Tag Archives: L.A. Times

Rainey’s Precipitation Redux

I confess to erring when I wrote a couple of months ago that the L.A. Times editors should consider running white space in lieu of James Rainey’s media column. Instead, he’s become the gift that keeps on – well, you can guess the rest.

In yet another of his “You readers are all stupid, now read to what I have to say” masterpieces, he rips what he acknowledges are a minority of fruitcakes who criticized writer Amy Wallace’s article in Wired magazine that rebuts the alleged links between rising cases of autism and childhood vaccines.  This is in spite of the fact that Wallace, when interviewed on NPR, openly welcomed the responses she’s received, even though a few have been misguided and even profane.

Rainey doesn’t bother to disclose that. Instead, he laments that the world is brimming with idiots, ever emboldened by their Internet connections. “We see a wave of amateurs convinced they can write a pithier movie review, arrange a catchier song, even assess our planet’s shifting weather conditions, better than the professionals trained to do the job,” he writes.

I’ll concede on global warming, but songwriting and movie reviews?  I must have missed the Beatles’ and Elvis’ formative years at Juilliard. I’m unaware of Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert graduating from the Bosley Crowther School of Celluloid Critique at Columbia University, but I don’t always keep track of such esoterica. However, I’m pretty certain Rainey attended for his doctoral studies.

As an amusing aside, the online version of Rainey’s article is bracketed by Google ads hawking the same disinformation he is trying to debunk. But I digress.

Rainey makes it sound as if sanctimonious, know-it-all blowhards suddenly began appearing with the advent of the Internet. They’ve always been out there. But 50 years ago, they needed to type a letter, correct the mistakes, address, stamp and mail it. Nine times out of 10, the target threw it in the garbage without so much as an acknowledgement of receipt. Now, people can slam their targets without leaving their chairs. So, why not?

I will agree with Rainey there is a surfeit of nutwings out there, and their unfounded prejudices are fueled by ill-informed and undereducated celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy. But that is not the entire story.

The fear of vaccines stem not only from ignorance but ever-present suspicions about the drug industry. These are the same people who ply doctors with free lunches, speaking gigs and other honorariums to get them to recommend their products, which are then sold to patients at grossly inflated prices. Wallace does admit that the physician she focuses on in the article, pediatrician Paul Offit, made at least several million dollars from sales of a vaccine he invented that is sold at a 17-fold markup. Offit says it was an unforeseen consequence of his research, but he didn’t exactly turn it down.

And while Wallace’s article is a fine piece of journalism and Offit may be passionate about defending the scientific method, most people never receive such passion for their well-being from doctors. They get cursory visits and a hastily scribbled prescription – and often sticker shock at filling it.

Wallace also failed to mention that the debate on autism occurs in a push-me-pull-you flurry of scientific data. One study is published claiming a link to cancer, and another is published the following year rebuts it. Half a century ago, the common treatment for heart attack victims was bed rest – something the medical community now concludes puts patients at risk for developing fatal blood clots. There may indeed be a dozen current studies debunking a link between vaccines and autism. They may hold up over time. Or they may not.

Lump all that in with the extraordinary difficulty of caring for an autistic child – another burden often met by the medical profession with indifference – and that is among the reasons there is so much anger out there.

Wallace is onto something when she notes that pseudo-science offers comfort, which is why it has attractions. Being told you’re wrong only geometrically amplifies the anger.

Of course, you can leave that part to Rainey. He quotes Andrew Keen, an author who has claimed the Internet has left us culturally bereft, even as he helped propagate it by being a part of various Web startups.

“Keen makes abundant sense when he argues that people who have worked hard to gain expertise can’t so easily, and passively, cave in to ‘the wisdom of the crowd,’” Rainey writes. “He believes experts — in the media, science, law – need to drop their ‘false, almost suicidal, humility.’”

Right. Because a bunch of elite members of society arrogantly getting into the faces of people who are already uneasy or suspicious of them will persuade them to change their minds.

I can only predict one thing with certitude: fewer people will be reading the L.A. Times a year from now than they are today. Perhaps Rainey can discuss that cause-and-effect  in a future column.

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Horton Hears A Boo

As I inch toward earning my masters degree in English, the most instructive portion has not been the critical readings, the research papers or the lectures. It’s been teaching freshman composition.

The classwork has prompted both myself and my students to craft steadier theses, create logical arguments and occasionally concede the other side has a point. That hallmark, known as concession, makes you more credible as I writer, I tell my students. Occasionally, they even listen to me.

But when I glance at the riches of embarrassment that comprised the L.A. Times op-ed page last Sunday, I begin to wonder if I’m misleading all those impressionable 18-year-olds.

How else do you explain the success in landing the anchor article position by Charlotte Allen, a right-wing screedatrix best known for claiming in the Washington Post last year that she doesn’t  understand “why more women don’t relax, enjoy the innate abilities most of us possess (as well as the ones fewer of us possess) and revel in the things most important to life at which nearly all of us excel: tenderness toward children and men and the weak and the ability to make a house a home.”

Instead of bashing women, Allen instead focused on Shepard Fairey, the L. A. artist best known for the multi-hued “Hope” portrait of Barack Obama that became the symbolic centerpiece of his campaign.

Allen makes all the usual points against Fairey: his artwork was based on a photo taken by an Associated Press photographer of Obama in 2006, and he’s been arrested 15 times for creating graffiti, including last year in Boston, where he pled guilty to several charges. True on both counts.

But then Allen goes on a tangent that would have earned demands for a major revision in my class: a claim he’s been protected by leftists. “You have to remember that armchair Marxist intellectuals and others of Fairey’s ilk still look back with longing to the grimy 1970s and 1980s in New York, when graffiti blanketed every car in the subway system. They were appalled by the successful efforts of mayors Ed Koch and Rudolph Giuliani to crack down on the taggers in order to make the city livable for the philistines who had to take the trains to work.”

Indeed, there were a handful of kooks who argued against graffiti abatement, but they lost that argument absolutely and then promptly vanished. And given I haven’t heard anyone stepping up to vigorously defend Fairey in his vandalism cases, it’s not at all relevant.

Moreover, whatever you think of Fairey, you cannot drive a block in L.A. without seeing his work on someone’s car bumper. His reworking of that photo will still be featured in U.S. political histories a century from now, much as the work of cartoonist Thomas Nast is prominent in any book about 19th century politics. This is not the typical fate of taggers who deface apartment buildings and overpasses.

Nowhere did Allen note that it’s troubling a non-profit cooperative like the AP would become copyright money-grubbers. Without Fairey, the photo of Obama is another obscure image among hundreds of thousands typically taken of a prominent politician.

Whatever you might think of Shepard Fairey's conduct, his reworking of the original AP photo will be published in political histories a century from now, much as the cartoons of Thomas Nast regularly appear in histories of 19th century politics.

Whatever you might think of Shepard Fairey's conduct, his reworking of the original AP photo will be published in political histories a century from now, much as the cartoons of Thomas Nast regularly appear in histories of 19th century politics.

Yet photojournalism of soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima and a South Vietnamese soldier shooting a suspected Viet Cong in the head have been appropriated for artistic purposes countless times without similar repercussions. And since Allen is an out-of-towner, she is no doubt unaware that the L.A. County Museum of Art permanentely displays Andy Warhol’s depictions of Cornflakes boxes and Campbell’s soup’s cans. Yet the graphic artists who designed those products never insisted there was a copyright infringement of their work.

Get thee to an MRI: L.A. Times Sunday Op-Ed Editor Sue Horton should have her head examined for approving what ran in the Oct. 25 op-ed section.

Get thee to an MRI: L.A. Times Sunday Op-Ed Editor Sue Horton should have her head examined for approving what ran in the Oct. 25 op-ed section.

Allen’s article was also particularly offensive to read in my local newspaper given the flagrant behavior of Southern California advertising companies, who have erected hundreds of billboards and supergraphics on buildings in ways that have flouted local zoning laws far more grievously than Fairey, then bought their way out of trouble with huge campaign contributions to local politicians. No doubt a reliable right-winger like Allen would defend their right to do so, given as big businesses they have no ideology beyond making money.

In sum, the appearance of Allen in this instance – indeed, the entire Oct. 25 opinion section – is a blot on whatever remains of the news judgment of Sunday op-ed editor Sue Horton. This is a woman who made her rep editing the L.A. Weekly, the most progressive and locally-focused news publication in town. And now, she’s publishing the retrograde dreck of someone condemning a prominent local artist, and she doesn’t even live here? Perhaps Horton should have an MRI.

But local issues – or writers – were not something to be seen on last weekend’s Times’ op-ed pages, even though the paper’s management has been vowing to cover more local issues – the consolation prize for relentlessly shrinking the staff. Just below Allen’s piece was a completely unfunny satire mocking a Denver alternative weekly’s decision to hire a writer to critique the local marijuana dispensaries. Pot dispensaries are another big issue in L.A., one that’s been covered superficially by virtually all the local media. When a print publication is actually hiring a writer to cover a burgeoning new sector a few days after the Times laid off another bunch of scribes, it makes me wonder what Horton and her staff smoked to take this particularly clueless angle.

Both Allen and John Kenney, the writer of the pot piece, are based in New York. Ditto for Paul Lieberman, who wrote about cancer. Doyle McManus, who penned a remembrance of his former colleague Jack Nelson, is based in Washington. Only Linsay Rousseau Burnett, who discussed the travails of getting the G.I. bill to pay her grad school tuition, lives in California. Perhaps the fact that she served in the military was enough to mollify Horton et al. about her residing in Berkeley – a seven-hour drive and light-years away from L.A.

So, there you have it: five op-ed articles, two written by current and former Times staffers, only one who lives within 500 miles of town. Among the reasons I vent here is that every op-ed piece I’ve ever submitted to the Spayed Lady has been rejected. Meanwhile they continue to publish diatribes like Allen’s that might get a C+ in my class. Even more troubling, the op-ed page regularly published monologues from Bill Maher’s HBO show “Real Time” before they’re aired later in the week – making it appear they’re shilling for the show. The ethical questions raised by this practice alone should be enough to force the entire op-ed staff to resign.

Yet if even that miraculously happened, I’d still be one of hundreds of people who submit op-eds to the L.A. Times editors daily. But I can write with far more logic and sensitivity than a conservative darling like Allen (perhaps she’s more tender to her male editors than myself). I can also write with helluva lot more humor than Kenney. Yet it makes no difference. They are set in their ways, even as their readership continues to melt away around them.

The one thing that I found amusing and illuminating on Sunday’s op-ed page was a correction: “A cartoon that ran…on Oct. 23 referred to Carmen Trutanich as the Los Angeles District Attorney. Trutanich is the city attorney.”

I don’t have to spend years going through the motions on the Times op-ed desk to misidentify Trutanich, the city’s newest – and biggest – headline-grabbing gasbag. And I can guarantee by each semester’s end there isn’t a single one of my fresh-faced students who would make an error like that, either.

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Rainey’s Precipitation

When I ran the satirical business news blog The Walnut some years ago, I wrote a story about the Wall Street Journal running blank pages to save money on staff.

The Journal had just gone through a round of layoffs (a relatively mild one compared to the blood-letting that goes on now). The absurdity of publishing white space was meant as a jab in the eye at the bottom-line at all costs mentality.

But in the case of James Rainey, who writes the L.A. Times’ “On The Media” column, it may not be a bad idea.

Rainey has been with the paper since 1984, mostly as a cityside reporter. He seems to have been handed a plum column last year as either a reward for lasting so long, or because there’s no one else left standing to do it. Neither is a particularly compelling reason for doing so. As a result, you get – I guess, er, I suppose – what you’re sort of willing to pay for.

Indeed, Rainey expounds with an irritating spinelessness. A recent column began condemning The Washington Post’s ethical lapses in promoting a series of pay-for-access events to its editorial staff. It concluded with him stating newspapers should hold pleasure cruises to promote readership. He came close to pummeling Sandra Tsing Loh for the nauseating hypocrisy of using her family for book and broadcast material while cheating on them, but inevitably pulled his punches and declined to contact her husband for comment.

When Rainey actually did perform a full-body slam of L.A. Weekly News Editor Jill Stewart for allegedly biased coverage in an advocate tabloid, it ran just days before The Weekly beat the Times 5-2 in awards from the L.A. Press Club. It was a competition judged by editors from out-of-town publications, making Rainey’s own judgment on the local talent look particularly foolish.

Stewart is as close to a street brawler in L.A. journalism circles as one gets, but she barely had to pop the switchblade to cut her opponent to shreds. “Rainey did not contact me for his wrongheaded column,” she wrote in a rebuttal published in the Times. That pretty much summed it up: passive-aggressive laziness practiced by someone far more familiar at this stage of his career with burnout than scorched earth.

So it almost makes sense that Rainey switched his sights to someone who really can’t defend herself: local TV personality Jillian Barberie Reynolds. Rainey’s beef: she lacked sufficient empathy for her 95 colleagues at Fox 11 News who recently lost their jobs.

Barberie Reynolds is one of several largely empty-headed pinup-wannabes who have relied far more on sexiness than talent (Sharon Tay, Elita Loresca, et al) to build a career. She’s never profound, mostly harmless, occasionally entertaining and completely self-absorbed. In other words, as predictable as an atomic clock. That’s why she’s been perennially marooned on the tropical island of “Good Day L.A.,” where the audience wants perky and little else.

Yet Rainey sees her as the devil incarnate, calling her the “Medusa-haired, wailing siren who epitomizes the noxious celebrification of what we once called news.” He also was displeased with her talking about her sex life on Howard Stern’s show, and suggested that an abusive past had something to do with her behavior.

L.A. Times media critic James Rainey acted as if Jillian Barberie Reynolds had just been anointed the next Walter Cronkite.

L.A. Times media critic James Rainey acted as if Jillian Barberie Reynolds had just been anointed the next Walter Cronkite.

It would be appropriate for Rainey to have a bug up his ass about Barberie had she been anointed primetime anchor in the wake of such bloodshed. But that’s never going to happen. She will continue to be morning eye candy until her looks hold on, and she may host an occasional dumb sports show or another resurrection of “Blind Date.”

And again, Rainey didn’t try to interview his subject. Instead, he called her”representative,” who predictably declined comment. Doesn’t Reynolds have a phone line at Fox 11, or at least voicemail? Or couldn’t have Rainey gotten out of the office and spent a couple of hours camped out to interview Reynolds when she got to her car? Nor did he bother to interview a mental health professional to try and bolster his amateur(ish) diagnosis.

Instead, he padded out his column with some comments made by one of Reynolds’ colleagues, John Schwada. His blog noted that the layoffs affected young up-and-comers and that seniority rules meant those who “can be seen several times a day playing solitaire in your edit bay, have boozy breath and are operating on autopilot” were retained.

Another irony that sailed by Rainey’s head: Schwada had been the star city hall reporter at the L.A. Herald-Examiner when it folded 20 years ago. The Times immediately snapped him up, then promptly banished him to the bowels of the Valley bureau when some staffers grumbled he hadn’t paid his dues. I can only wonder what role Rainey – then five years into his now way-too-long stint at the Times – played in that decision.

But Schwada’s tenure at the Times is in the past. Rainey’s is not. Someone in charge over there – if there is anyone left – needs to take a closer look at what he’s been doing. And begin the debate as to whether a few column inches of white space a couple of times a week might be more soothing to its ever-diminishing readership.

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Chris Brown is Getting Younger by the Paragraph

Despite being only four paragraphs in length, the L.A. Times article about Chris Brown copping a plead to beating up Rihanna says he is both 20 and 19 years old. And it’s already been up on the website for six hours. Great copyediting.

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Bad recession reporting redux

I recently began taking the New York Times. I haven’t dropped my hometowner yet, but it’s getting easier and easier to make the inevitable decision to embrace the Gray Lady and dump the spayed one.

It’s a sad departure from a decade ago, when I’d parse the cadences and rhythms of L.A. Times’ stories, trying to pick up something I could use to tighten a lede, or crack the nut graf – much like a bush leaguer studying Ted Williams’ swing.

Now, when I engage in the same practice, I’m more likely to be nauseated than invigorated. The great journalism once published on the Times’ front page has been all but buried in a shallow grave – or more concisely, a grave of shallowness.

What truer instance of that was today’s front-pager: ‘Down and out,’ but not enough to get aid,” Molly Hennessy-Fiske’s study of Caroline Sabey, a 42-year-old single mother who failed to qualify for public assistance.

The headline and premise sound gut-wrenching, but are entirely misleading. The article glosses over a salient fact: Sabey receives nearly $2,000 a month in unemployment benefits. That’s the take-home equivalent of about $34,000 a year. Sabey grumbles that her unemployment benefits “barely covers her basic rent and bills.” Isn’t that exactly what it’s supposed to do?

Fiske’s article does not contain any quotes from someone making that obvious point. Nor does it contain interviews with anyone else in a similar predicament, or discuss the fact that recently enacted federal aid extended the benefits Sabey receives. The online version of the Times story also contained that ridiculous illustration of a middle-class family on a breadline the paper had published a while back. I had criticized its use both in this blog and in the L.A. Business Journal back in December as overkill.

Recycled trash -- the illustration the L.A. Times used back in December to suggest a return to the Great Depression.

Recycling bin -- the illustration the L.A. Times used back in December to suggest a return to the Great Depression.

While it was recycling this artwork, the Times got badly scooped on the same issue on the same day by its New York counterpart, which ran a front-page story about homeless encampments sprouting up in and around Fresno. The last time I checked, that was, er…not too far away. Given the Spayed Lady had claimed a refocus on California news, it should have had it first – a long time ago.

Along with an in-depth story about people who wish they were netting half of what Sabey does, it included a great photo essay, an observation that the encampments were fall smaller than their equivalents during the Great Depression and a nut quote that put the story in its proper perspective: “These are able-bodied folks that did day labor, at minimum wage or better, who were previously able to house themselves based on their income,” said Michael Stoops, the executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group based in Washington.

While the economy may recover, the L.A Times simply will not. Its editorial staff is half of what it was a decade ago, and positions are being cut virtually very week. In the most recent round just a couple of days ago, casualties included Tim Lynch, Jennifer Oldham and Aaron Curtiss, people with great knowledge of Los Angeles and a valuable institutional memory. Aside from writing some great pieces about San Fernando Valley culture back in the early 1990s, Curtiss should have been retained simply for having the courage to wear Mr. Peanut apparel in public.

By contrast, the Gray Lady is facing its crisis by temporarily cutting the salaries of its news staff rather than permanently elminating their jobs, gambling that preserving a strong editorial presence will guarantee not only future prosperity, but the perpetuation of a quality product.

In other words, the NYT’s management knows a little something about spaying Sam Zell does not: once you put particular components under the knife, they’re gone. Forever.

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A-Roid and the Ink-Stained Kvetches

Thank God Alex Rodriguez just copped to using steroids. I was beginning to think this recession story had dragged on for too long.

Along with his proclivity for strippers, the slum apartments he owns in Florida, and his belief that Madonna is his “soul mate,” Rodriguez is merely showing he’s in lockstep with the heartwarming judgment exercised by this nation over the past decade. What’s next – buying some Petco franchises with Michael Vick?

Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez misses the signs.

Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez misses the sign.

Despite confessing his sins to ESPN, A-Rod still portrayed himself as the victim. He claimed he turned to performance enhancers because he was under pressure to perform to the level of his record contract he signed with the Texas Rangers in 2000. He also said he stopped taking them shortly before he was traded to the Yankees – coincidentally at almost the same time Major League baseball began imposing penalties for steroids use.

Hmm. Would A-Rod’s move from the backwater of Arlington, Tex. to the New York media scrum and the modest expectations of George Steinbrenner permit him to shed his self-doubt? I wonder if his ex-wife buys that story.

But I digress. What really matters here are the hypocritical harrumphs made by the nation’s sportswriters over the past five years, since Major League Baseball decided to impose penalties for steroid use.
The scribes have stayed on an incessant message: baseball is forever tainted by the steroid scandal. It has been systematically destroying itself.

Very rarely have the writers let this inconvenient fact get in the way: overall Major League baseball attendance has set new records over the past five seasons. MLB also rakes in another $65 million a year just from people willing to pay to watch or listen to games over the Internet, making it one of the few successful providers of paid media content. Here is a case study on on how the news business could run its web operations.

But the consensus is that of Yahoo! national baseball columnist Jeff Passan, who actually acknowledged the MLB numbers, then promptly dismissed them. “Revenues and attendance don’t make a renaissance,” he grumbled. This is an extraordinary denial of reality. Major League Baseball is a business, and as distasteful as some of its employees are, it’s also been wildly successful in servicing its customer base. Passan and his colleagues won’t even deign to do likewise.

The “big picture” painted by the media about steroids damaging the game is grotesquely inaccurate. The fans care neither about steroids in baseball nor what the media has to say about it. The ink-stained kvetches’ obstinacy in the face of these facts might be condemned in the Columbia Journalism Review if it wasn’t expending all its column inches trying to figure out why newspapers are going bust.

At least Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Dwyre still cares. He has employed the shrillest voice since the A-Rod news broke. Dwyre also edited the Times’s sports pages between 1981 and 2006.

“The ideal response is that the consumer takes all this as the final straw, stops going to games and watching on TV and sends Major League Baseball into the same economic black hole currently occupied by the rest of the country,” he shrieked about the A-Rod scandal. Oh, and then he got huffy.

Former L.A. Times sports editor Bill Dwyre.

Shrieker-in-Chief: Former L.A. Times sports editor Bill Dwyre.

Dwyre demanded 90-day suspensions for all the players who tested positive for steroids in 2003. He also wanted to “place an asterisk on the plaque of any enhancement-drug user who gets in” the Baseball Hall of Fame. Would that include all the 1950s and 60s-era players who popped pep pills? Or every Prohibition-era player who took a slug before they took the field? You were an editor at a major newspaper, Bill. Shouldn’t you insist on clarity? Many of the headlines that were published when you ran the Times’s sports pages were quite clear:

“64! 65! Sosa ties McGwire with two homers.” (Sept. 24, 1998).
“Whack! Baseball’s flagging image is…outta here!” (Sept. 5, 1998).
“McGwire’s blast could be right out of Hollywood.” (Sept. 26, 1998).
“In Summer of 62, baseball back as national pastime.” (Sept. 11, 1998).

The Times and every other print outlet lionized Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire for what turned out to be a home run race on, er, steroids. The pair were single-handedly credited with reviving the game after the disastrous 1994 strike.
Indeed, when reports surfaced that McGwire had been taking the steroid gateway drug androstenedione – which had already been banned by the National Football League and the International Olympic Committee – the sportswriters all but brushed it aside. That attitude was briefly in line with reality: only the rare prodigy who can hit or pitch a 95-mph fastball on the hands will succeed in professional baseball. Steroids are of no help at all with that.

Only when McGwire and his colleagues were made to squirm in front of the House Committee for Government Oversight and Reform – the spring training site for ambitious politicians – did the media wag its collective finger. However, the huge ongoing success MLB has had in marketing itself suggests that people like Dwyre are awfully lonely in this assertion.

For good or ill, A-Roid will continue to draw crowds. They may even come in greater numbers than before, particularly as he inches closer to breaking the all-time home run record. Can the same be said for the dwindling number of people paid to watch him?

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Los Feliz Haunt

(Editor’s Note: I was working against the clock on this piece, well aware that the L.A. Times’s inestimable cityside reporter Bob Pool had worked up a long takeout, which was published as today’s Column One feature. Pool’s article had been held for weeks, the result of a painfully pinched newshole. I kept my fingers crossed, but these things happen. I do have some photos of the property, and a more contemplative angle.)

There are a lot of haunted houses in Los Angeles.

I don’t mean infested with ghosts and vampires. I mean an event has occurred on the premises so horrific that no one is ever comfortable living within its walls again.

L.A.’s two most famous haunted houses were the scenes of the Tate-La Bianca murders, committed 40 years ago this August. The house on Cielo Drive in Bel-Air where Sharon Tate and four others were slaughtered had tenants shuffle in and out for a quarter century after the carnage, with Trent Reznor among its last lessees. It was torn down in the mid-1990s and replaced with a 16,000-square-foot behemoth you can see from miles away. Even with the old house gone, it took more than a year to sell the property, as I recall the defunct New Times Los Angeles reporting. One would-be buyer from Saudi Arabia apparently backed out at the last minute, after being erroneously informed that hundreds of people had been killed there.

The Los Feliz home where Leno and Rosemary La Bianca were stabbed to death still stands, but it’s changed hands many times. It also sports a different address, to keep away the curious.

No such obstacles prevent looky-loos from visiting another haunted property that’s just a short drive from the former La Bianca residence. It’s nestled in a cul-de-sac on the 2400 block of Glendower Place.

The mansion on the 2400 block of Glendower Pl. has obviously been vacant for decades.

The mansion on the 2400 block of Glendower Pl. has obviously been vacant for decades.

The beige Spanish-style house was built in 1925 and is enormous – more than 5,000 square feet, according to public records. It commands a gorgeous view of the Hollywood flatlands, reachable only by several steep and staggered stairways. The only home in the neighborhood with a more imposing presence is the fabled Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Ennis House, which looms over the Glendower home’s surprisingly small backyard.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of a horrible murder-suicide that occurred there. According to the Los Angeles Times of Dec. 7, 1959, 50-year-old physician Harold N. Perelson killed his 42-year-old wife Lillian with a hammer while she slept. He also attacked his 18-year-old daughter. When his two younger children awoke to screaming, Perelson told them it was a nightmare, and that they should go back to sleep. They complied.

The older daughter fled to a neighbor’s house. That neighbor went to confront Perelson. By the time the police arrived, Perelson was dead himself, having ingested poison.

The living room of the Glendower house.

The living room of the Glendower house, photographed through a dirty window screen.

The Glendower property is the kind producers, mini-real estate moguls and neurosurgeons salivate over, even in the current down market. But it’s obvious by peering into the grime-caked windows of this manse that it’s been vacant for decades.

In a front room of the house, many plastic bowls sit on sheets of newspaper, which in turn covers either long-rotted carpet or wood. At first I thought they were for feeding pets, but then I realized the flat roof in that section of the house leaks like a sieve. A vintage radio sits on a shelf on the far wall behind the bowls. Most of the pieces of furniture visible in the rambling manse have long been covered with dusty sheets. Two yellow-vinyl wing chairs in the living room looked particularly garish, until I realized they were quite the style in the 1950s, which is probably the last time they were used. A back room is filled with old LPs, an ancient television, and a board game called “Table Tennis,” which looks nearly pristine, even though its graphics suggest it was produced eons ago.

Bowls in a front room; probably to capture water from a leaky roof.

Bowls in a front room. They probably capture water from a leaky roof.

There is a sadness in this unused home and its aging contents, particularly in light of the facts, of which there are few beyond the obvious. The L.A. Times of the 1950s was still a reactionary rag that had yet to practice serious journalism. Its first-day story of the tragedy ended on a singularly useless note: the names of the Los Angeles Police Department detectives who were first to arrive on the scene. It did mention that Harold Perelson had been experiencing some financial difficulties. Even in its current diminished state, the Times delved far deeper into the recent murder-suicide of the Lupoe family (and all the other murder suicides of recent years).

An unconfirmed rumor circulated in the years after the Glendower tragedy: Harold Perelson had been discreetly committed by his wife for depression, then reacted violently when he was released, certain the news of his hospitalization would wreck his Inglewood medical practice. This was an era when even medical professionals would deal with mental health issues through doses of Milltown and a staff upper lip, and wives were often discouraged — sometimes violently — from taking serious family matters into their own hands.

An ancient television and board game (far right), sit in a back room.

An ancient television and board game (far right), sit in a back room.

I tried to revisit the Perelson tragedy myself, locating what I believed to be Harold Perelson’s son Joel, who is living in New York (I couldn’t find the two other Perelson children). Joel was 13 when his parents died; he would be in his 60s now. It was a tough phone call to make. Not quite as tough as some of the obit calls I made as a cub reporter, but nor was it something I was itching to do.

After the line rang perhaps 10 times, I received one of those robotic answering machine messages: “Hello. No one is here to take your call. Please call again later.” I was then cut off. A second call I made the following day was met with the same result. It was exactly the kind of message you would expect to hear from a home where someone did not want to be disturbed by outsiders. Ever.

The Ennis House looms over the Glendower property's backyard.

The Ennis House looms over the Glendower property's backyard.

The only professional trace that remains of Joel’s father was an article he published in the Southern Medical Journal in August 1947. It was entitled: “Occipital Nerve Tenderness: A Sign of Headache.”

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