LAUREL CANYON DAZE | CSN, JONI MITCHELL, JACKSON BROWNE, MAMA CASS, THE EAGLES

The epic tales of Laurel Canyon’s heyday continues to linger like the warm smell of colitas rising up through the air… It’s here that the SoCal sound was born out of an era of relaxed morals (fucking sex), folks expanding their mental horizons (drugs), and a wave of eclectic misfits coming from all over to launch, reinvent, or escape their musical careers (rock ‘n’ roll) in this sleepy, smoky, winding hippy enclave. And the women, Mama Cass & Joni Mitchell, were the (wise and worldly beyond their years) matriarchs watching over over this peaceful, easy-feeling, community headquartered on Lookout Mountain. Henry Diltz was a friend and photographer to many in the scene those days, and his visual record and memories of these times is priceless.

“When I first came out to L.A. [in 1968], my friend Joel Bernstein found an old book in a flea market that said, ‘Ask anyone in America where the craziest people live and they’ll tell you California. Ask anyone in California where the craziest people live and they’ll say Los Angeles. Ask anyone in Los Angeles where the craziest people live and they’ll tell you Hollywood. Ask anyone in Hollywood where the craziest people live and they’ll say Laurel Canyon. And ask anyone in Laurel Canyon where the craziest people live and they’ll say Lookout Mountain.’ So I bought a house on Lookout Mountain.” —Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell home Lookout Mountain Avenue Laurel Canyon 1970 © Henry Dilitz

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TWO-LANE BLACKTOP | UNDER THE HOOD OF THE EPIC 1971 ROAD FLICK

 

“The whole idea of the road, of going from one place to another, is essentially American.”

Two-Lane Blacktop Screenwriter, Rudy Wurlitzer

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Esquire magazine printed the entire screenplay in its April ’71 issue before the movie was even released and boldly declared Two-Lane Blacktop as, “The Film of the Year.”  Set largely on old Route 66, which had seen better days, filming locations stretched from California to Tennessee, and the project was wrapped up in two months for mere pocket change– $950,000.  And while it wouldn’t quite live up to Universal’s expectations (who did little to promote it) and become a commercial success by anyone’s standards– it would survive the test of time to become a cultural icon, and one of the most loved road films ever made.

There still a lot of love for Two-Lane Blacktop even after all these ears.  Sadly, there aren’t a lot of great studio stills that have survived– finding decent pics on the internet was slim pickings.  I’ve had a few squirreled away for a spell (courtesy of Performance Pontiac Magazine, go figure) and so out they now shall come– along with a few tidbits from behind the camera.

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“I saw a picture of James Taylor on a billboard on the Sunset Strip promoting his new album.  I thought his look was right for the part of The Driver.  Regarding Laurie Bird, I took a trip to New York to meet with Rudy Wurlitzer, and, while there, met with a number of modeling agencies just to explore that field.  When you’re looking for someone that age to play that role, it’s impossible to find someone who is established, so I anticipated finding an unknown.  I checked out modeling agencies and met with people in L.A. as well and she was recommended.  Laurie was so inexperienced it never occurred to me that I would actually cast her.  She seemed so typical of what we had in mind for the character, however, that we used her as a prototype.  Rudy and I did a three-hour taped interview with her; she became the template for the character.  I still thought I could cast an actress who could play the part, but I couldn’t.  Someone then had the bright idea of screen-testing Laurie.”   –Director Monte Hellman

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“Dennis Wilson (of Beach Boys fame) was the last one to come onboard, after I ran through every actor and some other musicians.  As a matter of fact, we even met with Randy Newman.  Fred Roos, the casting director, finally suggested Dennis.  If memory serves, I saw Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, and James Caan; I think I saw every young actor in Hollywood.  Dennis was very easy going. The only problem was that he was having so much fun that it was hard to find him when we were ready to shoot because he was off somewhere playing all the time.”   –Director Monte Hellman

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