Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Hollywood tours

Tourism is always big in Los Angeles, especially during the summer. Local residents on the Westside are used to seeing kids stand out on Sunset Blvd. selling maps to the stars’ homes. Hollywood locals take it for granted that a thousand nimrods in Bermuda shorts will be milling about Grauman’s Chinese Theater and getting selfies with Spiderman or a guy dressed like Marilyn Monroe. And double-decked tour buses clogging up left hand lanes is a city staple.

But this year, for some reason, I am seeing way more tour buses. It’s almost one-to-one Hollywood Tour vans and parking enforcement vehicles. Why there are so many more tour buses these days I do not know. Especially since…

There is nothing to see.

Not really.

One tour takes you by the homes of the stars. But stars don’t live in Beverly Hills anymore. They used to. You could drive by Jack Benny’s house, and Lucille Ball’s, and Ronald Colman’s but the chances of actually seeing them have breakfast or watering the lawn is rather slim since they’re dead. And how many of you even know who Ronald Colman was? You’re driving by lawyers’ homes and guys who own furniture warehouses.

Stars live secluded in canyons and beach colonies and Upper Manhattan. Their compounds are gated. And would you even know the difference? If a tour guide took you to Bel Air, pointed to a gate, and said this is where Tom Cruise lives, how would you know it’s not really where the owner of Starlight Tours lives? Or a military academy?

As for stars’ hangouts – you don’t need a tour bus. Just go to Maestro’s or Spago’s or any super expensive chic eatery. The classic Hollywood haunts like Chasen’s, Perino’s, the Brown Derby, Scandia, Le Dome, Morton’s – they’re long gone. Sure, you can still go to Pink’s Hot Dogs as Orson Welles frequently did, but you’ll suffer the same fate as him. Musso & Frank’s is still open, and it’s worth seeing, but the only movie stars you’ll see there now are celebrating their 105th birthdays. Over the years I’ve seen dozens of big stars in LA restaurants, but they’ve all closed. Perhaps I should start a tour: “Where Robert Duvall, LaToya Jackson, and Dustin Hoffman used to eat.”

Will you see stars shopping in Beverly Hills? Maybe. You’ll more likely see their personal assistants.

These tours also show you “locations” from movies and TV shows. The truth is after a hundred years of movie making, every street and location has been used at least once. So the Coffee Bean you’re in right now was once a hamburger stand used in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH. The street you just crossed was seen in an Allstate commercial back in 1967. The actual house used on BLESS THIS HOUSE might be right around the corner. Just assume it is.

LA is a great vacation destination.  Lots of fun things to see and do.   Disneyland, Dodger Stadium, the Venice Beach walk, Universal, the Grove, Farmer's Market, LACMA, Costco. If you want to see television shows you can write to the networks.  TV tickets are free.  And there are kiosks in tourist locations like the Grove that offer these tickets.  You can see Ellen.   

But the bottom line is this: You want to see big movie stars? You want to see A-list celebrities? Come back in the winter and go to a Lakers game.

44 comments:

Bill Avena said...

Remember when the LAPD used to watch pornos to see if they could recognize "locations" and arrest producers because it was then illegal to film xxx in LA?
My favorite satirical Hollywood tours are found in Mazursky's ALEX IN WONDERLAND and ANNIE HALL. The most beautiful one is the opening of THE BIG LEBOWSKI.

Matt said...

The way the Lakers are playing you might want to come back in the Winter and see a Clippers game.

Rock Golf said...

Sure. That's why they watched the pornos...

Michael said...

I lived in Los Angeles from 1981 to 1989, but while the city had its charms, it never did feel completely right to me. I had been born and raised in New York, and moved back there in late '89. All was right again once I returned there. At least for me. It's funny, but I know people from the west coast who find New York equally discomforting. I now live in Vermont, a place I've grown awfully fond of.

Mike Barer said...

My wife and I took the Hollywood tour in 1997, and enjoyed it because it showed points of interest in LA. I remember seeing the Mickey Mouse sculpture on the gate of what was Walt Disney's house.

Salad is Slaughter said...

I did have dinner with Jon Lovitz at Pinks back in 2007. Well, technically he was ahead of me in line and sat two tables away but I'm still counting it. Yes, it could happen to you!

Diane D. said...

Oh dear, another expatriate from New York living in Vermont. If all the former New Yorkers who live in Vermont moved back to NYC, the already miniscule population (600,000 in the whole state!) wouldn't have a tax base big enough to keep the highways paved. I must say, however, driving along those highways where billboards are prohibited makes for a very scenic experience. The signs that say "Vermont for Vermonters" posted on the "native's" lawns aren't very welcoming though. I keep thinking I'll see a retaliatory sign that says, "Vermont for New Yorkers."

You can't tell who the ex-New Yorkers are by looking at them. I know a former NYC Stock Broker who put on a pair of Farmer Brown overalls the day he moved there and has worn nothing else since. He owns a farm…..and a real estate development.

Mike Doran said...

Ronald Coleman?

Never heard of him. Ballplayer, maybe?

Now, Ronald Colman -

- Lost Horizon, The Whole Town's Talking, Halls Of Ivy, Champagne For Caesar, he and Benita were Jack Benny's neighbors ...

... him I've heard of ...

(I kid because I care.)

Peter said...

Forget seeing movie stars, I miss eating at Johnny Rockets and Baja Fresh, shopping at Amoeba, seeing a movie at the Arclight and drinking at Boardner's.

Michael said...

LOL@Diane D.

All very true. Moving into Vermont is a little like being met at the state line by a group of stern New Englanders who are blocking the road and want to know just where the heck do you think you're going. My partner is a Vermont native, though, so he was welcome, and I got a spouse's pass. He really didn't like living in the city. We have a neighbor who still blames that awful Bob Newhart for setting his sitcom in Vermont and making people aware of what a lovely place it is.

Peter said...

Ken, will you be reviewing Fantastic Four? It's being ripped to shreds by audiences and critics and is tanking heavily at the box office. I'd love to read your take on it, especially if it's going to be snarky.

Ken Levine said...

Peter,

No. I've seen enough superhero movies already this year and to see one that everyone says is awful seems like a waste of time. I will do a TRAINWRECK review in the coming weeks.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Bill Avena: What about the wonderful tour that Steve Martin gives Victoria Tennant in L.A. STORY? (Which after all is merely a subset of an entire movie-ful of L.A. tour.) Or doesn't it count because it was more L.A. than just Hollywood?

wg

Peter said...

Thanks for replying, Ken!

I don't blame you. It's a real dud. TRAINWRECK hasn't opened in the UK yet but looking forward to it. I like Amy Schumer.

I've just been catching up on some of your past reviews, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago I'm gonna try and eventually catch up on several years' worth of posts! I enjoyed your Hollywoodland review and this bit made me laugh: "Along the way he sasses the coppers, gets roughed up by some gunsels (“Let dis be a warnin’ to ya, drop dis case!”), hits the bottle pretty hard, confronts the big boss named Eddie, jaws the Wrigleys pretty good, and bites off more than he can chew. All in a sepia tone. Someone must’ve discovered that nifty feature when editing in FINAL CUT PRO 5."

Anonymous said...

"We're racing for pinks!"
"You mean ownership papers?"
"No, Pink's Hot Dogs, I have a coupon."

Aaron Hazouri said...

Wife and I were in LA last week (thinking of relocating) and she insisted on us doing the double decker tour. Not the "See the star's homes!" deal but the "See LA while somebody else drives and deals with traffic, and also there's a voiceover with pieces of trivia that may or may not be completely fabricated." It gave us an okay idea of how the city is laid out and took us thru areas I might not otherwise have been able to drive thru during our day-and-a-half. Though I felt a little self conscious when a hipster in dayglo orange sunglasses sitting outside a cafe locked eyes with me and slowly shook his head in disgust......

Bill Avena said...

Wendy Grossman: I guess the movies I mentioned were LA, not Hollywood. I've never been in LA except to change planes. ("don't know Hollywood from a hole in the ground.")

Hal Tepfer said...

Ken, your fame knows no bounds. Today's "Uni Watch" (great site) had this item about your taste in baseball uniforms:

"Ken Levine sounds like a fascinating guy: he was both a play-by-play announcer who worked for multiple MLB teams, and he’s a screenwriter that has written for The Simpsons, among others. Basically, he’s living my dream. Anyway, in his “It’s Gone!…No, Wait a Minute…”, Levine mentions that he likes the Tigers’ road uniforms."

Sadly, no mention of the Isotopes...

Diane D. said...

Michael
Funny, because on the country road where my daughter lives there is a charming bed and breakfast that looks like it was inspired by that Bob Newhart show! It's owned by a wonderful couple, one of whom is a native and I believe the other is indeed from New York.

I love to visit Vermont but I must say I envy your years in New York and L.A. I would love to live for a couple of years in one or the other before I die.

Glenn E said...

A Friday question re: all the days.

Ken, you once mentioned about Wednesday night being a tough night traditionally for CBS in the ratings, it might have been regarding the “Mary” show of the mid-1980’s. I was curious if there has always been certain nights of the week that each network has either dominated or struggled to compete with little variation through the years. With DVRs and streaming options giving viewers more control of their viewing times, can we now look back over the 60+ years of television and award, for example, NBC the All-Time Thursday ratings champ or CBS the All-time Monday ratings champ? Who else wins these All-Time “days of the week” awards?

scott said...

Part of the reason Walt Disney built Disneyland is because he knew people came to Hollywood and there was nothing to see.

The Wonder Years house out in Burbank is kind of neat to see, though.

Anonymous said...

The original owners of Pinks was more famous for Pink's racing engines, favorites of the top midget racers.

VP81955 said...

The only Hollywood tour I've been on so far is the TCM tour, which for the most part was pretty good for a film history buff such as myself, although the tour guide made a faux pas or two:

* Passing Hollywood High School early on the tour, he said Carole Lombard was one of its alumni. No! Carole attended the then-newly opened Fairfax High for about a year and a half in 1924-25 before signing as a teen with Fox and making a few films (all lost, alas) before an automobile accident temporarily curtailed her career. The Carol truly associated with Hollywood Hig, home of the Sheiks (do they still call their girls' teams the Shebas?) is Carol Burnett, who I saw a few weeks back at the Kristin Chenoweth Walk of Fame ceremony.

* Later on, the bus took us to Wilshire and Western where the guide pointed out the beautiful Wiltern Theater, noting that when it opened in 1931 a special footbridge was built over the boulevard for VIPs and celebrities that night. All that is accurate. However, he made a major goof when he said Dick Powell (whom few were aware of in '31) was the master of ceremonies. It was William Powell, at the time a newly-signed Warners contract player...and then also Lombard's husband.

Beyond those gaffes, it was a delightful tour, as we got to see various parts of the city with cinematic connections, including downtown (the Bradbury Building and Union Station). While I see many of these sights in my everyday jaunts, it's good for out-of-towners to witness.

A postscript: Last Friday, I was going to attend a scriptwriters' social at a bar up the street from the Whisky a Go Go, when a TMZ tour bus passed and stopped at the Whisky. I yelled to the passengers, "Johnny Rivers forever!" -- and I still wonder how many of the tourgoers understood the allusion.

MikeK.Pa. said...

"Perhaps I should start a tour:"
Just curious, for planning purposes when I come out with the family, do you have an 8-passenger or 15-passenger van? And is there a lunch?

Would still like to read your take on THE BRINK. Tim Robbins steals the show every week from Jack Black, with ease.

Andy Rose said...

I wouldn't suggest writing to the networks (or producers, for that matter) for tickets. They all outsource their ticket handouts to companies like Audiences Unlimited and OCA now. Everybody stopped accepting paper requests during the anthrax scare, and never went back because it's so much easier and cheaper to handle things over the internet.

VP81955 said...

I used Audiences Unlimited to see the season 3 premiere filming of "Mom" o July 31.

Roseann said...

Diane D.- Bring wheelbarrows of moolah when you make the move. You can't believe what the markup is in both those cities. I lived in NYC in the 80's. It was a bit more manageable then. It's a nice place to visit......

Johnny Walker said...

I did a Startour on my last visit to Los Angeles. I'm not proud of that fact, but I was curious to do it and see for myself what it was like, plus I was showing my Dad LA, and it seemed like a good touristy thing to do. Aside from being able to see what one of those tours was ACTUALLY like, it wasn't. A large part of the trip was incredibly boring... turns out traffic in LA affects tour buses, too.

But even when we weren't stuck in traffic, it was fairly dull, and not a little icky. The best part (and really the only good part) was seeing a bunch of AMAZING houses. Incredible and beautiful looking homes that you just don't see in normal everyday life. They weren't owned by anyone famous -- they were just great to look at as we drove around.

You quickly learn that looking at a building allegedly owned by someone famous is an incredibly dull affair anyway. It doesn't change your appreciation of the building, or give you any insight into the person living there. (Would your house reflect you?) Although the one exception may have been the Playboy Mansion -- audacious and lacking in taste.

And even if you are really interested to see where a particular megastar lives (and isn't that a little creepy?), the houses that WERE supposedly owned by the "big" names are beyond locked gates, or over hills down roads you're not allowed to drive down, anyway. You're not going to get to see anything.

There were times when the driver would go as far as they could down a dirt road and then say, "I can't go any further, but that patch of yellow way in the distance is part of Tom Cruise's house". It felt really desperate, and you felt like saying to the driver, "Just don't bother. Really. Take us to see some beautiful streets instead."

And even when stars lived on normally accessible streets, it didn't change anything: A boring building is a boring building, no matter who you're being told lives in it. "Bruno Mars lives here." "The Queen of England lives here." Whoop-de-doo! You either like the building or you don't. There's no insight.

Plus you just don't feel good being outside someone's house -- simply because they live there. What exactly were we hoping to see? What were we hoping to learn? It quickly feels creepy and wrong. The seediness seeps in the second you've bought your ticket, and it only gets worse. There were times I wanted to hide... but there's nowhere to hide in a tiny cramped tour bus.

The only time the Hollywood aspect was interesting was seeing homes that had been previously owned by legends of yore. Seeing places that Marilyn Monroe or Lucille Ball lived in was like glimpsing into a Hollywood that no longer exists -- one without tour buses. That was fascinating in its own way.

Strangely, I didn't get the impression that anyone else on the tour was particularly interested in seeing movie stars' homes, either. I know that sounds weird, but everyone seemed as bored as me. Maybe they were excited before they got on, but the interest seemed to quickly fade -- Perhaps once they realised they weren't going to actually see Tom Cruise's house, or maybe because they began to feel icky, too.

The most eventful moment was when an older guy in a convertible drove up next to us, with his hot date in the passenger seat. "Hey!", he yelled, "seen any stars??" Nobody on the bus had the energy to respond. "Look up at the sky! That's the only way you'll see any! Ha ha!"

He was a dick, but he was right... but I don't think anyone on the bus needed to be told. Nobody seemed fanatical, or even remotely starstruck.

As a tour of interesting homes (usually the ones we didn't stop at), and a part of LA I've never seen, I really enjoyed it -- but there has to be a better way to see the beautiful architecture of Los Angeles without feeling icky and creepy.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

The last three times I've been in LA I've traveled solely by public transport. It's a fascinating experience because the only other white people on the metro or the bus were out-of-towners; it seems that white LA drives everywhere. I spent a couple of nights visiting a nephew before flying back out. "Do you want me to call you a cab?" he asked. "Why?" I said. "There's a bus that goes straight to the airport from the stop across the street from your house for $1.25." He never knew, because the bus was outside his front door, and he always drove into the carport at the back.

The metro's reach is limited but it works well within that; obviously the buses are slower. In the process I discovered the lovely gem that is LA's Union Station. If you want to see the place, I recommend this method. When you drive, you just see the highways. There are even some neighborhoods that are good for walking - downtown Hollywood (where I spent a few days while attending the AFI festival one year) for one, and of course Santa Monica (where I spent a week once when speaking at a conference; the amazing thing there was the astonishing mass of joggers out by the beach at 3:30am so they could get their run in and still make it to the office at 5am, to match the New York offices, I guess).

wg

Diane D. said...

VP 81955
A film history BUFF?!! I thought surely you had a PhD in the subject, with all the references you make to obscure or ancient (cinematically) incidents or facts. My knowledge of the subject has been soaring by just looking up the things you mention in your comments. However, I was surprised that you actually knew what high school Carole Lombard attended!

RCP said...

Two blocks from where I live is the gas station (well, the remains) where one of the last photos of James Dean was taken as he filled his tank. Two blocks in the other direction is a Ralphs (supermarket) where I've spotted Wayne Knight and Judy Tenuta (not together). Driving one block from my home, I sat at a red light next to Harry Hamlin. I've got stars, honey, and I don't have to pay for em.

Ben Kubelsky said...

@Glenn E-- great idea! Hope Ken goes with it. I have wondered this many times myself, and I agree with your two picks. I would add these; and mind you, we may not love all these shows, but we have to admit they were hits...

-Sunday, CBS (Ed Sullivan, 60 Minutes; Smothers Brothers, Mission Impossible, Lassie, Jack Benny; All in the Family, Alice).... I realize some people will say Fox, but I'd have to say The Simpsons and King of the Hill get trumped by CBS' entire slate.
-Tuesday, ABC (Three's Company, Happy Days, Taxi, Roseanne, Coach; thirtysomething)
-Wednesday, ABC (Wonder Years; Charlie's Angels, Growing Pains, Batman)... CBS could make a case here too
-Friday, ABC (Odd Couple, Brady Bunch, Perfect Strangers, Full House, 20/20, Boy Meets World)
-Saturday, CBS (has there been a better lineup than AITF, MASH, MTM, Bob and Carol?!)

Breadbaker said...

Wendy M. Grossman, I had much the same experience. It took a bus and two trains to get to my downtown hotel, and a homeless man to show me how to climb the hill to it (lovely guy; yes, my spare change ended up in his hand).

But when a friend suggested I take the Red Line to meet her for dinner, I already had my pass. And when my niece suggested I take a bus to meet her and her boyfriend, I still had my pass. But in both cases, they drove me back to the hotel because they couldn't conceive of any other way.

Friend took me by the Brady Bunch house, by the way, Ken.

Geoff with a G said...

There's a terrific Judd Apatow/Steve Martin story related to star tours here:

http://video.vanityfair.com/watch/steve-martin-and-judd-apatow-discuss-their-first-encounter

It's a bonus video feature from the Apatow edited comedy issue a couple years ago.

Johnny Walker said...

As a tourist I've also visited Union Station. It's absolutely wonderful, as Wendy says. I wish the stations in London were so beautiful. Shame it's not used more.

Also: The restaurant inside has a great Waldorf Salad. (Or it did a few years back.)

ODJennings said...

"The last three times I've been in LA I've traveled solely by public transport. It's a fascinating experience because the only other white people on the metro or the bus were out-of-towners;"


A friend of mine who doesn't drive seems to get around LA surprisingly well by using the free hotel shuttles. Get on at Hotel A, ride it to LAX, transfer to Hotel B's shuttle and wind up on the other side of town. He swears it's faster and more convenient than you would think, and the only awkward moment was when Bill Marriott sat down beside him on the bus and wanted to chat about how he enjoyed his stay at the Marriott.

I go to LA a lot on business, so I'm expected to be able to produce a celebrity sighting at will. Anymore I take them on the Warner Studio Tour and call it a day. The VIP Tour includes lunch in the commissary, and there's usually someone moderately famous eating a chicken pot pie. Even if there isn't, driving by Clint Eastwood's parking place seems to satisfy their need to bask in celebrity glory.

Barry Traylor said...

I remember Ronald Colman thanks to the magic of tv and especially TCM and as I am an Old Time Radio fan I love the Jack Benny show. The man was a comic genius.

Barry Traylor said...

As I just mentioned we had our grandson with us yesterday and he said he'd like to see Fantastic Four, all I could think was Good Grief!!! Fortunately we were able to talk him into us taking him to play laser tag.

Pete said...

I remember doing one of those tours and as the tour guide was saying who lived in one particular home (I forget which one) there was a local standing next to the bus walking her dog saying "no he doesn't"

J Spencer said...

First, minor correction, I believe is Mastro's restaurant, not Maestro's. Side note, I saw Eric McCormack at Spago not long ago. Wolfgang's often there of course.

I like to stay at The Beverly Hills Hotel when I'm in town and within the past 2 years or so have seen Toby Maguire and Mark Wahlberg (same day, in the lobby, but they weren't together), Christian Slater, Conan O'Brien, director John Landis, and - ugh - Trump. A tourist may not be able to afford staying there but can always afford lunch at the Polo Lounge and walk around the property and might spot someone.

Finally, I'd skip the stars homes tour bus and go for Dearly Departed Tours. It's like the old Grave Line Tour, which used to drive you around in a hearse, but better. Death and scandal sites.

VP81955 said...

Diane D., thank you for the compliment. And one reason I know which high school Carole Lombard attended is that for more than eight years, I've run a site dedicated to classic Hollywood in general and her in particular:

http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/

My latest entry as of this writing concerns a carbon copy of a contract Carole signed with RKO in September 1940 for the film "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" with Robert Montgomery. (It's the only romantic comedy Alfred Hitchcock ever directed, done as a favor to his friend Lombard, and has nothing to do with the 2005 Pitt-Jolie film of the same name.) It was a contract in many ways ahead of its time, as Carole -- a de facto producer of the movie -- received 5 percent of the gross above the $150,000 she earned for making the film. After World War II, actors such as James Stewart became noted for similar contracts, but Lombard got there first, and perhaps her early passing (she died in a plane crash in January 1942 at age 33) is a reason this tends to be overlooked.

Morgan said...

Wow. I always thought that doing something like this would be really fun, you know since I'm not even from America and this would be a touristy thing to do. But after reading this post and quite a lot of the comments I think its safe to say that everyone should stay as far away as possible from these tours. Is it possible that you can just walk around these places? Because that's what I'd be doing. I think it would be much better if the tour guides did some research or something so they could at least tell passengers something about the 'stars', some kind of history fun fact...

Albert Giesbrecht said...

I have never been to Hollywood, but I want to go just to take the TMZ tour. I want a celebrity to jump on board and take the tour with us. LOL!

Diane D. said...

VP81955
I went to your Lombard site--loved it!