The journey to Los Angeles would be our last overnight trip by train and I didn’t sleep very well. I woke up at about 2am and just couldn’t get back to sleep, the rails were bouncy and I just couldn’t sleep with the movement of the train and therefore my bed.
On the way into the city the train tracks go alongside the Los Angeles River, you will have no doubt seen the concrete channel on which it flows in many films; a particularly famous scene from Grease was filmed somewhere along it.
When we arrived we headed out for a city tour which would include an hour’s stop before heading to our ‘hotel’ for the evening, The Queen Mary.
I didn’t take many pictures on the coach tour, it’s quite hard to get decent pictures on the move, especially in a city where sometimes you are only getting a glimpse down a street or between buildings.
We made a quick stop, although I’m not sure where it was to have a look at a mural, which when you look at it, contains pretty much every classic Hollywood actor and character.
It was a thrill to be in Los Angeles, the home of film making (or at least one of the many claimants). Passing buildings and streets I had seen in films or read about. Hollywood and Vine a particular note with the Capitol Building and the Taft Building where Chaplin supposedly wrote his films.
I knew we wouldn’t have a great deal of time in the city before heading out to Long Beach, so I tempered my expectations.
The coach stopped near to the Hollywood and Highland Complex, essentially a mall that is close to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the location of the Kodak Theatre, where the Oscars take place.This is the entrance to Grauman’s, I could have got a better picture across the street but I didn’t cross and I don’t know why I didn’t! I’ll come back to what’s outside the theatre in a moment.
Once passed Grauman’s our short guided walking tour took us into the Hollywood and Highland complex which as I said above is essentially a mall. Once a year however it becomes the focus of the world when the Academy Award Ceremony takes place inside the once named Kodak Theatre now the Dolby Theatre. When the ceremony takes place the shops are hidden away behind makeshift walls to keep up the Hollywood glamor.
We walked up the steps, shallower than normal to enable ladies in ballgowns to step with ease.The brightly lit pillars on each side contain the name of each winner of the Best Picture Oscar from each year since they started in 1929. As you walk up the steps and turn around there are spaces for films well into the next 50 years.
We were taken out into the open space of the mall where there is a full size replica of a section of the film set from Intolerance, a sprawling silent epic filmed in 1916. The actual set was built about 3 miles to the east and stood for four years after filming before finally being torn down.
The original set must have been enormous! Anyone who played LA Noire will also recognise it as a mission takes place on the set.
As I knew we only had a short time in LA, there were two things I had hoped to see. The Hollywood Sign and the Chaplin Studios. Well I ticked off the sign as it was possible to see it from the walkways shown in the above photo, and as this was as close as we would be getting a lot of us took photo’s.The Chaplin Studios would be a challenge, I roughly knew where they were but didn’t know how far away in terms of distance. We were about to be let off the leash for an hour, so I asked our guide how long it would take me to get there, she replied if you run there and back you’ll do it in an hour. Not what I wanted to hear, the disappointment must have been written all over my face as she asked me how important it was to me. I explained I was a big Chaplin fan and it was pretty much the only thing I wanted to see, ‘leave it with me I’ll see what I can do’
With that we had an hour, and an hour in this part of town seemed like an age, there are lots of gaudy tourist shops and not a lot else.
The Hollywood & Highland complex is fairly new but in the 1920’s there was a hotel on the same site; The Hollywood Hotel.It was the place to be seen during the early days of movie making. Chaplin filmed scenes on the porch in his first feature length film; Tillie’s Punctured Romance with female stars of the day Mable Normand & Marie Dressler.
Opposite the complex is the El Capitan Theatre owned by the Walt Disney Company. I didn’t know it at the time I was there but it held the world premiere of Citizen Kane in 1941.As I whittled away our hour, I wandered back to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre to see the foot and hand prints of the many stars who have left their impressions over the years.
Marion Davies, I don’t know her films but she has a connection to Charlie Chaplin. As dramatised in the excellent ‘The Cat’s Meow’, she was aboard the boat of her lover William Randolph Hurst along with Chaplin and many other guests when a film producer Thomas H. Ince was taken ill. The official cause of death is heart failure, the scandal and conjecture is that Hurst shot Ince thinking he was Chaplin, who he suspected was having an affair with Marion. These impressions were taken a little shy of 5 years later.
Jimmy Stewart, one of my all time favourite actors. Again he may be promoting a film, ‘Call Northside 777’ was released in the same month. Later in the year he would star in ‘Rope’ directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
This is just a small selection of the who’s who of Hollywood and film making that have made an impression of some kind outside the theatre. To get the full picture head over the the official Grauman’s Chinese Theatre website.
Hollywood is famous for lots of things, of the touristy things I haven’t mentioned is the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The area we were in had a lot of stars, it’s a novelty at first as you try to see who you are walking over and then that quickly fades as there are too many people about, and they are either getting in your way or you are getting in theirs. I took one photo.Stan Laurel, the slimmer English half of Laurel and Hardy. Hmm how many Chaplin connections can I put in one post. Stan Laurel was part of the Fred Karno troupe at the same time as Chaplin and was even his understudy for a time.
Before getting back on the coach I joined a few of our group in a cafe for a quick bite to eat and a drink, I sat down and had a look around, then I spied some posters on the back wall, the cafe had been used as a location for the Clint Eastwood film ‘Million Dollar Baby’.
Back on the coach, I still didn’t know if I would get to see the Chaplin Studios, and then the coach made a left onto La Brea Avenue and my heart rate very nearly went through the roof, as it is on La Brea Avenue that Chaplin in 1917 started construction on the Charlie Chaplin Studios.
The coach stopped briefly, La Brea was very busy, so we could get some photo’s, I snapped a few, not great photos but I was trying to take it all in. I was there, just a few hundred feet away Chaplin had created some of cinemas finest films; The Kid, The Gold Rush, Modern Times, The Great Dictator and my personal favourite City Lights.
The end to that film is perhaps my favourite ending ever, obvious spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen it.
That was filmed outdoors on the backlot 250 feet from where I was sitting, and I knew it, I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited in my whole life. I perhaps shouldn’t admit that but it was amazing to be there, somewhere I’ve thought about visiting for years, the only downside was that I was in a coach and couldn’t get out and just look at the buildings, peek through the gate and sit on the steps that lead to his office. I’ve said this many times in the course of writing this blog but I will definitely go back to LA if only to have a close up look at the studios.
These are the steps to Chaplin’s office on the corner of La Brea & De Longpre (La Brea is in the background) and he used them as part of the film ‘A Day’s Pleasure. The coach went around the corner a bit quicker than I had anticipated so I was a bit slow with my camera! As the film opens his movie family come out of the door and into a waiting car, as seen in the clip below.
It’s quite amazing to think how much LA has changed in less than 100 years. The area where the studios were built was orange and lemon groves. Chaplin documented the building of the studios in ‘How To Make Movies’, the start of the clip below shows the groves and where the studio was built. The car that appears at 1:15 follows the route our coach took, Chaplin gets out and goes into his office. Although for completeness I should point out that the studios were moved/re-built 15 feet to the right some years later to accommodate the widening of La Brea.
The coach continued through Beverly Hills and out towards Long Beach where the Queen Mary is situated.
As we meandered through this humongous city, places were pointed out to us, most obviously had a film or TV connection, again I didn’t take a lot of pictures as I was trying to just take it all in.
LA City Hall; fans of Eddie Murphy may sort of recognise this view. This building was the location for the Police Headquarters in Beverly Hills Cop, although this is the northern frontage and the film was shot on the west side. It looks similar though!
I was looking at a list of some of the things filmed on the lot and wow!
Young Frankenstein, X-Files, Arrested Development, Prison Break, The Black Swan, The King & I, Starsky & Hutch, Bones, South Pacific, The Sound of Music, Charlie’s Angels, Dynasty, NYPD Blue, Moonlighting, Bones, The Seven Year Itch, House, Nine to Five, Die Hard, Speed, Minority Report, Edward Scissorhands, Fight Club, War of the Worlds, Doogie Howser, Dharma & Greg, Planet of the Apes, The Fall Guy and How I Met Your Mother.
And that was Hollywood and the very briefest of tours, next stop the Queen Mary!