by JEFF LUNDENBERGER ~ Posted March 6th, 2017
I will be attending the TCM Classic Film Festival solo for the first time this year. My husband Ed and I have made that trip to Hollywood together since our first festival in 2011. This year, due to unforeseen circumstances, he won’t be able to make it. But that’s not going to stop me from going!
Of course I’ll miss him and the rituals we’ve developed over the past 6 years: breakfast at Mel’s Diner, long, ambling walks around Hollywood, a browse through Larry Edmunds Bookstore, a meal at Musso and Frank, drinks by the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel pool, drinks at Boardner’s with our bartender who greets us warmly each year, drinks in the lobby bar at the HRH as we compare notes on the movies we’d each seen that day… that sounds like a lot of drinking, doesn’t it? What the hell. We’re on a classic movie mission.
Despite the fact that I’m headed to Hollywood armed with the knowledge and the friendships I’ve developed over the past six years, making the entire trip by myself will be a bit of an adventure for me. Anticipating this has brought to mind the sense of adventure I felt when Ed and I made our first trip to Los Angeles for the festival.
When I saw advertisements for the first TCM Classic Film Festival in 2010 I was intrigued but, for some reason I no longer remember, the thought of a trip to Hollywood for a film festival seemed like an impossibility to me. When the promos started playing on TCM the following year, however, with clips of Robert and Ben, the stars in attendance, and particularly all the smiling faces of the festival-goers flashing their passes, I knew this was something I couldn’t miss. To my surprise Ed, who actually watches TV channels other than TCM and isn’t nearly as classic movie obsessed as myself, agreed to go along. I booked a room at the HRH and bought our Spotlight passes several weeks after the announcement of the festival dates. Ed made the flight arrangements. We would follow the festival with a trip to San Francisco to visit friends.
We flew to California Thursday, April 28, the first day of the festival. A lesson learned, we’ve since gone out one or two days before the festival start date. I’d suggested we take a Super Shuttle van from the airport to the hotel to save on costs but, to my surprise, Ed had arranged for a limo to pick us up at the airport. He explained that we just couldn’t show up at the hotel in a blue van, and I came to realize that he was absolutely right. It is Hollywood, after all. It seemed to take forever on the endless LA freeways but then, suddenly, we turned on to Hollywood Boulevard and there we were! The driver pulled in to the hotel drop off, we checked in and found our room, TCM playing on the television as we entered. It was starting to feel like an exquisite dream.
After unpacking we took the elevator down to the hotel lobby, the doors opened, and there they were, the smiling people with passes I had seen on TV. Everywhere! I knew I had found my tribe. There, on the small stage in the corner, was Robert Osborne, chatting with festival-goers while waiting for a crew to set up for some taping. We stood and watched a while, then went to check in. We received gift bags, something I hadn’t been expecting, and inspected their contents poolside–with a drink. Too early? Not today! And there was Ben Mankiewicz, conducting interviews! I can’t begin to describe the overwhelming joy and awe I felt in these moments. I knew that this was exactly where I was supposed to be at this moment in my life.
We walked down busy Hollywood Boulevard, past Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, where they were setting up for that night’s gala event, past the El Capitan Theatre, the imposing Masonic Temple, the Hollywood Highland Center with its tribute to the D.W. Griffith film “Intolerance,” eventually making our way to Mel’s Diner. (I thought our waiter must be new, but we’ve seen him there every year since and he continues to maintain that same tentative approach to food service.) After our late lunch we headed back to the hotel. Already it was time to prepare for our walk down the red carpet.
We showered and shaved and ironed our shirts, and then set off for the big event. We were among the first to arrive and were ushered along the red carpet. Alas, no cameras flashing for us but there, again, were Ben and Robert, waiting for the stars to arrive for interviews. There was cheering, for what I wasn’t sure, as I didn’t know which way to look in all the excitement. Soon we were entering the ornate theatre, a reminder of the days when going to the movies really meant going to the movies. Popcorn and Coca Colas in hand, we entered the cavernous auditorium, a marvel that still impresses after many visits (and was thankfully not diminished by renovations that were completed several years ago). It was practically empty at that point and we found great seats near the center of the theatre, directly behind several rows marked “Reserved.” Soon the theatre started to fill up and we watched with excitement as Ileana Douglas, Rose McGowan, and Diane Baker took seats near us.
Before long the lights dimmed and Robert Osborne entered the theatre to enormous applause that was equaled only by the reception accorded Leslie Caron, who he introduced. She was, of course, the star of that night’s movie, “An American in Paris.” She was charming and humble as she spoke about how she had come to be cast in the movie, its filming and her costars, and her life afterward. She and Robert took seats a few rows behind us once the movie started.
I’ve never been a big musical fan and had never seen “An American in Paris” from start to finish before but it was certainly impressive that night, in that theatre, with that crowd. I was thoroughly enchanted by cocky, sexy Gene Kelly, disillusioned and slightly disheveled Oscar Levant, and the achingly lovely Miss Caron. I wondered what she must have been thinking, seeing her young, lithe self dancing – some of her movements seemed to me to be nearly impossible. And the extended ballet sequence was breathtaking.
The movie ended, the audience cheered, and somehow we again found ourselves among the first people headed up the escalators for the Vanity Fair party at a venue atop the Hollywood Highland Center. We passed Jennifer Grant on the way, but how I knew it was her I’m still uncertain. We took a few pictures inside the venue then grabbed glasses of wine (which were followed by several more). We spent most of the evening on a balcony overlooking the center, thus missing most of the celebrities in the VIP area inside. I did catch a glimpse of Ron Perlman, so tall and difficult to miss. And Ileana made an appearance outside. Being celebrity shy I said nothing, but I discovered at later festivals that she’s friendly and approachable.
I’m usually uncertain and useless at that type of party but on that night I found myself having conversations with anyone and everyone who came my way. I met people from all over the country, several of them are friends to this day. The first to arrive, the last to leave, Ed and I took the short walk back to the hotel, where we stopped for a nightcap in the lobby bar to wind down after our fantastic day. We were both ecstatic. I don’t know if I’ve ever been as content as I was that night.
We hadn’t really made any plans about how we would decide on what movies we’d be seeing over the weekend and I think I assumed that Ed and I would attend them all together. We settled on “A Streetcar Named Desire” for our first film Friday morning and were both happy with that choice, but after that Ed wanted to see “The Godfather,” not a favorite of mine. My curiosity was piqued by “Bigger Than LIfe” and so off I went to the Multiplex, while Ed got back in line at Grauman’s. All by myself? Not for long! I found someone to talk to in line, after I was seated, everywhere I went. That, for me, is the essence of the festival–the vast array of attendees it brings together and makes family by their love of classic film. I pulled out the journal I wrote at the time, and this is what I wrote about watching “To Kill a Mockingbird” as a festival novice:
“I teared up a couple of times during the movie, not just because of what it means to me, but for my joy of being at the festival, seeing the movie on a big screen, with others who love it.”
Ed and I did see several other films together that weekend, but just as often we went our own ways, saying goodbye in the morning, a quick hello in passing during the day, and a catch up session over drinks that night. And, a dream come true, we were able to meet Robert Osborne, twice! We attended the closing night party, made some new friends, said goodbye to others, and had a bite to eat before going to bed, then got up early to head to LA’s beautiful Union Station to catch the train to San Francisco. Ed was already making plans for TCMFF 2012. I’ve enjoyed immensely every festival since, but I don’t know if any one has been quite as magical as the first.
Who knows? Since Ed and I have seen so little of each other during the festival itself, maybe this year won’t be so different after all. I haven’t attended the opening night movie and party the past two years so I’m used to missing that. I’ll have breakfast at Mel’s, drop in Larry Edmunds, and Boardner’s, and maybe wrangle someone into having a meal with me at Musso and Frank. I’ll stand in line for the movies alone, as usual, but there is always someone to chat with there. Yes, I’ll miss Ed terribly. But I’ll be surrounded by community, classic film fan friends I’ve made over the years, and ones that will be new to that weekend. And as we’re all politely asked to leave Club TCM at the end of the closing party on Sunday, April 9th, I’ll be looking forward to TCMFF 2018.
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