Hooray for Hollywood
1 TV shoot, 1 legendary hotel, 2 friends, 3 studios, 4 happy campers – all in 2 days.
The day before yesterday began with an excursion to West Hollywood. We repaired to my office in Mel’s Diner on Sunset. After lunch I strolled over to Book Soup, a great old-school bookstore on the Strip, and picked up a book about music-making in Laurel Canyon in the 60s and 70s, the shop being in spitting distance of Whisky-a-go-go, the Rainbow Room and all the other music landmarks as well as being within a few miles of the Canyon itself.
From Sunset we headed out to Burbank to do the tour of Warner Bros. studio. I was a bit dubious about this excursion but it turned out to be fun, lead by a slightly chubby twentysomething who couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about TV and movies and couldn’t have fitted more words into the space of two hours. She buggied us around the lot from the only jungle set in Hollywood (most recently used in Jurassic Park – correctly guessed by Enfant Terrible No. 1 which was impressive) under the famous Warner Bros. water tower (there’s no longer enough water in California to fill such things) to the Typical American Town set which was used in the original Ocean’s Eleven (with Frank Sinatra) among others. We got to peruse lots of Batman stuff from Health Ledger’s nurse’s uniform from Dark Knight to the BatBike (which Christopher Nolan insisted on being a working vehicle, same as his Batmobile which he wanted to be designed as a mixture of a Lambo and a tank). Along the way we got to see the original pitching image from Scooby Doo and beautiful animation cells from The Jetsons and Bugs Bunny. I once met Chuck Jones and asked him about Bugs’s penchant for dressing as a female.
Once that was all, folks, we headed back to Sunset and the Chateau Marmont, haunted by the shades of John Belushi and Helmut Newton. There our white Patriot Jeep was parked up by the valet (we’re enjoying that most American of things, the white Patriot, as a worthy follow-up to the ‘Red Tomay-to’ of our last family visit to California in 2005), we walked up and through the luxuriously chilled-out lounge out to the discreet sunlit courtyard, the white art deco buildings catching the last rays of the summer sun. After a while my old school friend showed up, I hadn’t seen him for a good while, he moved to LA when we were in our early 20s, and we enjoyed a beautiful reunion. He got on great with the Enfants Terribles, regaling them with delightful stories of Scarlett Johansson giving a well-known Latino star a post-Oscars blow-job in the Marmont’s lift and the like. It was an all-round happy evening with great chat, decent booze and classy food. My friend, who makes indy movies, now lives in Laurel Canyon, bringing the day to a neat circular conclusion.
Yesterday we kicked off with another studio tour, this time of the most beautiful studios with the greatest track-record, namely Paramount. One of my best friends is married to a senior lawyer there who kindly arranged for us to have a tour of the backlot followed by lunch in the commissary. Highlights included the New York street set which they were setting up, moving trees around on fork-lifts and other semi-surreal activities; the Chicago street corner where Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard robbed a pair of masks in Breakfast at Tiffany’s; the sound stages where The Godfather and The Godfather: Part 2 were shot, plus the ones used for Citizen Kane and the original King Kong; the massive pool (used as a blue-floored car park despite the sloping sides) with its huge sky-wall background which is a unique Paramount facility (last filled and used for Benjamin Button); and the familiar original gate of the studio, the Bronson Gate, from which Charles got his name. All of this bathed in the glow of Rockridge (now a car park) and Blazing Saddles which busts out of its studio confines through the gate we first entered to enjoy some more deluxe valet parking.
Two days of Hollywood immersion climaxed in a visit to Quixote Studios in Glendale/Griffith Park where another old friend was starring in a detective series, Criminal Minds, he’s been doing for eleven seasons for US network television on CBS and syndicated to the international market (on Sky and Netflix in the UK). He plays one of the main FBI agents in an elite team of criminal profilers (think Cracker but good-looking and with a private jet), alongside fellow agent Joe Mantegna. After visiting the Godfather sound stages earlier in the afternoon my Golden Age of 70s Movies day was made complete with a conversation with Joe aka Joey Zasa of The Godfather: Part 3. I was in New York the day the movie opened and lined up on that Christmas Day to see it.
We ate with the cast and crew before attending a read-through of the next episode, to be directed by Joe. A very entertaining 42 minutes it sounded, the Americans are so good at writing compelling formats which you have to have ‘just one more episode’ of before bedtime. The writers were present as well as the casting team. Before starting there was a round-table of everyone introducing themselves which extended to the Enfants Terribles who were slightly sheepish having no role or job-title.
Following the read-through we went into the studio to watch the current episode being shot. On the way we stopped off in the Lear jet set. It’s a fanciful addition to the Criminal Minds world as FBI agents barely get an economy airfare these days, let alone their own wings. The audience love it though, just as they love the literary quotes which are dropped in every episode, come rain or shine, at the beginning and end. We got to chat with various members of the cast between takes and the director, all super-friendly and welcoming.
Besides being really struck this time by how attractive LA is in its low-rise laid-back expanse, I have also really enjoyed how friendly and polite the Americans have been. Walking back to our Venice apartment this afternoon I was thrown a compliment by a passer-by for the third time this trip about my T-shirt (that’s three different T-shirts now). Hooray for Hollywood, the City of Angels and the good ol’ US of A.