'Mob City': Author of the series' source book John Buntin discusses organized crime in L.A.
James Buntin's book 'L.A. Noir' is the basis for the TNT miniseries 'Mob City.'
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But L.A. got unruly and that's one of the reasons that Las Vegas exists. Bugsy Siegel got arrested on bookmaking charges and said L.A. was too sprawling to organize: You have to pay for every captain.
Q: How did this all play into perceptions of the city, which is both the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and the source of endless disappointment?
A: L.A. was marketed to the country as this Eden at the end of the frontier, an Anglo-Saxon paradise and a bucolic anti-city full of white Protestants and affluent retirees seeking health, wealth and leisure.
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People arrived in L.A. and realized that wasn't the reality. They noticed the divergence and it quickly went from being seen as this utopia to becoming a dystopia, with some people even thinking of L.A. as an evil place reenacting original sin.
Q: The era depicted in your book and "Mob City" – not to mention film noir up to the days of "L.A. Confidential" and beyond – continues to have plenty of cachet in our culture. What makes it pop?
A: It's fun, a stylish period when adults still dressed like adults. One of the great newspaperwomen of the era talked about how detectives in those days were really proud of their watches, their cufflinks. They all had these beefy hands with lots of rings on them so they could mess people up. And they had lots of hats.
But it was also a brutal period and there's fascination with the brutality and darker themes. When you seriously engage with these people and find yourself looking at real crime scenes as opposed to anesthetized images, it is shocking.
Q: How did violence affect everyday people?
A: It was part of a narrative of everyone's lives. People played the numbers, made bets with the neighborhood bookies in the days before the state lottery.
Criminals were celebrities. Newspapers had underworld columnists who raced to investigate and solve crimes. Every morning and every evening, you could open your newspaper to read about these stories, which were quite riveting.
Q: The LAPD developed its mixed reputation in the years you write about and the police leaders in your book directly influenced those who came later, like Chief Daryl Gates of the Rodney King era. What do you make of how things have changed and not changed since the 1940s?
A: This isn't a distinct period that began and ended. I'm originally from Mississippi and, to quote Faulkner, "The past is never dead. It’s not even past."
Randy Dotinga is a fan of film noir and noir fiction, and has written about them frequently for the Monitor. He recently interviewed the screenwriter behind "Mildred Pierce," asked crime fiction authors about their favorite noir books-turned-movies, and took a bus tour of James M. Cain's Los Angeles.