HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA, 1984 – Hollywood is inescapable growing-up. If you were born there, you live it and don’t really notice.
If you weren’t lucky enough to be from there, you lived it anyway, in thousands of stunning visuals and hundreds of stolen glances.
Newcomers to Hollywood always suffer an immediately uneasy deja vu while simultaneously basking in a comfort akin to an old homestead’s easy embrace after a long and harrowing journey abroad.
Fleeting images of that long-ago drivers education film viewed in a dusty, small-town classroom spring sharply into focus as you drive past the very spot it was filmed those countless, faded, magnacolor years ago.
There, right over there! Looming through the smoggy, orangey haze, it’s the opening shot of Dragnet.
There, right over there, across from the old Ranch Market are the apartments William Holden’s character lived at in the movie “Sunset Blvd.”
There, right over there, in those apartments by the freeway is where the “Mexican Spitfire” Lupe Velez took her life in a fit of despair over Gary Cooper’s seed growing, forsaken in her belly.
Every seedy apartment that is up for rent has an agent breathlessly relating a back story that either mentions Errol Flynn, Judy Garland or an episode of Bewitched.
Gurl 52 and Your Humble Narrator (YHN) were back to the Sunset motel grind and it sucked harder than a sequel to a Chevy Chase movie starring Pauly Shore.
The apartment at the Happy Malaga Castle and it’s pervy manager (see Hollywood Punk and “Gurl 32” Tequila Mockingbird) was too much to bear. A move to a lovely place Mid-Wilshire however, had fallen through because of Dionne Warwick, soft jazz promises, and an old calendar.
YHN had left his regular, steady employment doing rehearsals at S.I.R. to take a road gig with the burgeoning easy jazz star George Howard. After “really getting my sound, man” at rehearsals, Howard offered a nice amount of money and easy gigs across the US.
After criss-crossing the country our jazz odyssey was back in L.A. opening for Ms. Dionne Warwick at the Universal Amphitheater. It was like old home week.
Hollywood jazz with Dionne Warwick
YHN had worked doing rehearsals with most of the folks on Ms. Warwick’s production team (as well as her musicians, gathered from the Temptations and other Motown acts) at S.I.R. and got along well with all and sundry.
For reasons never made quite clear at the time, the person doing her live mix never returned after sound check and pandemonium was rising backstage.
After George had finished his opening performance YHN was approached and asked to fill in for the missing engineer, given his familiarity with the room and the performers.
It went really well.
Afterward, an offer to do a world tour and be on retainer was offered to YHN. With visions of Paris and youthful hubris, a resignation was proffered to George that very night and big plans for the future were made.
The phone call two days later saying that “management” had made a decision to go with the old instead of the new was made.
The cool apartment that Elizabeth Montgomery supposedly lived-in when she did that Twilight Zone episode was based on monies coming in from some gig, somewhere and was now seemed as obtainable as a condo on the moon.
With the blink of a moment, YHN and Gurl 52 had somehow become a typically Hollywood sob story and were scrambling like Nathaniel West on a choral hydrate bender to stay afloat.
Hollywood’s Marilyn Monroe Theatre and “Gurl 33” Renee Taylor
Through contacts at the Castle and drawing heavily on the wit and wisdom of Pat Dickinson, somehow enough “theater” cred was somehow manifested for YHN to become the box office manager of the Marilyn Monroe Theater at the Lee Strasberg School of Acting for Film, Television, and Stage.
Most importantly, he was able to make the acquaintance of Gurl Thirty-Three, Renee Taylor.
She was appearing with her husband in the Los Angeles production of their Broadway smash “It Had To Be You.” The steady income their show provided kept us off the street and in mac ‘n cheese until something better came along.
Of course, YHN had been enamored of Renee since her turn as Eva Braun in “The Producers.” The magic that is Hollywood was working, again.
The job itself was pretty horrible. The tiny box office with little circulating air and a view of the rent boys turning tricks on Santa Monica was the type of hellish Hollywood experience that either sends you home screaming or, on your way, scheming.
Being able to see Gurl Thirty-Three work her magic, the access to a free phone and an entree into the mysterious world of actors on the make were the only things that made the Santa Monica crucible halfway bearable.
The ceaseless tedium of the hours before showtime is broken by the coterie of celebrities calling to purchase tickets to the show. YHN was blasé about most but when folks like Jesse Weatherwax (The original Maytag Repairman) and Howard Kaylan from the Turtles called it was hard not to go fanboy and blurt I love youse.
Gurl Thirty Three and her husband had brought their show from Broadway to the Marilyn Monroe Theater because of her early training alongside Brando and the rest of the method crew. Stella Adler is the doyenne of Strasberg’s legacy making sure the show was a smash in Los Angeles.
It was amazing to watch her. She would come in like a slumming salesgirl from Zales cosmetics counter and go to her dressing room.
Within minutes, she would be onstage giving performance after stellar performance of invigorating interpretation and note-perfect readings of the material she had written with her loving partner.
It was inspirational. How to have it all. Work, love, respect and most of all, courage.
She would always insist that after the show everyone, EVERYONE associated with it…ushers, stage hands, box office managers etc. join her and her husband for a drink.
It was at those gatherings that YHN first had an inkling of how to be cool. Not “cool” cool. The Elvis kind but rather the real cool that comes from a mastery of craft and life.
Gurl Thirty Three showed that life is easy if you work, hard, always and with love.
No legs were broken in the performance of this article.
YHN Samson Greene is a character from “Man Walks Into A Room” who is known for waking-up, disoriented and somehow finds a way to connect with towering examples of how to be, cool. By extracting some memories from him in a clinical setting, these towering examples somehow became, cooler.
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