Roger McGrath: Out of the Past:  California: as it used to be

Tom:

You have confessed more than once that you have seen Out of the Past five times.  When it came out on VHS tape, I immediately bought a copy.  It was not only my favorite of the film noir genre, it was one of my favorite movies, period.  I like to be careful about using the word brilliant, but that's exactly what the movie is.  I don't know much about Jacques Tourneur but his direction was brilliant.  He brought the very best out of each actor.  Bob Mitchum was the best he ever was at being Bob Mitchum.  In a way he set a standard for himself he could only try to emulate for the rest of his career.  Jane Greer was the perfect femme fatale with exactly the right expressions on her face to keep the audience guessing.  Although I'm not a big fan of Kirk Douglas--for me he often overacts--he couldn't have been better.  Everything about the movie was perfectly crafted.

Peculiar to us growing up in SoCal and traveling up Hwy. 395--I first did so as a little kid--is Bridgeport, which isn't a whole lot different than it was in 1947 when Out of the Past was released.  It's a beautiful little spot on the east fork of the Walker River surrounded by hundreds of acres of pasturage.  Until the 1880s, it was known as Big Meadows.  For one reason or another my wife and I have driven through or stayed overnight in Bridgeport about three dozen times during the last 40 years.  Bridgeport became the county seat for Mono County in 1882 and all records were relocated there from Bodie (one of the two towns I studied for Gunfighters, Highwaymen, and Vigilantes).  I spent days in the courthouse basement in Bridgeport back in the 70s.  Bridgeport is second only to Bishop as a point of departure for hunting and fishing in the eastern Sierra and the country immediately to the east.

During the 50s and 60s, Bob Mitchum lived in Mandeville Canyon, not far up the canyon from the intersection of Mandeville Canyon Rd. and Sunset Blvd.  A house or two away lived one of my "aunts"--as all close female friends of my mom from the old days were called.  On the south side of the intersection was the old L.A. Polo Fields, where my older sister hot-walked polo ponies--a job now reserved for Mexicans but one American girls once did, earning good money (for a kid).  On the other side of the polo fields was (and still is) the Riviera County Club with its famous golf course.  By the time I was ready for junior high, which was 7th, 8th, and 9th grade then, the school district had built Paul Revere Junior High on the polo grounds.  In earlier days kids from our area--like my brother and sister--had gone to (Ralph Waldo) Emerson Junior High in West L.A.  By the way, Marilyn Monroe went to Emerson and later to Uni (for a time), where she was in class with my father-in-law.

Bob Mitchum's son, Jim, who looked very much like him, was my sister's age.  When they were in high school, at University (Uni) High School (in WLA), which was our high school before Palisades High was built, my sister and Jim were in a student play at Uni, "The Legend of Wyatt Urp," a really funny spoof.  I can't remember if Jim Mitchum played Curly Bill Brocius or a Clanton or a McLaury but he was one of the "bad guys."  He was already a fully grown and physically mature man-boy type and almost could have passed for his dad.  Bob Mitchum was there to watch his son.  Also, there was his long-suffering wife, Dorothy, and son Chris, who was three and a half years older than I.  After growing up I didn't see Chris until about 10 years ago when he started getting politically active here in Ventura County.  He's a staunch conservative.  He also became a regular at our FOA events.  We've talked over old times.  There was also a little sister of Jim and Chris, but she was 7 years younger than I so I don't remember much about her.

I suppose it shouldn't surprise me, but I'm knocked out that we both love Out of the Past. It has always been one of my favorites.  If I had to make a baker's dozen list of my all-time favorites as I did for Westerns, Out of the Past, would certainly be on it.  Can you imagine putting Out of the Past side-by-side with a movie today?  It breaks my heart thinking of what Hollywood puts out today.

By now I should be used to it, but it continues to surprise me how our taste often coincides.  I think of you as the intellectual, a classical scholar, a man of letters, and myself as more a guy who just loved to read, though not much of the books assigned for school, when I was growing up.  I found adventure and insight in history--and in the many historical figures who inspired me.  I went to college only to play football and run track.  I couldn't imagine going to college only to go to school.

I had an epiphany as a freshman, when I was struck by a sudden, powerful desire to learn.  I suppose it’s better it finally came to me at 17 rather than not at all.  Nonetheless, the halfback, the sprinter, the surfer, the motorcycle rider is what I was.  I had already been largely formed for life by those activities to a degree the Jebbies would have envied.  I think I remain what I was as a teenager.  In a way, my career and intellectual life were a kind of hobby, and those other things were the real me and my real life.

We couldn’t be more different--but then you are knocked out by the same movie I am!  On the other hand, there may be a simple explanation: Superior.

3 Responses

  1. Ken Rosenberger says:

    A lovely reminiscence. I moved to LA in July of 1980, which must have been close to the point when Paradise was lost. I remember that in September of that year I got off work at 4pm and drove up to Westwood on the San Diego Freeway to see a visiting friend in speed limit traffic. That was the last time I can remember being able to do that. Many of my work colleagues had grown up in that land of milk and honey of which Dr McGrath speaks, and they could never conceive of living anywhere else. The South? That place has humidity. You have to be stupid to have managed to get yourself born there. Sadly, most of those guys bought all the cliches their Hollywood neighbors peddled to them about flyover country and have remained bigoted (ignorant) of it to this day.

    But perhaps that’s how it should be. They were as provincial as anyone in Charleston or Natchez, but could hide behind some notion of Pacific Rim cosmopolitanism. Even now, as their vanished Arcadia (no pun) has long since been overrun by the 3rd world hordes, they wouldn’t think of living anywhere else. They will go down with the ship, and (trend setters that Californians are) they know enough to keep quiet and welcome the newcomers. Diversity is our strength.

  2. Clyde Wilson says:

    Charleston is not provincial and never has been.

  3. Ken Rosenberger says:

    I stand corrected on that one, Dr Wilson, and should have come up with a better two syllable choice.