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It's A Great Life: 15 - Seeing Stars

Continuing his tour of Western America, Jack Merewood saw some of Holywood's greatest stars.

Spectacular is the appropriate word for Highway i. It covers 138 miles from Monterey to San Louis Obispo, 138 miles of climbing, dipping, turning road, that twists its way along the coast. Magnificent changing views of the sea, sometimes sandy coves, sometimes rocky shores. At first the scenery is breathtaking but eventually a little monotony creeps in. A drive I'm glad I took and enjoyed, but not one I would take again.

From San Louis Obispo a drive of 200 miles saw us in Los Angeles, and Hollywood. Los Angeles is where we had planned to stay for four nights and the first night we found a small hotel, the Commodore, hardly the Ritz, but then we weren't equipped money-wise to stay at the Ritz. My diary says: 'Bit expensive, $3.00 for me and $3.50 for Jessie and Dean, for bath and bed, but we are in Hollywood and all feel pretty excited.'

Next day we went to Grauman's Chinese Theatre where the film stars set their names, footprints or handprints in the forecourt cement. Before I left home my father's sister Nellie said 'Don't forget to bring me back some nylons.' My Uncle Joseph who was there at the time added 'And bring me Betty Grable's legs in them.' In the cement was Betty Grable's name and her leg print. Jessie took a photo of me with my hand on her leg, the best I could do for my Uncle Joseph. It was interesting and quite exciting to see all those famous names. Jimmy Durante had left his nose print. Then we wanted to make the round of the studios in the hope we'd see some of our favourite film stars. We went to Paramount, RKO and 20th Century Fox. We couldn't get into the studios, though at 20th Century Fox were allowed into the large entrance, where there were glamorous photos of their stars though we saw none in person. At MGM we were lucky and saw June Allyson, Frank Sinatra and Susan Hayward. One of Jessie's schoolfriends, Margaret Vickerman, had married an American soldier and lived in Santa Monica. We went to see her and slept there that night. Jessie also had some English friends, Mr and Mrs Walker and their daughter
Heather. We took the road to Santa Ana and there we met Heather. We all went swimming in the sea at Long Beach. The weather was glorious, the sea warm, and we had a lovely time.

In the afternoon we had tickets to see the Gene Autrey radio show. Gene Autrey, the popular singing cowboy, was a favourite of mine. After the show, stars were coming out of the building from other shows, and we were extremely excited to see Clark Gable, Jimmy Durante, Dorothy Lamour, Joseph Cotten and Donald O'Connor who was really nice, talked to us, and gave me his autograph. As Clark Gable's car drove away a girl hysterically ran after it shouting 'Mr Gable, Mr Gable, Mr Gable', but of course he didn't stop. At one studio a group of girls said they were waiting to see Esther Williams as one of them was the head of her fan club. We waited with them, but to our great disappointment Esther Williams didn't appear.

Zane Grey had died in October 1939 in Pasadena. We wanted, if possible, to find his home. We walked into a bank in Pasadena and Dean boldly went and asked one of the tellers if she knew where Zane Grey's house was. She said the house was actually in nearby Altadena, and explained how to get there. When we reckoned we had found the right place, with Dean leading we marched up to the front door and knocked. A lady appeared and confirmed that this was indeed where Zane Grey used to live. His wife still lived there but, disappointingly, was away. This lady, who said she was his housekeeper, didn't invite us in, but took us round the extensive gardens behind the house. I was enthralled with the things she told us about him. There was an annexe attached to the house to which the only access was by a covered corridor over an archway. The lady told us that Mr Grey would go off to Utah or Arizona, spending weeks in the wild country of these and neighbouring states, then come home and take up residence in the annexe to write his books. He was only to be disturbed when meals were brought to him. Anyone who has read a Zane Grey book will know that he was a master at describing the scenery in those states.

The housekeeper was obviously devoted to Zane Grey, as she showed us round and explained what a lover of nature he was. He never interfered with nature. She pointed out the a big branch of a tree that had one day been broken off by the wind. 'Don't touch it, leave it there,' said Mr Grey, 'that's where nature intended it to be.' We looked through the windows of the house at the furniture, and saw a piano there with family photos on top. To me this was like a fairy tale, but we had to move on. We thanked the housekeeper profusely and left. Not far out of the town we pitched our tent for the night.


To read Jack's vivid account of his wartime experiences To War With The Bays please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/to_war_with_the_bays/


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