This is a purely fanciful tale, a little nightmare produced by the unaccustomed high living of a brief visit to Hollywood.

I have a thing about how Los Angeles is portrayed on film and in books.

An author who makes me laugh, perhaps because of his dour satiric streak, is Evelyn Waugh.

He visited Hollywood in 1947 to discuss a film adaptation of Brideshead Revisited, loathed the place, and ended up with a luxurious trip abroad for he and his wife in the California sun, an un-produced film, and the setting for a scathing book about Los Angeles.

Let me digress for a moment and direct you to a memo he wrote about the proposed film of Brideshead, which, forgive me, shows a charming lack of knowledge about the writer in relationship to the studio.

Brideshead is one of the historic English houses, the ancestral home of the Flyte family, of whom the head is the Marquis of Marchmain. Two architectural features are used in the story to typify the conflicting characteristics of the English aristocratic tradition. These are the chapel and the fountain, and I suggest that before I leave Hollywood, I should be allowed to see preliminary sketches of these two features drawn under my supervision.

That, is a crackup. In Hollywood, writers supervise nada on a movie set. Maybe that’s one of the reasons Brideshead wasn’t produced.

As for the The Loved One, it most certainly was inspired by a visit to this place:

Here is the first page of The Loved One — Mr. Waugh wrote enchanting, and most disingenuous, disclaimers.

A Warning

This is a purely fanciful tale, a little nightmare produced by the unaccustomed high living of a brief visit to Hollywood. Readers whose pleasure in fiction derives from identifying the characters and scenes with real people and real places will be disappointed. If in the vast variety of life in America there is anyone at all like the characters I have invented, I can only remind that person that we never met, and assure him or her that, had we done so, I would not have attempted to portray a living individual in a book where all the incidents are entirely imaginary.

As I have said, this is a nightmare and in parts, perhaps, somewhat gruesome. The squeamish should return their copies to the library or the bookstore un-read.

Ha! I suspect that Evelyn Waugh was chuckling over that one, or thinking I nailed it while he demurred oh-so toffishly about drawing purely on his imagination. All novelists strive for emotional truth, and draw from their experience of reality (read the inscription on the photo above) to inform the narrative.

Here is a list of great books set in Hollywood.


Mildred Pierce, by James M. Caine

The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler

The Loved One, by Evelyn Waugh

After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, by Aldous Huxley

Play it as it Lays, by Joan Didion


Huxley in Hollywood, by David King Dunaway

Unreal Estate, by Michael Gross

Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, by Steve Martin

Permanent Midnight, by Jerry Stahl

I know there must be more, let me know what you’ve read.


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  1. March 28, 2018

    Well, since you asked, my answer from a few years ago.

    • April 6, 2018

      Thank you! I have to read some Walter Mosley 🙂 .

  2. April 5, 2018

    Thanks for this terrific reading list! Many of these I’ve not (yet) read, but I’m placing a few of these on hold at the library right away.

    • April 6, 2018

      You’re welcome! There’s another fascinating book about Los Angeles that was written by Jean Stein called “West of Eden: An American Place.” It’s a collection of interviews (e.g., Frank Gehry, Lauren Bacall, Joan Didion, and more) and remembrances of living in L.A. — great stuff.

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