Reflections from Elsewhere
Lionel Rolfe’s paean and expose, tribute to and critique of California’s unique place in the American public consciousness.
A nearly lifelong resident of that fabled state, and having worked full-time since age twenty at some of its most prestigious newspapers (the Los Angeles Free Press, the Los Angeles Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle), ten-year editor of B’nai Brith’s Messenger (the second oldest newspaper in Los Angeles) and an editor for Psychology Today, as well as the author of the classic Literary L.A., he offers readers the unparalleled vantage point of the insider-outsider as well as a personal tour of California as it was – is – might have been – and will never be.
Along the way Rolfe introduces readers to an array of those whom he has known and befriended, the eccentric and the exceptional, the corrupt and the incorruptible, the charismatic and the naive, the utopian and dystopian, the visionary and the victimized, the radical and the reactionary, the (in)famous and the unjustly forgotten:
* Aldous Huxley and Laura, the woman who would become his eventual widow, a self-help author, and New Age activist who died at age ninety-six;
* Ted Derby, the world-famous animal trainer, a pioneer of “affection training” rather than bullwhips, whose “stars” included the cougars on the Lincoln-Mercury television commercials and “Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion,” and whose efforts to establish a sanctuary, an “orphanage for wild animals,” would lead to his violent death – not by claws and teeth, but by the “neighborly courtesy” of a gun;
* Robert Addis, the renowned spelunker who explored his first cave at age ten and since then, the wondrous underground underworld of passageways and rooms beneath California proper;
* Art Kunkin, who started the Underground Press Movement (his Los Angeles Free Press would sell 100,000 copies per week at a quarter when the Los Angeles Times sold for a dime) that would sweep the country, still resonating in noble and dubious ways today, and who later became an alchemist and metaphysician residing in a trailer in the High Desert at the Institute of Mentalphysics in Joshua Tree, where several beautiful auditoriums, mediation rooms, and lodging were designed by none other than Frank Lloyd Wright;
* George Peters, one of the CIA’s alleged human guinea pigs, the holy man hustler who founded the Church of Naturalism and was murdered execution-style;
* Dorothy Healey, the Los Angeles-based radical and anti-Stalinist Communist who became chairwoman of the Southern California Communist Party of the United States of America (Oxford University Press published her memoirs, reflecting her national, rather than regional, influence);
* Bill Parker, the racist Los Angeles police chief who never met an interracial couple he didn’t dislike;
* Oscar Zeta Acosta, America’s best-known Chicano activist next to Cesar Chavez, and the author of Revolt of the Cockroach People, who became the prototype for Hunter S. Thompson’s “the Samoan” in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, and who admitted to torching a mini mall and bombing a courthouse (where the only fatality was another Chicano) before vanishing like Ambrose Bierce into the oblivion of Mexico;
* Sam Yorty, the red-baiting, race-baiting opportunistic mayor of Los Angeles; as well as a slew of fascinating cameos by well-known figures.