I’ve been back from Los Angeles for over a month now, but I feel that part of me is still there. Like that line from Hotel California, “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.”
I first came to Los Angeles almost 30 years ago. In many ways, part of me never left.
Hollywood, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, the Valley, they have a certain pull on me. They’re places where you can just be. I’m beginning to think my most recent former life may have been 1920s Hollywood. Don’t ask me who I was in that time. I’m still figuring it out.
My most recent trip to LA was late August. It revolved around a speaking engagement at the annual Rudolph Valentino Memorial Service, a book signing at Book Soup on Sunset, and research at the Academy Library (or “Aunt Maggie’s” as Eve Golden likes to call it).
I’m working on a companion volume to Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels. The working title is Hairpins and Dead Ends: The Perilous Journeys of 20 Actresses Through Early Hollywood. The book should have been on the shelves by now, but I keep adding new actresses to the marquee. Fontaine La Rue and Mona Lisa have joined the table of contents. Yes, Mona Lisa!
My Mona Lisa autographed portrait
When flying west, I try to get a window seat on the plane so that I can be sure to see Los Angeles and Hollywood when they come into view.
Here’s my first view of the Los Angeles area in the mid-1980s.
The first time I set my eyes on Los Angeles
Here is my view last month as I approached the city.
Los Angeles from the air, 2013
- I think I see the Hollywood Sign in the middle left of this one
On the day that I fly into the wild blue yonder, I try to take the earliest flight I can get. That way, I am in Los Angeles by 9:30 a.m. By the time I get my luggage and the car and head into Hollywood, it’s lunch time and I’m pumped.
I’ll never forget the day in the late 1980s when I landed at LAX and had to rush to get to the Days of Our Lives set at Sunset and Gower, known in the 1930s as the Gower Gulch. As a newspaper reporter, I had interviewed Drake Hogestyn, the actor who played Roman Brady, at a charity baseball game in South Carolina earlier that year. I was also his bowling partner in a celebrity tournament.
Not sure what Drake and I were discussing in this photo. Probably our pitiful bowling score. We didn’t win.
Drake invited Denise (she worked with me at the newspaper) and me to stop by the set and say hello on my next trip to Los Angeles.
Drake signed this photo for my mom
After we put the top down on our Chrysler LaBaron, we headed into Hollywood. Our traveling companions dropped us off at Sunset and Gower and went to check into the hotel while we visited with Drake. It was a fun afternoon with Drake cutting up with the rest of the cast. By the time he was ready to leave the studio for the day and drive home to Malibu, it was getting dark.
He asked us how we planned to get to the hotel. We were hoofing it! Concerned for our safety and the distance to the hotel, Drake insisted on driving us to the Holiday Inn. Before we left the studio, he drew a map of Hollywood and the surrounding area.
Drake’s map and photo as he signed photos for his fans
I crawled in the back of his jeep; Denise took the front. Drake was stopped by fans as we drove out of the parking garage. He sat behind the wheel and signed autographs and talked to his fans. He was an awesome gentleman.
Drake and Michael at the Holiday Inn in Hollywood
But, I digress. That was a long time ago. I want to tell you about August 2013.
It has become a tradition for me to watch the sun go down behind the Hollywood Hills on the first night I’m in town. I find a place to prop at the Griffith Park Observatory and watch the sky turn purple and orange as the sun sinks behind the hills.
Here’s how it looked last month.
The nightlife comes to life
The Sign rests for the evening
The day after I arrived in Los Angeles, I was guest speaker at the annual Valentino Memorial Service. Read about that here.
The next day, Chris and I planned to drive around Hollywood until my book signing that afternoon at Book Soup on Sunset Blvd. We spent the morning hiking the Hollyridge Trail. The walk up was hotter than the hinges of hell. We came with no water. What were we thinking?
Michael and Chris on the Hollyridge Trail
The Hollywood Sign from above
After I dragged my hot, tired, sweaty self to the top, I stood amazed at the view. I thought about the 1920s and what it must have looked like in those days of early Hollywood. Take a look at this comparison. Look closely and you can see Beachwood Drive in the photos (in the middle left third of both photos). That long straight road takes you into the Hollywood Hills and near the Hollyridge Trail.
The view from the Sign in 2013
The view in the 1920s
Mack Sennett Beauties enjoying the view
Before going the book signing, Chris and I hydrated ourselves and stopped off in Beverly Hills at Church of the Good Shepherd. The sacred place is a who’s who of Hollywood when it comes to weddings and funerals. In June 1926, Mae Murray married her prince, David Mdivani. Rudolph Valentino and Pola Negri were best man and bride’s maid. Two months later, Hollywood’s brightest stars crowded into the church to say goodbye to Valentino.
Approaching the church from the side. Chris swore this beam of light my camera picked up was a welcoming sign
I took a seat in a pew. Chris stretched out at the altar to soak in the spirit of peace
The book signing at BookSoup was fun. I wish I could say I got writer’s cramp from signing so many books, but I’d be lying to you.
Michael and Mae at BookSoup
Here I am at the booksigning with Chris and Miles Kreuger. Miles knew Mae and provided the anecdote that opened Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips.
The rest of the week went something like this. I did research at the Academy Library during the day. The library is closed on Wednesday, so Richard and I hiked the Hollyridge Trail to the Hollywood Sign. This time, we saw some shirtless gents scale the fence and to get a better look at the Sign.
Two teens stripped bare-chested and scaled the fence. They took photos right before they went over.
I was content to pose once more with all of Hollywood at my back. I could see me scaling that fence. I’d catch my privates halfway through the jump and have to shriek for a helicopter to fly over and pull me out of the links.
Michael over Hollywood
In the afternoon, I drove to the beach to spend a few moments with Thelma Todd. There in the sand, with her beach house in sight, I thought of poor Thelma and how her untimely death in 1935 stills cries for justice.
Michael and Thelma’s house
Thelma’s house back in the day. It’s changed very little over the years.
A panoramic view with my lone shadow in the middle
Malibu and Duke’s was my next stop. I got a table by the sea and sipped chilled white wine.
An old haunt of mine
Late in the afternoon, during a tedious rush hour, I went down to Culver City and found the old entrance to MGM. I looked around and wonder whether this was the street that a naked Mae Murray ran across during her war with Erich von Stroheim on the set of The Merry Widow.
The gates to MGM
The gates in Mae Murray’s day.
Before my time in Hollywood ran out, I drove south to Holy Cross Cemetery. I looked for Pola Negri in the Great Mausoleum. The building closed before I could find her. I walked and walked in the baking sun looking for Ramon Novarro. The markers all began to look alike. I never found him. Next time! With the help of the cemetery office, I found one actress I had come here to find: Fontaine La Rue. If you have followed this blog, you know about my frustrating quest to determine what ever happened to this siren of the screen. I will tell you more about her in my new book.
Fontaine La Rue, a screen siren who has held my attention for years
Of course, I spent time with friends. I had dinner one evening with writer Jim Parish and Allan Taylor, the godson of Margaret Mitchell. They are my oldest Hollywood friends. We’ve been buddies since the 1980s. I had lunch with Susie and Bob Archer. She is the niece of actress Marjorie Daw, to whom I am devoting a chapter in my book.
The last evening, I told myself it had to be an early night. I had a 5:25 a.m. flight to Atlanta, which means the clock was set for 3:30. Wishful thinking. I sat up until almost midnight with Andre Soares, the author of Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro. We finished our Thai dinner, then went around the corner for a milkshake. When Andre and I get to talking about silent film stars, the night slips away.
It’s always sad when I pull away from the hotel, enter the freeway and head for the airport. Part of me stays behind.
The line from the old Eagles song is true. “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”