LOS ANGELES — Of the three threats on his life that Paul Young collected while working on “L.A. Exposed” — a compendium of Hollywood and Los Angeles gossip, rumors and urban legends, painstakingly researched and frequently debunked — it was the one involving a strip club, a murder and an alleged settlement from Elvis Presley that unsettled him the most.
Thankfully, incessant phone calls threatening bodily damage did not accompany all 120 legends Young (and a crew of St. Martin’s Press attorneys) chose from an original 300. Instead, as he searched out the truth to such long-standing tall tales — Is Tom Cruise gay? Is Barbara Streisand in a porno film? Was Dennis Hopper abducted by aliens? — he mostly dealt with irked celebrity publicists.
They really didn’t have to worry. What distinguishes Young’s work from, say, a “Hollywood Babylon,” or the National Enquirer, for that matter, is his investigative skills and common-sense approach. He also suggests in his conclusions that most of these scandals have more to do with biases of the media or the public — homophobia, political prejudice, racism or plain old fear. For example, when Angelenos thought there was a band of serial killers walking the streets in the late Seventies, it was widely rumored that the Santa Ana winds had something to do with it. Raymond Chandler proposed such a link in his short story, “Red Wind.” In fact, Young reports, the official weather and homicide stats show no link at all.
“L.A. Exposed” is also a romp through the city’s stranger bits of history, from the secret tunnels in Chinatown to the nuclear waste buried in tony Brentwood. Among Young’s favorite findings? “Hollywood rumors — whether they involve sexual perversion or studio corruption — tend to revolve around activities that allegedly took place behind closed doors,” says the author. “Rock ‘n’ roll-related stories tend to originate on stage or in another public forum — it doesn’t matter whether they’re Ozzy biting the head of the bat or Jim Morrison” having oral sex with Jimmi Hendrix.The myths and even stranger truths are integral to the cultural narrative of Los Angeles as far back as the 19th century, observes Young. They’re a vital a part of a city that “traffic[s] in themes of theatricality, self-indulgence, novelty, deviance, illusion…” And although researching the book nearly pushed Young to bankruptcy, starvation and even, he claims, insanity, the Pasadena native says it only reinforced his affection for the city: “By investigating all these things I’ve heard about since I was a kid, it just makes living here more exciting.”