Where America Invents Itself
Ever since show-biz pioneers Cecil B. DeMille and Jesse Lasky were drawn to the climate-blessed West Coast in 1911, Hollywood ceased being a real place and became a concept, a glittering Tinseltown synonymous with fantasy, glamour, and ambition.
It has long been true that the only stars you’ll see on Hollywood Boulevard are at the local wax museum, but Hollywood is in the midst of a Times Square-like renaissance as it attempts to re-create the excitement of the industry’s heyday.
A major catalyst in the area’s rebirth is the brand-new home of the L.A. Philharmonic, the $274 million Walt Disney Concert Hall, designed by celebrated architect Frank Gehry.
At Mann’s Chinese Theatre (still known to most movie fans as Grauman’s Chinese), you can literally walk in the footsteps of Charlie Chaplin, Marion Davies, Mary Pickford, and some 160 other stars of the silver screen from 1927 to the present, who have been immortalized in footprints, handprints, and the odd noseprint (Jimmy Durante’s). Nearby, the mile-long Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame honors more than 2,000 stars from 1960 on.
Most of the studios moved away long ago, and today only Paramount remains physically in Hollywood. For a glimpse of how movies are made, head over the Hollywood Hills to the San Fernando Valley and Universal City.
In addition to its decades of history as a film-producing studio, Universal Studios has become a major tourist destination and its popular tour of the world’s largest television and movie studio is fun for the whole family, skeptics included.
Special effects rides let you experience an avalanche, an earthquake, and a freak encounter with a 30-foot King Kong.
If you’re looking to rub shoulders with the likes of Harrison, Goldie, Meg, and Mel, then you’re in the right town. Scandia, Chasen’s, and the Brown Derby are no longer, but Musso and Frank Grill remains.
It’s one of the oldest restaurants in L.A., a watering hole for the industry’s hoi polloi since 1919. In burnished- wood and leather booths, industry types nurse Ketel One martinis and relish a defiantly 1920s menu fixed in time: chicken â la king, corned beef and cabbage, grilled calfs liver and onions, and eleven kinds of potatoes.
A little less retro in ambience, the casual-chic Ivy provides a rare outdoor-lunch opportunity with great star-spotting potential, and they’re even nice to tourists. Along the same lines is the perennially popular Spago Beverly Hills, where neck twisting detracts from Wolfgang Puck’s consistently great signature pizzas.
For a show-biz experience extraordinaire, the city’s finest and most nostalgic venue is the Hotel Bel Air, where stars young and old seek out anonymity and subtle service, blending unobtrusively into its 12-acre refuge of flowering native and sub-tropical flora.
Shaded pathways meander past swan ponds to hideaway Mission-style bungalows—Marilyn Monroe’s was recently transformed into a gym.