Tag Archives: jack nicholson

Dog and cat battle dan kincaidDrawing by Dan Kincaid

“It’s Je-Ne-Vee-Ev, not Jeneveev,” said Stuart, introducing his live-in, Genevieve, the viola player. She is 50-ish, stylish and thin, with a shock of white in her hair, like Susan Sontag. She was born in Belgium and takes the same offense as Hercule Poirot for being assumed French. She has a throaty voice in the same register as her viola, although her instrument probably didn’t spend a lifetime smoking unfiltered cigarettes.

We were having dinner, the four of us: Stuart and Genevieve and my wife and me. Stuart did the cooking; Genevieve poured the wine. And oh, how a little Beaujolais can get Stuart talking.

“It has been said that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who do not. But I’ve never met any of those.”

And Stuart was off to the races.

“Everybody and his brother-in-law splits the world into two categories: male and female; conservative and liberal; Gene Autry fan and Roy Rogers fan; those who get it, and those who don’t.”yeats

Stuart had just finished reading A Vision by William Butler Yeats. Stuart had an epiphany, he said.

“Yeats divides human personalities up into 28 ‘phases,’ like the phases of the moon. It’s really brilliant, if a little loony. Ideally, there is no Phase 1 or Phase 15 — the first and middle phase of the moon’s monthly round of waxing and waning: The new and full moons; these are too pure and unmixed to exist in the real world. But all the phases are defined by their ‘tinctures’ of two essential personality engines, which Yeats calls the ‘primary’ and the ‘antithetical.’ Simply put, the lumpy and the poetic.

“He gets quite lawyerly in parsing the bits. And I had this vision of my own, although it is somewhat simpler to phases

“It is that underlying every other distinction is this basic, fundamental one: between dog and cat. You can have your phases of the moon, but really, but all those personalities are either canine or feline.”

“You mean, like a dog-person or a cat-person?” my wife asked. “I’m a cat person; we gotta have cats around the house.”

“No,” said Stuart, “not a question of which animals you prefer as pets, but rather, which you are in your cor cordium, your self of selves. We are all one or the other. You can see it in the faces of everyone around you.

“But it goes beyond people. As I now see it, every animate being on the planet is one or the other.

“They are opposed personality types. They function in the world differently and see the world differently.

“For the dog, the world is essentially simple. Truth is truth, up is up and down is down. The dog has a direct relationship with the things of the world: They are what they are.

“A cat, on the other hand, sees the world metaphorically. Things may be what they seem, but are never only what they seem. They can mean one thing Monday, and something entirely different on Tuesday.

“When dogs read poetry, they like to read, ‘what oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed.’ They can be scholars and critics, and they can be quite discerning and bastions of good taste, but their world view is essentially single-tracked. Their vision is clear, if not very imaginative. Their word is their honor and they have 30-year mortgages.woman in the dunes

“Cats love Japanese movies with subtitles and long shots of shifting sands. Dogs like Adam Sandler and Kristin Stewart.

“Cats enjoy the jostle of ideas. Dogs talk about wines.

“You may think I’m tipping the scales in favor of cats, but that is only because I am one. There is downside to either class, and dogs really are important for the continued functioning of the society that makes cats’ lives possible.

“Cats never decide on a college major and fritter away their parents’ money taking courses in Incan pottery and creative writing. Dogs stick to their curriculum and go to Career Days.

“Dogs become Eagle Scouts and join the Rotary Club. Dogs dream of a house in Syosset and a Bill Jr. to take to the zoo. Cats dream of pirates, scoundrels, military heroes and Tamerlane.

“There are many kinds of dogs in the world. Some are bureaucrats and some, the more stylish, wear whatever is touted in Esquire. Hell, the Playboy Advisor was written for them. Some are noble and become doctors or missionaries; others bring my slippers at day’s end.

“It is plain, especially to dogs, that the world functions only because of them. And truly, we couldn’t do without them.

“But cats have eyes that change as the moon changes. They live by their own rules and amend them as their mood shifts. They are filled with prevarication and treachery. Their minds shuffle like a gambler’s deck of cards and we never know what face will show, or what suit. ‘Spades and Diamonds, Courage and Power; Clubs and Hearts, Knowledge and Pleasure.’

“When it comes to poetry, cats often prefer to write their own.”

Stuart noted that my wife writes poetry. He explained that cats don’t only write bad poetry, but rather, all poetry, no matter what the quality.

“Well, there are exceptions,” he admitted. “Edgar A. Guest and Ella Wheeler Wilcox are woof-woofs. But you get the gist.”rust sings

(My wife’s poetry has been published in a book, called Rust Sings. I recommend it.)

“There can be little meaningful dialog between the dog and the cat,” Stuart continued, “because they mean different things when they use the same words.

“This frustrates the dog no end; he cannot pin the cat down, while the cat delights in the ambiguity, and will even do what he can to amplify it.

“Dogs are trustworthy. A dog will be on time; a cat will be late, cancel or forget.

“A dog joins the Rotarians; a cat never does, unless he can use his membership toward the end of world domination, or something else he thinks might be fun.

“Among women, cats can wear too much eye makeup; dogs put too much mousse in their hair, like a TV news anchor. The difference is total and complete.

“For instance, a dog can certainly be selfish, but it takes a cat to be egocentric. A telling difference.

“Dogs have faith in the basic goodness of the world, and although they make a place for evil, they nevertheless believe it is something that can be overcome. A cat may or may not believe in evil, but whatever else, he believes in the relativity of goodness and truth.

“This isn’t just people: All animals are also dogs or cats. Think of a sea otter. Cat or dog? There can be no question. Anything that can sleep floating on the ocean surface so curled up that its head rests comfortably on its own belly, is a cat. Sturgeon are dogs. So are bears, horses, elephants and cows — ungulates as a class are cheetah dyad

“It is interesting to see this play out in nature. Don’t be confused by taxonomy. It is not names that define dogness and catness. Foxes, for instance, are classified as canines by the doggy scientists, but they are nevertheless cats. And cheetahs — you only have to look at those stiff, tensioned legs to recognize their essential dogginess.

“The main physical difference is in their bendability. Pick up a dog by his middle and what do you feel? The beast is stiff as a two-by-four. He is uncomfortable off the ground. He whimpers. Put him back down and his tail wags.

“Pick up a cat, and it drapes over you, form-fitting and at ease. I know a man who used to wear his big orange cat as a kind of living Davy Crockett hat. The cat sagged over his skull and down his neck and never wavered. The cat just purred.

“You can tell the relative caninicity or felinicity of a person when you dance some old-fashioned thing like a waltz. If your partner’s spine is rigid, he or she is a dog. A cat-partner will swing and sway with the rhythm like an willow in a gust.

“Does anyone remember seeing archival TV film of Richard Nixon attempting the Twist? The very definition of a dog.

“That is because a dog is all of a piece; he is one thing, head to tail. A cat is a loose concatenation of impulses, a pile of multiple personalities. When a dog dances, every part of him has to move in the same direction at the same time. A cat is syncopated.

“This pervades their world views. A dog is regimented and feels most comfortable when most conventional. A cat is individual, and often takes little notice of what is expected of him.

“Cats and dogs have been eternally at war. The dogs think the cats are kooks, hippies or commie sympathizers (although most communists are as doggie as the board of directors at General Motors). They have difficulty conceiving of anything not established by precedent. Community standards actually mean something to a dog.

“And when it gets down to battle, the dogs, like the redcoats of the American revolution, fight according to the book, in lines standing and kneeling, firing volley after volley on command.

“The cats, rather than being organized soldiers, find the dogs a nuisance and, like American Minutemen, take potshots from various convenient hiding places.

“Groucho Marx, taking his potshots, is the quintessential cat. If a canine becomes too officious, a cat is always there to flick his cigar and wiggle his eyebrows. Although dogs do not understand cats, cats understand dogs all too well.

“Interestingly, although almost all politicians are dogs, the most effective religious evangelists are cats. They don’t actually believe the piffle they spout, but get a great deal of pleasure from persuading listeners to line up behind them, cheering (and sending money).

“Or rather, the cat believes what he is saying as he says it. It is just that tomorrow, he can say something else. I’m thinking of Marjoe Gortner, for instance, or Lyndon Larouche. ‘A foolish consistency,’ they rejoinder.

“A true cat will really enjoy making one argument now, then switching hats or podiums, proving himself wrong in the next breath. The pleasure is in the arguing, not the results. Strife is the natural order of things.

“This makes dogs very, very uncomfortable. For the dog, arguments are proof that the world is out of balance. Equilibrium must be restored: The two sides in a dispute must work it out, so the truth will prevail and peace — the dog’s natural order of things — will reemerge.

“The dichotomy is at the bottom of some of the most familiar cultural pairings we know. Benjamin Franklin, with his “early to bed, early to rise,” was a dog; Thomas Jefferson, with his house filled with maps and stuffed elk, inventive contraptions and lack of heat, was a cat. It takes a cat to say ‘All men are created equal,’ while owning slaves and fathering children with them.hemingway faulkner dyad

“Tolstoy was a dog; Dostoevsky was a cat. Hemingway went woof woof; Faulkner, meow.

“If you have ever wondered why some old sayings seem to contradict others — ‘Opposites attract’ vs. ‘Birds of a feather flock together’ — it’s because one is true for dogs, the other for cats.

“Even the proverbs that cats repeat, sitting around a cracker-barrel in an old Vermont store, bear this out.

–”The dog sees not the same tree the cat sees.

–”The hours of a dog are measured by the clock; but of a cat, no clock can measure.

–”If a cat would persist in his folly he would become wise; a persistent dog becomes the village idiot.

–”One law for the dog and the cat is oppression.

“Cats have a built-in sense of the ultimate void and how much fun it can be.

“The very earliest organized philosophies broke down along these lines. Plato was a cat. Even now, you can never know for sure when he actually believes some of the hogwash he comes up with. Aristotle, on the other hand was the very model of a dog. ‘Let’s make lecture notes.’

“Of course, just as with Yeats’ A Vision, there are wheels inside wheels, all spinning on their own doggie-cat axis. Yeats expands his vision to include not just personality types, but all of history. Well, my dogs and cats does the same.

“The ancient Greeks were cats, proving with logic, when it amused them, that it was impossible for anything to exist. Romans were dogs: They invented concrete and designed plumbing.

“The Renaissance was a quintessentially dog era, the Baroque that followed it was all cat. Modernism barked, Postmodernism meows. wayne-nicholson dyad

“Nothing makes my case better than concrete examples. Think John Wayne and Jack Nicholson. Both fine actors, each in his way — think of The Searchers — but I think there is little doubt who is the dog in this pair. Your reaction is instantaneous. You don’t need to explain: It just is.”

“Yes,” said Genevieve. “Like Barack Obama and Joe Biden.”

“Of course,” said Stuart, “That’s why Biden will never be president.”

“What do you mean?” asked my wife. “A cat can never be president? What about Bill Clinton?”

“You got me there,” Stuart said. “But that is a reversal of the pairing. Clinton was a cat and Al Gore was pure dog. These pairings make clear the dog-cat dyad, the paradigm.Martin Luther King

“Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. Dog and cat,” I said.

“It can become a party game,” Stuart said. “Tom Hayden and Abbie Hoffman. Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch.”braque picasso dyad

“Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso,” Genevieve said.


“Mahler and Bruckner,” she said.

“For years, the nation divided between doggie Jay Leno and cat-man David Letterman,” Stuart said.

“Well, until Letterman lost his cat license,” I said. “He’s gotten kind of doggie in his later years.”

“See, what a profitable lens this is for understanding the world?” Stuart said.

“It explains the difference between Obama and Putin,” Genevieve said.

“And between Andrew Wyeth and Andy Warhol; between George Burns and Gracie Allen…”

“And between Fidel Castro today and Castro 50 years ago,” Genevieve said.

“Between Jane Pauley and Garry Trudeau.”

“When it comes to marriage, a dog can be happy married to a dog,” Stuart said. “But a cat can be happy married to either a cat or a dog. There is fun either way. matalin carville dyadThink Mary Matalin and James Carville. But you see, there is a built-in paradox. How many marriages do you know where one party is happy and the other isn’t? The reason, I tell you, is always the same: One dog, one cat.

“Two cats mated can be happy briefly. But such marriages don’t tend to last. Think of a Hollywood marriage and you pretty much get the picture. Variety is not just an ideal for a cat, but a way of life.

“Of course, the arts are heavy with cats, just as the field of accounting is not. You don’t last long at H.&R. Block if you believe arithmetic is a matter of opinion.

“At bottom, we need both animals in the world. You need the dogs to make life possible; you need cats to make it worth living.”

Stuart brought out a flan and a well-used bottle of amontillado and asked if anyone wanted a cigar. Genevieve was the only taker, but then declined. She said she was giving up smoking again. Ninth time. One more and she got a free sandwich at Subway.

"The Road To Utopia" Film Still

Bing Crosby: If you kill me, how are you going get the bird? And if I know you can’t afford to kill me, how are you going to scare me into giving it to you?

Bob Hope: Well, sir, there are other means of persuasion besides killing and threatening to kill.

Crosby: Yes, that’s … That’s true. But, there’re none of them any good unless the threat of death is behind them. You see what I mean? If you start something, I’ll make it a matter of your having to kill me or call it off.

Hope: That’s an attitude, sir, that calls for the most delicate judgment on both sides. Because, as you know, sir, in the heat of action men are likely to forget where their best interests lie and let their emotions carry them away.

Crosby: Then the trick from my angle is to make my play strong enough to tie you up, but not make you mad enough to bump me off against your better judgment.

Hope: By gad, sir, you are a character.

Crosby: Buh, buh, buh, boooo.

Read those lines and in your head, hear them in the familiar voices of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, and instead of a detective story, you are on the road in a comedy. “Road to Malta”? Dorothy Lamour as Brigid O’Shaughnessy?

This is a new game you can play, entirely in your head and using your auditory imagination. My brother explained it to me last week, saying he sometimes has trouble going to sleep at night, and instead of counting sheep, he recasts classic films in his mind. It’s a neat idea, and needn’t serve solely as a soporific for the insomniac — any more than the Goldberg Variations.

There are two contending variants of this game. The first, like above, is to cast wildly inappropriate actors. Imagine these famous lines spoken by Tony Randall:

“You don’t understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could’ve been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.”

Perhaps he was talking to Oscar Madison when he speaks those lines.

“Okay, you know you don’t have act with me, Steve. You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not with me. Oh, maybe just whistle. You remember how to whistle, don’t you? Just put your lips together … and blow.”

I am imagining that spoken by Lily Tomlin’s bag lady character.

gielgudIt can go the other way round, too. In Slingblade, the main character begins: “I reckon what you guys want to know is what I’m a-doing in here. I reckon the reason I’m in here is ’cause I’ve killed somebody. But I reckon what you guys are wantin’ to know is how come I killed somebody, so I reckon I’ll start at the front and tell you.”

Now imagine that said, not by Billy Bob Thornton, but in the round, dulcet, veddy British tones of Sir John Gielgud.

The second variant isn’t about finding the absurd, but considering what could have been real casting choices. Imagine, say, George Raft saying “You dirty rat,” or James Cagney saying, “You’re going out a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star!”jack

Or imagine Jack Nicholson saying, “I know what you’re thinking. Did he fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya punk?”

Nicholson has such a distinctive voice, it’s possible to imagine quite easily the sound of him saying, “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chi-an-ti.” No, it wouldn’t be better than Anthony Hopkins, but you can hear it in Nicholson’s voice, can’t you.

You can recast whole movies in your head. Imagine Casablanca, like an the earlier versions of The Maltese Falcon, with Ricardo Cortez as Rick, Bette Davis as Ilsa, and the cast filled out with Pat O’Brien as Victor Laszlo (almost anyone would be less wooden than Paul Henreid), Eric Blore as Captain Renault, Sig Ruman as Major Strasser and Arnold Stang as Ugarte. I really don’t think we want to see Mantan Moreland as Sam. blore

The varieties are endless. Drift off to sleep one night considering Charlie Sheen saying, “I know everything hasn’t been quite right with me … but I can assure you now … very confidently … that it’s going to be all right again. I feel much better now. I really do. Look, Dave … I can see you’re really upset about this … I honestly think you should sit down calmly … take a stress pill and think things over … Dave … stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave? Stop, Dave. I’m afraid. I’m afraid, Dave ……  Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going.”

Or imagine Leslie Nielsen in Airplane! saying, “Sometime when the team is up against it, and the breaks are beating the boys, tell ’em to go out there with all they got and win just one for the Gipper. I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock, he said, but I’ll know about it and I’ll be happy.”

Oh wait, he’s already done it. And he didn’t smell too good.

wm mulholland opening day

”There it is – take it.”

At the time, before talkies made Hollywood America’s Bartlett, those were the most famous words ever spoken in Los Angeles.

The city’s chief engineer, William Mulholland, addressed a full one-fifth of the city’s population at the lavish opening ceremony for the aqueduct he built. It was 1913, Los Angeles was a small, drought-plagued city. The sluice gate opened, the water rushed into the canal. LA aqueduct opening day

”There it is — take it!” he said to the assembled 40,000 Angelenos.

And as I was driving down Cahuenga Boulevard, I saw the sign for the road that is the city’s only remaining prominent memorial to Big Bill Mulholland, the man who made Los Angeles possible.

In another of his grand projects for the city, he built a road along the ridge of the Santa Monica Mountains from Hollywood to the ocean, a kind of scenic drive for picnickers and tourists. I saw the off ramp: ”There it is — take it,” I thought.


Mulholland Drive Scenic Highway runs 55 miles, on and off, east and west, through several diverse visions of Los Angeles, from the ritziest of exclusive neighborhoods to the most desolate wilderness. It begins in the hills above the Hollywood Bowl and ends at the Pacific Ocean just short of the Ventura County line. mulholland house

Once, the road was nicknamed “Bad Boy Drive” because it was home to such actors as Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty and the late Marlon Brando. There are still celebrities who live along Mulholland, but now, you are more likely to find the grandiose homes of producers and agents.

Among those who live, or have lived on this famous windy road are Madonna, Arsenio Hall, Molly Ringwald, John Lennon, Roman Polanski, Ida Lupino, Joan Fontaine, Mary Tyler Moore, Faye Dunaway, and Bruce Willis and Demi Moore (remember when they were the hot couple?) And, of course, Vanna White. But you shouldn’t expect to find their names on their mailboxes by the road. The only names you will see prominently mentioned on signs belong either to real-estate firms or home-security agencies.

Every fifth car you pass seems to belong to a private security agency. They patrol the neighborhoods just like city cops.

Although to call this a neighborhood, is like calling Aztec gold ”a chunk of dirt.”


The homes are huge: One mansion-size house just being built turns out to be only the top level of a two-level complex. You can see the second level down the side of a canyon that becomes visible only after you turn a corner. There must be 40 rooms to each section. A six-court tennis compound is built on a platform that juts out over the declivity below. Like much in the first 10 miles of Mulholland Drive, it is a monument to human excess. house on mulholland

It probably will be bought by a Hollywood producer.

As for turns, the road has a million of ’em. It twists and winds its tire-squeaking way along the narrow ridge crest, with views of Hollywood on one side and the San Fernando Valley on the other.

On a clear day — admittedly a rare occurrence — you can see all the way to the Santa Susanna and San Gabriel Mountains to the north, through which Mulholland dug his epic ditch.

Standing on one of the neatly manicured scenic overlooks, you can spot the distant reservoirs that marked the terminus of the 233-mile Los Angeles Aqueduct.

It is an impressive view of an impressive project.


But then Mulholland was an impressive man. At 6 feet tall, with his walrus mustache and hale physique, he was the perfect model of the American self-made man. Wm Mulholland in folder

He was born in Belfast, Ireland, in 1855 and worked as a day laborer and sailor before settling in California at the age of 22. His native energy and drive elevated him from a zanjero, or ditch digger, to the head of the city water department, where he became chief engineer. LA aqueduct inverted siphon

In the early years of this century, he conceived a plan with former Los Angeles Mayor Fred Eaton to bring water to the parched land by diverting the Owens River through a 233-mile canal — including 53 miles of tunnel and 12 miles of siphon pipes — to Los Angeles.

The project took 10 years to finish and claimed five lives, but it brought the single commodity the city most needed — water.

The story of the corruption and greed that attended the canal is told in fictional form in Roman Polanski’s classic film, Chinatown. It has the decade wrong and the personality of Mulholland wrong, but it has the greed and corruption right.

But although everyone around Mulholland seems to have cashed in on the land boom, from Eaton to newspaper publisher Harrison Gray Otis, Mulholland never showed any interest in money or politics. When at the height of his popularity he was touted as a possible mayoral candidate, he replied, ”I’d sooner give birth to a porcupine backwards.”


The scenic overlooks are a little different from those along other scenic highways in America. Their names give them away, for one thing. mulholland view hollywood bowl

The first is the Hollywood Bowl Overlook. There are familiar put-a-quarter-in binoculars on pedestals along its edge, but the sights are pure L.A. Point 21 on the compass is the castle that used to be Madonna’s house, and as so many, now owned by a Hollywood suit.

The next pullout is the Universal City Overlook.

The road twists its way as you head west, from the luxury homes to those that are merely outrageously expensive. Outside each house are multiple trash bins for various recyclings. There are also several parks in the canyons lined with brittle yellow shale and Russian thistle.

At Laurel Canyon Park, everyone using it seems to have a dog on a leash. Maybe that is to protect them: A sign on the chain-link fence reads, ”Warning: Mountain Lions.”

Also on the fence is a bulletin board filled with homemade lost-dog notices. LA from mulholland

Twelve miles from the beginning of Mulholland Drive, you cross the San Diego Freeway (Interstate 405). Two miles later, and the ride begins to get rough.

At Encino Hills Road, the pavement gives out. Cars no longer can ride the gravel road: It’s a hiking path now. It’s a tricky turn because there are no clear road signs telling you which way to go, but Mulholland is the cow path to the left with the deep gullies in it.

For the next eight miles, Mulholland Drive is a primitive dirt road, through the heart of what might be called the Santa Monica Mountains wilderness, if only it weren’t for the litter alongside the road and the high-tension lines that cut across the spine of the mountain chain.

Mulholland, himself, hit some rough road. At the height of his success, having built the canal and a dozen dams and reservoirs that allowed Los Angeles to grow from a sleepy little town to one of America’s major cities, his bubble burst.

Or rather, his dam burst.


A few minutes before midnight on March 12, 1928, the St. Francis Dam gave way, pouring 12 billion gallons of water down the narrow San Francisquito Canyon and killing 500 people. st francis dam day after

A wall of water up to 100 feet high tore through the valley and obliterated all signs of human habitation. It left parts of Ventura County under a 70-foot-thick blanket of slimy debris. Fifty years later, bodies still were being dug up.

Mulholland views disaster site

Mulholland views disaster site

Mulholland was ultimately held responsible for building the dam on a site that was geologically unsound. He always believed the dam was the victim of sabotage by farmers from Owens Valley, whose water he had taken to satisfy Los Angeles. There had been many bombings on the aqueduct. This was merely the worst, he believed.

All evidence was destroyed by the torrent of water, so to this day, there is no certain answer for what caused the dam to break, but Mulholland was the man in charge and he suffered the consequences. Public opinion turned. Mulholland Dam and Reservoir was renamed the Hollywood Reservoir.

The dam had broken, and so had Mulholland’s spirit.




Before that section of the road was closed to automobile traffic, I had the chance to drive the entire route. On the part now closed, all dirt and gravel, the car bounced mercilessly over the ruts, past San Vicente Mountain and a city park that now is boarded up. It was too remote to patrol, and vandalism and graffiti disfigure even the fence around the former parking area.

Through most of the unpaved section of Mulholland, I could not drive faster than 10 mph, but the views were stunning.

You could also spot a car here or there parked, with a man scanning the brushy hills with binoculars. They were part of L.A. County’s volunteer Arson Patrol, keeping a lookout for miscreants vile enough to set fires in the city’s vulnerable wilderness.

At Topanga Canyon Road, the pavement picks up again, and the character of the road changes once more. mulholland highway vista

For the next 30 miles, the road — now called Mulholland Highway — is a comfortable rural byway through tiny communities, such as Calabasas, alternating with the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

There are camping, hiking and horseback riding to be had at such National Recreation Area sites as Rocky Oaks.

At the turn of the century, Rocky Oaks was a farm. It was hit by the usual California catastrophes of fire and flood. The Agoura Fire in 1978 destroyed all buildings, and the land was finally bought by the National Park Service in 1980. Its hiking and bridal paths take you through riparian forests to brushy mountain peaks.

At Saddle Rock, Mulholland Highway turns toward the ocean.


Nine months after the collapse of the St. Francis Dam, William Mulholland retired. He was 73 years old and had worked for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for 51 years.

He lived out the rest of his life in bouts of depression and increasing Parkinson’s disease. He died in 1935 at 79. He was not forgotten, but the luster of his years of civic service had been tarnished.

But that slowly changed, and by 1992, after 20 years of citizen effort, the Los Angeles City Council adopted the Mulholland Scenic Parkway Specific Plan. It established the parkway as a memorial to the ”chief engineer” and a review board to shape the environment of the parkway’s unique features and resources. mulholland vista with ocean

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, along with the Los Angeles Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority and the California Resources Agency, maintains the overlooks and informative plaques that tell the story of Mulholland and the natural features of Los Angeles, the Santa Monica Mountains and the San Fernando Valley to the north.

And if Mulholland’s end wasn’t the crowning glory that his regal life deserved, the end of Mulholland Highway is.

As it dumps out onto the Pacific Coast Highway two miles from the Ventura County line, it meets the Pacific Ocean at Leo Carillo State Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in a string of state beaches along the Pacific Coast Highway. leo carillo state beach

I parked the car and walked to the shoreline, passing a brown thrasher nesting in the dune shrubs. I held still as she flicked her tail up and disappeared into the twiggery.

Along the surf, I watched pelicans, dowitchers, sanderlings, gulls and terns.

Out in the water, wrapping themselves with kelp were a pair of otters. A pair of fishermen stood on the rocks above the water, their long poles out over the foam, and the redwings chirped their ”ooklaroo” behind me as the sun set over the horizon.

It is 55 miles back to the buzz of the city from this spot. It might as well be 55 centuries.