|Pasadena Playhouse alumnus Charles Bronson|
I've always felt that the stars on Hollywood Boulevard's Walk of Fame are the biggest sightseer scam ever. I see the tourists get excited about finding their favorite celebrity's name on the sidewalk and all I can think is: rubes. Perhaps the best thing about the Walk of Fame is the Kinks' song Celluloid Heroes. It's a little maudlin, but Ray Davies gets to the hollowed-out heart of stardom in his infectious way.
Besides Grauman's, what else does Hollywood have to offer? Paramount is on Melrose, southeast of of Grauman's. If you're a tourist hoping to hang out on a movie set, good luck getting past the gate. Disney, Universal and Warners are all out in the San Fernando Valley, north of Hollywood. Fox and Sony (formerly MGM) are a traffic-jammed trip to the westside. Besides the Universal Tour, the studios are busy places of hustling crews working long hours. Editors are locked in their windowless rooms pouring over hours of dailies. Gawking tourists looking for selfies aren't welcome.
|The original Brown Derby ca 1968. RIP.|
|An original postcard from The Formosa Cafe.|
The Maddox Archives.
Twelve miles east of the hype is Pasadena. When Hollywood Boulevard was a dirt street and America's only movie studio was in New Jersey, Pasadena was a vacation spot for wealthy east-coasters who wanted to soak up some rays during the winter. With them came vast vainglorious mansions and a deep turn-of-the-century thirst for culture.
The Pasadena Playhouse was built in 1925, two years before the Chinese Theater. It was such a big hit that Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw called the Playhouse the "Athens of the West." Authors such as Eugene O'Neil and Tennessee Williams had world premieres there. When talkies became the rage in the 1920s, Hollywood needed a place where actors could learn to "speak." Twenty-four students enrolled in the first class in 1928.
|The Pasadena Playhouse awaits.|
Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman became fast friends while studying at the Playhouse in 1957. Hackman was voted least likely to succeed, and he moved to New York to prove the Playhouse wrong. Hoffman soon followed, as did Robert Duvall, who moved to New York to study with Randall Meisner after serving in the Army. The trio became the epicenter of a group of actors who were just a few years away from taking Hollywood by storm.
|The Mechanic-Bronson at his detached best.|
Bronson left New York for the Pasadena Playhouse, where he took classes and acted in several plays. Steady work soon followed. In 1951 he landed a role in the Gary Cooper film You're in the Navy Now. Two years later he joined fellow Playhouse alum Carolyn Jones in the Vincent Price horror-hit House of Wax. Bronson starred in a slew of classic movies, including The Dirty Dozen, Once Upon a Time in the West, and Hard Times. My favorite Bronson film might be The Mechanic, where he plays an expert hit man who takes on an apprentice.
|Inside the Pasadena Playhouse.|
If you find yourself standing over John Tesh's star on Hollywood Boulevard and you have that cold clammy feeling that you've been scammed, jump on the 134 East towards Pasadena and its famous Playhouse. There's plenty of street parking. Across the street from the Playhouse is Vroman's Bookstore, where I've had the good fortune to attend readings held by literary heavyweights like Frank McCourt and James Ellroy. On the way to Pasadena is Eagle Rock, where Dragnet's Frank Gannon fictionally lived, and where some of the action of Fast Bang Booze goes down. Stop at the family-owned Casa Bianca for pizza. Steve McQueen ate there.
My latest novel is Fast Bang Booze, from Down & Out Books. The sequel is coming soon.