Liz Goldwyn doesn’t shy away from much. Author, fashion icon, filmmaker, scion of Hollywood legends, Goldwyn is a force to be reckoned with across multiple genres of creativity and artistic production.
There’s a thread in all this, one that Goldwyn herself readily admits. And that’s history. She’s fascinated not only with the usual “who did what to whom?” questions of power and drama, but also with questions of “what did they say while doing it?” and, intriguingly, “what did they wear?”
Author of a well-received history of burlesque—complete with sumptuous images of G-strings and voluptuous female forms of an earlier era—Goldwyn has a new book that peels back a different layer of history. In the just-released Sporting Guide, Goldwyn takes her fascination with the darker impulses of human behavior to the shadowy byways and pay-by-the hour boudoirs of late 19th- and early 20th-century Los Angeles. On Nov. 4, Goldwyn will join me onstage in Rothenberg Hall for a discussion of her new book.
An historical novel, but one deeply researched and documented, Sporting Guide is the darkest of romps through the red-light district of turn-of-the-century Los Angeles. Much of it is true: the madams and the pimps, the geography of vice, the haphazard oversight of the law, and the lines variously drawn by race, ethnicity, and proclivity. Much of it is fiction: some (though not all) of the characters, the plot, and the friendships forged out of oppression, depravity, or just plain desperation.
Tied together with astonishing images of the era, many of them drawn from The Huntington’s archives, Goldwyn’s book is proof perfect that history is an expansive canvas and that it beckons all who wish to make use or sense of it. Novelist, scholar, filmmaker—all can bring their ideas to history and history to their ideas. Goldwyn is all three, and Sporting Guide is at once an imagined Los Angeles and a Los Angeles meticulously put together by way of the archive. It’s dark, it’s naughty, and it has the ring of hidden truth.
“In Conversation with Liz Goldwyn” will take place at 7:00 p.m. on Nov. 4 in Rothenberg Hall. Free. Book signing afterward. To make a reservation, go here.
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William Deverell is professor of history and chair of the history department at the University of Southern California. He is also director of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West.