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Four Hours: Explore Paramount Pictures and surrounding Hollywood haunts

Paramount Pictures and the Hollywood Forever cemetery
Paramount’s original Bronson Gate, left, can be seen during a tour of the film studio. At adjacent Hollywood Forever cemetery, the grave of voice actor Mel Blanc can be visited.
(Adam Tschorn / Los Angeles Times)

For many people in many parts of the world, the run-up to Dia de los Muertos is a time when the veil between this world and the great beyond feels particularly porous. But one neighborhood on the southern edge of Hollywood perpetually straddles that divide. Bounded by Melrose Avenue to the south and Santa Monica Boulevard to the north, it includes a storied movie studio that marked the beginning of many a high-profile career, a cemetery that marked many an end — and a restaurant where many dined in between.

11:30 a.m. The guided two-hour tour of Paramount Pictures will set you back $60 (VIP and after-dark tours cost more and run longer), but since it covers more than a century of film and TV production (the studio dates to 1912) think of it as shelling out 56 cents a year for a history lesson on Hollywood’s first and oldest studio. Page-led golf-cart tours for groups of no more than seven depart every half hour from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. 360 days a year from the 5515 Melrose Ave. tour center. Online reservations are recommended, but they do take walk-ups.

Parking is available until 5 p.m. at Lot A at 643 N. Windsor Blvd. diagonally across the street ($18, credit cards accepted), a pricey but smart bet — especially if you’re running late or plan to complete the rest of this itinerary on foot. A QR-code-scanning tour app is available for download and while it isn’t essential, it does add another dimension by bringing costumes and props to life via video clips. If you arrive early, you can browse a timeline of the studio or check out a rotating selection of props and costumes — and a handful of Oscars — up close, before getting to hold an actual statuette (they’re heavy!). Don’t miss the set photo from “The Godfather” in which Marlon Brando’s lines of dialogue can be seen pinned to the front of costar Robert Duvall.

Behind the scenes of “The Godfather”
At the beginning of the Paramount tour, a behind-the-scenes photo shows Robert Duvall wearing “Godfather” costar Marlon Brando’s lines of dialogue.
(Adam Tschorn / Los Angeles Times)
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Over the next 120 minutes you’ll be guided through the 65-acre lot where pieces of cinematic history large and small will be pointed out by an iPad-wielding page. Among them: the parking lot that does double duty as a 950,000-gallon above-ground water tank that played a key role in “The Ten Commandments” (1956) and “Star Trek” (2009) and a nondescript alley that was temporarily transformed into a beach-side bungalow (for a post-production “Top Gun” scene). Depending on what’s in production (displayed on a chalkboard at the beginning of the tour) visitors might even have a chance to step onto an actual set (one recent tour had a chance to wander through the beach house set familiar to fans of “Grace & Frankie”).

The parking lot / above-ground water tank at Paramount Pictures Studio.
The aboveground tank at Paramount Pictures holds 950,000 gallons when filled (and holds parked cars when it’s not being used) and has been used to film key scenes in films like “The Ten Commandments” (1956) and “Star Trek” (2009).
(Adam Tschorn / Los Angeles Times)

Along the way, tricks of the Hollywood trade are explained, such as the use of forced perspective (manipulating the size of doorways to make actors appear smaller or larger) and building facades that do double duty (one exterior was used to depict multiple foreign embassies in the “Mission: Impossible” TV series simply by swapping out the flags).

New York back lot at Paramount Pictures Studios
The Paramount Pictures studio tour includes a stop on the New York backlot that illustrates the used of forced perspective -- an optical illusion created by varying things like the sizes of doorways.
(Adam Tschorn / Los Angeles Times)

The last stop on the tour offers a chance for hands-on interaction. The first is a room filled with decommissioned props you can actually touch, including a towering Bumblebee Autobot from “Transformers,” a USS Enterprise turbolift from “Star Trek Beyond,” “Tropic Thunder” faux film posters, a casket and dead body from “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa,” and a gleaming gold Cadillac from “Dreamgirls.”

A Bumblebee Autobot prop from “Transformers”
Bumblebee, one of the Autobots from “Transformers,” is among the decommissioned props that can be seen up close during the two-hour Paramount Pictures studio tour.
(Adam Tschorn / Los Angeles Times)

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1:30 p.m. Once outside the gate, turn right and head back toward the tour center entrance, cross Melrose at North Plymouth Boulevard and grab something to eat — as many a star before you has — at Lucy’s El Adobe Café at 5536 Melrose Ave., a Mexican restaurant and Los Angeles institution in business since 1964. If you sit in the main dining room you’ll be kept company by one of the most eclectic assortment of framed headshots you’re likely to find anywhere, including Drew Barrymore, Bernadette Peters, Glenn Frey, John Denver and Cuba Gooding Jr.

Lucy’s El Adobe Cafe
The wall of the main dining room at Lucy’s El Adobe Cafe is covered with a who’s who of photos from Hollywood (and politics) past.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times )

If you’re pressed for time, one of the $12.95 pick-two-items lunch specials can have you out the door in under half an hour. If your pace is more leisurely, starting with a margarita is a must. Lucy’s El Adobe is open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 to 10 p.m. Sunday.

2:15 p.m. If you’re continuing on foot, exit Lucy’s, cross Melrose and head north on Gower along the western edge of Paramount Pictures. At Willoughby Avenue, turn right and walk through the gate into the Hollywood Forever cemetery which was founded in 1899, making it older than the studio it abuts. This entrance is also accessible by car, as is the main entrance at 6000 Santa Monica Blvd. (If you enter at the main gate you’re closer to the flower shop where, for $5, you can get a map that highlights the eternal resting place of assorted notables.) If you enter at the Gower gate, turn right and enter the first mausoleum building on your right, walk past the piano, turn right again and pay your respects to gangster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, who is spending eternity in a crypt halfway down on the left (look for the flowers and the lipstick kisses).

Hollywood Forever cemetery’s notable residents include Judy Garland and Bugsy Siegel
The Judy Garland Pavilion at Hollywood Forever, left, is the new final resting place of the entertainer who died in 1969. The crypt of gangster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, right is covered with lipstick prints from vistors, as well as fresh flowers.
(Adam Tschorn / Los Angeles Times)

Retrace your steps to the building entrance and then head north on Bob & Carol Trierweiler Lane until you see the sign for the Judy Garland Pavilion on your left. Just inside is a row of chairs where you can sit and reflect on the life and career of the entertainer who, although she died in 1969, took up residence here only in 2017. “Little Rascals” fans will want that map: It will help them find the grave marker for Carl Switzer, who played Alfalfa.

The memorial to Johnny Ramone at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery
The cenotaph memorializing Johnny Ramone is one of the most inquired-after locations at the Hollywood Forever cemetery according to security guards who work there.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Most of the really famous folks are clustered in the appropriately named Garden of Legends section east of the intersection with Nelson Eddy Drive. Just before a small bridge, look right to see the graves of Douglas Fairbanks and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. at the end of a long reflecting pool. Looking left from the same spot you’ll see a cenotaph honoring Johnny Ramone right next to the road. A few feet away, overlooking a shallow duck pond, is a round, slant-topped pillar honoring Hattie McDaniel, the first African American to earn an Oscar for her role in “Gone With the Wind.” (Neither McDaniel nor Ramone are actually interred at Hollywood Forever.) Just past the bridge, also on the left, is the grave of Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell. (According to a nearby security guard, Cornell and Ramone are the two most frequently asked about.)

Mickey Rooney memorial at Hollywood Forever cemetery
Actor Mickey Rooney is immortalized on the exterior of the Cathedral Mausoleum in the Hollywood Forever cemetery’s southeast corner.
(Adam Tschorn / Los Angeles Times)

The exterior of the Cathedral Mausoleum building on the right includes a memorial to Toto (of “Wizard of Oz” fame) and Mickey Rooney, among others. Among the many celebrities you’ll find clustered in the northeast corner of the cemetery with Paramount Pictures to the south and the Hollywood sign visible to the north are Fay Wray, Anton Yelchin, Cecil B. DeMille and Dee Dee Ramone. To make sure you leave the Hollywood Forever cemetery on a lighter note, take a few minutes to track down the eventual resting place of very much alive actor Fred Armisen, whose final destination is marked with a small green plastic “in futurum” placeholder in the Griffith Lawn section just off Nelson Eddy Drive. Hollywood Forever’s grounds are open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (5:30 in summer).

California Surplus Mart
California Surplus Mart, at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Vine Street, has a deep bench of military gear and workwear offerings that could inspire a last-minute Halloween costume.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
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3:30 p.m. If you’ve got more than four hours to spend (or you’re a walk-in waiting for a future Paramount tour to start), California Surplus Mart at 6263 Santa Monica Blvd. and Vine Street is the perfect place to get some last-minute Halloween inspiration, especially if you’re going for a military, construction worker or survivalist vibe. You’ll find sailors’ white canvas “Dixie cup” hats, SWAT helmets, military dress uniforms (medals included!) and gas masks. Open 10 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. Monday through Saturday.


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