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Joseph Wambaugh: From Winchell’s Donuts to Ruth’s Chris

Fifty cops. Author Joseph Wambaugh isn’t exactly sure why or how he settled on that number as the one required to write a novel. But as he told interviewer Lee Goldberg yesterday at the LA Times Festival of Books, this was once again – give or take a few participants – the amount of background interviews he personally conducted before sitting down to write his latest, Harbor Nocturne.

Since Wambaugh lives in Point Loma, San Diego, the meeting point for his latest round of anecdotal fact-finding with San Pedro area cops was a Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Irvine. Goldberg joked that since these men and women are not receiving royalties for their contributions, at the very least they are going to require lunch-dinner at a place a cut or two above Arby’s.

At age 75, Wambaugh is still whip-smart hilarious and politically incorrect. The most earnest question posed during the audience Q&A portion was by a man near the front. This attendee insinuated that those attracted to the job of police officer must have issues and wondered what kind of person Wambaugh thought is typically drawn to the author’s former career. Wambaugh replied, deadpan – “First, you have to have a certain feeling for Winchell’s Donuts.”

Wambaugh immediately added what he deemed an ironic coda to his own LAPD donut shop days. When his success as an author allowed him to move to the tony suburb of San Marino, his neighbor turned out to be none other than the chain’s founder, Verne Winchell.

[Photo of Goldberg and Wambaugh, taken at the USC Festival of Books green room prior to Saturday's Bing Theatre discussion, courtesy Goldberg's Twitter feed]

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