In Hollywood, don't believe anything you hear,
and only half of what you see.
In December, 1985, Roosevelt Hotel housekeeper Suzanne Leonard
was assigned to straighten up the manager's office.
As she dusted a mirror,
a voluptuous blonde appeared in the glass.
The full-length mirror, it turned out,
came from Suite 1200, Marilyn Monroe's favorite quarters.
The housekeeper spun,
but there was no one in the room.
The blonde apparition hung in the mirror.
The figure flickered and blurred around the edges, said the housekeeper,
and finally faded to black.
In the Roosevelt's shadowed north-facing windows,
I photographed silent-era movie stars mirroring Hollywood Boulevard.
Photography means that the dead are always with us.
In Hollywood, the screen that separates fact and fiction,
the living and the dead is gossamer-thin,
an exceptionally delicate projection,
barely there at all.
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In an unfortunate turn of events,
the Hollywood High School Marching Band was the final band
in the 77th Annual Hollywood Christmas Parade.
They were preceded by nineteen bands from places that
take marching bands very, very seriously:
Decatur, Alabama; Littleton, Colorado; Bloomington, Minnesota;
Shawnee Mission, Kansas; Red Lion, Pennsylvania.
Places like that.
The bands marched with precision.
They pumped out polished music.
At last, the Hollywood High School Marching Band arrived
led by a phalanx of cheerleaders
bearing glittering letters: H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D.
As the band started to straggle by, I tried to be charitable.
But it's tough to compete with the mighty Fighting Bears from Milledgeville, Georgia.
I watched the Hollywood band head down the red carpet—
meager ranks and staggered rows,
tatty costumes and ragged music—toward the cameras and the nationwide television audience.
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Elvis and Marilyn met three years ago,
before she was Marilyn.
Back then, she was just a good-looking woman from Kansas.
But Elvis—already resplendent
in his custom-made Elvis suit—fell in love anyway.
After a time, or a few times anyway, Marilyn went off on her own.
Elvis didn't see her for a year-and-a-half.
When she eventually returned
to Hollywood Boulevard,
it was on the arm of Zorro.
It took Elvis two months to win Marilyn back.
Then they seemed solid again,
far more stable than the average Hollywood relationship,
apparently untempted by the surrounding swirl of seduction.
But the dalliance had done damage.
And enticements were everywhere.
Elvis was always with Marilyn, Marilyn with Elvis.
Nonetheless, I had a nagging
sense that both had wandering eyes and suspicious minds.
Elvis watched Marilyn out of the corner of his eye
as if he held a gun and was taking constant note of range and angle.
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Captain America is depressed.
He has spent a long day posing with tourists for a dollar a photo.
His take for the day is a scant eight bucks.
Spiderman is way more popular, he says,
and Batman rakes in the cash.
Elvis makes big money and everyone loves Marilyn.
Captain America is becoming resigned to life as a second-tier superhero.
He made his costume by hand.
The red “A” on his forehead is a little frayed and the star on his chest seems
While we talk, a kid comes up
and asks if he is Spiderman.
He looks at the kid, his blue eyes downcast.
He points to the big red Captain America “A” on his forehead.
“Do I look like Spiderman?” he asks.
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Ariana broke the first rule
on Hollywood Boulevard:
don't piss off the superheroes.
Ariana, head of the LA chapter of Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust,
set up her display of aborted fetuses
and got into an immediate shouting match with Batman.
She was used to controversy,
but I got the feeling this was her first encounter
with an angry, pro-choice superhero.
“This is a free country, you moron,” yelled Batman.
“And part of that is that you're free to have an abortion if you wish.”
I set my camera set on three frames per second and plunged in.
After Batman finally moved down the block,
Ariana turned to me.
“I thought Batman was supposed to save lives,”
she said in a grim tone.
I replied in a whisper. “It's not the real Batman.
I think it's just some guy dressed as Batman.”
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Superman relaxed in his living room.
He passed a pipe graciously around to the group—myself,
his girlfriend Bonnie (a UCLA Ph.D. student in psychology),
and his good friend the Incredible Hulk,
who turns out to be a short black guy with bad teeth.
Superman took a deep hit.
He popped a sequence
of rare 1948 Superman serials into the player.
He showed me some of his ninety Louis Lane autographs.
Eventually, he settled back on the couch.
Outside, I heard police sirens.
Help was needed somewhere,
but Superman wasn't going anywhere in a hurry.
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I don’t respect society,
but I respect you,” said Steve.
“I respect you because
you pay attention to me by taking my photograph.”
Cameras are the main currency of Hollywood.
But there are others,
and Steve moved right on to the next.
He drew close and whispered in my ear.
“Can I suck your cock for money?”
“No thanks,” I said.
“Be honest with me,” he persisted.
“Can I suck it sometime?”
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Aimee received her first Hollywood offer
before she even got out of her car.
It was made by the thoughtful lot attendant
at the Orange Street garage.
Five minutes of her time, he said.
In the back office.
She'd walk away with folding money and free parking.
She dropped her last seven bucks to park
and hit Hollywood Boulevard.
Aimee had coasted into town from Norfolk, Virginia.
She had no money and no place to sleep.
She didn't look worried.
"I don't care what the fuck I do
as long as I have a good time."
A few hours later,
I saw her on the arm of a Don Juan
(yes, there are several).
Aimee would be just fine.
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Anthony turned fifteen and left home
in search of, well, something.
He couldn't put his finger on exactly what.
Same old adolescent story,
deeply felt personal variant thereof.
Hellish family; stagnant town (in his case, Vancouver, Washington);
the unhinging effects of drug experimentation.
By the time Anthony hit Hollywood,
he had acquired a set of adventures and a hardened attitude.
The highlight so far?
Anthony thought for a moment.
The procurement of a red-tongued snake was pretty cool.
But the trip high point to date
was an extremely educational experience with
a pair of Tijuana hula girl hookers
who began the night in
coconut shells and grass skirts.
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Kevin's terrible violation
came within an inch of shattering the family.
His wife Julie and daughter Sabrina
edged up to telling me what had happened,
but backed away at the last moment.
I got the feeling it was something sexual.
I don't push; it's not my business.
In their moment of crisis,
the family renewed its religious vows.
They took Bibles in hand the first weekend after the New Year
and pursued a resolution
they thought would save them—preaching every Sunday
to the most abject, most hopeless,
most miserable lost souls they could find.
Naturally, they came to Hollywood.
They were convinced that Jesus was the answer,
the answer to something.
Kevin was fervent, driven, almost desperate.
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Sherry and her black stretch Cadillac Escalade limousine
were booked for the day.
First she was taking a family
to a big Catholic funeral,
then she was spending the evening with some regulars:
a pair of drug dealers who had both gotten DUIs
and now travel only by limo.
Sherry's been in the business long enough
to see pretty much everything.
"I'd say ten percent of my trips involve people having sex in the back.
That's from personal experience.
Maybe more than ten percent.
Of course, it can go the other way, too.
I had a couple get in a screaming fight. Slugging.
Pulling hair all over the place.
I was vacuuming hair for days."
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I gave the girl in cornrow braids and cheerleader outfit
fifty cents to call her pimp.
She hadn't skipped out, she told him tearfully.
She thought the man was a john.
But he'd turned out to be a cop.
She'd spent the night in the lock-up at the twin towers downtown.
It was a sting. No way to tell.
She still had the jail bracelet on her left wrist.
She would keep it on
to prove she wasn't lying.
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Danny Saenz had been missing for 38 days.
Reports put the 15-year-old in Hollywood
so his family searched the streets.
A street vendor near Hollywood High held their flyer.
He squinted at the photos of
a wholesome-looking kid with jet-black hair
and an innocent smile.
The vendor said he was "ninety-nine percent certain"
that he'd seen Danny the previous night.
He was walking up Highland Avenue
toward the homeless encampments in the hills
"looking really spaced-out, maybe on something."
The kid was handsome, but dazed, said the vendor.
"He could have been beaten or raped or something."
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When he fell in love,
Paul was so stricken
that he jumped parole in Fresno
and pursued Steve to Hollywood.
"I've loved him, taken care of him,
and cherished him for twelve years," said Paul.
"Or at least I've tried to."
Paul and Steve are like a long-married couple,
hanging out, kvetching and conferring,
quibbling and smooching.
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Rich has been in Hollywood for two weeks.
He's from Dayton, Ohio
and is doing just fine on the street.
"I get to know people very quickly," he said.
"Good thing, or I wouldn't
have a place to stay."
His tone communicated
the exchange of favors, but he seemed less than fully engaged,
as if he already had more memories than he could use.
There was a faint scent of old sweat
and the style of pine-imbued cologne
that some people regard as masculine.
It was late and rain threatened.
With slithery grace,
Rich positioned himself under a shadowed overhang,
eyed the dark glitter of my camera,
and looked stagily mysterious.
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Everybody but me seemed to know Momma.
I overheard sotto voce admiration.
That larger-than-life strut,
that imperious drag diva persona,
that awe-inspiring, shelf-sweeping bustline.
Momma herself was a little querulous.
"Oh, the lighting is horrible.
And it had to be the hottest fucking day of the summer."
Momma called herself "the trophy girl" for Outfest:
the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
Did she hand out the trophies?
Or was she the trophy? I wasn't sure.
"I did drag once to get over my fear of drag queens.
And the night I did it, I won a contest.
When they asked me my name,
I said 'I'm old enough to be your mother'
and that's how Momma was born."
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The shrine to dead porn stars is Rita's passion.
As you'd expect, the memorial commemorates
Sheridan and Savannah, Brittney Madison and Felicia Tang.
Rita's happy to explain artifacts and provide gruesome details.
Camilla De Castro—jumped naked
from her eighth-floor apartment window. Or fell? Or was pushed?
Taylor Summers-outfitted in leather straps, duct tape, ball gag and
stabbed to death by a photographer.
Krysti Lynn—borrowed an Acura Legend
from John "Buttman" Stagliano,
took it up to 100 miles per hour,
and veered off Las Virgenes Road (irony duly noted)
into a plunging bush-covered defile.
But the apex of Rita's personal dead porn star pantheon is Linda Lovelace.
You know, the star of Deep Throat,
the highest grossing porn film of all time,
among the first with a thread of plot.
In brief, Lovelace discovers that her clitoris
is located far down her throat.
A doctor (Harry Reems) offers lengthy—remarkably lengthy-assistance
as Lovelace develops preternatural oral sex skills.
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"I'm doing boob art,"
said the young woman on the sidewalk.
"Would you like to watch?"
The woman explained that she was painting with her nipples.
She lifted her top, smeared her breasts with paint,
and gyrated vigorously against a sheet of paper.
"Did you like that?" she asked.
I offered that it was fine, but not very original.
I mentioned the French artist Yves Klein who
orchestrated "Anthropométries" in 1960-nude women
coated in blue paint rolling on body-scaled canvas.
My short lecture on the art history precedent seemed throw the woman
but she tucked away her breasts and regained her poise.
"Do you know who I am?" she asked. "Um, no."
"Mary Carey!" [A porn star: Lucy Les Rue in Trasharella;
Nurse Skank in Celebrity Pornhab;
Jordan Almond in New Wave Hookers Seven,
Dorm Girl #2 in Grand Opening,
and equally pliant characters at least 88 other films.]
Mary Carey pointed with great drama
at a silver Ford Econoline stretch van parked on the curb.
Suddenly, cameras, crew, and gear
were vaguely visible behind tinted windows.
I should have known. "Playboy TV," she announced,
"You are Totally Busted!"
It was a booby trap.
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The two "Boy Toy" brides
got in one last rehearsal
of Madonna's "Like a Virgin" before the
annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer
Pride Parade got underway.
"Entice them and tease them,
but only up to a point," said the float director.
"Don't encourage them to run up
to the float. That's a big no-no."
The parade departed
to the west leaving a trail
of perfume and pom-pom fluff.
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The century-long evolution of the dildo
is a central display at the
Hollywood Erotic Museum. It's
essentially a natural history exhibit,
the equivalent of showing increasing size
and variation in horses over time.
Cuddly collie-sized "Dawn Horse" becomes sturdy pony,
vigorous quarterhorse leads to powerfully veined thoroughbred.
But the sex toy display
comes to a premature climax
a pair of anatomically correct
deconstructed mannequins. A neighboring
video game is based on Quake.
"But instead of fighting the other person,"
said museum curator Eric Singley,
"you're doing, um,
other things with them."
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Track, 17, had been
in Hollywood for six days.
"I hope my friends are worried—
my friends in Detroit. I just
took my stuff and walked out the door.
Didn't say 'bye to nobody.
Most of them were sleeping.
'Cept for one guy who was in the
back room fucking some girl—
that was my boyfriend, which is why I left.
I hate men. 'Cept I hate women worse.
With men at least I like their sex organs."
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Girl's Phone Numbers is a labor of love,
quite literally. The artist spent months
in clubs and bars
soliciting girl's phone numbers.
He then constructed a sculpture
of a naked woman and completely papered it with
the gathered scraps of sexual possibility.
While I spoke with gallery
mastermind Lemuel Serrano,
a random guy came in off the street,
introduced himself as Tommy. He said
he had blown through $700 in two days
and he was again close to broke. When Tommy
learned that the girls—and presumably the numbers—were real
he borrowed a pen and paper.
He copied prospects with promising names.
He thought Jessica, Tammy, and Tiffany
sounded like good initial targets.
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Ahead of the Pelacios wedding
rededication ceremony, Father Frank
held a logistics meeting
with the key ceremonial personnel.
Not the bride, not the groom,
but the three photographers,
and the priest. Christina
Pelacios, the bride, was
a little over four minutes late,
but she posed for pictures
with her children anyway in the foyer of the
Church of the Blessed Sacrament.
Then she walked down the aisle
perhaps before the eyes of God,
but certainly before the all-seeing
eyes of Nikon and Canon.
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Following the Dykes on Bikes,
Mr. Leather in his black Chevy Avalanche convertible,
the lesbians on stilts
sporting "Wax Bush" T-shirts,
the Hollywood Rubber and Latex Corps,
the provocative pom-pom action
of the West Hollywood Cheerleaders,
and the jockstrap kickline
of the Avatar BDSM-Kinky-Fetish Float,
the placid Episcopalians
quietly carrying love signs were a shocker.
But Hollywood's annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender
and Queer Pride Parade is tolerant, even of
groups like Episcopalians.
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For a while, Spidermen proliferated
on Hollywood Boulevard.
Superman claimed he could tell them apart.
He and I conferred and we tallied eleven, not all of them savory.
One they called Spidermethman.
Once, some Spidey or another slugged a bystander.
When the LAPD arrived,
reported the LA Times,
"they encountered four different people dressed as the web-slinging
None of this bothered Jennifer.
She wanted a photo of herself kissing Spiderman
to send to her boyfriend in the Midwest.
(If he wasn't an arachnophobe already,
he'd have a push in that direction.)
Spidey perched on a trashcan under a streetlight.
To get the photo,
Jennifer put up with creepy come-ons—
his silken pollinator,
the voluminous output of his spinneret,
his irresistible "web of love."
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The Rouse Sisters—rhymes with louse—left Fort Worth, Texas
to try their luck in the big game.
At a taping of the television program Live in Hollywood the night before,
Leah had won best solo vocal.
The singing trio got so pumped up
by the victory,
they began roaming the streets singing.
They stopped at one point and did a rousing a cappella rendition
of the Star-Spangled Banner.
They weren't half bad and
dangling baby Isabella added a certain weird charm,
but the crowd mostly kept moving.
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When Janet Leigh came
to Hollywood in 1945,
she rented a seven-dollar, third-floor room in the Harvey Hotel.
The place has since become the Harvey Apartments.
The alley that Leigh reports she looked out on every day
is a littered parking lot behind a high spiked fence.
Online reviews by residents
emphasize roaches, disgusting carpet,
"cholos and transsexual crack whores."
I followed a car through the motorized gate
in order to photograph the murals on the west side of the building.
Nobody stopped me.
In fact, as he was being buzzed through
the steel mesh entrance door,
the night manager's husband
gave me a gnarled orange.
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The Hollywood Christmas Parade
moves through the streets in a stop-start schedule
driven entirely by television cameras.
At one moment,
the parade wranglers yell "GO, GO, GO" into their headsets.
But when a commercial break hits,
they scream at bands, horses, pep squads, and two-bit celebrities to
in their tracks.
The clotted street with its hemoglobin-red carpet
rhythmically pulses with marchers.
It's like an artery spurting blood.
At least that's my reaction.
I've never been that big on Christmas.
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For an unbearably long
time-years actually-the silhouetted figure held its pose
above the Digital Jungle on Santa Monica Boulevard.
Not a metaphoric jungle,
or virtual jungle,
or even allegorical jungle.
It hovered above the actual, physical, real-world Digital Jungle,
a post-production company.
They're the "seasoned digital artists"
that worked on Junkyard Dog and Reality Check,
Kill Speed and Broken Memories.
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Heidi was raised by once-idealistic hippy parents
who declined gracefully
and now own a garage door business in Vermont.
On some anniversary or another
of the endless wars
in Iraq and Afghanistan,
a protest drum circle formed in front of a Hollywood T-shirt shop.
Heidi danced so wantonly for so long
that she finally went across the street
to replenish her energy
with a sugar-drizzled Cinnabon.
I found my camera clicking in time to the rhythm.
The affair felt solidly counterculture,
a fact confirmed when I observed the strict division of labor:
every drummer was male, every dancer was female.
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When Paul Manchester
got the job of repainting the dinosaur
atop the Ripley's Believe It or Not building,
he planned to do the job
as his drag queen alter ego "Auntie Prudence."
Prudence has big hair, a bigger chest, and attitude to spare.
But the two-week contract got pushed off
into the heat of summer,
so he reconsidered.
Hefting around massive false breasts under the beating sun
sounded too damned hot.
Paul was disappointed but realistic.
He opted for the handsome explorer look:
cute khaki shorts and a pith helmet.
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A group of Woodbury University
holed up in an abandoned Hollywood storefront
and built a 24-foot-long model of Hollywood.
The project was big;
it had actually begun the previous semester.
A team roamed the city making field measurements.
Sheets of particleboard became streets, alleys, foundations.
A band saw chopped wood blocks into structures,
I kept coming by.
The developing model slowly, strangely superseded the actuality outside.
The group began to apply
digital photos to the buildings—facades of facades.
When they stepped back,
their creation was complete
and it was good.
The students hovered over Hollywood
like demigods, studio heads, real estate agents.
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I visited the apartment
where Charles Bukowski
lived in the 1960s—
the front unit in a shabby stucco one-story
with a beat-up couch on the porch
and steel bars on the windows.
It was kind of a pilgrimage.
Herman grew up in Bukowski's place.
He'd been there seven years, most of his life.
I told him that a famous writer had lived there.
"He wrote a shelf of books this long," I said.
"Stories. Poems. People all over the world read them."
This was news to Herman.
He seemed unimpressed.
"It's alright," he said, "but everything's
all busted up and rusty and broken."
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Jessica, budding film director,
said her artistic career
started when her father died.
I knew all about it.
He died in my spare bedroom.
We talked about it as she signed out camera gear
in the Sony building of the American Film Institute.
Her father, Kevin,
had been a photographer, artist, and curator.
On a Tuesday like any other,
Kevin found a lump under his left armpit.
He was diagnosed with stage-four malignant melanoma.
There is no stage five.
He stayed with my wife and I when times got tough.
Jessica’s film is about
a dying actress and her daughter.
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Julie Deamer, head of public relations,
heads for the back door
at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions
to work the weekend Art Kid event.
The slogan: "Exploring Creativity from a Young Age."
Across the street and a couple blocks down,
I checked in on another exhibition.
The Hollywood Erotic Museum's catchphrase:
"The Pursuit of Pleasure."
I view the two exhibitions
as directly connected:
Eros produces the children.
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Elliot wobbled and veered
through an alley
under the gaze of Elvis, Marilyn, the Duke, and the Little Tramp.
He said it was his 48th birthday "and I feel great."
He went over and pissed behind the dumpster
of the Stella Adler Theater.
A group of eight Christians
visiting from the Dream Center Ministries
saw me there with my camera.
With my permission, they set about to pray for me and my Hollywood
though I was pretty sure Elliot was more in need
of intercession than I.
They formed a circle in the underlit parking lot and
inflicted a laying on of hands.
"Lord, please show him something he can't take a picture of,"
one beseeched the darkness.
They meant a revelation of some sort,
a flash, an epiphany.
But the everyday realm of light and form is quite enough for me.
The fact is, given a choice
between mystical fog and the material splash of acrid piss against a very concrete wall,
I'll take the piss every time.
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There are a quite a few
Charlie Chaplins in Hollywood.
This is the mean one.
For a time, he worked at the Hollywood Wax Museum.
But he got tired of street people
harassing the ticket desk and
kids having sex in dark corners
among stiff onlooking figures.
Eventually, one man got fresh with him.
"Inappropriate touching," he told me.
Chaplin took his cane, beat the man to the ground
in front of the Snow White Café,
and walked on to look for another job.
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Oscar statues are protected
by prophylactic plastic
for good reason.
The hosts from E! Entertainment were on the loose
gathering B-roll for their Academy Awards pre-show.
They found a lone statue prone and enticing on the red carpet.
They wriggled on the oversized Oscar, kissed it, fondled it.
"If they don't want us to do this,
they shouldn't lay him down," said one host.
"Oh, he's so hard," said the other.
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Rain threatened the Academy Awards,
so the day before the ceremony
they put up the block-long clear plastic tent.
Underneath, television crews tested their lights
and producers scurried about yelling into cell phones.
The Academy Awards is one of the world's great media clusterfucks.
AMPAS has a whole department
just to deal with the media onslaught,
and another one to issue press releases about it.
Here are the numbers for a sample year.
Worldwide press organizations
requesting credentials: 787.
Outlets issued credentials: 288.
Total number of press access badges issued
(including technical personnel): 1,415.
Number of television press
(including camera operators, audio technicians, other crew): 1,013.
Number of still photographers
allowed on the red carpet (including this reporter): 63.
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The most prized Oscar moments
are always the unexpected.
The stumble on the stairs,
the failed zipper,
the off-the-cuff acceptance speech that becomes indelibly freaky.
So it seems strange that the entire affair
is scripted with an inch of its life.
Media show up a week early and start practicing.
Camera angles are set, teleprompters positioned.
I personally saw
a teleprompter screen that read:
"So what are some of the handbag trends that we can expect to see tonight?"
A crew member with a Rupert Murdoch Sky TV badge muttered
"Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse"
under his breath.
I nodded and said that tight scripting
seemed likely to leach away
the last vestige of life in Oscar night.
He agreed: "You can't plan for spontaneity."
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on the Oscar asses
is Rickey Roberts' department.
It's his eighth year.
The asses are the most-fondled statue element, he said.
Shapely globes at near-perfect fondling height.
The results are smudges and smears,
subtle fingerprint sheen that'll shine under television lights.
People think the statues are gold leaf, Rickey said,
but that's a laugh.
They're acrylic-coated fiberglass.
He and his assistant Laura argued
whether the paint is
"fake-colored aluminum or maybe fake-colored brass."
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When the Best Buy salesmen blew into town
for their annual awards meeting,
the company leased the Kodak Theater
and rolled out a red carpet
just like the Oscars.
They paid fifty bucks each
to the two hundred extras lining the entrance.
The paid crowd waved cameras and screamed like fiends.
A line of black limos pulled up
and disgorged their contents:
lumpen sales people and spouses just off the plane
from some freezing-ass spot in America's midriff.
The paid crowd erupted:
"He's here. He's here. Oh, my God, he's here."
Reaching and clawing,
begging and pleading for autographs.
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The movie premiere red carpet
powerfully dictates behavior.
Self-conscious walks, manufactured smiles.
The famous stop and face the cameras,
but for very short periods.
I've watched the pros.
Martin Scorsese, for example, keeps his hands
behind his back as he poses for pictures.
His right fist opens one finger
at a time as he counts to five.
Then he moves on.
Lesser mortals keep walking or stay too long.
The photographers get aggressive—"Over here. Look here. Right here."
I've been to a lot of premieres now
and I'm half-jaded, half swept along.
I swing my camera out over the carpet and blast my strobe.
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Handlers are the little Hitlers
of the Academy Awards red carpet.
"Walk this way.
Stand here for pictures.
Turn this direction."
As you move up the food chain, it gets worse.
If you're Oscar-nominated, there's more at stake
so the handlers dictate every move.
"Let's move on.
Stop here for an interview.
Stand in front of this camera.
Here's your mic.
Let's go. Turn right.
Face the photographers."
The photographers follow an unwritten protocol:
never shoot the handlers.
Watch them shepherd their meek celebrities into place.
Wait for them to step out of the frame.
Then shoot like crazy.
Stop the instant the handlers return to corral their sheep.
And the woman in white?
Some best actress nominee.
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Movie premiere crews
start rolling up the red carpet
the moment the last guest
disappears into the theater.
In this instance, Tom Hanks
(in the forgettable Coen Brothers remake of The Lady Killers)
arrived to klieg lights,
a chaos of cameras,
and manufactured pandemonium.
But the teardown is fast.
Exactly 104 running minutes later,
Hanks emerged to the normal snarl of traffic.
He hoofed it under guard a block west
to make a perfunctory appearance
at the Roosevelt Hotel after party.
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The casting agencies cast a broad net.
Here's what one listed as their "specialties:"
modeling jobs; acting jobs;
extras jobs; background performers;
small acting roles;
tryouts; movie auditions;
acting for kids; acting auditions;
film casting; pageants;
virtual casting for models; actors;
extras; musicians; dancers; kids, other talent;
casting directors; modeling agencies; and agents.
If a casting agency specializes in everything for everyone
are they still specialties?
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Ashley, visiting from Chicago,
stops to have her photograph taken in front of the Hollywood sign.
$6.99 for the print, an additional $5.99 for a frame.
Ashley picks through the cardboard celebrities.
She rejects Tom Cruise and Leonardo DiCaprio.
She dismisses Sean Penn.
She chats on her cell phone up to the moment the photography begins.
She seems unfazed
as her choice,
is crudely propped on a Kleenex box for the shoot.
The shutter clicks.
She gets right back on her cell phone.
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"Where's Hollywood?" tourists ask.
"You're looking at it," I respond.
Hollywood Boulevard in the old heart
of Hollywood-the Boulevard to locals—is largely
block after block of trinket shops and T-shirt emporiums,
interspersed with pizza outlets and tattoo parlors.
I can take you to at least nine self-identified
"Hollywood Tourist Centers" between La Brea and Vine.
They're all bogus.
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Angelo Sanchez, age six,
enacted an art opening ritual.
First he paused and-for whatever reason-placed
an "LA" eye patch over his right eye.
Then he borrowed a two thousand dollar Canon G5 digital video camera
from the official photographer.
He placed it solidly against his remaining eye
and began veering around the gallery
accosting the crowd.
Angelo is the son of Amber Abramson, the gallery director,
and his inside connection
had gotten him a piece in the show.
His work was a crisscrossed tangle
of vivid red tape that clotted
a corner of the gallery at six-year-old height.
"It's to keep the wall from falling down,"
explained the artist, pointing out a subtle spider-web of fractures
on the back wall.
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Phil was multiple sheets to the wind
"on account of a bad choice of women."
He was veering and weaving
and using his long-suffering friend Chris for support.
I was on the verge of concluding that
Phil was just another hopeless Hollywood street drunk,
when he sensed my suspicion.
I'm an actor, he explained, and fished in a pocket.
To my amazement,
he had proof:
a pay stub in a hefty amount
for work on the movie version of Dragnet. It was dated just eleven days earlier,
for a Hollywood character actor.
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Renate told family and friends in Connecticut
she was going to Seattle, but at the last moment
switched her plane ticket
and headed for Hollywood.
The place seemed to invigorate her.
I watched as she shook barely restrained breasts
in the faces of the two believers
who parade with scriptural banners
damning sexual behavior unlike their own.
"I smell Christian propaganda," she sneered.
They averted eyes, mostly.
Then she found her way to the gaudy-bizarre? ludicrous? hideous?—
that marks the west end of the Walk of Fame.
Dolores Del Rio, Dorothy Dandridge, Mae West, and Anna May Wong
are rendered as blank-eyed bombshells,
busts straining to burst stainless steel bodices.
Their four coifed heads support a squat art deco Eiffel Tower.
Renate took a position on the terrazzo compass rose,
balanced on an impressively athletic ass,
and opened her legs wide.
"People might think this is perverse,"
she said as time and pedestrians passed.
"But it's really not."
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Kauri Tiyme regarded herself as collateral damage,
and that was before the suicide and/or murder.
When I made this photograph, she had four years and eighty-eight days to live.
Her mother was a psychologist
at the Arizona Department of Child Safety, said Kauri.
"All my childhood, she would come home, close her door,
and cry for two hours."
To counter this upbringing, Kauri decided on a course of positivity.
In her case, she expressed it through breast piercings,
transdermal implants, skin scarification, and head-to-toe tattoos.
On October 18, 2009, a housekeeper at the Denver Marriott
Tech Center opened room 9001.
The carpet was dotted with pills, poisons, and Drano cans.
Kauri was dead on the blood-soaked bed.
She had so many cuts, slices, lacerations, and injuries
that homicide detectives are still uncertain what finally killed her.
The hotel room was splattered with blood
and papered with notes in two distinct hands.
One proved to be that of Kauri's ex-husband.
He wrote: "This all started as Suicide Pact and I did what I could
to ensure Kauri and I succeeded." And that was Keenu Tiyme's defense.
The court didn't buy it.
Prosecutors presented evidence
hat injuries had been inflicted over four brutal days.
The jury found Keenu guilty of first-degree murder.
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Johnny Cash was dead and the media was all over it.
On-air talent jostled for position around Cash's star on Hollywood Boulevard
doing live feeds, walk-and-talks, intros and tosses.
Tony Potts, weekend anchor from Access Hollywood, squinted at the
little screen on his phone.
The studio was feeding him a toss.
Potts rehearsed the text a few times.
Then he set up and walked toward the camera, toward the star.
"And now," Potts said with enthusiasm, "here's reaction from his adoring idols."
He fumbled the line. His producer watched.
Take two: "And now, here's reaction from his adoring idols."
The cameraman screwed up.
Take three: "And now, here's reaction from his adoring idols."
The soundman, hunched over his equipment on the sidewalk, looked up.
"Adoring idols?" he said.
"Shouldn't it be 'adoring fans?' 'His adoring fans?'"
This required a conference—Potts, producer, cameraman, and the slightly more literate
soundman. "That's not right. Johnny is the idol.
The fans idolize him. He's the idol; the fans aren't the idols."
They laboriously parsed the eight-word sentence, teasing out its meaning.
Potts and his producer got the writers on the line and explained.
"We're not getting reaction from his idols. Johnny is the idol."
Then they peered at the cell phone screen
and waited for a new language fragment from the writers.
It arrived: "And now, here's reaction from his adoring fans."
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Adam and Joe had been cast as microbes and, in my experience,
that’s rarely a good thing.
I spent an afternoon watching take after humiliating take.
There was some indie film backstory about an imperiled yogurt factory.
Their quest involved robbing
and running nearly naked
through the streets of Hollywood.
During a break to reposition the camera,
I asked them why microbes
wore white shower caps and baggy banana hammocks.
They had no answer.
Just as you’d expect from near-naked
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A phalanx of elders
in motorized wheelchairs
led the annual Armenian Genocide March.
The marchers assembled
in front of the Harvard House Hotel —“Adult Movies, Waterbeds.”
The crowd began chanting,
“Turkey run, Turkey hide.
Turkey’s guilty of genocide,”
and went east on Hollywood Boulevard.
At Pinky’s Massage,
they turned south on Normandie.
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A blizzard of bubbles
drifted across the intersection
of Melrose and Western.
Yogi makes his living selling
motorized “Double Bubble” bubble guns on the streets of Hollywood—
two for eight dollars, one for five, no bargaining.
Yogi lives in a bubble economy.
It’s been his livelihood for three years.
Yogi had a Double Bubble demo model working overtime
emitting a dual stream
of shimmering bubbles into the June breeze.
“How are sales?” I asked.
He delivered a surprisingly analytical answer.
Yogi explained that he’d picked that particular corner for two reasons:
to intercept Sears Spring Sale shoppers
and for proximity to the busy southbound Western Avenue bus stop.
The day was lovely weatherwise, he pointed out.
And the mid-month payday was at hand.
Yogi paused to weigh the variables,
then predicted sales
of at least $50 but less than $60 for the day.
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The "Flying Wing" house is a goofball masterpiece.
Architect Harry Gesner knew a lot about surfing and sex.
He'd acquired these skills through diligent, self-directed practice, said friends and wives.
"I'm a self-educated licensed architect.
There aren't that many around."
Gesner is from a line of freethinking mavericks.
His great-grandfather invented the repeating shotgun for Winchester arms.
Gesner's father was the engineer responsible for the automobile supercharger.
His uncle Jack Northrup invented the famous flying wing airplane,
precursor of the B-2 stealth bomber.
"Most of my houses are built on difficult sites," said Gesner.
"I demand it, almost, that they find
the most difficult situations—a mountain, a rock, a lake—and then design for it."
Mike Hynes bought a crumbling Hollywood Hills pinnacle
wrapped by a coil of iconic Mulholland Drive.
Then he called Gesner (they met on a ski junket).
Hynes, president of Cooper Lumber, had two requests:
invoke a soaring bird and build entirely of wood.
Telephone poles hold up a high plank ceiling.
Redwood butts on end form the floor.
A flayed pine tree punctures a kitchen counter cutting board.
Tapered roof beams thrust toward the LA skyline through a wall of glass.
The Flying Wing is a timber cathedral.
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The Los Angeles basin began
splitting apart 17.4 million years ago-mountains rising,
Geologists have been trying to pinpoint where it started,
and the closest they've come
is a spot alongside the Runyon Canyon trail
in the Hollywood Hills.
Oyster fossils interbedded with joggers,
volcanic ash alongside dangerous quantities of poodle shit.
Isotope dating at the USGS lab in Menlo Park
pegs it as the oldest known volcanic rock in the L.A basin.
In fact, an anomalously old date on rock
picked up at the spot a decade before
triggered a ten-year reanalysis
of Southern California geologic history.
Five special scientific papers
have been published by the US Geological Survey
and paper six is in peer review.
Geologists Thane McCulloh and Larry Beyer were back
seeking rock samples
for further geochemical testing.
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There are cameras on the Hollywood sign.
I was beneath the "Y" at the center of Hollywood
for something less than a minute
when a loudspeaker came on.
"Sir, behind the sign.
With the camera.
You are trespassing.
LAPD and the police helicopter are on the way.
You will be arrested unless you leave immediately."
Of course, this being Hollywood,
the threat was hollow, a charade.
The LAPD never showed up
and the helicopters that came overhead
were merely transiting along the Cahuenga Pass
between downtown and the San Fernando Valley.
I made 123 photographs.
I hiked back down the hill.
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Construction had been underway
for a year on the hilltop mansion
of Dikran Papazian,
with perhaps another year-and-a-half to go.
Workers were all over the site-the vanishing edge pool out in front,
the retaining wall on the side.
Some lifted beams for the master bedroom,
others tore out a newly constructed
first floor staircase
the owner had changed his mind about.
The crew was entirely Latino
and lived in the stucco apartment warrens of Van Nuys.
They were amazed at the mansion's size and developing splendor,
but felt lucky to have the work.
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When the Great Recession struck in 2007-08,
the tsunami of foreclosures swept into
perpetually overleveraged Hollywood with special force.
The wave of trouble reached
the crest of the Hollywood Hills.
“Even the biggest swinging dicks ended up underwater,”
a real estate agent told me, compounding metaphors.
The graceless mansion at 6360 La Punta Drive was built in 1989.
The canny initial residents unloaded
multimillion-dollar, quasi-Greek Revival style behemoth
at the tail end of 2005,
virtually the top of the bubble.
The new owners watched half its value
wash away in the downturn
(53.49% to be precise).
By 2007, the house was in default.
The day after Christmas, 2008
the bankers lowered the foreclosure boom
and padlocked the ornate gates.
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I was high enough
that the monolithic mansion looked down
on the houses of Nicholas Cage and David Duchovny,
or so the neighbors said.
Five skywriting planes appeared in the limpid January sky.
They traveled west
along the spine of the Hollywood Hills
emitting puffs of smoke.
The dispatch was about writers finishing
some script or another.
It didn’t make a lot of sense
and seemed like a pricey way to communicate.
By the time the skywriters
got to the end of the message,
the first words had already vanished into the ether.
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The cursed house at 2450 Solar Drive
split the constructing couple
before they got close to completion.
A round robin of court battles ensued.
The partially completed pink palace
was abandoned for nineteen years.
Teenagers broke in for weekend raves
and an Armenian Power gang
turned it into a temporary clubhouse.
The floors piled up with filth and debris laced with
residues of crystal meth
and crack cocaine.
“You would not believe it,” said Ralph Sanchez,
senior lead officer for the LAPD Hollywood Hills division.
“From gang members to Satanic worshippers. You name it.
The doors were pried open
no matter how many times we nailed them shut.”
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I took the helicopter door off.
I loosened the seatbelt
as far as it would go
and put a tab of gaffer's tape across the buckle.
It's a routine.
To keep the landing skid out of the photos,
you have to hang clear of the aircraft,
but falling seems less than ideal.
A client was picking up the tab
on a commercial shoot,
but I persuaded the pilot to make a detour over Hollywood.
The slanting September sun lit the ridgetop mansions.
Over the crest of the Hollywood Hills,
we spotted a small plume of smoke in Wildwood Canyon.
It turned out to be the start of a fire that burned for days.
Cal Fire coordinators pulled 350 men
off the raging 24,000-acre Topanga Fire
and dispatched them to tackle the new threat.
Santa Ana winds relentlessly pushed
the fire into steep terrain
in the San Gabriel Mountains above Burbank.
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I parked my car in front of
Robert Disney's old house.
In the garage at the house on Kingswell Avenue,
Robert's 22-year-old nephew Walt,
fresh from Kansas City,
set up a primitive animation camera.
I walked down the street.
The broadband grid now drops lines into every house.
Every rooftop sprouts antennas and dishes.
The very air vibrates with unseen networks
and invisible signals.
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I dogged Elder Cannon and Elder Duke through Hollywood as
they had door after door slammed in their faces.
In an apartment building over a parking structure,
they finally got into a long and, it seemed to me, pretty arcane
dispute with a flat-headed young man
who knew his Book of Mormon
and who loved to argue.
After his resurrection, your book says Christ came to North America
and spoke with the inhabitants.
Correct? asked the flat-headed skeptic.
But the Bible, the real Bible, states that the Second Coming will be heralded
by trumpets and judgment and rapture and all.
Correct? demanded the flat-headed skeptic.
Then why were there no trumpets when Jesus came to North America?
Not a single trumpet? No trumpets mentioned?
Well, explained Elder Cannon,
that coming-Christ's little post-resurrection, post-assumption North
American jaunt-wasn't really a coming at all, let alone the Second
It was just more of a visit.
It was a kind of dropping by to say hi.
Thus, no trumpets were called for, said Elder Cannon.
I was dubious of the logic, doubtful of the explanation. Skeptical.
Therefore, when I got back to my car,
God had given me a $35 parking ticket.
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They started José four years ago
at $6.75 an hour.
He parks cars at Grauman's Chinese Theater.
When he began,
the lot charged $7.00 per car.
He's watched the parking fee ratchet up:
$8, $9, $10, $12, $14,
the highest rate in the area.
José still makes $6.75 an hour.
Circle: 087 Photo: 11,498
Ernie Rubio spent nineteen years
making bombs for Southern California
military contractor Norris Industries.
He was pinkslipped a few months short of his twenty-year retirement.
Laid off without job or pension,
Ernie went into denial and drifted for several years.
Eventually, he faced reality.
He moved in with his daughter
and got a job as a school crossing guard.
He likes the work,
but the pay for protecting the lives
of school children is
one-quarter what he earned making bombs.
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Barbara Jean, 67, lived for six months
in an airstream trailer near the dumpster
in the corner of the Hollywood Christian Church parking lot.
She's from a mid-Utah
Mormon potato-farming town.
She lives on nothing but social security,
so she moved to California to collect the extra $330 per month
doled out in the Golden State.
Now, she said, the church board was giving her two weeks to get out.
I resisted telling her she was being ejected by
the family church of Ronald Reagan,
merciless about welfare queens and societal mollycoddling.
Barbara Jean had no idea where she could go.
"I'm still working on figuring out
why we're here on the planet in these earthly bodies."
I came back a month later.
Barbara Jean, her airstream,
and her earthly body were gone.
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Richard Probert placed his easel at
a metaphysical Hollywood power spot:
the Mulholland Drive bridge over the 101 Freeway.
He's been a plein air painter for thirty years.
"A painter's job is to make it look like what you see," he said,
"then make it more so."
I looked at his canvas and decided
he was working hard to make it look much, much less so.
Richard had taken out the dominant features
of the current Cahuenga Pass:
the gouged hillsides, the ten lane freeway,
the roads, bridges, cars, houses,
power lines, trash, litter,
and tangles of invasive non-native plants.
This wasn't plein air painting.
This was time travel.
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The Hollywood Bowl was dark
for the two days before the final
L.A. Philharmonic concert of the season.
They cracked the elephant doors,
the giant access doors
at the back of the stage.
They stationed security guard Ray
in his folding chair right in the opening.
From this vantage, a single guard
can keep an eye backstage
and survey the silent expanse of the empty bowl.
Ray wrapped arms around himself,
bracing for the tedium of an eight-hour shift.
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Hollywood Tower is a "seven-story,
indecisive gray building at the corner of
Franklin and Vista Del Mar in Hollywood,"
wrote L.A. noir novelist Paula Woods.
"The faux French Normandy apartment building was
so old it probably had a view of the sea
when it was built." Hollywood Tower
opened in 1929 as a posh address, but
experienced a fast downward spiral.
First, the Depression savaged customers,
then in 1940 the Hollywood Freeway
slashed a diagonal less than twenty feet
from the tower's southwest corner.
A cascade of ownership changes began
and now Hollywood Tower is best-known as the
inspiration for the decaying "Tower of Terror"
death-drop ride at Disney parks
in California, Florida, and Tokyo.
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On January 15, 1947, a mother out for a morning stroll
with her three-year-old daughter discovered
the body of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short,
the "Black Dahlia," in a vacant lot
due south of Lloyd Wright's Mayan-style Sowden House.
Short was naked, surgically bisected at the waist,
drained of blood, and neatly washed.
Her pretty oval face was slashed from the corners of her mouth
to her ears, an effect known as the "Glasgow smile."
Her legs were spread.
Dr. George Hodel, abortionist to the stars
and owner of Sowden House, became the LAPD's prime suspect.
More than a hundred cops worked the sensational case, but proof remained elusive.
After three years as suspect number one, Hodel suddenly moved to China.
Rather strangely, Hodel's son, Steve, became a homicide detective.
After his retirement, Steve published a bestseller presenting
extensive evidence that his father is the Black Dahlia killer.
His father, he believes, held Short in the Sowden House basement,
tied ligatures at her wrists, ankles, and neck,
tortured her with surgical instruments,
and eventually dispatched her with swift blows to the head.
Now, the only dismembering done around the house
is conducted by three Mexican gardeners with machetes.
They spend a day a week hacking at Birds of Paradise and other exotica.
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"Yeah, it's a wholesale bug slaughter."
Down-on-his-luck screenwriter Joe Gillis was
shot three times and ended up face-down
in Norma Desmond's swimming pool.But before that, he lived in the Alto Nido Apartments
on upper Ivar. So says the noir
Hollywood classic Sunset Boulevard.
(The movie script calls the Alto Nido
"a Mediterranean-styled slum.")
That's where I ran into down-on-his-luck
photographer Deano Mueller.
He was annihilating aphids on the roses
he'd planted under the Jacaranda tree in front of
his rent-controlled apartment—Alto Nido #409.
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William Faulkner lived in the 1914
four-bedroom craftsman at 1931 Ivar Avenue.
So a Hollywood tour guide told me with smooth assurance.
I stood at the foot of Faulkner's driveway
and shot the current vista, such as it is.
Faulkner pretty much hated LA—"The plastic asshole of the world."
But he was starving as a genius novelist,
so in May 1932 he signed with M-G-M.
Then he hated Hollywood even more.
"There's nobody here with any roots.
Even the houses are built out of mud and chicken wire.
Nothing ever happens and after a while a couple of leaves
fall off a tree and then it'll be another year."
Faulkner was a vagrant during his Hollywood years.
He lived six blocks west of Ivar
at the Highland Hotel,
in the hills on Whitely Terrace,
on Sunset Boulevard at the Garden of Allah Apartments. All over.
But he never lived in the house on Ivar.
Faulkner was right. Hollywood is falsehoods and facsimiles.
A gimcrack fantasy cobbled together from false fronts and second-hand
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Horst was trying to get through the month.
And that meant getting through the night.I talked with him for a while and decided
he was not so much adrift as anchored in an imaginary future.
At the moment, he was out of money and out of sorts.
He'd receive $425 on the first of the month,
and another $425 SSI payment on the second.
"It makes no sense, but it's the government
and that's just the way they do it."
When he was back in the money, Horst had a plan.
He'd walk over to Mel's Diner on Highland Avenue.
He'd park his suitcase beneath a chrome-edged Formica table
and settle into a Naugahyde booth.
He'd splurge. At the moment, he was vacillating.
The Rotisserie Chicken or the All-American Meatloaf?
His eyes stalled on a faraway point,
looking into a distance I could not see.
In the darkness of the winter streets, he seemed to perceive
the shadowy shape of another world,
an edifice of enjoyment, the efficient glide
of white-collared waitresses, paradise with side dishes: twisty fries,
zucchini sticks, onion rings, potato salad, coleslaw, cup of soup.
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Arthur broke down crying
on the Santa Monica Boulevard bridge
over the Hollywood Freeway.
His cart held seven or eight dollars worth
of cans and bottles, but the recycling place
had closed early. They turned him away.
And now—he thrust a hand at me—he was down
to his last seventeen cents.
"Motherfuckers. Why, motherfuckers?"
His protest was lost
in the rumble and boom of traffic.
I gave Arthur three bucks
and walked west into
the heat of the sinking mid-summer sun.
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It started raining
early Halloween night.
Rain pelted the skimpy crowd
and cut the distance on streaming arcs of Silly String.
The gutters ran deep. I ducked into
the overhang at Musso and Frank (founded 1919)
and shot a meager group of dripping revelers.
The maître d' poked his head out the door.
He exuded the imperturbable nonchalance of
every maître d' at a semi-mythic restaurant.
(They install it when you get the job. In his case,
back in the age of Welsh Rarebit and gravy boats,
creamed spinach and potatoes au gratin.)
He scanned the sparsely populated street,
a man looking into the past,
finding only emptiness, whispers, and ghosts.
"There's nobody out here," he said.
"They didn't even close the Boulevard."
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Traffic was so snarled by street closures
that I arrived late to the march.
Consequently, I had no idea
what it was really against, or for.
But that's easy to remedy.
I always gather the flyers that zealous marchers
thrust at everyone in sight. The occasion:
the State of the Union address. The action:
a symbolic drowning out.
"Bring your own noise:
drums, pots and pans,
musical instruments, your voice.
Let taxi horns blare and church bells ring."
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I plunged into the anti-war protest
just as a stray group of
seven police got swept into the crowd
piling up in front of the stage.
Eight or ten black clad anarchists materialized.
They pulled bandanas across their faces,
took a couple close-range punches,
and began throwing objects at the isolated police.
"Our streets. Our streets," screamed the anarchists.
The cops cleared space with kicks and baton swings.
A perfect space for a photographer.
Full of fast-moving menace, but perfect.
A clear shot at anyone taking shots.
A piece of wooden barricade hit me behind the right ear.
The cops slashed with nightsticks.
An LAPD turbine jet ranger
helicopter spun low angry circles.
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When Chase was eleven,
his mother went out to the store
and never came back.
He ended up on the street in Hollywood.
Photographer Jim Goldberg shot him
for Raised By Wolves, the great book on street kids,
but Chase didn't make the cut.
Chase's agenda for the day was to
sell a couple of guns from his collection
so he could catch up on payments
on his storage unit in the Valley.
He was thinking about the .30-06
semi-automatic M1 Garand
and maybe the Simonov
SKS self-loading carbine.
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Three police cruisers, two motorcycle
cops, and an unmarked green Chevy
pulled over the blue Ford F150 with Maine plates.
They hauled out three men at gunpoint
and forced them to spread-eagle on the pavement.
Eventually, the cops cinched the
handcuffs and hoisted the trio upright.
The young men were placed far apart
face-first against the east-facing stucco wall
of a beat-up 1920's Hollywood hotel.
It was late, cold, dark, and lonely.
From an uncertain distance
up the shadowed street I heard a male voice
shout: "So, you got to subjugate the black man."
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"I've failed at everything else, so
I might as well be
a fool on a street corner."
Steve Sharp's corner of choice is
in front of the vacuum cleaner store
where Sunset and Hollywood boulevards meet.
His motivation is political.
He comes every Friday night to wave
his signs and scream at the passing traffic about
deception, lies, and American leadership.
"It's like a horror movie.
Don't you see who the bad guys are?
Don't you see what they're doing?"
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It was Free Swim Friday, but the Hollywood Pool
was closed the first time I showed up.
The problem was the park's resident homeless, and
trouble had been brewing for a while.
By mid-July, broken bottles were thrown
into the pool so often that the lifeguards developed a routine.
On arrival, they donned goggles and
swam a grid pattern to clear the shards.
The latest incident was worse. A homeless
man-the tall guy with swastika tattoos, some said-jumped
the fence at night and shit in the pool.
Fishing it out was insufficient.
City regulations require that the chlorine run full tilt for 24 hours
before swim time can resume. Which creates
crazy problems, said Danny the pool manager.
That's because parents in the poor neighborhood
use the pool as a babysitting service.
"They drop off kids when the pool opens at 10:00.
No food, no lunch a lot of times."
Some parents don't retrieve their children until
the pool closes at 7:00 in the evening, "sometimes well after."
The lifeguards, though poorly paid, periodically
pool money to purchase pizza
for the most pitiful anklebiters.
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Wild and Vietnam are the stalwarts,
along with Dave and Ray and Papa Smurf.
They spend most nights b-boying
for Hollywood street crowds
and trying to pick up chicks.
They call themselves the Hollywood Troopers
and say they're not after money.
"We just want to be famous," said Dave.
But after serving as background dancers
for a Vogue fashion gig
they started a reevaluation.
A shiny stretch limo chauffeured
the supermodels to the shoot.
The Hollywood Troopers arrived via MTA bus.
Kind of humiliating, said Dave.
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The Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery
has an annual "open call" exhibition.
They charge twenty bucks an entry and
put up everything that comes in.
Six preparators spent a week-and-a-half
hanging 571 works by 571 artists.
The show is utterly unfiltered for quality or talent,
a mercilessly revealing barometer of populist art in L.A.
In the main gallery, on the most prominent wall,
in the center, at the very top,
the curators put the biggest, boldest painting.
It's a white Bauer Bodoni Bold
question mark on a field of black.
The placement cannot have been an accident.
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Johnny and Ronnie are the lot boys
at Frank Corrente's Cadillac Corner.
Johnny came to Hollywood at 25
from Atlanta partly for the weather,
but mostly to meet his hero Sidney Poitier.
He managed to meet Poitier twice in person.
Big boss Frank yells a lot,
especially at Johnny.
I see some of the yelling.
Ronnie: "I don't cotton to that."
Johnny goes out on the lot,
lights a cigarette, and slumps against a Cadillac.
But the mural above the car lot depicts
Johnny in the driver's seat of a
green Rolls Royce convertible,
riding high on top of the world.
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Since his stroke ten months earlier,
Johnny hunches over his
walker and moves slowly.
The people at the Center for Gay and Lesbian Seniors
on McCadden Place look out for him, he said,
but he had missed breakfast.
So Johnny was shuffling his way
up to Hollywood Boulevard
where he hoped to panhandle $1.07 for
a rock-bottom, low-end MacDonald's hamburger.
In Hollywood, you get pretty hard-hearted.
You could give money away all day long.
But I gave Johnny money for a meal.
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Gloria mops premium indoor
parking lots in Hollywood. She
paused for just a moment and
looked out the second floor window.
The glass framed Grauman's Chinese Theater.
Not a bad job, she said, carefully
positioning those four words
somewhere between resilience and resignation.
She also does the Galaxy Center
and the TV Guide Building.
They're all more or less the same.
She starts in each garage
and mops her way from one end
to the other all day long.
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Amanda veers from tender to tough to bored.
"My Uncle owns the carnival," she explained.
She works the "grab bag" booth.
For two tickets you reach in with a stick and
grab a bag, contents unknown.
Swartwood Carnival was in Hollywood
for a three-night stand.
A sizable percentage of the customers
were downright creepy, said Amanda.
She spoke darkly of men who run wet tongues
around the rubber loop
on the stiff stick that grabs the bag.
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Dan Reinstein was wary. A few years earlier,
he'd fired his pistol to start the milers anda jittery neighbor called the cops to report gunfire
at Hollywood High. The LAPD
tactical squad showed up in full gear.
Track is pretty much Dan's life.
It was his fourth track meet of the week:
Canoga Park versus Hollywood High.
He's spent 45 years as a sanctioned
USA Track and Field official. He's winner of
the coveted annual Andy and Mary Bakjian Award
for outstanding service officiating running sports. And when
Fox Television needed someone to officiate "Man versus Beast"
they turned to Dan. The reality TV show pitted
42 harnessed midgets against an elephant.
The quest was to pull 430,000-pound
McDonnell Douglas DC-10s down a runway in the California desert.
The final results?
Hollywood High 108, Canoga Park 8;
Elephant 1, Midgets 0.
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Joanne reconstructed her murdered son Mark
from wire mesh and papier-mâché
and set him up playing poker with God
in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
He was killed at age 32.
A senseless murder, she said, inexplicable
even to the cops, and it was never solved.
"My son could make anyone laugh," Joanne said,
"so the only explanation I can come up with is that
God wanted Mark up there for amusement."
Joanne riffled through the deck of cards. She decided to
give Mark the winning hand-two pair: nines and sevens.
God held nothing: Jack high.
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Bob Mitchell was four when his mother
sat him down at the family piano.
She had an Episcopalian hymnal and a switch.
He commenced to learn every song
in the hymnbook. His mother stood by.
"Whenever she switched me, I knew I probably deserved it."
He thanks her for that.
At age twelve-that was in 1924-he got a job in Pasadena at
the Strand Theatre on Colorado Boulevard
playing organ accompaniment for the silent movies.
Thus began a lifetime in music. On the anniversary of Rudolph Valentino's death,
they projected Camille on the side of Valentino's crypt.
(In 1926, Valentino was given temporary burial within the
Cathedral Mausoleum of Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
He's been there ever since.)
Twilight deepened and people settled in to watch the movie.
Two assistants helped Mitchell walk to
the organ on the cemetery lawn.
He ran the keys with nimble, bony fingers.
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Greg was happy. That morning
he had scored four balloons of good heroin.
He had fixed twenty minutes earlier
and was flying high. The Social Security
Administration seemed to have stopped
sending threatening letters about
reclassifying his disability
and cutting off his SSI money.
And his 44th birthday was coming up
on December 17, just four days away.
Life was good.
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John and Debbie were fighting.
They were somewhere in the alcoholic
no-man's-land between violence and affection.
Their skirmishes were quasi-physical, deeply psychological.
Debbie is five-and-a-half months pregnant with twins.
The fight started over plans for baby clothes.
John showed me the nineteen-stitch scar
from the time she grabbed his goatee.
Debbie has started taking care of herself, she said,
lighting another Marlboro Menthol Light.
John said he has three states: happy, sad, and horny.
I could have added a fourth: drunk.
Some states amplify others.
The more 24-ounce cans of
Steel Reserve Triple Export Malt Liquor
down the hatch the hornier John seemed to get.
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Five minutes and seventeen seconds
into the New Year, Sixto and José
were settling into Denny's late shift rhythms.
New Year's evening had been mostly quiet, they said.
There was a single exception
that I also happened to witness.
About an hour before midnight,
a young couple began an escalating, alcohol-fueled spat.
It commenced at the counter with
a few sharp words and ended at the bus bench in front with
the woman screaming "I hate you"
with a ferocity as concentrated as the night.
She hurled a clump of car keys
as far as she could into the hissing traffic.
She set off west on Sunset Boulevard sobbing.
"A bad way to begin the year," commented José.
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I was there when Heras Ra,
a seventeen-year-old senior at Fairfax High, signed his
final papers to enter the United States Marines Corps.
Ra had considered college.
"I saw all that application paperwork.
I couldn't even figure it out.
And $55 per application? No way."
The night before his all-day induction exam,
he was in the Hollywood recruiting office.
The pressure was on. The Marines brought in
their deal closer from the Culver City office
and had a final forceful message:
don't do anything, say anything, admit anything
that will keep you out of the Marines.
"We're going to be very, very disappointed with you
if you get disqualified tomorrow. We had a guy
who was ready to go. Just like you.
But when he faced the examiners he suddenly said
he saw Jesus on his TV—a TV that wasn't even on.
And Jesus told him not to enlist.
We're going to be very, very disappointed if
any crazy shit like that happens tomorrow."
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Megan is fixated on Godzilla.
"It's her main interest in life," reports her mother.
The family drove from Fresno so
Megan could immerse herself in the Godzilla
Film Festival at the Egyptian Theater.
With luck, she also hoped to find a
particular new Mothra figurine for her collection.
Megan was born with a rare, recessive,
genetically transmitted muscular paralytic disease.
It has turned her body into
an almost unmanageable miscreation,
another misunderstood monster.
"In her mind, she's perfectly sharp," said her mother.
"People look at her and say,
But she says, 'What?'"
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Susan Sontag called every photograph
an aggression, a soft murder.
I've given up denying it.
That's simply the way it is.
So, when this scene presented itself
on the bench in front of
California Pizza Kitchen,
I didn't hesitate.
I stepped forward and shot.
This image is evidently a violation,
but I can assure you every photograph here
was made with the same measure of
sympathy, wonder, and brutality.
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Amelia had the head of her Uncle Tom
on a Home Depot paint stir stick.The prop is part of a multi-year scheme
to photograph Tom "visiting" national landmarks,
then surprise Tom with his
amazing out-of-body travels.
Ten-month-old Amelia was hugely attracted to the head.
She waved it then kissed it,
waved it then kissed it.
Amelia's mom (Tom's sister) also stole
one of Tom's coats for a side project.
"Gee, you must have left it somewhere."
So far, she's photographed three of
his former girlfriends wearing
the distinctive brown jacket.
Tom's a busy guy; she has
quite a few more former girlfriends to go.
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The dot-com bust drove
Rex Bruce out of San Francisco.
So he moved to Hollywood and opened the
Los Angeles Center for Digital Art-a one-room
gallery with a pot-hazed assistant
manning a cheeseball Epson printer.
At first, it was a struggle.
Eventually though, he hit paydirt
with "Snap to Grid," a so-called exhibition
capitalizing on a fierce worldwide thirst for recognition.
Want to be exhibited? Just fork over thirty bucks
via PayPal and you're good.
"Every image shown!" Multiple entries encouraged.
Jpegs pour in like falling rain, said Rex.
The walls fill with images and the coffers with cash.
Rex moved to a bigger space closer to downtown
and launched more pay-for-play exhibitions.
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Eight-month-old baby Elaine became
the central attraction
at the annual Easter picnic and block party
held by the residents of Laurel Avenue.
A theme of perfection took hold.
One guest said she was
"the perfect baby.
"Another called her
"the perfect anglo vanilla baby."
A third commented that her parents had been
"perfectly matched to produce the perfect baby."
Baby Elaine did seem
and much, much less moist than the average baby.
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I got hard questions
when I received the commission
to make 60,000 photographs in Hollywood.
"Don't they have enough photographs in Hollywood already?"
asked my artist friend Jerry Burchfield. Ted Fisher in New York
was even more dubious. He said that every photograph I made
would devalue all the others just a little.
A depreciation of the currency,
like the late Roman rulers churning out
debased coinage to keep the Empire afloat.
But I had a job to do, so I set to work.
When I brought Elvis and Marilyn their print,
they promptly asked for a photo
holding their photo—another mirror
for the Hollywood hall of mirrors.
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Villa Elaine Apartment #10
once housed Man Ray's famous sculpture:
"Object to Be Destroyed."
It's a photo of Lee Miller's left eye
clipped to a metronome's ticking arm.
That was when the artist himself lived in #10,
exiled by the war in Europe.
"There is more Surrealism rampant in Hollywood
than all the Surrealists could invent in a lifetime," he wrote.
Visitors recount sitting on the
couch shaped like a pair of giant lips
and admiring the exotic California garden
outside the artist's grand living room window.
In 1994, Man Ray's one-time residence was damaged (not destroyed)
by an earthquake on what's known as the "Northridge blind thrust fault."
The building awaits renovations.
In the meantime, engineers devised a structural fix:
brick up the eye of Man Ray's window.
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