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I'd Like to Thank the Academy

adventures in la la land

By Marie WilsonPublished about a month ago Updated about a month ago 6 min read
Me in the Edward-Hopper-painted pool at Hotel Roosevelt

I've been enthralled with movies since I was knee-high to Jiminy Cricket. So when the Catalina Film Festival nominated my script Sideshow Bandit for Best Screenplay I packed my best awards-ceremony garb and was on my way to movie central.

When my partner and I landed in LA (from Toronto) we plunked ourselves down in the heart of Hollywood at the Hotel Roosevelt, home to the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929.

The glamour of la la land's early days barely glimmers through all the modern raz-ma-taz at Hollywood and Vine. Flashing neon signs, tacky souvenirs, barkers hawking everything from food to flags, this was more like a carnival than the hallowed ground traversed by the likes of Bogie and Bacall. Even the air was circus-scented: corn dogs and pretzel dogs beckoned (the latter were really good).

Hollywood & Vine

But the dazzle of the Golden Age is still there if you know where to look: down - there you can see Jean Harlow’s shoe prints and Eleanor Powell’s shiny taps embedded in the cement in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. I stood in some famous prints (John Wayne's are perplexingly small) much like Esther Blodgett (Janet Gaynor) did in A Star is Born (1937).

Most tourists in that area walk with their heads down, not just for the foot-and-hand-prints but also because of the legendary Walk of Fame. Started in 1958, the Walk runs 1.3 miles today. I found my namesake there: if you don’t know Marie Wilson from her movies and her TV show, My Friend Irma (1952-54), look her up: she was good!

But my fave will always be -

Garbo & Me

The Hotel Roosevelt housed many stars in its heyday, including Gable and Lombard, who kept a luxury suite there during the height of their romance and fame. It's now named for them.

Hotel Roosevelt entrance (and exit)

LA is a crazy sprawl of a city but there’s a lot of nature within the urban madness: palm trees line the streets & everywhere fuchsia bougainvillea tumbles over terra cotta walls; there’s the awe-inspiring Pacific Ocean, of course, salt-and-seaweed-scented, and the Hollywood Hills covered in trees.

Santa Monica Blvd

Just a block up the street from the thick of the tourist trade, you can venture into the hills. There, California’s desert heart emerges: golden soil covers hiking trails that wind among sage scrub, oak trees, succulents & more.

Atop Mount Hollywood, we visited the iconic Griffith Observatory, a Beaux-Arts architectural wonder. From its rooftop, I could see just how extensive the city & its wilderness really is. I also espied a handsome coyote trotting down one of the trails.

The Griffith Observatory

In 1896 Griffith donated 3,000 acres of land for the building & park, which has now grown to more than 4,000 acres.

While pondering a bronze bust of Jimmy Dean commemorating scenes shot there for Rebel Without a Cause (1955), I recalled the scene inside the observatory: gazing at the stars, Plato (Sal Mineo) and Jim (James Dean) begin a friendship.

Later in the film, their relationship deepens - no spoilers here; suffice to say I found it very moving to stand on the same steps where they shot that final climatic scene. Making it even more poignant was thinking on the much-too-early deaths of its three stars: Jimmy in a car crash, age 24; Sal at 37, an unsolved murder; and Natalie Wood, age 43, who would meet her tragic end off the coast of the island I was about to visit.

The Queen Mary

Early the next morning, we boarded a small vessel that was moored on the same dock as the massive Queen Mary. Launched in 1936 and winning the Blue Riband in 37, the QM is now a floating hotel.

In the 60s, the popular song 26 Miles informed us of the distance from California's mainland to Catalina Island. And that was the approximate distance 102 swimmers had to cover in 1927 to win a marathon swim challenge. A teenager from Toronto won it, emerging from the water exhausted and naked, having shed his trunks in a snarl of seaweed a few miles from the shore.

View from Avalon, Catalina

The island has been a shooting location for approximately 300 movies, standing in for Tahiti in Mutiny on the Bounty (1937), Atlantis in Atlantis: The Lost Continent (1961) and the world of Jaws (1975), among others.

Long before that, it was inhabited by Native Americans who called the island Pimu. The Pimuvit mined and traded the island’s vast soapstone supply. Much later, under Spanish rule, the territory would be used for smuggling, gold-digging and otter hunting.

Almost everywhere we went on the island, deer walked right up to us like big gentle dogs, their lovely brown eyes asking for food. And there are bison roaming the hills. In the 20s, some filmmaker had a herd brought over for a movie he was making, then just left them there when he was done.

In 1919, chewing gum giant William Wrigley, Jr. bought Catalina Island and had a mansion built atop one of its highest hills, providing a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean.

The film festival was held in an Art Deco jewel of a building which Wrigley had built in 1929. Called the Catalina Casino, it houses a theatre and a ballroom but no slot machines or roulette wheels. “Casino” is Italian for “gathering place” and that’s the meaning of its name.

The Casino

For a nice glimpse of its circular exterior – surrounded on three sides by the sea - watch Chinatown (1974): it’s in the background when Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) arrives on the dock for his visit to the Albacore Club.

I imagine that island resident Norma Jeane Dougherty would have taken in a few motion pictures at the Casino when she lived on the island in the 40s with her first husband. By the 50s, she’d escaped that life and become Marilyn Monroe (and also took up residence at the Hotel Roosevelt).

Hotel Roosevelt Pool

The festival was fun but hectic and we were glad to get back to the mainland and our hotel. Relaxing in the sun, intermittant dips in the David-Hockney-painted pool, a good book.

One night we headed down the Boulevard to the historic bar & restaurant Musso & Frank. In the 30s, this establishment's clientele included James M Cain, Dash Hammett, F Scott Fitzgerald, Dot Parker, Raymond Chandler - all the greats. Faulkner used to mix his own drinks behind the bar. Me, I got the hot turkey sandwich: retro comfort food.

hot turkey sandwich

The next day we visited Venice Beach where tents dot the wide expanse of golden sand and squatters sell their crafts and psychic readings amidst the hurly-burly of the boardwalk.

And there I found the last remaining building from that amazing opening shot in Touch of Evil (1958): three-and-a-half minutes of cinematic delight.

Replica of Janet Leigh in a "Touch of Evil" window

We also saw the Angel’s Flight, a funicular glimpsed (in its original form) in many films noir, such as Act of Violence (1948) and Kiss Me Deadly (1955). In more recent times you can see it in its revamped form in La La Land (2016).

Not far from the funicular was the Bradbury Building - an extraordinary structure built in 1893 after its architect consulted a Ouija board.

The Bradbury Building

This beautiful, light-filled building took much of its blueprint inspiration from Looking Backward, a popular, utopian sci-fi novel by Edward Bellamy. Published in 1888 and set in the year 2000 - how appropriate then that the Bradbury should get dressed for the toymaker’s house in the neo-noir Blade Runner (1982).

The five-story central court is surrounded by a magnificent tiered maze of yellow-and-pink bricks, cast iron, tile, terra cotta and polished oak. It’s topped with a skylight that covers the entire ceiling. Bird-cage elevators are still in operation but one can also climb the wrought-iron staircases. You can see a lot of these features in D.O.A (1950) and Chinatown (1974), and several other movies, mostly noir.

The Bradbury Building

Sideshow Bandit did not win Best Screenplay but as they are fond of saying in that neck of the woods: It was an honour just to be nominated.

As far as adventures go, we won big.

Me at Sunset Beach

Thanks for reading!

All photos are originals by the author or her partner Aaron Schwartz. Also, the lead photo says "Edward Hopper" but it should say "David Hockney".


About the Creator

Marie Wilson

Harper Collins published my novel "The Gorgeous Girls". My feature film screenplay "Sideshow Bandit" has won several awards at film festivals. I have a new feature film screenplay called "A Girl Like I" and it's looking for a producer.

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Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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Comments (4)

  • Carol Townendabout a month ago

    What a wonderful story that took me on a beautiful trip through time, and showed me some amazing places. I enjoyed reading this Marie, from start to finish.

  • Kendall Defoe about a month ago

    I was very impressed by the I formation offered. Good luck!

  • Rachel Deemingabout a month ago

    What I loved about this, apart from all of it, was the photos which have this vintage quality that ties in with the idea of classic Hollywood.

  • Cathy holmesabout a month ago

    What a wonderful adventure, and the pics are great. Well done.

Marie WilsonWritten by Marie Wilson

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