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Wednesday January 26th 2022

Los Angeles for Film Fans: Midtown 2

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Ebell of Los Angeles, West Eighth Street
Ebell of Los Angeles, West Eighth Street

Midtown’s greatest star, though, the Ambassador Hotel, which stood at 3400 Wilshire Boulevard, was – unbelievably – demolished in 2006.

Unbelievably because, to an outsider and a film fan, this appeared to be an irreplaceable part of LA history. The list of guests who stayed here is staggering and it is, of course, where Bobby Kennedy was gunned down in 1968. It housed the agency where Marilyn Monroe got her first modelling job, hosted the Oscars in the Fifties and, even after it closed, lived on as a regular film location.

Dammit, this was the ‘Taft Hotel’ where Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) conducted his affair with Mrs Robinson (Anne Bancroft) in The Graduate. Its screen credits go on forever, but that couldn’t save it from the wrecking ball.

At least it’s been replaced by a school, and not luxury condos or another car park.

Opposite the site of the old Ambassador, if you look north along South Alexandria Avenue, you can see a strange dome atop the mall on your right. This is what remains of the famed original hat-shaped Brown Derby restaurant, now capping the third floor of the Brown Derby Mall, 3377 Wilshire Boulevard. Opened in 1926, this was the first of a chain of movieland hangouts, but the only one actually built in the shape of a hat. It was briefly recreated in the grounds of the Ambassador for Tim Burton's 1994 biopic Ed Wood, with Johnny Depp.

Only one of the Brown Derby chain remains, in Los Feliz.

Gone, too, is Perino’s Restaurant – in both its incarnations. One of the city’s famed star restaurants, the original Perino’s stood at 3929 Wilshire Boulevard (you can see it from the shop window as Norma Desmond kits out Joe Gilles with expensive new togs in Sunset Boulevard).

In 1950, it moved to kitschy pink canopied premises at 4101 Wilshire at Norton Avenue. It’s here that Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway) drinks in Mommie Dearest and Julian Kaye (Richard Gere) fruitlessly appeals for help in American Gigolo. It was recently torn down to make way for – yes, more apartments, though the deco canopy and 'Perino's' sign survive around the corner at the entrance on Norton Avenue.

Wiltern Theatre
The Wiltern Theatre

On Wilshire’s southeast corner with Western Avenue stands the 12 story, green terra cotta tower of the Pellissier Building. Nestling at its foot, the Wiltern Theatre, 3790 Wilshire Boulevard, is still with us – though at one point, it was touch and go.

Now thriving as a live music venue, you might have seen the theatre in Walter Hill’s ‘Chicago’ set Streets of Fire or in La Bamba, with Lou Diamond Phillips as doomed rocker Richie Valens.

A bit of set dressing turned the Wiltern’s foyer into the lobby of the creepy ‘Hotel Earle’, where the helpful Chet (Steve Buscemi) welcomes the harassed screenwriter (John Turturro) in Joel and Ethan Coen’s Barton Fink.

South of Wilshire, the Ebell of Los Angeles, 4401 West Eighth Street at Lucerne Boulevard, a women’s club and theatre, is another one of those LA screen regulars on both the big and small screen. It’s the Ebell’s Lounge which is most often seen – housing the charity auction where the Addamses buy back their own finger trap in The Addams Family; the university premises where Frank Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio) recruits air stewardesses (as they used to be called) in Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can; and the ‘Moscow’ meeting addressed by President James Marshall (Harrison Ford) in Air Force One.

Oddly, the Ebell has twice been featured in SFX fantasies scripted by Eric Roth, Forrest Gump and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – and both times as a hospital.

Look out for the Ebell in Ghost, Old School, Very Bad Things, Wedding Crashers, Sam Raimi’s Darkman and countless TV shows.

Fremont Place is also still with us, but you can’t see it because it’s a gated community, so you’ll just have to take my word that 104 Fremont Place is the old-style brick mansion of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) in Michel Hazanavicius' 2011 Oscar-winner The Artist, and that 56 Fremont Place (which was once home to the nation’s sweetheart, silent star Mary Pickford) was the palatial house of Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) in the same film. It really was once home to Pickford and can be seen as the home of Bryan Mills' (Liam Neeson) ex-wife in Pierre Morel’s 2008 thriller Taken as well as in Rocky IV.

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