L.A. Trip (and Hearst Castle)

I’ve lived in New Orleans since late 2009, but before that – I was in Los Angeles for nearly 18 years. So far, that’s the longest I’ve lived anywhere, but if home is where the heart is, my heart was always in New Orleans, Louisiana. 

Because of the pandemic, I haven’t been back to L.A. since 2019. The things I miss most about L.A. are my friends and 3 food items.

I’ve traveled plenty and New Orleans easily has some of the best food in the world. BUT, we don’t have a great tuna melt. Since we were actually on our way to a wedding in wine country, our trip was super short – so we headed straight from the airport to Mel’s Drive-In on the Sunset Strip. My favorite waitress, Janet, has been making me feel at home there since the place opened in ’97 so I was thrilled to find her still there. I had my usual tuna melt – on sour dough (not rye) since that’s another thing the west coast gets right. 

We stayed at the Andaz – the remodeled Hyatt AKA “Riot House” – famous for wild parties and rock-legends like Keith Richards smashing up hotel rooms. For me, it was an odd experience. The hotel was great, but just outside our window was a house where I lived in the late 90’s. The house has been remodeled past recognition, but it was once owned by movie legend Errol Flynn. I didn’t live there long, but I have a lot of great memories of my time there and my roommate, acclaimed Australian singer/songwriter, Max Sharam, who filled the place with music and interesting people. 

For supper, I wanted food item #2 – Thai food from Pink Pepper. New Orleans has good Thai, but L.A. has great Thai food and Pink Pepper makes my favorite in town. A generous hotel guest on an expense account who was looking for someone to eat with treated us in exchange for me selecting the best menu. It was a perfect arrangement and he was a fun dinner companion.

In order to see as many friends as possible the next day, we secured a cabana at the rooftop pool so people could drop by and visit. Sadly, several people had cancelled in the days leading up to our visit when they tested positive for COVID. Another got all the way to the hotel’s parking garage then ended up in the E.R. and later tested positive. We were glad to be outside as people began arriving. 

I originally met my friend Suzann in the mid-90’s when she was just promoted from an assistant to a D-girl (entry level development person) at a production company. Now she runs the place. 

Joanna Cassidy and I had been in acting class together for years when she agreed to let me direct her in an award-winning short film, Intermission, in 2004.

Danica and I originally bonded over a chocolate sampler when I successfully guessed what was inside each confection. 

I met Jeff “The Dude” Dowd at a premier (Swing Vote, I think). The last friend I made before leaving L.A., Jeff AKA The Dude is also the man who inspired the Coen Brothers to write The Big Lebowski. And he’s also the person who later officiated my wedding. 

Richard Dreyfuss and I met on a New York street in 1992 after I’d just seen his Broadway performance of Death & the Maiden. It was the last play I attended before moving across country. Since then, Richard and I have acted together in a few movies, worked together on Katrina relief, and taught an acting class together. He wrote the foreword to my book, Know Small Parts: An Actor’s Guide to Turning Minutes into Moments and Moments into a Career and let me direct him in Lone Star Trixie, a short film I also wrote. 

James and I worked together at the Universal movie theatre for almost 8 years starting in 1992. I tore tickets there on Sundays – including tickets to 3 movies I was in – and because part of his job is the company newsletter, James has dozens (hundreds?) of photos of my time there. 

Like Errol Flynn’s house resting on the hill behind the pool, my friends and I have been remodeled over time. Our lives are very different from the moments that bonded us decades ago. I think that made it all the more precious to spend time with each other again and catch up a little.

The next day, Richard joined us while I crossed off my last food item – pancakes from Dupars. So delicious that they don’t even need syrup, they’re basically pound cake from a griddle.

Then we were off to wine country for a beautiful wedding and a trip to Hearst Castle. The grounds were incredible – including the herds of zebra sharing turf with the beef cattle. Though it’s certainly wrong for an Egyptian treasure to have become statuary in a California garden, I was excited to see the Sekhmet statue. 

I love swimming and water in general so I was blown away by both the huge outdoor pool and the gold-laced indoor pool. As the guide stated before our tour – everything you see that’s gold – is gold. Everything you see that’s silver – is silver. And there was a lot of both. 

My favorite room of the few we saw was the movie theatre. Plush red velvet, gold statues, an old-style square screen, and wide, plush, feather-down reclining chairs draped with snuggly blankets. They ran some home movies for us and we watched Charlie Chaplin, Delores del Rio and other early celebrities frolicking on the castle grounds. It reminded me of the many days and nights I spent poolside, or watching movies in elaborate home theatres, surrounded by people I’d watched in movies and on TV since childhood. 

I don’t miss L.A., but I do have a deep appreciation for the big adventure I lived there, and the extraordinary friends I made. And I miss being with people who’ve known me for decades.

Our trip back to the airport gave us one more day in L.A. so we hit Mel’s again for another tuna melt with curly fries, and their delicious chocolate milk shake – topped with whipped cream and a cherry – and served with the extra shake in the tall, metal mixing cup. I hadn’t had one of those in forever. Yum. 

Dennis Christopher hadn’t been able to make our day at the pool but joined us for lunch. Dennis and I worked together when he played the family lawyer to me and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Candie family in Django Unchained. We’ve been friends ever since. 

Our last visit was with The Dude and his artist girlfriend on our way to drop off the rental car. Sitting on the porch with ocean breezes cooling the day, I was grateful to have eaten my favorite L.A. foods and seen at least a few of my old friends. But I couldn’t help but look forward to going back home to New Orleans.

4 Comments

Filed under entertainment industry

4 responses to “L.A. Trip (and Hearst Castle)

  1. Hi Laura. Youre trip sounded fab! So sorry we couldnt be there to visit! Miss u guys! Love to Andy! ❌❌💗‼️

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. Ed B.

    Laura, is the Mel’s Diner you are referring to modeled after the famous one in the movie American Graffiti?
    That was time I ever the great Richard Dreyfuss act. That is so cool you two know eachother so well.
    And yes, Tuna Melts are the best!

    • Yes it is! I’ve probably eaten more meals there than any other restaurant in L.A. And American Graffiti was my first experience of seeing Richard act as well. One of my favorite films ever.

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