See the true tinsel town on the Hollywood History Tours

Paramount Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains is among one of the stops on the new Hollywood History Tours. On his Flickr photos page, tour guide Eric Gardner writes, "It's been the Ozark Mountains, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Tom Sawyer's Missouri, 13th century China, colonial Salem and the island of Java." Photo courtesy of Eric Gardner.

Eric Gardner isn’t your typical L.A. transplant.  The film & TV writer began life in California as an art director at an advertising agency when he first moved here from the east coast in the ’70s, and working in the entertainment industry was something that “fell into” his lap.  From the beginning, the Boston, Mass. native was always a movie lover, and a few months after his move to the west coast,  he was already showing his born-and-raised Angeleno friends around their own city.  “I would bore people silly,” said Gardner, and they would often roll their eyes at his fascination with L.A.’s film history.  “I really want to learn more about movie history,” he said, and he figured “I’m out here now, this is where it all happens, (and so) I started exploring.”

Fast forward to today, when work “sort of fell off a cliff” as a result of the recession and Hollywood’s tightened budgets allowed Gardner more free time.  “That part of my business sort of went away,” he said, and his passion for architecture and movie history, coupled with his art degree and curiosity, inspired him to take more photos [see his Flickr page] of historical locations and film spots.  Now, Gardner’s offering his own guided tours of historical Hollywood – sans the big red tour buses.

Gardner got his start in entertainment after he and a co-worker, Steven H. Wilson, left the ad agency at the same time.  Wilson had sold an action/thriller script a few years before, and though it ultimately was never made into a movie, he “caught the bug”, Gardner said. The former ad men decided to work on a children’s movie script together in their spare time and wrote a screenplay based on the 1961 NASA mission that sent Ham the chimp to space.  In 2001, Gardner and Wilson’s work debuted in theaters as “Race to Space” starring James Woods.

“Films have a relationship with people’s lives,” said Gardner, and just as certain songs conjure up memories of good or bad times, films often do the same.  “When there’s a movie that you love, you kind of want to get close to it,”  he said, and locations as seen on the big screen transform into characters of their own.  “It’s interesting to see the ‘then’ and ‘now’,” he said.

Though he hasn’t yet figured out how much the tours will cost, they’ll be affordable and more hands-on than the typical tourist traps where out-of-towners sit on a double-decker to drive by the Hollywood & Highland mall or Mann’s Chinese Theater.  His tour takers can expect adventures like a four-mile hike through Malibu Creek State Park, which can be seen in “MASH”; a visit to Zuma Beach, which may look familiar from “Planet of the Apes”, “The Big Lebowski” and other films; a stop at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Hollyhock House in Barnsdall Art Park; or exploring the Bronson Caves, the site of Batman’s cave and “Invasion of the Bodysnatchers”.

“California gives you that freedom, like no other places, to be in the mountains, to be in the desert, to be at the beach,” and that sense of proximity to different kinds of environments is what makes Los Angeles the ideal spot for movies.  Furthermore, the city’s 30-mile zone, which dictates working rates for entertainment industry union workers, creates an incentive for crews to film locally, and thus many stops on Gardner’s tour are also close to each other.

Gardner said he likes visiting locations “that are the go-to places”, such as Doheny mansion, which is used “any time (films) need a cool interior or a big manor house exterior.”

Gardner recounted meeting a French woman who described a disappointing visit to Hollywood.

What many visitors don’t realize is that the city is no longer the same picturesque town as it was in the glamorous silver screen days of the ’30s and ’40s, and Gardner wants to spread his knowledge and experience in the entertainment industry to those people through his tours.

“If you’re from out of town, you really don’t have the entree” to see the real deal, and Gardner said he wants to help people “get closer to the true film experience” and give them “really a good sense of film making in L.A.”

To take one of Gardner’s tours, e-mail him at ericgardner1@verizon.net.

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