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Rediscovering Hollywood and Loving It

Rediscovering Hollywood and Loving It

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One of the best things about having friends come in from out of town is that you get to doff the mantle of "Jaded in Hollywood" and wonder at the rich history that we Angelenos are so good at ignoring.

Some friends blew through town recently, so we took them on a rarefied little tour that we had been curious about ourselves. Our group is not overly concerned about appearances or anything, but we didn't relish sitting in an open-top vanagon broiling in the sun while someone barked, "There is the 10-foot security wall outside Brangelina's home!" You see, as a homeboy, I had certainly rolled my eyes -- feeling smug and superior -- at the hordes as they drove by gawking and fawning.

Besides, our little group isn't all that interested in the Lohan-Hilton crowd and their armed guards and rehab counselors. We were a little more interested in the history of Hollywood and how it all came to be the center of the entertainment universe.

So the Felix in Hollywood tour, a tight 90 minutes, on foot in sensible but stylish shoes, was more up our alley. Philip Mershon, the reed-thin and dapper gay fellow who runs the tour, is like the love child of Gore Vidal and Dick Cavett: epic knowledge of Hollywood history combined with melting charm and erudition.

And another thing about our group -- we are no slouches in the Hollywood trivia game either. In fact, I wondered if Mershon would be able to keep us engaged or if we would be "helping him out" with a few facts of our own. Needless worries, I am happy to say. The layers of historical facts tied to the locations we traipsed by during the mile-long walk put our panel of experts in their places.

So in the interest of history, culture and a good civics lesson, we put a few questions to the man behind Felix in Hollywood.

The Advocate: How in the world did you land here doing this now?
Philip Mershon: Growing up in the '60s and '70s as an Army brat, constantly on the move, it was always new towns, new schools, new customs, new cultures. The only continuity in my life back then was old movies, TV shows, and the weekly top 40. Also, as a "sensitive" youth, I found that getting lost in the glamorous doings of Kay Francis or John Barrymore or Barbara Stanwyck was more fun and certainly felt safer than going to the local park with the kids. Myrna Loy never once tackled me behind the bleachers and beat me up!

When I moved to L.A. in the mid '80s, I was employed in the show business for over 20 years and began collecting stories. As my passion for sharing this knowledge grew, I finally decided to put the old axiom "Do what you love and the money will follow" to a scientific test.

We are still agog from the wealth of knowledge you bring to your tour. You practically link in the discovery of electricity. Is this tendency to fact collecting natural to you, or have you gone into more depth of research for your tours?
Um ... did you just call me nosy? Many of my jobs since I came to this town have involved research. Chief among them was associate-producing the documentary Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star for Turner Classic Movies. Fact finding for me is just one big wacky treasure hunt.

We "liked" the Felix in Hollywood Facebook page and love the vintage pictures you use daily in your posts [see the following pages for more of the collection] -- where in the hell do you find them?
I have trained the interwebs to give up her gifts to me.

Your focus on the radio business and its growth was very interesting. Your comparison of radio to the Internet was spot on. Tell us some more.

As memory serves me, that was actually your comparison, and astute it was. You know, for the last half of the 20th century, TV was the deal. Well, all television really did was add a picture to what we already had from radio. But with radio (and again with the Internet) there's a revolution going on! A revolution in how we entertain and inform ourselves without having to leave home. That maverick spirit of "makin' it up as we go along" is alive again.

Who is your ideal client -- who do you think is the type of person that would most enjoy this tour?
Anyone who has TCM programmed into his or her remote as a favorite.
Anyone who has ever thought, Gee, I wonder what being a star is like.
Anyone who wants to be a smarty-pants and impress people with the stuff they'll learn.
Anyone who wants to stir up some memories from their childhood because, ultimately, this becomes a very personal tour as well.

Give us a freebie -- tell us something you don't normally include on the tour.

What are you, nuts? Oh, OK. One day studio chief Jack Warner was strolling the lot when he heard a magnificent singing voice. As he got closer he saw that it was a young guy who patrolled the parking lot. He approached and said, "Young man, you have a beautiful voice!" "Thank you, Mr. Warner," the kid replied with shaking knees. "Bet you'd rather be singing in the movies on that soundstage than watching these cars, wouldn't you?" Warner said with all of the star-making magnanimity he possessed. "Golly, I sure would, Mr. Warner," the kid yelped. So Warner had him fired.

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Christopher Harrity

Christopher Harrity is the Manager of Online Production for Here Media, parent company to The Advocate and Out. He enjoys assembling online features on artists and photographers, and you can often find him poring over the mouldering archives of the magazines.
Christopher Harrity is the Manager of Online Production for Here Media, parent company to The Advocate and Out. He enjoys assembling online features on artists and photographers, and you can often find him poring over the mouldering archives of the magazines.