Penny Dreadful: City of Angels premiered this past weekend on Showtime, and it has already proved to be a worthy successor to the original Gothic series. Set in 1938 Los Angeles, the first episode introduced us the demonic Magda (Natalie Dormer), a mysterious entity which inspires chaos and strife across the world.
In ’30s L.A., she finds a way to stoke the flames of racial tensions between the Mexican-American migrant community and the police force. Not to mention encouraging members of the American Nazi party and other forces of hatred. But given the time period, which other true life historical events could City of Angels use as story inspiration? We have a few ideas of our own, straight from the history books.
The Great Depression
There is no way to talk about 1930s America without talking about the Great Depression. Although by 1938 the U.S. had been through the worst of it, its effects were still being felt everywhere. The effects of the Depression on the economy helped the rise of organized crime to a large extent. And in their desperation, many average Americans found themselves doing criminal things they normally would have never considered, all just to stay alive. This feels very much like the ideal situation for the evil Magda to sow dissent among humanity.
War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast
Before the era of television, the American family gathered together around the radio. Not just to listen to music, but to listen to soap operas and radio dramas, like Orson Welles as The Shadow. But the most infamous radio moment of the ‘30s came on in 1938. Welles narrated a version of War of the Worlds, which was presented as a fictionalized news radio broadcast of an alien invasion. But they did too good of a job, causing a nationwide panic.
People lit up police station phone lines, and cities reported civil unrest. While it’s been debated just how much real world drama the broadcast actually caused, the incident is perfect historical fodder for City of Angels. One could see Maga being the being who pushed this particular panic button on the populace. After all, the broadcast happened on October 30—Devil’s Night. And Magda very much seems like an agent of the Devil, doesn’t she?
The Golden Age of Hollywood
Although America was in the midst of a decade long economic depression, the Golden Age of Hollywood was at its peak in the ’30s. The average American might have had to stand in bread lines, but they still managed to go to the movies at least once a week to see the likes of Clark Gable and Bette Davis grace the Silver Screen. This is the era in which the studios system was in full swing, and MGM was the biggest one in town. They even had their own police force, which often helped them cover up crimes by their talent towards those more vulnerable. Especially those against young women. This feels like the ideal backdrop for a storyline set in 1938 Los Angeles.
The L.A. Flood of 1938
The is probably the one historical incident you have never heard of on this list, but it is far too real. In the later winter and early spring of 1938, two Pacific storms swept across the Los Angeles Basin and created almost one year’s worth of precipitation in only a handful of days. The subsequent floods officially killed between 113 and 115 people, but some estimates but the casualties as high as 200. It was a great blow to a city already suffering due to the Depression. It’s also the kind of misery that an entity like Magda would thrive in.
The Mystery of Amelia Earheart
It’s one of history’s great unsolved mysteries—the disappearance of American aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart. Her vanishing caused an international sensation, and to this day no one really knows what happened to her. Although theories have abounded for decades. Other genre shows like Star Trek: Voyager have attempted to create a fantastical answer to this real life enigma, but no show seems as well suited to come up with a more sinister answer to this mystery than Penny Dreadful.
Featured Image: Showtime