City of Angels, City of Dreams
3rd Feb 2022
“Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.” – Frank Lloyd Wright
Just kicked off my 20-week acting course with the American Arts Film & Television Academy (AAFTA). This week we’ve been looking at a few movies set in Los Angeles like Mullholland Drive, La La Land, Sunset Boulevard, Saving Mr Banks and LA Story.
Writers and actors become accustomed to rejection. That’s why one of the best lines to learn is “Do you want fries with that?”
I actually went to Hollywood to find a bit of fame and fortune and came away with a combination of rejection and ejection.
It was the year LA Story was made, back in 1991. It was the year after Pretty Woman was made and that was the in-flight movie. Just the film to get me in the mood for Tinseltown.
“Welcome to Hollywood! Everybody comes to Hollywood got a dream. What’s your dream? What’s your dream?”
I was travelling with my then writing partner, Doug Edwards. We had a dream. We’d had some success as comedy writers in Australia and wanted to give America the opportunity to share in our enormous talents.
“Big mistake! Big! Huge!”
A stand-up comedian and voiceover friend from Sydney was also visiting LA. Australian readers would probably know him. Keith Scott. Keith did all the male voices in the political radio satire, How Green Was My Cactus.
Keith landed a good gig in Hollywood when he provided the voice of Bullwinkle (and other voices) in the animated 2000 movie Rocky and Bullwinkle. That movie also starred and was produced by Robert De Niro. And I tell you, Keith got a kick out of ringing home to say…
“I just got back from a barbeque at Bobby’s…”
Keith also took over doing many of the voices for Looney Tunes when Mel Blanc died in 1989.
That’s what led Doug and me to LA.
Doug and I were commissioned to write a radio series to help launch Warner Bros Movie World on the Gold Coast. Called The Looney Tunes Radio Show, it consisted of 65 episodes of mayhem with the Oscar-winning ‘wascally wabbit’, Bugs Bunny, and the rest of the gang running amok in Australia. Keith provided the voices.
The series was an irreverent audio cartoon aimed at adults. For example, episode one was the flight from Hollywood to Australia with all the characters on board… the Tasmanian Devil was zipping about in the overhead lockers, Porky Pig was enjoying his first taste of airline food, Pepé Le Pew was chatting up the flight attendant and, of course, Tweety tawt he taw a puddy-tat.
When they arrived at Sydney Airport, Bugs did a head count on the team bus and the little black duck was missing. He had been taken to a room by Customs officers for a random strip search for drugs. On emerging, Bugs asked, “Did they find anything?” And Daffy replied…
The show had the desired result for Warner’s advertising agency and we saw an opportunity. We re-recorded tried-and-true sketches from other shows we had produced using American voices and made appointments with radio syndication houses in Chicago, New York, and with Warner Bros in Hollywood.
We arrived in Los Angeles and were given a somewhat VIP welcome with a guided tour of the Warner Bros back lot before a scheduled meeting at the studio offices with one of the programming executives a couple of days later.
Keith did the back lot tour with us. He told us he had been to The Comedy Club on an open-mic night and didn’t exactly have them rolling in the aisles. Might have been the competition. We visited The Comedy Store and saw Eddie Murphy and Andrew Dice Clay doing open-mic. Small fish, big pond perhaps? Ominous?
We decided to do some sightseeing. Hired a car. Public transport looked more daunting than driving on the wrong side of the road. In LA and NYC. New York was exactly what we expected. Los Angeles was totally not what we expected.
“Los Angeles is just New York lying down” – Quentin Crisp.
Yes, we didn’t expect a sprawling, pretty flat city that started for us at a sprawling, flat and boring airport that can sound somewhat exotic when you say LAX or recall the hit song from the 70’s by Susan Raye, L.A. International Airport.
There were few discernible landmarks apart from Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the Walk of Fame and the Hollywood sign, which was erected in 1923 to flog real estate. Whether you sleep in a mansion, a condominium or under the bridge Downtown, real estate is important in LA.
“Los Angeles is 72 suburbs in search of a city” – Dorothy Parker
The suburb that became home to us was West Hollywood. It wasn’t glamorous but it was engaging and interesting. Good restaurants with thespian hopefuls serving behind the bar or waiting tables. The names of avenues, drives and boulevards were familiar to us from movies… Mulholland, Melrose, Sunset, Santa Monica, Wilshire etc.
We called a friend of a friend who also worked in radio and paid him a visit. He had a nice condo in Marina del Rey, just the other side of Venice Beach. Marina del Rey is where Dennis Wilson drowned. Always saw the irony in a Beach Boy drowning.
Venice Beach was unremarkable, mainly because we are spoiled for beaches in Sydney. You could say 100 beaches looking for a city. What made Venice interesting was the eclectic mix of crazy people. Maybe not all of them certifiable crazy, but eccentric, diverse and out for a good time or a bad time.
Next day we took a tour. Best sightseeing tour I’ve taken. It was Graveline Tours (before it became Dearly Departed Tours). It showed the darker side of Hollywood with charm and humour. We hopped in the converted hearse near Grauman’s Theatre and were taken to where the rich and famous shuffled off this mortal coil. While also pointing out the abodes of living film stars, we were taken to places like 12305 Fifth Helena Drive. That’s where Marilyn Monroe died. And the seedy Landmark Hotel, where Janis Joplin died from a heroin overdose. You can still book Room 105. And 10050 Cielo Drive, where Sharon Tate and four others were murdered in Roman Polanski’s mansion by the Manson Family. That mansion was demolished but you can snap up its replacement for a mere USD$85,000,000. Real estate is important in LA.
“Los Angeles is the most beautiful city in the world, as long as it’s seen at night and from a distance.” – Roman Polanski
But enough about the dead and living famous, back to those two who were on the verge of becoming famous!
Arriving at the Warner Bros Executive Floor, high up in a shiny glass and chrome building, we were greeted by an effusive Afro-American receptionist who made us welcome with iced water and took us to the boardroom.
The huge table with leather chairs and magnificent views over Los Angeles told us that we were about to meet someone important. The important, young, suited executive arrived and he was also effusive – he LOVED the Looney Tunes radio concept and would be pitching it at the programming meeting the following Tuesday.
And that was perfect timing because we had appointments across the country and would be back in LA on the Monday evening.
That night we decided to have a celebratory dinner. We had just left Rodeo Drive, passing the Beverly Wilshire hotel, looking for a Greek restaurant that had been recommended when a brush with fame almost presented itself. I saw someone I recognised leaving a restaurant, heading towards a taxi stand. Thinking she was someone I knew from back in Sydney I said…
“Hey, how are you going?! What are you doing here?”
“We just had dinner.”
It was Michelle Pfeiffer and while it was more a case of mistaken identity and acute embarrassment, it was still a ‘brush’.
And a missed opportunity, because the man with her was undoubtedly her husband, David E. Kelly, a fairly adequate writer having created shows like Picket Fences, Chicago Hope, Ally McBeal, Boston Legal and Big Little Lies.
In Chicago we received a lukewarm reception in our meeting with three people from a radio syndication company but fared way better in New York. The executives there welcomed us ‘the funny guys from Australia’ and even quoted lines from the sketches we had sent on ahead.
They were happy to purchase sketches that could be delivered by fax (too early for email) … but when we discovered that the pay was about half what we were already earning, part of the American success dream bubble burst. But… at least we had Warner Bros back in Hollywood to give us our big break!
We returned to Los Angeles for the Warner Bros board’s decision. At the designated meeting time we rode up the lift to the executive floor only to be greeted by a very non-effusive Afro-American secretary with no iced water. She rose from her desk, turned us around and accompanied us back to the ground floor.
It was best we leave, she said, because the executive who put the radio concept forward had been fired for even thinking that the radio series would enhance the Looney Tunes brand.
I put the lack of enthusiasm from Warners down to one word…
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