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Hollywood Here I Come!
In 1957, at the age of 19, I was living in Flint, and had been working at the Capitol theater when I decided I wanted to move to Hollywood. I sold a few personal things I had, such as my beautiful VM stereo, my record collection, a sectional sofa, an 8mm camera and projector and flew to California. It was snowing in Flint when I left. A real blizzard and I was having second thoughts about leaving. It was a prop jet, nothing like the planes today, and although I was scared my mother and stepdad were there, as well as my real dad and stepmother. Arthur Black, who was the manager of the Palace theater, thought it was a good idea for me to go to Hollywood. At one time he had worked for Paramount Studios in a department that dreamed up names for films. When somebody else there stole one of his ideas, he quit and left. He was a good manager, always dressed in a suit and greeted patrons in the lobby. He and Earl Berry, the manager at the Capitol, always had a cigar in their mouth. On his day off Art and his wife would come to the Capitol theater to whatever film it was we were showing. (Theater people live in theaters, even on their days off. It gets in their blood). It was hard getting Art away from the Palace, even on his day off. He used to stay in the theater, after it closed, working on newspaper ads. I had worked a couple of stunts for him on "horror" films and he knew I wanted to act and he encouraged me to go to Hollywood.
When I did my television appearance in Detroit, he even stayed home to watch it. When the plane reached Los Angeles, it was really exciting for me. I had never seen palm trees before and a lot of the homes were painted in pastel colors, and there was no snow. What a difference, leaving a blizzard and then to land in a city with sunshine and warm weather. Before I left, I had made a decision that I wanted to work at the famous GRAUMAN'S CHINESE THEATER and didn't have any idea where it was and had never even seen a picture of it. I only knew it was the most famous theater in the world. I had taken a cab from the airport to the Hollywood Greyhound station on Vine Street, where I would store my large suitcase in a locker, until I could find a place to live. I started walking up Vine Street towards Hollywood Boulevard. NBC was located on the corner of Sunset and Vine and Wallich's Music City, a large record store, was on the opposite corner. A man approached me and asked if I was new in town? I said, "yes," walking away and avoiding further conversation. I didn't look forward to this kind of thing so soon. As I neared the Huntington Hartford Theater, (now the Ricardo Montalban Theater), I saw a familiar face walking toward me. He was an actor, but I couldn't think of his name but I knew he was the actor who suggested James Dean go to New York and do television and learn to act. But, when I finally thought of his name, James Whitmore, I turned around and he had disappeared.
I had been in Hollywood for only a few minutes and saw one of Jimmy Dean's friends. Jim had died two years before and I had read every article written on him. When I reached Hollywood Boulevard, I started walking west, eyeing everything. There were many clothing stores and restaurants and the street was so-o-o wide! Other than that, it reminded me of a small town back east. There were no tall buildings like there is today. The Capitol Records building was the newest, near the intersection of Hollywood & Vine. There was no "walk of fame," with celebrities names on stars. At the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland, was Lee's Drugstore, (a souvenir shop today). I stopped for a hamburger. There were small juke-boxes on the counter and you could play whatever you wanted and the speaker was in the box right in front of you, so a person a seat or two over, could play and listen to whatever they wanted, at the same time. I had never seen these before. Harry Belafonte was the "hot singer" at that time. Calypso music, they said, was supposed to replace Rock & Roll. There was a hotel above Lee's called the Park Hotel, (it opened as a Hostel a few years ago after being shuttered for twenty or more years), and I got a room there for $12.50 a week. I had to pay two weeks in advance. The bathroom and the showers were down the hall and all I had was a bed and a wash basin in the room, but that was all I needed.
When I walked back to the bus station, I hadn't realized I had walked so far and I had to carry my large suitcase, all the way down the Boulevard to the hotel. It wore me out. But, I only had $20 left until I could find a job and my check for $18 would be mailed to me from the Capitol theater. It scares me now to think of what I had chosen to go through at that time. I knew "no one" there. I had to find a job and wouldn't you know, Grauman's Chinese Theater was only a block away. But, they weren't hiring. None of the Boulevard theaters were hiring anyone. As soon as someone arrived in Hollywood, the theaters were the first place they would go looking for a job. I finally heard that the Fox Wilshire was looking for an assistant manager. I made an appointment and it took two buses to get there. I was hired and fitted for a tuxedo. The problem was, I didn't have money for bus fare. After paying the hotel rent, I had to live on potato chips for a few days, but having a roof over my head was the most important thing. And of course, the theater wouldn't advance me any money. So, they asked me if I would like to work at Grauman's as a doorman? I couldn't believe it. My dream came true. The doorman there had wanted a promotion and they were going to hire him for the job I had been hired for. I was elated.
I talked with a little old lady, who lived at the hotel. The upstairs lobby was huge and they had a television set for the people who lived there. The lady told me the famous Hollywood Hotel that had been across the street, had recently been razed. She looked saddened by that. Louella Parsons used to broadcast her radio show from there. The hotel had been built in 1903 and was operated by Mira Hershey, of the chocolate making family. But, I had never heard of the hotel. The Hollywood/Highland Complex and Kodak Theater now occupy that space after a large office building had been razed, that had replaced the hotel in 1957. Hollywood has always been building and tearing down over the years.
I met another youngman at the hotel, Joel Reed, who was a cocky little guy, but he was cute, even if he had what is called a sleepy eye. One eye-lid sort of drooped down. He said he was from Corpus Christie, Texas. He was gay and said he had sex with Guy Madison in Texas. Joel would become a sun freak and his skin eventually looked like brown leather. He suggested we get an apartment together on Orchid Avenue, the street next to Grauman's. He said the rent was only $24.50 a week and that it would be $12.25 each, splitting the rent. And we would have a private bath, a kitchenette with a hot plate, refrigerator and furniture. This sounded all right with me but I had paid two weeks rent at the hotel. Joel made up some story and I got a week's rent back. We paid by the week, so that wasn't bad.
The Commodore Garden Apartments also had maid service. The maid vacuumed everyday and changed the towels. Once a week she changed the sheets. Today, if you don't have a couple thousand dollars, forget about getting an apartment in Hollywood. It has worsened the last few years. There are hardly any one bedroom apartments, (unfurnished and you pay utilities), under $1,000. I loved the apartment but one day I came home and Joel was in drag. This disgusted me but he later found someone who wanted him to move in with them. So he moved out. I was relieved. He asked me where I was going to live? I said, "Right here." He said, "You can't afford it by yourself." I said I could and did, even though I was only making about $40 a week. You know something? I was happier then than I am today. The less you own, the easier it is to move on. Joel recently died of AIDS.
Susan Strasberg, (Lee Strasberg's, of the ACTOR'S STUDIO, daughter), lived in the apartment house next door. She was little, like Natalie Wood and very pretty. She would one day marry a James Dean look-alike, Christopher Jones. Susan used to visit a hooker who lived across the hall from me. I don't know what her and and Susan's relationship was but the gal would later marry a man who owned a small airline. She was Hungarian and told me she liked older guys better than the younger ones, because they got the sex over with faster. I used to leave messages on her answering service saying Rock Hudson or some other actor had called. I would leave my phone number and when she would call, I would tease her. We used to leave our apartment doors open to get a breeze. There was no air-conditioning, just water-air coolers in the window. So, when she answered her phone I could see her as she talked. I introduced her to Nick Adams and he later told me she "was a tramp."
Down the hall was Richard Gully, whom I learned was Jack Warner's right hand man. One day the manager told him he had a phone call. Evidently he never had his own phone. When someone got a call, the manager would buzz their room and they could pick up the phone in the hall and talk. (I had my own phone). She told him, "Rod Hudson called for you and I forgot to tell you." Richard, an elegant Englishman replied, "It's not Rod Hudson, it's Rock Hudson." The manager still didn't know who Rock Hudson was. Richard was pissed because he had arranged some press thing for Rock. Rock was under contract to Universal but had starred in "Giant," for Warner Bros.
There were rumors that Tab Hunter had been caught at a gay party on Orchid Avenue and I believed it. Someone even pointed out the building he, supposedly, lived in at that time. Now I learn (from Tab's book), it was in Walnut Park, a Los Angeles suburb. CONFIDENTIAL magazine ran a story on it. The police harassed gays in those days, for absolutely nothing. That made or created West Hollywood, that is under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff's department, which is and was more lenient in those days. There used to be a dozen or more gay bars in Hollywood. Now only two exists, "The Spotlight," and a new piano bar close by. The rest are in West Hollywood.
(Next Blog:the-gossip-columnist-14.blogspot.com) Grauman's Chinese Theater. posted by Bill Dakota | 10:45 PM | 0 comments
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