One of the most influential books ever written about the city is Morrow Mayo’s 1933 “Los Angeles.” It is, in fact, easy to argue that Mayo was the father of an entire school of caustic, iconoclastic writing about L.A., even shaping the views of contemporary authors who are unaware that they are following his well-beaten path.
In curious contrast to the continuing prominence of “Los Angeles,” very little is known about the author, born George Morrow Mayo about 1897 (some sources say 1896) in Kentucky. Mayo was an itinerant reporter who arrived in Los Angeles in the mid-1920s after working as a railway clerk and a partner with his father in the Hy Art Master Plays Co. of Washington, D.C. He served as a Navy gunner’s mate during World War I and wrote a widely published poem titled “Sons of the Flag” that was used as the lyrics of a popular song.
While in Southern California from about 1925 to about 1931, Mayo worked for the Pasadena Star-News and contributed pieces to The Times. Evidently he was also working on the book, judging by a 1928 essay in a journal titled Plain Talk, “Los Angeles – City of Dreams.” (This should not be confused Harry Carr's 1935 book "Los Angeles -- City of Dreams.")
It’s worth noting that Mayo evidently went back East by the time “Los Angeles” was published in 1933. A 1931 issue of American Mercury says: “Morrow Mayo was formerly a newspaperman in Atlanta and Los Angeles and a staff editor of the Associated Press in New York. He has contributed to the New Republic, the Nation and Plain Talk.” The New York Times 1933 review of "Los Angeles" says "he probably cannot now return without a regiment of infantry to protect him."
Mayo continued to appear in magazines and journals on an irregular basis up to 1952, when he wrote an article on Houston for the New York Times. No obituary appeared in the New York Times, nor in the Los Angeles Times.
Note: Expect to pay a good bit of money for "Los Angeles" if you can find a copy.
On the jump, Mayo’s 1925 sketch of Pershing Square.
[Update, Jan. 27, 2011: A previous version of this post said that The Times did not review Mayo's book. In fact, the paper reviewed the book, but ProQuest's search engine has trouble finding the item. The review appeared March 26, 1933, and will be the subject of an upcoming post.]