Six Days in L.A.: Concept for a Major Motion Picture

Daniel Emberley, March 1998



Michael (my husband) and I had a great time in Los Angeles. For folks who have gotten my travel write-ups before, you know the rap: keep or trash, read or not. Is long, so feel free to print and read off-hours. If you are only interested in the Jeopardy taping, skip to Day 4, below.

These were incredible weather days to be in LA. Sunny, pleasant, sometimes needed a light jacket. The recent rains had brought out the green on the mountains and canyons and flowers everywhere.

DAY 1: Friday, February 27

Michael and I took the poor man’s way to LA. Company shuttle to Foggy Bottom, Blue Line to Red Line to Union Station, rendezvoused with Michael, MARC to BWI, BWI bus to terminals. A horrible experience that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Took about 3 hours, all told. Coming back we just took a cab. Cost $50 vs. $7, but only took 45 minutes, and was door-to-door. Live and learn! Tight but pleasant flight to LAX, met Dad, who had arrived from Boston an hour before and gotten the rental car. Due to Dad’s familiarity with LA (past business trips) we had an easy expressway run over to Santa Monica, where we found the Comfort Inn to be clean, pleasant, and well maintained. On a nice patch of Santa Monica Boulevard, between the beaches, the freeways, and plenty of shopping opportunities in a variety of price ranges.

Due to jet lag we were a little zonked (was 9PM EST, but just time for al fresco dining in LA), but needed to eat, so found ourselves on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, a  pleasant shopping/restaurant experience. I’m tempted to compare the various eating/shopping places to Boston or DC equivalents, but honestly, main difference was layout, not venues. Every area seemed to have a Gap, a margarita bar (or several), funky movie house, and the usual Georgetown/Dupont/Harvard Square/Newbury Street stores/restaurants. Add outdoor seating and sunshine and you get the idea. Third Street was 1920’s-30’s Deco store fronts with 1970’s interpolations, all gussied up in the last five years. All LA streets seem to go straight as an arrow forever, or until they hit a mountain, this was like that. Great dinner at a Greek place on the strip. Walked down to the ocean, found ourselves on a palisade/cliff overlooking one of the most beautiful beaches we’d ever seen. Too difficult to figure out how to get down to the sand itself, drove to the hotel and passed Out.

DAY 2: Saturday, February 28

Woke up before any Angelenos, of course, so started off in Venice. Checked out the boardwalk, beach, Muscle Beach gym, funky houses a few blocks inland. Some cool Frank Gehry knockoff houses (or maybe originals). Found we weren’t the first folks up after all, as the sunglass vendors began setting up, the dog walkers did the social thing, and we watched some pick-up basketball games. Michael loved it, as I’d hoped he would.

Drove up to downtown, parked in front of Union Station. Last great train station built in America, in 1930’s pseudo-Spanish, and recently renovated as an Amtrak/commuter train/Metro depot. Beautiful. Strolled over to Olvera Street for the reconstructed-so-long-ago-is-historic-in-itself original pueblo of Los Angeles, where we shopped for trash and had taquitos while being serenaded by mariachi singers. I hate that, but Dad loves it. Got a cool “Chutes and Ladders” game en Espanol. A quick walk over to Chinatown, where we had a second lunch and looked at more “unique imports”.

Early afternoon we drove over to Pasadena, where we hooked up with our friends Carla and Eric Burgett. NRC’ers may recognize Carla as the former Carla Bowen of the Records Office. She’s now with Kaiser Permanente, he’s with Warner Brothers, and they’re living in North Hollywood. Pasadena was a health resort before there was a Los Angeles, and is full of beautiful Mission and Arts and Crafts style homes from the 1880’s to 1920’s. One of the best is Greene and Greene’s Gamble House, built as a retirement home for heirs to the Procter and Gamble fortune in 1908. One of the most beautiful houses in America, with woods and joinery like nowhere else, and using materials from forests that are now extinct. Amazing sleeping porches. And grounds. Nicely maintained by USC and the City of Pasadena. From there we shopped Old Town Pasadena, the old main street. Same old stores, 1920’s Main Street motif. Carla knew of some great discount flower supply and patio furniture warehouses there.

That night Mike and I dropped Dad off at the hotel and checked out Universal City Walk. Universal Studios built this shopping experience in the hills as a feeder for and alternative to their very successful studio tours. 24-Screen movie theater, Sam Goody’s, Hard Rock Cafe, and the usual regional-mall stores (sans anchors) all on an artificial New York street open to the sky. This is supposed to be the future of retail. It scares me, but maybe just because everything is list price. The design/architecture of the space is fantastic: every possible use of neon, fountain, music, and street performer. One gets a nice view of the new Getty from the freeway out here - we saved this for a future trip, due to the crowds the new facility is attracting.

DAY 3: Sunday, March 1

Started the morning with that Californian religious experience, The Drive. Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive, Melrose. Cool flea market on Melrose. Hollywood, parked and checked out Mann’s Chinese, the footprints in the pavement, and Walk of Fame stars in the sidewalk. Hollywood remains as tawdry as it has been for the past 30 years, but the money north and south of it seem to be squeezing in.

A long drive west to Thousand Oaks, where my cousin Ruthie lives with her husband, an aerospace engineer, and two kids. Michael decided Ruthie was “irrepressible”, and when I asked what that meant, replied “the female version of you”. Thousand Oaks is almost at the end of the Ventura freeway: the lengths people will go to for a home with clean air! Equivalent distance: LA City Hall = => Thousand Oaks :: White House = => Gettysburg. Very fun, barbecue in the back yard with Ruthie’s and her brother Arthur’s families.

Drove back by way of Malibu Canyon to check out the recent mud slides, coming out to the ocean at (where else?) Malibu. Not as nice a neighborhood as we would have thought. Suspect the big money is up the canyons, in the houses hanging from the cliff-sides. Rode Pacific Coast Highway down the coast, stopping in to see the sunset at Will Rogers State Beach. On to the Santa Monica Pier, where we had Mexican seafood at the pier’s end and strolled the amusement park on our way back to the car.

DAY 4: Monday, March 2

This was taping day for Jeopardy at the Sony Studios in Culver City. Studios are factories. Actually, big campuses of factory buildings, all painted white to save on the cooling bill. Dad and Mike dropped me off at 8:30AM at the gate and went to see the funky shops on Montana Avenue, between Santa Monica and Brentwood. I met my competition on a bench: these were some of the nicest, smartest, most congenial people I suspect I’ll ever meet. Our joke was that we were pre-screened for congeniality, but that’s not far from the truth, for that’s a big part of what the Studio is looking for in a contestant. One definitely feels like a minor actor in a TV show.

We were picked up by a company van and driven to the end of the lot, where Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune share a facility. Both have permanent stages on either side of a joint suite of offices/rooms for the production staff. Both usually tape five shows/day, Jeopardy Monday-Wednesday and Wheel Wednesday-Friday, splitting alternate Wednesdays, and sharing the same crew. Michael asked, there are about 80 people involved in the backroom side of production, including writers, camera crews, etc. We were introduced to our “handlers”, Suzanne, Glenn, and Grant. Basically, the contestants are sequestered for the entire day, or until we lose on a program, from all other studio staff to avoid potential conflicts. We were handed our (20-page) contracts to sign, ditto our “Van Doren” sheets to confirm that we had no inside knowledge of the program. Jeopardy takes this very seriously, and uses random selection for everything from which categories and clues will be on a specific game to which two of us would face the previous episode’s winner.

We were then given to Rivan, who attended to our make up. For dark complexioned guys like me that meant lots of base. I’ll show it at work if it doesn’t wash off my collar <grin>. Women brought whole bags of makeup with them and worked with Rivan to determine what would work best under the lights. All this happens in the Green Room, which is a dry walled windowless white room with table, couches, fluorescents, coffee and donuts. Not as nice as a restaurant, but nicer than a waiting room at Department of Motor Vehicles. We were locked in and let out en masse by our handlers, one of whom was with us at all times.

Following makeup we were led to the set for rehearsal. This was as much a light/sound rehearsal for the crew as it was for us to do a walk through of what would happen. The stage manager was gruff but excellent, and friendly one-on-one. He did a great job of keeping the multiple interests moving, on task, and on time. We were given an opportunity to try the “clickers”, at which I failed abysmally: could it have been a warning sign? Glen played Alex, read a question, then a column of lights illuminated off camera on either side of the board. If you click before the lights, you’re frozen out for half a second. If you click too much after, you’ve lost the opportunity to a competitor who has just the trivia knowledge that you had to get you on the show in the first place. After the rehearsal, two people were told that they would be facing the winner from the preceding show, which had been taped two weeks previously. They were miked, and then all of us herded back to the Green Room.

We waited a few minutes, Rivan touched up the makeup of the three contestants, and all of us went back out. Those of us not competing sat in a special set of rows in the studio audience which the camera rarely pans. The audience was already seated, including guests of the contestants. The rest of the audience seemed to be bus loads of folks from seniors housing and school groups. Each program is taped pretty much straight through. Time for commercials is left on the tape while we “marked time”, basically allowing Alex to repeat questions on which he had mis-spoken. Alex does not come out on stage until he is announced by Johnny Gilbert. Johnny has a face perfect for voice overs, and the worst hair piece in Hollywood. Sort of a brown, spray painted with red paint of the kind bald guys use for “instant hair”. Very pleasant, however, and did a nice job keeping the audience entertained between sessions with reminiscences of the early days of television game shows. Alex would occasionally speak with the audience. Yes, he is that pompous in person. More so; he edits himself when the camera is on. On the other hand, he DOES speak with audience members which apparently is better than Pat and Vanna, who merely come on, do their thing, and leave the studio.

Contestants face the board, and below that is a large screen monitor, so we can see what the camera sees. Above the board are electronic number boards with our respective scores, which we rarely have a chance to glance at during a game. At the end of each program the next two contestants were selected and miked, choosing podium positions by pulling straws. The losers were taken off stage for paperwork concerning their prizes, given a shopping bag with the Jeopardy Home Game and Electronic Score Keeper (batteries not included), and escorted off the set. Not as gruff as it sounds; several contestants chose to stick around to root on the rest of us. We were all escorted back to the Green Room for makeup touch up, and back again. With all this escorting we really did begin growing together, and cheering each other on.

We broke after the taping of the second episode for lunch, around 1:30. Lunch was in the studio commissary, where we were escorted under the friendly but watchful eyes of Glen and Grant and seated at our own table. They paid for lunch. It was late for me, but either my adrenaline (unlikely) or the donut tray in the Green Room kept my blood sugars and diabetes under control. On my own episode, I think I upheld the good name and honor of the Emberley family and the National Academy of Sciences. It will air June 4, 7:30 on ABC, Channel 7 in D.C. For those of you who have trouble setting up your VCR to capture repeating events on successive days, don’t worry, you won’t have to learn on my account <smile>.

Since the week of June 1 will end with a special episode with Olympics champions, which had been previously recorded, we only taped four episodes. Of the original morning candidates, only two had to come back the next day, and one of those was the winner of the final episode of the day. I was happy to not have to return: it meant we had another full day to check out LA! I am very fortunate in my prize, in that it was the same dollar value of the trip costs, and is something we’ll really use. So, we can say the trip was almost a freebie, and gave me a great opportunity to see what goes on in a national television show. I won’t get the prize until after the show airs, and assuming I have not given away major information about the show (like, questions asked, who won, etc.). Yes, Jeopardy will ship it. Yes, I have to pay taxes on it first; California will hit me for 16%.

Mike, Dad and I celebrated my completion of this life-event with a trip to See’s candy, makers of some of my favorite chocolates. Was able to get a full pound of just the truffle flavors that I like! Then on to the Marie Callendar’s in Marina Del Ray. Marie’s is a Ground Round type of chain, with great cornbread and pies. You may have seen their stuff in the freezer case of your local supermarket. We drove around Marina Del Ray, walked around the Fisherman’s Village area there. Looked a little like it peaked in 1 979, and hasn’t been as nice a neighborhood since. Is the place, though, to live on a houseboat! We did a drive up the Sunset Strip through West Hollywood and on up to Griffith Park. Neither Dad nor Mike had ever seen the Observatory or view from up there. Observatory is classic Art Deco; it is famous as a backdrop for the concluding scenes of “Rebel Without a Cause”. The view is fantastic, especially at night: that classic panorama of the grids of Los Angeles outlined in lights, coming together at the major avenues. None of us knew LA well enough to do more than point generally to Hollywood and downtown, but it was breathtaking nonetheless. Finally, we returned to Santa Monica by city streets, passing through the heart of Korea town en route.

DAY 5: Tuesday, March 3

Dad stayed in to rest, but Mike and I were up and out by 9AM. First for a walk up and down Main Street. Santa Monica. We started near City Hall (another Deco great), then up and around Frank Gehry’s signature Edgemar Post-Modern retail/office/residential complex. The street is a funky mix of brand names and local stores, a block in from the beach. Then up to downtown. Los Angelans try to deny that they have one, but there is a center, and it is cool. Most dates from the 1920’s and 1930’s, or from the 1980’s-90’s. We parked in the Toy Wholesale District (I love LA!) and walked into the Bradbury Building, one of the few high rise offices left in the city from the first decade of the century. Interior, all wrought iron atrium, glass, stairs, and operator-run elevator, was used in “Blade Runner”. Across the street to the Grand Central Market, a cross between Boston’s Haymarket and D.C.’s Maine Avenue Fish Market. Great produce, and a 1930’s Chinese diner with a menu limited to chop suey, noodles, and egg foo yung. We had Pacific Chai for the first time: yeah, trendy sweetened milky tea, but delicious just the same.

Another block over to Angel’s Flight, an inclined railway set up at the turn of the century to carry people from the old commercial downtown to the mansions then on Bunker Hill. The cars are very cool, two of them counterbalancing each other, with seats on stepped-up platforms, so you have to walk up steps inside the car to exit the other end. Just restored to service in the last year or two. The hilltop is now home to headquarter skyscrapers for ARCO, Wells Fargo, and Security Pacific, all centered around California Plaza, a major fountain expanse/park. The Plaza is on multi-levels connecting the skyscraper lobbies. To one side is the main Arata Isozaki building of the LA Museum of Contemporary Art. A wonderful collection of Modern Masters (basically, art since 1940, by the kind of people you’d see at the Hirshhorn or Midtown NYC’s better galleries). Plus, they had a sale in the gift shop.
Back down Angels’ Flight, across to Little Tokyo. We caught an all-you-can-eat Japanese buffet for lunch. Would not have thought one could do Japanese as a buffet, but was pretty good. Little Tokyo suffers in comparison to Chinatown: it is cleaner and “neater”, but much more corporate, as if a few Japanese banks decided to build a tourist attraction. Plus, all the imports were too expensive.

Just north of Little Tokyo is the Geffen Contemporary. While LA was building the Isozaki building, above, they housed the new Contemporary Arts Museum in an old warehouse retrofitted for the cause by Gehry, called the Temporary Contemporary. When the new building opened, the locals decided they didn’t want to lose the original space, so David Geffen funded an upgrade to make the building a permanent annex to the building on top of Bunker Hill. Is an excellent space for temporary exhibitions. The current show is on performance art, which is difficult to show in a museum setting, but worked well. From there we wondered back through the Wholesale District, shopping in showrooms as we went. Finally, we picked up the car, headed back across town through Brentwood (hello, Mr. Simpson!) to the shopping on Montana Avenue that Michael and Dad had cased the day before.

DAY 6: Wednesday, March 4

We didn’t expect to get much done this morning, as our flight was leaving around 1 PM. We took a walk past the MTV studios and down to Bergamot Station. This had once been a trolley yard, but has become the “art mall” for galleries that got started on the streets of Santa Monica. Is a major locale now in the American art market. It was early, so of course the galleries themselves were closed, but we were able to peer through windows and get a sense of the space. Industrial but trendy, like a chain linked, low rise SoHo. We met Dad and my Aunt Santina at the hotel and walked across the street to share breakfast at the ever fashionable (“Open 24 Hours”) Santa Monica Cafe. My aunt is amazing for any age, and especially for 70.

We said good-bye, picked up our bags, and Dad dropped us off at LAX for the return flight. He stayed on for a couple of days to visit old work friends from Hughes Aerospace. An uneventful flight back, and quick cab from BWI to DC. We returned richer in experience, having connected with loved friends and family, and with a cool consolation prize! All in all, another fabulous chapter in our lives together.


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