For many people, this will be an exercise in tedium. But I’m hopeful that the research fanatics among the Daily Mirror readers will find it engaging.
I’m going to spend some time on Morrow Mayo’s “Los Angeles” to examine its reliability. In other words, I’m going to fact-check portions of the book, mostly against reports from The Times.
Mayo often quotes The Times in his book, so we know he referred to it for some details, but we may find ourselves on a treasure hunt to unearth his other source material, so I expect to examine other period newspapers along the way, depending on just how far it’s worth carrying the whole matter.
I’m starting with “Los Angeles” because this is where most contemporary historians begin. To be sure, there are earlier works on the subject, but where they are dry, dusty and plodding recitations of the past, “Los Angeles” is a jaunty dash through history with a guide who gives readers a wink and a sly look as he promises to tell “the real story.” Mayo is an entertaining and engaging author, but (spoiler alert) he’s not especially accurate, and his errors, combined with his caustic commentary, have influenced generations of writers – even those who may not be aware that they are following in his footsteps.
Where to begin? I’ve decided to start in the last section of the book, rather than at the beginning, (the Portola expedition discovers the future metropolis is inhabited by “a tribe of circus freaks,” Page 6) or at the end, with Mayo’s bibliography, although it will be fun to examine his source material in another post, depending on one’s idea of fun.
In a brief biography on the book jacket, Mayo says that he spent six years in California working for various newspapers before he began “Los Angeles” in 1931, so I’m starting with an event that he observed first-hand: the sensational coverage of the 1927 abduction and killing of Marion Parker by William Edward Hickman. One would expect that a newsman would be fairly accurate in writing about an event that occurred a few years earlier and was still fresh in his memory. But is he? Let’s put him to the acid test.
Before going further I should note that the Hickman case involves a particularly gruesome killing of a 12-year-old girl and the original accounts in The Times are extremely graphic. I’m not much on ghoulish sensationalism so I don’t plan to recount everything that was done to Marion Parker unless it’s necessary to contrast it with Mayo’s version of the crime.
Here’s Page 293 of the chapter titled “Strange Interlude.”