My father drove us all over LA. One night, we waited in front of a spot on Sunset Boulevard where the stars showed themselves. I think it was Ciro's. You have to understand what it was like back then. There were few cars on Sunset, no high-rises. It was still woods and wilderness, cactus fronds from the last joint all the way to the ocean. Beverly Hills was a country town. The clubs on Sunset sat in the middle of all that wilderness like a string of pearls. This was before TV, before anything. It was olden times, when the studio bosses, in need of publicity, would scheme their way into the news, which usually meant dressing their stars in finery and sending them, in matching couples, before the flashbulbs along the red carpets of Sunset.
So we stood in front of Ciro's, with the sun going down. The cars rolled up and the stars walked the carpet, frozen in the light of the flash, pop, pop, pop. The door opened and I caught a glimpse of smoke and swells and bubbles, a look inside the genie bottle. (I thought I had died and gone to heaven.) Standing out there, on the wrong side of the rope, seeing the stars disappear into the velvet interior—well, if that doesn't make you ambitious, nothing will.
I remember Joan Crawford coming out with her head down, throwing her arms up, turning it on, slipping into her car, a boat of a thing. There was a boyfriend, but she was driving. I remember Mickey Cohen, too, the gangster who ran the underworld. He was a pug of a guy, rough looking but shedding more wattage than any of the film stars. Mickey was shot soon after. (He recovered.) My father showed me the story in the paper. As I read the story, I imagined the strutting strongman, grinning in the paparazzi flash. That was Hollywood to me—starlets and gangsters, glamour and menace and a snubnose .38 going blam blam blam.
There was a guy named Delmer Daves, a fascinating guy, a movie guy, a writer and director and producer, who started in the business as a prop boy on a silent called Covered Wagon. I won't go into tremendous detail about Delmer Daves, except to say he was a Stanford-educated lawyer, lived with the Hopi Indians, made a half dozen classic films, and was interested in jewelry, which is how he came to know my father. When he heard we were in LA, he invited us to lunch at the Fox studio. I remember the day vividly. Driving to the gate, the guard checking the list for "Weintraub," the thrill of being on that list, our name among the names of actors and movie people. The lot was a hubbub of activity—these were the days of the old studio system, when everything important happened on those few acres. It was a circus, with extras in cowboy hats and chaps and conquistador helmets and spurs, starlets in gowns, cameras and microphones and the machinery of show business. And the sets, little glimpses of Paris and New York, alleys and stoops rebuilt to the smallest detail—the street lamp, the park bench, the window from which your mother calls—so perfect beneath the clean, Pacific sky.