This week our Memory Lane walk is a bit longer than usual, so let’s go. In fact, we travel 6,000 miles to remember my first trip to Hollywood 33 years ago, but I still remember it well. As a lifelong movie fan, Tinseltown is Mecca and I had always wanted to visit. Armed with introductory letters from Elstree Studios, I flew over the large pond. At that time you could smoke on board, which I did, and you enjoyed a few drinks, which I did. At one point I was enjoying a gin and tonic when we hit the turbulence and every time I tried to take a sip the plane swerved. I solved the problem by asking the flight attendant for a straw.
I was staying in the historic 1920s Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard across from the famous Chinese Theater with the hand and foot prints lining the forecourt. The hotel is said to be haunted by Marilyn Monroe, who once stayed there, and the now-forgotten Montgomery Clift, who stayed while he was doing From here to eternity. There was also a cabaret room and I went to see the Ink Spots although I should say Ink Spot as only one was an original member. I had a stand just for myself but it was crowded so I was joined by two latecomers. To my delight, it was former MGM star Ann Miller and her escort, who owned one of the Los Angeles baseball teams I think.
During my stay, I also attended a party in the hotel’s famous Blossom Room, where the first Academy Awards took place. The theme was gangsters and molls, so I dressed in a suit with a black shirt and white tie, trying to look like a mafia hood from a 1940s Warner Brothers movie. At the same table stood Hollywood veterans like Mae Clarke, Fay Wray and Richard Jaeckel. Mae may be remembered by moviegoers as the female lead in Frankenstein’s first film starring Boris Karloff. I guess Fay is best known for shouting through the original King Kong and Richard and I discussed The dirty dozen, which he did in Borehamwood. Fay also reminded me that she had acted in a 1930s movie made at Elstree Studios for which the studio had built a castle on the backlot.
The evening ended, I decided to clear my head by walking down Hollywood Boulevard still dressed in my outfit. At that time the Boulevard of Broken Dreams was a bit shabby compared to today and since it was the early hours of the morning a police car pulled up and asked me where I was going. I replied “just for a walk” to which the officer replied “we don’t recommend this even for the Mafia” and we both laughed.
Alas, Borehamwood never had the same feeling as Hollywood, although Tinseltown is a bit of an illusion with almost every studio outside of this area in Burbank and Culver City. Over the past few years we have tried to create a film and television heritage walk in Borehamwood, starting at the station, along Main Street and all the way to the old MGM backlot. I hope that someday we will achieve something that Hollywood still has not achieved. It is a center of film and television heritage that does justice to 107 years of film production in our city. New studios under construction will have to pay council money, so maybe that could be used? Where there is a will, there is a way and I would certainly donate my private records. Alas, my mafia pants are now too small, but that’s showbiz.
- Paul Welsh MBE is a writer and historian from Borehamwood of Elstree Studios
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This notice was published: 2021-05-16 17:00:00