By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Photo by Jack GouldIt was a balmy night, the kind that plays tricks on you like a wayward masseuse, and the moon was as fat as a busted lip. We were feeling a little off, a little Rod Serling, if Rod Serling were a chick sucking in her gut in a really tight evening gown and weren't, you know, dead. We were feeling para-real, if you will, hanging out in the parking lot of the Edison International Field of Anaheim—future money pit of your tax dollars, Sportstown—waiting for the dinner show that would make us a star.
But as soon as we entered the fabled courtyard of Tinseltown Studios, the venerable virtual-fame environment that has held sway over our imaginations for, let's see, all of eight months, we began to see the chinks in the chintz. It was the extras that drew our attention.
Now, these extras are supposed to make you feel as vivacious and sought-after as a starlet; they clamor for your autograph and pretend to be those same paparazzi that chased Diana to her tunnel-y end. But they were not threatening, Vespa-riding Frenchies; they were as authentic as Paris, Las Vegas. They were awkwardly, almost distressingly young: high school drama kids (and some looked younger—pushing 12 in feather boas) who had chosen (with good reason) to man a camera at Tinseltown as their summer job rather than man a mop at Little Caesar's. It can't take a lot of dough to hire high school students.
Shortly after we bought a cocktail and watched people getting whisked aside by a fedoraed sycophant (Matt Drudge, anyone?), we began to notice the very small clientele was made up predominantly of lovely high school girls in a second God-given chance to wear their prom dresses. One party of such—a Sweet Sixteen from Chino Hills—mugged its way through the mandatory photo op, their elegant, Cinderella-esque satin gowns shimmering. As the rest of them smiled sweetly and goofed around just a little, one preened mercilessly, pouting and wielding her body like a mace, with palpable purpose. And that was for pretend fame. That's our kind of teen!
But for a dinner show about fame and riches, it was woefully lacking in Cher impersonators—and we know seven dozen or so drag queens who would do it cheap.
And for a dinner show that purports to make us the star, it was woefully lacking in us. We didn't get an award; neither the MC nor his co-host, ex-wife Stephanie Panache (shades of Viva Variety), pointed us out with, "Everybody say hello to Hugh Grant!"; and we had to graciously pretend we weren't busy looking for ourselves over the stars' shoulders in the faux news video taken before the show. We weren't even in that! And there were only about a hundred people there instead of the max—700-plus! Instead, while we ate a pretty good salmon dinner, we endured an unspeakably earnest number by the waitstaff that, ŗ la A Chorus Line, lamented another night of waiting tables, setting up for the show. Damn it all, when will they get their chance? Perhaps right after the Fame/Flashdance medley! Or after the theme song from Titanic, which was not sung for laughs! And if that wasn't enough to crush her dreams, we then slurringly explained to our tablemate—a visiting real-estate agent from New Zealand—that all the men onstage were gay, including the MC, whom by her third glass of wine, she was lovin.' Every one of them. All. Gay.You know, like at Disneyland.
It was an awfully good idea, Tinseltown—or at least an interesting variation on today's lock-stepping trends, pioneered by our very own not-cryonically-frozen Walt Disney: cut down the mountains and trees, build new ones, and charge the people $44.50 to look at them. The Eagles sang something about it in "The Last Resort"—wait, no. That was about another OC phenomenon: developers who "put up a bunch of ugly boxes, and Jesus, people bought 'em."
But apparently, these developers overestimated the worth of America's vanity—or the number of rubes here who will fork over more than $40 to hear a bunch of applause. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting?
And like all the investors in the Rainforest Cafe and Planet Hollywood (and the chagrined analysts who rated them "buys"), they overestimated our need for para-reality. In May, Planet Hollywood announced a first-quarter loss of $34.7 million; the president/ COO resigned. Recently, so many fickle investors dumped Rainforest stock that it fell 42 percent in one day. It has yet to recover. In Tinseltown's case, the developers are Ogden Corp., a $2 billion company traded on the New York Stock Exchange. They also run the American Wilderness Experience, The Top of the World at the World Trade Center, The Great Western Forum and The Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim. In other words, they know how to bleed you of your entertainment dollar.
We spoke with a handsome bartender about the obvious lack of business. "Until now, it's been like a Lamborghini driven by a 16-year-old," he soundbit. But a new operating plan—turning Tinseltown's 40,000 square feet into a multipurpose venue for concerts and banquets and cutting out the awards show—would return it to its proper glory.Jack the photographer disagreed. Once out of earshot, he muttered, "That's just what they say so the employees won't steal everything before they get fired."