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Old Hollywood Hacks: Your Guide to Yesteryear’s High Life

With a new sequel out in time for Oscars week, the L.A.-based author of Starstruck shows you how to you party like it’s 1939

The 86th Academy Awards will be held next Sunday, but I’ll be thinking of it as the 75th anniversary of the 11th Academy Awards. It’s precisely these Oscars, held on February 23, 1939, that a pivotal scene occurs in my new novel, Love Me, the second installment of my YA series Starstruck set in glamorous Golden Age Hollywood. So although I can’t tell you how to get into the Vanity Fair Oscar party if you find yourself in town for the big night, I can help you party like it’s 1939.

First things first: then, as it is now, Hollywood is all about the bod. In 1939 juicing, CrossFit and all the other sophisticated regimes with which Angelenos anxiously torture themselves were like something out of science fiction movie, but Gloria Swanson (pictured right) was already lecturing people on the evils of sugar, the MGM commissary was under strict orders not to serve Judy Garland anything but noodle-less chicken consommé, and Greta Garbo famously subsisted on a diet of raw eggs in milk and something called celery loaf.

Luckily, the exercise of the past was much more pleasant! Sure, they had their calisthenic oddities, but the ultimate thigh- and butt-firming experience for the starlets was horseback riding. Head to O’Leary’s Cottage, the former stableman’s quarters at Bette Davis’ former Glendale estate and now an adorable little house that conveniently opens onto Griffith Park and the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. (Davis won Best Actress at the Oscars in question for her performance in the proto-Gone With the Wind Civil War drama Jezebel. Synergy!)

After your workout, you’ll need some lunch and probably a spa treatment—or four (let’s face it, you’re not as young as you used to be)—so head west on Sunset to the Beverly Hills Hotel, where you can have both. The Polo Lounge remains the very best place in the town to enjoy a pornographically overpriced salad (a favorite local pastime) and a chance to see and be seen; I mean, I feel like I see Elliot Gould eating a sandwich at the Farmer’s Market at the Grove every time I run out of moisturizer. Afterwards, it’s pretty easy to sneak into the pool area for luxury lounging if you look nonchalant and walk through the back door from the spa.

And while you’re serving Marlene Dietrich realness (it’s rumored she was once thrown out of the Beverly Hills for wearing pants), why not fall into a MC Escher painting of infinite nostalgia and take in a piece of even older Hollywood at the Silent Movie Theater, the only theater left in the world still regularly showing the flickering images of the pre-talkie yesteryear. You can pretend you’re Norma Desmond reliving her glory days (or Joe Gillis, politely refraining from comment on them, depending on your preference) and the best part is, no one will care if you talk through the whole thing.

Marlene Dietrich in 1936

Marlene Dietrich in 1936

Of course, the ultimate question of any Oscars is not who’s going to win, but what they’re going to wear. You can hope to strike old Hollywood Oscar gold in one of the many, many vintage shops lining La Brea between Melrose and Wilshire, but I suggest finding your perfect red carpet dress at Revamp, which specializes in meticulously crafted reproductions of historical styles, all made to fit perfectly and withstand a night on the town. And for pointers on the rest of your look—hair, makeup, attitude—do some research in the amazing film and photography section at Book Soup in West Hollywood. Oh, and buy something while you’re there, won’t you? Books are our friends.

As for the ceremony and after parties, you’re on your own, but at 2 a.m. or so, when all the exhausted and hungry celebs are at In N’ Out Burger for a photo op to show how relatable they are, chowing down on a double-double and animal fries with their Oscars scattered casually about, buck the convention and go to Pink’s Hot Dogs on La Brea instead. It’s an L.A. landmark, open since 1939, with a menu that’ll take you almost as long to get through as the Oscar ceremony itself.

Standing on line, dressed in your vintage finery, one of those bleary-eyed shopping cart people across the street might even take you for the real thing. The picture business is all about illusion, after all. But traffic is going to be a nightmare, so be sure to follow Bette Davis’ advice to all young actors looking to make it to Hollywood: take Fountain.

Rachel Shukert is the author of Starstuck and its sequel, Love Me, out now.



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