San Diego's sparkling shores have stirred many a scribe, dating back at least to 19th-century novelist Helen Hunt Jackson, whose Ramona many agree was inspired by her stay at Rancho Guajome, near Oceanside. It's often cited as the first novel about life in Southern California.
L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz, began wintering on Coronado in the early 20th century and wrote a few of his Oz stories there. Though unnamed, some of the fictional villages in his stories are thought to be thinly veiled depictions of La Jolla.
Later, La Jolla was home to pulp novelist Raymond Chandler. His last novel, 1958's Playback, finds his hero, Philip Marlowe, tracking Betty Mayfield to the fictional town of Esmeralda, another La Jolla stand-in. (The crime novel continues to be a popular form for San Diegans: Contemporary authors Don Winslow and Joseph Wambaugh both work in the genre.)
Around the same time Chandler was writing Playback, another La Jolla resident, Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known simply as Dr. Seuss, published the legendary children's book The Cat in the Hat. Geisel later skewered his uppity neighbors in The Sneetches.
In the 1960s, Tom Wolfe showed a different side of La Jolla in The Pump House Gang. Written in Wolfe's "New Journalism" style, the piece offered a portrait of the surf scene centered at Windansea Beach.
San Diego's musical tradition was greatly enriched by the closing of New Orleans's red-light district Storyville in 1917; that brought many Big Easy jazz cats out west, including composer and pianist Jelly Roll Morton, who had a regular gig at the US GRANT hotel until he quit upon learning his group was being paid less than the white, house band.
Tom Waits and Frank Zappa were two of the bigger artists to come out of San Diego in the '60s and '70s; Waits even spent some time working as a doorman of a Mission Beach nightclub before moving to Los Angeles and releasing Closing Time in 1973. During that era, San Diego-based hard rock band Iron Butterfly released In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, which was given the industry's first platinum award. Down in Mexico, a young Carlos Santana was sharpening his guitar chops in the bars of Tijuana.
In the 1990s, San Diego talents were represented in genres as diverse as folk, grunge, and punk rock. One-named songstress Jewel famously lived in a van while gigging at local coffeehouses, while Eddie Vedder lived in San Diego before moving to Seattle to front Pearl Jam. Poway's blink-182 got famous on the back of skate-rock anthems such as "What's My Age Again?" and "All the Small Things."
Contemporary mainstream artists include pop singer Jason Mraz, bluegrass trio Nickel Creek, soulful surf-rockers Switchfoot, and American Idol product Adam Lambert.
Film & Television
San Diego's involvement with the film industry dates back to the earliest days of silent films. Perhaps the most enduring feature to be shot in San Diego, though, was Billy Wilder's 1959 film Some Like it Hot, which starred Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe, and Tony Curtis, and was filmed at the Hotel del Coronado.
In 1986, Top Gun told the story of Lt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (played by Tom Cruise), a hotshot pilot at the flight school at Miramar. Downtown restaurant Kansas City Barbeque was the backdrop for several scenes; despite suffering a fire in 2008, restaurant owners managed to salvage the piano used by Goose and Maverick to sing "Great Balls of Fire."
Writer/director Cameron Crowe based his rock-'n'-roll coming-of-age picture Almost Famous on his own experiences as a 15-year-old rock critic in San Diego. The cross-border drug trade has inspired many set-in-San Diego productions, including Traffic, which won an Oscar for director Steven Soderbergh, and the TV series Weeds, starring Mary-Louise Parker. Will Ferrell's 1970s-newscaster spoof Anchorman remains one of the most often-quoted films among a certain generation of San Diegans. (Demure types are advised to cover their ears should someone start explaining what "San Diego" means in German.)
The list of actors who were born or lived in San Diego includes Annette Bening, Cameron Diaz, Ted Danson, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Whoopi Goldberg, Gregory Peck, and Raquel Welch, among many others.
San Diego's theater scene is lively and sophisticated, and it is considered one of the major theater scenes on the West Coast. The top regional houses (The Old Globe and La Jolla Playhouse) have originated a number of plays and musicals that went on to success on the Great White Way and beyond. Among these are Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Who's Tommy, Jersey Boys, and Memphis, which all originated at the La Jolla Playhouse. The Old Globe Theatre's contributions include The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Into the Woods, a 1993 revival of Damn Yankees, and holiday favorite Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In addition, a lively independent scene is fueled by numerous small companies presenting work for every taste year-round. The University of California-San Diego has a top professional training program for both actors and playwrights.
Legendary baseball player and Hall of Famer Ted Williams was a product of San Diego's Hoover High School. Williams played for the minor-league precursor to today's San Diego Padres in 1936 before moving on to the Boston Red Sox and becoming one of the best hitters in history. Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn was a Padre throughout his 20-year career. Phillies pitcher and 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels was also born in San Diego.
Olympic diver Greg Louganis hails from here, as does basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton and champion golfer Phil Mickelson. Famous footballers include Marcus Allen, Reggie Bush, and Marshall Faulk, among others. Still, talk to San Diego sports fans for any length of time and you'll quickly notice a certain commonality: pessimism. This is an outgrowth, no doubt, of the sad reality that no local sports team has ever won a major championship (but it must be said the Chargers came out on top in 1963 when they played in the upstart AFL, and the San Diego Sockers have won more than 10 indoor soccer titles). In 2009, championship fever gripped the city when the Park View Little League All-Stars defeated Chinese Taipei to win the Little League World Series. The team of 12- and 13-year-olds from the South Bay city of Chula Vista became the toast of the town in the process.
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