she celebrated her 100th birthday at the Pasadena Playhouse with an event that included her singing selections from Kiss Me Kate. And throughout her later years she spent a good deal of time supporting a number of organizations including The LGBT Community Center, The Actors Fund and The Hollywood Museum.

As I write this, a few different things are going through my mind. First, I can’t say I’m sad to see her go, because it sounds like she had a long and full life and was loved by many people. Second, the fact that I discovered her so late is a reminder of how often we don’t recognize talent when it’s right in front of us. I’d seen Dressed to Kill many times, and her performance never made any impression on me until a few months ago. I can’t blame the Hollywood producers for ignoring her, because I did, too. And what’s really maddening is that I think the reason I didn’t notice her was that she was so good. I just now took a quick look at a scene from Dressed to Kill. It’s a very smart, very assured performance, and most important, she doesn’t do anything to call attention to her performance. This is the mark of a true actor, and it’s also one of the biggest dangers for someone who wants to make a living on stage or in film. If you’re really good, you disappear into the role. People don’t notice you. There are plenty of “actors” who make a name for themselves by grabbing your attention. We tend to overlook the ones who play the part without making a scene.

Third, I think about how random life is. Because I happened to watch Dressed to Kill a few months ago, when I stood across from the Pantages earlier tonight, I recognized the name Patricia Morison and it meant something to me. I’m glad I knew who she was, and in some small way I could appreciate the tribute. If I had postponed watching Dressed to Kill until later this year, I would have walked past the Pantages without thinking twice.

Life is funny that way.

If you want to find out more about Patricia Morison, here’s the obit from the New York Times. She’s definitely somebody worth knowing.

Patricia Morison, Broadway’s First Kate to Be Kissed

Morison Pasadena Playhouse 2014

 

Messages

Msg 01 Frnk God

Walking around LA you see messages all over the place. I’m not talking about ads or street signage. I’m talking about messages posted by individuals. These might be handwritten or printed, they might be taped to a streetlight or scrawled on the ground.

There are obviously lots of people with lots of things to say. For a while now I’ve been snapping photos of these messages. Sometimes they’re poetic. Sometimes they’re political. Sometimes they’re bewildering. But all of these people are trying to communicate with us. In some cases it seems like they feel a desperate need to tell us what’s on their mind.

This first shot was taken in Panorama City in front of a vacant house that some homeless people were camped out in. Just a straightforward plea from someone who’s trying to get their stuff back.

Msg 10 House Signs

I found this next one on the sidewalk as I was walking down Lankershim in Studio City. Really sad and disturbing. This is obviously someone who’s mentally ill, and feeling pretty desperate.

Msg 20 Chalk 1

And I found this one a little farther down the road.

Msg 25 Chalk 2

Some people have ideas about how to solve the country’s problems.

Msg 30 Good Jobs

This one took me by surprise. I was in Burbank, and saw it on the side of a utility box. I guess the Me Too backlash has already begun.

Msg 40 Burb 2

Here’s a closer view so you can read the text. The comments are interesting.

Msg 45 Burb 6 CROPPED

I miss the good old days when it was easier to scrawl stuff in wet concrete. Seems like contractors are a lot more careful about protecting their work these days. I’m guessing this dates back to the 90s.

Msg 50 Concrete

I found these words on Franklin in Hollywood.

Msg 60 Frnk So Much

Another message, not too far from the first.

Msg 70 Frnk No Purse

It’s continued in the next shot. I know the text in these isn’t totally clear, so I’ve tried to transcribe it below. Can’t guarantee it’s completely accurate.

Msg 75 Frnk Silent Guns

NO PURSE
OF TOKEN FORTUNE
STANDS IN
OUR WAY
THE SILENT GUNS
OF LOVE WILL
BLAST THE SKY
WE BROKE THE
RUPTURED STRUCTURE
BUILT [?] OUR WEAPONS
WERE THE TONGUES OF
CRYING RAGE

This last one was hung on a fence at the freeway onramp on Cahuenga. It’s a memorial for a homeless man who had died.

Msg 80 Danny 1

Here’s what the author has to say about his friend.

Msg 82 Danny 2

When I first read this it made me sad. But after a while, I started to think it was actually pretty beautiful. Like I wrote at the beginning of this post, there are a lot of people in this town who have things they want to say, but often no one’s paying attention. It sounds like Danny’s life was pretty hard, but at least for a while toward the end he connected with somebody who took the time to listen.

Msg 85 Danny 3

 

Westlake Residents Speak Out Against “Design District”

CDW Audience

Attendees at a community forum on the North Westlake Design District.

It’s clear that the people at City Hall think they know better than we do how our communities should grow. The latest example of their arrogance is the proposed North Westlake Design District (NWDD). It’s another attempt to put money in developers’ pockets by pushing for gentrification and displacement in low-income communities. Check out the language from the notice announcing a hearing held by the Department of City Planning (DCP) back in 2014.

“The proposed Design District is being considered to guide new development that will complement the existing character of the neighborhood, create a pedestrian friendly environment, and provide neighborhood-serving amenities. The proposed zoning ordinance is initiated by the City of Los Angeles.”

Pay attention to that last sentence, because it’s the key to what’s happening here. This “design district” is not something that the community asked for. It’s something City Hall wants. Are any of the area’s residents in favor? Local activists organized a community forum in January. I was there for about an hour, and I only heard one speaker who thought this was a good idea. Everybody else who spoke while I was there was against it. Why? Well, there were a lot of reasons, but it boils down to the fact that a lot of them are worried they’re going to get kicked out of their own community.

Why are they afraid that’s going to happen?

Because that’s what’s been happening in communities all over LA for well over a decade. As real estate investment interests have moved into places like Echo Park, Highland Park, Boyle Heights and Hollywood, low-income residents have been forced out by rising rental prices. Even units protected by the Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO) aren’t safe. In 2017 landlords took 1,824 RSO units off the market using the Ellis Act. Over 23,000 RSO units have been lost since 2001. So the residents of the Westlake area, including Historic Filipinotown, have good reason to be worried.

Real estate investors are already buying up property in the area. The City Planning Commission recently approved The Lake, a huge mixed-use project that includes a hotel and a 41 story residential tower, at Wilshire and Bonnie Brae. Other projects in the works are a 54-unit building at 1246 Court and a 243-unit mixed-use complex at 1800 Beverly. As investors move in, you can bet a lot of locals will be forced out.

The impacts are already being felt in the community. One of the speakers talked about how the office building he works in was recently purchased by a new owner, and the non-profit the speaker works for has already received an eviction notice. Another speaker complained that a project containing over 200 condos at Temple and Hoover will take away what little open space the neighborhood has.

CDW Glesne

City planning staff responds to community concerns.

There were a lot of unhappy people at the forum. Speaker after speaker came forward to talk about their concerns, and some weren’t shy about expressing their anger. Three representatives from the DCP attended, and they did their best to defend the design district. Personally I didn’t think their arguments were persuasive, but at least they showed up. The organizers of the forum invited Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell to come and hear what the community had to say, but he was a no-show. Didn’t even send a rep from his office. I guess that shows just how much he cares about the folks who live in the area.

We’ve seen this all before. The City pushes a plan that will create a “pedestrian friendly environment” and bring “neighborhood-serving amenities”. They talk about “walkable”, “vibrant” urban spaces, where people can shop, dine, drink and party. The only problem is, once the City’s done with its makeover of these areas, the people who get to enjoy them are the affluent newcomers who’ve taken the place over. Families who used to call the neighborhood home have to leave. They can’t afford to live there any more.

In response to the NWDD, a group called The Coalition to Defend Westlake has been formed. To view their Facebook page, click on the link below.

Coalition to Defend Westlake

CDW Line

People wait in line to have their say about the NWDD.

Housing Near Freeways: We Can Do Better

 

Breath 40

A truck passes by the recently completed Da Vinci in Downtown, where balconies offer a stunning view of the freeway.

The folks at City Hall have known for years that building housing within 500 feet of freeways significantly increases the risk of health problems for inhabitants. Years of research have shown that people who live near freeways are at a higher risk of asthma, heart disease, stroke and lung cancer. The dangers for children are especially alarming, because long-term exposure to the high concentrations of pollutants near freeways can inhibit the development of their lungs and lead to lifelong respiratory problems.

So it shouldn’t have been a surprise when, at a recent City Planning Commission (CPC) hearing, Commissioner Dana Perlman voiced concerns about approving a residential project sited around 200 feet away from the Harbor Freeway. Specifically, Perlman didn’t like the fact that the units facing the freeway had balconies. He pointed out that living next to freeways is unhealthy, and said residents shouldn’t be encouraged to spend time out of doors where they’d be exposed to auto exhaust coming off the 110. While the developer had agreed to reduce the size of the balconies, Perlman argued for turning them into “juliet” balconies, in other words, making them strictly decorative.

Perlman’s suggestion makes perfect sense, and you’d think the other Commissioners would be in total agreement. But no. CPC President David Ambroz interrupted Perlman and asked a staffer to talk about the measures that the project included to mitigate the health impacts of living next to the freeway. Department of City Planning (DCP) staff explained that the developer was required to do a Health Risk Assessment, and it was found that the risk of siting the project 200 feet away from the 110 “didn’t reach any level, threshold that SCAQMD* recognizes”. Also, per city code requirements, the developer would be required to install high-quality air filtration systems and maintain a record of their inspection and maintenance for 5 years.

This is a classic example of how the DCP uses bureaucratic double-talk to shut down any honest discussion of a project’s negative impacts. Just because the SCAQMD doesn’t recognize a problem doesn’t mean it’s not there. Over two decades of research shows significant increased health risks for those who live near freeways. For a survey of the literature, follow this link….

USC Environmental Health Centers

City Hall knows about the health impacts. The DCP has been reminded of this issue repeatedly. And still they have the nerve to pretend that a problem doesn’t exist because the SCAQMD doesn’t see one.

Just as disturbing is the fact that they respond to Perlman’s complaint by saying the developer will install MERV 13 air filtration systems. It should’ve been obvious to everyone at the hearing that these systems will do absolutely nothing to protect someone who’s sitting outside on a balcony. And, as Perlman also pointed out, the requirement to maintain these systems for five years is completely inadequate. It’s likely these buildings will stand for decades. Basically the City is saying that they don’t care what happens to the residents after five years. Unbelievable.

During the discussion it came up that the project also included an internal courtyard, and according to Curbed (Planning Commissioner Rails Against Balconies), Ambroz offered the brilliant observation that, “It’s the same air.” Yeah, David. It’s all bad. But Ambroz’ response is typical of his pro-developer attitude. He often refuses to see a problem even when it’s staring him in the face.

The larger issue here is the City’s approach to building housing near freeways. For years scientists have been talking about the health impacts. City Hall argues that the housing crisis is so severe we can’t afford to rule these areas out. For the sake of discussion, let’s accept City Hall’s argument. So if we have to build near freeways, when we know that it puts residents at increased risk of lung disease, stroke, and cancer, shouldn’t we be making every effort to protect these people? Shouldn’t the City be working with healthcare experts to develop a strict set of guidelines to minimize the risks? LA’s planning code requires projects to include a certain amount of open space. Shouldn’t we consider waiving that requirement for freeway-adjacent housing in view of the potential health problems? Shouldn’t we ban balconies and rooftop decks when it’s clear that using them will expose inhabitants to toxic air? Shouldn’t we mandate enclosing recreational space in these projects? Shouldn’t we require inspection and maintenance of air filtration systems in perpetuity?

But Ambroz’ move to cut Perlman off in favor of a meaningless recitation by DCP staff tells you how much the City cares about these issues. For the most part, the folks who work at the DCP and serve on the City Council don’t give a damn about what happens to the people who live in these buildings. Do they care about whether these tenants live in a healthy environment? No. It’s just about greenlighting projects.

You think I’m being too harsh? Remember, our elected officials have known about this problem for over a decade. The entities that have warned about the effects of near-roadway air pollution include the University of Southern California, the California Air Resources Board, and the Environmental Protection Agency. So finally in 2012 the CPC approved the Advisory Notice Regarding Sensitive Uses Near Freeways. What does it do? Not much. It talks in vague terms about health impacts and offers some recommendations, but does not include any new requirements for developers building in these areas. And here’s the really crazy part. While the City mandates that this notice be given to all applicants for new projects within 1,000 feet of a freeway, there is no requirement that residents of these buildings be given any notice at all. Many people probably understand that living next to a freeway isn’t the best thing for their health, but I doubt most realize that prolonged exposure to that level of pollution makes it more likely they’ll develop heart disease or suffer a stroke. And how many parents know that choosing a freeway-adjacent apartment could result in lifelong damage to their children’s lungs?

If City Hall insists that we have to build near freeways, the least they could do is require that rental and purchase agreements contain a paragraph outlining the potential health risks. That way people who are thinking of renting or buying in these areas can make an informed decision. It makes no sense for the City to share this information with developers without requiring that the same information be shared with prospective inhabitants.

But our elected officials’ lack of concern for the health of LA’s citizens is nothing new. In fact, it’s completely in line with their total disregard for rational planning. Forget the endlessly recycled clichés you get from the Mayor and the City Council about building healthy communities. It’s really all about keeping the developers happy.

I respect Perlman for taking a stand on this issue. Unfortunately, it didn’t make a damn bit of difference. He voted no. The rest voted yes. The future residents at 31st and Figueroa will be able to step out on their balconies and enjoy a view that will take their breath away. In some cases, literally.

If you have a problem with developers including balconies and rooftop decks on freeway-adjacent housing, please write to Director of Planning Vince Bertoni and tell him to put a stop to it.

Here’s a suggested subject line….

“No Balconies or Rooftop Decks Near Freeways”

Here’s Bertoni’s e-mail address. And while you’re at it, might as well copy the Mayor.

Vince Bertoni, Director of Planning
vince.bertoni@lacity.org

Mayor Eric Garcetti
mayor.garcetti@lacity.org

 

* South Coast Air Quality Management District

IMG_9369

Traffic on the Harbor Freeway at rush hour.

 

The News Keeps Getting Worse: So Long, LA Weekly

LAW 01 Main

Back in October the word came down that the LA Weekly had been bought by Semanal Media, a company no one seemed to know anything about. It didn’t look good, and this week our worst fears were confirmed. The new owners got rid of most of the Weekly staff, firing all the editors and all but one writer. Shortly after a notice appeared on the Weekly web site listing some of the people behind Semanal. The group includes real estate players Paul Makarechian and Michael Muger who hold extensive assets in Southern California and beyond, Kevin Xu, a wealthy biotech entrepreneur, and David Welch, an attorney who apparently specializes in marijuana law. The announcement also said that Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of UC Berkeley’s law school, “plans to invest”. It’s interesting that even though Chemerinsky isn’t on board yet, the new owners decided to include him anyway. Possibly to add some kind of scholarly legitimacy, since only one of the people involved has any background in journalism at all.

LAW 05 Straight

Is it possible this group of investors is seriously committed to maintaining the Weekly’s reputation as an energetic and engaged observer of life in LA? Sure. It’s also possible we could wake up to a snowstorm tomorrow. But don’t bet on it. Let’s just think about the way they handled the purchase of the paper and the firings. A group of investors hiding behind a newly invented company buy the Weekly while keeping their identities a secret. Doesn’t sound like they have much interest in openness or transparency, both requirements for legitimate journalistic enterprises. Then, instead of approaching the staff shake-up by letting employees know what their intentions are and preparing a transition plan, the new owners keep the staff in the dark for weeks, finally letting the axe fall days before they reveal who they are. Can’t say their methods inspire much confidence. And honestly, it seems to me they reveal a deep streak of cowardice.

LAW 10 Thelma Louise

The recent shutdown of LAist and its sister news sites was bad news. The turn of events at the Weekly is beyond bad. I’d like to cling to a desperate optimism and hope for the best, but the more I read about the new owners, the more depressed I get. Brian Calle, who will be taking over editorial management of the paper, wrote the post on the Weekly web site that finally revealed the names of the investors. Here’s a quote….

“Our new ownership team is a patchwork of people who care about Los Angeles, care about the community and want to once again see an incredibly relevant, thriving L.A. Weekly with edge and grit that becomes the cultural center of the city.”

I may be pessimistic, but to me this sounds like nothing more than insincere drivel. Is it just me, or do the words “incredibly relevant” sound to you like the kind of marketing-speak you get from second-rate publicists? Generally I feel like the people who throw around words like “edge and grit” are desperately trying to make themselves feel “authentic”.

LAW 15 Cops

I’d never heard of Calle before this week, so I went looking for info on the web. This piece from the OC Weekly didn’t give me much hope. While the writer takes some nasty swipes at the LA Weekly, he also gives some disturbing background on Calle’s tenure as an editor at the Orange County Register. Forget about sincerity. It sounds like the guy has a hard time reaching for accuracy.

LA Weekly’s New Head Honcho from OC Weekly

LAW 20 Chast
And so the outlook for local journalism in LA keeps getting more and more bleak. There are still good reporters at the Times, but it seems like it’s probably only a matter of time before Tribune Publishing/TRONC manages to kill it. The Daily News has been struggling for a while. LAist is gone, and while LA Observed does good work, they don’t have the resources to reach a broad audience. CityWatch is a great grab bag of local news and opinion, but I get the feeling its audience is also limited.

Like everybody else in print journalism, the Weekly has struggled in recent years. I’m kind of a pack rat, and I have a few boxes stuffed with old newspapers. Yesterday I pulled out an issue of the Weekly from August 2001. It contained almost 200 pages. Recent editions run anywhere between 40 and 70. Back in the 80s and 90s it not only covered local politics but national politics as well. At its peak, the Weekly did a phenomenal job of keeping its readers in touch with the latest in art, music, film, theatre, and whatever else was happening on the local scene. And despite shrinking resources in recent years, the staff still made a valiant effort to cover LA news and culture.

I’d love to be proven wrong. I’d love to see the new owners show that they “care about Los Angeles [and] care about the community”. Nothing I’ve seen from them so far gives me any hope that they’re sincere.

LAW 90 End