History Lives On

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

So Angelina Jolie is in a new Clint Eastwood movie about a Los Angeles historical episode. I can already hear the cynicism dripping all over town.

I have no idea how good The Changeling is, or how faithful it is to the story of Christine Collins and the disappearance of her son Walter in 1928.

And the LAPD's possible role in covering up what really happened to the boy.

Rachel Abramowitz, writing in the LA Times, called the film and its underlying story a "commentary on corruption and abuse of authority, on female empowerment and on the ultimate price of justice [that] continues to echo throughout the canyons of L.A.'s collective memory."

And maybe it does echo, though I have to admit, I haven't heard it. As she says, the case of Walter Collins has faded into the miasma of time.

The old newspaper microfilm reels that contain L.A.'s yellowed past are shockingly full of horrible crimes and official corruption.

This was a story I knew nothing about. But I'm happy that it's getting a new airing after all these decades.

More than that, I'm impressed and a little amused at how much appreciation there is of Los Angeles history right now.

Especially the history that coincides with the city's rise in the 20th century to a central place in the myth-making about the culture of America's West.

Hollywood and the movies have played a huge part of that, of course. And now Disney –- not the movie studio, but the amusement park side –- is making its own contribution to LA history at California Adventure.

That's the less-than-successful adjunct to Disneyland that's headed for a big makeover, after just seven years.

The new theme is going to be 1920s nostalgia -- a cleaned-up version no doubt. What I like is that Disney's going to include a replica of the Carthay Circle Theater, the movie palace that stood at San Vicente and Crescent Heights.

It's been gone without a trace for so long that even Hollywood veterans don't know it ever existed. Let alone that it was where many of the biggest red-carpet premieres were held in the 30's and 40's, and where Disney classics like Fantasia and Snow White debuted.

You can catch a glimpse of the Carthay Circle in the really quite amazing mural that decorates the auditorium walls at the Crest Theater in Westwood. Otherwise, there's not much acknowledgment of the Carthay Circle in LA itself.

But now it will be memorialized down in Orange County, where lesser L.A. landmarks sometimes do end up.

Even an old boxing venue in North Hollywood called Jefferies Barn was relocated years ago to Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park.

The Hollywood angle to LA history also gets a big ride in this month's Architectural Digest, in the form of features on some classic LA homes.

Howard Hughes' place in Hancock Park is where he lived in his fledgling movie-maker period, when he took actresses like Katherine Hepburn on dates in his private planes.

Before he became the world's richest germ-fearing recluse.

The John Wayne estate in Encino was the scene of numerous late-night card games where Wayne and Hollywood pals like John Ford and Ward Bond would make fun of neighbor Clark Gable's ears -– and his acting talent.

The history bug has caught on big too at the LA Times, which has a full-time blog now about local history. The Daily Mirror is written mostly by editor Larry Harnisch and has taken its own turn looking at the Walter Collins case.

So I'll probably see the movie, out of curiosity. If it's half as atmospheric as Chinatown or LA Confidential I'll be entertained. I'm confident that, with Eastwood and Jolie involved, it can't be as bad as The Black Dahlia.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.