Sunday, October 21, 2018

Hollywood Tours

Tourism is always big in Los Angeles. 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 (good luck getting tickets now that the Dodgers are in the World Series), 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? Go to a Lakers game... especially now that they have LeBron.  All the front-runners will be there.  The only problem is you'll have to mortgage your house for a seat close enough to see any of them. 


Wendy M. Grossman said...

Actually, if you want tickets to show tapings, you *don't* write to the networks. You sign up via Audiences Unlimited -


J Lee said...

Brushes with Greatness, West Coast version -- Back around 1972 or so, we stopped at the McDonald's near downtown Hollywood, and I saw Mason Reese in there with mom trying to stuff another Big Mac into his mouth to fatten the little cherub up even more for future commercial roles. Such is the price of fame.

Brushes with Greatness, East Coast version -- Got off the C train at 81st Street headed for the Hayden Planetarium about 20 or so years ago, and for some reason Robin Williams was standing out the token booth, doing a routine for the clerk. Not sure who the warm-up act was.

E. Yarber said...

I knew they were getting desperate when a StarLine tour pulled next to me and the driver announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, here's Tyrone Power V waiting for the 18 to Westwood!" The passengers gave me a standing ovation, which many on the top regretted a moment later when the bus drove under a power line.

Johnny Walker said...

I did a Star Tours trip on my last visit to Los Angeles. I'm not sure why. I think I was just curious. I found it to be every bit futile and pointless (and creepy) as you might imagine. Ken, you hit the nail on the head with what you said, too. "Madonna lives beyond those trees, up on that hill that you can't really see". Wow.

I'm surprised the guide didn't make up more big names living in places we couldn't see. We never would have known any better, and it would have sounded more impressive.

The best part was definitely seeing the wonderful architecture of old Hollywood (so to speak) in Beverly Hills. Sure, nobody famous lives there now, but who cares; they're beautiful buildings! Of course you could just rent a car and do that yourself in comfort.

The worst part was being heckled by an old guy in his convertible, trying to impress his younger, blonde companion. "Hey you guys seen any STARS? Look up, they're in the SKY! Ha ha!" Groan.

Actually, thinking about it more, the worst part was actually the traffic. Getting stuck for an hour was possibly the only moment we saw the REAL LA.

B. Alton said...

I would occasionally see some TV stars in Studio City, including some huge ones like Sir Paul McCartney who frequented (and still may) a vegetarian restaurant not far from CBS Radford. I remember briefly chatting up Garry Marshall while in the cashier’s line at Dupar’s (sadly no longer in Studio City). At first circumspect, he relaxed after realizing I was a fan (of his work on “The Odd Couple”) and not someone looking to pitch him his latest film/play script. George Wendt and Lainie Kazan could sometimes be seen working out at a small gym in the area I worked out at for a few years, whose membership included MASH producer Burt Metcalfe (who I talked to just once about his work, not on MASH, but as a casting director for Screen Gems where he worked on “Bewitched” alongside Liz Montgomery and, briefly, the original Darrin, Dick York).

Dhruv said...

Wait! You mean those 'maps to the stars’ homes' are fake? The stars don't live there anymore??!! Ha Ha....

I always dreamed that one day I will get your country's Visa and would be able to visit Hollywood. But that seems highly unlikely. Not your country's fault. Indians - mostly North Indians - have been taking advantage of US Visa. They visit the country and never return, living there illegally. So its very difficult to even get a Tourist Visa.

I always wanted to visit USA and one place I always hoped to see was Hollywood, where I thought we could spot some of the stars or atleast their homes. But now that seems unlikely.

Just a fun question I wanted to ask after seeing Tom Cruise's name.

I am reading Joe Eszterhas' book "The devil's guide to Hollywood". He says that the toughest people to sell a script to are the Scientologists. Because they have a device called E-meter which vets each script. If it does approve, then their members star in those movies. Is that real or is he just making it up to ridicule them :)

Tom Galloway said...

I know who Ronald Colman was; he was Jack Benny's next door neighbor when not vacationing in Shangri-La.

Dixon Steele said...

Stars live in Upper Manhattan????

Didn't see Leo the last time I was in Washington Heights...

Dana Gabbard said...

Esotouric specializes in tours off the beaten path of L.A. In March they are visiting locations from the silent days ked by John Bengtson, who has done a number of books on the topic.

VP81955 said...

The best place to meet celebrities are memorabilia shows, it you don't mind paying admission fees or buying autographed pix or books. Those who appear aren't in the prime of their careers (if they were, they wouldn't need to be there), but the vast majority are agreeable and if circumstances are right, you can get into an engaging conversation with them. (I chatted for about 10 minutes with Angie Dickinson at one of these shows, and also had a nice talk with Teri Garr, whose MS unfortunately limits her public appearances.) A few other performers I've met have also become valued Facebook friends.

In the mid-'30s, the lady in my avatar rented a house of 7953 Hollywood Boulevard, with an interior decorated by former actor William Haines. (The Carole Lombard house still stands; later occupants include Max Showalter and Morrissey.) Not sure if tour buses existed then -- this was the period when Lombard was renowned as the industry's best party-giver -- but Carole moved out in 1936 after beginning her affair with Clark Gable. She found a more secluded spot in Bel-Air which she later rented to Alfred Hitchcock after she and Clark married and bought director Raoul Walsh's home in Encino.

lucifervandross said...

Moved out here about a month ago, was working for an unnamed ev manufacturer in playa vista and the building where our holding lot was, was the exterior for the fake Google on arrested developlment felt like I was truly in LA.

Glenn said...

Ken, I went to Bermuda a few years ago and they have the same racket going on their boat tours. They'll take you to all the celebrity mansions (and by "take you" I mean drive the boat where you can see a huge house on a cliff, but you're still miles away.) Like you said, you could be looking at a really nice hotel for all you know.

They supposedly showed me Barbra Streisand's and Michael Jordan's homes. Even if they were hanging outside getting some sun, you're too far away to see who it is.

Janet Ybarra said...

Unfortunately, the sightseeing in your nation's capital has gone down hill as well.

Sure, all the museums are still here but the Metrorail system is three times more expensive for service three times worse than what it used to be.

More importantly, you can visit Capitol Hill, but it's nothing like it used to be.

You used to have politicians here who--despite your political inclination--were real characters, larger than life. People like Ted Kennedy. Or John McCain.

And you used to get close enough to them to have a word or two.

(After all, they used to call politics "show-biz for ugly people.")

Today, the pols on both sides are too often vanilla, standard-issue partisans.

And where once I shared an elevator ride alone with Teddy Kennedy.... today they are all too surrounded by flunkies to have any meaningful contact.

It's a shame, really.

Mike Barer said...

If you work retail in Bellevue (Seattle's largest suburb), you can occasionally have a Seahawk, Mariner, or TV star or musician drop by.
But the topic is LA. I saw Susan St. James while a street was blocked off when visiting LA. She was my favorite TV actor at the time. In Palm Springs, we were at a show where Dandy Don Meredith was introduced in the audience.

Mike said...

You wanna a spot a celebrity? Just hang out with paparazzi. They have all the info. Professional autograph hunters do it all the time.

They are all like a pack of hyenas. Just pay a little and tag along.

Best spot - Airport.

Michael said...

In Nashville, they do these tours, and years ago a country singer, Webb Pierce, built a guitar-shaped swimming pool and it was part of the tour. Another singer, Ray Stevens, lived down the block and sued to get the tours stopped.

The legendary story there apparently began with Eddy Arnold, who had a long career in country and crossed over to pop. He was cutting the grass and as he was riding his lawn mower, a tour bus pulled up and they said, wow, you cut the grass here for a big star. What do you get paid? Arnold yelled back, "The woman of the house lets me sleep with her." And the bus took off.

sanford said...

We went to DC a few years ago. We walked a lot and used the hop on hop off buses. I don't like to walk that much. We took the Metro a few times. Once to go to Arlington, once to go to Nats Park and a couple of other times. Checking the fare page you could ride for as little as 2.00. However there are some exceptions. Most tourists go to see the museums. I don't know if they care much about seeing politicians.

Mike Barer said...

Hoping to run in to this writer named Ken Levine some day, but he's hush hush on where he shops and hangs out.

Steve Lanzi (formerly known as qdpsteve) said...

Fun fact: the most famous resident of my humble burg here in SoCal, Lakewood, is none other than... Barrett Hansen, also known as Dr. Demento. He discovered Weird Al Yankovic, dontcha know. Given your DJ past Ken, I would assume/hope you've met him at least once. Having said that... I've lived here quite a long time and still have yet to meet him.

Also Ken, just gotta say, I love your list of tourist destinations. Ooo Costco!! Buck-fifty hot dogs!! ;-)

Greg Ehrbar said...

For the person who truly loves entertainment, Southern California is still pretty exciting, especially to those who don't know what it once was. But a Starline bus tour isn't going to do it if you're a fan.

You can buy the maps, and it IS cool to see that, just like in the radio shows, Jack Benny, Jimmy Stewart and Ronald Colman were neighbors. They're gone but the houses are there, and that's cool. There's a Gelson's on Hyperion that was the site of Walt Disney's first major studio, and there are some photos in the Gelson's to celebrate it. (There are even some of the same cracks in the street that were there since 1936.) Hanna-Barbera's building is at 3400 Cahuenga South. Have a meal at the Smokehouse, where George Schlatter and Gary Owens first came up with the "cupped ear" gag for Laugh-In. There's a lot of this stuff.

If you like newer things, the studios themselves offer more tours than they used to. Warner’s features their newer shows. If you want to see stars, check out events for upcoming screenings with Q and A's at the Egyptian Theater, The Aero in Santa Monica and the Billy Wilder at LACMA. In the last year, we watched "Oliver!" with Shani Wallis in the audience, "Working Girl" with Sigourney Weaver, "2001" with Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, "Big Trouble in Little China" with Kurt Russell. Next month, "Head" will be screened with Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith. You'd be surprised how low the ticket prices are. That's because the stars live here and don't have to be flown in and provided with food and lodging as they are in other states.

Yes, you can catch glimpses of the famous eating, because they're people and they eat. Paul Feig was gracious when I greeted him for a few moments at the wonderful little Paty's in Toluca Lake. In Burbank, there's a little diner called Moore's Delicatessen where animators eat and have filled four walls with cartoon drawings.

Hollywood Boulevard is not a gleaming mecca, but a dingy downtown. However, the Hollywood Museum has actual artifacts on display, not cheap fakes. I always make sure to stop by Amoeba Music to see what new old records have arrived. The place is gigantic and I hope it lasts.

I've only lived here for about two years. I grew up in South and Central Florida where the pop culture history and building design isn't quite as protected. California is still loaded with crazy "googie" stores and restaurants (there a church in Tustin I call "Our Lady of Jetsons"). Florida plows most of it down on an ongoing basis. My childhood in Miami and Fort Lauderdale had such images, but most are gone now. Even one of our homes was torn down and is now a wider road. SoCal is strangely familiar to me even though I didn't grow up here because it is so reminiscent of a Florida long lost.

So you've got to ask around, do homework, search the net. It ain't perfect by a looooonnnng shot but there's nothing like it.

Now will someone please pay me for this advertisement?

Mike Bloodworth said...

Calabasas, California has become the newest enclave for celebrities, replacing Beverly Hills and Bel Air. Justin Beiber and the Kardashians are some of the "stars" that live there. A lot of rappers, too. They don't run tour busses out there. But, even if they did most of those celebs live in gated communities. So, you wouldn't be able to get in anyway.

I see a surprising number of actors in Costco. Not big names. Mostly character types. You'd recognize their faces even if you didn't know their names.

Despite the fact that the San Fernando Valley is or was the pornography capital of the nation, I've seen relatively few porn stars around town. And most of those were the males.

ventucky said...

I lived in suburban LA for 45 years. I encountered dozens of celebrities just in everyday life. Highlights. I came to work one day and Striesand was in my office. I worked at Camarillo State Hospital, and she was doing research for Nuts. I used the urinal next to entry Winkler at the movie theater at Universal, about 1989. In the lobby many woman approached him, and he was extremely nice and polite to all of them First hand experience of why his reputation for being a real nice guy is valid.

Astroboy said...

I met/saw a lot of stars over the years from the 70s through the 90s working on and off in the little music store that sold records & CDs in Ojai, in the middle of the arcade, when it was first "The Music Box" and then "Blue Sky Music". The two most memorable encounters for me were, one time standing behind the counter I turned around and was literally nose to nose to Anthony Hopkins. This was right after "The Silence of the Lambs" had won all its Oscars and in that moment all I saw was Hannibal Lecter looking me right in the eye; and I swear Hopkins almost had the privilege of hearing this grown man go "Eeeeek!" The other encounter is the one I will take to my grave, working one day the door opened and in came this vision in a leopard skin pants and jacket suit: Annette Funicello! She was absolutely gorgeous and sooo nice and sweet to talk to. I grew up watching Annette grow up on TV and in the movies, and like most of my generation had loved and lusted from afar! It was heartbreaking to watch over the years as her life was overcome by disease. I cherish those few minutes I had with her.

MikeKPa. said...

Our planned Maui trip took an unexpected detour to LA about 7 weeks ago thanks to Hurricane Lane. Took a drive down Sunset Blvd. on a Sunday, which was a mistake. Packed like a Trump rally or Mexican border crossing (imagine if those two groups ever intersected). Also got ambushed by a TMZ crew, which probably didn't tape what I had to say about Harvey Levine in response to a lame question.

When I went to Musso & Frank's four days later, Sunset was like a ghost town. Loved M&F and its classic decor and discreet waitstaff (wouldn't say who most was famous person he'd served). Disappointed at the bad, dirty shape of the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the cracks in them. Rodeo Drive wasn't much either. No different than a high-end outlet mall. Also disappointed in the Santa Monica pier. I've seen better at the Jersey Shore.

Spent a day in Malibu and enjoyed the Country Marketplace and probably passed some stars homes on the PCH. Wished I had visited Larchmont section of LA and taken photos of some of scenes of classic Three Stooges films. I did make it to Dodger Stadium. Took me 90 minutes for what should have been a 30-minute ride on the 405. Had no interest whether the Diamonds or Dodgers won. I left after 7 innings to beat the traffic, so I guess I acted like a true Angelino.

Jeff Maxwell said...

During the M*A*S*H years, I was asked by a PBS affiliate in Washington, D.C. to appear in my green uniform on a fund-raising show selling tapes or DVDs of M*A*S*H. I put on the greens in my nice hotel in Georgetown and headed down in the elevator to meet the producer. The doors opened up and Ted Kennedy's staring me in the face. I was in awe. I’d never seen a Ted Kennedy. He gave me an intimidating stare and scooted into the elevator. The producer noticed the only guy in a green uniform in the hotel, grabbed my arm and whisked me away to sell tapes.

Gotta say, it was a thrill to see him.

Same situation in 2018, I’d probably have been shot dead several times.

Oh, and I saw James Cromwell in a North Hollywood Deli. It was a thrill, too.

Janet Ybarra said...

The same can be said for sci-fi conventions, which I suppose is just a specialized nostalgia convention.

Anyway, I remember one where Andy Hallett, who played Lorne on ANGEL, inexplicably was just standing there with no one.

I approached him and we had a very nice conversation. Sadly, he died just a few years later at age 33.

So sad.

Janet Ybarra said...

I did one of those house tours in Nashville. The thing I remember most is riding by Minnie Pearl's home.

Now I'm really dating myself that I remember her.

Watching SONNY AND CHER and HEE HAW with my parents is one of my earliest memories as a kid.

YEKIMI said...

Only famous person I can recall seeing was in NYC. Friend got married there in mid 90s and the next day after the wedding those of us from the flyover states were on the subway. As usual, they were all gabbing among themselves while I was just looking around the subway [fairly deserted since it was a Sunday afternoon]. I see one guy with his head down and a ball cap pulled low and he looked up at me and I mouthed "Ethan Hawke?" He just smiled and put his finger to his lip as in "SHHHHHH!" I didn't say anything to my friends and he hopped off at his stop, looked back at me and gave me a smile and a thumbs up and walked off. I said "Hey, Ethan Hawke just got off the subway" and pointed at him as he walked off. There response was "Who's that?" I said "never mind" and just went back to looking around. Now I wish I would have gotten his autograph as he got off the subway. Probably my only other encounter with a "celebrity" would have been John Glenn when he was running for senator in Ohio for the first time. I wanted his autograph more for him being an astronaut. If you grew up in Florida in the 60s, astronauts were like Gods, at least to the young male members of the population. Unfortunately, in all the moving I've done since then his autograph has been lost.

Janet Ybarra said...

That makes me think, Ken....ever meet Bill St. James? I really enjoy his "Time Warp" radio program.

Janet Ybarra said...

What about Malibu? Is that a celebrity hot spot these days?

Justin Piatt said...

I did get to meet John Ratzenberger at a Comic Con back in June. He was super friendly, gave me his autograph for free (because I gave him some artwork) and was actually trying to have a conversation with me. But there was a line forming and some of them looked upset that I was taking too much time, so I didn't get to talk a lot. Also met George Wendt, who was less enthusiastic (he looked really tired) but still quite nice. The only thing he really said to me was, when I showed him the cast photo I asked him to sign, a comment on how sexy Bebe Neuwerth was.

Just bringing it up because, as another commenter said, that's probably the best way to see/meet celebrities, if that's what you're hoping to do.

Kaleberg said...

You want movie stars? Where I live, we have Olympic Game Farm where an amazing number of nature documentaries have filmed their animal sequences. It was Disney's go-to animal talent shop for decades, and while Disney has moved to CGI, the farm still provide talent for many documentaries and scripted features. National Geographic loves the place. I'll admit, the on-site dining options aren't anything to brag about. The celebrities here eat like animals.

Andy Rose said...

@Janet Ybarra: Bill St. James is not an LA guy. He’s always been based on the East Coast. And it doesn’t matter how many years ago it’s been, I’ll always think of him as the voice of Nick at Nite. :)

I’ve had to make 3 trips to LA in the past year, and the only time I ever saw a celebrity was in an airport heading TO LA. A guy asked me if he was in the correct line for our flight, and I immediately recognized him as the actor Scott Wilson. He seemed very healthy for a guy in his 70s, and I was shocked to hear that he died five months later.

Myles said...

Yep! They've made the website even easier to remember now too. It's simply What you can't find there you'll find on Ellen however is the hardest ticket in this town to get. You have to get on a waiting list that takes like a year or two for your number to come up and then hope you're available for the couple of options they give you. It's basically like hitting the (non billion dollar) lotto though because there's a 85% chance you leave with an amazing gift. Especially if you're lucky to go during her month long Christmas giveaway time.

Jeff Boice said...

Whenever I visited L.A. in the 90's, I liked to go to Santa Monica and then to Malibu just to walk on the beaches. This time of year is perfect because the weather is nice and warm but the beaches are empty. I would ask locals why they didn't go to beach in October, and they would answer "Summer's over!". I would tell my friends that I went out to where Gidget frolicked. Then I had to explain to them Gidget is a real person.

TimWarp said...

@Janet Ybarra, wasn't Andy Hallett the BEST! Sat next to him at a Buffy convention dinner.

My one and only time at Musso & Frank's we sat at a table next to Peter Falk (who probably was 105 at the time). Didn't bother him but did evesdrop a little (hard not to!) on his conversation about "Colombo."

Janet Ybarra said...

Yes, he was great. What a great shame to go so young. Even before he died, the infection that ultimately killed him so weakened him he couldn't work after ANGEL.

Teri McG said...

My favorite away-from-work celeb sighting from my LA days: Mid-80's, late one night I stopped in my Los Feliz neighborhood supermarket and saw "John Boy" Richard Thomas and an older lady staring trance-like in the baby diaper aisle. This was the day after the announcement that his wife had given birth to triplets.

Tom Galloway said...

When I lived in LA in the mid-80s, I unexpectedly met a whopping one celebrity.

I'd gone to my usual comics store (Hi-De-Ho Comics in Santa Monica) to get the week's new books. They had them arranged on several racks. As I was about to move to the next rack, I realized someone was standing in front of it who'd block my view. "Excuse me, could you move over just a bit?" "Oh, of course".

I'd just asked Luke Skywalker to get out of my way. Didn't say anything more; Mark Hamill wasn't there as a celebrity or actor, he was just another comics fan getting the new books. He did chat with the manager as his books were rung up, so when mine were rung up I did confirm that it was him, and was told he'd asked for a hold on his books since he'd be in NYC to appear in a play for a while.

I also have met Dr. Demento, who was a special guest at the 2011 World Science Fiction Convention (oddly enough, I also met Rachel Bloom there, as she was a Hugo Award nominee for her song/video F* Me Ray Bradbury). Checked off one of "things I didn't realize was on my bucket list" by dancing at a dance where Dr. D. was DJing. He also gave some serious presentations on the history of various music genres.

thomas tucker said...

Ate dinner one night in LA at Spago back in the 1990's. Leonard Nimoy was there eating with a young bimbo, director Louis Malle was there with a large group, and then in walked Eva Gabor, or was it Zsa Zsa? Other than that, have run into Billy Joel, Candace Bergen, Goldie Hawn, and Keanu Reeves all in New York.

msdemos said...


"Hoping to run in to this writer named Ken Levine some day, but he's hush hush on where he shops and hangs out."

I run into him all the time at multiple Starbucks locations in and around L.A. And though I've thought of approaching him a few times, I haven't, since he's usually FEVERISHLY working on some script or another on his laptop (sweat pouring down his brow), and more often than not snarling at anybody that comes near him, "I'M ON DEADLINE, I'M ON DEADLINE, PLEASE DON'T BOTHER ME !!"

Otherwise, he seems like a perfectly nice chap...... ;-)