In the midst of this campaign for a new mayor for Los Angeles, I spent a bit of time writing about the old ones, the characters, the bloviators and crooks, the puritanical and the amorous.
And readers loved them.
But truthfully, now, would we really elect some modern-day version of these eccentrics? Would we find them too vivid and unstable for the job? Is "colorful" a shorthand word for wacky? Would the political blender of today chop them up and homogenize them into bland and presentable beings to get them on the ballot in the first place?
Would anyone really want to put someone like Charles Sebastian in the big chair in City Hall? He’s the ladies’ man I wrote about in my Sunday Op-Ed article, and he wanted to be mayor so much he was charged with faking an assassination attempt on himself on election eve to generate an outrage/sympathy vote. After the outrage turned against him, in a trial over his mistress and his mistress’ sister, and after his wife, whom he referred to as the “Old Haybag,” took letters to the newspapers, Sebastian resigned for reasons of poor health (I’m thinking here that “poor health” means the missus would kill him otherwise). He wound up with his loyal lady-love and their loyal dog, Barker. On pleasant days, the woman ended up wheeling the infirm former mayor and police chief along the Venice boardwalk.
In the age of radio, the enormously popular Mayor Fletcher Bowron -- whose military buddies called him “Old Chubby Cheeks” -- appeared on the George Burns and Gracie Allen show, and in the TV era, Sam Yorty yakked with Johnny Carson and played the banjo to Carson’s drums on “The Tonight Show.”
Yorty lost to Tom Bradley in 1973, four years after defeating Bradley in a desperately racist campaign. The ex-mayor Yorty had his own TV show thereafter, but he complained when it was canceled for a new show called “Hee Haw.”
One of Yorty’s signature campaign issues was trash. Los Angeles used to have backyard incinerators (and they wondered where the smog came from?), and once those were ordered shut down, the city wanted homeowners to sort garbage from recyclables at the curbside for trash pickup. Yorty crusaded on behalf of the little lady in the apron -- that it was too burdensome for her to sort out recyclable trash -- and so all the trash went into a single bin. Some years later, Bradley was asked to name one of Yorty’s accomplishments. He thought about it and finally said, “Well, he integrated the rubbish.”
I did what must have been the last interview with Yorty, who was the last mayor from the Valley. In his Studio City home, he talked about how much fun he’d had, but also how miffed he was that he had been derided as “Travelin’ Sam” for his trips, and yet it was Bradley who had an international airport terminal named for him, while Yorty, who had a hand in creating the Convention Center, only got a meeting room there named after him.
William Mulholland, the greatest zanjero of them all -- who built the passionately debated aqueduct that brings water to L.A. today, 100 years later -- said he would rather give birth to a porcupine backwards than run for mayor of Los Angeles.
Nonetheless, as your ballot reminds you, there are a lot of men and a few women willing to undergo the backwards birthing to get the job. None of them -- perhaps mercifully -- is anywhere near as, well, colorful as these mayors past.
Follow Patt Morrison on Twitter @pattmlatimes