My favorite move is Chinatown. It’s a 1974 film starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and John Huston. It was directed by Roman Polanski. One of my heroes, Robert Towne, wrote the screenplay.
The film was inspired by the California Water Wars. It depicts Los Angeles in 1937, a small city built on the edge of a desert. In the movie there are murder, corruption, and incest. There are also lots of and lots of orange groves. I’d like to talk about the orange groves.
My family moved to Los Angles when I was two years old. We lived in the San Fernando Valley. Even back then it was called simply The Valley.
If you lived in Los Angeles in 1952, it was always 72 and sunny (sounds like a great name for an ad agency). If you lived in The Valley, it was always 92 and sunny.
Childhood memories tend to have a warm, hazy glow about them, as if you’re in a movie on Lifetime. My childhood memories are no exception. Did I really ride my bike through rows and rows of orange groves in The Valley?
A couple of years ago we were filming a commercial in Canoga Park. I found my street and my old house. It was a lot smaller than I remembered it, as our childhood homes always are. There were security bars on the windows. Fun fact. Most of the porn videos shot in the U.S. are shot in The Valley.
Whenever I’m in LA I think about how lucky I was to have gown up there in the ’50s. I rode my bike everywhere. Up into the mountains of Chatsworth. Over to Sargent Garcia’s house, a character in the Zorro TV show. I combed my hair like Elvis and rode my bike to Reseda where my first girlfriend lived.
There was no smog. The mountains surrounding The Valley were clear. And there were orange groves as far as the eye could see. Or were there? I think it’s more likely that I’ve watched Chinatown a few too many times.
Whenever I go back to Los Angeles to film a commercial, I still see lots and lots of oranges. They are being sold by the bag by weathered men and women standing at stoplights on Highland Avenue.
Perhaps a few first-time visitors to Los Angeles think the oranges were freshly picked just hours before in The Valley. In the land of dreams, who am I to tell them otherwise? Just take the 101, drive over the Hollywood Hills, and you’re there. Or, if you prefer, you could always ride your bike.