Read the March 2024 issue of Justin Chapman's free Substack email newsletter, featuring news about his show "Pasadena Monthly" being named a finalist for two video awards in the Alliance for Community Media West’s WAVE (Western Access for Video Excellence) Awards, the latest episode of “Pasadena Monthly with Justin Chapman” featuring an interview with Rose Bowl CEO and General Manager Jens Weiden who broke the news on the show that the Rose Bowl will host the semi-finals and finals of men’s and women’s soccer at the 2028 Olympics, his latest story about how Hunter S. Thompson wrote part of the cult classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas just outside the border of Pasadena in March and April 1971, book recommendations, and more!

Fear and Loathing in Pasadena

In March and April 1971, Hunter S. Thompson wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the book that made him a literary icon and created a whole new style of journalism called gonzo—and he wrote it right outside the border of Pasadena


By Justin Chapman, 3/30/2024


Fifty-three years ago this month, writer Hunter S. Thompson traveled to Las Vegas for the first of two weekends that would ultimately inform his seminal book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. It was his first experiment what he came to call gonzo journalism—a term actually coined by Boston Globe Magazine editor Bill Cardoso after reading Thompson’s June 1970 article “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” in Scanlan’s Monthly. 


After that first drug-fueled weekend in Vegas, Thompson drove back to Southern California and checked into the Ramada Inn (now the Le Méridien Pasadena Arcadia Hotel) just outside Pasadena city limits at Colorado Blvd. and Huntington Dr. in Arcadia, just across the street from Santa Anita Racetrack. There, he typed up his notes from the weekend which turned into the first part of his cult classic novel.


Fresh off his narrow loss in the November 1970 campaign for sheriff of Aspen—in which he ran on the Freak Power ticket, shaved his head in order to call the incumbent sheriff his “long-haired opponent,” and released a platform that included changing Aspen’s name to “Fat City” and decriminalizing drugs—Thompson began reporting on the burgeoning Chicano movement in Los Angeles, prompted by his friend Oscar Zeta Acosta. Acosta, a lawyer, activist and author who also ran unsuccessfully for sheriff in LA County, would later become the inspiration for the character Dr. Gonzo in Fear and Loathing. 


Thompson was writing a story called “Strange Rumblings in Aztlan” for Rolling Stone about the August 1970 killing of LA Times reporter Ruben Salazar by an LA County Sheriff’s deputy’s tear gas canister during an anti-war demonstration in East LA, and exploring whether it was pre-meditated and the journalist was targeted.


In East LA, Thompson was having trouble separating Acosta from the Chicano activists who were suspicious of the gringo journalist in their midst. Acosta couldn’t speak openly in front of them to his friend, so Thompson and Acosta drove across town to the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel for a drink. There, Thompson took a call from Sports Illustrated, which asked him to cover the upcoming Mint 400 off-road motorcycle and dune buggy race in Las Vegas, sponsored by the Mint Hotel and Casino. The two men saw it as an opportunity to get out of town, so on March 20, 1971, they rented a Chevrolet convertible, which they dubbed the Great Red Shark, and drove into the desert. And that’s where Fear and Loathing starts off.


“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold,” Thompson’s legendary intro begins.


After covering the race, Acosta went back to LA to attend a court hearing, leaving the drugs, a loaded .357 Magnum and an expensive hotel bill with Thompson. In a panic, Thompson fled the hotel without paying and drove to the Ramada Inn near Pasadena to type up his notes.


Sports Illustrated subeditor Pat Ryan had asked Thompson to write a quick 500-word story about the motorcycle race, but after Thompson submitted a 15,000-word manuscript about his drug-fueled frenzy in Vegas, Sports Illustrated editor Tom Vanderschmidt “aggressively rejected” it during a call with Thompson.


On April 22, 1971, Thompson wrote in a letter to Vanderschmidt, “Sooner or later you’ll see what your call (to me) set in motion—a fantastic mushroom. Tomorrow I’m going back to Las Vegas for another bout with the swine. Very heavy duty. Meanwhile, tell whoever Pat Ryan is that I’m right on the verge of sending her those 500 words she wants. I offered her the true Gonzo interpretation, but she insisted on a small mess of pottage. People like that should be sent back to answering flip-buzzers. Anyway, your instinct was right. The Lord works in wondrous ways. Your call was the key to a massive freak-out. The result is still up in the air, and still climbing. When you see the final fireball, remember that it was all your fault. Okay, and thanks again for calling. Sincerely, Hunter.”


He already knew he had something special before finishing the book, even if Sports Illustrated couldn’t see it. Thompson said gonzo journalism is a style of reporting based on William Faulkner’s idea that the best fiction is far more true than any kind of journalism, in which the reporter records events on their notebook as they happen, then sends in the notebook for publication without editing—essentially stream of consciousness reporting. The writer must also be a participant in the scene, while he’s writing it. Though he added that Fear and Loathing was a failed experiment in gonzo journalism, though many disagree with him on that point.


On April 20, 1971, from his home in Woody Creek, Colorado, Thompson wrote in a letter to author Tom Wolfe, “Here’s the final version (of Part One) of that Raoul Duke in Las Vegas thing. [Rolling Stone editor] Jann [Wenner] said he gave you an earlier, now obsolete version—although in some ways I like the early shot better, because it moves faster. I’ve found that it’s almost impossible to sustain that kind of speedy madness for 10,000 words. I’m still working on Part Two, but it’s not working out so well. This is the kind of thing that has to be done in a straight run, I think, and all in one place.

“The first draft of Part One, for instance, was written by hand on Mint Hotel stationery during an all-night drunk/drug frenzy while I waited for dawn to come up so I could flee without paying. I typed the section you have in a motel in Pasadena, but changed hardly anything from the original crazed draft. Then I left it alone for about 10 days while I worked on that Chicano thing… and when I tried to get back on top of it, out here, I found my mind locking up every time I tried to write. This happens every time I leave the scene of a piece—physically and mentally—before actually writing it. So in terms of Gonzo Journalism (pure), Part One is the only chunk that qualifies—although even the final version is slightly bastardized.


“What I was trying to get at in this was [the] mind-warp/photo technique of instant journalism: One draft, written on the spot at top speed and basically un-revised, edited, chopped, larded, etc. for publication. Ideally, I’d like to walk away from a scene and mail my notebook to the editor, who will then carry it, un-touched, to the printer. But I think that will take a while to hash out.


“I just wanted you to see that Raoul Duke is pushing the frontiers of ‘new journalism’ a lot further than anything you’ll find in Hell’s Angels [Thompson’s first book]. I told some creep from Sports Illustrated that I had this weird account of the thing they sent me out to cover, but they didn’t even want to look at it. Just send us a 500-word text block, they said… because we need something, after all, to explain these incredible bills you ran up. So I’ll send them their caption after I finish the main gig, which should be today or tomorrow.”


Thompson promptly sold the 15,000-word story to Rolling Stone, then headed back to Vegas with Acosta for the second weekend to cover the National District Attorneys’ Association’s four-day conference, the Third National Institute on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, which began April 26, 1971, at the Dunes Hotel.


This time, Thompson rented a white Cadillac convertible, dubbed the White Whale, and checked into the Flamingo Hotel and Casino.


“Mr. Acosta will meet me there with the tools of our hellish trade,” Thompson wrote to his literary agent Lynn Nesbit on April 23.


“It’s a very strange feeling to walk into a room full of 1000 cops with a head full of mescaline and listen to them telling each other about the terrors of the ‘drug problem,’” Thompson wrote to his book editor at Random House, Jim Silberman, on May 9.


He sold that second part to Rolling Stone as well, then sold both parts to Random House as the book it eventually became, which finally satisfied his commitment to the publisher to write a book about “the death of the American dream,” a topic he had struggled to put on paper for the past several years.


Wolfe later called Fear and Loathing “a scorching, epochal sensation.”


Thompson originally thought of calling the book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Raoul Duke—Doctor of Journalism. He also considered writing a third part to the book that would feature an interview with the owner of the Circus Circus Hotel and Casino.


“The night before I left, this last time [in April], I found the American Dream, and it might be necessary to go back and drill some wisdom out of the freak who put it together,” he wrote to Wenner.

“If he’s the stone-Alger freak that he almost has to be, on the evidence, then I think it would be worthwhile to go down there and observe him at close range,” he wrote in a May 9, 1971, letter to Silberman. “Maybe get some insight into how his gig was done, along with some inside wisdom on the financial/leverage ethic of Las Vegas. Only a genuine freak could have created the Circus-Circus. Which is where I finally found the American Dream… not an easy thing to explain in a few words. What began as a joke and a casual rip-off somehow developed into a serious quest that incredibly yielded up the Main Fruit. I’m fairly certain about what I finally discovered down there, but whether the combined narrative of Vegas 1 & 2 will support that kind of massive conclusion is something we can only guess at right now.”


Later in 1971, Thompson traveled to Saigon in South Vietnam to cover the ongoing war. In a letter to Nesbit, he wrote that he planned to return to the United States from Vietnam in spring 1972 and “run for President on the Freak Power ticket—a Man on a Weird Horse.”


Before he left, though, Thompson learned that Rolling Stone would not be covering his expenses from his first trip to Vegas in March like he thought. On May 9, 1971, he sent a scathing letter to the editor who prepared the Fear and Loathing syndication for the magazine, writing, “I had you pegged from the start. If I were you I’d get my ass back to Azusa, or wherever that rotten place was that I got trapped in.”


He’s presumably referring to Arcadia, and the Ramada Inn near Pasadena where he typed up his notes that became the first part of his classic book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

On the latest episode of Justin's Pasadena Media show, "Pasadena Monthly with Justin Chapman," guest Rose Bowl CEO and general manager Jens Weiden broke the news that the Rose Bowl will host semi-finals and finals for men's and women's soccer in the 2028 Olympics!

Justin Chapman writes, produces, and hosts a monthly TV talk show on Pasadena Media's TV channel, called "Pasadena Monthly with Justin Chapman," formerly known as the award-winning "NewsRap Local with Justin Chapman." The latest episode aired Friday, March 22, 2024, and featured a discussion with Jens Weiden, CEO and general manager of the Rose Bowl. Watch the full episode below:

Pasadena Media's flagship local TV talk show "Pasadena Monthly with Justin Chapman" has been named a finalist in two categories in the Alliance for Community Media West's WAVE (Western Access Video Excellence) Video Awards!

The two categories are:

The virtual award ceremony will be held April 19, 2024.

Rose Bowl CEO Jens Weiden to Join Friday’s Episode of Newly Award-Nominated ‘Pasadena Monthly with Justin Chapman’

Pasadena Media’s local TV talk show, “Pasadena Monthly with Justin Chapman,” has been named a finalist in the Alliance for Community Media West’s WAVE (Western Access Video Excellence) Awards. The award ceremony is April 19.


Formerly known as “NewsRap Local with Justin Chapman,” the show continues this Friday at 5 p.m. PT on Pasadena Media’s cable TV channels, streaming apps and YouTube. The episode will feature a review of the month’s top stories in Pasadena, a history segment and a discussion with Jens Weiden, CEO and general manager of the Rose Bowl Stadium.


Weiden took over from long-time general manager Darryl Dunn in July 2022. Weiden previously served as the Rose Bowl Operating Company’s Chief Revenue Officer, starting in 2013. Prior to joining the RBOC staff, Weiden worked for the San Francisco Giants and was responsible for all non-baseball events at Oracle Park. He has also held positions at 24 Hour Fitness Corp. where he led marketing efforts and at the American Golf Corporation where he was a general manager.


“Pasadena Monthly” airs at 5 p.m. PT on the fourth Friday of every month on Pasadena Media’s Arroyo Channel and streaming apps, available on channel 99 on AT&T U-verse, channel 32 on Charter Spectrum, YouTube, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and Roku. The show is written, hosted and produced by Chapman, directed and edited by Jeffrey Stanfill, supervised by producer Jasiri Jenkins-Glenn, executive produced by Chris Miller and chief executive produced by George Falardeau, CEO and executive director of Pasadena Media.


“This is must-watch television each month for everyone who cares about this city,” Falardeau said.


Last year, Chapman won two 1st place journalism awards from the Los Angeles Press Club, as well as two 3rd place awards and two finalist positions. He has won a total of 10 awards from the LA Press Club in recent years, including three 1st place awards. In 2022, the previous iteration of the show, “NewsRap Local,” won a 2nd place award in News Programming at the Alliance for Community Media West’s WAVE video awards.


Guests on “Pasadena Monthly” and “NewsRap Local” have included Congress member Judy Chu; Congress member Adam Schiff; Assembly member Chris Holden; Pasadena Mayor Victor Gordo; Pasadena city manager Miguel Márquez; LA County Supervisor Kathryn Barger; JPL director Dr. Laurie Leshin; and many others.


Chapman was the youngest elected official in LA County when he served on the Altadena Town Council at age 19. He has served on a number of local boards and wrote hundreds of articles for two dozen print and digital publications, including KPCC/LAistAlta JournalHuffington PostLA Weekly, Irish PostBerkeley Political ReviewPasadena Weekly, Pasadena Star-NewsPasadena Now and many others. He was a professional child actor who starred in dozens of movies, TV shows, commercials, and plays. He previously served as Communications Officer for USC’s Pacific Council on International Policy and currently serves as the District 6 Council Liaison/Field Representative to Pasadena Vice Mayor Steve Madison.


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