Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers & Their Times

Dir: Peter Jones & Mark A. Catalena, 2009. Starring: Dorothy Chandler, Harry Brant Chandler, Norman Chandler. Documentaries.
Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers & Their Times

It drives me crazy when people say that Los Angeles has no history. I have no idea what that means because I don’t think I’ve ever been to an American city as steeped in its illustrious glittering and haunted past as L.A. It’s a history that is certainly taken for granted and poorly managed—it seems every year brings with it another historic landmark that bites the dust here—but the city (and really the entire country) have been so shaped by L.A.’s past that you will never be able to exorcise all the ghosts here. There are too many of them. And the people who ran the city from its inception made decisions whose results we are still burdened with today.

The Chandler family and their paper, The Los Angeles Times, are a good example of this. From the very beginning the paper was designed as a mouthpiece for the voice of Harrison Gray Otis, an ardent capitalist who used the paper to prop up his friends in the business community and attack his enemies from the world of labor. By using The Los Angeles Times as a forum for attacking unions Otis helped ensure that L.A. would have a cheap supply of labor without threat of these workers organizing. When a group of union members bombed the L.A. Times building and killed scores of Times employees Otis became that much more virulent in his crusade against organized labor. (You can see a monument to the workers who died in the blast erected just after it happened in Hollywood Forever Cemetery.)

The Times was the most influential paper in Los Angeles and as much as they made it difficult for organized labor to gain a foothold in L.A. they were also, in part, responsible for the great migration Westward by middle Americans looking for a new start. As this documentary explains the myth of L.A. as an idyllic sun drenched wonderland was invented and aggressively sold by the Chandlers and their paper as part of a real estate venture that Otis and his cronies were involved in. With their ethical shortcomings, nefarious schemes, and far reaching connections to the powerful they really did kind of invent the idea of L.A. Think Chinatown with less good looking actors.

The documentary is fascinating for these kinds of stories, and the intertwined saga of the Chandler family and the events they lived through compose a kind of highlight reel of the 20th century. For four generations the Chandlers wielded a very singular influence here and, to this day, in ways both cultural and political, the results are everywhere.

Posted by:
Jed Leland
Jul 21, 2010 11:12am
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