Taking a Look at Los Angeles Through Eyes of a Tourist


When I received a letter from Frankie Lyon, a guide for Travelsphere tours, inviting me to come along, I said why not?

Everyone should take a guided tour of his own town now and then. It gives you a chance to see familiar places without the distraction of driving.

As directed, I met her before 8:30 a.m. at her bus in front of the Hollywood Holiday Inn. She was taking a group of Britons on a tour of Hollywood, Beverly Hills, downtown, Wilshire Boulevard and the Farmer’s Market.


We were soon on our way, Frankie standing up front with a mike. The driver, Howard, was good-humored, though a touch irascible, and very good at the wheel. He had reason to be irascible in L.A. traffic.

We passed Mann’s Chinese Theater and the Roosevelt Hotel, which was named after Teddy, not Franklin, and was the site of the first Academy Awards ceremony.

Frankie pointed out that it had been the scene of numerous famous liaisons, including Carole Lombard and Clark Gable’s. (I have seen the actual room in which that monumental coupling was allegedly consummated.)

I was pleased that Frankie spiked the myth that Lana Turner was discovered on a stool in Schwab’s drugstore on Sunset Boulevard. (Actually, as Lana once told me herself, that event took place in a malt shop across from Hollywood High School.)

Like Schwab’s, a good many of the famous places Frankie pointed out were no longer there.

We turned south on Doheny, which divides Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. Frankie pointed out that there were telephone poles on the left (in Los Angeles), but only palm trees on the right.

We passed a small black house on the right. “It is said,” Frankie told us, emphasizing the said, “that Marilyn Monroe met her men friends in that house.” We solemnly regarded Marilyn’s alleged house of assignation.


Frankie’s monologue was a mix of facts, rumors and jokes, but mostly facts. Tourists rarely see stars in their yards, she said, but sometimes they see a maid taking out the trash. Jimmy Stewart is a nice man, she said. He used to wave at tour buses from his garden (he tore down a house next door to plant it) until Beverly Hills banned them from residential districts.

She noted that we were passing near the home of Zsa Zsa Gabor. “Zsa Zsa is a good housekeeper,” she said, telling an old joke. “Whenever she gets a divorce, she keeps the house.”

“You can always tell a Beverly Hills widow,” she said, trying another. “She’s the lady in the black tennis dress.” We drove slowly down Rodeo Drive past the shops at which Beverly Hills widows buy their mourning togs.

She noted with dismay that the fountain was off on the Avenue of the Stars in Century City. (She told us the avenue was named for the astronauts, not movie stars.)

We took the freeway toward downtown. The skyline was a dark shadow against a blue-gray sky. Traffic was slow. Frankie pointed out that the average traffic speed on our freeways is 37 m.p.h.

“You think you have slow traffic,” said a Brit. “In London, we have 10 miles an hour.”

Frankie noted that the county courthouse is one of the settings for “L.A. Law.” City Hall, she observed, had been used as the Daily Planet in “Superman.”


We stopped at Olvera Street for 30 minutes. Two dozen homeless people were stretched out on the grass in a little park across from the plaza. Someone asked why they come to Los Angeles. “If you’re down and out in America,” said Frankie, “why stay in Minnesota, in the snow?”

A few of the tourists were late getting back to the bus. Frankie gave them five minutes. “You know the difference between a tourist and a hitchhiker?” she asked. “Five minutes.”

We passed the defunct Bullock’s Wilshire, looking like a castle that had fallen to the infidels. A few blocks on, we passed the Ambassador, also defunct. It is used now, of course, as a movie set. Perino’s, once the “in” place to dine, had an old “for sale” sign out front.

We turned off Wilshire in Hancock Park and passed Mayor Bradley’s house. It was stately and serene looking. Frankie pointed out that it belongs to the taxpayers, not to the mayor.

When we passed La Brea tar pits, Frankie recalled that a tourist had once said, “Only in L.A. would you take a stinking hole and turn it into a shrine.”

And another tourist answered, “You do the same thing in New York, but you call it Manhattan.”


After lunch at Farmer’s Market the group was going to Universal Studios. I begged off. After you’ve seen Charlton Heston part the Red Sea, what’s to see?

I asked Frankie if she believed the story about Marilyn and the black house. She said no.