A Very Vintage Roadtrip: LA


I can’t believe how this year has flown by. I realise this is perhaps the most unoriginal way to begin a blog post or in fact any conversation but that doesn’t negate the truth of the statement. It’s April already. April! I feel like only yesterday I was feasting on Quality Streets and watching the EastEnders Christmas special and now here we are with some wally in a fashion mag warning me that I need to get my summer body ready. I’m not sure where I left mine, I think it may be in the cupboard under the stairs or maybe went out with the recycling last week. I suppose it’s lucky I find that whole mentality poisonous and that my back up (i.e. ‘normal’, every day, and year round) body will have to do, as it has for the last thirty years. Anyway tangent. This is all setting up the point of this post which is to bring you the final instalment of my Portland to LA road trip. Buckle up, grab and snack and have a read.

After leaving the wacky wonder of Hearst Castle I spent the night in San Luis Obispo home of the fabulously kitsch, Madonna Inn. Then it was on to Santa Barbara, which is every American dream come true. Wide pretty streets, quaint shops and perfect climate. I spent a very happy 24 hours in the place, walking the pier, buying retro sweets and eating a phenomenal French Dip sandwich, before pushing on to LA proper. After swinging by Santa Monica to pick up my mother who had flown over to send a few days at the Shangri la, we got stuck in the infamous LA freeway traffic before making it to our apartment situated just off of Hollywood Boulevard.

There is so much to see and do in LA that I could be here until Christmas going into everything deeply. I mean, where do you begin when writing about vintage Hollywood? The mythology, the legends and the gossip that swirls around the town is enough to cover (and has) thousands of books. So I thought I would write about one of the highlights of my time in the City of Angels – a visit to the Hollywood Museum. Housed in the old Max Factor headquarters on Hollywood Boulevard the Hollywood Museum contains four floors of costumes and artefacts from the studios and films of the golden era right up to the present day, including the costumes from The Danish Girl and Trumbo (excellent, I watched it on the plane).

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Situated as it is in the heart of tourist town, I assumed that the $15 entrance fee would feel a bit of a con once I got inside, but no, it was great. So the mannequins look a bit naff and some of the things on display are a touch dubious (the shields supposedly from Alexander were in fact from Troy, I know this due to my multitude of Hollywood contacts being the celebrated movie mogul I am).

The basement floor covers all things horror related (bar the aforementioned Troy/Alexander weaponry – not too sure how that fits in with the theme, unless the museum is profoundly moved by the plight of massacred Babylonians). I stood aside a life size Vampira mannequin kitted out in her trademark stripper witch ensemble, slit to the navel and clinging to her thighs like sentient tar tentacles. The gloomy surroundings and Perspex display cases made photographing the items neigh on impossible but you’ll have to believe me when I say that the place felt like the London Dungeon meets Planet Hollywood, good hammy fun for all the family.

The Ground floor houses the original four colour coordinated dressing rooms, originally designed to correspond to Factor’s ‘Color Harmony’ ethos. It was getting your colours done way ahead of the 80s trend. The four dressing rooms were designed specifically for Blonde, Brunette, Brownette and Redheads. There wasn’t a dedicated room for those with black hair and a kickass silver Malvern streak but hey ho. On that note, there wasn’t a room for anyone who didn’t happen to be Caucasian either, clear evidence (if further ever evidence were needed) of ubiquitous nature of what was considered beauty in the classic movie machine.

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Within each room were cabinets of artefacts including Lucille Balls’ cosmetics and Marilyn’s make up case. I’ve seen something purporting to be Marilyn’s make up case in Ripley’s Believe It or Not in Piccadilly so either one is a fake or she had multiples (let’s be optimistically naïve and hope it’s the latter). While one of the museum’s by-lines is that it is the building in which Marilyn became a blonde, it should be noted that not all of the artefacts within the bountiful display cases can be attributed to Marilyn. Many are just cosmetics from the era with little or no providence. This doesn’t detract from the atmosphere of the place, but just a heads up that beyond a couple of outfits and the makeup case the rest of the Blonde room is largely uncontextual filler pieces.

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The upper levels are wall to wall costumes so varied it makes me wonder who is masterminding the procurement of these pieces and can I get their little black book. They must have some pretty decent contacts at the studios to get costumes for films that hadn’t even been released when I visited. Overall it is beyond worth visiting. The entrance fee could easily be double for the bang you get for your buck.

We trotted on to the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel for lunch, where the first Oscars were held in 1929. The great and the good of Hollywood visited the Roosevelt regularly, including Marilyn herself, who lived at the hotel for two years and whose first magazine shoot was staged by the pool, presumably after getting her hair done at Max Factor’s around the corner. For anyone interested in Marilyn’s life at the hotel, here is an interesting piece about how she cooked meals in the hotel rooms she was fond of staying in. I find it sweet to think of her walking home from acting classes and picking up some lamb chops from the market to cook in her tiny oven with so much weird future ahead.

Roosevelt.0Marilyn on the driving board of the Roosevelt pool.

Across the street from the Roosevelt is Graumans’ Chinese Theatre with the famous handprints of Hollywood royalty, which Marilyn would get to add to herself with Jayne Russel in 1953 during promotion for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. That is the thing I noticed most about LA, everything is on top of itself. In the same way that your own home town is full of memories and hangouts, so is LA but there the people hanging out are starlets and singers and the history is palpable because these goofy kids, full of innocence and hope, skipping home from drama class and grabbing a fudge sundae, actually made it.