Jim Chevallier's Web Site



Hitting the spot; guerilla commercials

LETTER FROM L.A.: Living Los Angeles; Living Sculptures; Living It Up
copyright 2002, Jim Chevallier


                Rosemary Lord is an English actress and journalist. She is also a long-time L.A. resident and so when Thunder Bay Press needed an author for the Los Angeles volume in their “Then and Now” series, she was a natural. The result is Los Angeles Then and Now, available from, in which archive photos are set face to face with new ones shot (by Simon Clay) from exactly the same angles and at the same times of day.

                I always love this kind of past and present comparison. In the case of L.A., it can be comforting to see that a house like the Witch’s House, an eerily high-peaked house used in several films, is still intact, years after being moved to Beverly Hills, or, alternately, infuriating to see that the hat-shaped Brown Derby, which was to be preserved even after it was closed, was destroyed in the dead of night and replaced with a strip mall. Anyone who’s driven around “Downtown” (once central, now often deserted) knows that numerous old hotels and movie theatres endure, but without these old pictures you might never suspect their former glory. Nor is all the city’s most colorful architecture a product of leisure culture: among the enduring treasures shown are a library, a fire station, a police station and a Masonic temple.

                Still, I wasn’t expecting much from a reading of this book of photographs recently at Studio City’s Portrait of a Bookstore. As it turned out, though, this was more of a mini-lecture on the city’s history. I picked up a number of tidbits. I’d long known that ‘Hollywood’ was originally a real estate development whose sign read ‘HOLLYWOODLAND’, but not that it was almost named ‘Figwood’ (the developer’s wife preferred ‘Hollywood’). Nor that the sign was once covered with light bulbs which a man living in a shack in back of it was responsible for changing – and which people kept stealing. Access to the sign was blocked after a starlet jumped off one of the letters. Protests kept it up when it was about to be torn down, but it was shortened by removing the “LAND”. Oh, and Beverly Hills, it turns out, was once a humble train stop called ‘Morocco’.

                Overall, it’s a stretch for a New Yorker to even realize Hollywood has a history. Having once lived in Paris, I never thought of New York as ‘old’ until I moved to Los Angeles.

                How many actors, coming out here, expect to become living sculptures? Having gone to the Track 16 Gallery for a show called “The Godfrey Daniels School of Charm”, I was surprised to see a French actress I know walk up to me, look at me blankly and continue in a circle, picking up little horse dolls and rearranging them. I then noticed a very tall bride in a camouflage dress, looking down at all and sundry and saying, “I am the bride! Today is the day!”, over and over again. Just when I’d decided it would be gauche to actually address any of these people, a woman in another shade of camouflage and a retro wig came up to me and started chatting energetically and inanely. Turned out her character was Party Girl, and along with Camouflage Bride, Working Woman, Newspaper Man, Business Man and Spinning Girl, they were all performing in Liz Young’s piece “seams and sutures”.

                Exactly where this fits on a resume, I can’t say. (‘THEATER’, ‘FILM AND TV’, ‘GALLERIES’?)

                So many actors out here bemoan the lack of places to practice their craft, it’s strange that less actors attend the monthly Artist’s Salon ( Perhaps it’s because this bit of creative optimism simply seems too good to be true: come, eat, drink watch, and, if you want, perform. Or show your art. Anything. And all free. This month’s assortment of comics, singers, writers, a video and, yes, even actors (including me) was pretty typical of a really exciting and supportive monthly event, which celebrated its second anniversary Sunday. Thanks to Jason Waters for founding it and, for all of us, many more.