Hollywood draws hoards of tourists to its legendary streets, especially Hollywood Boulevard, but it's a safe bet that few of the visitors who walk the pavement there recognize most of the stars whose names are found beneath their feet. Hollywood, however, means different things to different kinds of tourists, and classic movie fans head for Tinseltown's crowded scene with visions of Old Hollywood filling their heads. That Hollywood, the screwy, ballyhooey one of Busby Berkeley and Doris Day, can still be found, if one knows where to look. Here are 10 Hollywood attractions where classic movie fans will encounter the history and glamor they crave.
1) The Hollywood Museum - Located in the Max Factor building on North Highland Avenue, this museum offers a fascinating history of Factor's influence on the movies, as well as floors of exhibits with a broader focus on television and film. You'll find displays about Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, Lucille Ball, and other glamorous leading ladies who turned to Max Factor for makeovers that made them icons of style. In the basement horror fans can admire life masks of Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, and Christopher Lee along with props and displays from dozens of scary movies. A large display of Elvira memorabilia will delight admirers of the cult movie queen, and several famous cars can also be found. The Hollywood Museum is only open Weds.-Sun., so plan your visit accordingly. Sadly, what the museum really lacks is a decent gift shop, and the Mel's Drive-In next door is a pale and overpriced imitation of the original San Francisco locations.
2) The Walk of Fame - Unlike most Hollywood and Los Angeles attractions, you can enjoy the Walk of Fame for free, but it's best to go early in the morning before the tourist throngs clutter the view. The walk runs along both Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, and you can get a lot of exercise trying to see it all. Different symbols on the stars denote contributions to motion pictures, television, radio, or the recording industry, and some celebrities have multiple stars because of their work in different fields. The Walk of Fame is best enjoyed by visitors who recognize the names enshrined there; otherwise it's just a long sidewalk with stars on it, since many of those honored have become obscure in later years.
3) Grauman's Chinese Theatre - The modern theater where movies are shown is now known as TCL Chinese Theatre, but the forecourt of the iconic movie palace is what most tourists come to see. Like the Walk of Fame, this is a free attraction best experienced as early in the day as possible, before the crowds make it hard to read the cement squares and take photos. The pavement of the forecourt records the hand and footprints of stars from all of Hollywood history, with messages from the classic stars to Sid Grauman himself. You'll find Gary Cooper, Charles Laughton, Margaret O'Brien, James Stewart, Cary Grant, and Bette Davis along with modern stars like Denzel Washington, Harrison Ford, and Tom Hanks. New imprint ceremonies take place periodically, with new stars being added to the collection.
4) Larry Edmunds Bookshop - Most of the shops on Hollywood Boulevard are disappointments, stuffed with the same overpriced knick knacks and Marilyn Monroe posters that you could probably find at Walmart or your local shopping mall, but Larry Edmunds Bookshop offers treasures galore to the classic movie fan. Located at 6644 Hollywood Blvd., the store specializes in books about movies as well as movie posters, stills, and lobby cards. Spend an hour or two browsing the shelves for classic star biographies, genre histories, and other fascinating tomes, or ask to look through the collections of movie stills. Small posters make great souvenirs at only $15 each, and they capture more of the true Hollywood magic than any t-shirt you'll find in the other shops.
5) The Egyptian Theatre - Owned by Grauman's, the Egyptian Theatre at 6712 Hollywood Blvd. offers tours, a film about Hollywood history, and screenings of classic movies, depending on when you visit. It is the home of the American Cinematheque organization, which hosts festivals like Noir City. The Egyptian Theatre also shows movies as part of the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival each April.
6) El Capitan Theatre - For a really glamorous classic movie experience, visit Disney's El Capitan Theatre, a 1926 establishment lavishly restored by Disney for use as its exclusive first-run venue. Movie screenings begin with a live performance on a Wurlitzer organ, a rare musical treat and a thrill for younger viewers as well as adults. Naturally, the organist specializes in Disney tunes. If you're seeing a new Disney film there, look for special exhibits, opening performances, and animated shorts before the show; the theater also shows older Disney movies on selected dates.
7) Madame Tussauds Hollywood - Also on Hollywood Blvd. is the Los Angeles version of Madame Tussauds, which of course features a movie-oriented collection of wax images. While most of the stars inside are modern celebrities like Anne Hathaway and Johnny Depp, the attraction does boast a considerable number of classic stars. Depicted in some of their most iconic roles are Bette Davis, Gloria Swanson, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Jimmy Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Peter O'Toole, and Marilyn Monroe. Props and backdrops encourage visitors to get into the scenes, and the figures are posed in a way that allows for very close encounters. Tickets are not cheap, especially if you have the family in tow, but the opportunity to pose with Charlie Chaplin and Audrey Hepburn is worth it if you want lots of great photos to share with your friends back home.
8) The Hollywood Sign - Tourists can't legally drive or hike anywhere near the Hollywood sign, but you can get a decent view of it from Hollywood and Highland, the shopping center near Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Take the stairs up to the third floor where the other tourists gather and use zoom to get a good shot of the iconic sign. As many classic movie fans know, the sign has a checkered past, which includes the 1932 suicide of actress Peg Entwistle, who jumped to her death from the top of the sign after appearing in her only film, "Thirteen Women" (1932).
9) Hollywood & Highland - For the most part this shopping center is just a collection of eateries and the usual mall shops, but it's worth a peek by classic movie fans for its elaborate recreation of the set from D.W. Griffith's 1916 film, "Intolerance." The staircase down to Grauman's, which is a giant working keyboard that plays notes as you walk, is also worth seeing.
10) Dolby Theatre - Inside Hollywood & Highland you'll also find the Dolby Theatre, best known to audiences as the home of the Oscars. At $17 per adult, the half-hour guided tours might not be worth the cost except for really hardcore Oscar watchers, but you can walk around the exterior and imagine the red carpet jammed with Hollywood's best and brightest.
Farther afield, consider taking a studio tour with Warner Bros. or Paramount or visiting the Hollywood Heritage Museum in the Lasky-De Mille Barn. The Hollywood Bowl also has a museum that is open and free to visitors during the day. Learn more about the Hollywood Museum and its Marilyn Monroe exhibit by watching the video at the top of this article.
Jennifer Garlen writes as the National Classic Movies Examiner. Her book, "Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching," is available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon. You can also visit her personal blog at Virtual Virago.