Over the decades, motion picture producers have unknowingly documented historic and outstanding architecture surrounding Hollywood and Los Angeles while filming their movies. These visual representations often stand as the only documentation of long-gone buildings, residences and businesses, a celebration of the historic built environment and daily lives of ordinary citizens of bygone days.
Turner Classic Movies (TCM) salutes this sometimes forgotten but hallowed past in an engaging three-hour bus tour of movie locations, highlighting classic and contemporary films, as a way to celebrate its 20th anniversary on-air. The free tour, offered once a day through co-sponsor Starline Tours, celebrates the joys of moviemaking and movie-going as it travels the streets of Hollywood and Los Angeles.
Mary Mallory’s “Hollywoodland: Tales Lost and Found” is available for the Kindle.
After obtaining tickets online a few weeks ago, a friend and I trekked down to the TCL Chinese Theatre on March 21 to participate in the fun event. A gaily decorated tour bus, pastel painted with the TCM Movie Locations Tour logo, pulled up behind the theater. State-of-the-art in every way, with stadium seating, skylight windows, large retractable side windows, and a 65-inch HD monitor on which to view movie clips, the tour bus offers a plush opportunity to sit back and enjoy sightseeing around the city of the Angeles.
The entertaining and relaxing excursion drives through Hollywood on its trek to downtown Los Angeles, traversing Wilshire Boulevard, Angeleno Heights, Echo Park and East Hollywood on its way back to the theater. The friendly tour guide cracks corny jokes and visits with film fans as he spins the history of moviemaking and Los Angeles along the way. Dozens of film clips from movies, serials and travelogues play before and after visiting locations, mainly of films produced after 1950, showing the location as it appears on-screen. Through the magic of television, TCM host Ben Mankiewicz introduces the tour and offers a little history along the way, as he does before films.
The Bradbury Building in “White Cliffs of Dover.”
Pulling out of the Hollywood/Highland shopping center, the tour bus showcases such historic sites as the Roosevelt Hotel, the Chaplin/Henson Studio, the former Pickford-Fairbanks Studio, Howard Hughes’ old studio, a Gilmore gas station on Highland Avenue, General Services Studio, the Red Studio, RKO Studios and Paramount Studios as it makes its way to Western Avenue, offering some Los Angeles history along with movie tidbits.
Once the bus turns left onto Wilshire Boulevard, the guide describes films as he points out such locations as the Wiltern Theatre, Talmadge Apartments, Bullock’s Department Store, the Park Plaza Hotel, and MacArthur Park/Westlake Park on its way to downtown. In downtown, the bus travels through the 2nd Street Tunnel before passing Angels Flight, the Biltmore Hotel, the old Pantages/Warner Bros. Theatre, Cicada Club, Broadway historic theaters, Los Angeles City Hall and Union Station. The bus stops twice while in downtown, once for a quick tour inside the lobby of the Bradbury Building, and again at the Plaza by Olvera Street, allowing for a quick walk over to Union Station.
On its trip back to Hollywood, the bus travels through Angeleno Heights and past such landmarks as Echo Park, Angelus Temple, close to the Music Box Steps, Mack Sennett Studios, and Walt Disney Studios on Hyperion. The guide points out such sights as the Hollywood Sign, Griffith Observatory, the Louis B. Mayer Building, the Pantages Theatre, the Walk of Fame, the Warner Bros./Pacific Theatre, Musso & Frank’s, Miceli’s, the Egyptian Theatre, Grauman’s Theatre and the El Capitan Theatre on the trip back to the Chinese.
Clips, both black and white and in color, flash by driving between stops, or before and after visiting locations. While most show films produced after 1950, other clips from 1940s film noirs, vintage travelogues, serials and even a few silent films appear. In fact, clips from films featuring the three great silent comedians, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd seem to occur in good transition points, either at their studio locations (Chaplin) or at filming sites.
Of course, the tour condenses stories into short, entertaining sound bites, mostly getting its facts straight, but there are a few misidentifications along the way, particularly when it comes to silent film production, such as locations of the original Mack Sennett and Walt Disney Studios.
Throughout the tour, guessing games allow visitors to win prizes, or just join in the fun of answering movie trivia. The colorful bus and its TCM logo drew hearty waves and acknowledgments from passersby, bringing a smile to everyone’s face.
TCM creatively celebrates its 20th anniversary providing classic films on television by saying thank you to viewers with this unique branding opportunity disguised as a delightful location tour.