|Margaret Herrick Library, Beverly Hills, CA|
Before 2014 ends, I need to salute the city of Beverly Hills, California, which has been busily celebrating the centennial of its founding. Personally, I’ve always had a special relationship to Beverly Hills. Meaning: I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, less than half a mile south of the Beverly Hills border. My neighborhood was certainly nice enough, but the kids I met who attended Beverly Hills schools always lorded over me, insisting that their own schooling was far better (and far more rigorous) than mine. Such junior-grade snobbery certainly didn’t endear the city to me. Nor did the fact that the well-equipped Beverly Hills library refused to issue library cards to mere L.A. residents.
Still, I enjoyed living walking-distance from the tacky little monument (on a traffic island where Olympic Blvd. meets Beverly Drive) honoring the Hollywood hotshots who’d helped make a Beverly Hills address a status symbol. The monument displays bas-reliefs of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbank and Will Rogers, and Conrad Nagel (who?), and I’d study them with reverence. Not far from the monument was the supermarket where it was once possible to see an aging Donald O’Connor pushing a shopping card. Beverly Hills was also the place where I would spot celebrities in my dentist’s waiting room. Then there was the day I emerged from one of the city’s fancier department stores and discovered Sammy Davis Jr. out for a drive in his Excalibur. A one-man parade, he was dressed to the nines, and was happily waving to onlookers who gaped from the sidewalk.
One of Beverly Hills’ greatest treasures, the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, has been displaying in its lobby some grand old photos of the city’s glory days. There is, if memory serves, a photo of Jean Harlow posing poolside, as well as shots of other stars frolicking on tennis courts and otherwise looking both glamorous and carefree. I know that B-movie maven Roger Corman was overawed by Hollywood glamour when his family moved to the flats of Beverly Hills in 1940. In his graduating class at Beverly Hills High School were the scions of famous Hollywood families, like Lita Warner, Carlotta Laemmle, and the young Adolf Zukor. (The school’s movers and shakers actually tended to be those with more tangential movie connections, like the son of the maître d’ at the exclusive Beverly Hills Hotel.) Beverly High was elegantly designed and situated: its gymnasium, with a floor that opened to reveal an indoor swimming pool, actually had a featured moment in the 1946 classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. Fifty years later, the atmosphere of the high school – with its class divisions and its fashion-conscious student body -- was hilariously captured by Alicia Silverstone and company in Clueless.
The reputation of Beverly Hills as a place of wealth and snob appeal has made it a natural for the movies. Just think of how many films have the words Beverly Hills in their titles. Like Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Slums of Beverly Hills, Troop Beverly Hills, and even Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Not to mention at least four iterations of Beverly Hills Cop (none of which is about the city traffic officer who famously got slapped by Zsa Zsa Gabor.) Television programs trading on the city’s name have ranged from The Beverly Hillbillies to Beverly Hills, 90210 to (inevitably) The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
Then, of course, there’s Pretty Woman, in which nothing seems more delightful than being a hooker let loose on Rodeo Drive with a rich man’s credit cards.