The erudite Mr. Huxley made his home in the Hollywood Hills. Besides writing a number of seminal works, he wrote screenplays. He also really loved Los Angeles, unlike a lot of writers who made a tremendous amount of money here (working for the film industry) but couldn’t help harping on the city.
In her memoir Kiss Hollywood Goodbye Anita Loos recalls her friend Aldous Huxley’s ‘childish love for picnics’. One excursion he organised ‘might have taken place in Alice in Wonderland’. Huxley had gathered a choice selection of his Californian friends: Charlie Chaplin and his wife, Paulette Goddard, dressed ‘in a Mexican peasant outfit’; Greta Garbo, wearing a ‘sloppy pair of men’s trousers and a battered hat with a brim that hid her face’; the visiting Bertrand Russell; Christopher Isherwood; and Huxley’s favourite mystic, Krishnamurti, accompanied by a retinue of Theosophists and vegetarian catering ladies in saris. While his guests looked like pixies ‘on a spree’, according to Loos, Huxley himself resembled a ‘giant from some second-rate circus’. He had indulged his taste for the seedy parts of the city by choosing ‘the dusty bottom of the Los Angeles River, drier than a desert and strewn with rusty cans and pop bottles’, as an anti-pastoral setting for the picnic…
Like many British writers in the 1930s, Huxley had been lured to Hollywood by the easy money supposedly on offer from the studios, which liked to parade a certain literary pedigree. A month after Huxley’s arrival in 1937, P.G. Wodehouse left, but J.B. Priestley, Hugh Walpole and Anthony Powell were all hawking their wares with varying degrees of success (Powell was hindered by the fact that his agent had dropped dead on Hollywood Boulevard a few days before his visit). Unlike Huxley, these other English writers found Los Angeles unappealing: ‘No wars, no politics, no deaths make any effect here. We are all on a raft together in the middle of the cinema sea! Nothing is real here but the salaries,’ Walpole wrote.
Walpole came to Hollywood to write the script for David Copperfield. Powell worked a very short stint for Warner Bros., spending about half a year in Hollywood. P. G. Wodehouse stayed seven years in Hollywood and had this to say, “I think Californian scenery is the most loathsome on earth – a cross between Coney Island and the Riviera, but by staying in one’s garden and shutting one’s eyes when one goes out, it’s possible to get by.” J. B. Priestly found it disconcerting that Hollywood movies were aimed “at a not very bright boy or girl of about fifteen.”
Now, back to Huxley and some important points of his:
“A mere matter of words,” we say contemptuously, forgetting that words have power to mold men’s thinking, to canalize their feeling, to direct their willing and acting. Conduct and character are largely determined by the nature of the words we currently use to discuss ourselves and the world around us.
What do you think?