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April 11, 1993|Michael Harris

"Look up at the sky tonight," I'll tell them. "You'll see stars that may have died out centuries ago, but the light keeps coming to us." Then I'll say: "Think of the movies as that light. They keep coming to us unchanged, their stars forever shining in youth and glamour, the sentiments of another era preserved on celluloid as if in a time capsule. They keep coming to us from here, " I'll say, "where it all began--the Sunset Strip."

Then I'll pause a moment to let that sink in. "I'm Clark," I'll tell them. "I'll be your guide today, in place of one of the regular Hollywood Heritage docents."

We'll be standing in front of the Laugh Factory at 8001 Sunset Blvd., where the two-hour tours begin at noon on the second Sunday of each month. Cost: $6. Reservations: (213) 874-4005.

And they'll look at me, some of them, a little curiously, as if the face doesn't quite match the punk outfit I have on, and the thin, dark mustache doesn't fit the earring and the spiked blond hair. But the glare of the sunlight off billboards and cars will deflect their gaze; there will be plenty of other curiosities on the Sunset Strip to look at, and their interest will ebb.

"I hope you brought sturdy walking shoes," I'll tell them, "and dark glasses too. Not because the sun is that bright, no. And certainly not because you'll need blinders to filter out the contemporary and the crass. Not even so that you'll look like movie stars yourselves--though some of you might," I'll say with all the gallantry I can muster.

"But because once the dimness surrounds you, you'll feel as if you're at the movies, in a theater, and that's the way the magic of Hollywood's golden years will steal across to you most easily."

And we'll set off down the legendary boulevard, which was only a rutted dirt road in the country when the first motion picture in California was filmed in the Beesmeyer Barn in 1907.

We'll have a good time, I'm sure.

Then, after it's over, after most of the tourists have left, there will be one elderly lady, or maybe two, who will fix me with a no-nonsense stare.

"You didn't fool me for a minute, Mister Gable," she'll say.

And I'll give her the wink she'll remember from back when she watched me as a girl in movie houses where admission was a quarter and you got two features, a cartoon and a newsreel to boot.

"Don't tell anybody," I'll whisper.

And you know what? They never do.

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