Vintage Hollywood in Los Angeles is an extract from the Lonely Planets book Culture Trails.
Pacific Coast Highway Travel is delighted to be working with publishers Lonely Planet to bring you an extract from their book Culture Trails. This Los Angeles trail takes the reader through Vintage Hollywood.
Culture Trails is a handsome coffee-table book, and we review it here. Pacific Coast Highway Travel is delighted to have this extract from the excellent essay on Vintage Hollywood. To whet your appetite for the book, here are some of the other highlights:
• On a Classical High in Vienna
• Confronting Soviet Ghosts in Bulgaria
• Literary Paris through the Eyes of Hemingway
• Traditional Music in the Wild West, Ireland
• Mackintosh & the Glasgow Style
• Aboriginal Art in the Northern Territory, Australia
• Havana’s Music Scene
• Tokyo Pop Culture
• Politico Washington on the Small Screen
• Finnish Sauna Culture
Peel back the glitzy celluloid layers and Los Angeles can transport you back to its early 20th-century Golden Age, when glamour and intrigue inspired life, film and fiction.
On the sunny coast of Southern California, Los Angeles — no matter if you call it ‘La La Land’ or the ‘City of Angels’— is a dreamscape. Here in the early 20th century, enterprising filmmakers began churning out movies to entertain the rest of the country and, soon enough, the entire world.
As much as ‘The Industry’ (that’s what locals call the TV and movie biz) has sold celluloid images of SoCal’s golden beaches, muscled lifeguards and bikini-clad volleyball players to audiences worldwide, LA has always had a seamy underbelly too.
Just think about the corruption and twisted betrayals seen in classic noir films of the late 1940s and ’50s, or the hardboiled detective novels of Raymond Chandler, who began publishing after the Great Depression.
More recently, a renaissance of noir crime fiction has been led by James Ellroy, an LA-born novelist who often writes about Hollywood’s Golden Age, sometimes based on events that actually happened, such as the Black Dahlia murder.
On this trail, you can travel back in time to glimpse Old Hollywood, both the glamorous lives of celebrities such as Ava Gardner and Clark Gable, and also the dark side of LA crime fiction set in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. Step inside the nightspots where movie stars and literary luminaries boozed it up with their friends, as well as places where actors showed up in diamonds and designer wear for film premieres and Academy Awards ceremonies.
Often the same spots where the stars were known to hang out in real life also appear in noir crime novels, especially Raymond Chandler’s tales of private eye Philip Marlowe in shadowy ‘Bay City’.
On its grand opening night in 1927, this Hollywood movie palace premiered a silent epic, The King of Kings, directed by Cecil B DeMille. Originally co-owned by silent-film stars Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford (aka ‘America’s Sweetheart’), the theatre has a fantastical facade imitating a Chinese palace, complete with a pagoda roof and temple bells.
Outside in the concrete forecourt, generations of celebrities have left handprints, footprints and other lasting impressions such as pin-up girl Betty Grable’s legs and the hoofprints of Roy Rogers’ beloved horse Trigger. The theatre still shows regular movies and hosts premieres.
www.tclchinesetheatres.com; tel +1 323 461 3331; 6925 Hollywood Blvd; daily show times vary
Follow the Hollywood Walk of Fame, looking for your favourite artist’s name on a coral pink star marked with a brass emblem signifying in which part of ‘The Industry’ — that is, film, TV, radio, music or theatre — they made their mark.
Past the Spanish Baroque-style El Capitan Theatre, detour to the elegant art deco Max Factor building. Here, stars such as blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe and sassy redhead Lucille Ball had Max Factor himself do their make-up and styling before movie premieres. Today it houses the Hollywood Museum, an eclectic collection of more than 10,000 pieces of movie-making memorabilia. Gawk at set pieces, props and costumes — anything from Elvis’s favourite bathrobe to Rocky’s boxing gloves.
www.thehollywoodmuseum.com; tel +1 323 464 7776; 1660 N Highland Ave; 10am-5pm Wed-Sun
Back on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, you’ll pass the Egyptian Theatre, another classic movie palace by impresario Sid Grauman. Built in 1922, its over-the-top design reflects the worldwide craze for Egyptian decor following the discovery of King Tut’s tomb.
A half-mile walk brings you to the Frolic Room, a dive bar with a staggering pedigree, standing in the shadow of the 1930s Pantages Theater. As seen in the movie LA Confidential, based on James Ellroy’s neo-noir novel, the Frolic Room was a popular watering hole for movie stars in Hollywood’s Golden Age.
Slide into a red booth after picking out some songs on the jukebox. The cocktails are stiff, which you’ll appreciate after finding out that this might have been the last place the real ‘Black Dahlia’, Elizabeth Short, was seen alive before being brutally murdered in 1947.
Tel +1 323 462 5890; 6245 Hollywood Blvd; 11am-2am daily
It’s a quick taxi ride down to this bizarrely touristy cemetery, the final resting place of dozens of Hollywood stars from yesteryear. Buy a map from the flower shop, then go hunting for the marble tomb of Douglas Fairbanks, Cecil B DeMille’s stone sarcophagus or the crypt of silent-film heart throb Rudolph Valentino.
Pay your respects to the modest headstone of John Huston, who directed the classic noir film The Maltese Falcon (1941), originally a novel by hardboiled crime-fiction writer Dashiell Hammett. Sometimes on summer nights, movies are projected onto a supersized outdoor screen here (cinespia.org) and a DJ spins electronica while couples picnic under the stars.
www.hollywoodforever.com; tel +1 323 469 1181; 6000 Santa Monica Blvd; 8am-5pm daily
Hop in another taxi to West Hollywood’s fabled Formosa Cafe, which first opened in 1925 inside a converted trolley car. It quickly became a gathering spot for stars working at nearby movie studio lots. You may recognise the 1930s building’s signature red exterior with the black-and-white awnings from LA Confidential. Currently this historical landmark is closed; check to see if it has reopened. Fingers crossed, you’ll be able to step inside and peruse head shots of the bar’s most (in)famous patrons, including gangster ‘Bugsy’ Siegel and movie stars such as Humphrey Bogart and Grace Kelly.
7156 Santa Monica Blvd
In Downtown LA, Union Station was one of the last great railway stations built in the USA. A mix of art deco and California’s Spanish-influenced Mission Revival architectural style, this landmark opened in 1939. With a cavernous and hauntingly beautiful waiting room, Union Station has starred in countless movies and TV shows. It also featured in Raymond Chandler’s final novel Playback, in which private eye Philip Marlowe meets a mysterious woman arriving on the Super Chief from Chicago. Many Hollywood stars also took that same train route back in the day.
A 10-minute walk away, through the plazas and shopping streets of El Pueblo de Los Angeles historical monument, you’ll find LA’s City Hall (1928) — an impressively triple-tiered art-deco tower seen in the 1950s TV series Dragnet and the film LA Confidential. It also makes an appearance in a Chandler novel, Trouble Is My Business, when Marlowe smokes a cigarette in the dark on the steps outside.
www.unionstationla.com; 800 N Alameda St; 4am-1am
A see-and-be-seen spot where many starlets have been discovered, this restaurant is at the ritzy Beverly Hills Hotel, a 40-minute drive from Downtown LA. Snag a table on the sun-kissed outdoor patio, where fuchsia-coloured bougainvillea flowers cascade over the hotel’s signature pink stucco walls. Star sightings are still practically guaranteed here and also in the hotel’s Fountain Coffee Room, where Marilyn Monroe once perched at the counter.
www.dorchestercollection.com; tel +1 310 887 2777; 9641 Sunset Blvd; 7am-1.30am
Wind west on Sunset Blvd all the way to the Pacific Ocean, where the seaside town of Santa Monica was reimagined by Raymond Chandler as ‘Bay City’. It was filled with corrupt cops, two-faced women and rough-and-tumble mobsters, as seen in the 1946 movie adaptation of Chandler’s novel The Big Sleep, starring Humphrey Bogart and siren Lauren Bacall.
You won’t find offshore gambling ships or bootleggers here anymore, but you can walk out onto Santa Monica Pier like Marlowe moodily did. It best evokes Chandler’s chilling novels on foggy, moonless nights.
santamonicapier.org; tel +1 310 458 8901; pier 24hr
Where to Stay
HOLLYWOOD ROOSEVELT HOTEL
Gorgeously renovated, this 1926 hotel mixes old Hollywood glamour with contemporary design. Sleep in a mod poolside cabana like Marilyn Monroe did, or book a sumptuously furnished studio inside the historic tower.
www.thehollywoodroosevelt.com; tel +1 323 856 1970; 7000 Hollywood Blvd
Hollywood’s version of a French chateau, this elite address is where movie stars still stay today, along with celebutantes, rock ’n’ roll musicians and the merely rich, but not yet famous. Lovers can retreat to a garden cottage or poolside bungalow.
www.chateaumarmont.com; tel +1 323 656 1010; 8221 Sunset Blvd
Where to Eat & Drink
MUSSO & FRANK GRILL
Hollywood’s oldest restaurant (since 1919), this clubby Italian-American chophouse has been the haunt of many movie stars, including Charlie Chaplin, as well as crime novelists and screenplay writers, Raymond Chandler among them.
www.mussoandfrank.com; tel +1 323 467 7788; 6667 Hollywood Blvd
With spectacular views over LA from its perch in the Hollywood Hills, this faux Asian temple built by quirky art collectors later became a spot for Hollywood hobnobbing. Come for Cal-Asian fusion food and neon-coloured cocktails.
yamashirohollywood.com; tel +1 323 466 5125; 1999 N Sycamore Ave
Every February, A-list movie stars sashay down the red carpet into the Dolby Theatre to attend this annual awards ceremony, first held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in 1929.
On the Hollywood Walk of Fame, join the public spectacle whenever a new star is revealed, which happens several times a year. Check the website for upcoming ceremonies.
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