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Shopping for Classic Hollywood Memorabilia

The Walk of Fame near El Capitan Theatre.

Photo: Katie Shapiro

Take One: Everybody Comes to Hollywood

“Are you Mr. Edmunds?” I ask the guy behind the counter at Larry Edmunds Bookshop, a paper-crammed emporium between Gene Autry’s and Michael Curtiz’s stars on Hollywood Boulevard. “There hasn’t been a Mr. Edmunds for seventy years,” he replies drily. It’s my first day in Los Angeles, and I’m in town to hunt for movie memorabilia—the posters! The props! The glamorous fashions!—anything with a connection to our shared cinematic history. I want souvenirs that really evoke Hollywood’s past—items with a peerless provenance that also manage to be ineffably cool. And what better place to begin than this quirky landmark?

It’s only my first day in town, but I feel like I have been here all my life. Maybe it’s because I hail from a movie-besotted family: Oscar night was like a religious holiday in our house; my 90-year-old dad still enjoys a spirited discussion about which is the better film, All About Eve or Sunset Blvd. To this day I spend far too much time devouring films with names like Our Dancing Daughters and Shadow of the Thin Man.

Which is why I am having such a good time at Larry Edmunds, albeit minus Larry himself. The store, in business at various locations since 1938, is bursting with more than 20,000 entertainment related books, mile-high stacks of yellowing fan mags, and 3,000 or so movie posters. Two seconds inside and I am already coveting a 1964 French poster for Ann-Margret’s La Chatte au Fouet (Kitten with a Whip) for $250.

There are also a quarter-million photographs on hand, and tourists often come in looking for a special kind of souvenir—pictures of relatives who were minor players back in the day. And good luck to them: “We don’t have a cross-reference,” the clerk tells me. “They’re by movie title.” Too daunted by this volume of pics, I content myself with a $25 purchase of the December 1954 issue of Screen Stars magazine—Sandra Dee! Liz! Annette!—which I plan to peruse over lunch at the historic Pig ’N Whistle up the street (Judy Garland had her 15th birthday party there).

But first, a stolen hour at the Hollywood Museum, in the former Max Factor building and salon. The “Brunettes Only” dressing room is a riot of retro-chic; Hannibal Lecter’s jail cell is enthralling, if hardly cozy; but given the choice I’d rather loll in Roddy McDowall’s green-and-babypink powder room, which is protected behind glass, like some sort of shrine to our collective Hollywood past, which I suppose it is.

I love this museum but alas, no gift shop. I perk up when I notice a glorious Art Deco edifice across the street. This would be my one-stop destination if I were interested in shot glasses that say hollywood or music boxes trilling “Somewhere over the Rainbow.” But though I have a well-documented weakness for cheap trinkets, I am looking for something a little more sophisticated.

So I am overjoyed when I discover the delightfully ridiculous Bettie Page store (between the stars of Smilin’ Ed McConnell and Jack Benny)—one of those quirky businesses that could only pop up in a locale like this (actually, there are two other branches in Vegas and one in San Francisco, but never mind). You might think that the town would have shops offering styles made famous by icons like Marilyn Monroe or Audrey Hepburn—but no, only Bettie Page, the cheerfully sexy dominatrix, has a boutique of her own. Behind its vintage storefront— surely these 1950’s vitrines once held authentic 1950’s ensembles—the interior features a boomerang table, a leopard rug, and a passel of fullskirted printed shirtwaist dresses that are shockingly demure, considering Page’s line of work.

The Midcentury mood at Bettie Page’s has me considering a Singapore Sling at Musso & Franks Grill across the street (F. Scott Fitzgerald and Greta Garbo used to tipple here, though maybe not together), but I’m eager to dip into the adorable Artisan’s Patio, a historic landmark at 6727 Hollywood Boulevard, home to artists’ ateliers almost a century ago and now a charming retail passageway marked by an ancient neon sign. Luckily, it’s Friday, which means that Ronald V. Borst, the proprietor of Hollywood Movie Posters, the last shop on the street, is in residence (the shop is only open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays.)

“I’ve been in this business forty-three years—I turned a boyhood hobby into a vocation,” Borst tells me. Since 1979 (Kramer vs. Kramer! Apocalypse Now!) he’s been ensconced in this sunny lair, where $175 will get you a 14-by-36-inch poster for the 1940 drama Angels over Broadway. Though there is also plenty of ephemera from more recent films—Borst says that at the moment there is burgeoning interest in the Twilight series and he expects a surge for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows movies—it’s the more distant past that entrances him (and me). I experience a thrill when he tells me that his shop was a screening room in the 1940’s where film noir director Fritz Lang once introduced a movie.

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