Say Goodbye to Hollywood

Last week, in a discussion thread on a story about plans to revamp Hollywood Boulevard and make it attractive to tourists, against an apparently overwhelming tide of homelessness, addiction and petty crime, someone posted a link to this Billy Joel song. For some curious reason it struck me, since I have been saying goodbye to Hollywood – the physical place, and the entertainment concept – over the last couple of decades.

I grew up on the fringes of physical Hollywood. My immediate family was not directly involved in the entertainment world, although there were a great number of curious connections. A fair number of friends and associates were employed in show-biz, mostly as technical specialists for various studios. One very dear friend of Mom and Dad’s was a makeup artist; curiously, as a straight and good-looking man, he wound up dating a fair number of stars and starlets before his marriage. They were gorgeous women and lonely when it came to dating, as their degree of fame intimidated the heck out of most potential dates who were not ‘in the business’. The husband of my Girl Scout troop leader when I was in high school was an audio tech for Warner Brothers; he got the troop a private tour of the studio lot. The set of the throne room/Round Table for the movie Camelot was still set up on one of the enormous sound stages, and it was every bit as cavernously awesome as it appeared in the movie, with enormous candelabras filled with dripping candles as thick around as my wrist. We also got to see and be introduced to Efrem Zimbalist, as he was shooting an episode of The FBI. Richard Widmark’s brother was one of my high school teachers – and another high school teacher had Tommy and Dick Smothers as students back in the day. Ronny Howard went to the same local junior high for a while – he was the same age as my next-younger brother. (Ronny’s stint in public school didn’t work out well – he was bullied and scorned for being a cry-baby, and his parents eventually removed him from that school.)

The Lutheran church in North Hollywood that we attended for many years also had a coterie of Hollywood people in the congregation – again, mostly techs, although Barbara Hutton coached the kids’ chorus for a while, and Elke Sommer also turned up now and again. (At a time, she had the public image of being a Continental sexpot – against type, she was a devout Lutheran and daughter of a Lutheran minister back in Germany.) As I had written before, Granny Clarke, the mother of one of Mom’s best friends had a storied career for half a century as housekeeper to the stars. The Cal State University Northridge campus, which I went to for upper division was a location for exteriors for the medical drama Medical Center, and there was often a camera crew working there. For years afterwards, running the TV control room for whatever AFRTS outlet I was assigned to, I amused myself by spotting familiar places around Los Angeles which had served as backgrounds. For TV shows mostly, as the movie location shooting could go very much farther afield by the late 1970s and early ’80s.

Say goodbye to Hollywood … my brothers and sister also knew physical aspects from the weekly commute to church. Over the hills from the San Fernando Valley, and down through Laurel Canyon – past the forest-grown grounds of Harry Houdini’s estate, although we were never looking in that direction. There was an old rustic house on the other side of Laurel Canyon, with a spiral staircase from an upper floor room wound round the trunk of a big tree next to the building. We were enchanted by that house, and always looked for it. Down to Sunset Boulevard, turning right and past the place where the Garden of Allah had been, and where there was a model of that legendary hotel complex in a glass case next to the bank HQ that sat for a time on that very spot. Past the Whiskey-a-Go-Go – then the white-hot live-music and clubbing venue on Saturday nights. Past the great neo-gothic cliff of the Chateau Marmont … past the more-than-life-size rotating showgirl on the signboard for the Sahara Hotel in Los Vegas – a billboard made famous by the book and movie Myra Breckenridge … all this to the tune of Mom quietly grousing about the drivers with out of state license plates, driving oh-so-slowly, thinking they would catch a glimpse of a real movie star! Yeah, a recognizable movie star, walking along the Sunset Boulevard sidewalk, on an early Sunday morning. It was considered rather tacky to make a big thing about recognizing a movie or TV star, gushing over how much you luuuuved them, and asking for an autograph. That was for tourists; for us here in that part of California, it was just the local industry, the business that many worked for; we were properly blasé. Gushing over stars that you recognized on the street, in a grocery store, or anywhere else? Tacky, tacky, tacky.

I was gone from there by 1977. The congregation of the Lutheran church had dwindled to almost nothing well before then, the building deconsecrated, sold and torn down, which was a pity, as it was a lovely neo-Tudor structure with gorgeous stained-glass windows, and traditional, richly embroidered paraments to dress the altar and sanctuary with. The various studios are still there, sort of, although much diminished from their heyday of more than half a century ago. Movies and television shows are filmed and taped practically everywhere else. The tourists who still come to see Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard, and the handprints of stars in the sidewalk apparently have to step over human poop on the sidewalk and dodge aggressive street people. I don’t think that proposed revamping will help much. It will all be a Potemkin set dressing on a decaying urban setting. And I haven’t set foot in a movie theater in ages, and the TV shows that we watch at home now are all produced and filmed/taped practically anywhere else.
Say Goodbye to Hollywood, indeed.

10 thoughts on “Say Goodbye to Hollywood”

  1. Sgt Mom — It is interesting to think how much the world has changed, even within only part of one’s lifetime. You lived when Hollywood made movies, Detroit made automobiles, and the US was that shining city on a hill.

    But if one really wants to get depressed about how much history has moved on — and downwards — visit NASA in Houston.

  2. I lived in Studio City until I was 10. My mother remembers seeing James Garner in the Hughes Market on Ventura Blvd – you are right; just be cool. He probably was finished for the day at Warner Brothers filming Maverick.

    She did get into a conversation with June Lockhart and IIRC she said that the young actor who played Timmy had a terrible time because of trying to also get schooling.

    CBS recently sold “Television City” there – where they filmed Carol Burnett among countless others…

    I think a lot of it has to to with the cost of labor there and the unions – and why so much is being filmed in Canada these days.

    Interesting about Elke Sommer.

  3. I also grew up there, a couple of blocks down from the Roosevelt Hotel. I left a while back. It all sounds quite familiar and the epitaph very true.

  4. Hollywood was always an illusion, kept alive with lights, smoke and mirrors, supported by flacks who made sure that we never knew what their clients were really up to.

    Of all the people that made their living pretending to be someone else on a movie screen, you can count the real humans on one hand. The fact that “Hollywood” celebrities routinely bray the red diaper catechism these days should not be surprising, as they can only recite the lines they are given. In WWII, it was career suicide for an actor not to be staunchly patriotic. Nowadays, the requirement to keep a career is similar, only the language and tone has changed 180 degrees.

    I, for one, will not miss Hollywood and its unsavory participants. The golden promise of California has been gone for 40 years, so there’s that.

  5. I remember watching the movie Chinatown, and recognizing the location with the kid and the burro, under the bridge where Foothill crosses the Big T wash. We used to see movie and TV crews around town fairly frequently. More recently it was also HGTV fixing up old houses.

    JPL is the part of NASA that still seems to work. Not cheaply and not efficiently, but they make stuff that goes places and does things. Maybe that comes from being privately run.

  6. With respect to B Dubya on this thread, I don’t rue the publicists of old keeping their clients’ dirty laundry out of the tabloids. Some may call it hypocrisy, but others say it’s a tribute to virtue. We could use more old-fashioned hypocrisy these days, instead of the modern version where the elites exhort us to cut our carbon emissions while they fly to global warming conferences on private planes and eat gas-grilled steak. Is it preferable to preach modesty, virtue and faithful marriage while not living up to it perfectly, or to preach sexual license and no marriage or family while living up to that without fail?

  7. I’ll have to watch Chinatown, and look for that scene, John. We lived in a house in the hills, just above that bridge – that neighborhood is gone, now – cleared out and graded flat for the 210 Freeway. We used to ride our horse down a winding track from the hill above Wentworth, and go into the Wash.
    It was a very odd milieu, when the big studios were in full swing. So many people had connections to the movie and TV business, as techs, creative types, and yes – even actors. The local attitude was one of mild interest: “did you know that so and so’s brother is…” or “I saw so and so coming out of this record store…” or “Hey, they were filming at such and-such a location…” and the reaction was, “Oh, hey, interesting – anyway…”

  8. well the Hayes code after the Arbuckle and other matters did try to present a veneer of respect, Chinatown telescopes the Mulholland incident some 30 years in to the future, LA Confidential did try for a similar milieu in the post war era, reasonably well, there was a recent book about the making of the film, but it gave little hints to the origin story, as for modern iterations I don’t recommend the recent Perry Mason adaptation that doesn’t know the difference between black and grey.

Comments are closed.