You can be famous in New York yet be famous nowhere else, and it doesn't matter. New York is an insular, exclusive place. But if you're famous in Los Angeles - the world's epicenter of popular culture - but you're an unknown outside the city, then there must be something wrong with you. Or so the logic goes. Your band is nothing until you sell out shows elsewhere; you're not a serious artist until you have a show in New York; and whoever heard of an actor whose work was only known in Hollywood? And yet, considering Los Angeles County's population of nearly ten million - that's larger than the entire country of Sweden - there's gotta be some truly local celebrities. And I don't mean the usual politicians and newscasters.
- Angelyne. My friend Joe Oesterle wrote a book called Weird Hollywood. (You should buy it. I'm even in it.) It covers many of the eccentric people, places and stories that make up Tinseltown, and few are as cherished as the mysterious Angelyne, an ageless/ancient model who created her own fame in the '80s by posting her likeness on billboards all over town. I doubt she ever got any serious work, but she survives, and spotting Angelyne in her trademark pink Corvette is a treasured LA experience.
- Nancy Silverton. Every American city has its own celebrity chefs these days. Seattle, Atlanta, Dallas, you name it. Few are ever heard of outside their immediate locales, besides Wolfgang Puck (the original celebrity chef) and those lucky enough to land their own cooking shows (Emeril Lagasse, Paula Deen, et al). LA has its share, and while I could easily name Suzanne Goin, Nobu Matsuhisa, Ludo Lefebvre and so on, I'll give this slot to Ms. Silverton, purveyor of such local institutions as the La Brea Bakery, Campanile, and Osteria/Pizzeria Mozza, currently the most popular pair of restaurants in town.
- Jonathan Gold. On the other end of the food chain is this LA Weekly columnist, whose praise for third world greasy spoons in the area has made him hugely influential amongst adventurous foodies. His reviews have even won him the Pulitzer Prize - thus far the only restaurant critic to achieve this feat.
- Rodney Bingenheimer. Radio DJs are always well-known local characters, even if their heyday is rapidly disappearing. But Bingenheimer, longtime jock on America's original alt-rock radio station KROQ, is special. He's credited with breaking dozens of major bands in the U.S., including Blondie, the Ramones, Duran Duran, No Doubt, the B-52s, and Coldplay. An excellent, little-seen documentary of Bingenheimer called Mayor of the Sunset Strip awaits your viewing pleasure.
- Selene Luna. There is a part of Los Angeles that pretends it is New York. We call this neighborhood Silver Lake. For it is here, and in adjacent Echo Park, where all our would-be Brooklynites live and play. I nominate Ms. Luna, a midget stripper/performance artist, as the enduring representative of this area's hipster underground scene.
- Piolín. It would be racist for me to ignore LA's enormous Mexican and Latino communities, and KSCA radio personality Eddie "Piolín" Sotelo is their hero. It's no accident that his morning show is the highest rated in the region.
- Huell Howser. Hosting his long-running PBS program California's Gold, this beloved TV tour guide with his famous aw-shucks Tennessee charm has explored just about every nook and cranny of Southern California. He's even appeared on The Simpsons, though few outside of LA would recognize him.
- Frank McCourt. Not to be confused with the late Irish author of Angela's Ashes, our Frank McCourt hails from Boston, where he made his fortune from parking lots, and is (in)famous here as the little-liked owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, as well as the stadium they play in. His messy divorce continues to be a source of gossip.
- Mike McNeilly. McNeilly himself is not as familiar as his "supergraphics" - giant, multi-story advertisements that have covered countless LA buildings over the last couple of decades. Most locals deride his ads - often for big movies, but just as often random "murals" of repeated imagery (most recently the Statue of Liberty and the number 1969) - and the legality of the ads is constantly under debate. But if you live in LA, there is no escape from McNeilly's work.