HOLLYWOOD, LOS ANGELES: “Stop!” orders our rather eclectic Starline tour guide to his obedient driver as we pull up at 815 North El Centro Avenue. In 1935, at just nine-year-old, a pretty little blonde girl named Norma Jean Baker was sent to an orphanage at this very address. She was the Hollygrove Home For Children’s 3,463rd displaced little-one after her mother was deemed mentally unstable.
Today, a plain orange-brick building has been erected where the once palatial orphanage stood. Legend has it, when the 26 other girls in Baker’s dorm went to sleep at night, the would-be star sat at her window as she cried for her mother and dreamed of the life she wanted.
“That window looked out upon the former RKO Studio water tower – which later became the Paramount Studio water tower – which you can see across the road,” says our tour guide. To my left, down a decrepit alleyway and with a view repeatedly intercepted by so many power lines, the famous white steel giant stands tall. “Norma Jean would stare out her window at this very water tower and said many years later, ‘I used to think as I looked out on the Hollywood night, there must be thousands of girls sitting alone like me, dreaming of becoming a movie star. But I’m not going to worry about them. I’m dreaming the hardest.’”
To say that quote landed with me is an understatement. Just one month prior to Visit California flying me to the Sunshine State, I had moved half-way across the world to New York City. I’d look out the window of my Manhattan apartment often and dream up some big ticket opportunities. But can you really dream so hard that you manifest the exact life you want?
Making perhaps one of the most convincing cases for Atkinson’s law of attraction, Baker – as we now know – went on to become Marilyn Monroe, one of the world’s biggest movie stars.
Myself and the travelling group of journalists are staying at the plush Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, where Monroe regularly stayed throughout her career. In between those bawdy, playful movies like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Seven Year Itch, How To Marry A Millionaire and Some Like It Hot, Monroe would stay in Room 229, fondly known as the “Marilyn Monroe Suite”. She married often and well so it’s probable Yankee baseball slugger Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller would have also accompanied her here.
Today, we’re lucky enough to tour her room and it’s quite something. The loft-like space has sleek and modern hardwood floors, vintage Eames pieces and mid-century accents; lambs-wool cushions, cow hide rug. Tick, tick. The 750 square foot suite of course has been updated – guests stay there frequently – so it looks different to how the movie star would have experienced it. The shower space is small though – but then at 5 foot 5 inches so was Monroe – and the balcony wraps around the entire room. At just one level above the bar below, it doesn’t seem very private for such a huge celebrity. But such were the days.
Looking down at the pool space below where Monroe famously posed on the diving board for a suntan lotion ad, it’s quite a warm feeling knowing your viewing the world exactly how Monroe did on those Hollywood nights. Did she ever gaze out into the palm trees like she did the water tower as a child? What would the walls say if they could talk? They have seen so much and would have heard so much more over breakfast the next morning.
BOOK MARILYN MONROE’S SUITE HERE & Follow @thehollywoodroosevelt
The Hollywood Roosevelt is the place to stay in LA. If you’re looking for a spot to meet a late night date, may I suggest the bar by the pool (the fairy lights are so magical) or a bar called the Spare Room inside the hotel. As you walk up the stairs, you will pass a huge mirror. When hauntings are mentioned in connection with this property, people always note this mirror which used to hang in Monroe’s suite.
After her untimely death in 1962, the mirror was moved to the hotel manager’s office where it’s believed an employee spotted “a sad blonde lady” as well as her own reflection while dusting it one day. This information was unbeknown to me the night I checked my lipstick but a few guests – who have been doing the same – have reported sighting said sad lady.
Once inside the Spare Room, order up on the champagne if you are so inclined to live your best Monroe life (it was indeed her favourite) or if you’re like me, grab a whiskey and sit by the bowling lanes. It’s chic and it’s quite a vibe. If you are there with friends, book ahead to play a game: One lane will set you and five friends back $100 for the hour. Even if you’re just passing through town, it’s a cool spot to suggest a drink.
BOOK A BOWLING LANE AT SPARE ROOM HERE & Follow @spareroomhwood
The Spare Room closes at 2am. If you’re not retreating upstairs and feel like the a second, third or fourth nightcap, the bar on ground level, 25 degrees, is open 24/7. I needed my beauty sleep that night but I did enjoy the “Number Three Scramble” and a latte the next morning at the same spot for breakfast.
Los Angeles can be a really overwhelming place for people who are not familiar with it. I have visited the city many times in my career and I’m still finding my bearings. One incredible restaurant that Visit California took me to was Yamashiro, a century-old Japanese style castle in Hollywood. “Oh yes, Yamashiro,” says my Uber driver. “You’re very lucky, it’s incredible.” We arrived at the top of a scenic hill and to the most spectacular amber sunset, one that surely has been the backdrop to many a film. (That’s the thing about Hollywood, everything you see feels like a Deja vu moment because you know Tarantino and Scorsese have shown you all of this before).
The restaurant itself is filled with pan-Asian architectural flourishes and is made for the monied, trendy clientele. It’s Japanese, Korean and Chinese traditional items are so delicious, it’s worth eating all of the sushi and sashimi even if you don’t book a table with an extraordinary view. I started with a cocktail called “Kinshasa” (Haku Japanese vodka, lemon, lychee and opal basil) and true to form, ended with one aptly named “The Sins I Love” (Coconut washed Kikori Japanese whiskey, sesame charcoal syrup, tobacco and Plum bitters). Ask for a dessert menu. The night we went, we were served a giant, almost indestructible fortune cookie with chocolate mousse.
BOOK A TABLE AT YAMASHIRO HERE & Follow @yamoshirola
The next day, Visit California secured us tickets to the Emmy Awards. For me, who spends a lot of my time organising GRAZIA’s celebrity shoots and movie star interviews, it was a treat of caramel slice proportions to actually have my own glam team. For one night, it wasn’t about Julia Roberts or Coco Rocha, it was about me… and Phoebe Waller-Bridge who took home two Emmys for Fleabag. And let me tell you, my hair has never looked better. With a picture reference of Emily Ratajkowski at the 2019 Met Gala, the lovely hair stylist from Dry Bar (who sources all her products from Sephora) tonged, tussled and teased by hair to the point the two hairs on my head multiplied, and then squared. If you are in LA and are in need of a makeup artist, I would suggest Heather Rose Coleman who understood the “bronzed, dewy but make it last all night” brief to a tee.
BOOK HEATHER ROSE COLEMAN HERE & FOLLOW @heatherrosecoleman
In a magenta dress borrowed by Australian label Scanlan Theodore, I took a selfie from the balcony of my suite. It overlooked the pool and I stood there gazing across at Monroe’s balcony. Is this how she felt before a film premiere, all dolled up and somewhere to be? Is this what she dreamed up as a little girl? “Give a girl the right pair of shoes and she’ll conquer the world,” she once said.
With that, I grab my YSLs and make a mental note to remind you all to “dream the hardest”.
Jessica travelled as a guest with Visit California. If you’re planning a holiday to THE golden state, head to visitcalifornia.com for more.