I’ve been chronicling my project with my wife on this blog. I’m going to write a sonnet series about the creation of California. I’m using the dual stories of William Mulholland and John Muir to tell the story of water in California, what really made it what it is. Ann’s a visual artist, so she’s going to do the graphic art work for it.
The large problem I’ve been facing, one of them, is how to make Mulholland likeable. After the movie Chinatown, it’s been hard to find people who will come out on his side. Of course, the character based on him commits incest against a minor. That bit was tough on Mulholland’s reputation.
Some of the other claims that were made in the movie: that the drought he worked with was faked and that he did dirty back door deals was true. Of course, it wasn’t all Mulholland. The movie boils down the evil of several men into one person.
But the chaos and evil of his life is the only thing we see. I still think that beneath the alcohol and ambition was a good person. His true desire was to help Los Angeles and to create a city in a desert. We know now that pumping all this water into this area is a bad idea, but from his perspective, what he was doing was noble. The alternative was to let crops fail and let people go hungry. At least, that’s what it was from his perspective.
So in my attempt to find the good in Mulholland, I’ve been talking to LA water people. The latest was Kathy Simmons up at the Vista Del Lago visitor’s center above Pyramid Lake. It’s interesting how passionate water people are. They should be. What they are doing is fascinating and grand work. They’re following in the tradition of the Roman aqueduct builders. The level of civil engineering is amazing. There are massive problems with transporting that much water around the desert, but they are serving the needs of those of us who complain but continue to live here.
Ms. Simmons was there with a thick file about Mulholland, much of the information gathered before the movie came out, and there is a good deal about what made him great. By some, he’s seen as a kind of giant figure from a romantic past, and I guess that’s kind of how I’ve always seen his early life too.
The disasters that plagued his later life are part of what make him a tragic figure, but there would be no tragedy if he did not start out as great. He was a hard-drinking, hard-working, self-educated man. His leisure time was filled with whiskey, classic literature, and self-taught calculus. That’s the man to start with.
Thank you Ms. Simmons!