I have to start by apologizing if I am repeating stories from my past, but now this column appears in several newspapers and online, there are always new readers and thankfully older readers like me who forget things.
This time I am taking you on a fairly long hike up Memory Lane as it is 6000 miles. I visited Hollywood three times in the 1980s and 1990s and would love to go back, but alas, that’s beyond me now. I still think Elstree and Borehamwood City Council should partner with Hollywood because the two towns have so much film heritage to share, but I suspect it’s beyond their imagination.
I have always enjoyed my visits to Tinseltown and have always stayed at the Roosevelt Hotel across from the famous Chinese Theater with the footprints outside. The hotel hosted the first Academy Awards and is apparently haunted by Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift, although the only spirits I encountered were those I drank at the bar. I once met Frank Gorshin there. You might remember him as Riddler in the 1960s TV series Batman, but he was a great imitator. He did Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster for me – what a joy. Alas, young readers may never have heard of it, but they were once big stars.
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At that time, I was doing personal tours of Hollywood studios such as Paramount, 20th Century Fox, the old MGM lot, and the real Universal studios. I never took a camera because it looked very unprofessional, which I now regret. I was able to walk into Louis B Mayer’s old office and ride his private elevator. Unless you’re a movie buff from Hollywood’s golden years, that won’t mean anything.
I always dreamed that one day Hollywood with all its money would create a magnificent museum, but alas it never happened. I discussed this with MGM star Debbie Reynolds at her hotel in Vegas, as she had bought many costumes at studio sales, but alas, everything was sold to private buyers when she died. I suspect the same awaits my records relating to Elstree and Borehamwood studios.
My first visit to a film set was up my road in 1959 and it was a scene where Terry Thomas was getting on a bus at The scoundrel school. All these years later, I still have never appeared on screen in a movie or TV series, although I have done so in many documentaries. I am a gun for hire and will donate any payment to charity. I can pet a kitty and look evil like in a Bond movie or be a cockeny in EastEnders and say ‘up the apples and pears’ or ‘okay copper you have me bang to right’. Alas, young screenwriters would never write such lines, but if you look at the notes, decide if you’re chasing the wrong age group. Well, it’s time for me to go because Matron is calling so until next time, be careful.
- Paul Welsh MBE is a Borehamwood writer and historian of Elstree studios