To Get As Close As Possible To The Hollywood Sign:
Down Hollywood Blvd. to Vine. Turn left on Vine to Franklin. Right on Franklin.
Turn left on Beachwood. Turn left on Ledgewood. Left on Deronda.
Right on Ledgewood. Sharp turn right and up Rockclift.
Left on Deronda and proceed to top of hill.
At the northeastern corner of Hollywood and Cherokee is a dark red building, the Geisha House (6633 Hollywood Blvd. 323-460-6300), owned by Demi Moore. It’s very expensive and requires a reservation.
Further east on Hollywood Blvd. on the left is the Pantages Theater (6233 Hollywood Blvd. 323-468-1700) where “Wicked” played all of last year. Built around 1920, the Academy Awards were held at the Pantages from 1950 to 1960. From 1968 until 1988 the Academy Awards were held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (135 N. Grand Ave. 213-972-7401) in downtown L.A. In 2002 the Kodak Center became the permanent home of the awards.
At the 1958Academy Awards the Oscar for Best Story went to Robert Rich for “The Brave One”. Rich, the nephew of the producer of the bullfighter movie, remains the only Academy Award winner who never picked up his Oscar. The reason? Robert Rich didn’t write the script. It was written by Dalton Trumbo, the blacklisted writer, who had Rich’s permission to use his name. Trumbo finally received his Oscar in 1973.
Alexander Pantages left his native Greek island of Andros, spending some time helping the French dig the Panama Canal but after contracting malaria headed north to cooler climates. He built a chain of theaters starting with the Crystal Theater in 1901 Seattle. By 1920, he was owner of more than 30 vaudeville theaters and controlled through management contracts, perhaps 60 more in both the United States and Canada. His customers received the best service at a reasonable price, despite his shortsighted early refusal to allow African-Americans into his theatres. He was successfully sued by an African-American after being refused entry into a Pantages theater in Spokane, Washington.
In 1929, in the midst of a Wall Street meltdown, Alexander Pantages was arrested and charged with the rape of a 17 year old would-be vaudeville dancer named Eunice Pringle. Rumor had it that at the time that Pantages was framed by Joseph Kennedy, JFK’s father. Around 1920, Pantages entered into partnership with the motion picture distributor, Famous Players, a subsidiary of Paramount Pictures. Although the Pantages circuit dominated the vaudeville and motion picture market west of the Mississippi, Pantages was effectively blocked from expansion into the eastern market by the dominant, New York-based Keith-Albee-Orpheum Circuit (KAO).
Kennedy and David Sarnoff successfully gained control of KAO, later to be called RKO. (“Citizen Kane” was shot at RKO.) Kennedy then offered to buy the entire Pantages chain but Pantages refused to sell. Even though Pantages was acquitted at trial his career was forever tainted with the scandal, consequently Kennedy was later able to purchase the Pantages chain at a greatly reduced price.
Heading south on Las Palmas to Selma turn west and drive west towards Highland. As you approach Highland Avenue, you will see the 2002 mural across the east wall of Hollywood High School, (1521 N. Highland 323-993-1700). The celebrity students on the mural from left to right are Dorothy Dandridge, Dolores del Rio, Brandy Norwood, Selena,Lana Turner, Laurence Fishbourne, Cantinflas, Carol Burnette, Cher, Ricky Nelson, Bruce Lee, Valentino and Judy Garland. John Ritter is on the north side of the building and was painted after his death.
On the northwest corner of Hollywood Blvd. and Highland is the Kodak Center(6801 Hollywood Blvd. 323-308-6300) finished in 2001. Built at a cost of $94 million, this is now the permanent home of the Academy Awards. The Grand Staircase columns at the Kodak Theater showcase every movie that has won the Best Picture title since the first Academy Awards in 1928. There is viewing gap in the complex where you can see the Hollywood Sign from Hollywood Blvd.
Built in February of 1903, Hotel Hollywood stood where the Kodak Center now stands. When Rudolph Valentino, then a struggling actor recently arrived from New York City, and his first wife, Jean Acker, were married on November 5, 1919, there was no question where they would spend their wedding night; it would be in her room at the Hotel Hollywood. Acker, a lesbian, slammed the door in Valentino’s face, locked it, and wailed that she had made a terrible mistake. That was the end of the marriage before it even began.
Hotel Hollywood was the most prestigious hotel in town. Guests included Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo (who registered incognito), Jack Warner, Lillian Gish and Irving Thalberg. Around 1927 the hotel changed its name to Hollywood Hotel. There was a strawberry field across the street. Mack Sennett, the famous director, recalled that Hollywood Blvd. (then called Prospect Avenue) was a semi-dirt street with a little pavement in the center and a one-track trolley. When it rained, it was muddy. You had to put chains on your tires. On Vine Street they grew grapes. That’s how Vine St. got its name.”
The film industry actually started in New York and New Jersey. Thomas Edison claimed to have invented the motion picture process in 1889, although the work of William Friese-Greene in Britain almost certainly predated Edison’s. Edison’s enforcers from his organization, The Trust, would go to a movie shoot and demand payment. If you didn’t pay them they would shoot holes in your cameras and if someone accidentally got shot then that was no big deal.
Cecil B. DeMille used to live at the Hollywood Hotel, was shot at twice in his first few months in Hollywood and slept with a gun next to his bed. He wore a .45 revolver in the hotel and during film production. He was afraid the Trust would find him. Finally, the government ordered the Trust to disband after its monopoly was successfully prosecuted under the Sherman Act.
As you drive north on Highland past Hollywood Blvd. you’ll see the huge AIDS ribbon on the south wall of the Hollywood United Methodist Church, (6817 Franklin Ave.323-874-2104) on the corner of Highland and Franklin. Both of Whoopi Goldberg’s “Sister Act” movies were shot in this church. In addition, the dance sequence in the first “Back To The Future” movie where Michael J. Fox’s future parents had to kiss at the “Enchantment Under The Sea” dance. All those scenes were shot in the basement of this church.
As you proceed through the first stop light north of Franklin on the intersection of Highland and Camrose, look up the hill to the left and you will see a red house that stands out against the neighbor’s houses. This is Eva Longoria’s home. Look quickly because you can only see it from the intersection.
Immediately on the left is the Hollywood Bowl (2301 N. Highland Ave. 323-850-2000), one of the largest natural amphitheaters in the world, with a current seating capacity of just under 18,000. On July 11th, 1922 with the audience seated on simple wooden benches placed on the natural hillsides of Bolton Canyon, the Los Angeles Philharmonic inaugurated the first season at the Hollywood Bowl.
The woman who bought the property intended the bowl for religious plays but that didn’t pan out so she opened up a theater across the street now called Ford Theater. After the religious plays went belly up only classical music was played there until Frank Sinatra sang there. He opened the doors for all types of music. The Beatles have played there twice and in 1967 when the Monkeys were at their height of fame, their opening act at the Hollywood Bowl and on their tour was then an unknown Jimi Hendrix.
As you continue north, you have to either get on the 101 freeway or lean towards the left and go up Cahuenga West to Mulholland Drive. Do not go straight as that will lead you onto the 101 Freeway North!
At the second stop light, Mulholland, turn left and immediately left again up the hill. You will be able to see the Hollywood Sign after a few turns in the road. You don’t need to take photos here because there is a Hollywood Sign(4015-4099 Mt. Lee Dr.) viewing area at the top of the hill.
After you get your first glimpse of the Hollywood Sign you will see two dome structures at the 10 O’clock position. That is the Griffith Park Observatory(2850 E. Observatory Dr. 323-664-1191) first built in 1908, where scenes from “Rebel Without A Cause” were shot. (The famous knife scene was just one of the scenes.) They used to have Laserium where great laser light shows were accompanied by Pink Floyd or Moody Blues music.
This was very popular throughout the sixties and seventies until the observatory was closed for two years for remodeling. When it opened, they didn’t bring back Laserium. Leonard Nimoy, who played Spock on the original Star Trek series, donated over a million dollars to the observatory and has a room named after him now. The only night it’s closed is Monday night.
At the top of the hill is a parking area on the left side of the road. Once parked you can look at the house across Mulholland, at the top of the hill, overlooking the viewing area. Once owned by Wilt Chamberlain, the bedroom roof slides open.
As you look out over the city turn to the right and you’ll see a redwood colored home high on the hill. Harrison Ford built it when he was a struggling actor and full time carpenter.
Now look down over the city. You’ll see the Hollywood Bowl from above. There are what looks like three white air condition ducts. The shell sits behind those towers and that’s where the performers stand.
You see the winding 101 freeway heading downtown. Just after the curve and to the right you will see a green colored building that looks like a tall stack of records. This is the Capitol Records building (1750 Vine St. 323-462-6252). Built in 1954, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Pink Floyd and the Beatles recorded there. John Lennon’s star on the Walk of Fame is just outside the building. On the top is a tall needle shooting up from one side of the roof. Christmas tree lights are hung from the top of this needle to the other side of the roof and that’s Hollywood’s communal Christmas tree. At the very top of this needle is a red light which continually blinks “H-o-l-l-y-w-o-o-d” every few seconds in Morse code.
In the distance you see a number of tall buildings. That’s downtown Los Angeles. The tallest building that looks like a column is the U.S. Bank building, (633 West Fifth Street) tallest building west of the Mississippi. In “Independence Day”, Will Smith’s girlfriend has a dancer friend who runs up to the rooftop of a building and unfurls a banner welcoming the aliens only to be blasted to pieces. This was shot on the roof of the U.S. Bank building. Also as a historical footnote Vice President Cheney has defended water boarding by stating that the man responsible for planning 9-ll, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, had also planned on flying aircraft into this building as well as the Pentagon, The Twin Towers and the White House. He admitted this, according to Cheney, only after being water boarded 183 times.
Look towards the 2 O’clock position and you’ll see Century City. The ocean is out past where the land ends. If you drive north on the 101 freeway you get to Santa Barbara in about 100 miles and north of that is the Napa Valley for those of you who love wine. There are so many wineries there you could spend weeks going from one to another and tasting their wine for free.
There are stairs to the left winding up to the viewing area where you may take photos of the Hollywood Sign. This is the second Hollywood Sign. The first sign was put up in 1923 at a cost of $21,000 and actually read “Hollywoodland” because it was a publicity ploy by the Hollywoodland Real Estate and Development Company trying to sell local plots. Mack Sennet, a famous silent film director was one of the chief executives of this company.
The “land” part of the sign was taken down in 1949. There was at one time four thousand 15-watt light bulbs around all the letters so it could be clearly seen at night but those were removed in 1939 because the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce said it was too expensive to run. The sign was lit in stages. At first “Holly” would flash on and off then off followed by “wood” flashing and when it was off “land” would flash on off. Finally the entire sign would flash on and off. Later they put two search lights below that would cross back and forth as they panned the flashing sign at the end of the sequence.
Lillian (Peg) Millicent Entwistle was a graduate of the famed Theater Guild in New York and a stage actress with a portfolio of rave notices from performances in such plays as “Tommy” and “Alice Sit By The Fire”, written by “Peter Pan’s” author, James Barrie. A young Bette Davis, after watching Peg play “Hedvig” in Henrik Ibsen’s “The Wild Duck”, proclaimed to her mother that, ‘I want to be just like Peg Entwistle”. She seemed a natural at a time when the studios were raiding New York’s theatrical talent pool for “real” actors. She appeared in only one movie, “Thirteen Women” with Myrna Loy and Irene Dunne, which opened shortly after her death.
Her personal life was troubled with an abusive husband. She became very disillusioned and on Friday night, September 16th, 1932, she told her Uncle Charlie (She lived with him at 2428 Beachwood Drive. A house bought for only $2,000) she was going to the store to borrow a book and buy a few things then visit a friend. It was the practice then to borrow books from the local store on Beachwood Drive much like we do with libraries today. Her uncle became worried when she didn’t return that night or the following day, Saturday.
Sunday night an anonymous phone call was made to the LAPD station downtown reporting she had found a woman’s jacket, one shoe and her purse with a suicide note inside which read in part, “I’m afraid. I’m a coward. I’m sorry for everything”. The anonymous caller also reported she had then looked down the ravine and seen a woman’s body about 100 feet below the base of the Hollywoodland sign. The woman made it a point not to call the local Hollywood station and refused to give her name. It has been suggested that she could have been a famous actress living in Beachwood Canyon who worried Hollywood police would have recognized her voice.
Pen Entwistle climbed up to the sign, which she had ridden past on horseback almost daily during her stay in Hollywood. She neatly folded her jacket, putting it on top of her shoes. A worker had left a ladder propped up against the letter “H” so she climbed on top of the letter and jumped off. She bounced off a huge boulder, shattering her pelvis then rolled down the ravine one hundred feet.
A week later her uncle, who she was living with, got a letter from the Beverly Hills Community Players offering her a lead role in the next play… if she had only waited one more week. The irony is that the play was about a woman who commits suicide.
Some people say that since her suicide, they have occasionally seen a woman dressed in clothing from the 30’s wondering around the sign, appearing lost and dazed. The smell of gardenias flooded the air when a couple walking their dog noticed the dog acting up. They looked up to see a woman dressed in clothing from the 30’s staggering towards them. The couple assumed the woman was drunk but as she approached them she suddenly vanished into thin air. Gardenias were Peg Entwistle’s favorite flower and perfume. She remains the only person to ever commit suicide off the Hollywood Sign. A fence was put up around the sign shortly after her suicide knowing other actors might be tempted to be immortalized in the same way.
These days there are motion detectors and video cameras to monitor the area around the sign. You can see the view from the Hollywood Sign by going to www.HollywoodSign.org
In 1978 the original wooden sign had fallen apart. The two O’s fell down. They were going to just tear it down but it’s so popular that locals started to throw benefit concerts. Fleetwood Mac offered to perform for free at The Hollywood Bowl but local residents felt it would be too loud so it was never thrown. Hugh Hefner who considered the sign “Hollywood’s Eiffel Tower” sponsored a $150-a-person benefit at the Playboy Mansion (10236 Charing Cross Rd. Holmby Hills 14,217 sq. ft.) which netted $45,000.
In a successful effort to restore the Hollywood sign to its original glory the following people sponsored the letters for $28,000 each:
H - Terrence Donnelly, Publisher Hollywood Independent Newspaper
O - Giovanni Mazza, Italian movie producer
L - Les Kelley - Originator of the Kelley Blue Book
L - Gene Autrey - With his pioneer television station KTLA (I worked there in 1977)
Y - Hugh Hefner - Creator of Playboy Enterprises
W - Andy Williams - Singer
O - Warner Brothers Records
O - Alice Cooper - In memory of Groucho Marx
D - Dennis Lidtke
The “Y” in the sign was restored and dedicated in his name. Soon after the Playboy benefit Alice Cooper donated $27,000 for the letter “O” in memory of Groucho Marx.Gene Autry, who owned the Angels and KTLA while I worked there, sponsored the second “L”. Warner Brothers Records soon sponsored the second “O” and a Hollywood graphics company paid for the “D”. All the letters now are made from solid Australian aluminum.
On November 11, 1978 the sign, lit by floodlights instead of the original four thousand fifteen-watters, was unveiled to the public. Three days later all America saw the restored sign when Hollywood celebrated its nationally televised seventy-fifth birthday.
Note: If you are a Justin Timberlake fan:
Instead of turning left on Outpost continue on Mulholland as it curves to the right. Look to the left and you will see three homes built on the hillside. The first one is sort of a pink color. The middle home is somewhat the color of sandalwood (7218 Mulholland Dr.) This is the home of Carmen Electra.
After a few curves in the road you will see the home (7475 Mulholland Dr.) of Vinnie Jones(“Gone in 60 Seconds” “Juggernaut in X-Men: The Final Stand”) behind a black gate and straight ahead right after curving to the right and just before another left curve.
After you curve to the left past Vinnie Jones there is a stop sign. Proceed straight ahead and the first estate (7515 Mulholland Dr.) on the right starting at the corner where the stop sign is belongs to the director Quentin Tarantino.
At some point within the next half a mile you will see two parking areas on the right hand shoulder with an excellent view of Universal Studios far below as well as Burbank and the 101 Freeway. This is one of the finest views in L.A. Now turn around and look for a yellow home halfway up the hill. (3100 Torreyson Dr.) That’s the home of Justin Timberlake and his girlfriend, Jessica Biehl. If you want to drive up to his front gate turn left at the first street across the street (Torreyson Dr.) from the viewing area and proceed to its end. His front gate is on the left. I just drove up there yesterday and since my last visit Justin has had a security hut built along with full time guard just outside his front gate.
Turn around on Mulholland and head back towards Outpost to continue the tour.
Drive further up Mulholland, turn left on the first street winding down (Outpost) through the Hollywood Hills. After the first stop sign continue about 50 yards then look for an orange house on the right. (2627 Outpost Dr.) That’s Orlando Bloom’s house.
The next house down and on the right as well has a driveway winding up to the garage on the left at a 45 degree angle. (2617 Outpost Dr.) This is Will Ferrell’s home. Occasionally you’ll catch him standing outside his garage. Will Ferrell is a graduate of the L.A. improv group, “The Groundlings” (7307 Melrose Ave. 323-934-9700).
I auditioned for them in the 70’s after responding to an ad they put in the show biz paper, Dramalogue. After auditioning for two hours they said I was accepted into their school for $250 a month. It ticked me off that they didn’t put that in their ad but made it sound like we were auditioning to perform for the group. So I turned them down. Perhaps, in hindsight, a mistake in the long run.
At the next stop sign there is a home on the southeastern corner hardly seen because of all the brush and vines but that’s the home of Charlize Theron (2572 Outpost Dr.). I met her in a gas station last year. She was hardly recognizable with her hair wet and an old T shirt on. She was buying four packs of cigarettes. Finally I just told her she was a brilliant actress. She smiled that incredible smile.
If you spend any amount of time in L.A. sooner or later you’re going to see a celebrity. They never look the same in person. Not only because of the makeup and lighting but more importantly the camera just changes minute dimensions of their face. They almost always look better on film. If they looked that good in person they’d be hookers.
My son and I were in a gun shop in Culver City about fifteen years ago. Suddenly my son, Tyson, points to this short, average looking man and tells me it’s Charlie Sheen. I looked but didn’t think it was. Until his bodyguard walked out to their car for something and I approached him. This guy is a multi-millionaire but his running shoes were held together with duct tape. He looks so average in person. So much better on film.
Now Charlie Sheen isn’t much taller than a fire hydrant and so I towered over him. I suppose I was enthusiastic and he might have mistake that energy for something more evil. There was this terrified look in his eyes. Like a deer who suddenly realizes he’s in a hunter’s rifle scope. Once I started talking to him he relaxed but I’m guessing he really chewed out that bodyguard later. He walked around buying one gun after another not caring how much they cost.
Two weeks later I met his dad, Martin Sheen, in a movie theater and witnessed those same startled eyes. Of course I probably shouldn’t have started the conversation with, “I met your son in a gun shop”.
Further down the hill you’ll see two gargoyles above and on each side of the front door of a home on the right. (2227 Outpost Dr.) This was the home of Bela Lugosi who was the most famous Dracula. Bela had a heroin problem and used to get high and walk up and down the street dressed as Dracula.
At the next corner of Outpost and Castillian Drive is Ben Stiller’s home (2427 Castillian Dr.) behind the tall wall of cinder blocks and shrubbery. He hates tour buses.
Jason Priestly, original “Beverly Hills 90210” lives to the right (2073 Outpost Dr.) at the next stop sign.
After the next stop sign, you will see a statue of a lion at the entrance of a driveway on the left. This is the home of Laurence Fishbourne(2012 Outpost Dr.) from the “Matrix” movies and now a regular on CSI. He lied about his age for the filming of his first movie, “Apocalypse Now”, because he was only 14 and too young for the shoot in the Philippines. He was known then as “Larry” Fishbourne.
At the next stop sign on the corner of Hillside and Outpost Dr. to the right, (1851 Outpost Dr.) you’ll see the home of Bob Barker, (1the host of “The Price Is Right” for 35 years (1972-2007) and is only second to Johnny Carson for the longevity record on TV.
Fans would sleep on the sidewalks circling CBS Television City, (7800 Beverly Blvd. 323-575-2458) just to get on the show during the last two weeks of his reign.
Drive down to Franklin and turn left. Immediately on the left is a hotel now called TheHighland Gardens (7047 Franklin Ave. 323-850-0536) hotel but in 1970 it was called TheLandmark. The Landmark opened in the mid-50’s with guests including Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack and The Jefferson Airplane.
It’s also the place where on October 4th, 1970 Janis Joplin overdosed in room 104 facing the street. She purchased a pack of cigarettes from a machine in the hotel lobby and was found dead the next morning with the change still clenched in her hand. She had kicked heroin before and tried to be cautious, doing business with only one dealer who had a chemist check his dope before selling it. That night the chemist was out of town and the heroin was 50 per cent pure and fatal.
Joplin was born on January 19th, 1943 in Port Arthur, Texas and wasn’t very popular in high school. I remember an interview with her on the Dick Cavett Show in the summer of 1970 just before her 10th. high school reunion. She thought now that she was famous starting with “Big Brother and the Holding Company” at the Monterey Pop Festival, everyone from her old high school would treat her differently. They didn’t.
Next to the Highland Gardens is the Magic Castle (7001 Franklin Ave. 323-851-3313). It started off as a private home built in 1908 by banker and real estate magnate, Rollin B. Lane. After a severe drought brought an end to his dreams and orange blossoms never filled the valley, the Lane family moved away in the 40’s The mansion was divided into a multi-family home, then later became a home for the elderly and was finally transformed into a maze of small apartments.