LA Stories

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

As a native of Los Angeles, I have a soft spot for homegrown stories about the city that's like no other.

Most of the observations about LA life that we see and hear and read in the media come from people who don't really know the place.

Often, they haven't spent more than a few weeks here.

Of course, outsiders can have the clearest view of LA. This past week I enjoyed getting a taste of both vantage points – inside and outside.

One came through a new book taken from the diaries of Christopher Isherwood, the English writer who moved famously to Santa Monica Canyon.

He fell into the society of World War II-era L.A. émigrés that included Aldous Huxley and the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky.

Isherwood lived in the hidden gay society that formed here the 40's and 50's. This is where the gay liberation movement started, at parties and meetings that Isherwood no doubt attended.

But it's the 1960's that are the subject of his diaries.

Isherwood talks about his work, of course. He wrote The Single Man, about a gay university professor in LA, during this period.

It's his observations of every day life that are the most like a time capsule.

He goes to the Ringling Brothers Circus at what was then the new Sports Arena near USC. He likens the food at Clifton's Cafeteria downtown to the slop he ate in jail.

He also devotes a diary entry to the arrival in Santa Monica Canyon of a new sight and sound: skateboards. Suddenly ridden in the streets, by all the neighborhood kids.

These kinds of authentic observations also run throughout a fun feature in the December issue of Los Angeles Magazine.

Fifty native Angelenos share some memory of growing up here.

Cardinal Roger Mahony talks about his dad's poultry business on Chandler Boulevard in North Hollywood.

The actor George Lopez also grew up in the Valley. Officially in San Fernando, but they said they were from over the line in Mission Hills because it seemed classier.

The singer Nancy Sinatra lived with her dad Frank and fished in Toluca Lake.

Jodie Foster, the actress and director, writes about growing up across Highland Avenue from the Hollywood Bowl, beneath the cross that looks down on Cahuenga.

Like many of us who are Angelenos by birth, Foster likes to remember where things were that are gone. The pony ride on the site of Beverly Center. The old Tail o the Pup hot dog stand a block up on La Cienega -- before it moved to San Vicente.

Neighborhood lore and loyalties give the short pieces an authenticity that you don't find in the LA profiles done by visiting reporters.

Jamie Lee Curtis, the actress, describes a canyon life that could only be in Los Angeles.

She lived in Benedict Canyon, drove over Coldwater, dated a boy in Laurel Canyon…and had friends in Nichols and Runyon.

She's now raised her own children in an LA canyon.

The magazine credits Steve Martin for the concept behind its LA Stories.

His Los Angeles is that place you see when you're driving on the freeway at sunrise. The road's empty, and elevated … so the city opens up before you.

It's a glorious time of day to have the city to yourself, he writes. And usually warm, like today.

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