Sunset Boulevard


Manage episode 306833403 series 2983405
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Soundscapes: Sunset Boulevard

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(3:45) The Roaring 20s in America was characterized by an age of glamour, affluence, and entertainment. While many Americans were celebrating a return to post-war normalcy and living outside their means, a young Walt Disney packed his belongings and the little money he had and headed for Hollywood. Despite warnings from his father, Walt was inspired by a life in Tinseltown and determined to make his mark on the industry.

He arrived to Hollywood in 1923 with just forty dollars, some cartoon sketches, and the audacious hope that rallies a childlike spirit. Over the course of the following decades, and long after his death, his legacy remains one of the most profound and incredible in American history. His films are beloved in the hearts and homes of people around the world and his theme parks, which span continents and language barriers, are visited by millions of guests, year-round. He could have never known, as he stepped off the train and into the warm California sunshine, that he would grow to become one the most cherished advocates for joy and happiness to ever live. He could have never known that the sketch of a genial little mouse nestled in his briefcase would spring to life and inspire smiles and laughter for generations.

That is the Magic of Hollywoodland - that a person from humble beginnings with scrappy ideas can become a star, a cultural icon in their own right. This place captures all the charm and dazzling ambition of its golden age, just as Walt knew it. Touches of imagination enhance its vibrancy, its jazzy swing, its ability to stay rooted resolutely in this postwar era of prosperity.

(6:16) Hear the jazzy music beginning to swell? It’s inviting us to step into the story of one of the most beloved and famous streets in America…welcome to Sunset Boulevard.

(8:00) Resplendent with sunny sidewalks and towering palm trees, eye-catching shops and decadent treats, Sunset Boulevard is a darling retreat into an era of emerging starlets, big band music, and truly magnificent fashions. Here, telephones are mounted on walls with rotary dials and vinyl records crackle and jump on their players. Whimsical soda shops are usually riddled with any number of prospective film stars, perched expectedly on round leather barstools and sipping malts with due diligence and slightly queasy expressions.

(11:12) Today, we have donned our oxfords or our saddle shoes and stepped back in time to the 1940s, and so immersive are our surroundings, the buildings with their art deco architecture of the late 1920s and 30s, that at any moment we might expect to see Lucille Ball peering into boutiques on the hunt for movie stars, or perhaps Frank Sinatra tilting his fedora slightly lower as he walks past us, in an effort to avoid detection.

(12:00) At the time of Walt’s earlier successes, the theater district of Los Angeles was abuzz with excitement and whirring with new ideas and production. Here on Sunset Boulevard, we are treated to a generous preview of what it might have been like to hobnob with actors and attend extravagant premieres. The Beverly Sunset Theater at the top of the street boasts a flashing marquee, and a gleaming 1941 gold Cadillac seems to have pulled up right across the street to chauffeur some of Hollywood’s elite to the event.

(13:26) In fact, all along Sunset Boulevard there are a collection of unique and ornate theaters, each showcasing different coming attractions and “now showing” advertisements. They are inspired by the genuine articles, counterparts which were once popular locations for film premieres during the heyday of Hollywood. Even Carthay Circle theater can be located as we make our way to the next block of Sunset. Here, we find threads of reminiscence for the theater which once hosted the premiere for Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, one of the highlight’s of Walt Disney’s career and the first feature-length animated film in history.

(15:00) All around us, nods to an American love of moviegoing and a growing fascination with stardom are apparent. From the sprawling Sunset Ranch Market, where Robert Taylor once signed an orange for an avid fan (much to Ricky Ricardo’s dismay), to the Hollywood Scoops ice cream shop where it is rumored Lana Turner was discovered drinking an ice cream soda until she got a brain freeze, making it rather difficult for her to recall the name of the producer who recommended her for his next picture.

Remnants of the lives and luxuries of those burgeoning movie stars are everywhere, making us feel swept up in the giddy romance of it all. The Andrews Sisters croon at us as we meander, and Glenn Miller’s lively orchestra keeps time with the whimsical mood. All up and down the Boulevard, trolley cars and quaint park benches make invite us to spend a moment or a while sightseeing and taking in the views.

(16:16) For those of us looking to have an authentic Hollywood experience, trolley tours and sidewalk sightseeing simply won’t suffice. A sun-worn billboard at the end of Sunset, partially obscured by branches, advertises “fashionable dining” and “modern accommodations” at the renowned Hollywood Tower Hotel.

(18:51) Staying right in the middle of the glitz and glitter of this bustling young movie town sounds like a riveting invitation, so we make our way to the end of the street, and into the gardens in the Hollywood Tower Hotel courtyard. Cracked stone fountains and overgrown foliage give an air of neglect to what were obviously once elegant, well-tended grounds. Echoes of big band music and haunting vocals reverberate through the trellises creeping with vines, each note sounding as though they were being performed from inside a cavern.

(22:22) The eerie feeling of desertion is elevated to a disconcerting level upon entry into the grand lobby. A vast, high-ceilinged room, ornate at one time and now coated in an impenetrable layer of cobwebs and dust, there is no doubt in our minds that this place is surely abandoned, no longer accommodating guests…right?

The echoes of trumpets and brass are still more pronounced here in the dimly lit atrium, still littered with suitcases and hatboxes from guests who had apparently checked in and either failed to remember their belongings upon departure or...and this thought is more alarming still…never checked out.

(23:20) And yet, this place only appears to be long-since forsaken, as a mysterious bellhop calls us out of our reverie and over an equally lusterless library which obviously has not seen a book removed from its shelves in many years.

Suddenly, everything goes dark and we are pulled firmly and possibly irreversibly from the warm nostalgia of young Hollywood and into another dimension…a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. Back to a stormy night in 1939 when five people stepped into an elevator in this very hotel and never stepped out…

(25:26) We have embodied their story, taken on its narrative as our own as we find ourselves traveling through lightning struck corridors and falling down, down, down…into the past, into the darkness, into…the gift shop?

(27:00) And just as quickly as storms roll in, we are back on the sun-soaked sidewalks of Sunset Boulevard and the glorious glamour of 1940s Hollywood, nothing sinister in sight. Perhaps we ought to treat ourselves to an ice cream sundae, or simply a leisurely stroll to the Brown Derby to see if we can spot some movie stars out to lunch?

The world is your oyster in Hollywood; anyone can be anything. We can be a crooner, or a comic, a famous star or a shrewd producer. Or, we can simply be Here, beneath the gently swaying palms and the vivid marquees, quietly observing a piece of history glittering with opportunity. A place where, nearly a hundred years ago, a man stepped off a train and into the sunlight with just forty dollars, a vivd imagination, and a fantastic dream he was determined would come true.

Hollywood is a place of mystery and Magic, of grit and grandeur, and the story told Here embodies it all in one joyful celebration of audacious, impervious hope. Whatever brings you Here, whatever dream you carry with you, it’s sure to be an adventure. Ready for your close-up?

Lights, camera…action!

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