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I talk about “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and the Los Angeles streetcar conspiracy on KPCC


This week I talked with A Martinez, host of KPCC-FM’s Take Two, about how Who Framed Roger Rabbit? convinced Los Angeles that a General Motors-led conspiracy had taken away its streeetcars:

Los Angeles isn’t a cartoon, but it is a main character in the 1988 film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” The movie will be preserved this year in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress along with 24 other important and influential films. On the surface, it’s a bright, noir comedy about cartoon actor Roger Rabbit who’s wanted for murder. But there’s an important plot point that has a basis in history: Roger is framed as an elaborate scheme by villain Judge Doom to demolish L.A.’s mass transit trolley system known as the Red Cars.

In their place, Doom plans to profit on the new project being developed by the city: freeways. “Eight lanes of shimmering cement running from here to Pasadena!” he monologues in the film’s climax. “Smooth, straight, fast. Traffic jams will be a thing of the past.” In real life, the Red Car system did fall by the wayside as automobiles took over the roads. Some say there was even a conspiracy at work to make it happen, just like in “Roger Rabbit” (but without the cartoons). What was fact and fiction about mass transit in the movie?

The Red Car network had veins that connected far-flung stretches of Southern California – Santa Monica to San Bernardino, Newport Beach to Van Nuys, Pasadena to Long Beach and more. Between it and the more local Yellow Car system, riders could ride on the rails on one of these streetcars to almost anywhere they wanted to. “It was the most extensive urban rail transit system in America, if not the world,” says historian Colin Marshall. “It’s farther than even the most ambitious Metro plans you see today of what’s going to happen in, like, 2050 or 2060 with the current wave of construction.”

You can hear the whole segment here. See also my Guardian article on the origins of the “Great American Streetcar Scandal.”