Almost like being in the Cities of Whores…

September 12, 2014 – Probably chief among my peculiar hobbies: I collect other people’s vintage 8mm, super 8mm, and 16mm home movies. I’m primarily drawn to footage of the classic passenger ships of the 20th century, but every now and then something different will strike my fancy. What I adore about these films is how they perfectly capture a fleeting time and place from the point of view of those who experienced them first hand, thereby bringing the past to glorious life. For me, it’s even closer to time travel than watching the films of classic Hollywood where everything has been stylized and art directed to within an inch of its life. After my debut novel City of Whores was finished and off to the presses, I was trolling around eBay trying to get a home movie fix when I found an entire reel of 8mm color film shot in 1953 (a big part of the setting of my book). A week or two later, I was uploading the now digitized footage into my computer, and loving what I saw. The photographer wasn’t the greatest, tending to shoot very short clips while moving the camera around too much, but what s/he captured is absolutely golden—and more than a little coincidental. Having spent so much time immersed in that era while researching and writing, I was both surprised and pleased to see just how many locations from my book are featured. The movie starts in Vegas, and the camera captures a garish pastiche of pulsing, throbbing neon. And right there, on the Sands marquee, is none other than TALLULAH BANKHEAD. While researching her life, I read in Joel Lobenthal’s excellent biography, Tallulah! The Life and Times of a Leading Lady, that she had headlined in Vegas in 1953—at exactly the point in my story when I needed my protagonist to have a private, candid moment with “the glamorous and unpredictable” star and personality. If you’ve read my book, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, well, what’s wrong with you? Our intrepid travelers then arrive in Hollywood where they capture in quick succession the Farmer’s Market, the Hollywood Bowl, Ciro’s, the Mocambo, the Palladium, and Grauman’s Chinese (featuring a huge poster for the Barbara Stanwyck/Clifton Webb starrer, Titanic, which also plays a key role in Whores), to name just a few. And what really knocked me over: there’s even a quick glimpse of the sign for the Hollywood Center Motel! This one was so fleeting, in fact, that I slowed the footage down. The HCM is a crumbling relic that miraculously still stands on Sunset Boulevard, just east of Highland Avenue. I’ve been fascinated by the place since the first time I saw it way back in the ’80s. Coincidentally, and without my knowledge until after the fact, it was used as a location in my very first episode of The Wonder Years, “Summer Song.” It was also featured prominently (and beautifully cleaned up for the shoot) in the film L.A. Confidential, which also takes place in 1953. If you’ve read City of Whores, you’ll know the motel plays a small role. If you haven’t, well, you know…

Be sure to set the quality to 480p, the highest resolution available for the film. I really hope you enjoy this little trip back to the cities of whores in 1953. Stay tuned…

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