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Always Ready for Its Closeup

December 15, 1996|Susan King

Hollywood has, with some accuracy, depicted the Sunset Strip as a hotbed of glamour, decadence, mobsters, hip music, trendy nightclubs and restaurants, posh hotels, neon, drugs and misguided youth.

But the most enduring Strip icon is pure fantasy: Tourists still try to find the locus of the 1958-64 ABC detective series "77 Sunset Strip," which never existed. (Dino's Restaurant, the finger-snapping hangout of "77" private eyes Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Roger Smith, depicted by the actual Dean Martin's Dino's Lodge, is now an office building.)

Hollywood's fascination with the Strip goes back 60 years. The Trocadero nightclub was featured in 1936's "Hollywood Boulevard" and 1937's "Stand-In." Notorious fan dancer Sally Rand starred in an obscure 1938 mystery, "The Sunset Strip Case"; Mickey Rooney, in the low-budget 1951 film noir "The Strip," played a drummer who hooks up with a Hollywood gangster. When the Strip outgrew its martinis-at-the-Mocambo image, Hollywood focused on the influx of rock clubs, drugs and hippies, mirrored in American International Pictures' 1967 exploitation flick "Riot on Sunset Strip," which incorporated footage of the real 1966 Sunset Strip riots. In 1977's "Annie Hall," ultimate New Yorker Woody Allen used the Strip as a prism of California lifestyle excesses: Diane Keaton breaks up with Allen at the Strip's natural-food restaurant, the Source. Steve Martin set the classic "double-decaf-espresso" scene of "L.A. Story" at Butterfield's restaurant. More recently, Robert Altman chose the icy Art Deco beauty of the St. James Club (now the Argyle) for a movers-and-shakers meeting in his 1992 black comedy "The Player," while Carney's hamburgers, the converted Union Pacific lounge car, was a hangout for the disaffected youth of 1987's "Less Than Zero."

Although "77" gave the Strip its indelible pop cultural stamp, the follow-ups have had somewhat less impact. In ABC's 1990 crime series "Sunset Beat," a pre-"ER" George Clooney played an undercover cop cruising the Strip on a hog motorcycle--the series beat it after just two episodes.

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