Michael Miller: From England; Tears, Fears and Stars That Never Were

Journalist and expat, Michael Miller
Journalist and expat, Michael Miller

KCET Departures asks, "What's your or your family's Los Angeles arrival story?"

Today, we hear from journalist Michael Miller:

"A place where '...all the stars that never were are parking cars and pumping gas' from Dionne Warwick's Do You Know The Way To San Jose, was my jaundiced view of Los Angeles when it was first suggested by my bosses at Reuters News Service in New York that I leave the Big Apple for the Big Smog to work in the LA Bureau.

"Actually, it was more of a threat than a suggestion, having turned down postings to Boston (too cold) and Dallas (enough said). Listen Mike, this is your last chance, Brian Williams, my executive editor, told me. Desperate to get off the editing desk and back into reporting, I reluctantly agreed to come to Los Angeles.

"I had been here before in a previous journalistic life, having run the LA bureau of a national tabloid magazine for a month in 1983 while the bureau chief was on vacation. I was mindful then of Mark Twain's words of wisdom; "It's a great place to live, but I wouldn't want to visit there." As a visitor from Manhattan I was not particularly fond of LA, where no one walks and everyone drives, for the most part alone, isolated in their tin boxes.

"But back to the arrival. The year was 1989, and I had just been mugged in lower Manhattan, where my wife Judy and I were living, so getting out of New York became healthily attractive.

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"My move to Los Angeles had been requested by Reuters' West Coast bureau chief, a Londoner named Ron Clark, in the mistaken belief that I was a fellow cockney (he later explained that my journalistic capabilities also weighed in my favor), but the truth of the matter was that I come from the North East of England in a village about as far from London as you can get while still being in that green and pleasant land. Ron is now retired, but I am a frequent visitor to his home in southern England, not too far from his beloved London.

"In January, 1990 Judy and I duly flew to Los Angeles and spent two weeks house hunting. I have found that life sometimes throws you little curves, and as good fortune would have it, Judy succumbed to the Los Angeles smog. We were staying at the Shangri-La Hotel on the beach in Santa Monica and, letting our fingers doing the walking through the Yellow Pages, discovered that the nearest allergist was in Culver City.

"A quick trip up the I-10 brought us to the Heart of Screenland. A nice neighborhood, we thought, after Judy had popped the prescribed pills and began to feel better. Let's take a look around. It didn't take long before we found a nice little house to rent, called the landlord and did the deed. Twenty two years later we are still in Culver City, although we now own our own home, bought in 1991, a couple of blocks from the rented property,

"Judy went back to New York to arrange moving our furniture to Los Angeles while I went to work on decorating the rented house. Eventually, she moved to Culver City in February, 1990, and was thoroughly and utterly miserable. I had a ready-made circle of friends among ex-pat British journalists who I had worked with in London, while Judy knew no one.

"I was busy working while Judy did not have a job. I spent a lot of my leisure time at the King's Head pub in Santa Monica, then probably LA's biggest hang-out for British ex-pats and vacationers from the Old Country. Judy would come with me but she did not really enjoy the pub scene.

"The net result was tears. Judy cried almost every day for the first three months she was here. She was jobless, homesick for New York, where she was born and raised, and did not care for LA.

"Then came the metamorphosis. It happened when we were strolling in the Baldwin Hills in Culver City. All of a sudden, bright eyed and smiling, my wife stopped in her tracks, looked at me, and said: 'Do you know, it's quite nice here.'

"That was when I knew we had arrived in Los Angeles. Also, having endured three months of sobbing, it was, as I told her then, the closest my dear wife had ever come to death!

"Oh yes, those stars that never were, we've met plenty of them, almost on a daily basis. But the bonus is that as a reporter in Los Angeles I have met and interviewed many real Hollywood stars; Marlon Brando, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Billy Crystal, Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, Jack Nicholson, Steve Martin, Russell Crowe, Tom Hanks, Michael Caine, Nicolas Cage, Mel Gibson, to name but a few.

"I also covered both of the O.J Simpson trials, the 1994 earthquake and the LA riots. I also traveled extensively up and down the West Coast on stories as varied as the Unabomber in Montana, religious mass suicides in San Diego and Presidential visits to San Francisco and other locations.

"Judy, a social worker par excellence, found a job soon after the metamorphosis and went from success to success.

"We are now retired, but I have to say, Thanks, LA, it's been a blast."

--Michael Miller (as emailed to Jeremy Rosenberg)

Photo: Courtesy Michael Miller

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