March 4, 2011

Hooray for Hollywood…

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Television, Travel at 2:22 am by dinaheng

There’s nothing like unexpected visitors to get you out of the house and exploring parts of town you don’t often go to.

When my friends Lesley and Shane and their two children came to town on Oscar weekend, I suggested spending an afternoon in Hollywood. We weren’t invited onto the Red Carpet, but we enjoyed a few hours in the midst of the hubbub.

Being a wintry day, we popped into The Hollywood Museum where “10,000 REAL showbiz treasures” reside. Housed in the historic Max Factor building — once the headquarters of the cosmetics king who made the stars look fabulous — the museum features an extensive collection of show business memorabilia.

Stepping into the lobby, done in the Hollywood Regency Art Deco style of yore, is like taking a walk back in time to 1935, when the building first opened to stars like Joan Crawford, Claudette Colbert and Bette Davis, who came to the beauty salon for hair and makeup treatments.

Celebrity make-up rooms, painted in colors designed to flatter women with specific hair colors are maintained on the first floor (think mint green walls “for redheads” like Lucille Ball). The rooms are filled with photos of Hollywood’s leading ladies, costumes (like The Ruby Slippers that Judy Garland wore in “The Wizard of Oz”) and old fashioned versions of Max Factor powders, lipsticks and perfumes.

Factor, a pioneer in the field of movie makeup, is credited with inventing the first “thin”  greasepaint used in filmmaking, lip gloss, and pancake make up.

Every generation, of course, is drawn to its own icons, so it was no surprise that Mikhaila, 10, and Ben, 6, headed for the Harry Potter display case in the lobby, which features shoes worn by Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson with a photo of the Hogwarts heroes putting their palms in cement across the street at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre forecourt.

With four floors of exhibits, there was plenty to interest all of us — from a look at “Harlow in Hollywood,” a special exhibit commemorating Jean Harlow’s 100th birthday, to displays on  “Glee,” “Transformers” and “Star Trek.” The scary stuff was in the basement, where monster memorabilia and Hannibal Lecter’s jail cell from “The Silence of the Lambs” were the main attractions.

After a couple of hours, we moved from historic memories to an icon of living history — the El Capitan Theatre, a beautifully renovated movie house where Disney special events and film premieres are held. Built in 1926, the grandeur of years past can be experienced by audiences today who still enjoy live organ performances before each show.

My friends and I were escorted to seats on the main floor where we sat and looked at the ornate fixtures and old fashioned balcony section behind us. Done in an art moderne style, the East Indian interior was designed by San Francisco architect G. Albert Lansburgh. Since most movie theaters today are devoid of character, it was a real treat to sit in a true Hollywood landmark.

Before the show began, Mikhaila and I dashed out to the lobby to slather butter atop the popcorn that came in El Capitan plastic buckets (great for stashing everything from crayons to candy in later). We agreed that “movie popcorn is the best.”

Once the organist stopped playing, the lights went down, and a dazzling light show depicting Hollywood as the movie capital of the world came on. People may love the convenience of viewing movies on portable DVD players and TVs at home, but nothing beats watching a film on the silver screen with an audience who’s sharing the moment with you.

The movie of the moment for us was “Gnomeo & Juliet,” a delightful animated retelling of William Shakespeare’s play through the lives of garden gnomes caught up in a feud between the neighboring Red Cap Gnomes and the Blue Cap Gnomes. (I wish all GOP lawnmowers and Democratic flamingos would pay attention to this film.)

Then, despite bingeing on popcorn, we went in search of dinner after the show. Winding through the crowd on Hollywood Boulevard, we passed characters dressed like Spiderman (or was it Batman) and security guards directing foot traffic away from the Oscars Red Carpet set-ups.

A cold wind blew us into the Hard Rock Cafe, where the adults tried to converse over the loud music and the kids drew pictures with crayons and played with the video screen at the table. The food was decent, but I’ll never go there again without earplugs.

All too soon, it was time to end the day with a hooray for Hollywood, and heartfelt hugs with my friends… until the next visit.




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