Life in La-La Land
Jack Smith reveled in the sometimes strange way of life in his “left coast” city and in the images it carries for the rest of the world. He embraced all of the insulting names bestowed upon Los Angeles for its easy, tolerant way of life. La-La Land, Double Dubuque, Forty Suburbs in Search of a City, Land of Fruits and Nuts – such epithets tickled Smith and inspired some of his funniest columns, as did the oddities of life in L.A. that inspired these appellations.
Jack Smith. Note card, undated.
In this card from his extensive set of notes, Smith listed several of the nicknames that critics gave to Los Angeles over the years.
Smith’s abiding affection for his city and its way of life infused his columns with their sense of place and made him the voice of L.A. As he wrote in a column titled “He’ll Continue to Be the Best That He Can Be,” dated December 23, 1991: “I have often been asked, ‘What is your column about?’ My answer is that it is about being me and living in Los Angeles. Consequently, I hoped, it would be about everybody who lives in Los Angeles.”
Jack Smith. Alive in La-La Land, New York: Franklin Watts, 1989.
Courtesy of a private collector.
In this compilation of columns, Smith gathered pieces that focused on life in Los Angeles. The cover design perfectly evokes his wry, humorous view of his city.
La-La Land address labels for Jack and Denny Smith.(Image not available)
Herb Caen. Letter to Jack Smith, April 5, 1977.(Image not available)
Like Jack Smith for Los Angeles, Herb Caen was the voice of San Francisco in his featured column for the Chronicle
. In their complementary roles, they engaged in the ongoing verbal dueling that characterized the spirited competition between their two cities. Caen’s column began in 1938 and ran for more than half a century.
Jack Smith. “The Great Air Raid,” corrected typescript from Jack Smith’s L.A., New York: McGraw-Hill, 1980.(Image not available)
Copyright, 1975. Los Angeles Times
. Displayed with permission.
Smith often wrote about the myths arising from life in L.A. In this column, he looks back to the story of a supposed World War II air raid involving Japanese planes flying over Los Angeles.
In the early morning hours of February 25, 1942, the 37th Coast Artillery Brigade began firing into the dark sky. News broadcasts reported that a private plane had gone astray while flying back to L.A. from San Diego. In Washington, D.C., Secretary of War Henry Lewis Stimson and Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox disagreed about whether or not as many as 15 Japanese planes might have been flying toward the city.
Alan Napier. Letter to Jack Smith, after April 8, 1975.(Image not available)
In response to Smith’s column about the great Los Angeles air raid of 1942, Alan Napier recounted his own hilarious story of that night, meant to be an amorous interlude with his wife-to-be but interrupted by bursts of light and gunfire overhead.
Mason Mallory. Los Angeles, musical score, inscribed to Jack Smith, copyright 1967.(Image not available)
Jack Smith occasionally lamented that Los Angeles, unlike its competitors San Francisco, Chicago, and New York, had no theme song to capture its identity and assert its stature in the world. His columns on the subject prompted readers to send in their favorites, often their own compositions. As a result, his files on L.A. bulge with sheet music, handwritten scores, and typewritten poems ready to be set to music. All are proposals for adoption as the official song for Los Angeles.
Jack Smith. “So Much Hot Air,” clipping from Los Angeles Times Magazine, with a note to Smith from Byron Marshall, January 11, 1987.
(Image not available)
The hot, dry Santa Ana wind that rages out of the desert is one of the unique features of Los Angeles, desiccating the air, fueling wildfires, and turning tempers electric. In this column, Smith ponders the phenomenon itself and whether its proper name should be “Santa Ana” or “Santana.” Among other bits of evidence, he cites the famous passage from Raymond Chandler’s short story “Red Wind.”
Steve Brown. The Big Orange, reproduction, 1976.(Image not available)
This illustration was incorporated into the dustjacket for Smith’s book The Big Orange (1976) by book designer J. Daniel Chapman. A reproduction decorated the Smith home.
Sheila Ruth. I’ll Take L.A. Over New York, reproduction, undated.(Image not available)
The original poster hung in Jack and Denny Smith’s home.