February 27, 2012 § Leave a comment
August 4, 2011 § Leave a comment
Hollywood has spent most of the past century in decline, a process that began in the 1920s and reached its nadir in the 1990s, when the average tourist (according to a poll conducted by the LA Visitors’ Bureau) spent a total of 20 minutes on Hollywood Boulevard. Given the Boulevard’s extreme local color at the time–including panhandlers, petty thieves, runaways and drugged-out zombies–20 minutes seems remarkably generous.
During the early 90s, my own visits to Hollywood Boulevard averaged one a year–usually at Halloween, under duress. My young son’s enthusiasm for Hollywood Toy and Costume could not be quelled, so we would arrive at the store in daylight, park directly in front (not a problem in those days) and shop as quickly as possible. We were always sure to leave before dark.
Although Hollywood’s revitalization was a Los Angeles objective for decades–and the focus of much governmental planning and investment–it didn’t occur until Hollywood and Highland was completed in 2001. That shopping mall-cum-theater-cum-hotel accomplished what City fathers had long dreamed of: Hollywood’s return to its origins as a family friendly destination. Tourists came by the busload. New restaurants and clubs followed, and soon Hollywood became a hot spot for Angelenos as well. It was a striking change: within a couple of years, Hollywood’s junkies and teen prostitutes gave way to throngs of suburban and exurban teens in search of an exciting nightlife.
The runaway success of Hollywood’s revitalization became clear to me on Halloween of 2008, when some friends and I decided to go for drinks at a bar on Argyle. Although the trip from my house was about two miles, it took us twenty minutes to drive there because all the streets from the 101 to Sunset were blocked with Halloween revelers. Getting home took over half an hour, and involved getting mooned by a frat boy type whose car was stuck next to mine in traffic on Gower. Since then, I’ve stayed home on Halloween.
Which brings me to last Wednesday’s “near riot” at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. When it began, I was on my way to West Hollywood and unaware of the cause of the gridlock. After several police cars appeared, sirens on and sometimes approaching head-on, I realized I had to abandon my plans. Since I couldn’t get home–traffic was by then backed up through Hollywood–I headed toward Los Feliz to wait it out.
Even east of Vine, traffic was at a virtual standstill. While stuck in a line of cars at Hollywood Boulevard and Wilton, I noticed a homeless woman lying on the sidewalk, screaming in agony. A man hovered over her, attempting first aid–or so I thought until I saw him tapping a syringe so that he could shoot her up. By the time traffic started moving again, she was sitting up, though still screaming hysterically.
After I got home an hour and a half later, I learned the “near riot” was caused by DJ Kaskade, who had tweeted his followers to come to Hollywood Boulevard for a free mini performance before the premiere of the rave documentary, “Electric Daisy Carnival Experience.” What should have been a crowd of 500 (at least according to the permit) swelled to a few thousand before the LAPD broke it up. Then came the melee that resulted in arrests and the vandalism of three police cars, one of which was set afire.
And then there was the frustration and fear of countless people who, like me, were caught up in the chaos as we tried to go out for the evening, or get home. We live here, pay taxes and never, ever run amok. But in the shiny new “revitalized” Hollywood, our quality of life counts as little as that of those homeless junkies a few blocks to the east.
May 22, 2009 § 50 Comments
One of the great pleasures of making documentaries is interviewing someone who not only remembers great swaths of the past but is able to provide some perspective on them. Such a interviewee was Milt Entwistle, Peg’s brother, who at 90 vividly recalled his bucolic childhood in Beachwood Canyon as well as its Depression Era privations.
I had heard of Peter the Hermit, a Beachwood resident who during the 20’s and 30’s made his living impersonating a Biblical character on Hollywood Boulevard, where he posed for photographs with tourists. He was a legend. But Milt actually knew him and was able to report that Peter didn’t like kids. He also described the Hermit’s workday attire: long gray beard, staff and white robes, as well as his omnipresent collie dog. What this getup had to do with Hollywood is unclear, but to my mind proves Peter was the first to ply the tourist trade in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
Last fall, while I was waiting at Hollywood and Highland for my son and his girlfriend to meet me at a screening, I struck up a conversation with the Jack Sparrow imitator, who can be seen stalking up and down the Boulevard seven days a week. After watching Jack give balloon animals to several kids whose mothers didn’t bother to tip, I felt compelled to give him some money. I also felt compelled to tell him about Peter the Hermit. “He was the original guy in costume in front of the Chinese,” I said. Not surprisingly, Jack Sparrow hadn’t heard of his patron saint, though he listened politely to the story before asking me for a job.
The main reason Peter the Hermit didn’t make it into the documentary is that I couldn’t find a single photo of him, despite long searches on the Internet and through library collections. Even James Zeruk, Peg’s tireless researcher, couldn’t find one. A lack of photographic evidence is always a dealbreaker in documentaries, but in Peter’s case it was also hugely ironic. How could a man who posed with thousands of tourists leave behind not a single photo of himself? I imagined countless Midwestern attics hiding albums of long-ago trips to Hollywood, complete with photos of Peter, under blankets of dust. But it didn’t help me.
Then today, out of the blue, James sent me this:
This photo of Peter (and two very well-dressed, unidentified men) comes from Jeanne Ringland. She found it in the collection of her grandfather, Fred Allen Edgeworth, who worked as a still photographer for D.W. Griffiths and Mack Sennett and lived in Hollywood during the 20’s and early 30’s.
It’s always a pleasure to find an undiscovered piece of Hollywood history. Thank you, Jeanne and James. And thank you, Milt, for telling me about Peter the Hermit.