22. Having a Laugh in Los Angeles

February 23, 2011 - Los Angeles, California, United States

We arrived in L.A. after a five hour plus flight with United who offered lots of non-alcoholic drinks (really) and absolutely no FOOD!!!  It was after 9pm when we arrived and we had booked into a motel near the airport (what it didn’t say was which airport!!!) oh dear $110 and 35 miles later we arrived at our motel (not a good start to our North America adventure.

Being so far from L.A. we decided to spend the next day planning our 7 weeks in North America. We managed to find a cheap hotel in downtown L.A. and booked a hire car from Santa Barbara for a few days later.

The next day we caught the train from Santa Ana to Union Station in L.A. and then the metro to our hotel. We then decided to go to the Hollywood museum and to have a look around Hollywood generally so back to the metro $1.50 for any single ride and there we were in Hollywood. First impressions were disappointing as Hollywood Boulevard was just like any other street and had lots of tacky souvenir shops. So off to the museum, oh dear it was closed so on to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! There were lots of interesting exhibits including a cocktail dress made entirely of playing cards, bra & knickers made by a barber using human hair and various optical illusions and obscure items.

We then wandered along the boulevard looking at the famous stars names in the pavement and went to the Chinese Theatre which has lots of paving stones autographed along with foot and hand prints by the stars. Along the boulevard they were setting up the seating and rolling out the red carpet in preparation for the Oscars which were taking place the following week at the Kodak Theatre.  We also walked behind the theatre and could see the very famous ‘Hollywood’ sign in the distance.

There were also a number of street performers on Hollywood Boulevard and they were dressed up as Spiderman, Superman, Captain Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Carribbean Films), Cat Woman and also a group of guys dressed up as Darth Vader and some Stormtroopers.  Paul couldn’t resist having his photo taken with them. (Boys will be boys!)

The following day we booked a tour aboard an open topped van that took us around Hollywood and Beverley Hills.  It was a good job the weather was clear sunshine albeit a bit chilly, but we had our fleeces on.

The tour started with a look around Sunset Boulevard that included ‘The Roxy’ which is where The Doors started back in the sixties.  We also saw many chic restaurants where the stars of Hollywood are known ‘to do lunch’.

We then went into Beverley Hills and cruised passed some homes of famous stars in film, tv, music and sport including Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox from Friends fame.  We also drove passed houses owned by Julia Roberts (she has six around the world), Ozzy Osbourne (featured on The Osbournes) and Tom Cruise who seems to own a cluster on the same block and is currently building another massive home.  We then went passed David Beckham’s home although we then had to turn around as a law has been passed to stop any commercial vehicles going up certain roads, that doesn’t seem particularly fair but there we go! 

However, we could drive passed The Playboy Mansion although Hugh Heffner and his new 24 year old bride weren’t around.  We then went passed Michael Jackson’s last house and where he unfortunately collapsed and died.  We then went passed the house George Clooney grew up in which was of particular interest to Clare! (Swoon, swoon etc...)  We then went by homes that used to be lived in by Peter Falk (Colombo), Bob Hope and Lucille Ball (I Love Lucy). 

We then headed out of Beverley Hills by going past the Beverley Hills Hotel and downtown to Rodeo drive which is where the rich and famous go to shop, with all the fashion shops present including Gucci, Eve St Laurent and sparkly delights in De Beers.  The chic look of the road was also backed up with us spotting a Bugatti Veyron (yours for £250,000) parked outside one of the boutiques.  It was then time to finish the tour and head back to Hollywood Boulevard.

The next day dawned again bathed in bright sunshine and we had decided the day before to book a trip to a behind the scenes look at Warner Brothers Studios but it meant an early start.  However, as it was a nice day we caught the tour bus and were dropped off at the front of the Warner Brothers Studio Offices to start our tour around the Studio.  It was a great tour and our guide was very enthusiastic and very knowledgeable.  We started by going around some of the back-lots which have featured in many films including classics such as ‘Annie’ and more recent films such as ‘Spiderman’.  They also shoot clips here for tv shows including ‘Friends’ and ‘ER’.  The philosophy of the studio is that anywhere can be used as a back-lot and a staff car park was used as a helicopter pad on an episode in ‘ER’.

We then headed to our first museum which housed classic costumes and props used by John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Keanu Reeves, Bing Crosby and Paul Newman.  The second level had a special Harry Potter exhibition with costumes and props from the films and also a chance to have the sorting hat put on your head.  Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take any photos in the museum but it was interesting to go round. 

After 20 minutes it was time to climb aboard our electric trolley and we moved into the sound stages.  Each stage has a list of all the films and tv shows that have been filmed there.  One of the studios had nine series of Friends filmed there and is now been renamed as ‘The Friends Sound Stage’.

We then had a look at collapsible sets and props warehouses.  It was a bit of a treat that we were shown to the original ‘Central Perk’ set that was used so much in ’Friends’ which was great to see.  Our guide told us that when they started filming on the set they found that none of the extras knew how to operate a coffee percolator.  So they decided to ask the audience if anyone had experience using the machine.  One guy said that he did and he ended up being in Friends.  In fact he did so well the writers wrote a character for him and he became known as Gunter, the blonde guy desperately in love with Rachel!

The group was then taken to the props warehouse which has three levels crammed full of rooms of props.  There were rooms full of lamps, cabinets, glassware and pictures and are not only used by Warner Brothers but are also rented to other film and television companies. We were also told that a set object only becomes a prop when an actor touches that object.

It was then time to visit the second museum although this time we could take our cameras in.  This small museum housed vehicles that have appeared in films including two Batmobiles in the Batman movies, the Gran Torino that appeared in Clint Eastwood’s last film in front of the camera and even the Weasley’s car that appeared in ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’.

We then got to go onto the sound stage where they had been filming ‘Two and a Half Men’ starring Charlie Sheen and were taken through how the programme is put together.  We sat where the audience are normally seated whilst they film each episode which was rather chilly as the studio is kept at 15C so that the actors don’t get too hot under all the lights.  Interestingly the actor who plays ‘Jake’, is under 18 and so by federal law he can only be working for four hours on set a day.  This puts the production team under pressure to ensure that any scenes with him in, are completed before the four hours are up as then the actor is told to stop working by the authorities that also attend with a stopwatch!

Unfortunately during the next week Charlie Sheen seems to be undergoing some erratic behaviour and ranted on a live radio show for over 20 minutes slating the producers which infuriated the production company and the show has been cancelled for the moment! Ah, the wacky world of showbiz!

After we had visited the set it was time for the tour to finish and we were taken back to reception and we waited for our bus next to two eight foot statues of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.

The next day we took a train that took over an hour to Long Beach and it cost us just $1.50 each which was amazingly cheap.  We decided to travel down to Long Beach to visit the Queen Mary that is permanently moored there and has partly been converted into a hotel.  When we arrived at the dock (by a connecting free bus) the ship looked very impressive and although is not as large as the modern super cruise ships, it is still a big ship.

Moored alongside the Queen Mary is an old Russian Foxtrot Submarine called ‘Scorpion’ and as we had to wait half an hour for a couple of different tours of the Queen Mary, we went aboard the scorpion.  The submarine entered Russian naval service in 1972 and was decommissioned in 1994 after serving in the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans.  It was certainly a cramped vessel and Paul had fun getting through the water tight doors in each section of the submarine.

We then boarded the more spacious Queen Mary and first took a ‘Ghost and Legends Tour’ which was a rather tacky tour, highlighting people who had died on the ship and using special effects, trying to scare the visitors.  However, despite its corny moments it was interesting going to the boiler rooms that were over three stories high and also the indoor swimming pool.

Once this tour was over it was time to meet up with our second guide, a retired naval captain, who took us around the upper decks of the ship and explained the history of the Queen Mary which entered cruising service in 1936.  We went through the first class and second class sections of the ship which were decorated in the thirties art-deco style and looked very impressive, especially some of the art work on the walls.  We also got to look into the suite that Winston Churchill stayed in when he boarded the Queen Mary on three separate occasions. 

The ship was used as a transport ship during the Second World War and transported American troops from the USA to England.  There were over 5000 troops crammed onto every living space available, which made life very uncomfortable for them during the four and a half day trip across the Atlantic Ocean.  It was painted grey and sailed alone, not in convoy, to avoid the German u-boats (submarines) and even Hitler put up a $250,000 bounty to the u-boat captain who could sink her.  Fortunately, the ship evaded the enemy and was nicknamed ‘the grey ghost’.  After the war, the ship was converted back to a cruise ship and transported passengers over the Atlantic until her retirement in 1967.

The next day it was time to leave Los Angeles and head north along the coast of California and towards San Francisco.



8. Los Angeles - Paul, Darth Vader, Stormtroopers
1. Los Angeles - Clare on Hollywood Walk of Fame
2. Los Angeles - The Hollywood Sign
3. Los Angeles - Harry Potter Cast Autographs
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