Monday, May 14, 2007
Charles Phoenix is something of an LA icon. A baby-boomer who grew-up in Southern California, he makes a living collecting other people’s old photographic slides and showing them at sold-out venues. The result is what he calls “histo-tainment”—a combination of history and entertainment—which he creates by providing an hilarious backstory to each slide.
He opened the Anson Ford Theater’s summer season with his “United States of Charles Phoenix” show on Friday. It had been a while since we’d seen him—plus Tim had never been to the Ford—so we decided to go. To avoid parking in Hollywood, we drove to the Universal Studios metrorail lot where we could catch a shuttle to the theater after dinner.
Food options were pretty slim at the metrorail station, so we set our sights on Universal’s City Walk, about half-mile away atop the infamously steep hill at Lankershim and Cahuenga. We waited 10 minutes for the City Walk tram before our stomachs got the better of us. Surely we could walk there a lot faster than waiting for a ride. What a mistake! Tim charged ahead, leaving me a hundred paces behind. Fifteen minutes later, we stumbled into the first restaurant we saw and asked for massive amounts of water. I had completely lost my appetite.
We made it to the theater just as the pre-show entertainment was about to begin: music by Domenic Cangelosi, organist at the Moonlight Rollerway in Glendale. With slightly more than a thousand seats, the Ford is far more intimate than the nearby Hollywood Bowl, which seats 18,000. It was a beautiful night and the crowd—mostly young hipsters and others (like us) of a certain middle age—was thrilled. Let the festivities begin!
The “world’s greatest hula-hoopist” Mat Plendl opened the show by twirling up to eight hula-hoops around his body while dancing to Gene Krupa’s “Sing, Sing, Sing.” We held our collective breath and screamed with delight at the end. Charles Phoenix then emerged, wearing a thrift-store suit that he had customized with paint and glitter. The audience hooted its approval. Charles was in the midst of introducing a local pseudo-celebrity in the audience, when he was suddenly interrupted by a blond standing and waving her arms at the front of the theater. It was actress Cybill Shepherd. She obviously thought he was about to introduce her, but sat down when it became clear that he was introducing someone else altogether. An awkward Hollywood moment!
Undaunted, Charles carried on and showed us slides and more slides of families traveling to well-known destinations, like Palm Springs, vintage Las Vegas, Venice Beach, and the wacky Walk-o-Wonders in Columbus, OH. We laughed hysterically at a woman posing in a bra and gorilla mask in the desert and oohed-and-aahed at the space-age monorail zipping above the 1956 Texas state fair.
The show ended with a nostalgic tour of early Disneyland. It was enough to make one weep for happier days. But, instead, we left filled with warm memories and marveling at how lucky we were to grow-up during the wonderful 1950s/60s.