Saturday, May 2, 2020

The Other Rémi Nadeau

(Dear readers: the ads are only supposed to appear in the sidebar. I am trying to get that fixed.)

When I began researching Old French Los Angeles seven years ago, one name came up again and again and again: Rémi Nadeau. Victorian Los Angeles aficionados should be familiar with Rémi as well.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there was another Rémi Nadeau - one still living. 

Rémi Allen Nadeau was born in Los Angeles in 1920, attended University High School (my mom's alma mater), and became an Eagle Scout. While majoring in American and World History at Stanford University, Rémi became an Army Air Corps officer through ROTC.

After completing his BA in 1942, Rémi served with the 320th Bomb Group, flying combat missions and serving as an intelligence officer. He was discharged in 1946, having achieved the rank of Major. 

Rémi returned to Los Angeles, where he met Margaret Smith. They married in 1947, and had three children - Christine, Barbara, and Bob.

Rémi had already completed his first manuscript, City Makers, in 1946. After its publication in book form in 1948, it would become a bestseller. City Makers details the people who made Los Angeles into a world city. Rémi Nadeau the freighter is mentioned, of course. (I have the 1948 edition. The city-map end papers are to die for.)

Rémi continued to write history books while working as an editorial writer for newspapers. In time, he became a public relations executive, then special assistant to the United States Attorney General. Rémi wrote speeches and statements for AG John N. Mitchell, AG Richard Kleindienst, and President Richard Nixon.

This would be an impressive career on its own, but Rémi continued to publish history books every few years. 

The Water Seekers followed City Makers in 1950. 

Los Angeles: From Mission to Modern City (one of my favorites) was published in 1960. Tellingly, the introduction is all about traffic. (Sometimes it's comforting to know my hometown hasn't changed that much.)

California: The New Society hit bookstore shelves in 1963. California had recently become the nation's most populous state. Was it really so different from everywhere else? Rémi seemed to think so. 

Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of California: A History and Guide followed in 1965. (I, for one, would love to use this book as the basis for a road trip...and not just because I'm under quarantine and have a bad case of cabin fever.)

Fort Laramie and the Sioux Indians came along in 1967, then The Real Joaquin Murieta: Robin Hood Hero or Gold Rush Gangster: Truth vs. Myth (too many colons, I know) in 1974.

In 1980, Rémi retired from the world of public relations and earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in History from UC Santa Barbara. He published Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt Divide Europe in 1990, then The Silver Seekers: They Tamed California's Last Frontier in 2003.

Rémi's longtime home was in Encino, south of the 101 and west of the 405, in a house high up on a hill overlooking the Valley. My family's neighborhood was less than 5 miles away. 

I always wanted to interview Rémi. But I put off contacting his publisher. No matter how much I read or how many hours I devoted to research, I still felt that I wasn't informed enough to pick his brain (I hadn't even launched this blog yet). I was aware of the fact that he was over 90 years old, but I still couldn't bring myself to reach out.

Rémi died of natural causes in 2016 in Santa Barbara. He was 95.

I wish I'd at least tried to get in touch with him.

If any of my dear readers have been wanting to do something or talk to someone - just do it when you get a chance. Life's too short to have regrets.

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