October 15, 2014 – Finding the perfect locations is a crucial component of film and television production, as the settings contribute to the overall look and mood and provide a key ingredient in the alchemy of verisimilitude. The same proved true in the writing of my novel, City of Whores. While working on the book, I made a point to visit the real places where the story unfolds (except, of course, for the ones that are sadly no longer with us). I drove up Stone Canyon Road in Bel Air to see the home of infamous agent Henry Willson (which I only recently learned would have been brand new in 1952), to get a sense of how long it would take Dan/Dexter to make the drive.
Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where some of the biggest names in show business rest in the shadow of Paramount Studios, has long been a favorite spot of mine, so spending hours walking its grounds and taking photos was a pleasure. I took long, leisurely strolls in beautiful Hancock Park (another favorite) looking for just the right house for my characters (and never finding its real life counterpart). In the earliest drafts, Milford and Lillian’s streamline modern mansion was situated on South Plymouth Boulevard, until one day while exploring the area on nearby South Windsor, I looked up and saw what I consider to be the quintessential view of the famed HOLLYWOOD sign, perfectly framed by twin rows of towering palms. That image was indelible, and I made a point of working it into the story and relocating the fictional showplace. I smiled one afternoon when I saw a gorgeous photo of that signature view in full HD color as the scenic backdrop on Ellen (inexplicably, the TV is often on mute in my kitchen while I’m writing, though usually tuned to Turner Classic Movies).
A few of the locations in City of Whores have played a significant role in my personal life. The El Palazar apartment building on Sycamore (where Dan/Dexter resides for part of his time in Hollywood), holds many fond memories for me as the place my former wife and I lived when we first moved to Los Angeles—until, that is, the Whittier Earthquake hit in 1987 and we watched our foyer wall crack as we cowered in a doorway. After that, we moved to a spacious duplex on North Gower, a block from one of the city’s most charming districts, Larchmont Village, which is adjacent to Hancock Park and also figures into the storyline. During those early years, I was working in the legal department at 20th Century Fox, first in an office on the lot, then later in the Fox Plaza building (the iconic location from Die Hard) which stands on a site that once marked the entrance to the sprawling Fox back lot (long gone, I’m afraid). I spent every lunch and coffee break exploring, and still wish I’d had the gumption to try and convince someone to show me Darryl F. Zanuck’s notorious underground tunnels. Fox remains my favorite studio lot, so having my characters work there was never in question.
My first episode of television, the third season premiere of The Wonder Years entitled “Summer Song,” used the fascinating (and now deliciously creepy) Hollywood Center Motel on Sunset Boulevard as the late 1960s era setting of the Arnold family’s vacation to “Ocean City,” so naturally it was my first choice for Dan and Tally’s lodgings their first night in Los Angeles. When our beloved dog Max died, my then wife and I took him to be cremated at the pet cemetery in Calabasas—a trip that would later provide rich details for the book. People who work in real estate say you cannot overstress the importance of location, and that applies to all forms of fiction, as well. The settings aren’t just the stages upon which the action takes place; they also help bring the story to vibrant life, with the power to fully immerse the viewer or reader into the world being created. I guess it took writing a novel to realize that I’ve been subconsciously hoarding these special places, making Whores a personal tribute to this fascinating city, and an homage to the time I’ve been privileged to spend here. Stay tuned…