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The Hollyweird Enforcer

The Big Weenie Hollywood California from Memories of Hollywood

“Welcome to Hollyweird.”  I heard it first as an 11 year old (fresh faced and fresh-lunged) from my Mom when my sis and I arrived from Oklahoma.  My first impressions were: a lot of buildings, hills and palm trees.  I felt there was “more civilization” than what I was used to in Tulsa.  But things seemed a little dirtier too, but you had to look carefully, like the cleaning didn’t get all the way into the crevasses.  The weather was really nice all the time; I noticed that as well, while throwing our Nerf football around in our apartment’s parking lot.

I was well aware that I was living in the middle of the movieland dream factory, but sometimes it was hard to see it.  Especially when I walked (and later roller skated) out onto Hollywood Boulevard.  There I could see equal parts sex (Fredrick’s of Hollywood’s purple painted store; various X-rated theaters) and crime.

For me, the visible part of crime was more an implied threat, weird people and prostitutes hanging around at all hours and a heavy police presence. Cop cars were always driving back and forth, it looked like a big rectangle; up Hollywood, turn to Sunset, then down, then another turn and back again.

Tricked you! This is actually a scene from “Alex In Wonderland.”

I lived in the middle of the decline of Hollywood.  They may have just spent a million fixing the Hollywood Sign (thank you Alice Cooper and Hugh Hefner) but the Sign itself looked down on increasing squalor.

My mother not only had to take care of us, but she also had to regulate the kind of information our innocent eyes and ears were starting to gather in.  She quickly deemed parts of Hollywood Boulevard to be safe and bought my sister and I pairs of roller skates to increase our mobility.  We’d get on at Wilcox and roll all the way up to the Artisan Alley (heading into that outdoor mini-mall much to the annoyance of the proprietors) and then head back, past the Big Weenie and to home (Mom only grudgingly let us get chilidogs from the Big Weenie down Wilcox Avenue.  The hot dogs and fries may have been great but their logo was of a bikini-clad woman straddling a huge wiener).

She didn’t want us to roll on the other side of the Boulevard, where Fredrick’s of Hollywood and an X-rated theater were located.  Her protectiveness kicked in hard when it came to what we’ll call the sexualized side of Hollywood; and that was a tough job because it was everywhere.

One day I’d brought home a handbill, just one of what looked like dozens that had been suddenly stapled up (overnight) on telephone poles in the neighborhood.  It said “Angelyne: Too Much to Touch” below a picture of a nearly topless big-breasted blonde.

I kind of knew what it was (though not who it was or especially, why it was) but asked my mom anyway (in between barely stifled giggles) if it was a wanted poster.  She quickly confiscated it.

Ramon, a kid who lived across the street at The Mayfair, and had trouble pronouncing certain words in English, kept saying “too mush to tuhsh” for weeks.

Hollywood, the town, would have earned a hard ‘R’ rating from the MPAA. This was the Hollywood of George C. Scott’s “Hardcore” and also Jodie Foster’s “Foxes.”  Sex and violence were all around us and especially on the news. The LA news was fascinating, a “TV Show” unto itself.  It was through the news that I found out where my mom’s lines were that could not be crossed.

I preferred and trusted Hal Fishman at KTLA Channel 5, who called the area I lived ‘The Southland’ and warned us of first, second and third stage “smog alerts” (something I learned to pay more attention to once school started).  He told us about crime in the area too.  My mom did not censor the violent crime stories but if there were a rape, or a crazy story like the Dorothy Stratton “Star 80” thing she would change the channel or hustle us out of the room.

There was her line in the sand; rapes, sexploitation, depictions of sex – ‘NO WAY!’  Violent crime and horror – ‘SURE, WHY NOT?!’  There existed equal parts of both in what other kids I met called “Hollyweird.”

I should clarify this, my Mom’s Hays Code wasn’t really so black and white.  Sex wasn’t completely unacceptable, here are some examples:

Sex Act – NO

Sexual innuendo like that of “The Benny Hill Show” – YES (unless too much cleavage shown)

Sexual Violence – NO

Any sex humor in a movie that she thought was above our heads – YES (I picked up on some of it anyway)

 

   Violence was even more of a gray area, some examples:

Stabbing, hand gun shooting, garroting, flaying, beheading and being burned alive – YES

Being hung up on a meat hook or terrorized to death by a ghost – YES

Machine gunning a helpless victim – NO (inexplicable to me too)

 

X (I swear they tilted it out a little later), Pep Boys, Pantages

    Our first summer ended, school started and it was an unusually warm first week.  My sister Mary and I walked every day, taking a left on Hollywood and heading all the way to Bronson.  This was a less explored area for us.  We passed Le Sex Shoppe near Hollywood and Vine.  Hmmm…ma wouldn’t like that.  Then, right near Bronson and Hollywood was an X-rated theater with a giant red ‘X’ on the roof.  It even seemed to lean suggestively out towards the street (a few years later a McDonalds opened up at the other end of the Boulevard, near Highland, with a big yellow ‘M’ on the roof leaning suggestively out as well, kind of a corporate call and response I guessed).

   The very first morning of school we knew it was going to be a warm one; the air was kind of stagnant and the hookers on the street, yielding for us as we passed, even seemed to feel the effects of the heavy dirty air.  Hal Fishman had told us the previous night there was a second stage smog alert in effect.

When we left school it was hot, it just smelled bad outside, like something was burning somewhere.  By the time we passed the Gower Gulch I felt something constricting my breathing and I started to cough.  Quickly thereafter it felt like there was a Brillo pad lodged in my throat.

It was a case of “Innocent Okie lungs, meet Hollywood!”

We had to stop at the Pep Boys where a mechanic brought me a cup of water to try to stop my endless coughing.  I sat there for a while, I don’t know how long, but it took awhile to get over my dry scratching cough and tearing eyes.  My sister luckily (yet mysteriously) didn’t even have to clear her throat.

When we got home my mom was glad to hear I was ok, but she was VERY concerned about that red ‘X’ and that porn theater on our route.

Surrounded by theaters as we were, the movie pickins were rich.  We could see any horror movie we wanted, like “The Legacy” and “Amityville Horror” but movies with titles like “The Seduction of Joe Tynan” or “Goldengirl” were verboten.  We were even encouraged to see horror movies, and mom would gladly escort us to get us around the ‘R’ rating.

I always thought she liked watching the way the blood drained out of our little faces when we were scared, but really she wanted to see them herself and didn’t want to leave us at home.

TV movies were a no-brainer for my mom, and it was open season too, we loved the scary movies shown on Friday and Saturday nights on channels 5 and 9.  We could stay up as late as we felt like.  Usually the movies were of the cheesy foreign variety, inexpertly dubbed and with fake blood that in some cases wasn’t even red.

All was well for awhile, Mom’s enforcement system worked in harmony, with clear, though sometimes irrational distinctions; that is, until sometime in ’81, when my mother and her rating system was thrown into confusion.  For in the person of Cassandra Peterson, she had met her match.

Channel 9 had been looking for a way to goose its weekend ratings.  They had an endless number of bad horror movies to show at night but no format, no way to differentiate themselves from any other channel.

They came up with a host (Peterson), one cheesy enough to introduce and then mock the movies as they were unspooling.  They would call it “Elvira’s Movie Macabre.”  No problem, right?  Wrong.  The host looked like a brunette version of that old Angelyne flyer from a couple years back.

For mom that was a problem, she didn’t know what to do.  For every death by electrocution, you got a glimpse of Elvira’s VERY low cut dress.  For every scene of a person screaming because their legs had been chainsawed off (normally a great thing) you had Elvira with her Mae West/ Valley Girl voice, mocking the same scene but with self aware (and very tween accessible) sexual innuendo.

For every twisted beheading there was Elvira taking a call from “The Breather.”

“Elvira’s Movie Macabre” was Hollyweird itself, rolled into an inseparable whole.  And like Hollywood, one half couldn’t survive without the other.

My mom couldn’t parse it.

To break this impasse, I had two things on my side, my advancing age and my older sister, who loved “Movie Macabre.”  She weighed in for us, getting our mother to relent and allow her ‘code’ a little more wiggle room.  Before long we were seeing Elvira and even “Three’s Company” a show that our mom realized wasn’t so bad at all and was actually pretty funny.

Peterson pretty much stayed in character all these years since, her show on Channel 9 was such a big hit and she kept trying to chase that high.  As for Angelyne, she’d graduated up to billboards advertisements in LA, one as recently as last year.  Now everyone, like I did, knows who she is, but I suspect, still not why she is.

1 reply
  1. Isabelle
    Isabelle says:

    Thanks for making all of us who’ve seen Hollywood as only the home of the movie industry and home to celebrities see the other side of Hollywood. This strange yet funny depiction is mesmerizing. I wish I could time travel back with you and see the streets and characters.

    ~Isabelle

    Reply

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