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Friday, July 24, 2009

The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles is offering an exhibition of the Southern California auto design tradition. While it’s no surprise that that tradition is tied to Hollywood and the film industry, the exhibition, “California Car Design: Local Style, Global Influence,” which runs through Feb. 7, reminds us that Hollywood also gave Harley Earl, the legendary General Motors designer, his start.

Mr. Earl worked for the family coach-building operation, Earl Automobile Works, which was bought by Don Lee, a Cadillac dealer in Los Angeles who needed custom body-building for his top customers. It was while working for Mr. Lee that Mr. Earl shaped a huge 1919 Pierce-Arrow for the legendary comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle.

Mr. Arbuckle was Hollywood’s first king of bling and an intriguing character, whose biography is filled with seediness and controversy. In 1921, he was accused of killing a young starlet, and the trial, with its titillating implications of orgies and drunkenness, was the O.J. Simpson trial of its time.

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