Ghosts of Sunset Boulevard

My 48 hours with James Dean and Sal Mineo.

As the closing credits of “Rebel Without a Cause” rolled, the mighty Grand Canyon welcomed UA399 to the Great American Southwest.

The gorge’s vermillion majesty contrasted with the subsequent and seemingly infinite urban sprawl. 

We had arrived at the City of Angels. 

LAX made me feel overweight. I briefly considered walking instead of shuttling the 1.5-mile distance from the airport terminal to the rider app pick-up spot.

Or I’d do as the Romans do and start a cycle of Ozempic.

My Uber (a red Tesla, the most LA thing ever) canceled on me. Too bad, as I was looking forward to informally interviewing my driver, Irina, who was probably an aspiring Russian actress.

Finally, in West Hollywood, The London Hotel cosplayed as the English capital with life-sized statues of bulldogs and photos of white-gloved butlers.

A hint of a stale odor, vaguely reminiscent of a Paddington guest house, welcomed me to my room.

“Wow, they’re good,” I thought, opening the windows and letting the Sunset Boulevard air in to extinguish the faux Old World vibe.

The West Coast jet-lagged disoriented me. I napped and dreamt I was in Marylebone instead of Beverly Hills. 

Hunger woke me up a couple of hours later. Like a weirdo, I decided to stroll in Car City.

Time and space flow differently in this town. A third of a mile feels twice or three times longer, a sensation accentuated by the uncanny lack of fellow pedestrians.

I spotted a Subway. The sandwich artist asked if I wanted bread with my turkey and Swiss. 

I ate my late lunch on the sidewalk. Passing motorcycles roared. A nearby tattoo parlor blasted Jack Harlow’s “First Class.”

Across the Sunset Strip, Book Soup stood like a cultural oasis among gas stations and liquor stores. 

After the world’s longest-lasting traffic light, I crossed over and dove between Marlon Brando biographies and Pedro Almodovar anthologies.

Perhaps flattered by my comment that her establishment would give New York City’s Strand and London’s Daunt Books a run for their money, Rita—the bookseller—befriended me.

She acquainted me with my first ghost of Sunset Boulevard. “River Phoenix OD’d on Halloween Night 1993 next door,” she said, pointing to The Viper Room.

Later that day, I passed the occasional elderly jogger on my way to The Beverly Hills Hotel.

The iconic “home away from home” of the rich and famous opened in the 1910s, even before the city’s foundation.

Charles Chaplin and Gloria Swanson lived nearby. Harold Lloyd, another star from the silent film era, was one of its first patrons.

I pictured them having inaudible dialogues and unsynchronized interactions by the swimming pool and the Polo Lounge.

I went to Santa Monica Boulevard for tacos and beer that evening. Harvey Milk saluted me at The Abbey.”Hope will never be silent,” he reminded me. 

The following day, I returned to Rita’s domain. She met me at the entrance and pointed to the nearby Whisky a Go Go.

“Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin started there.”

She said Whisky was also the birthplace of Go Go Dancers. In the 1960s, promoters suspended white mini-skirts and long boots-clad ladies in cages from the ceiling.

Below Van Halen, the Ramones, Blondie, and many more led the following two decades’ most significant musical movements.

This snobby New Yorker realized that Los Angeles indeed had culture. And, like everything else in this town, it runs on film and cars.

Enter the Petersen Automotive Museum and the history of Porsche through the iconic celebrities—from Steve McQueen to Slash—who loved the German car and helped popularize it in America. 

“The Cars of Film and Television” exhibition shows Marty McFly’s DeLoreanDNC in “Back to the Future,” “Starsky & Hutch’s” Ford Gran Torino, and the 20-foot-long Chevrolet Impala Batmobile.

History comes alive in the museum’s Vault with 250 rare cars, including FDR’s WWII limousine and John Paul II’s Popemobile, among many more presidential vehicles from diverse countries and eras.

Across the street, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures tells the film industry’s history from the 1920s on through more than 13 million objects, such as costumes, posters, and screenplays.

Priceless mementos include one of the sharks from “Jaws,” the horse head from “The Godfather II,” and the typewriter Joseph Stefano used to write the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.”

“John Waters Pope of Trash,” the display about the Baltimore-born filmmaker of “Pink Flamingos,” “Hairspray,” and “Cry Baby,” was the cherry on top of the cinematographic cake.

We couldn’t leave the LA area without visiting our dear Venice Beach friends, a visual artist and a former television writer who recently picketed in the Writers Guild of America’s strike.

We heard about the guild’s negotiations over a lovely lunch in their front yard, which took us to the topic of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the role it would play in content creation for generations to come.

I quoted a Columbia University expert on robotics, “In the end, we’ll win over robots, not because we’re smarter or more creative, but because they’ll run out of batteries.”

The optimistic take did little to assuage the dystopian mood. There is a precedent.

“Let’s not forget how the 1988 strike involuntarily helped popularize reality television,” said the writer, referring to the studios’ willingness to commission unscripted television in the early 2000s.

“We didn’t get here overnight, ‘Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica,’ and ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians’ did their bit to deteriorate our social fabric,” said the artist.

“Heck, ‘The Apprentice’ even gave us a president!”

Luckily, when the sun set, we shifted to a different topic: classic Hollywood films.

“I think ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ is about a coded queer relationship between James Dean’s and Sal Mineo’s characters,” I fired.

“You’re watching too much ‘Heartstopper,'” said my partner, ever playing devil’s advocate.

As is usually the case, the conversation turned to the cast’s violent and untimely deaths.

Dean perished in a car accident a month before the film was released. His co-star, Bronx-born Mineo, was stabbed 21 years later in a West Hollywood parking lot.

I had an idea for a pilot: the ghosts of Dean and Mineo materialize in present-day West Hollywood, living and driving fast and, at last, enjoying their unfulfilled love.

Author: Alex Marin

Natural-born explorer and storyteller. I grew up in Caracas and moved to New York City 20 years ago to pursue a career in media, which led me to work with broadcasting and tech companies. Last year, one month into my dream job with a famous social network, I had a significant health event that forced me to learn how to walk again. And now I'm training for the New York Marathon. All the words and photos in this blog are mine. You can reach me at Cheers!

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