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`SINS' OF THE PAST COME ALIVE; L.A. NOIR AS NEVER BEFORE.

Byline: Valerie Cashman Special to the Daily News

Los Angeles is a state of mind, especially the L.A. of noir. Mythologized by such writers as Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Ross Macdonald, Walter Mosely, James Ellroy, Michael Connolly and many others, we often feel as if we know this place, even though, in modern day L.A., not that much remains of it.

It's in the black and white starkness of Sunset Boulevard, and the corner of Hollywood and Vine, where young hopefuls arrived by the bus and trainload to try for a chance at the big brass ring offered by the movie industry. It was also the last possible westward stop for those who were looking for the second, third or even fourth chance.

Innocents, losers, immigrants, criminals, all brushed with the patina of hope. Violence was often the result of these disparate groups clashing with each other. Under the glossy surface of Hollywood lurked desperation, petty crime and con men. This was the Los Angeles we've come to know as noir.

Collected in a handsome oversized paperback is a selection of black and white photographs that amply document the era. Heimann, a regional historian and consultant to the entertainment industry about the look of historical Los Angeles, carefully has selected a representative cross-section of photos.

There are crime scene photos next to publicity shots: the whole L.A. noir theme illustrated merely by placement. Some famous cases are in these pages: Thelma Todd slumped over her front seat in her mink coat, dead - the crime still unsolved. The grisly Black Dahlia Case is also present: we know that the field where her body was found is now part of a housing subdivision in South Central Los Angeles, but this is what the field looked like back in 1947, when her gruesomely bisected body was found.

Some of the photos are almost modern in their appeal, as a portrait of Brenda Allen ``Madam to the Stars,'' in court with her celebrity lawyer Jerry Giesler. Her dark lipstick and nail polish, round sunglasses and little hat would not be out of place today. Lana Turner and Johnny Stompanato also peer out of these pages in the tumultuous days before Lana's daughter Cheryl knifed Stompanato to death. There's Robert Mitchum leaving county jail for an honor farm after his 1947 conviction for pot possession.

A whole section on ``Murder and Mayhem'' depicts bodies laid out on slabs, mug shots and death scenes, including Bugsy Siegel. And then there are the usual assortments of ``Kooks'': bodybuilders, hookers, ``barefoot'' fitness faddists, nudists and cross-dressers.

It was a violent time for Los Angeles, and these photos bring it to life for us. Next time you cross Vine, look carefully and you may be able to see the ghostly traces of a fabulous past.

``Sins of the City: The Real Los Angeles Noir''

by Jim Heimann

(158 pages, Chronicle Books; $18.95)

Our rating: Four Stars

CAPTION(S):

4 Photos

PHOTO (1) On Main Street, circa 1943, a tattoo parlor was a stock-in-trade business for what has been called L.A.'s premier sinister avenue.

(2) Detectives recover Marion Parker's body parts dropped throughout Elysian Park. In December 1927, the daughter of a mid-Wilshire bank executive was kidnapped, strangled and dismembered.

(3) Convicted of marijuana possession, Robert Mitchum marches from the county jail to the honor farm in Castaic in February 1949.

(4) A cross-dresser is handed ``regular'' clothes after being picked up on morals charges, circa 1945.
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Title Annotation:Review; VIEWPOINT
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 8, 1999
Words:584
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