A guide to Tinseltown’s colorful characters
Myth-maker? Or myth-breaker?
He’s a little of both, tour guide Stephen Schochet acknowledges.
Passing by Pink’s Hot Dogs on La Brea Avenue, he is likely to mention that the 71-year-old stand is a frequent celebrity hangout. But he’ll say no one enjoys the place more than legendary director Orson Welles did.
Welles once “went there, ordered 18 chili dogs and ended up in the hospital,” Schochet says. “The doctor advised him that if he ever again bought dinner for four, make sure there were three other people around.”
Traveling past the Sunset Boulevard site of the storied Schwab’s drugstore, Schochet warns tourists not to swallow the tale that Lana Turner was discovered sitting at the soda fountain there.
“She was in a tight sweater and she was cutting a class at Hollywood High and walking to the Top Hat Malt Shop across the street when she was ‘discovered’” by a trade paper’s editor, he says.
For more than 20 years Schochet has pursued that kind of trivia as he maneuvered limousines and tourist buses on the streets of Hollywood, Beverly Hills and the Westside.
“Even though I’ve seen these things a thousand times, it’s the customers’ first time. You can see when everybody’s enthusiastic and having a good time. When there’s give-and-take, I get on a roll,” he said.
And the 47-year-old Palms resident has tales to tell about Hollywood and its movie stars and moguls.
Schochet has assembled about 1,300 of them in a 324-page book, “Hollywood Stories — Short, Entertaining Anecdotes about the Stars and Legends of the Movies.”
He’s full of Zsa Zsa Gabor tales — like the comment the often-married actress made to Bob Hope on a USO tour when he asked her if she had any domestic skills. “Of course, Robert darling, I’m a great housekeeper. Every time I get divorced, I keep the house,” she replied.
He knows stars’ not-so-well-known nicknames: “America’s Sweetheart” Mary Pickford was such a studio money maker that she was called " Bank of America’s Sweetheart;” actor Robert De Niro was such a poor tipper that limo drivers called him “No Dinero;” actress Demi Moore’s reputation for making extravagant on-set demands gave her the moniker “Gimme Moore,” according to Schochet.
When comedian Jim Carrey’s film “The Cable Guy” bombed, some in Hollywood started referring to him as “The Straight-to-Cable Guy,” Schochet said.
Still, he tries not to be mean-spirited when he shares anecdotes, he insists. “I try not to hurt anybody.”
Most of the stories come from books and newspaper accounts of actors and studio heads’ activities, Schochet said. If he cannot verify something, he said, he warns that the snippet may be apocryphal. Some of the tales he tells he has personally observed.
On one of his tours, visitors were walking back to their bus on Rodeo Drive when former Dodgers’ first-baseman Steve Garvey passed by. When Schochet called out his name, Garvey came over to greet the tourists. “Unfortunately, the entire group was from England and Germany and not a single person knew who he was,” Schochet said.
Many of Schochet’s subjects aren’t around to dispute his stories about them.
After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and jittery Los Angeles residents wondered if they were the next target, Warner Bros.’ Jack Warner worried his studio might mistakenly be bombed. “The mogul ordered a giant sign painted on one of his sound stages, complete with a 20-foot arrow that stated, ‘This Way to Lockheed,’” according to Schochet.
Columbia Pictures’ executive Harry Cohn kept tight rein on his sound stages. He had “listening devices placed throughout the studio” to eavesdrop on people and the place “was full of secret passageways allowing Harry Cohn to sneak into starlets’ dressing rooms for private liaisons,” he says.
Emerging superstar Marlon Brando was pleased in 1951 when a swooning young salesgirl at Schwab’s asked for an autograph as he bought a few items, according to Schochet. Brando asked, “Can I write a check?” and she replied, “Sure. Do you have an ID?”
One of Charlie Chaplin’s biggest fans in 1917 was a German World War I soldier who liked how the Little Tramp character was an outsider who nonetheless commanded the respect of others. Schochet recounts that when the soldier was ordered to trim his mustache so it would not interfere with his gas mask, Adolf Hitler adopted Chaplin’s signature mustache as his own.
“That’s probably my favorite anecdote. I read that when I was researching Academy Awards. I’ve read over 500 books on Hollywood,” he said.
“But you hear about things that can’t possibly be true. I want to be entertaining, but I don’t lie. I try not to be salacious. I usually like the people I’m talking about. I’m a fan.”
He tries to stay current, Schochet says. " Lucille Ball was a big deal when I started. People were interested in ‘Titanic’ a few years ago. Now it’s ‘Twilight.’”
When he began leading tours, he purchased a tourists’ map to the stars’ homes to get him going, he said. Where old-time stars tended to put down roots, today’s younger celebrities move around a lot and are less accessible.
Schochet said he isn’t worried that the hundreds of other tour guides in town will pick up his book and swipe his Hollywood stories.
“Everything in it is public domain stuff. I don’t have any secrets,” he said.