Here’s the first in a few posts recapping the highlights of my recent week in Hollywood. Hope you enjoy!
As you may remember, after attending the San Francisco Silent Film Festival earlier this month I also went on a good long trip to Hollywood. This time, not only did I revisit some beloved locations like Grauman’s Chinese Theater, the Chaplin studio (I finally achieved my goal of having Breakfast at Charlie’s), the Cahuenga alley and Echo Park (which to me is actually Keystone Comedy Park), but I sought out some new places too (like finally making it to the Griffith Observatory, 10/10 would recommend). And after being asked by about 50,000 people handing out fliers on Hollywood Boulevard if I wanted to go on a tour, I decided that yes, actually I would like to try out a tour.
Ah, but little did the 50,000 flier-touting people know that I already had a tour booked. And not just any tour–the TCM Movie Locations bus tour!
Some of the locations it was going to visit were already familiar to me, but I was hoping it would introduce me to some areas of Los Angeles I wasn’t familiar with yet–such as downtown LA, which I haven’t ventured to since parts of it are basically the cantina scene from Star Wars (when you travel as a solo female you gotta be vigilant, folks).
The TCM tour operates under the long-running Starline Tours, they of the ubiquitous red Hop On/Hop Off buses. I booked the tour on the Starline website. Now, the site isn’t super clear, but apparently when you show up for your tour (mine started at 12:30 p.m.) you check in at the Starline booth in the Grauman’s Chinese Theater courtyard. You’re given a receipt to show to the tour guide, who comes and rounds everyone up and walks them over to where the buses depart. About eight other people had signed up for that afternoon’s Movie Location tour. Everyone seemed to be a classic film enthusiast, of course–one guy said his favorite films were from the Andy Hardy series, which alone made my afternoon.
Our tour bus had large windows and comfortable, stadium-style seating which I think sat up to 20 people or so. There were really no bad seats, and you could easily see across the bus if it was passing something interesting on the other side. Our guide was on an elevated seat under a large TV screen (another guide was there too, I think he might’ve been in training or to help out if needed). What was pretty darn cool about the TCM tour is that along with the commentary from our guide–who seemed very knowledgeable about classic films–the screen played clips from different movies as you passed by their filming locations. Thus, we got to watch Gloria Swanson visit Paramount Studios in Sunset Boulevard as we passed the famed studio gate, clips from a Keystone comedy as we looped around Echo Park, and so on. These were preceded by a brief film of TCM host Ben Mankiewicz introducing the tour–he would pop up a couple times later on, too.
Our particular tour started with some technical difficulties, as the TV screen decided it didn’t feel like playing movie clips and some liquid from the air conditioner decided to drip from a couple spots in the ceiling. After some deliberation the guide asked if we wanted to continue with the tour, and most verily we did–and fortunately he got the TV working and was able to show us all the clips. The air conditioner stopped dripping too. (I’m guessing these difficulties won’t happen with every tour, by the way!)
Aside from the aforementioned Paramount Studios, a few of the locations we saw included the Roosevelt Hotel, Chaplin studios, the Lot (once the Pickford/Fairbanks studio), the Formosa Cafe, the Sunset Las Palmas studio (where the first two seasons of I Love Lucy were filmed–exciting!!), Sid Grauman’s Million Dollar Theatre, Bunker Hill (the site of many a film noir), Echo Park, and Union Station (where we had our bathroom break, if you’re wondering).
Being super used to traveling either by city bus, Metro trains, or on foot, spending about two and a half hours shuttled about in breezy coach bus felt pretty swanky to me.
While the tour wasn’t confined entirely to classic movies–modern films like Blade Runner, L.A. Confidential, and even Transformers were represented too–it was a good mix, and I was especially happy to see silents well represented. And I was really happy to see the last clip of the tour, which was the iconic shot of the great banquet hall from Intolerance as we were passing the Hollywood & Highland center. All tours should end that way. I don’t even care what they’re about, dude.
My ultimate verdict is that if you’re going on a first-time visit to Los Angeles, love old movies, and think a bus tour would be a fun way to see the city, then the TCM is the perfect tour for you. Especially since they had that nice selection of silent movie clips! Even being familiar with what LA has to offer, I still saw plenty of new locations I’d like to revisit, and it was great seeing them in the company of other classic film lovers too.
As far as my next Hollywood visit, I’ve been casting a longing eye on those Hop On/Hop off buses for quite some time now…! We will see, my friends. We will see.