TALKING WITH CATHERINE MULHOLLAND
Catherine Mulholland has written two previous history books, Calabasas Girls: An Intimate History and The Owensmouth Baby: The Making of a San Fernando Valley Town, but neither of these projects presented her with the monumental challenge of writing about the legacy of her own grandfather.
“I am as objective as any of the other writers on this subject,” she asserts when asked about the difficulty of writing about the controversial William Mulholland. She points to other acclaimed biographies written by family members. For example, Virginia Woolf, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Harry Truman, and others were subjects of serious biographies by relatives.
Writing the biography was not an easy task, however. Mulholland’s first draft, called The Chief: A Quest for Grandfather, ran 900 pages long and included as much personal information as professional history. Her editors cut out the private life, though, leaving a final version that focuses on the public figure.
Of course, Mulholland could not entirely extricate herself from the subject. “If I hadn’t been related, there wouldn’t have been the family love that compelled me to write the book,” she says. “I grew up with a stigma,” she explains. For example, Mulholland recalls striking up a conversation with a man in a Paris jazz club. “When I told him my name, he asked if I was related to ‘that son of a bitch.’ “It was just one of many encounters.
While Mulholland acknowledges that some may question her ability to remain objective, she doesn’t concern herself with their conclusions. “I am willing to stick my neck out, and I’m open to public scrutiny,” she says proudly. “People are going to believe what they want to believe.”
RICK LAEZMAN is a freelance writer in Los Angeles who enjoys delving into the mysteries of the history of his city as much as he enjoys a good detective novel.