Another review of the recent Perry Mason TV series also implicates Waugh. (See previ0us post.) This is not so much for his admiration of Erle Stanley Gardner but for his sharing with Gardner an interest in “distinctly Los Angelean” themes. One of these mentioned specifically is religion:
The Mormons notwithstanding, Southern California and LA specifically has always been ground zero for America’s homespun cults, but it’s rare for that to come up much in the media – if it does, usually it’s the few creators with the guts to take a pop at Scientology. But Perry Mason makes heavy feature of the, shall we say, interesting spin that the town of Hollywood puts on evangelical Christianity, which one feels is locked in a thorny spiritual battle over whether to feature a gift shop.
At one point, the show makes mention of Hollywood’s Forest Lawn cemetery, presented in the same circusish light as the rest of the religious mania at hand – which is interesting, because the show had already been putting me in mind of Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One, a novella which the staunchly Catholic Waugh had essentially vomited out in disgust after witnessing Forest Lawn’s tacky Disneyland approach to death. The Loved One, too, depicted more than a few deluded messianic figures, although typically for Waugh they were all secular in nature – here they’re leading the gospel chants while passing the collection plates (and are, by nature, some of the more lively performers). And with religion itself reduced to little more than cash-grabbing tourist trap, what hope for the rest of society?
The answer, per Waugh and reflected here, is ‘not much’. There’s a few islands of themselves-flawed decency in a seething morass of general misbehaviour – in other words, it’s a noir. ,,,
The review is by Huw Saunders and is posted on the the entertainment website CulturedVultures.com.
Another recent article takes up the same theme. This is an excerpt from the recent book by Peter Lunenfeld that will appear in the next issue of the Los Angeles Review of Books. The book is entitled City at the Edge of Forever and the excerpt is posted on the LARB website. It opens with this discussion of the attitude toward death reflected in the works of Walt Disney, one of the few Hollywood artists Waugh admired:
…[Walt Disney’s] body is, of course, not cryogenically preserved beneath Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean, as urban legend would have it and was in point of fact cremated and then interred at Forest Lawn Cemetery. But no matter. Disney’s frozen head is tailor-made for metaphor. Uncle Walt was an animator, bringing to life the insentient and making delightful the impossible. With a wave of his hand, brooms danced and mice sang. Playing with mortality is the secret sauce ladled over his corporate oeuvre. Bambi’s mother, Dumbo’s father, both of Cinderella’s parents, deer, elephant, and human — all dead. Yet mortality’s sting isn’t as fatal in Disney’s realm as it is in our own. Snow White eats a poisoned apple and undergoes a sleeping death, only to be reanimated by “love’s first kiss.” Disney understood Hollywood’s maxim that if something works once, it will work again. Thus Sleeping Beauty, where yet another young girl succumbs to the machinations of yet another evil older woman, falling into a state closer to a coma than to sleep, only to be awakened by another one of those kisses. Eros and Thanatos were never so colorful, nor so well scored.
Similar discussions ensue of how other noted Angelenos have been revered after their deaths. These include local Mexican cultural hero Ruben Salazar, Presidents Nixon and Reagan and rap artist Tupac Shakur. The article then segues into this:
Southern California’s cemeteries are big business, and like the entertainment industry that surrounds them and supplies their best-known clients, they must innovate or die. In 1917 Hubert Eaton, who vaingloriously referred to himself as the “Builder,” created in Glendale’s Forest Lawn what he saw as “a place for the living,” with art rather than relics, a “spiritual” rather than a “religious” space: “I shall endeavor to build Forest Lawn as different, as unlike other cemeteries as sunshine is unlike darkness, as Eternal Life is unlike death.” English visitors including Aldous Huxley and Evelyn Waugh could contain neither their contempt nor their guffaws at Eaton’s antiseptic necropolis with its bowdlerized art and flag waving patriotism, but the regular Folks of Southern California ate it up. Until Disneyland opened, it was Southern California’s most popular tourist attraction and the place Walt Disney’s parents most wanted to see when they came to Los Angeles to visit — and where, as noted above, Walt himself chose to be interred.
Finally, The Loved One is among a group of novels recommended in a list prepared by a writer whose first book (a collection of stories) is about to be published next month: Mannequin and Wife. This is Jen Fawkes and the theme of her booklist is “WHAT TO READ WHEN YOU SUSPECT THAT TIME IS NOT A LINE”. This is explained in the opening paragraphs of the article. Here’s the entry for The Loved One:
A satirical look at the treatment of death/dying/the dead in mid-century American, The Loved One is a purported love story. Dennis, an aspiring poet who works at a pet cemetery (The Happier Hunting Grounds), falls for Aimee, a cosmetician who makes up the faces of the recently deceased at an absurdly ostentatious funeral home/burial complex (Whispering Glades). Though the book is set over a fairly short span of time, the ways in which it grapples with death (and therefore life), make it pretty timeless. There’s also a film version of The Loved One (1965) that is truly spectacular.
The booklist is posted on TheRumpus.net.