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Hollywood, Los Angeles review: Still the star of the show | Short & City breaks | Travel


Hollywood eats and breathes the entertainment in

The scene is one of utter devastation. A whole neighbourhood destroyed; the air heavy and reeking of despair.

Thankfully, this disaster scene isn’t real, but it could be, such is the attention to detail. It’s the work of the extraordinary set designers who created the scene for the Tom Cruise movie War Of The Worlds in 2005. And this set is found on a backlot at Universal Studios in Hollywood.

Minutes previously, we watched anxiously as Norman Bates removed Marion Crane’s (Janet Leigh) body from the Bates Motel and placed it in his car boot.

What we didn’t anticipate was that when he spotted us, he would rush toward us, wielding the same knife he’d slashed her with, a maniacal look on his face.

Universal Studios, HollywoodGETTY

War of the Worlds attraction at Universal Studios, Hollywood

Hollywood still puts on the glitz and it’s going to for some time yet

There was just enough time to hightail it out of the car park before he reached us. It was a lucky escape. The blurred lines between pretend and reality are uncannily entwined here. It’s an intriguing place to be.

You feel and see a familiarity, yet it is all rather surreal. Such as the full-size Hogwarts Castle, so lifelike it could be the real thing but home to rides and a shopping arcade.

Then there’s the trip riding the rapids through the wilds of Jurassic Park, populated by frothing dinosaurs.

This VIP tour is an essential for film lovers.

You receive priority tickets, breakfast and a superb lunch and the chance to wander through the vast prop stores and watch real actors in a performance involving high intensity action stunts with fi re and water. Los Angeles could well, in fact, be one huge film set.

The long, straight boulevards lined with thin, towering palm trees are reassuringly familiar too. As is the immaculate strip of Rodeo Drive (Pretty Woman) with its wall-to-wall designer shops to the expansive beachfront of Santa Monica where the celebrities come out to jog, rollerblade and walk their pooches.

Set in a vast bowl surrounded by a jagged, desert mountain range and overlooked by the famous Hollywood Sign, this perpetually sunny location lives, eats and breathes the entertainment industry.

Everyone looks like an actor; their chiselled cheeks, baseball caps and Californian “dress-down” code of T-shirt and track pants are the norm.

As you travel the four-lane freeways that throb with traffic 24/7, you quickly fi nd yourself looking into car windows, on the off-chance of spotting a star. That said, it’s rare that you’d even recognise them. Well, so the men on the ground inform me.

Despite what you may think, they’re surprisingly “accessible”. Many undertake their pre-movie training and walk their dogs (everyone seems to have “big” dogs here), in Runyon Canyon, a rugged piece of million dollar real-estate consisting both of dusty trails and paved paths, which sits above the mansions of the rich and famous in the Hollywood Hills.

Rodeo DriveGETTY

The immaculate strip of Rodeo Drive is wall-to-wall designer shops

Afterwards, they may tuck into a steak (it’s protein of course) at the legendary Musso And Frank Grill, a supremely atmospheric, old-fashioned diner on Hollywood Boulevard.

You name it, they’ve dined here among the original 1934 décor. Slide into a red leather banquette and order fi let mignon, cooked over an open fi re grill which has been seasoned over many years. Regulars have included literary greats such as F Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Chandler and movie big names such as Humphrey Bogart, and Alfred Hitchcock – who was rather partial to Aviation Gin.

If these dark moody walls could talk, they’d tell you that Johnny Depp used to sit at the bar for hours on end as it was the only place he could receive potential calls from his agent because his fl at had no phone. It’s still a celebrity haunt today.

The Rolling Stones have their own corner booth when they’re in town. But tonight, all eyes will be on the Dolby Theatre. It’s Oscar night and the world’s biggest stars will walk the red carpet.

Despite being a rather bland, nondescript building which hosted the first Academy Awards in 2002, it was built with the Awards in mind and has a massive stage and auditorium. Dolby has the rights to stage them until 2071.

The swirly-patterned carpet and sweeping staircase lead to the free bar in the lobby. Stars sip champagne surrounded by portraits of past winners such as Grace Kelly and Liza Minnelli.

Runyon CanyonGETTY

Runyon Canyon is a rugged piece of million dollar real-estate consisting of dusty trails

When we visited, during a fascinating backstage tour, seat covers were being changed in preparation. We wandered into host Jimmy Kimmel’s dressing room – surprisingly basic – walked the “Winner’s Corridor” and got our chance to “accept our Oscar” on stage, in front of 3,400 red velvet seats.

We learned there are 24 cameras in the auditorium and nominees can bring one guest. They pay for their own tickets ($750 for ceremony, $900 for the party).

Most stars will have been “dressed” across the road at the legendary Roosevelt Hotel. Built in 1927, and host to the Oscars in 1929, this Spanish Colonial-style hotel with tiled fl oors and wooden ceilings once welcomed Hollywood greats and was the HQ of the Academy.

Marilyn Monroe even had a cabaña here for two years overlooking the mid-century style pool – in the 1950s surrounded by 230 palm trees. You can rent it today, ($700 per night) and now the pool attracts a younger crowd for cocktails on the roof and a night in contemporary rooms – or to shoot a ball down the indoor retro bowling alley in The Spare Room.

That said, it still reeks of history – Clark Gable and Carole Lombard lived in the Penthouse for a while, for just $5 a night.

Stars will have walked past the Walk Of Fame with 2,138 pink marble stars set into concrete across 15 blocks.

The strip may be a bit tacky now: Grauman’s Chinese Theatre teeming with tourists and “Spider-Man” and “Superman” posing for selfies with the gleaming Church Of Scientology looming over the art deco buildings.

Contrary to what you may believe, stars do eat.

After months of starving themselves for Oscar night, they’ll let their hair down after the awards tonight. It’s not all bite-size, low-cal morsels either.

Chef Wolfgang Puck has been catering supremo for around 30 years. Chicken pot pie, truffl e mac’n’ cheese and a 35ft pastry table will feed the luminaries at the Governors’ Ball. You can try some of his Asian-inspired dishes at WP24 at the Ritz-Carlton. After the parties, stars retreat to their hideaways in the Hills.

You can get up close to some of the homes on a Starlight Tour. Hop in a Jeep and you’ll wind your way through some of the world’s most famous addresses: Mulholland Drive, Sunset Strip. What’s enlightening, as we cruise through the quiet, immaculately-kept streets – devoid of any sign of life – is how built up the hills are, most with barely 10ft between one house and the next. Once past the Bel Air sign, we’re on 11 different security cameras.

We keep our eyes peeled on Star Watch, as we pass houses belonging to director Quentin Tarantino (Spanish style with ornate gates), Richard Gere’s (grand colonial with columns) the late Johnny Weissmuller’s, predictably built in African style for the Tarzan star, with a 300ft pool) to a humble bungalow for 91-year-old legend Sidney Poitier.

Jane Memmler at The Dolby TheatreJANE MEMMLER

Jane Memmler at The Dolby Theatre

Even the Beckhams or Beyoncé and Jay-Z can’t buy seclusion here, their modern white stacked properties overlooked. There really is no escaping the industry that put the city on the world stage. From sound recording studios, make-up schools, designer stores and blacked-out people carriers.

Hollywood still puts on the glitz and it’s going to for some time yet.


British Airways (0344 493 0125/ ba.com) offers return flights from Heathrow to Los Angeles from £458.

Loews Hollywood Hotel (dialling from the UK: 001 323 856 1200/ loewshotels.com) offers a Live Like A Star Package (tour and hotel for two) from £110, room only.

Millennium Biltmore (212 624 1011/millenniumhotels.com) offers doubles from £157, room only.

Starline tours (starlinetours.com) offers Celebrity Homes Tours from £33. Universal Studios VIP Experience (universal studioshollywood. com), from £239.

Dolby Theatre (dolbytheatre.com) offers tours from £17.

Los Angeles tourism: discoverlosangeles.com


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