The Getty Villa

Getty Villa Fountainhead

Getty Villa Fountainhead

Nestled among olive trees overlooking the Pacific Ocean is The Getty Villa. Located in Pacific Palisades (Los Angeles), a visitor is magically transported from the California joggers and surfers of the day, back to ancient times.


A museum celebrating the Mediterranean world, it highlights the ancient Greeks, Etruscans and Romans.  There is no entry fee.


Central Courtyard. Courtesy Wikipedia.

J. Paul Getty (1892-1976), an American oil tycoon, purchased this 64 acre site near Malibu in 1945, and in 1954 opened the J. Paul Getty Museum.


Main Courtyard. Courtesy Wikipedia

He eventually built this facility, extravagantly renovated in 2006.  Resembling an Italian villa, it is modeled after the Villa dei Papiri, a Roman country house in Herculaneium that was buried by the Mount Vesuvius eruption in 79 AD.


When Getty’s personal art collection became too extensive to be housed here, it was split into two locations.  The rest of his collection is at the Getty Center in Brentwood (L.A.).


Getty Villa Cyrus Cylinder

Cyrus Cylinder. Contains ancient text from 539 BC declaring the importance of human rights and tolerance. On loan from British Museum.

The Getty Villa art collection is impressive with 44,000 antiquities dating from 6,500 BC to 400 AD.


Getty Villa info here.  Cyrus Cylinder info here.


Getty Villa Frieze

Getty Villa Frieze


Outdoor Greek Theatre

Outdoor Greek Theatre

There is also a 450-seat outdoor Greek theater.  Here they host live performances, films, concerts, and festivals.  It is built into the hillside with tiers of benches, based on the architecture of the ancient Greeks.


More about the remarkable designs and acoustics of the ancient Greek theaters at My Space in the Immense Universe, presented by Greek resident and enthusiast, and fellow friend and blogger, Doda.


Getty Villa ocean view

Getty Villa ocean view

How fortunate to have the opportunity to peruse this extensive collection, embracing the ancient Greek and Roman antiquities.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander unless otherwise noted


Grauman’s Theatre

Grauman's Theatre, aka TCL Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, CA

Grauman’s Theatre, aka TCL Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, CA

The ultimate draw at this popular tourist attraction is a small plaza of solid concrete between the movie theater’s entrance and the busy Hollywood sidewalk.


Imprinted in the concrete are handprints, footprints, and autographs of nearly 200 famous movie stars.


Over 80 years of entertaining, and the theater still hosts moviegoers every day, including premiere films with an entourage of celebrities and fans.  Now called TCL Chinese Theater (and boasting the new James Bond film in IMAX) it has had many names, many owners, many face-lifts…and millions of visitors.  Read more here.


Grauman's,-people-millingThere was much noise and activity surrounding this hotspot on Hollywood Boulevard:  street artists, impersonators, souvenir hawkers, and tourists.  But I found that once I was in the plaza with the prints, the chaos melted away.


Rita Hayworth

Rita Hayworth

For here I was looking at the shoe prints of Rita Hayworth, the delightfully talented feet that had fluttered across my TV screen so many times.



Michael Jackson and stilettos

Michael Jackson and stilettos

Artists as far back as the 1920s and 30s had mingled here–Mary Pickford (original co-owner of the theater), the Marx Brothers, Al Jolson.  And hundreds more silver screen friends were here throughout the rest of the 20th century, and into the 21st.  View the list here.


Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe at Grauman’s Theatre, 1953

People I had never actually met, but whose body and face, voice and gift, instantly sprang up in my mind.  Here were the artists from every stage of my life, and my parents’ and grandparents’ too–they entertained and enlightened me, in sickness and in health.


We all paused and admired our own special heroes, stood in their footsteps, honored their essence.


In a few quiet corners I noticed there is still some space left for future celebrities, because yes, the show must go on.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Roy Rogers

Roy Rogers





La Brea Tar Pits

La Brea Tar Pits aka Rancho La Brea, Los Angeles, CA

La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles, CA

My favorite place to visit in Los Angeles is not the surfer beaches of Malibu or the gravity-defying rides of Disneyland.  It is a quiet corner of the distant past bubbling with methane:  the La Brea Tar Pits.


When you look at this first photo, taken through a fence less than a year ago, you see circles of wakes on the water’s surface.  This is the natural gas (methane) and asphalt bubbling up from underground vents, a natural phenomenon that has occurred in this spot for 50,000 years.  In the background you can see a highrise; this is Wilshire Boulevard, a fast-paced and densely-populated thoroughfare in the Miracle Mile district.  In the foreground is a life-sized model of a trapped American mastadon.  It is a mind-blowing mix of cultures and eras, all taking place in the same spot on earth.


Page Exhibit: Saber-toothed tiger attacking ground sloth

Page Exhibit: Sabertoothed tiger attacking giant ground sloth

Deep below this lake in Hancock Park are oil fields.  Tectonic plate movements created fissures long ago resulting in the natural seepage of asphalt from the oil fields up to the earth’s surface.  Throughout the ages, this heavy oil substance thickened in pools and became covered with leaves and sediment.


Rancho La Brea, as it was once called, was home to a large variety of birds and mammals that wandered this Los Angeles Basin in the late Pleistocene Ice Age.  When the tar pools warmed up they became sticky, and animals were rendered immobile, and trapped in the asphalt tar.  Predators would come in after the animals, and they too would become entrapped.


Mammoth skeleton at Page Museum

Mammoth skeleton at Page Museum

Due to the preservative nature of asphalt, bones and fossils have been uncovered from the tar pits.  Through a process of radiometric dating on tar deposits found in the bones, it has been determined that the animals date back 11,000 to 50,000 years.


It was in the early 1900s when the value of these bones as windows into the past became recognized.  And now, after a century of excavation, these tar pits have uncovered the world’s richest deposit of Ice Age fossils.  The remains of now-extinct mastadons, mammoths, sabertoothed cats, giant ground sloths, camels, dire wolves, horses, and the giant jaguar have been found here.  Many other extinct birds, mammals, and plants have also been found.  Excavation continues to this day.


Through the tenacity and forethought of paleontologists, scientists, and other dedicated professionals spanning the past century, over 100 tons of fossil bones have been recovered here, representing 231 vertebrates and as many invertebrates.


Los Angeles, California

Los Angeles, California

Amid numerous excavation pits on this sight in Hancock Park is a museum highlighting the incredible array of fossils found here.  The George C. Page Museum hosts an extensive collection of fossils and Ice Age skeletons from the tar pits here on this Los Angeles city block.


Imagine parking your car in a lot where mastadons once tromped, and checking your messages on the grass where sabertoothed cats pounced on ground sloths.  This is a unique natural history experience.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Where Marilyn Monroe Rests

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe

This past winter I was in Los Angeles on a mission (see Joining Jeopardy….), and while there I decided to see where Marilyn Monroe is buried.  In Hollywood and in movies, here’s a woman who still lives on.


An admirer of Marilyn Monroe, I have watched most of her movies many times.  My favorites are:  Some Like It Hot, Niagara, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.


Westwood Village Memorial Park

Westwood Village Memorial Park

The graveyard is in Westwood, a bustling neighborhood dominated by the University of California Los Angeles.  Looming skyscrapers surround the small cemetery and just around the corner is the multi-laned thoroughfare of Wilshire Boulevard.  Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park is the resting place for many other famous stars including Natalie Wood, Roy Orbison, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Don Knotts, Peggy Lee, George C. Scott, Burt Lancaster and Truman Capote.  Some of the gravestones have jokes, some have photos, and not all are Hollywood film denizens.


Marilyn Monroe's Resting Place

Marilyn Monroe’s Resting Place

To get there you have to take a crucial turn into a tiny alley and we went around the block three times, all the time reading the directions over and over, until we finally found the correct turn.  It’s a beautiful resting place.  There are some gravestones in a grassy green area dotted with leafy trees, and numerous blocks of above-ground crypts.


Marilyn Monroe rests inside a crypt in this peaceful world.  She had such a rocky existence, this shining star, a life filled with high ups and low downs.


Marilyn Monroe 1926-1962

Marilyn Monroe

Prior to visiting her grave I always had a sadness for her, because she passed away so early in life at the destructive hand of her own doing, such a troubled soul.  But when I saw that she was finally in a peaceful place, my sadness gradually vanished.  While I am quite certain that everyone in this cemetery was loved by someone, if not many, Marilyn’s grave is a monument to love.


You can see from the photo that her crypt is a different color than the surrounding ones.  It is darker, mellow mauve, from all the fans who have touched it, including me.  There were flowers, coins, mementos and even a boa there, and just a few feet away is a marble bench in her honor.


At TCL Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Blvd.

At TCL Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Blvd.

Later that day we went to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a section of Hollywood Boulevard where more than 2,500 five-pointed stars are embedded into the sidewalk, each representing a hero in the entertainment industry.  Ten million tourists a year visit here.  We also went to what was once called Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (now TCL) in the same vicinity.  In front of the theatre are the actual foot- and handprints of famous actors.


Hollywood is a unique place on earth.  That day my head was filled with Marilyn Monroe and all my Hollywood “friends.”  As I absorbed all these characters, many from long ago, it occurred to me that my whole life has been filled by the personalities and talents of these people, even though there is not one who I really know.  That’s the splendor that is Hollywood:  the illusion.


Then a miracle happened.  Well, a Hollywood miracle.  We were in the crosswalk, crossing chaotic Hollywood Boulevard when I saw Marilyn Monroe coming toward me!  I was so glad to see her alive!  Of course in the next instant my mind corrected me, it was someone impersonating her.  But for that moment she was sparkling again, in a short flouncy white dress, smiling big, and as real as can be.


I must have been staring (I know I was beaming) because just then she smiled at me, and don’t you know, she blew me a kiss!

Joining Jeopardy for a Day

Outside Jeopardy Studio at Sony Pictures

Outside Jeopardy Studio at Sony Pictures

I had an energizing urban adventure last week in Los Angeles.  There’s a popular quiz show in America called Jeopardy, and it goes all the way back to 1964.  When I was a kid my mother would reward us a penny for every correct answer.


In my young adult years I fantasized, like most other viewers, about becoming a contestant.  I felt I did pretty good with correct answers.  Then more years passed and reality hit.  Turns out I’m a writer, and also shy by nature.  I like to sit in the back of the room and watch all the stories unfold.  Put a moving camera in front of me and I either freeze or giggle.  Being a front stage contestant was just not for me.  So then I decided to visit the studio and simply watch.  And this is what I did last week. 


I’ve been to studio tapings before and was aware that much of what you see on the television screen is very different from what you see in real life.  I prepared myself for the illusion.


At the appointed time and date, we stood in line outside in an alley surrounded by giant murals of TV shows; then about 50 or so of us filed into the studio.  Inside there were contestants on stage rehearsing with a pseudo-host.  They were getting familiar with their signaling devices and answering questions, while production staff and sound engineers bustled around adjusting microphones, cameras, and lights.  The game board and other things did indeed look different than on TV, there were illusions; but they were minor. I also saw there was not as much magic as there was hustle.

Once we were seated, the announcer Johnny Gilbert told us how important we were to the show. Live clapping is better, he explained, than canned laughter.  He made me want to do the best possible job of clapping.  His rich voice lifted me in its familiarity, this voice I hear every night but never had a face to place with it.  Now I had a face, one of warmth; and his generous time and openness with us transformed me.  I stared at him, taking it all in, as he told us what to do.   Later, when we could ask questions, I asked him about their volume of fan mail and he gave an articulate and enthusiastic response.


mock set up (no photos allowed on the show)

mock set up (no photos allowed on stage)

When it was time to go on the air, the countdown started:  Five, Four, Three, Two….  As if I was an astronaut about to catapult into space, I was filled to the brim with pure excitement.  Pink lights flooded the stage, the theme song I’d known for my entire life blasted the studio.  Johnny Gilbert at his lectern shouted out in his booming voice, “This Issss Jeopardy.”  I thought I was going to explode.  Then Alex Trebek came marching out from behind the stage, initiating another one of the more than 6,500 shows he’s hosted. Oh did I ever clap hard.  We all did.  I looked around and saw the whole studio audience smiling broadly and clapping heartily.


During the commercial breaks Mr. Trebek (how can I address him as Alex?) came over to the audience.  He is just as handsome in real life as he is on television, but he’s more entertaining in person.  As a TV viewer you pick up on his dry humor and self-deprecating jokes, but until you’re there at the studio, you don’t get to hear all his jokes or witness his theatricals (he tap-danced for an impromptu half-minute).  Most importantly, you don’t realize how hard he works and how easy he makes it look.

They tape five shows a day.  At 7:30 that morning Mr. Trebek gets the material for all five shows of the day.  At 61 clues and answers per show, and five shows a day, he facilitates 305 questions a day in front of a television audience of nine million people.  He’s done this for 30 years, and so has Johnny Gilbert; but you would never know it from their level of enthusiasm.


It’s an array of impressive feats for everyone on and off that stage.  We watched one of the judges call up to heaven for a ruling on a question, saw the answer man behind the curtain, watched the director demonstrating to contestants how to flail their arms and project their voices for a future commercial.  Was even introduced to the Clue Crew!  Everyone has a designated job on this team, and they are all important to the success of the show. 


As a writer I sit alone at the computer typing and deleting thoughts all day long.  No one sees me, yet my office is filled with voices, dances, catastrophes, and murders that all reside within my busy head.  Things originate in my head and they blossom out in the world after that.  To sit in that studio audience chair at Sony Pictures and see what happens after their writers and researchers have done their work, to actually hear the music and bells, see the colored lights and flashing signs, the waving arms and gestures, and witness the bloopers that will be edited out later…it was all a dream come true.    


It was also a reminder.  We all work away on our day.  Sometimes it feels boring, uneventful, even futile at times; we work day in and day out.  But it seems to me that just when you need it, we are reminded of how our work fits into the big picture and how important our work, our existence, is.  Everything we did from the time we were a kid on the floor in front of the TV up through today…it all matters. And just between you and me:  I hope in 30 years I’m as smooth and cool as Alex and Johnny.

I Love Road Trips

TruckI just returned from a really fun road trip to Los Angeles.  We traveled lighter than these folks in Zambia.  Next week I’ll tell you about the highlight of the trip:  being a studio audience member on the Jeopardy show.  My job was to clap and I did a fantastic job!