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Reflections From Elsewhere
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ROLFE’s paean and exposé, tribute to and critique of California’s unique place in
the American public consciousness.
A nearly lifelong resident of that fabled state, and having worked full-time since
age twenty at some of its most prestigious newspapers (the Los Angeles Free
Press, the Los Angeles Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle), ten-year editor
of B’NAI BRITH’s Messenger (the second oldest newspaper in Los Angeles) and
an editor for Psychology Today, as well as the author of the classic LITERARY
L.A., he offers readers the unparalleled vantage point of the insider-outsider as
well as a personal tour of California as it was—is—might have been—and will
never be.
Along the way ROLFE introduces readers to an array of those whom he has known
and befriended, the eccentric and the exceptional, the corrupt and the incorruptible,
the charismatic and the naïve, the utopian and dystopian, the visionary and the
victimized, the radical and the reactionary, the (in)famous and the unjustly
ALDOUS HUXLEY and LAURA, the woman who would become his eventual
widow, a self-help author, and New Age activist who died at age ninety-six; •
TED DERBY, the world-famous animal trainer, a pioneer of “affection training”
rather than bullwhips, whose “stars” included the cougars on the Lincoln-
Mercury television commercials and “Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion,” and
whose efforts to establish a sanctuary, an “orphanage for wild animals,” would
lead to his violent death—not by claws and teeth, but by the “neighborly
courtesy” of a gun; • ROBERT ADDIS, the renowned spelunker who
explored his first cave at age ten and since then, the wondrous underground
underworld of passageways and rooms beneath California proper; • ART
KUNKIN, who started the Underground Press Movement (his Los Angeles Free
Press would sell 100,000 copies per week at a quarter when the Los Angeles
Times sold for a dime) that would sweep the country, still resonating in noble
and dubious ways today, and who later became an alchemist and metaphysician
residing in a trailer in the High Desert at the Institute of Mentalphysics in
Joshua Tree, where several beautiful auditoriums, mediation rooms, and
lodging were designed by none other than FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT; •
GEORGE PETERS, one of the CIA’s alleged human guinea pigs, the holy man
hustler who founded the Church of Naturalism and was murdered executionstyle;
• DOROTHY HEALEY, the Los Angeles–based radical and anti-
Stalinist Communist who became chairwoman of the Southern California
Communist Party of the United States of America (Oxford University Press
published her memoirs, reflecting her national, rather than regional, influence);
• BILL PARKER, the racist Los Angeles police chief who never met an
interracial couple he didn’t dislike; • OSCAR ZETA ACOSTA, America’s
best-known Chicano activist next to CESAR CHAVEZ, and the author of Revolt of
the Cockroach People, who became the prototype for HUNTER S. THOMPSON’s
“the Samoan” in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, and who admitted to torching a
mini mall and bombing a courthouse (where the only fatality was another
Chicano) before vanishing like AMBROSE BIERCE into the oblivion of Mexico;
• SAM YORTY, the red-baiting, race-baiting opportunistic mayor of Los
Angeles; as well as a slew of fascinating cameos by well-known figures.
With an affable and astute style full of sharp wit and self-deprecating honesty, and
with an understanding that death (life, for that matter) is always a complex web of
facts and perspectives, LIONEL ROLFE unites these distinctive stories into a larger
mosaic of the California That Exists in the Imagination and the California That
Exists in Reality, and that state’s mythic and often very real importance on the
larger country of which it is just a part—but what a part!
Within REFLECTIONS FROM ELSEWHERE he wrestles with his own
recurring estrange
Published: Lionel Rolfe on


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