October 16, 2018

Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times

The only member of the Chandler family I knew personally was the redoubtable Dorothy Buffum (“Buffy”) Chandler.  From time to time during the 1970s, I wrote promotional copy for her charitable enterprises, and that’s why I was granted entry into the Chandler family seat in Hancock Park known as Los Tiempos.  What made the greatest impression on me, however, was the elaborate brooch that she sometimes wore when making inspections of the Times building at First and Spring — it was a grotesque version of my father’s own five-year pin, outsized and bejeweled, and she wore it like a shield.

Now we can all dig much more deeply into the saga of the Chandler family, thanks to Bill Boyarsky and Angel City Press.  Boyarsky is the author of a lavish book version of the recent PBS documentary by Peter Jones, both of which carry the same punning title: Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times (Angel City Press: $35.00, 208 pps.)

Frankly, I like the book much better.  We are given the opportunity to linger over the fascinating historical images that photo editors Mark Catalena and Brian Tessier have assembled, all of them handsomely designed by Amy Inouye.  By way of example, when you see the facsimile of the masthead that appears on the title page, you can make out the slogan that appeared on the front page of the resolutely anti-union paper throughout my youth: “Liberty Under Law – Equal Rights – True Industrial Freedom.” And the jail photograph of the two men who were convicted of bombing the Times building in 1911, which flashes on the screen only briefly in the documentary, is a work of portraiture that deserves a more leisurely view.

Boyarsky, who spent more than 30 years in the newsroom of the Times as a reporter and then as city editor, has mastered the wealth of data and gives it a perspective that is absent from the documentary.  Significantly, Boyarsky himself was a first-hand participant in some of the more dramatic moments in the history of the Times, as when Otis Chandler — then already retired—- asked him to read aloud a message of protest over an ethical scandal in the city room.

“In the tense moment before I spoke, it … occurred to me that when I read the message, I could become a small part of the rich history of the Times, maybe a footnote,” he recalls in his introduction to Inventing L.A.  “What history junkie could pass up a chance like that?”

The same can be said about Inventing L.A. Iitself. It’s a treasure trove for history junkies like me, but it is also reminds us that the Chandler family are rightly credited with the invention of a certain version of Los Angeles, if not exactly the one we live in today.

You can meet Bill Boyarsky in person at several upcoming signings for Inventing L.A. at various venues in Southern California. For details, visit the Angel City Website at