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A 'Histo-Tainment' Take on the L.A. County Fair

A 1962 photo of the entrance to the Fun Zone at the Los Angeles County Fair, taken from Charles Phoenix's book <em>Americana Beautiful: Mid-Century Culture in Kodachrome</em>.
A 1962 photo of the entrance to the Fun Zone at the Los Angeles County Fair, taken from Charles Phoenix's book <em>Americana Beautiful: Mid-Century Culture in Kodachrome</em>.
Charles Phoenix, replete with fez and flag.
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Charles Phoenix, replete with fez and flag.
Full-sized statues of camels are the centerpiece of a flower display with an oasis theme at the L.A. County Fair.
Shereen Meraji, NPR /
Full-sized statues of camels are the centerpiece of a flower display with an oasis theme at the L.A. County Fair.

In terms of size and attendence, the Los Angeles County Fair is considered the largest county fair in the nation. And it takes a big personality to cover all the fun.

Self-proclaimed "histo-tainer" Charles Phoenix visits the fair in search of extraordinary livestock, deep-fried Twinkies, and a high-stakes beanbag toss.

The Southern California native, who studied at the Disneyland School of Style, began promoting kitsch in earnest after stumbling across a box of family and travel slides in a thrift shop.

He soon began collecting other old slides, and turned his passion into a live comedy act that both makes fun of and celebrates the earnest and often tacky tastes of a bygone American era.

And there may be no better place to celebrate Americana than at the L.A. County Fair -- in terms of attendance and size, the biggest county fair in the country.

Phoenix has made his love of kitsch into something of a full-time career -- he is author and editor of coffee-table books on mid-century American art, fashion, transportation and architecture.

He also gives bus tours of downtown Los Angeles, where he finds close and often hilarious comparisons between those gritty urban streets and the highly manicured, "imagineered" streets of Disneyland.

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