Friday, May 25, 2012

Location, Location, Location (or Dan and Justin Do Hollywood)

I’ve got a gripe with Time Magazine. Several months ago, in an issue highlighting the world’s most influential people, Time drew up a list of the world’s most influential places. Past and present Time honorees were invited to contribute, by picking “spots that have made a difference.” Given the range of participants, the selections were predictably idiosyncratic: financial guru Suze Orman opted for Sutter’s Mill, where the American Gold Rush began; pop princess Taylor Swift went with Central Park; and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson chose the moon. But in the interest of balance (I guess), Time editors came up with a host of other spots of major symbolic importance, like Wall Street, Calvary Hill, and several greats: Great Pyramid at Giza, Great Wall of China, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Another Time pick was Silicon Valley, certainly a locale where today’s dreams are made. But that San Jose high-tech mecca was the closest Time came to recognizing a place where dreams have been made for a century. I’m talking, of course, about Hollywood.

Hollywood’s glitter may have tarnished over the years, but it still exerts a tight hold over our imagination. Though we know that the Hollywood Sign at first promoted a real estate development, it continues to loom over a mental as well as physical landscape: a place where stars are embedded in the pavement, where celebrity footprints in the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese are treated as holy relics, and where pretty little girls from Kansas (or Kankakee or Kenya) flock in hopes of finding fame and fortune. The story of Dorothy leaving home to find the Emerald City is so deeply connected to mythic Hollywood that the Metro stop (yes, there is one!) at the legendary corner of Hollywood and Vine is decorated to reflect a Wizard of Oz motif, complete with yellow brick road.

People who live far from Hollywood still feel its allure. One of my Mother’s Day gifts this year is a book called Framed: 100 Round Trips to Hollywood. In the 1950s, Italian supermarkets gave away to their customers small collectible portraits of Hollywood lovelies. Italian authors Iaia Filiberti and Debora Hirsch, having found a stash of such cards, have assembled a slim volume in which they lovingly reflect on the careers of everyone from Louise Brooks to Arlene Dahl to Sandra Dee.

Then there are my English friends, Dan and Justin. Dan has fantasized about Hollywood all his life. Growing up in Kent, he dreamt of steering a red Alfa Romeo down the California coast, just like Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. This past month, on his first trip to the U.S., he finally made his California dreamin’ a reality. No red sports car, alas, but he and Justin did motor south from San Francisco, arranging their brief L.A. stay to include Universal Studios, Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and the L.A. Observatory, site of key scenes from Rebel Without a Cause as well as a great place to appreciate the Hollywood Sign.

And what visit to California would be complete without a star sighting? Driving through Malibu, Dan and Justin stopped at a scenic spot to photograph the coastline. A trio of older men were there with cameras too, and Dan volunteered to get all three in a commemorative shot. His offer was gratefully accepted, and then the men introduced themselves. One turned out to be singer-songwriter Neil Sedaka, a genuine Hollywood Walk of Fame inductee. Dan and Justin couldn’t have been more thrilled if they’d met Prince Charles. After all, this was a prince of Hollywood, and it doesn’t get much starrier than that.


  1. Aw, what a wonderful story! I'm glad Dan and Justin got to see Mr. Sedaka on their Hollywood trek!

    And I'm with you - what the heck! No Hollywood love from Time magazine? Sacrilege!

  2. It's funny how sometimes a visitor comes to town for a few days and sees someone special, whereas longtime residents miss out. When I was in London with my family, we actually got a good glimpse of the Queen. My hunch is that Dan and Justin have never seen her in person.

    As for Time, it's a New York kind of magazine. Hollywood is just too too banal for that crowd.