Except for those very sad years when our nation is in the middle of a horrible pandemic millions of people from all around the world come to Hollywood. Almost all will visit the area in and around Hollywood Boulevard and Highland. Many will take a tour bus ride and see the famous Hollywood sign but truth be told none of that is the real Hollywood. Where can you find the real Hollywood? Consider this. Before you enter most stores such as, let’s say Ralph’s for example you will see a great big sign with “Ralph’s” on it. But is that the store? I mean where you can see the big sign is that the store? No, of course not. You must go beyond the sign to enter the actual store and believe it or not the very same thing is true of the Hollywood sign What is behind that sign is where you will find the real Hollywood. But allow me to digress for a moment.
When I was a very young boy, say around age 4 my dad and I would sit on the floor and make records to send to my aunt Merle. For those of you born into the digital world you should know that a record is a round piece of plastic or vinyl with a long continuous groove cut into it. You can place that record on a record player, place an arm on the record and you can hear the sound of the recording. So anyhow dad and I would make these records to send to my Aunt Merle. To do that meant, of course, I would have to speak into a microphone and believe it or not that experience was the beginning of a long and winding road to Hollywood.
By age nine that total absence of common mic fright got me a gig calling softball games at a park near my home. My next step on my long road to Hollywood occurred about two years later when at age 11 I began to watch a new TV show called “The Mickey Mouse Club.” One of its stars was an absolutely stunningly beautiful young lady by the name of Annette Funicello I desperately wanted to meet her but I was told that she was in Hollywood and I had no idea where that was nor how I, an 11 year old might get there. If you never heard of Annette Funicello check her out here:
By age 13 I was blessed with the opportunity to spend two magical weeks with singer and actress super star Jane Morgan at her summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine. I even got to sing with her and she invited me to join her in a summer stock theatrical show at a local theatre.
But despite these experiences and desires I had no idea how I might actually get to Hollywood nor what I might do if I did get there. I just knew I was very bored with my life in the greater Chicagoland area of Illinois I did however have a passionate desire to go to Asia. Why, I don’t know, but I knew that desire was strong. One day I saw a recruiting poster for the Marine Corps snd I went in and asked the recruiter if Marines went to Asia. He said yes and I said OK give me the paperwork. He asked my age and I said 17 and he then told me that my father would have to sign his consent for me to join the Marines. I knew that would be very easy. I took the paperwork to my dad and said: “Dad if you sign this I will become a Marine and you will never have to pay Mom child support again.” BAM! It was done.
After a few months of boot camp and basic infantry training I made my way to Camp Pendelton, California, so far the closest I had ever been to Hollywood. But Hollywood was not in the agenda on this trip. Soon I boarded a ship and headed off to Japan. A few months after that I boarded another ship and this time I went to Hong Kong. There I was given three days off so I got a hotel room and bought a suit so I could shed the uniform. Then it was off to the Opium Den Bar. There were a few other guys from the ship all in civilian clothes but all clearly Marines. I noticed a man sitting by the bar and he motioned me over. As I approached he asked if we were Marines from the ship in the harbor and I said “yes.” He then told the bar tender that drinks for the Marines were on him that night and then he turned back to me and stuck out his hand and introduced himself. “Hi, I’m Bill Holden.” Suddenly I recognized William Holden American super star.
After my Marine Corps experience I finally had some discipline and eventually went to college and then law school and ended up being a lawyer, not an actor. Nevertheless, I soon found myself involved in a case that gained me vast amounts of public attention. I mean I was a guest on the Phil Donohue Show and the McNeil Lehrer News Hour and, it got me a full page in Time magazine to name but a few. Oddly I thoroughly enjoyed the publicity and I was now itching to go to Hollywood.
By the early 1980’s I finally made the move but to Burbank, California NOT what people called Hollywood. It didn’t take long before I began to host a daily radio show. My very first guest was a fellow by the name of Mel Gibson.
SEE: Mel Gibson
I was thoroughly enjoying my radio show and had the good fortune to host many guests at or very nearly the Gibson level of fame. I found each and every one (except one) to be extremely pleasant and fun. But, sadly the station owner sold his station to someone else that had an entirely different format, and so I had to go.
At that point, it occurred to me that I was truly “in” Hollywood and so I switched from radio to print media meeting and writing about such people as Corbin Bleu who as it turned out also lived in Burbank and Ted Lange of Love Boat fame and Kirk Taylor of Full Metal Jacket fame, to name but a few.
And it also became abundantly clear to me that the REAL Hollywood was and remains Burbank, California. Just consider that both Warner Brothers Studios and Disney studios are in Burbank and Universal Studios while technically in Los Angeles is immediately adjacent to Burbank. Interestingly, immediately behind the famous Hollywood sign is Burbank , the REAL Hollywood. And now I have a very special invitation for you and your family.
Should you want to visit Hollywood, the REAL Hollywood, I would be delighted to join you for lunch at the world renown Smoke House restaurant located directly across the street from Warner Brothers in Burbank, California. Since 1946 The Smoke House has been serving well-known actors, producers, directors and many others from around the world. Their food is excellent and their walls are adorned with head shots of virtually every famous actor and actress to have ever been in a major Hollywood production. Eat lunch there and you are almost guaranteed to see at least one Hollywood super star and often more. By all means go by yourself but if you wish I will join you. Just buy my lunch and if you enjoy our conversation leave me whatever “tip” you deem appropriate. I absolutely promise that you will not only enjoy a great meal you will also come away with a far greater understanding of the real Hollywood than you would ever get from a Hollywood tour bus ride. Interestingly tour buses are not allowed in Burbank because Burbank is after all the real Hollywood. If you would like to do this please simply send me your contact information to [email protected] .
Please be sure to include your intended dates for your visit and your contact information. Then get ready for a truly great experience.
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All photos are courtesy of Ron Irwin