Hollywood’s brightest stars come together for the Golden Globes ceremony but celebrations won’t end there for this LA city - its iconic sign turns 100 in 2023. Here’s where to find a touch of old Hollywood glamour.
The Gold Rush of the mid-19th century brought hopefuls flocking to California; gold dust of a different kind brought them in the early 20th century – more specifically to Hollywood, which swiftly emerged as the centre of the cinematic world.
The city remained swathed in this mink of fabulousness for years: even after the Golden Age of Hollywood was eclipsed by televisions in 1950′s living rooms, as blockbusters - aided by advances in special effects – continued to awe cinema-goers.
Yet all of this has been eroded in recent years. Online platforms make stars less enigmatic; less glamorous. Box sets and streaming have removed the impetus to get off the sofa. And then there’s the pandemic, which has dulled the sheen of Hollywood even further and kept us all indoors for longer.
The Hollywood sign – instantly visible from several vantage points in the city – has watched over the vagaries of LA’s fortunes while living through its own; indeed, it has been abbreviated (the sign originally read “Hollywoodland”) and experienced periods of decrepitude, being repaired, rebuilt and repainted – and even rescued by the likes of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.
2023 will see the famous sign turn 100: having had a spruce-up involving pressure washing and white paint, it now shines as bright as Hollywood’s past.
And yes, once you swerve the touts and tat, traces of this can still be found. The Warner Bros Studios tour (wbstudiotour.com) is an ideal way to start, offering a glimpse into one of the world’s oldest film studios. Backlots include one of the banks robbed in Bonnie & Clyde; a school and house facade from Rebel Without a Cause and the last remaining set from multi-Academy Award winner Casablanca. Screens on the tour carts bring the experience even more to life, showing film clips that correspond to our surroundings.
Having opened in 2021, The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (academymuseum.org) inevitably curates highlights from more recent moments in cinematic and Hollywood history, as well as ones from a past often viewed through rose-gold glasses. The current “Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971″ display - which is due to run until spring 2023 - brings attention to the vital role that Black artists and creatives have played in the creation of film since its birth; meanwhile, the “Stories of Cinema” display on the second floor highlights the work of Oscar Micheux, whose career spanned from 1919 through to the 1940s and posed a direct challenge to the uncomfortable bigotry of 1915′s The Birth of a Nation. The prominence afforded Micheux’s work is a deft move by the Academy, a stark juxtaposition with the glamorous narrative that generally surrounds the birth of Hollywood.
Glamour is still there in abundance, however: the costumes section, featuring Dorothy’s gingham dresses and ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, as well as Rita Moreno’s dress from 1962′s West Side Story, is easy to lose hours in. Elsewhere, “Rosebud” from Citizen Kane - which vies with Casablanca as the best film of all time - can be seen. And for your own dose of glamour, you can pay an additional fee for “The Oscars Experience”, in which you take to the podium in front of a virtual crowd and accept a statuette identical to the ones handed out at the annual ceremony. You may not be garbed in Valentino or Versace - but you’ll be sent a video of your acceptance, regardless.
The Academy Awards have, of course, long contributed to the sparkle of Tinseltown, ever since their first iteration in 1929 at The Roosevelt Hotel (thehollywoodroosevelt.com) which, even now, transports you to a different era, complete with indoor palms, plush velvet, ornate tiles, a dazzling pool area and a suite once occupied by Marilyn Monroe. Inside, a jewel box of a theatre, once favoured by the likes of Arthur Miller and Humphrey Bogart, is concealed behind a bookshelf and is now a secret spot for lavish cabaret and burlesque shows.
Further up the Boulevard, The Pantages Theatre (pantagestheatre.net), was the first venue at which a televised Oscars was held. With Bob Hope hosting, guests included Janet Leigh, Tony Curtis, Elizabeth Taylor, Walt Disney and Robert Wagner. A riot of geometric Art Deco design details, the theatre holds the distinction of being the last movie palace to be built in Hollywood, and is still the place to go for stage productions and Broadway musicals - although if you want a drink in next door’s Frolic Room, you’ll need to access it from the street, rather than via the “secret” tunnel that links the landmark theatre with the former speakeasy. And if you want to have a cocktail in the hotel where the now-instantly-recognisable Oscars statuette was first imagined, head a few miles east to the Biltmore (millenniumhotels.com), which also hosted the awards eight times between 1932 and 1942. Although a little distant from Hollywood proper, the area is worth exploring for its newer offerings, including contemporary art museum, The Broad, and the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall.
On the opposite side of Hollywood Boulevard from Musso & Frank - (mussoandfrank.com) - the oldest restaurant in Hollywood, and the only one to merit its own star on the Walk of Fame, with Lauren Bacall, Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, Rudolph Valentino, Greta Garbo and Gary Cooper once regulars in its leather booths - stands the Egyptian Theatre. Dating back to 1922, it was the site of Hollywood’s first red-carpet movie premiere - Robin Hood, starring Douglas Fairbanks. A confection of ochre sandstone, huge columns, Pharaoh busts and hieroglyphs, it fell into disrepair in the ‘90s, but was recently bought by Netflix and will reopen in 2023. As one of only four still-extant theatres in the US able to project 35mm nitrate film, its significance to Hollywood’s Golden Age can’t be overstated: this was the film stock used from the earliest days of cinema through to the 1950s. Accordingly, although the theatre’s reopening will see it employed as the home of Netflix premieres, it will also host programming from nonprofit film presentation operation, the American Cinematheque (americancinematheque.com)
Film sets, premieres and award ceremonies aside, Los Angeles is littered with old-school bars and restaurants in which the stars once ate, drank - and often misbehaved. From the Formosa Cafe (theformosacafe.com) to The Dresden Room (thedresden.com); from Chateau Marmont (chateaumarmont.com) to Miceli’s Pizzeria (micelis.restaurant) - which, incidentally, now houses the wooden booths from another landmark Hollywood eatery, the Pig ‘n Whistle restaurant, which was next door to the Egyptian Theatre and closed in 1949 - there are endless opportunities to imbibe a sense of old-school glamour - along with a drink or two.
On my final day in Los Angeles, an early morning pitstop at Canter’s Deli (cantersdeli.com) - a favourite of stars such as Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant and Elizabeth Taylor - sees me chowing down on a sensationally jaw-stretching club sandwich, accompanied by a pickle. It’s the perfect fuel for a mid-morning horse ride from Sunset Ranch (sunsetranchhollywood.com) which takes us through the Hills, offering epic views of the LA Basin all the way out to the coast. Above us, the Hollywood Sign, fresh from its facelift, gleams proudly against the blue sky, while to our right, the domed Griffith Observatory (griffithobservatory.org) - a key location in 1955′s Rebel Without a Cause - makes an imposing sight, and one worth visiting, not only for its links with Old Hollywood, but for its impressive 12-inch Zeiss refracting telescope and stellar projections.
The film’s star, James Dean, died before the release of the film, becoming the first actor to receive a posthumous Academy Award, but a bust of the tragic actor now stands in the Observatory grounds, beyond which there’s another great view of the Hollywood sign. Later that afternoon, we stop for a drink - sauvignon blanc, of course - and a salad - a McCarthy, naturally - at the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Polo Lounge (dorchestercollection.com), a long-established hub of power and celebrity. The movers, shakers and dealmakers at work in the room aren’t all necessarily recognisable, but the air of old-school glamour is palpable. If these walls could talk, I’d be hanging on their every word.
The Golden Globes ceremony takes place on January 11 at 2pm New Zealand time.
Air New Zealand flies direct from Auckland to LAX. airnz.co.nz