Bumping Into Stars
I remember while traveling, when people found out you were from California they’d ask if you ran into any movie stars. You can’t help but run into a few. After all, the movie industry is just a little over a hundred miles north, and that’s where they work.
Most of the few famous faces I’ve seen were in Hunter’s Books in La Jolla. I saw John Wayne and Dr. Salk who invented the first Polio vaccine, and let’s not forget his wife, Francoise Gillot, Picasso’s ex-mistress. Brad was there when Joey-Rat-Pack Bishop came in, and Carlos Castaneda later, for a book he had on hold. Don Juan and Don Genaro were nowhere in sight, but that’s just how they were, probably out in the Sonoran Desert flying through hidden psychic dimensions.
But these are just rubbing-shoulders experiences, if not even that. A few words pass back and forth, but these are not intimate-touchy-feely experiences,
Let’s do a negative one first. It wasn’t negative to me, since I plead not guilty with a kid’s excuse. I didn’t know what I was doing, and someone else put me up to it. My parents were the instigators.
When I’m ten my parents take me to Disneyland, which magically appeared one day in the middle of hundreds of orange groves in Anaheim.
Since it’s the Cold War, they’re selling bomb shelters just off the freeway. The company digs the hole in your back yard and in goes the shelter complete with a down staircase. The only bomb shelters I’d ever seen were on The Twilight Zone.
Disneyland has the biggest parking lot I’ve ever trooped through. We walk down Main Street and end up in Frontier Land, then Adventure Land, make a left turn at the rocket in Tomorrow Land, and end up at the Teacups in Fantasy Land.
After whirling around a few minutes, we decide to get hamburgers and milkshakes. We plop down at one of those circular metal tables and dig in. All this walking has us famished. Afterwards Dad lights up a Marlborough while Mom plays with a nob on her Kodak Brownie camera.
Mom looks up at me and smiles, and I smile back, but suddenly her expression changes as her brows furrow intensely. But I haven’t done anything wrong, and it’s not me she’s looking at, it’s just past me somewhere. So, I turn to look.
One table has a man eating a slice of pizza with his kid, and the rest are empty. I turn back to see what’s was up with my mom. She’s taking the camera strap off her neck in such a rush, her hands are shaking.
Mom thrusts the Kodak Brownie across the table.
“That’s Jack Lemmon! Go over and ask to take his picture.”
When my mom gets this intense, it’s always a serious affair. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know who Jack Lemmon is. It only matters that you obey her orders. If not, you suffer. There will be a price to pay. The Private never questions the Master Sergeant. So, I check the tension of the winding knob, take my handkerchief out of my back pocket, dust the lens off, sling the strap over my shoulder, and head out on assignment.
It was all over in a flash.
“Mister Lemmon, can I take a picture?”
That’s all he says. He doesn’t even look up. His son, I believe it’s Chris, is taking a bite too.
But when I press the shutter, for some reason, the flash goes off. And although it’s broad daylight, it draws someone’s else’s attention.
There’s a gaggle of blue-haired Geese, six or seven of them, sitting on the other side of us on the Little Old Ladies Tour. When the flash goes off, they raise their silvery-blue-grey heads in unison and crane in his direction. The Sound! The Fury! They surround him like a gang of retired seniors at a sock sale at Macy’s.
They mob him…while we slink off in disgrace.
That’s why I call it the negative one.
The second close encounter happened years later when I took a film class at Grossmont College. The film teacher wore a beard and had an inside connection in the film industry. He personally knew a security guard at Paramount Studios. Paramount was a ‘working’ studio, not open to the public. Tourists couldn’t get past the gate. Naturally, we weren’t going there to see actors, this wasn’t a drama class. We were going to see the process of how films were made, stay quiet and make ourselves as small and inconspicuous as possible.
Off we go on a bus on the Interstate Five North. Hollywood is less than two hours away.
The first thing I notice when we pass through the Paramount gate is an immense water tower with the name DesiLu written in faded black paint. Then we wander through a deserted western set they use for Bonanza, and hundreds of other westerns, and continue after crossing “The Tank” they call it, where they filmed the Red Sea parting for Moses, or Charlton Heston, same thing.
There’s no water in it now, just sets of houses folded up like large-scale Origami. A gigantic wall towers over us on the left, painted blue with white clouds. They set the cameras at a certain angle, and it looks like the ocean and sky. They build model warships, ferries, the Titanic, whatever, film it at a certain film speed, from a particular angle, project the image at another speed, and it looks like the real thing. This was way before digital effects.
Guard Guy says, “In the early days of silent films when film was black and white, they used untoasted corn flakes for snow.”
We see stars, but since they’re working, we must drift by in silence. No touchy-feely when we trail though the Oval Office and discover Henry Fonda and Carl Mauldin sitting on stools just out of the set, looking like bored little boys dressed up in suits. Four or five electricians are on ladders, unscrewing and screwing light bulbs, trying find the one that’s making a tinkling sound the boom guy is picking up. This may be the set for Meteor, I’ll have to check.
The next sound stage we enter through enormous sliding doors, and it’s black as coal inside until your eyes adjust. On the far end, they’re filming a scene for The Bad News Bears Go to Japan.
Although it’s an outdoor scene they’re filming this spectator scene indoors. They’ve constructed rows of bleachers like at a real game and it’s filled with about 50 extras. They’re all pretending they’re watching a pitcher and batter at work, synchronizing their heads left to right when the ball is hit, then lifting their chins and eyes as is they pretend to follow the beautiful arc of a homerun hit out of the park.
But there isn’t a batter or pitcher or even a ball. It’s two guys tossing a balled-up piece of paper back and forth. The real pitcher and batter and ball were already filmed outside. A good film editor can make it a seamless transition.
Out we go and follow the guard back into the dark. The class spreads out, and two girls and I are at the end of the line. We’re about to step through the tall sliding door when a figure appears, going where we’ve just come from. It’s a guy, we can see that much now, but he’s forced to pass right by, and oh my God, it’s Tony Curtis!
Tony Curtis, best friend of Spartacus! Tony Curtis, whose wife was murdered while taking a shower in the Bates Hotel. And why not? This is Hollywood. Everybody goes a little bit Psycho sometimes. And what about their daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis? What about Halloween?
He stops and shakes our hands, and when we’re close, I see he’s shorter than I am, and when he says thank you, his voice is soft, it’s hard to describe, but he sounds sincerely flattered. And I swear, even in the pitch-black of this unlighted sound stage, the man has a twinkle in his eye.
Then we walked back outside, and the moment our eyes are struck with megawatts of blinding California sunlight, the man becomes a memory.
Then we glimpse Rita Moreno dubbing words to her own image, and spy Burgess Meredith eating lunch at their cafeteria or commissary, or whatever they call it. Same as the bomb shelters, I’d seen him on the Twilight Zone too. Seems like half of my life has been spent in The Twilight Zone in one way or another.
In another arm of the room, we spy the Fonz, is that how I should type this? or since the word “the” seems to be a part of his actual name, maybe I should type The Fonz. But you know me. Whatever.
He’s having lunch with some unidentifiable blond. Hey!
The we wander through their back lot, a couple blocks of which resemble New York, then into a room where they make that imitation glass that cowboys in barroom fights get thrown through, and then to the engine room of the Enterprise. They’d bought ten plastic planters for exotic plants in the shape of a chess pawn about three feet tall. The middle was transparent plastic, which they stuffed with blue lights that pulsated rhythmically.
Pulse, pulse, pulse, zoob, zoob, zoob, hum, hum hum, sung the engine room of the Starship Enterprise.
Then we jettisoned that distant galaxy, hopped on the bus, and returned home to earth.
The present generation may not remember actors Tony Curtis or Jack Lemmon. But they know her. Her body flamed out, but her star never faded. It grew, because somewhere in her fatal development, maiden became myth.
Kristina was moving into a new apartment. We carried boxes of books and kitchen stuff up the stairs, unloading them in the living room to sort them out. I started stocking the bookcase while she organized the kitchen. There were two or three titles I recognized; Jonathan Livingston Seagull, In Watermelon Sugar, and a copy of Steal This Book, by Abbey Hoffman. There was a paperback titled Norma Jean. I never heard of it.
When she came back in, she was puffing on one of her Marlboros, looking for an ashtray. Obviously, it was time to take a break, so we plopped down on a mattress we’d temporarily parked on the floor.
I pointed up at the bookcase.
“Who’s Norma Jean?”
“That was Marilyn Monroe’s real name, before she changed it.”
“I ran into her, literally ran into her.”
“You can ask Carol.”
“Carol, your best friend?”
“Of course. We’ve known each other since Florence Elementary School. One summer day it was scorching hot, and her father, who was a member of The Club at the Del, decides to take us to the Hotel Del Coronado to use the pool. But as beautiful and exclusive as it was, we grew bored and started chasing each other around the pool.”
Right here she decides to flick her ashes into the ashtray.
“Eventually we’re so wound up with excitement we start squealing and screaming, drawing the attention of the desk clerk, who directs a bellhop to round us up and deliver us to our parents.
The bellhop chases us around the pool twice. To escape him, we bolt into the lobby, and up the stairs. On the stairway we run into a beautiful blond lady wearing an elegant white summer dress.
The bellhop turns a whiter shade of pale and starts groveling.
“Oh, Miss Monroe, I’m sosorry, but these girls were just…I mean, the entire staff of the Hotel Del Coronado regrets…”
“Don’t worry, they aren’t bothering me at all! Girls, have you had lunch yet?”
We shake our heads.
“Then you’re having lunch with me.”
“She took us to lunch. On the way home, Carol’s dad tried to explain who she was, but we didn’t understand the complete picture until much later when we were grown up. About four years after that, she was gone.”
Tina took another drag and looked out the window at the clear blue sky. The afternoon was hot, and white cumulus clouds were just poking their heads over the summit of Mount San Miguel. But by midnight they’d swoop down upon us, threatening thunder, streaked with lightning. If we were lucky, rain. You never knew what the Gods of the West Coast had in store.
“You know,” she sighed, “Norma Jean had three miscarriages. Maybe that’s why she loved kids, and the only thing she really wanted was to be a mother.”
By now her Marlboro was getting close to the filter, so she stubbed it out, carried the ashes back into the kitchen, and tossed them in the trash.
https://youtu.be/TRd29cU-u00 Van Halen Beautiful Girls