Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Inside the Inland Empire: “The Graduate” Rides Again

The Inland Empire is a picturesque term for a vaguely defined area of Southern California comprising parts of San Bernardino and Riverside counties, along with nearby communities. Some civic boosters include the Indio and Palm Springs areas, which means that the über-trendy Coachella Music and Arts Festival—where Beyoncé just made such a serious desert splash—is part of the Inland Empire too. 

I was invited to speak on my new book, Seduced by Mrs. Robinson, for the Dome series at the San Bernardino County Museum. I’ve often seen this distinctive freeway-close complex (located in the city of Redlands) while driving to visit relatives at holiday time, but I had no idea what awaited me inside the museum’s geodesic dome. First of all, Inland Empire folks just seem to be a little nicer, a little friendlier, and much less harried than their L.A. counterparts. Before my talk, I also had time to check out the museum’s permanent displays. Most memorable was the so-called Remember Ramp, which contains useful items I remember all too well (a dial telephone, an adding machine, a manual typewriter) so that children can see—and fiddle with—the stuff that was a hit before their mothers were born. Yes, I once owned a turquoise Princess Phone just like the one in the acrylic display case. And Mrs. Robinson of The Graduate tried to summon the cops to scare Benjamin Braddock with just such a phone. (Hers was stark white; the lady didn’t go in for flashy pastels.) 

After my talk, I treated myself to a night at the most celebrated hostelry of the region, Riverside’s venerable Mission Inn. This magnificent pile of vaguely Spanish arches, turrets, and balconies dates back to the early 20th century, in an era when the  California citrus industry was golden. It’s known for playing host to presidents (Richard and Pat Nixon where married there, and a special chair was ordered for the comfort of our largest POTUS, William Howard Taft). But Hollywood celebrities in love with the area’s warm, dry climate also dropped in; there’s a charming tale about Cary Grant searching out the particularly comfy room in which he’d stayed on a previous visit.

Remarkably, the city of Riverside grew up around the hotel. Riverside’s civic buildings are located just up the street, and a more recent celebrity is now putting down roots nearby. Comic actor Cheech Marin, of Cheech and Chong fame, is establishing—a short walk from the Mission Inn—a museum to house his notable collection of Chicano art.  It will be known as the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art, Culture and Industry.

 Coming home from the Inland Empire, I made a detour into the nearby Pomona Valley to see with my own eyes a famous location used in the filming of The Graduate. This is the United Methodist Church, the striking glass-and-stucco structure where Ben Braddock pounded on the glass of the upstairs balcony to alert his love, Elaine Robinson, that he had come to rescue her from a marriage to someone else. Back in the day, the presence of a film crew made the Methodist congregation uneasy. Today they’re proud to show off the premises to the film’s fans, will happily snap photos of visitors pounding in that famous balcony, and can spin yarns about other film shoots that came their way because of this one: Wayne’s World 2 and Bubble Boy, to name a few. Our guide remembered best of all the day a sexagenarian Dustin Hoffman showed up to rescue another young bride, all for the sake of an Audi commercial. 

This one’s for Melissa Russo of the San Bernardino Museum, Cati Porter of Inlandia, and my delightful Riverside cousin, Rosalie Anderson. 

And here's info about radio station KPCC's upcoming screening of The Graduate at the fabulous Theatre at Ace Hotel in Downtown L.A. The date is Saturday, June 2.

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