Oh Hollywood my home away from home on the range.

Having secured a cheap room (thumbs up for Hollywood’s La Brea Motel) I had the opportunity to stroll down Hollywood Boulevard a while back.  A life-long ambition, there were no illusions that this was “Hollywood,” the metonym for the celluloid dream factory. I treated the adventure much as one would a visit to the battlefield at Gettysburg (thumbs up for Gettysburg’s Hickory Branch Guesthouse) and was in search of more tangible apparitions, such as an actual chariot wheel from DeMille’s The Ten Commandments at the Hollywood Heritage Museum.

I was also there to eat and drink, of course, and although the Brown Derby, Schwab’s Pharmacy and Sardi’s are long gone, I did have a nice meal (but lousy martini) at Musso and Frank Grill, a one-time haunt for the likes of William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Orson Welles. I also managed a few beers at the Pig ‘N Whistle (inspecting each and every star on the Walk of Fame can be thirsty work), favored by Shirley Temple, Clark Gable, Carry Grant, etc, which abuts the Egyptian Theatre, current home to the American Cinematheque and where the first-ever Hollywood premiere (for Robin Hood with Douglas Fairbanks) was held.

Yes, and I also enjoyed a quirky breakfast at the unkempt and wonderful Snow White Café, which first opened when Walt Disney was looking for a place to hold the after-party for the premiere of Snow White & The Seven Dwarves. Disney is said to have sent his animators over to paint murals of the film’s characters on its walls and ceilings. Hiding in plain sight on the boulevard, it has long since become an insider’s dive-bar (ignored by tourists) with a happy hour that runs from 1 to 7 p.m!

But there remained much else to gawk at, including the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, where the first – and shortest – Academy Award ceremony was held, and where Marilyn Monroe began her modeling career, posing by the pool whose lining was painted by David Hockney. Next door was the El Capitan Theatre, where Citizen Kane had its premiere and which is now owned and operated by… Disney. And down the street I had to see the designed-for-Vaudeville, Pantages Theatre, another past-venue for the Academy Awards. Once owned by RKO, Howard Hughes had his offices here.

Shuffling past hordes of tourists, tour guides, and costumed characters, I later spent a few harried moments at the sadly mundane Hollywood & Highland Center. Intriguingly topped with remnants from the set of D.W. Griffith’s 1916 classic, Intolerance, it remains a Gap/ California Pizza Kitchen/Victoria’s Secret kind of place (albeit one that employs thousands in a once-seedy neighborhood) and connects Ocar’s new home, the Kodak Theatre, with another of its old homes, the Chinese Theatre.

Built by Sid Grauman, who also built the Egyptian across the street, it was Grauman who came up with the idea of having stars place their footprints/handprints in cement, beginning with Mary Pickford.  The grand, old movie palace has since seen more movie premieres than any other venue anywhere.

A number of the actors in those premiered films now reside in the unrepentantly kitschy Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where you can buy a map in the flower shop to find the final resting places of John Huston, Adolphe Menjou, Douglas Fairbanks (and Fairbanks Jr.), Jayne Mansfield, Fay Wray, Mel Blanc, Peter Lorre, Tyrone Power, as well as Cecil B. DeMille, Don Adams, Dee-Dee and Johnny Ramone among other entertainment legends, not to mention (my favorite stop) Rudolph Valentino.

After sneaking into the nearby Hollywood Bowl and driving up to the Griffith Observatory (“You can wake up now, the universe has ended,” said James Dean to Natalie Wood), where I got as close as I could to the Hollywood sign, I looked out over the valley and thought of Sergeant Joe Friday “…this is the city.”  Still, there was one more sight to see before I wended my way back to the freeway.

Built in 1956 with a blinking light atop its tower that forever spells-out the word, “Hollywood” in Morse code, and featuring subterranean echo chambers designed by the great Les Paul, the Capitol Records Building houses studios that have recorded such luminaries as Sinatra, Streisand, Bacharach, Nat King Cole, the Beach Boys, Harry Nilsson, Bonnie Raitt, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Mary McCaslin (who?).

Mentioned a few times in this blog, McCaslin toured regularly with her husband, Jim Ringer throughout the ’70s, including Passim in Harvard Square. Born near Indianapolis in 1946, her family moved to Los Angeles in the early ‘50s, where she became fascinated with television westerns and Native American lore. Having bought her first guitar at 15, she became a regular on the West Coast coffee house circuit while still a teen, cutting her first album for Capitol Records in 1968.

After meeting and marrying Ringer she cut her second album, Way Out West, for the newly formed Philo folk label in 1972.  Co-written by Bob Simpson, this nod to the fact that not every Hollywood cowboy finds redemption through a good woman is the album’s opening track.

 Music Strings/Oh Hollywood

I’ve played on the music strings of my life,

Their silver thread melodies take me away.

My life lies to cling to in stealth and strife,

Weaving my passage through starlight and day…

I dreamed I was a cowboy out on the western plains,

Yodle-ay-dee I’ve been lately feeling weirdly and quite strange.

Whoopi-ti I try to make it by on cornbread and spare change,

I think I’ve had enough of California and its ways.

I mosey down the streets at night and look at all the faces,

Trying to keep my mind on other times and other places.

I go down to the saloon on the chance that I might find,

Someone there to comfort me and give me peace of mind.

Oh I wander down the neon streets with no one else to blame,

Oh Hollywood my home away from home on the range.

I look up through the palm trees and I try to find the stars,

To guide me on my travels for I’ve strayed and wandered far.

The stars are in the sidewalks I walk I read the names,

Like never ending tombstones from some forgotten day.

Oh I wander down the neon streets with no one else to blame,

Oh Hollywood my home away from home on the range.

California lasses with their asses bound in leather,

Fancy vests upon their breasts and nothing on their minds.

Remind me of so long ago when I was very young,

I tried to be a cowboy but I could not hold a gun.

Oh I wander down the neon streets with no one else to blame,

Oh Hollywood my home away from home on the range

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