- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
The death toll stands at 19 and counting after a series of winter storms have deluged Southern California since Christmas. For Los Angeles, things have not yet reached the catastrophic heights of the flood of 1938, which claimed 115 lives and caused $2 billion in damage.
The pummeling began on Feb. 27 and did not let up until March 3, at which point 32 inches of rain — nearly a year’s worth of precipitation — had fallen. (For comparison, about 13 inches have accumulated since Dec. 25, 50 percent more than normal.) The flooding “gutted farmlands, ruined roads, shattered communications, wrecked railroad lines,” according to a report in the L.A. Times. A front-page story in THR on March 3 said the storm “created widespread havoc in the film industry.”
Universal was hit hardest, where raging flood waters in the L.A. River “destroyed the Lankershim Boulevard bridge” and “swept away half a dozen homes.” Production everywhere was halted by 4 p.m. and workers ordered home — “except 50 Busby Berkeley dancers,” reported THR. “For these a makeshift dormitory was made available for the night.” At 20th Century Fox, Shirley Temple “could not return home and slept in her studio bungalow,” while John Barrymore and W. C. Fields “were marooned atop a Santa Monica mountain.” At Warner Bros., a prop whale “had broken from its moorings” to become “the only whale ever to invade the Los Angeles River.”
Less impacted was the broadcast industry, though NBC and CBS suffered “breached communication lines” and were unable to air radio shows like Good News of 1938 and Hollywood Hotel. A THR report the following day declared that “Southern California’s worst storm in more than half a century” had caused $175,000 ($4 million in 2023) in physical damage to studios, with far greater economic losses “sustained through time delays and interrupted schedules.” The events of 1938 led to the construction of multiple dams and concrete channels across Southern California; without them, the floods of 2023 would be much, much worse.
This story first appeared in the Jan. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day