Within a few months of my son's birth, the two of us had a part-time job that involved typing at home, then doing errands all over Hollywood. Our employer was a non-profit organization, funded to develop programs that would improve the employment rate among unions in the entertainment industry.
"The Institute," part of its actual name, had its public office in a Hollywood Boulevard building, rumored to be the same location in which L.A.'s greatest hard-boiled private eye, Philip Marlowe, was based. How could you not love it? The Institute director actually worked from home, first on Cahuenga near the Hollywood Bowl, then in a Beachwood Canyon house with the standard show business pedigree - as in, "This house used to belong to...(fill in the blanks)." I never met a dwelling in that town that didn't have a history.
With my baby in his stroller, we walked the boulevards and avenues - from the photocopy shop on Highland, owned and run by a family from India who greeted my boy like a prince each time we visited, to the elevator at Marlowe's location, frequently sharing the ride with clients of various agencies at that address, many of whom were in states of loud and raging delusion. In the early 80s, as it may still today, that simply went with the territory.
From his much-closer-to-the-ground seat, my son - with his early verbal skills - greeted the locals as they gleaned cigarette butts from the gutter. Because he saw them at eye level, he engaged them all with a smiling "Hi!" and opened the door to conversations that I might have preferred to sidestep. I don't remember seeing many other children, let alone babies, in that part of town; had I been the one bent over the curb, I know I couldn't have resisted him. Had I been looking to make new friends along The Walk of Fame, I had my little rolling ice-breaker.
During my year in the job, it was such a gift to be able to have his company while I did paper work at home or acted as delivery girl in the shadow of the Chinese Theater or Musso and Frank Restaurant. In that year of my administrative assistant duties, the Institute held two benefit concerts, one for the striking Screen Actors' Guild, later for the Musicians' Local when they struck. There was a touch of show business glamor to balance the more real-life aspects of providing services to under-employed creatives.
I think these memories were sparked by the news story yesterday that Hugh Hefner had donated the final $900,000 needed to keep the land around the Hollywood sign from development. With his sum added to the gifts already received, the sign will be protected and its surrounding terrain will belong to the people.
As a native daughter, I have never minded that aspects of Hollywood are only glittering in our imagination, for the truth is powerful beyond illusion. The dream that lured the writers and actors and immigrant entrepreneurs west has not diminished; we are captivated and transformed by images on film. I choose to believe that, should I need to hire him to buy back incriminating photos or locate my missing chauffeur, Raymond Chandler's hero still keeps office hours on Hollywood Boulevard, no appointment necessary.