Amnesiac Women in Los Angeles, 1954-2001

Something shorter and a little more visual, after a rather text-heavy last post. I’ve spent some time working my way through various online photographic archives for relevant material to supplement my research, or illustrate conference papers.

Results have been mixed so far; there is a particular lack of material on mid-century South LA, which other sources had prepared me for but which I was hoping had improved in recent years. But I’ve turned up a few interesting or odd ones, two of which are below, and taken from the Los Angeles Examiner Collection at the USC Digital Library.

Amnesia victim at Central Police Station, 1954
“Amnesia victim at Central Police Station, 1954.” Los Angeles Examiner Collection, 1920-1961, USC Digital Library.

Both images show female amnesia victims at Los Angeles police stations, with fairly minimal supplementary information. This first one, from 1954, apparently shows a stripper whose professional name was “Betty Flame”.

Amnesia victim, 1958
“Amnesia victim, 1958.” Los Angeles Examiner Collection, 1920-1961, USC Digital Library.

This second image shows Carlene McLaughlin, 19, being reunited with her mother but not recognising her. A quick search brings up a reference to the case in a Utah newspaper, dated 24 February 1958 – McLaughlin was found wandering the streets of Long Beach, confused, after having left the home of her mother-in-law (with whom she was living while her husband was stationed at an Air Force base in Morocco).

Both pictures are nicely enigmatic taken in isolation, but for me they inevitably call to mind David Lynch, especially Mulholland Drive. There’s a pleasing symmetry between the 1958 image, and this still I had previously captured from Mulholland Drive to illustrate a point about the prevalence of telephones in the film. The fact that the amnesiac Rita’s (Laura Elena Harring) pale blouse and posture are so similar is nicely serendipitous…

Mulholland Drive (Dir. David Lynch, 2001)
Mulholland Drive (Dir. David Lynch, 2001)
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Author: Alex Pavey

I'm a Research Assistant at the University of Portsmouth, and recently submitted my PhD thesis at UCL. My research focuses on Los Angeles literature and cinema across the twentieth century - particularly, although not exclusively, narratives of crime and detection.

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