Hop On Robin's Tour Bus
(Filmmaker and word master Robin D. Williams spends his down-time guiding VIP tours in Hollywood and Los Angeles. He tells us about it.)
By Robin Williams
I am certainly enjoying my job since I increased my tour itinerary to show the sections of Los Angeles that were the crème de la crème back in 1890 to 1940. It is called West Adams Historic District because it is filled with mansions of the super rich who lived there until the crash of 1929.
I used to live in that section because my grandmother had figured out a way for her family to survive after the crash. She leased a huge mansion and rented out rooms. She discovered that the people who could afford to pay their rent on time were the managers of the best restaurants in Los Angeles. They didn’t need a house or apartment. They already had all that back in Modesto. All they needed was a room and a breakfast every morning.
My grandmother was their salvation. She cooked breakfast for them and in between she would read the newspaper stories of the battles of WWII to me when I came in from my dawn patrol of the property. I was five, six, and seven years old.
I would rise at dawn and walk around the huge property and then feed my pet rabbits in their hutch. Then I would sit outside and listen to the “rumble” coming up the hill to our home. It was the sound of the streetcars rumbling along their tracks as they transported people to work in downtown Los Angeles.
One day I sat on the front lawn of a mansion across the street and said to my self, “Remember this moment. Remember what it is like to be six years old.”
Little did I know that 69 years later I would be driving a tour bus and bringing people to visit my old neighborhood and showing them where I sat on the lawn of a mansion and thought those thoughts.
I also show the tour members the cinema where I went to see the Westerns every Saturday morning. The drugstore, across from the Bijou Theater, was where I bought my weekly Superman comic book. I would smell the new magazine and love it.
—Where I once I stepped out of the side door of the drugstore to be jumped upon by the Mexican kids who beat me up on a strip of lawn along the sidewalk.
I was amazed as their parents stood there and gave them an audience. They did not hurt me too bad. They loved to throw me over onto the ground where I landed hard on my back.
—Where I fell asleep on the top of a driveway gatepost and was found by my grandfather.
—Where I sat inside the draping branches of my mulberry tree to watch the neighborhood undetected. The mulberry tree is still there draping into the form of a Sultan’s tent.
—Where I fell out of a tree that framed the Neo-Classical porch facade of the mansion with another tree on the other side of the porch area.
They were like tall thin Cypress Trees but I think they were another variety of long thin pine. Now, there is only a tree stump on the ground showing where they cut it down.
The window of my grandfather’s office—he was a gold miner—where I was fooling around with a pencil and note pad when I was four years old and accidentally spelled my first word….”ANN.”
—Where I rode my fast tricycle on the sidewalk and watched my neighbors across the street as they arrived in their huge car and walked and talked and laughed as they slowly made their way from the driveway into their home.
The large woman over there was a famous actress and the first black actress to receive the Academy Award for her role as the Nanny in Gone With the Wind. This is my way of showing my tour members a home of a real movie star.
A law has been passed in Beverly Hills that prohibits tour buses from entering the residential streets and bothering all the residents as we showed our tour members the movie star homes.
So with just a little bit of thought, I came up with the home of Hattie McDaniel which was right across the street from where I lived with my mom and my grandmother. If I probe my own memory I come up with dozens of places to include for my tour groups and all of my added places are right on the same route of the published itinerary. I barely go two blocks out of my way to show them these places.
Norma Talmadge pioneers
Another movie star home that I can show my tour groups without being ticketed by the cops is the home where Fatty Arbuckle lived until he ruined his career with the scandal in San Francisco with a bit player named Virginia Rappe — pronounced Rapay.
He sold the house to another movie star who made a name for herself in the silent films as the “Super Vamp.” Her name was Theda Bara.
She only lived in the house for a year when she sold it to another movie star named, Norma Talmadge who married Joseph Schenk, the man who founded 20th Century Films and merged with William Fox to become 20th Century Fox. I then take my groups right past 20th Century Fox studios and tie in the story.
Norma Talmadge is doubly famous as the person who accidentally stepped in wet cement at the construction site of Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Sid Grauman (The King of Show Biz) told her not to feel embarrassed about it, then screamed, “You have given me an idea. I am going to ask for everyone to do what you just did.”
And that became the famous forecourt of the Grauman’s Chinese Theater where the movie stars signed their names and placed their footprints and handprints in the wet cement.
So, I am enjoying myself as I interpret the sights of Hollywood and Los Angeles on my City Tour that they let me run all by myself. They have a very brilliant rule at V.I.P Tours. They allow the tour guides to run their itinerary any way they want.
That gives me license to offer the tour members about 10 times their money’s worth.