The first trip to New York
Afternoon flight across this continent and it’s like the whole world is below: from desert to snow, Rockies to oceans, all reduced at this altitude to Jasper-Johns-scapes and Jackson Pollock patterns. Glee at the request to fasten our seat belts…Indigo evening sky, the plane banks sideways and I see this Oz from a God’s eye view. Dazzling. I can clearly see the Empire State, Chrysler, Liberty and the dark oblong of Central Park.
Later, crossing the Queensborough Bridge in my chauffeur-driven limo, I swear I have a mini-hovercraft levitating under my bum. My head is jammed with Gershwin going GAGA. Yes, I have seen this skyline of ‘scapers all my movie-going life, but Jeezus, this is that Coke slogan come true. It’s the real thing.
Pedestrian crossings read WALK/DON’T WALK. Nothing in between, like these sparkling monoliths fingering the sky. Shimmering. Lacquered. Confident. Glossy glass-scapes. Art-deco wedding cakes, Towers of Sheer. Where do they make people with the confidence…call it what you will… to have dreamt and constructed this….NEW YORK with its double-barrelled title, Big Apple is the last thing that comes to mind. No Cinemascope, Technicolor, 3D, Cinerama, Mega-Scope, Supermarionation or I-Max can convey what you get through the retinas. Into, onto and within Manhattan and push-button down the window and fix the lugs (ears) on to the sounds. Steam jets like breath from the road and it’s Taxi Driver. Horns honking and maybe Gene Kelly’s gonna skedaddle on by. Sirens wailing somewhere close and it’s Shaft and ‘Papa was a Rollin’ Stone’. Boom, boom, BOOM. Yellow cabs and neon and cops on horseback, and drug stores with light-bulbs and glossy oranges and brown paper bags and it’s Annie Hall, ‘cept I can’t quite see Woody Allen or Diane Keaton. But as near as dammit. And Frankenstein’s full voltage has plugged into my bolt. I bound down the stairwell and into 44th Street and run to Times Square on Broadway. GUYS AND DOLLS FOR REAL. Bright, brash, busting with people and I feel about as alive as I think I ever will be. The vast electronic billboard in Times Square fixes the temp at minus 15 degrees C. With wind. Understand the meaning of wind-chill factor for the first time and duck into a bookstore to try to restore circulation to my numbed ears. Flick some pages but all the print I can see says, HERE YOU ARE SONNY! DREAMIN’ THE DREAM THAT’S DREAMIN’ YA! No cold or wind can bolt this feeling down. Come signs of circulation and I am out there! This time, these moments have been YEARS in the making. Selznick! Cecil B DeMille. KING STOMPIN’ KONG. Alan (Corduner) has planned the sightseeing tour: Rockefeller Plaza to see the open-air skaters, Radio City Music Hall, up Fifth Avenue to the Plaza Hotel – just as F. Scott Fitzgerald said it would be. Into Central Park and on cue it starts snowing, topping up the nightfall. Almost black and white and as near as dammit to the (opening and closing) credits of Manhattan. Downtown and up the Empire State Building to breathe the rarefied air and ever endless view of – below, beside and beyond – NEW YORK. The first trip to LA 26 April Flight to Los Angeles but uh-oh, the ticket reads GATWICK-DALLAS-LOS ANGELES. I now compute that a direct ten-hour flight from Heathrow has been converted into an eighteen-hour (butt) arse-paralyser. Upon arrival al LAX my legs grasp the true impact of JET LAG, this flight having rendered my resources around Gravitation X. Even the eyeballs are weighed down. A medium sized limo hauls my tired-olds to the Chateau Marmont Hotel on Sunset Boulevard and the driver takes this as his cue to give me a run-down of everyone who has died in the joint, from (John) Belushi backwards. 27 April Messenger bikes round a fat envelope full of dollar per diem (per day allowances). A very good reason to get out of bed and test the Californian climate and cuisine. The hotel is one of the few really old buildings here and recognizable from those black-and-white stills of Hollywood haunts of the thirties. It feels as though you might just pass Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck in the corridor. 28 April It’s only when I press the button in the convertible to get the sun roof retracted and take a right onto Sunset Boulevard that my old ticker accelerates faster than my foot. Sun blazing down, music Kiss FMing, and the red car is nosing towards Beverly Hills and I’m a-thinking, Blow me down, gals. This is the Swaz (his nickname for himself as he hails from Swaziland) off to meet the stars. (He has an appointment to meet Steve Martin at his house in Beverly Hills). A bored Mexican sits smoking beside a blue clapboard stall, which proclaims ‘MOVIE STAR MAPS’. Being a lifelong movie buff, I cannot convey just what a stomach growling thrill it is to have an address in hand of one of them. 23rd May The Fox studio lot is everything I imagined a movie studio would look like. The offices are hidden behind the façade of New York City circa 1900, which, it turns out, were the sets for Hello Dolly. My parents took us to see this on New Year’s Eve, 1969, in Africa, when I was twelve, and I find myself standing still in the parking lot, twenty-one years older, in the middle of my ‘dream’ that has come true. The first trip to San Francisco 24 May Dawn flight to Frisco and the city looks exactly like Dirty Harry showed it to me on a drive-in screen in Swaz. With a soundtrack of Sinatra eulogizing the Golden Gate Bridge, the driver pointing out the aftermath of the latest earthquake, which has left an overhead motorway buckled and lying on its side like a toy, and here are those streets from Bullitt and round the corner it’s What’s Up, Doc? With a little High Anxiety thrown in. Bits of Hitchcock scroll their way through my viewfinder… Back to LA 7 Feb Go alone to see Godfather lll, not wanting any interference in this longed-for ‘return’ (of The Godfather), not anticipating the unexpected wet eyeballing as the screen goes pitch black and that mournful theme music horns and haunts its way through my head and catapults me back to the Cinelux Cinema in Swaz seventeen years ago, where and when I determined seriously to pursue this dream of becoming on of Them who acted in stories in a Never-Never Land called Hollywood. Now, you would be right in thinking this is so much syrupy gloop, but it is this single dream that has silently kept me going. Which in some smallish way, but more biggish than I dared hope for, has been realized. 14 October Fly back (to LA). New house rental. New start. Sony Columbia Studios down in Culver City. The sound-stages formerly crammed with Never-Never Land sets are now Transylvania, London and the English countryside. Winona (Ryder)’s character Mina’s estate has been built in a vast studio, with painted cycloramas, exterior mansion, terrace and sunken topiary garden and lake. The latter has been created in what was once the pool used by Esther Williams for her forties water-ballet extravaganzas. Grand opera. Victorian furniture, gas lamps, sweeping staircases, horses, carriages, servants, gravel, high Gothic costumery, music-relay through loudspeakers, a multitude of technicians, set dressers and scene painters, lighting, camera tracks, in fact a BIG STUDIO PICTURE as seen in old movie annuals, recreated and come to life. This is where The Wizard of Oz was shot, and for once in Los Angeles, you can glean a sense of the past. Everything is going to be shot on sound-stages, making this an unusual production since most films these days are shot on location. It feels incredibly exciting and I am thrilled to be a part of it. Extracts from the film diaries of Richard E Grant. About Richard E Grant I’m still star-struck. I’m thrilled to say that hasn’t changed.