Goodbye Norma Jean! So, this is where Marilyn finally found her rest from the lascivious attentions of the manipulative men who hounded her to her death.
Unisignposted and in an unassuming square at the back a Los Angeles office block lies the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery,
But who’s this lying next to her? Only Playboy owner Hugh Hefner who bought the drawer next door for $75,000… he was surely the last man she would have wanted to spend eternity with.
Marilyn and Hefner had history. It was Hefner who bought the nude pictures that she had posed for in her sallow youth before she became famous for just $500 and put them on his first cover of Playboy. She never got a dime.
Marilyn doesn’t deserve this company. She should be shining brightest in a galaxy of stars. And on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, she is.
The actress is one of 2,600 famous characters – human, animal and animated – immortalised on a mile and a half of sidewalk along 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and three blocks of Vine Street.
Her hands and feet are outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre with the imprints of a century of Hollywood celebrities. Hers are worn out from the millions who have wanted to touch a bit of her.
If you feel her presence on the stairs of the Dolby There where the Oscars are held then her spirit is playing on you as her only appearance was at the nearby Pantages Theatre. Still, we all pose for a diva’s shot in homage to her anyway.
Marilyn seems to be everywhere I turn. I see her looking down, smiling from out of a window on Venice Beach, brightly dressed and warm as the sun. We lit our heads from our catch of the day in Larry’s diner off the boardwalk – in my case the lightest calamari – and smile back.
Jim Morrison is all swagger on the other wall.
Today’s Venice Beach has its own characters too: a rasta artist on rollerblades playing guitar, an old man who wheels his grand piano up the strand to tinkle the ivories and a randomLatino Conor McGregor who is punching and kicking the hell out of a punchbag in the square.
In Southern California, or SoCal, it’s all about the image, the ‘body beautiful’, and this is where Californian body builders come to work out, at the outdoor Muscle Beach Gym, once the home of Arnold Schwarzenegger and ‘The Hulk’ Lou Ferrigno.
There’s always a show on, even if it is only the tourists posing by a muscleman mannequin on the boardwalk. Guilty!
Up the road in Santa Monica the busy pier gives little clue that this is the beach used for Baywatch.
All these nuggets and more are at the fingertips of our driver Ross from Starline Tours, provided by our host Attraction Tickets Direct who tells us of a loose association with David Hasselhoff and a girl who was the Hoff’s prom date.
I would be more impressed if Ross had dated Sandy… well we do pass Rydell High.
And he shows u too the site of the party hotel, the Garden of Allah, where Joni Mitchell hung out and they ‘paved Paradise and put up a parking lot’.
You’ll find today’s Hollywood celebrities hanging out in West Hollywood celebrities hanging out in West Holywood, so where better to bunk down?
The La Peer Hotel, just a couple of blocks down from Beverly Hills, its cop shop and Rodeo Drive, is a Kimpton, a boutique hotel which is much more than that as befits West Hollywood, with its heated outdoor swimming pool as an extension of the bar.
And the comfiest suites which were welcome after our 11-hour flight, although it literally flew by on our pleasant Aer Lingus journey here.
The hotel’s restaurant Viale dei Romani serves up the best Italian food if you want to stay in-house, and I’d also recommend the wood-grilled octopus and its garden of warm potato salad, oil cured olives, preserved lemon and saffron aioli.
But there are not shortage of great restaurants to sample in West Hollywood where, best of all, you can also indulge in the favourite pastime of celeb -spotting.
And so we also visited Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Lisa Vanderpump’s eponymous lounge and restaurant, Pump, where Lady Gaga made the news a few years back after falling outside on the sidewalk.
Lisa is there the night we dine on truffle mushroom chicken (well, you would wouldn’t you?) though there’s no sign of Gaga.
Perhaps the gay icon will be back the following week for Pride.
West Hollywood is already putting out the bunting for Pride when up to 200,000 will take to the streets, although in truth it is always in a state of readiness with its rainbow zebra crossings.
I’d recommend a night in one of the many friendly gay clubs, I even managed to walk rather than fall out, although a bulky cop reminded me that I couldn’t drink on the sidewalk.
If you want to get closer to the stars, get on to the right tours and get on the sets of the TV shows and movies we all watch, our host Attraction Tickets Direct will help with pre-booking which will save precious time and money.
They will take you to Warner Studios where you can sit in the very same couch used in Central Perk in Friends or visit the Ellen set.
A day in Universal Studios Hollywood will immerse you in both movie history and the future.
We take a coach through the sets of Pycho, Jaws, a Mexican town and through a tunnel where a scene from The Fast and the Furious is simulated all around us.
Great fun too at the Kung Fu Panda: The Emperor’s Quest cinema show with vibrating seats and water mist effects, while fans of rollercoaster rides will love The Simpsons and Harry Potter rollercoasters.
I prefer to sit back and watch other take the heat, although I don’t expect to see a stuntwoman set on fire in the Special Effects Show.
All your favourite animated and sci-fi characters are here, all in great form and happy to pose up: Shrek, Scooby-Doo, the Transformers and a dinosaur, no, not me, but a ‘real’ T-Re which is trailing Jurassic World: The Ride.
We all have our favourites but it is the Boy Wizard who always cast a spell on me.
Muggles, myself included, are beside themselves at the prospect of Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure story coaster in the sister resort of Orlando.
Universal Hollywood’s Potter experience feels smaller than its Orlando World counterpart but it is still intimate and enchanting.
And its Dark Arts light how is a thundering good hope with a cascade of creepy crawlies climbing up to attack a crumbling Hogwarts Castle only for the forces of good to prevail, all against a heart-pounding musical score and moral message.
And that, it seems, is Hollywood and the LA story in a nutshell: an aspirational, illusory dream sequence where you can stand in the Hollywood Hills, hike up to the Griffiths Observatory and view the iconic letters, or take a watering job and hope to serve Steven Spielberg.
Or get your star on the Walk of Fame. It’s a a rollercoaster journey all right and you can’t ice how you’re next to, but I did spot four stars unfilled. and I’d reckon myself and my family would be deserving candidates.
*Jim Murty is Ireland’s Travel Editor of the Year and a multi award-winning Travel writer. See next week for part tow when he takes us to Disneyland and a galaxy far, far away.
HOW TO GET THERE
Aer Lings, Ireland’s only four-star airline operates a daily service from Dublin direct to Los Angeles with fares starting from €259 each-way including taxes and charges when booked as a return trip. The service reduces to five times weekly during winter. Visit http://www.aerlingus.com.
WHERE TO STAY
La Peer Hotel is quintessentially West Hollywood with bright, funky finishings, spacious, comfortable bedrooms and fine food, a heated swimming pool and fitness centre. Doubles from about €315 per night. Visit http://www.lapeerhotel.com.
Deluxe Grand City Tour with Starline from €73pp. Hollywood Hills guided hike, a 2.5 hour gentle hike, offering mountain and city views and photo opps of the Hollywood signs. The tour ends at the Griffith Park Observatory (admission included). From €46pp. Starlight Dinner Cruise from Marina Del Rey’s. From €107pp (not including drinks). Universal Studios Hollywood one-day admission ticket form €96pp/Express Pass from €305pp. Visit http://www.attractionticketsdirect.ie or call (01) 649 8558; visit west hollywood.com. Visit http://www.universalstudioshollywood.com. Visit http://www.california.com, http://www.westhollywood.com.
A version of this article was first published in the Irish Daily Mail in June 2019.
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