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Beyond Sunset Blvd.

Billy Wilder's favorite spots in L.A. reflect the appreciation he had for his adopted home and its people.

April 04, 2002|CAMERON CROWE

The celebrated writer-director Billy Wilder, who died last week at 95, was one of Los Angeles' most famous residents. Born in Vienna, Wilder made movies that showed a grand affection for the city he adopted after arriving in 1934. He drew boundless inspiration from the color and the characters, and the opportunities the growing film world provided a young screenwriter. When I sought him out more than 60 years later, and our meetings grew into the book "Conversations With Wilder," his recollections of early Los Angeles were still fresh.

"When I came here, Sunset Boulevard was in the country," Wilder recalled in 1997, sitting in his Brighton Way office in Beverly Hills. "It was not even asphalted. People lived around Vine Street, and Santa Monica Boulevard and Hollywood Boulevard. The Sunset Boulevard that we've built up since the war ... the high-rises that were started, they were once meadows."

The key word there is "we." Wilder took the city to heart. Soon his movies were populated with vivid characterizations and depictions that could have come only from Los Angeles. From the ridiculously venal to the gloriously naive, these were the characters that would soon become his unforgettable screen creations.

And the city embraced Wilder with equal enthusiasm. Even in his early 90s, I often noted the special bounce in his gait as he walked the city streets with Audrey Wilder, his wife of more than 50 years. (On Sunday afternoons, however, nothing could tear him away from the Dodgers telecast.)

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Thursday April 25, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
Wilder's haunts--The April 4 Calendar Weekend cover story, "Billy Wilder's L.A.," misspelled the name of a restaurant the filmmaker once frequented, Lucey's.

In Hollywood, there are tours available for just about anything. This is one you won't find anywhere else. Here's a guide to some of Billy Wilder's favorite haunts, the spots where he lived and worked, and the ones he often said made the town indelible in his memory.

The Lot,

1041 N. Formosa Ave.

Originally Samuel Goldwyn Studios. The second floor of the writer's building is where Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond penned some of their finest scripts. More accurately, Diamond wrote while Wilder paced. According to Wilder, "I never sat down in 50 years." Moving briskly around the room, often carrying a riding crop, Wilder worked with his beloved co-writer "Izzy" to craft some of the greatest movies of modern times. Just a few steps down the studio street, on Stage 4, Wilder filmed "The Apartment." The director achieved the memorable task of re-creating the huge accounting firm that employed beleaguered hero C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) by filling the back of the small stage with miniature desks and cutout figures.

20th Century Fox,

10201 W. Pico Blvd.

The iconic image of Marilyn Monroe's white dress fluttering with the gust from a subway grate was first shot for Wilder's "The Seven Year Itch" on a chaotic fan-filled Lexington Avenue in New York City. The director knew he'd need greater control and later returned to Los Angeles to shoot the close-ups on the 20th Century Fox lot.

Today, an enormous mural of "Seven Year Itch" stars Monroe and Tom Ewell adorns the side of the entire New York Street building, not far from the spot where the memorable sequence was completed.

Paramount Studios,

5555 Melrose Ave.

Paramount was Wilder's first studio home as a writer in Hollywood. It was also the lot where he earned his stripes as a director. Wilder filmed on virtually every one of the studio's stages. The final stairway sequence of "Sunset Boulevard," in which Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) declared herself ready for one final close-up, took place on Stage 18. Wilder's primary office was on the third floor of what is now the Ernst Lubitsch building, the site of his early collaborations with Charles Brackett, Raymond Chandler and others.

Lucy's Restaurant,

Windsor and Melrose

The actual building has long since been torn down, but directly across the street from Paramount was once a restaurant where some say more business was conducted than on the lot itself. Lucy's (not to be confused with Lucy's El Adobe) was the '40s watering hole where many a working writer, director, executive or star cooled his or her heels or even knocked back a drink before returning to the studio fray. It's also a historic location in the career of Billy Wilder.

One fateful afternoon Wilder was lunching with Charles Brackett. The two writers ran into actor Charles Boyer, who was then filming their script of "Hold Back the Dawn" with director Mitchell Leisen. Boyer cavalierly mentioned that he had stricken one of the best sequences in the script, a moment in which his character delivered a glorious speech to a cockroach on a motel wall. Wilder decided to become a director at that moment to protect his scripts from further maiming. (Boyer also met his karmic justice. Wilder and Brackett returned to their office and promptly rewrote the ending of the film to exclude Boyer and emphasize the leading lady, Paulette Goddard. "If he's not talking to the cockroach," recalled Wilder, "he's not talking to anybody!")

The Corner of Melrose and

La Cienega

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