Tag Archives: Hollywood

The Hollywood Star of Los Tigres del Norte

Los Tigres del Norte got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame today.

The only band that matters in Mexican pop music received their star on Hollywood Boulevard before hundreds of fans, Marco Antonio Solis – El Buki – and lots of glitzy Mexican TV reporters with impossibly tight and short skirts.

The boys got Star 2527, just outside the Buffalo Wings and Live Nation at Hollywood and La Brea. Not far from Lon Chaney and Ethel Merman, as it happens. So there’s that interesting juxtaposition for Hollywood, a district of the city that’s more about immigrants from Mexico and Central America (and Armenia and Thailand, for that matter) than it is about making movies these days, anyway.

The best way to understand Mexican immigrants, by the way, is to dissect the best Tigres’ corridos on the topic.

I recommend Pedro y Pablo, Ni Aqui Ni Alla, El Gringo y El Mexicano, Tres Veces Mojado, La Jaula de Oro, La Tumba del Mojado, El Mojado Acaudalado, A Quien Corresponda. Well, there are many.

Here’s a youtube video of La Jaula de Oro. “Whatcha talking about Dad? I don’t wanna go back to Mexico…”

And for machismo drenched in melodrama, nothing compares to El Tahur.

Some of the best drug ballads in Spanish have come from LTN: El Avion de la Muerte, Pacas de a Kilo, Camioneta Gris, and of course, the song with the first sound effects in Mexican music (gunshots), Contrabando y Traicion.

The first great political corrido in Mexican pop was theirs: El Circo, about ex-president of Mexico Carlos Salinas de Gortari and his brother, Raul.

Their first album in four years, La Bala, is ready to drop in October. The single from the album is the story of a family whose 18-year-old son is involved with cartels and whose rivals come looking for him and kill his 7 -year-old brother with a stray bullet.

Here’s a bunch of photos I took when traveling with the band many years ago.




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Filed under California, Culture, Los Angeles, Mexico, Migrants

LOS ANGELES: Warren Oates and migrants to L.A.

Lately, I’ve been struck by how the folks who come here looking for movie or music stardom from all over the US are part of what keeps Los Angeles vibrant.

These are wannabe actors, singers, musicians, dancers, writers — folks who’ve been told by their high school drama or choir teacher in Nebraska or Louisiana that they have talent and ought to test themselves out in Hollywood.

These folks add as much dynamism and energy to the LA economy, I’d bet, as do immigrants from Mexico or Korea or somewhere, here willing to do what it takes to piece together a new life.  They just don’t stand out the way immigrants do.

I wonder what would happen to LA’s restaurant industry if they stopped coming. Probably the same as would happen if all the Oaxacans left. (Just at a Westwood restaurant where our busboy was a man from Abasolo, Oaxaca.)

I was reminded of this just now after seeing a movie with one such fellow — Warren Oates, who for my money is nearly the greatest character actor of American movies. Anyway, I can’t think of any better at the moment.

He made a bunch of great westerns, and Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. I just saw The Brink’s Job, which has a couple of fantastic scenes with Oates. Starred as John Dillinger and was in In the Heat of the Night.

You know it’s gonna be good if Warren Oates is in the thing.

Came from a burg to LA, like so many. A town in western Kentucky that apparently doesn’t even exist any more. He’d entered a drama troupe in college in Kentucky then made his way out west.

Seems to me his career was made possible by a late 1960s/early 1970s’ ethos of casting rugged, authentic-looking guys in westerns and as outlaws and the like. A revisiting of the Western movie, and a revision of the history of the American West in film that took place in those years.

Otherwise, he might well have faced a bunch of Gomer Pyle roles.

As his star rose, he became part of a Hollywood counterculture rat pack that included Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson and did a lot of things that aged him quickly.

Died too young — at 53, I was surprised to learn. I have to say he looked a lot older than that when he passed in 1982.

Warren Oates — an American original, no doubt.

Here’s a conversation with his biographer, Susan Compo.

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Filed under California, Culture, Los Angeles, Migrants, Southern California

LOS ANGELES: A streetwalker’s murder & the Pronoun issue

Nathan "Cassidy" Vickers

On Monday, a story ran in the LAT that I wrote about Nathan Vickers, a prostitute who dressed as a woman on the streets of Hollywood and who was shot to death in November, 2011, in a case that is still unsolved.

The story generated huge and negative response from many transgender people, gay activists and others — most objecting to the use “he” as the pronoun in the story. This includes an online petition.

“Referring to her with male pronouns in her article is insulting at best and a gross misrepresentation at worst,” wrote one reader. “If you don’t know anything about trans people, you have done a bit of research before writing your article.”

I covered the crime when it happened, then spent several months researching the world of transgender prostitutes in Los Angeles, particularly around the area of Santa Monica and Highland, as well as Lexington, where Vickers was killed. I also interviewed long-time friends and Vickers’ mother in East Palo Alto.

As it happens, far from not doing enough research, I did a huge amount, and this convinced me that things weren’t so clear cut when it came to Nathan “Cassidy” Vickers.

What struck me most was, in fact, the ambiguity of what Nathan Vickers intended when he came down to Hollywood and worked as a prostitute dressed as a woman.

Friends on the street knew Vickers only as a woman named Cassidy. Mother and long-time friends in the Bay Area, including two women who were his recent roommates and referred to him as their brother, insisted Vickers was not a man transitioning to a woman, but an openly gay man – known to them as “Chase” — resorting to the only measure at his disposal to find work after a long period of unemployment: cross-dressing and working as a prostitute. One of these friends said she spoke to Vickers a half hour before he died.

They noted he had only recently been doing this and had no surgery, no breast implants, no hormone treatments. He was in East Palo Alto two months before, dressed as a man. But, again, the transgender women on the street told me they knew Cassidy only as a woman.

Faced with these complexities and the fact that Vickers was no longer around to tell me, I opted to use “he” when the story was describing the years he spent in East Palo Alto and looking for work, and “she” when Cassidy Vickers was working the streets of Hollywood.

The night before the story ran, the LAT copy desk called and said they could not use two pronouns for the same person in one story and changed them all to “he.” I was at a loss at what to do by then. I supported the change, and still do, though my own solution was the one I preferred.

In copyediting the story, at one point a pronoun “he” was added but the pronoun “she” was not deleted. It became “heshe” — a gross insult to transgender people and one that I’ve never written in my life. Another person called to say that I shouldn’t have said that the funeral was attended by “men in women’s breasts.” I explained that I used that when I was describing the mother’s point of view, reacting to the people she saw at her son’s funeral. To her, there were lots of men with women’s breasts at the ceremony.

Anyway, as you can see, reaction has been fierce.

As it happens, I believe no reporter in the mainstream media on the West Coast, maybe in the country, has done more to understand the transgender world than I have. My first book, True Tales from Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino and the Bronx, includes a chapter on the two months I essentially lived with what amounted to a colony of transgender women (though the term didn’t exist then, or at least not in Mexico) in Mazatlan. You can see photos on my media page.

But landmines like these are all in the life of a reporter.






Filed under Los Angeles, Southern California, Streets

LOS ANGELES: A sauna that’s my favorite place in Hollywood

Check out a column in today’s LA Times about the sauna in Hollywood, in the club now owned by LA Fitness, where I love to spend time in and which is well worth visiting for all it can tell you about Los Angeles, I think.

I always liked the idea of the region as a place where people come and live with their own, more or less oblivious to others from elsewhere who live nearby. This, too, is on display in the sauna.

It’s a raw place; you may hear things that offend a PC sensibility, but L.A.’s geography of multiculturalism can be messy, which makes it so interesting.

Don’t pay attention to the commenter who says the only language you hear in there is Spanish. That’s nonsense.


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Filed under Los Angeles, Migrants

LOS ANGELES: Mayhem round-up

Occasionally, reporters deal with a scattered blast of stories. I did this a lot in Stockton years ago when I was a crime reporter there: the mayhem round-up.

Today, it was  a shooting of a robbery suspect by USC public safety officers near the school’s fraternity row, this coming early in the a.m. A sensitive event, as last week two USC grad students from China were killed in a car late at night.

Then at noon, a press conference about an ex-con who allegedly developed a business model of driving around town in a Mercedes convertible looking for cars to break into, mostly near movie studios. Usually the cars had property in plain sight. They charged him with receiving stolen property, something he was on probation for already.

Cops displayed a few tables of loot they’d confiscated at his house (see photo), most of which they were still sorting through but some of which was already shown to be stolen.

A remarkable haul: cameras, lenses, iPads, iPods, cellphones of various brands, laptops, external hard drives, comic books, backpacks, watches, jewelry, foreign currency and $24,000 in U.S. cash.

Then there was the death — no foul play suspected — of a CSU San Bernardino student in his dormitory. This is the school where my old Claremont High School friend (CHS ’77) Sid Robinson is the director of communications. Cheers, Sid!



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Filed under Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES: Transgenders in jail

Wrote this story off a meeting Thursday night between transgender folks and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and his command staff.

Very interesting meeting, in part because of what didn’t happen. No heated exchanges, no accusations — as has happened often in previous meetings, I was told. The whole thing ended early — this in a meeting between two groups which have historically had many contentious dealings.

LAPD announced new a jail policy and a new officer training on dealing with transgenders on the street.

The comment to the story by DELTA5 is interesting, and well expressed — adding to the complexity of this story, seemed to me.

I think he has a point. The one thing transgender women — men dressing and identifying as women, even to the point of breast/buttock/cheek implants, but not a sex change —  cannot change is their hands. They remain large and do not get smaller with hormone treatments, and thus remain potential weapons in a jail setting.





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LOS ANGELES: Homeless Good Friday

I spent Good Friday in the Hollywood Hills with some police and deputy sheriffs, who were removing homeless encampments. (Here’s the LAT story.)

One homeless fellow lived high into the hills. Two officers and I followed him up to where he had his tent. It was well above the Hollywood cross, where his neighbors were a hawk and a deer and another homeless guy.

He said he was bi-polar, and had been in prison in Missouri and was out in LA escaping a bad marriage, among other things. He made the trip up the hill every night, he said.

Down below were new houses near Lake Hollywood, where officers tell me the new residents are now bothered by people coming up to look at the Hollywood sign.

Anyway, we moved him out of there. He carried a large suitcase on his back past the cross and down that hill, off a promontory from which we had a virtually 360-degree view of Southern California.

The officers and I grabbed bedding and bags of his belongings, one of which was a Star Wars light sabre.

He gave me a staff, saying it was given him by the “necromancer” and could raise the dead. He had a Darth Vader mask as well.

Down below, the Ford Theaters advertised an upcoming show as “Naked Before God.”

The religious symbolism never stopped coming all morning.


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LOS ANGELES: Homeless Hollywood (encampment signs)

I spent yesterday with police and Sheriff’s deputies as they traversed hills and freeway embankments looking for homeless folks. They moved them out, offered them services, such as shelter housing, which some of them took. (See the LAT story.)

One encampment had nine people, sleeping in a line next to a wall that ran along an on-ramp to southbound Highway 101. The place was strewn with bedding, cigarette and fast food wrappers, and hand-made signs. Here are a few.


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Filed under Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES: Dwayne Alexander

I spent yesterday on the story of Dwayne Alexander, the counselor at the Los Angeles Job Corps who was stabbed to death Wednesday by one of the students at the center.

I was struck by how his friends, some from years ago, spoke about him, and overwhelmed because of that, as the day went on, by what a sweet and solid guy he must have been in life. They described him as “a gentle soul” and “a very kind spirit,” rarely angry and never a braggart. These would be rare qualities, I suspect, in the world of record label promotion, which is where he spent much of his career. I suspect also that they would have been enormously helpful as a job counselor for youths on the edge.

He seemed also the kind of guy who had a long-term goal — screenwriting and production — that was his guiding compass. No matter what he did, he was headed that way.

But he interrupted it all to go back home to Tulsa to help his mother recover from double knee-replacement surgery a few years back.

“People say the good die young,” R&B singer Millie Jackson told me, “and this was a totally good example of that.”




Filed under Los Angeles, Southern California, Streets

GANGS: Are gang members gay?

Talking with a transgender woman the other day, I was informed of the following:

Tiny Lexington Avenue in Hollywood is known as a strip for transgender prostitution. Gang members from Central America tax the streetwalkers for permission to work. Sometimes they beat them, but not infrequently, they have sex with them.

“Mainly, the girls are Central American themselves; many of them have an arrangement with Salvadoran and Honduran gangs where they’re allowed to work and afterward they pay them and in many cases have sex with these Central American gang members,” she told me.

“I don’t know how these Central American gangs do it but many of them like to have sex with men in dresses. That’s an area where you see a lot of men with beards, with Fidel Castro like beards – they look like a young version of Castro, Castro in the 1950s.

“Ironically despite the extreme homophobia you’d find in these gangs, these Central American gangs, for some reason, they prefer boys in wigs to the more womanly types. I believe probably these gang members are some type of closeted cases that prefer to be in bed with a man with a beard and a wig. They might have these issues and they want the wig on top of the guy so they’d be able to say `I’m still straight because the guy was wearing a wig. If the dude was wearing a wig like a founding father, that makes me straight.’

“I think these gang members,” she said, “if they were in another situation, they’d be like West Hollywood folks themselves. Probably they’d be out of the closet.”

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Filed under Gangs, Los Angeles, Streets

STREETS: `It’s like Vietnam around here’

Earlier today, I was covering the aftermath of the shooting/fire in East Hollywood that took the lives of two people (the shooter being one) and left four people wounded Thursday afternoon. (Here’s the LAT story)

I was leaving when I was approached by Sherman Werner, the self-proclaimed “only Anglo for three miles around,” which I believe, as East Hollywood is largely Central American, Mexican (Oaxacan mostly), Filipino, Thai and others.

Mr. Werner, turns out, lived in Porter Ranch then sold his house and moved into an apartment building he owned seven years ago, a few blocks from the fire/shooting.

One of the interesting parts of LA scenery are the last remaining Anglos in areas that have gone through enormous demographic change and are now largely immigrant communities. From these folks, whom I’ve occasionally come across,  you’re likely to get a highly unvarnished view of things.

Mr. Werner was no different, commenting on the women, the numbers of murders — “One there, one next door to me, now this one, and they’re all about infidelity.” He was wearing no shirt — of course not. he’s 71. who’s he got to impress any more? — and his dogtags from his Marine days.

In 1965, he was drafted, on Lyndon Johnson’s birthday and sent to Vietnam,which he compares to the neighborhood where he now resides. “I haven’t seen this much action since the Vietnam War,” he told me.

He had choice words for the MS gang whose graffiti we saw a few yards away. He had that horse laugh of a long-time smoker, and showed me where he’d taken shrapnel. I hardly had to do any talking.






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Filed under Los Angeles, Migrants, Southern California, Streets

STREETS: Looking for Amber

Troy Erik

I’m doing a story now about a young fellow, Nathan Vickers, who was a drag queen or a transgender woman, and was shot to death on  a street known as a prostitute hangout in Hollywood in November.

Part of the story is exactly who Nathan Vickers – or “Chase,” or “Cassidy,” or “Chastity” – was, or intended to be. He’d come from the Bay Area and seemed to seeking a transformation of one kind or another.

Helping me figure out Nathan’s world is Troy Erik, a former queen and current activist. A woman named Amber, he told me, knew Nathan well in the days leading up to his death. We went looking for her, as we’d heard she was just out of jail.

We looked at Donut Time (Santa Monica and Highland) and at the adult bookstore  (no name) behind it, and in front of the $1 Chinese Express, whose prices didn’t keep it from going out of business.

We never did find Amber. But Andre, a sociable street fellow, said he’d known Chase or Cassidy. “She always dressed as a woman when I knew her,” he said.

We also happened upon “Grace” – a queen who enjoyed enormous renown in the 1980s because she looked, in drag, exactly like pop diva Grace Jones, and is now homeless. That’s next post.

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Filed under Los Angeles, Streets


Out on the story about Nathan Vickers, the transgender woman shot and killed in Hollywood in November, we came across Grace.

Grace says he’s from Ogden, Utah — where growing up black and gay in the 1960s must have been … a real story. He told me he had the pleasure that few in California have had of ice skating on a real frozen pond in Utah.

She was once legendary on the streets of Hollywood as a drag queen who looked remarkably like pop diva Grace Jones. Then it was parties, and a wild life, and nightclub shows where she was the center of attention.

“She was the queen of them all,” said my guide, Troy Erik. Then? “Well, drugs,” said Troy.

Now Grace lives in the back of a Hollywood Park, with a man he calls his husband, and a shopping cart full of stuff and can talk non-stop, like free-form jazz, of the stories of when she was beautiful and everyone wanted her.

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