Today I am in Los Angeles for the first time in a long time. I am excitedly readying myself for the pinnacle of film nerdiness, The TCM Classic Film Festival - a four day opus of highly flammable 35mm gems from Hollywood's golden age. It is nearing a decade since I last came to Hollywood. I needed a long break after abandoning the potentially lucrative fields of sitcom writing and television-audience-warming-upping, so disgusted was I with those respective fields at the time. After the disgust had waned and the realization of the amount of money I had relinquished hit home, I discovered I needed to extend my break from this region even longer, so as not to be reminded of my self-inflicted failure.
But now I am back. In preparation I paid close attention to the morals espoused in Mooch Goes to Hollywood (1971), that incredible rags-to-riches picture written by Jim Backus, narrated by Zsa Zsa Gabor and starring a dog.
Dionne Warwick sang that "L.A. is a great big freeway," but Hollywood itself is a run-down ghetto, and has been that way for a couple of decades. It is filled with the familiar smut merchants, t-shirt shops, meandering homeless and unemployed. On the bright side, at least one of those homeless gents is regularly employed by Monty Hall to polish his star (true) and at least some of those unemployed now have jobs at TBS. Musso and Frank's is still down the street, and it's hard not to be struck with a sense of magic knowing how often and incredibly blotto Orson Welles was within its confines. Sitting at the bar, I raise my glass high to the dead bastard. Old Los Angeles still exists in many ways.
Despite the effervescent condo push that is the norm in urban centers across the continent, an art deco mecca like the former Desilu lot still stands,1 the aesthetic of the Broadway Theater and Commercial District remains very much the same, and there still exists a matchbook cover from Dino's long defunct Lodge nesting in my jacket pocket - close to my heart. Hollywood is a dive for the shocked tourists that need to be told exactly what to do and see, but for people that desperately like to pretend they live in a previous decade, there is a great deal of esoteric nostalgia to be had.
Such nostalgia helped cement my nerdiness today. Not that it was ever really in doubt (the fact I get laid every now and then does throw the concept out of whack). As I walked into the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, ground zero for the TCM Classic Film Festival, with my Ipod on random, my ears were quite suddenly treated to a nineteen twenties gem from Ben Bernie's Hotel Roosevelt Orchestra.2 Jim Backus' scriptwriting ability itself could not have conceived such a hackneyed moment of depravity... not even for a dog.
The TCM Classic Film Festival has been framed somewhat as a salute to opulent Hollywood excess of days gone by and marketed to teeming movie enthusiasts that want to experience such. Certainly there are no shortage of vintage cinema fanatics attending, including myself, who want exactly that. Otherwise what justification could there be to indulge in such bourgeois revelry in the midst of a crippling recession? Many aspects are, admittedly, Gatsby-esque.
The cheap pass for this festival rings in at five hundred dollars. That's for the riff-raff and, of course, I will avoid talking to those people at all costs. Anybody sporting one of those around their neck should be busy polishing Monty Hall's star, nothing more. Now, the mid-level pass is presented for your pleasure at six hundred dollars. For the extra hundred you are granted, I believe, the privilege of polishing Wink Martindale's star instead. The final option is the "Spotlight Pass," which goes for an amazing twelve hundred dollars, and grants you everything you could ever want: entry to all screenings, celebrity panels and even a Vanity Fair party - hopefully some blow. There's also a splendid little media-pass that was doled out to some very fortunate souls *cough* cough* but we won't go into that. The weekend stands to be amazing. I think it's safe to assume the crowd it will attract will be similar to the mix seen at most record conventions: the coolest people you've ever met in your life milling alongside some of the most pathetically, socially inept virgins you have ever seen. Such is the nature of nerdom.
I know it sounds like a lot of money. It probably is. I'm not sure. I've never actually held that amount of money in my hands at one time. But the line-up for this weekend is incredible and I have nothing bad to say about this event, regardless of cost.3 Taking into account some of the film luminaries that will be speaking at the fest, the price tag makes a great deal more sense. These kids don't appear for free. They're flying in former Hollywood starlet Luise Rainer from France. She's one hundred years old! How many Spotlight Passes do you think they need to sell to make up the cost of that insurance?
The Vanity Fair party is tonight. I'm not sure if I'm even allowed into it, but one thing is for certain. This star packed hobnob will not be running til the wee-hours. You see, the gliterati in attendance is true Hollywood, the stray remnants of a long-lost decadence. This evening's party goers are very old. I wouldn't want it any other way mind you, but the amount of drug taking at this Hollywood party will involve mostly Aricept and Rivastigmine not Ecstasy. So I'm not going to be terribly heartbroken if I can't get in. Then again if I hear the next morning that I missed out on some Boeing, Boeing style row between Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis, I will be pretty disappointed.
Here's a roll call of select attendees and their respective age:
Susan Kohner - 73
Jean-Paul Belmondo - 77
Tab Hunter - 78
Darryl Hickman - 78
Buck Henry - 79
Martin Landau - 81
Nancy Olson - 81
Richard Rush - 81
Angela Allen - 81
Mel Brooks - 83
Tony Curtis - 84
Jerry Lewis - 84
Eva Marie Saint - 85
Stanley Donen - 86
Juanita Moore - 87
Esther Williams - 88
Betty Garrett - 90
Ernest Borgnine - 93
Eli Wallach - 94
Luise Rainer - 100
See what I'm talking about? That's just a sampling. In a couple days I'll be staying with my pal Larry who lives not far from Forest Lawn Cemetery.4 Forest Lawn is another one of those showbiz nerd havens I'm planning on checking out, and I hope, in all sincerity, that none of those listed above will be visiting it any time soon. In the meantime, I will be visiting them over the course of this week - likely too nervous, too awestruck to actually say anything to them. Then again, it's unlikely that the state of their auditory perception would allow them to actually hear the pointless babble I'd be gushing in their direction.
The Only Blogger with Footnotes
1Check out the old Desilu Lot with Google Street View. It's 840 N. Cahuenga. And just up the street in the 1000 Block is another streamlined architectural beacon, the original 1930s Technicolor Laboratory complex.
2Listen, I'm well aware that Ben Bernie's Hotel Roosevelt Orchestra was named for the Hotel Roosevelt in Manhattan. Creative license, okay?
3Unlike the asshole that excessively ripped into the presence of Jerry Lewis on the TCM message board. Yeah, I'm on the TCM message board - I believe we've already established that I'm a huge fucking nerd.
4I'm certainly not alone in my affinity for Forest Lawn (or the Hollywood Forever Cemetery for that matter). Shortly after the filming of Stripes, Warren Oates and Bill Murray got hammered at the Forest Lawn gravesite of then recently deceased character actor Strother Martin.