If you’re in LA, you have to spend some time on the movie trail. Jenny Southan discovers elaborate theatres, ‘star washers’ and the graves of silver-screen legends
1. HOLLYWOOD FOREVER CEMETERY
It’s not easy to get around LA on foot as everything is so spread out, so jump in a taxi or hire a car. Parking is not a problem but you may need to put a few dollars in a meter depending on where you are. First stop is the 62-acre Hollywood Forever cemetery. Founded more than a century ago, it was given a facelift in 1998 and is an immaculate – and high-tech – resting place for the rich and famous, with manicured lawns and digital touchscreen “life stories”. There is an area dedicated to members of Hollywood’s Jewish community, as well as memorials to directors, writers, studio founders and actors. Collect a map from the entrance, along with a list of famous names to locate, and drive along the palm-lined avenues to the various mausoleums, crypts and burial grounds.
Memorials to seek out include those of rock star Johnny Ramone, blonde bombshell Jayne Mansfield and silent film legend Rudolph Valentino, who died at the tender age of 31 – over the years a mysterious woman in black has been seen visiting his grave, carrying a single red rose. In summer, open-air movies are screened, and Paramount Studios sits just beyond (for information on tours, visit paramount.com or call +1 323 956 1777). 6,000 Santa Monica Boulevard; tel +1 323 469 1181; hollywoodforever.com
2. HOLLYWOOD SIGN
Although you can see the Hollywood sign from the cemetery, for great shots you need to get a bit closer. Drive up North Bronson Avenue, turn left down Franklin Avenue and right up North Beachwood Drive – you will see the sign straight ahead. Follow the road past the picture-perfect houses with their Astroturf lawns until you have found a vantage point you are happy with. The sign, located on the southern side of Mount Lee, was originally a real-estate advert and read “Hollywoodland” when it was erected in 1923. After the 1932 suicide of 24-year-old Peg Entwistle, a Broadway star who killed herself by jumping off the letter “H”, it gradually fell into disrepair. In 1949, the “land” part was removed in a bid to reflect the district rather than the housing estate. By the early seventies it had become dilapidated once again, until nine donors including Hugh Hefner and Alice Cooper stepped up to donate almost US$30,000 each to replace it.
3. LARRY EDMUNDS BOOKSHOP
Find a parking spot by Hollywood Boulevard and walk to Larry Edmunds bookshop, which has been at number 6,644 for 70 years. This unassuming store is a treasure trove of movie posters, scripts, stills, and literature on film history and theory, cinematography, acting, directing and screenwriting, and in contrast with many other shops in the area, it’s the real deal. The staff are hardcore movie buffs and are happy to help you find what you are looking for – courtesy of the guy behind the counter with a tattoo of Anita Ekberg on his arm (the screen siren from Fellini’s La Dolce Vita), I managed to pick up an original still from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey for US$25. But some of the memorabilia goes for much higher prices. Open daily 10am-5.30pm. Tel +1 323 463 3273; larryedmunds.com
4. WALK OF FAME
From Larry’s, turn left and follow the pink terrazzo stars along Hollywood Boulevard. The Hollywood Walk of Fame runs on both sides of the street from Gower Avenue to La Brea, as well as both sides of Vine Street (whose buildings are said to be almost exclusively owned by the Church of Scientology) between Yucca Street and Sunset Boulevard. There are more than 2,000 stars dedicated to people from film, television, recording, radio and theatre (you can tell from the brass symbol in the middle of the star which area they are associated with). The first eight stars to be laid were in 1958, and nominations are made to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce every May.
The Walk of Fame attracts more than tourists – it’s common to see homeless “star washers” keeping their favourites cleaned and polished. Visit hollywoodchamber.net for a full directory of stars. If you have time, pop into the Kodak theatre where the Oscars are held every year. Visit kodaktheatre.com for more details.
5. GRAUMAN’S CHINESE THEATRE
Home to Hollywood’s most prestigious movie premieres, the Chinese theatre is next door to the Kodak. Built by Sid Grauman after his success with the nearby Egyptian theatre, it opened in May 1927 with the first screening of Cecil B De Mille’s The King of Kings. While the stunning dragon-carved frontage is impossible to miss, it’s actually the forecourt that draws in the throngs. On the spectacular opening night, Grauman asked all the attending stars to make hand and foot prints in the wet cement and autograph them, as an everlasting record. Over the years this became a tradition, but owing to limited space, those people whose fame has dwindled have had their prints cut out and stored in the basement. Walk around and compare your feet with those of Will Smith (huge) and Rita Hayworth (impossibly tiny). The theatre is open to the public with daily movie showings and backstage tours. Tel +1 323 463 9576; manntheatres.com
6. ROOSEVELT HOTEL
To round off your tour, head a short way up the road to the legendary Roosevelt. Since opening in 1927, it has been the haunt of some of the world’s greatest icons. Marilyn Monroe stayed in suite 246 for two years at the start of her modelling career, and the hotel also hosted the first Academy Awards in 1929. Now owned by Thompson Hotels, it was renovated in 2005 and has a palm-fringed pool with an underwater mural by David Hockney. To get a taste of vintage glamour, head to Teddy’s lounge for cocktails and rub shoulders with its celebrity clientele. 7,000 Hollywood Boulevard; tel +1 323 466 7000; hollywoodroosevelt.com