In the middle of the night on Wednesday, an 18-inch, cast-iron water main from the silent era burst and dumped 100,000 gallons of water on the lower Hollywood Hills. It broke under Dix Street near Cahuenga Boulevard.
By the time the second syndicated episode of The Patty Duke Show was going off and the first one of Father Knows Best was coming on, the pre-dawn emergency crew had already been overwhelmed by the flow. They called for back up and grappled in vain against the dark tide. Sophisticated equipment and sensitive tools floated beyond reach. Communication was strangled by the onrush. Soaked and useless radios, computers, and scanners drifted away on the unstoppable current.
There were local reports of panic and shock in the neighborhood. Residents awoke to find flooded streets and Cadillacs completely submerged in the filthy, cluttered water. A representative of the LA Department of Water & Power said the situation was “unfortunate but not a disaster.” He added that the pipe in question “had not leaked for the past 10 years.” Ten years, not bad.
That’s a pretty cavalier way to talk about water in a city that doesn’t really have it to waste. Still another DWP official claimed that the water would have been stopped sooner, but the sequence of valves was too complicated for the first responders to handle. Their PR has never been the best, and this won’t help.
According to the LA Times, the pipe that burst was originally installed in 1926. That was the year of the first screen adaptation of The Great Gatsby. F. Scott Fitzgerald sold the film rights to Paramount for $45,000 and they gave it to Herbert Brenon to direct. Paramount wasn’t looking for art. They wanted to cash in on the success of the Broadway show directed by George Cukor. Allegedly, Brenon’s workmanlike direction steered the material toward light-hearted populism with a special emphasis on “swimming pool orgies.”
The contemporary reviewer from Variety liked that aspect of the film the most, writing, “And where the exhibitor may look askance at the overlength of 80 minutes’ running time and be tempted to apply the shears to the swimming pool orgies, etc., it is cautioned against this because for the average layman this footage will be most appealing.” No less an average layman than novelist John O’Hara did indeed find the film most appealing, calling it “true to the book, true to what Fitzgerald had intended.”
It starred classical Hollywood also-rans Warner Baxter as Jay Gatsby, Lois Wilson as Daisy Buchanan, and Neil Hamilton as Nick Carraway. William Powell, the most notable actor from the cast, played George Wilson. Powell went on the play Nick Charles in the Thin Man films of the 1930s and 40s. We’ll never know how well he played his part in The Great Gatsby. We just have to take O’Hara’s word for it.
Cellulose nitrate film stock was commonly used in film-making before 1950. If it isn’t kept in cold-storage under precise conditions it decomposes rapidly. When such films are neglected they degenerate into a fine brown, highly flammable powder.
That was likely the fate of the silent Great Gatsby. No prints of the film are believed to exist anywhere. They’ve all rotted to flammable dust. A print of the trailer somehow survived and is kept by the National Archives in Washington, DC. Rumors continue to circulate among registrars and archivists as to the existence of a surviving print of the film. It is usually said to be somewhere just on the edge of possibility, like Moscow or Oslo.
Including the lost, original film and a TV movie from 2000, there have been five stabs at making a movie out of The Great Gatsby. The others were made in 1949, 1974, and 2013. Maybe the lost version is the best one because of its mystique. All we can do is dream about what might have been. To paraphrase Fitzgerald, the dream is already behind us, somewhere back in that vast obscurity. It has become its own green light at the end of the dock.
Around 9:00 AM on Wednesday, just as Green Acres was coming on, there was an explosion at an ExxonMobil oil refinery in Torrance. Windows were smashed, peopled were hurt (but none seriously), and fire ravaged a gasoline processing unit. Del Amo Boulevard was closed between Maple and Crenshaw.
The people of Torrance were warned by Mayor Patrick Furey to seek shelter and stay there, close all windows and doors, and turn off the air-conditioning. Inspectors assessed the air-quality and shook their heads. They wore grim expressions.
The cause of the blast is still unknown, but investigators don’t assume wrongdoing. It’s understood that turning crude oil into gas is dangerous business and gasoline processing units are volatile machines that are dangerous to operate, or even be around. Thinking otherwise is like thinking your pet shark understands the relationship the same way you do. An accident like this must have been on the wind. Steelworkers recently walked out of nine different refineries citing safety concerns. There’s no word from Exxon on where they think this explosion lies on a scale of unfortunate to disaster.
If I were housebound in Torrance, I would skip Green Acres and watch The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis instead. With the right cable service you could watch back-to-back episodes until one o’clock in the afternoon. Certainly the floods and infernos would be under control by then, and if not, we could subsist on what we’ve already managed to salvage.