Saturday, June 30, 2012

Television Out of the Box

We finally made it over to Beverly Hills today to see the “Television Out of the Box” exhibit at the Paley Center for Media. The exhibit, which lasts until 2015, features artifacts from Warner Bros. studio’s most famous TV shows—for example, Big Bang Theory, True Blood, Fringe, Friends, ER, West Wing, Seinfeld, Murphy Brown, China Beach, The Sopranos, and Band of Brothers—and, of course, numerous cartoons, like Bugs Bunny and Top Cat.

Sets, props, costumes, video clips, and lots of paper ephemera are nicely showcased upstairs in the two large rooms that used to house the viewing consoles, if you’re familiar with the Paley. Memorabilia from early westerns and detective shows, such as Cheyenne and 77 Sunset Strip (two favorites of both our families), are also on display, but to a lesser degree. There’s also a small theater where you’re encouraged to sing along to better-known TV theme shows. Gilligan’s Island, anyone?

West Wing

I must confess to shedding a few tears watching clips of my beloved West Wing, though I’m sure I’m not the only fan who caught her breath seeing the famous “Bartlet for America” napkin that Leo gave Jed at the beginning of his presidential campaign. Plus, I almost lost it (again) while watching a snippet of Mark Greene’s final episode on ER. 

Doug Ross (George Clooney) and John Carter's (Noah Wyle)
hospital badges from ER

“Television Out of the Box” is truly a wonderful exhibit for anyone who loves good TV.

Central Perk coffeeshop from Friends

"Smelly cat, Smelly cat, What are they feeding you?"

Thanksgiving dinner on Friends

Ordering the "big salad" on Seinfeld

Movie poster from Entourage

Bada Bing sign from The Sopranos

Big Bang Theory

P.S. There’s also a terrific exhibit of more than 50 Al Hirschfeld drawings of TV shows and personalities on the first floor of the Center. Tim and I got so caught up looking for the “hidden Ninas,” we almost didn’t make it upstairs!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Yet More Disneyland and Cars Land!

Dinner for three at Club 33

The big annual American Library Association conference was held in Anaheim over the weekend, so we took my colleague Suzanne to Club 33, Walt Disney’s exclusive restaurant inside Disneyland. Tim made reservations through someone who knows someone, etc., who is a member of Club 33. Like last time, we adhered to the dress code and arrived right on time. The food was fabulous; plus we got to walk along the balcony, peering down at regular folk strolling through New Orleans Square. Although expensive, it was nonetheless a magical two hours.

In addition to dinner, guests of Club 33 get free entrance to Disney California Adventure as well as Disneyland. We hadn’t seen Cars Land at night yet, so we quickly made our way over to the other park after dessert. Radiator Springs was crowded but beautiful, all lit-up in neon signs. See for yourself:

Ornament Valley all aglow

Sunday, June 17, 2012

War Horse

When the movie War Horse came out last year, I couldn’t watch the trailer without sobbing. The idea that a young man’s horse could be sold into conscription during World War I—where millions of horses died—just sent me over the edge. I vowed I would never see the movie, even though I pretty much adore everything Steven Spielberg does.

But then the Ahmanson Theatre held a special “open house” event, in February, to introduce Joey, the life-sized puppet horse that was going to star in the play version of War Horse. I went with Karen and immediately fell in love with Joey, who is made out of cane and fabric and looks, with the help of his human puppeteers, like a real horse. I decided then that I would go see War Horse at the Ahmanson once it arrived this summer.

Tim and I saw the play last night. To say that the staging was amazing would be a huge understatement. Joey and his equine companion Topthorn looked, sounded and behaved exactly like real horses. At one point, Joey came out into the audience—coincidentally on our side of the theater—so we got to see his mechanisms up close. When he reappeared, a couple of scenes later, we could hear him first—snorting and shaking his head—before he passed by us again on his way to the stage. The puppetry was truly uncanny.

Which, of course, makes the story almost impossible to bear, if you love animals, like many of us, who were in the audience, do. The horrors of war were so perfectly depicted that I spent much of the play crying, mourning the loss of soldiers and horses alike. The play is a masterpiece of human actors interacting with puppets, but it’s also a powerful anti-war statement that I may never forget.

For more about horses during WWI and Joey, in particular, see CBS’s “Making the Magic of War Horse” below.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Cars Land and Buena Vista Street

The secret door to Cars Land

Though Cars Land, the new attraction at Disney California Adventure (DCA), doesn’t officially open until next Friday, June 15, we got to sneak-preview it twice: last weekend as Disney “cast members” and yesterday with D23. Plus we got to see—and more importantly, go shopping at!—the new Buena Vista Street, California Adventure’s completely renovated entrance. YAY!!

A line of waiting cast members had already formed by the time we arrived at 8:30AM last Sunday. We quickly made friends with the woman in front of us, who had been inside the day before. She told us what to expect and which rides to go on first. But once the gates opened at 8:50AM—10 minutes early!—it was suddenly every man, woman and child for his/herself. 

Because DCA doesn’t open until 10AM, we were escorted to our destination: a secret door, at the far back of the park, that led into Cars Land. I overheard a young boy tell his father, “My heart is pounding!,” and thought, “Mine is, too!”

Our first view of Ornament Valley

As soon as we passed through the door, I yelled, “OH MY GOD! IT’S SO BEAUTIFUL!!” and started to cry. Cheers erupted behind us as we entered Ornament Valley. If I didn’t know better, I could have sworn we had been transported to Zion National Park—except, of course, all the landforms were in the shape of car fins and hood ornaments! Disney’s imagineers had certainly outdone themselves this time.

Welcome to Radiator Springs!

We followed the crowds inside. Now, it’s not required that you watch the movie Cars before entering Cars Land. But it wouldn’t hurt because, there, right before our very eyes, stood the small town of Radiator Springs in complete three-dimensional detail: Luigi’s Casa della Tires, Ramon’s House of Body Art, Flo’s V8 Café (yummy BBQ pork!), Sarge’s Quonset hut, Sally’s Cozy Cone Motel (now a snack bar), and even the statue of Radiator Springs’s founder, Stanley, a Ford model-T. I would have cried all over again, but by now we were practically running to the first—and, hands-down, the best—Cars Land ride, Radiator Springs Racers.

Luigi's Casa della Tires

Flo's V8 Café

 Cozy Cone Motel


If you’re going to create enormously popular rides, why not entertain guests as they’re waiting on line for more than an hour? Thus Walt Disney invented “line technology.” The Racers ride is one of the best examples of this philosophy we’ve ever seen. Not only are there displays explaining the history of Ornament Valley, but you get to walk through cactus gardens, a garage decorated in gas tank caps, and a bottle house—not as glorious as, but still very reminiscent of the old Simi Valley bottle house Tim and I knew as kids. By the time you get to the head of the line, you are thoroughly convinced Radiator Springs really exists.

The ride itself is huge fun. Again, it’s not required that you know the movie Cars, but it does help if you’re familiar with the story before hopping into your racer, an open-topped sports car that looks a lot like Lightning McQueen, the film’s main character. After a short cruise through Ornament Valley, you're then thrust into a dark tunnel, barely missing oncoming traffic and driving past other adventures, until you finally arrive at a nighttime version of Radiator Springs. There you either get new tires, or a new paint job, in preparation for “the big race.” And before you know it, you’re once again outside, racing another car filled with screaming passengers! Everyone agreed that this is one of the best Disney rides ever.

Unfortunately, Cars Land’s other two rides—Luigi’s Flying Tires and Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree—pale in comparison, but should be popular nonetheless. I especially liked the Jamboree, where you’re towed behind a miniature Mater truck that tosses you back and forth. Not as good as the Mad Tea Party, but pretty close. On the other hand, Luigi’s Flying Tires, based on the old Flying Saucers—one of my favorite Disneyland rides as a kid—was a disappointment. Just like the Flying Saucers, which floated on a cushion of air, Luigi’s tires are self-propelled and hard to navigate. I'm crossing my fingers the kinks will be worked out soon or the tires, just like the flying saucers, may quickly become a distant memory.

Inside the trolley

The real-life Disney Studios is located on Buena Vista Street in Burbank, not too far from where I grew-up. So the idea of incorporating Buena Vista Street into DCA is very special, at least for me. However, instead of embodying images of old Burbank, the new entrance is designed to look like a conflation of the various neighborhoods Walt would have encountered when he moved to L.A. in 1923. The buildings, which combine Spanish architecture and art deco elements of the period, beautifully evoke the overall historical feel of the “new” California Adventure.

Carthay Circle

The centerpiece of the fictional Buena Vista Street is a slightly smaller replica of the magnificent, but long-since-demolished Carthay Circle theater, where Snow White premiered in 1937. In addition, a battery-powered reproduction of the electric red car, that used to carry folks from one end of L.A. county to the other, now takes visitors through DCA’s Hollywood Land and back. It’s a wonderful piece of nostalgia that literally carries riders back in time.

It’s no secret that California Adventure has never quite lived up to Disney’s expectations. In fact, we’ve been there many times when you could have shot a cannon and not hit a single person. But with these two new destinations—Cars Land and Buena Vista Street—DCA seems ready to, at last, fully compete with its older sibling, Disneyland. We look forward to returning some rainy weekday in February when the excitement—and the crowds—have finally died down.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Bullocks Wilshire

One of the most beautiful architectural icons of Los Angeles is Bullocks Wilshire, located just west of downtown L.A. Opened in 1929, the building is a monument to the fabulous art deco style of the period. Unfortunately, however, as the downtown area began to decline in the late 20th-century, so did Bullocks. The Wilshire store was eventually sold to Macy’s, which stripped it of its glorious fixtures. But happily, in 1994, the building became part of the Southwestern Law School, where it remains today, serving as the school’s magnificent law library. Most of the original fixtures have been restored.

On Saturday, the California Library Association sponsored a rare tour of the inside of the facility. Tim, Karen and I were the first to buy tickets. I will let the building itself tell the rest of the story. (Click on images to enlarge.)

The famous Bullocks Wilshire tower

 Exterior detail

Porte cochère ceiling mural: the Spirit of Transportation
(above and below)

 Exterior lamp

Looking east at the tower from the Vermont 
subway station entrance

Interior lobby: elevator art (above)
and elevator doors (below)

Lamps (above and below)

Clocks (above and below)

Interior wall mural

Private room where high-end fashion was modeled
for wealthier customers

Detail above the door

A remaining dressing mirror among the stacks