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He's Still High on Hollywood

Neighborhood's honorary mayor Johnny Grant dispels rumor that he is going to lose his longtime penthouse at the suddenly hip Roosevelt Hotel.

September 13, 2005|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

It's not easy staying on top.

Especially when you're a veteran of old-school Hollywood and you're taking up the penthouse of Hollywood's hippest hotel.

So when word swept down Hollywood Boulevard that Johnny Grant was about to be evicted from his digs high above the Walk of Fame, the 82-year-old jumped into the elevator and hurried down to investigate.

Grant was well aware that the newly renovated Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel had suddenly become the hot place to party -- raucous poolside celebrations, in fact, had kept him awake in July. No doubt there was plenty of high-profile interest in his sprawling, two-bedroom, two-bath penthouse with its private, 14th-floor terrace that offers breathtaking views from downtown Los Angeles to the ocean.

"The rumor was I was being kicked out. But I have a lifetime lease. So I went down and talked with them and they said they weren't. They said they were happy to have me here," Grant said.

So happy, apparently, that hotel operators Monday turned over the Hollywood Roosevelt's main ballroom to Grant without charge so he could announce that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will be the grand marshal of this year's Hollywood Christmas Parade.

Grant acknowledged that the selection signals the reinvention of the 74-year-old holiday event, which in recent years has struggled to attract Hollywood stars to ride in it.

But he said Hollywood itself is being reinvented as it slowly upgrades its residential neighborhoods and tourist retail district after decades of decline.

"Once inextricably tied to the entertainment world, now luminaries are found in all walks of life," Grant said.

Villaraigosa said he grew up watching the Hollywood parade "and all those famous stars -- John Wayne and all the others over the years we saw from the big screen" leading it.

He praised Grant for his decades of civic work and "his vigor and passion for Hollywood that's just so infectious and so important."

A beaming Grant retreated to his penthouse after the announcement. There, he disclosed that the Nov. 27 parade will be the last one he produces for the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. It will be televised locally on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and shown nationwide on Chicago's cable television superstation WGN.

He predicted that Villaraigosa would be a popular grand marshal. The parade route is lined each year with "very enthusiastic" Latino families that come early, spread out blankets and stay late, Grant said.

In his 14 years as the hotel's only permanent resident, Grant has watched both the decline and the start of the resurrection of Hollywood through his penthouse windows. He has also presided over the invention and reinvention of his own career as honorary mayor of Tinseltown and leader of a panel that runs the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He serves as emcee at all walkway star unveilings.

Grant worked as a disc jockey at what was formerly KMPC-AM (710) in the 1950s and later was employed as KTLA's public affairs director before retiring in 1992. He began producing the Christmas parade in 1987.

Grant credits actor-turned-broadcaster Gene Autry, who at the time owned KMPC and KTLA, as being a mentor, urging Grant to volunteer for "things that give you standing in the community."

The evolution of the hotel, which played host to the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929 in the same Blossom Ballroom that Grant commanded Monday, is a perfect metaphor for Hollywood, he said.

"You have a mixture of antiquity and modernism under one roof here," he said, acknowledging his ties to old Hollywood and the hotel's new prominence among hip young celebrities such as actress Lindsay Lohan and singer Courtney Love, two recent high-profile guests whose partying attracted news coverage.

In 1991, the then-manager of the hotel invited Grant to move in, offering rental of a 12th-floor suite in hopes that the honorary mayor would dub the place Hollywood's "city hall." When those rooms proved too cramped, Grant offered to remodel the unused penthouse at his own expense and rent that.

His personal manager wrote the lease, which Grant said promises that he can "live there as long as he desires." He said he pays about $2,000 a month in rent, drawing primarily from his pension from his previous work at KTLA, which, like The Times, is a Tribune Co., and investments.

The penthouse is equipped with police and fire department scanner radios, which Grant turns on when he hears sirens on the streets below or spies smoke rising across the Los Angeles Basin.

He takes his meals in a hotel dining room, where he has a seat near the door.

"It's like assisted living. You lose a button and the people down in the laundry room will take care of it," he said.

"I hope to take my last breath here. Since I've got two bedrooms, I'll fix one up for a nurse when I have to. I plan ahead."

In that vein, Grant has begun moving out some of the thousands of photographs, plaques and show mementos that he has collected over the last half-century since he began working as a disc jockey.

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