HOLLYWOOD – STARS AND OSCARS

Today, it’s time for Oscar, the golden sexless man given to winners of the Academy Awards. As a perennial movie fan, I can’t resist watching the annual drama, the entertainment, the gorgeous gowns. Over the years I’ve walked around the various locations where they’ve held the celebrations. The current place, the Dolby Theater, is in a fairly new shopping/entertainment complex at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland, about 20 minutes from where I live. It’s an appropriate location–close to the footprints of stars in front of the Chinese Theater and across the street from the Jimmy Kimmel Live show. The standout “Hollywood” touch is the elephant sculptures in the primary courtyard of the complex, inspired by the D.W. Griffith’s Babylon scene in his movie “Intolerance.” The modern interpretation is not as busy as this old “still” from the movie, but it’s easy to see where the inspiration came from.

Elephants in Griffith's Intolerance film

Elephants in Griffith’s Intolerance film

Hollywood has changed a great deal since the 1960s when I arrived in Los Angeles and had a job with AT&T as a service rep, a great job in those days. Service Reps were always female then because of the nature of the job. Women are still known as the gender more talented at multi-tasking, although the current reps are also men. It was fast-paced telephone work—taking orders for new telephones, transferring service, handling complaints about bills, and collecting bills. We reps were always tempted to say,“This is the last voice you will hear on your telephone,” when we called to collect overdue bills.

Being located on Gower Street between Santa Monica and Sunset Boulevards in Hollywood was one of the best parts of the job. It was a different world, especially to me, the newbie. Although the area was primarily residential with small Spanish style homes and a few apartment buildings, the famous Studio Club, essentially a dormitory where aspiring actresses like Marilyn Monroe, Kim Novak, and Sharon Tate had stayed while looking for movie work, was a couple of blocks away. Up the street was Columbia Studios with its giant warehouse-size buildings. Most of us spotted various stars from time to time. I saw Dean Martin ride coolly down Gower on a motorcycle, and on another day I caught sight of the Monkees singing group coming out of an exclusive boutique.

When we weren’t brown-bagging it, we “girls” went to lunch at places where a star might eat. I liked French food and a few friends introduced me to Le Petit Café on Vine Street. It was a tiny hideaway run by a charming, handsome Frenchman, and the food was scrumptious. One day, Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle on the Andy Griffith Show), who was seated with his friend Carol Burnett, treated us all to a few operatic bars of a song. Years later, I was introduced to him at the Beverly Hills Country Club where I was the editor of their magazine. Nabors, a very congenial Southerner who’d suffered a bout of poor health at that time, was wearing a bright lemon-colored sports coat. I told him about my first personal “concert.”

At Knight’s, a local coffee shop, I spotted the handsome Latin actor, Fernando Lamas, husband of Esther Williams, surrounded by his entourage. Feeling flush financially, a few of us had lunch once at the famous Brown Derby Hollywood. We were seated in a booth next to Cornel Wilde and the effervescent Mitzi Gaynor.

The phone company business office was on the second floor of a large two-story building–I believe it’s now a film company. We serviced most of the residential and business phone service in Hollywood, including the Sunset Strip, homes in the Hollywood Hills, and renowned restaurants on La Cienega’s Restaurant Row. We never knew who’d be on the phone when we picked up: the son of Peter Lorre (Maltese Falcon) who sounded like his father; Tiny Tim, who called continually; or Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., the dapper detective on TV’s “77 Sunset Strip.”

On the first floor was the public office, and the reps who worked downstairs always had amusing tales. People came in for phone service or to pay delinquent bills dressed in all sorts of outrageous outfits: men or women in trench coats, naked underneath; or women dressed in tight one-piece outfits that laced up the side, revealing bare skin from armpit to ankle. One of my friends came back from lunch one day to report she had seen an entire family (parents and two kids) walking down Hollywood Boulevard totally naked!

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