The grills will be fired up again Wednesday morning at Pink’s Hot Dogs in Hollywood, nearly five long months since they closed due to COVID-19 regulations. The stand, which had never before shuttered in its 81-year history, has implemented changes including closing the inside dining room, placing larger tables on the patio, and employing a bathroom attendant to clean between visitors and a “front door ambassador” responsible for enforcing a rule that customers wear masks. Phone orders and delivery will begin at the end of the month.
The company hired an environmental firm to deep clean the entire property, place six-foot space markers on the ground, and was able to bring back all of their employees, some of which have been working at the restaurant for decades. Orders will be taken behind a plastic shield. “So it’ll be the original Pink’s experience,” says co-owner Richard Pink. “Except with Plexiglass.”
The landmark on La Brea Avenue started as a pushcart run by Paul and Betty Pink in 1939. The couple expanded into their current building in 1946 and the Pink family now operates more than a dozen locations from Miami to Manila. Each of them should know how to make all 40 varieties on the menu, including the celebrity tribute dogs famous at Pink’s, from the Marlon Brando (chili, mustard, and onions) to the Giada de Laurentiis (peppers, onions, and mozzarella), to a “dawg” named after late TV host Huell Howser (two wieners in one bun).
When the Brando dog was launched, the store gave a free wiener to anyone dressed like a character from one of the actor’s movies, one of countless stunts on the sidewalk that the store is famous for. That, and the delicious dogs, old-time beverages (Yoo-Hoo and Dr. Brown’s?), and the frenetic excitement of lining up for a dog in the middle of the night.
“When nightlife comes back to L.A.,” says Pink. “We’ll be here until 2 in the morning.”
California Senator Kamala Harris will join Joe Biden on the Democratic ticket. The announcement brings to a close an extended, closely watched running-mate selection process. She will be the first Black woman, and the first person of Indian heritage to ever be nominated for national office by a major party.
While Harris was a fierce competitor to Biden during the primary campaign, the former rivals have reportedly remained on good terms in spite of the debate barbs. According to The New York Times, some have even suggested that her willingness to take him on as she did impressed him and he viewed her debate performance “as more of a potential asset to his ticket than as a source of lingering grievance.”
Back when Kamala was Attorney General, she worked closely with Beau. I watched as they took on the big banks, lifted up working people, and protected women and kids from abuse. I was proud then, and I’m proud now to have her as my partner in this campaign.
In an injunction issued on Monday, California Superior Court Judge Ethan P. Schulman has found rideshare apps Uber and Lyft have failed to comply with the state’s “gig worker law,” AB 5, in a lawsuit brought by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, along with the city attorneys of Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco.
While the order does not automatically convert current drivers from contractor to employee status, it is a significant step in the lengthy legal battle between the tech giants–who are seeking to keep workers categorized as independent freelancers–and regulators who want to see those workers treated as full employees.
Uber and Lyft argued that they are fundamentally technology companies, not transportation providers, and that the workers contracted to provide rides are permitted to do so under AB 5 because the rides themselves are outside the scope of the company’s core businesses.
Judge Schulman was unconvinced by that line of thinking, saying that the companies “cannot possibly” justify the claim.
“It’s this simple: Defendants’ drivers do not perform work that is ‘outside the usual course’ of their business,” Schulman’s injunction states.
In press statements issued following the ruling, both companies asserted that they believe that workers prefer to be considered contractors.
“The vast majority of drivers want to work independently, and we’ve already made significant changes to our app to ensure that remains the case under California law,” Noah Edwardsen, a spokesperson for Uber, wrote on behalf of the company.
Statements issued by both Uber and Lyft cite a specific survey of drivers, published in May by industry website Rideshare Guy, which found that 71 percent of respondents said they wanted remain contractors. The survey, which was conducted by emailing existing subscribers to the site’s mailing list and received only 734 responses, was described by The Washington Post as “independent but unscientific.”
The preliminary injunction has been stayed for 10 days; Uber and Lyft are expected to file appeals.
The Perseid meteor shower, one of the most impressive meteor shower shows of the year, peaks this week. To get the best view, you may need to drive a bit out of the city in search of darker skies. Experts generally advise that you avoid the beach; though sometimes lower on light pollution, the coast tends to be hazy. Here are some of the best places to spread out your blanket and enjoy the show. Wherever you go, be sure to be mindful of keeping your distance from others–if a spot is already crowded when you arrive, keep moving along–and, if you’re going far, consider buying gas and supplies before leaving your local community.
Nestled up against the foothills, the La Crescenta-Montrose and Altadena areas offer minimal suburban light and decent views. If you only have half an hour to search for your spot, you’ll do fine here, but for darker skies and clearer air, push a little further up Angeles Crest Highway.
If you follow Angeles Crest Highway deeper into the mountains, you’ll arrive at Mount Wilson. The Observatory will be closed to the public, but the parking lot near the top and the turnouts along the highway provide ample spots to stop and watch.
Templin Highway near Castaic is a popular area for stargazing. A little under a mile after you exit the 5 Freeway onto Templin, you’ll come to a shoulder where you can park and join your fellow amateur astronomers.
Another stargazing hotspot is Malibu Creek State Park in the Santa Monica Mountains, which offers places to park and overnight camping. Just remember that, if you’re not staying for a camp-out, this might not be the spot for you; they lock the gates at 10 p.m.
Mount Pinos in Frazier Park offers spectacular night sky viewing. This site is rather popular with astrophotographers, so the unspoken etiquette is to approach the parking lot at the top of the mountain with your lights off so you don’t blow anyone’s shot.
Meteor-gazing is a good excuse to visit Big Bear when it’s not ski season. At the mountain’s elevation, atmospheric distortion is almost non-existent, so settle in and enjoy the sight of an estimated 120 meteors a minute.
For cautious singles, dating during a pandemic can feel like a throwback to Victorian England: chaste greetings, endless picnics, and not a whole lot of sexual energy.
Consider goodbyes. Brian Dionisi, a motion graphics designer, was on a date at the La Brea Tar Pits when both parties realized the get-together had run its course. The resulting hug was formal, detached: “We each leaned in with our heads as far apart as possible and patted each other on the back.”
It was, he says, depressing. “Because of all the constraints, you get to know the other person in this very tame way,” he says. “It doesn’t always make you feel super excited about the next date.”
For intimacy-starved singles, Tinder meet-ups can feel like polite interrogations, where one or both parties attempt to suss out whether the other is taking social distancing seriously, and whether such discretion merits inclusion in an official quarantine pod. “There’s a higher bar the other person has to meet if you’re really going to give it a chance,” Dionisi adds.
Naturally, these extra formalities are complicating our sex lives. According to a longitudinal study of more than 2,000 adults across the country published by the Kinsey Institute in April, a mere 3 percent of singles said they’d hooked up with someone they met on a dating app since lockdown began. Trojan condom sales have plummeted, though sex toy manufacturers are now reportedly working “around the clock” to meet demand.
“I went into this study thinking that we’d see really high levels of sexual interest and engagement, but the trend is less sexual behavior, and that even includes less masturbation,” says Dr. Justin Lehmiller, a research fellow at the institute and the author of the book Tell Me What You Want.
The constant hand-washing, itchy masks, and steady stream of bad news has doomed most libidos, with 44 percent of respondents reporting a decline in their sex lives. That said, the impact has been greatest on singles: 56 percent reported a decline in their sex lives.
But stress has different effects on libidos, says Lehmiller. “For some, it puts a huge damper on libido, making them desire less sexual activity. This is the most common response. But for others, sex is a way they cope with stress.”
“Obviously it takes a lot of self-rationalization to hook up with someone right now.”
In May, I spoke to Chris, a gay man in his thirties in the Bay Area who was still getting it on with strangers. (Fearing judgement, he asked to stay anonymous; thus “Chris” is a pseudonym.)
Chris recognizes how reckless “sex with strangers during a pandemic” is likely to sound to the general public. “Obviously it takes a lot of self-rationalization to hook up with someone right now,” he says. When he first started using Grindr for its intended purposes, he’d been under lockdown for 50 days. “Time was this congruent mass of nothingness, and I think my attitude was probably the same as it is now: I need some taste of normalcy.”
In many ways, Chris continued to take the pandemic seriously; he still wore a mask in public and used curbside delivery whenever possible. Most days, he barely left his house. But on the apps, he indulged in his fantasies. “I was putting a lot of blind faith in people — I realize that,” he says.
In June, he tested positive for COVID-19, a bit more than a week after he’d had a “36-hour romp” with a few men. Thankfully, it was a mild case. “The doctor even cleared me to leave isolation a day early,” he says. “But I will admit that I feel like a dipshit.”
Dating apps have attempted to curb hookup culture in a number of ways: Tinder is testing a new video chat feature, called Face to Face, while Bumble allows users to screen potential dates based on their level of comfort with social distancing.
Health agencies around the world, meanwhile, have tried a range of tactics to encourage safer sex. Dutch officials have instructed quarantined singles to find a longterm “seksbuddy” while the New York Health Department told residents to “get kinky” by creating “physical barriers, like walls, that allow sexual contact while preventing close face to face contact.” The British Columbia Centre for Disease Control went a step further and explicitly recommended glory holes to the delight of many (but not all). There’s currently no evidence that the COVID-19 virus is transmitted through semen or vaginal fluids, but it is possible to get the virus from fecal matter, so health agencies have been careful to take certain acts off the menu.
But while corralling the general public into taking precautions in the bedroom can be challenging under normal circumstances, it seems especially hard amidst an economy in free-fall and a historic mental-health crisis.
“I had to measure the risk of exposing myself against the need to hug someone and feel human.”
Lauren (also a pseudonym) is a graphic designer in L.A. who began seeing a guy shortly after quarantine began. “I had to measure the risk of exposing myself against the need to hug someone and feel human,” she said. “Hooking up was about actively forgetting for a second what was going on in the world.”
Reaction among her friends has been decidedly mixed. “I get some who say, ‘You go girl!’ and others who refuse to see me,” she says.
Even our libidos differ across party lines these days. According to the same Kinsey Institute study, two-thirds of self-identified conservatives reported their sex life either improved or stayed the same, while less than half of liberals claimed the same. “Specifically, conservatives were less worried about their health and less likely to stick to social distancing,” says Lehmiller. “And if they feel less anxious about the virus, that could explain why the impact on their sex lives has been less pronounced.”
One thirtysomething writer in L.A. admitted to me he’d been a “total fuccboi” throughout the pandemic. “I live alone and this disease doesn’t kill young healthy people, despite all the fear-mongering you hear in the lying lib media,” he wrote via text.
But for those who actually pay attention to the news, meeting up someone who doesn’t can be a jarring experience. Sam Kelly Jr., a producer based in Seattle, says that he once went on a park date with a woman who wasn’t taking social distancing seriously at all. “I had my guard up and she showed up in a bikini situation. I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m not ready for anything right now.’’
Kelly Jr., who’d just gotten out of a serious relationship before the pandemic hit, wasn’t in the mood to take any chances. “It turned out that her roommate worked at a specialty care facility for elderly people,” he adds. “I was like ‘Yeah, I’m not going inside your apartment.’”
The division between Mayor Eric Garcetti and the police union grew wider this weekend when the Police Protective League soundly rejected Garcetti’s plan to have LAPD officers request that utilities be shut off at residences deemed “party houses” where COVID-19 rules are violated by hosting large gatherings.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League tweeted on Sunday, “Mayor Garcetti wants to reimagine policing. He should send his civilian staff to turn off people’s electricity & cut off their water. Let officers deal with the rise in shootings and killings in L.A. We need a leader and not a political contortionist.” Despite the phrasing of the tweet, Garcetti didn’t ask officers to physically shut off electricity and water to party houses, rather that officers responding to parties report to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power that utilities should be shut off within 48 hours, should they see fit.
Mayor Garcetti wants to reimagine policing. He should send his civilian staff to turn off people's electricity & cut off their water. Let officers deal with the rise in shootings and killings in LA. We need a leader and not a political contortionist. @TMZhttps://t.co/LIfhBetRLVpic.twitter.com/KJEJLBp7vx
The stance against Garcetti’s party-stopping tactic comes on the heels of his decision to cut the LAPD’s budget by 1.5 percent after previously saying he supported increasing it. Police have also accused Garcetti and some city councilmembers of hypocrisy by praising officers in private while pointing to them as the cause of social tension on TV, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Union vice president Jerretta Sandoz told the Times on Monday that the mayor is trying to use cops as P.R. props, saying, “He wants to use police officers when it benefits him politically.”
Garcetti warned at the time that the “consequences of these large parties ripple far beyond just those parties. They ripple throughout our entire community because the virus can quickly and easily spread.”
Sandoz counters that working with the Department of Water and Power is “not our job,” and points out that using the police that way could lead to further deepening the distrust of cops by residents.
“If we are trying to bridge the gap between community relations and police, then why would we go out to a call like this, which would cause more friction?” she asked.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage in the U.S., live performance venues will be among the last businesses allowed to reopen–and, even when some reopening is possible, there is no way to know yet what it might initially look like. For large arenas and concert halls, the shutdown has been a struggle–but for smaller operations, the pandemic may turn out to be devastating. Small music venues, the very heart of the artistic scene of any city, are facing an existential threat.
“I think it’s very important. Every artist and band starts in a place like Zebulon, small venues. These places are in danger now,” he said. “When the pandemic may be over, people [are] going to maybe see then these places are closed. And they will be very sad.”
Justin Randi owns the Baked Potato, the oldest operating jazz club in L.A. The club was started by his father, Wrecking Crew keyboard player Don Randi, in 1970.
“Don wanted a place where he and the other studio musicians could play their own stuff, play jazz, and it continues to be that kind of place for musicians,” Randi says, recalling the role the club and its patrons played in his life growing up. “I set the tables when I was really young, then I progressed to washing dishes. I clearly remember Jaco Pastorius walk over to my father’s young bass player at the time, take his bass, and play with my dad the rest of the night. I watched Al Jarreau sit on my dad’s stool with him and sing lyrics to Miles Davis’s ‘All Blues.’ I had never heard lyrics sung to that song. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard.”
“A live venue, especially one as intimate and long-standing as ours, is a lot about community.”
Randi’s club closed up on March 15, canceling a weekend of sold-out shows, thinking they would reopen in three weeks. At Memorial Day, staff prepared to reopen for limited service, only to be unable to operate due to the imposition of curfews. Once they lifted, the venue attempted to do half-capacity indoor bar service, but that too was shut down again.
For now, Randi is looking to streaming audiences to help his family business stay alive.
“A live venue, especially one as intimate and long-standing as ours, is a lot about community. And the Baked Potato community is an in-person community. But, you know, these are the times we’re in for now, and we will adjust as needed,” he says. His team has invested in a state-of-the-art system to capture performers and broadcast them around the world from stage of his otherwise-empty club.
“What we have installed has allowed us to continue to share music with Baked Potato regulars and also music and jazz fans across the globe. People from all over the place have bought tickets to our benefit show with Steve Gadd [on July 25], to save a club they’ve never physically stepped inside of. This part of it, the outpouring of support, from all over the place, has been overwhelming in the most beautiful way. I never imagined we’d grow the Baked Potato community like this, online.”
He notes that, while the Baked Potato has played host to hundreds of benefit shows over the years, a recent streaming fundraiser was the first time they’ve been in a position where the benefit was for the club itself.
“I never thought such a day would come, but here we are and its standing between continuing on or closing for good,” Randi says. “The bills are still due. The insurance, mortgage, water and power, property taxes. They are all still due.”
When asked what the future holds for live music, and for his own club, Randi admits he doesn’t have many answers yet.
“That’s the million-dollar question,” he says. “For me and every other business owner who has put their heart and soul into something they believed in.”
“The bills are still due. The insurance, mortgage, water and power, property taxes. They are all still due.”
Many clubs are hanging their hopes on federal intervention. The National Independent Venue Association, a trade group formed in April to lobby for music venues amid the pandemic, has backed two specific proposals, the RESTART Act and the Save Our Stages Act.
The RESTART Act, which would cover a variety of small business categories, has been on the table for inclusion in a second federal stimulus bill, but talks between Congress and the White House on that package are currently at an impasse.
PPP loans are an ill fit for most venues, as payroll is typically not the largest expense facing the businesses. According to NIVA, venues typically have relatively small staffs of largely part-time or seasonal workers, but carry substantial overhead costs due to the expense of paying rent on large—currently empty—physical spaces. Further, the group says, since there’s no clear date on which venues may be able to resume business, taking on additional debt in the form of loans might be a burden that many venues would never dig out from under.
Specific to the live-performance industry, the Save Our Stages Act was introduced in the Senate in late July by Senators Amy Klobuchar and John Cornyn. If adopted, the bill would provide for six months of financial support to venues, in an attempt to help them cover rent and payroll for the short-term.
“There is an estimated $9 billion in losses expected should ticket sales not resume until 2021. And so we really tried to focus this on the independent, smaller venues,” Senator Klobuchar told Rolling Stone. “[With music venues], it’s not like some of the businesses can be half-open. It’s either open or closed for the most part. You could envision a day where maybe they can do social distancing, but it’s really hard in mosh pits to do that.”
Klobuchar, who likens the industry-specific legislation for music venues to a much larger bail-out program created specifically for airlines, says Save Our Stages could be passed as a stand-alone bill, or incorporated into the HEROES Act (it does not appear in the House-passed version of that act as it currently stands).
“I would say if you’re willing to put all that money into the airline industry because they’re uniquely affected, you’ve got to start looking at the music industry. That is a huge, huge part of our economy and such a unique American export,” Klobuchar notes.
NIVA participants in Los Angeles include the Bootleg Theater, Teragram Ballroom, the Regent, Zebulon, and the Troubadour, among the dozens of venues, promoters, and festivals in the region, and hundreds nationwide. Amy Madrigali of the Troubadour told Press Playthat lobbying for pandemic relief has become her company’s top priority.
“That’s our main objective at this moment, working with NIVA to help both of our venues and our 2,000 members across the United States,” Madrigali said. “We’re down to zero revenue. We closed our doors with no shows, there’s no revenue really. And so these are small pieces to try to just hold on.”
“The small venues are where the diversity in Los Angeles exists. It’s the soul of the city.”
If these spaces disappear, there will be the loss of jobs and small businesses and economic activity–and there will also be harder-to-quantify type loss to culture and city life itself.
“The small venues are where the diversity in Los Angeles exists. It’s the soul of the city,” says Adrian Younge, a musician, record label owner, and concert promoter. “If large corporations buy up all of the venues, we will see a sweeping homogenization in music. All of the wonderful niches would have no place to exist. The two biggest things we would lose are diversity and artist development.”
Younge can think of at least 25 concerts that he was involved in that were forced to cancel due to the pandemic. Facing the reality that the months that have already passed without live performances could be just the beginning of a long, dark season, he finds himself struggling on multiple levels.
“This is the first time in 18 years that I’ve not done a concert, a tour, or programmed a festival,” Younge says. “I really love bringing people together through music. I’ve devoted my life to it, so it’s still taking some getting used to.”
“I really love bringing people together through music. I’ve devoted my life to it, so it’s still taking some getting used to.”
Beyond the artistic loss, Younge notes the financial hardship aspect of the pandemic as well. On top of losses from not performing or booking events, he co-owns the Artform Studio, a combination record store-hair salon-performance space in Highland Park, which has been closed for most services since March due to restrictions, and a recording studio which he says has had almost no clients coming in the door, even as restrictions on entertainment industry productions have begun to relax.
“It put a dead stop on everything we had planned for this year,” he says. “It’s been a hard-hitting year.”
» Apartment rental prices in Los Angeles appear to be dropping as landlords struggle to fill vacancies amid the pandemic. “Luxury” buildings in particular are slashing prices, with the largest drops–around 8 to 10 percent–observed in DTLA and Mid-Wilshire. [Los Angeles Times]
» L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies appear to pull guns and rifles on a group of Black teenagers in video footage of an incident in Santa Clarita. The officers were called because the teens were being threatened by a man wielding a weapon. Sheriff Villanueva issued a statement acknowledging that he “has concerns about the tactics deployed.” [CBS Los Angeles]
» A majority of Americans now report personally knowing at least one person who has been infected with COVID-19. Some experts say that direct connection to the impact of the virus could motivate the public to take health precautions more seriously [Bloomberg]
» Local breweries and wineries want to be allowed to reopen for outdoor service. Some say they’re being unfairly singled out for prolonged closure. [ABC Los Angeles]
» Airports in the region report a 58 percent drop in passengers in the first half of 2020. Following September 11, 2001, air travel dropped about 10 percent, but quickly rebounded. [L.A. Business Journal]
» More than $50,000 has been donated to a crowdfunding campaign to get a Hollywood Walk of Fame star for actor James Hong. Fellow actor Daniel Dae Kim led the fundraising efforts, hoping to get recognition for the 91-year-old Hong, who has over 600 Hollywood credits. [Yahoo! Entertainment]
A Look Back at How ‘Fright Night’ Turned L.A. into Anytown, USA
“Today it would be very easy to set the whole Fright Night package in an urban, downtown apartment world,” says Fright Night production designer John DeCuir. “I believe we felt that in the ‘80s the stereotype for easily spooked and vulnerable teens was suburbia, not a gritty urban environment.”
» LAUSD is experimenting with a program that’ll offer free one-on-one tutoring to kids who could use the extra help. The initial effort will offer in-person and online tutoring to 500 students from the communities of Huntington Park, Fremont, and Taft, and will later expand to more students. [Spectrum News 1]
» A Trump press conference was briefly interrupted today when an individual was reportedly shot by law enforcement in close proximity to the White House. The Secret Service tweeted that it “can confirm there has been an officer involved shooting at 17th Street and Pennsylvania Ave. Law enforcement officials are on the scene.” [NPR]
» Three black teens who reported being attacked by a homeless man with a knife were held at gunpoint by members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department upon the deputies arrival. The incident was caught on camera and shared on social media by one of the young men’s mothers. [CBS Los Angeles]
» An 18-year-old woman named Brianna Moore was found dead in her tent by Echo Park lake Sunday morning. She’s the second person to be found dead in encampments by the lake this summer. [Eastsider]
When writer-director Tom Holland began shooting his feature directorial debut Fright Night in 1984, vampire films were dead. In the age of the prolific, real-life serial killers of the 1970s, “slashers” made big bucks for studios and independent producers, and the mystique of the vampire waned.
Dracula, as played by the debonair Frank Langella in John Badham’s 1979 adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel, performed modestly at the box office. The comedy Love at First Bite (1979), which saw George Hamilton’s clichéd Count Dracula travel to New York City after being evicted from his Transylvanian castle, was the final nail in the coffin for a monster whose trail of blood dates back to the earliest days of cinema.
“My feeling has always been when a genre goes to farce…it means the exhaustion of the genre, and that’s what Love at First Bite said,” says Holland. “Everything as it is right now [in horror] was totally the opposite back in 1983 or 1984. There was no particular market for horror, and anything to do with vampires was the kiss of death.”
Fright Night focuses on 17-year-old Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) and Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon), the suave, good-looking vampire who moves into the creepy old house next door. When Charley witnesses from his bedroom window—a la Rear Window —his new neighbor about to sink his fangs into the neck of a young woman, Charley finds himself struggling to convince his friends that a vampire lives next door. With no other place to go, Charley turns to “vampire killer” Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), an aging, washed-up horror movie star, hosting a local monster movie program called “Fright Night.”
Released on August 2, 1985, Fright Night has become a cult favorite over the last 35 years and is, arguably, responsible for resurrecting the popularity of vampire films that continues to this day. But while vampires remained elusive on screen, sci-fi and horror narratives were being injected into teen movie fare. E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982), Poltergeist (1982), Christine (1983), and Gremlins (1984) all take place in suburban neighborhoods or small towns. Directors, who grew up in suburbia watching monster movies and reading comic books during the 1950s, were now in a position to make movies in which they saw themselves as teens or adolescents.
“I don’t remember feeling like I was one of a group with putting Fright Night into the suburbs,” says Holland, who was a much in-demand writer after penning Psycho II (1983). “If I was going to have the kid see into the house next door, and see through the window and what was going on, I had to be in suburbia, didn’t I?”
As the country transitioned from the tumultuous 1970s into the Regan era of multiplex cinemas, urban vampires, as seen in Count Yorga, Vampire (1970), Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) and Blacula (1972), also faded from view.
“Today it would be very easy to set the whole Fright Night package in an urban, downtown apartment world,” says Fright Night production designer John DeCuir. “I believe we felt that in the ‘80s the stereotype for easily spooked and vulnerable teens was suburbia, not a gritty urban environment.”
Originally hired as a production assistant on Fright Night, Steven Housewright became the film’s uncredited location manager after a colleague left the production. “They [the studios] definitely weren’t marketing films for urban kids,” he says. “You’ve got to figure most of the kids that are going to go out and see those movies to begin with are all kids living out in the suburbs.” Housewright worked in locations for about two decades before returning to his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, ten years ago to start a non-profit music education program for kids in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Holland grew up in a number of places, but he thinks mostly of Highland, New York, a small bedroom community across the Hudson River from Poughkeepsie, the birthplace of cult film director Edward D. Wood Jr. and today a declining stronghold of IBM. “It’s a one-street town. There certainly wasn’t anybody that was interested in show business or film like I was. I was a one-off. I was the mad movie fan wandering around with nobody to talk to,” says Holland. “I was Charley Brewster. I would have loved to have had the experience that Charley did as long as I was guaranteed that I didn’t get bitten and lose.”
Fright Night began filming in Los Angeles at the end of 1984 and continued into the early part of 1985, but Holland never wanted the setting to appear as L.A. “It wouldn’t have felt right,” says Holland. “Too sophisticated. You needed someplace in the heartland.”
“I never got the impression that Tom felt, nor did I, that we needed to visually sell that we were in a particular city or state,” says DeCuir. “I think the character of the narrative environments trumped any particular geography,” he says.
The town in which Fright Night takes place appears as an Anywhere, USA, which was a common aesthetic of suburban-based movies of the 1980s in an effort to appeal to a wide audience.
Holland imagined the town from Fright Night—called Rancho Corvallis in the script, but that name is never mentioned in the film—might be somewhere outside of Los Angeles. But the film’s locale is set in stone by a momentary insert shot; it’s just not the setting Holland had written. When Peter Vincent receives an eviction notice at his apartment, the address is written as the fictional town of Corvalis, Iowa. “My God, man! I forgot that,” says Holland, stunned. “I must have approved it, but when I wrote it in the script it was Rancho Corvallis.”
Though seemingly unintentional, setting the film in Iowa presents a unique spin on the character of Peter Vincent. Like all of the film’s sets, Peter’s apartment was built at the historic Culver Studios—then Laird International Studios—in Culver City. The apartment was modeled off of classic Hollywood courtyard apartments, says DeCuir. Therefore, if the characters of Fright Night live in the Midwest, Peter could bask in his Hollywood days by seeking out the only apartment in this small, Iowa town that would provide that sense of nostalgia.
While house interiors were built on stage, an estimated budget of $9 million meant that it was imperative to scout for existing house exteriors, and the search for Jerry and Charley’s respective houses proved lengthy.
“I didn’t go through holy hell finding [them], but he [DeCuir] did,” says Holland.
“Our primary focus was trying to find Jerry’s house and have that Victorian, vamp-ish, Gothic look, next door to Charley’s suburban house,” says DeCuir. “We scouted all over L.A. to see if we could find that combination of looks side-by-side. In fact, we scouted both houses in two separate places and tried to figure out, how do we bring those worlds together given multiple scenes that demanded intercuts between the two houses?”
The classic Victorian has, for decades, lent itself to the haunted house aesthetic in our collective cinematic consciousness. “At the turn of the century a Victorian mansion might be built with plenty of acreage surrounding it,” says DeCuir. “Then, over the course of fifty to one hundred years, plots would be subdivided and more contemporary housing would be nudged right up to the old mansion, and so the Victorian house became the weird, old, spooky house in the neighborhood.”
Housewright recalls scouting Carroll Avenue, just on the edge of downtown L.A. The famed street of classic 19th century Victorians had just been filmed for the archetypal haunted house in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video. “It was so recognizable to a lot of people. I think that was one of the things that excluded that,” says Housewright. He also remembers that Heritage Square Museum, the preserved collection of Victorian structures just off the 110 freeway, was scouted. The idea was abandoned due to freeway noise.
When DeCuir suggested looking at the residential street on the Disney backlot in Burbank, serendipity struck. The filmmakers found two houses—one a Victorian—positioned side-by-side. The street had recently been used for another macabre picture, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983).
The houses were originally constructed in 1960 for The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), in which the film’s villainous businessman, Alonzo P. Hawk (Keenan Wynn), lives in what would later become Jerry Dandridge’s house. Throughout intervening years the houses would be seen in Disney films including The Shaggy D.A. (1976), Pete’s Dragon (1977), and That Darn Cat! (1965), in which Roddy McDowall appears on the street he would revisit on Fright Night.
Post Fright Night, Jerry’s house was seen in the ghostly “Magical World of Disney” movies, Mr. Boogedy (1986) and Bride of Boogedy (1987). By the early ‘90s, the Disney backlot, once located on the east end of the studio, was razed to make way for more soundstages and a parking lot.
Fright Night is largely a set-bound film with a good deal of action having been shot at Laird Studios and the Disney lot. There are only seven practical locations featured in Fright Night and they are not as widely dissected as other popular films of the 1980s. Some locations appear on screen for a just few minutes, at most; some are shot with a shallow depth of field making the background indiscernible; a couple of them appear at night making it difficult to find identifying markers. Thirty-five years later, comparing the film to Google maps is like looking at a vampire’s nonexistent reflection in a mirror, and the search for enduring locations is as challenging as trying to convince your friends that a vampire lives next door. Nonetheless, the quest for the small handful of locations in Fright Night—some found only by using 1980s phone books and archival newspapers—provides a deeper appreciation for what DeCuir calls the “narrative environment.”
As is often the case, there are Fright Night locations that were chosen purely out of convenience. The house of Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys), Charley’s eccentric, misunderstood friend and horror movie aficionado, was a block away from Laird Studios.
A grade school seen on screen for only 30 seconds was a needle in a haystack search until Holland recalled it being somewhere in the Culver City/Santa Monica area. The only unique identifying feature was a covered walkway leading toward a major street. Searches of the Santa Monica and Culver City school districts were unsuccessful. Finally, a Google search of LAUSD schools with 310 area codes provided a match in Palms Middle School. A covered arcade runs from the middle of the campus to Palms Blvd. that provided an appealing depth perspective for filmmakers. “You’re choosing locations for production value,” says Holland. “You want to be able to look down the corridor and see the depth of the outside school.”
As locations radiated away from the studio, they became more intricate and, in some cases, historic.
The first day of filming on Fright Night took place inside Heaven, a novelty shop in the old Century City mall that featured a retro ‘50s diner in the rear of the store. Opening in Century City in 1984, it was brand new when the filmmakers used it for Fright Night. The company soon thereafter began franchising, and other locations opened around California.
“It had the brightness and it was a change of pace and mood,” says Holland of the location.
The 1980s saw a spike in ‘50s nostalgia. Everything from oldies radio stations, novelty candies, and a return to the ‘50s diner aesthetic were “in,” and the Baby Boomers who grew up on the stuff were now in a position to expose their kids to their memories, and spend money on it.
“Everybody’s taste was kind of in that direction. If it was a teen place, what was cool back then was Mel’s [Drive-In], that sort of Googie architecture,” says Housewright. “If you go back and look at ‘80s movies, you’ll see that same type of location.”
Just like the ribbon Charley’s girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse) wears in her hair, the diner evokes a theme of youthful innocence, which starkly contrasts the pilfering of that innocence in the film’s hellish third act.
The brick exterior of the historic KCET Studios on Sunset Boulevard appears briefly as KBHX, the local TV studio where Peter Vincent shoots the wraparound segments for “Fright Night.” Built in 1912, the Los Feliz studio is the longest continuously producing studio in Hollywood.
“The brick there gets it into a kind of Anywhere, USA [look],” says Housewright. “Because otherwise you could have done it right there at Laird.”
The final settings of Fright Night span almost 14 minutes of continuous screen time and the sequences are interconnected through multiple locations.
When Evil Ed decides to take a shortcut home through a dimly lit alley, Jerry stalks Ed, pinning him into a dead-end before sinking his fangs into his neck.
The first part of the sequence was shot behind the Alexandria Hotel in downtown’s Historic Core. The shooting situation was not ideal, as tenants of the Alexandria were less than thrilled about a nighttime shoot below their windows. “The A.D. was just screaming at me over the walkie talkie, ‘I got somebody throwing garbage,’” says Housewright. “So I’d have to find my way through the building, knocking on doors, trying to figure out who it was who was screaming at them or throwing garbage cans down on them. I remember having a wad full of 20- and 50-dollar bills and I was paying off people constantly to go back to bed.” Housewright adds that the permit office, pre-FilmLA, was not strict about getting the approval of tenants in downtown L.A. in the 1980s. “A lot of those people were just inches [from] being off the streets,” says Housewright. “They [the permit office] did care if you went to the Valley areas, or something like that, or Hancock Park, which was being filmed all the time.”
The climax of the sequence was shot in another alley a mile away.
Housewright was instructed to quickly find a narrow alleyway close to Santa Fe Avenue and the 1st Street bridge, where Holland was shooting pickup shots including that of Charley and Amy walking alone at night when, off camera, Jerry tears apart a transformer box in a fit of rage. Because of the rapid turnaround there was no time to develop scout photos, so Housewright grabbed a Polaroid camera and shot an alleyway off of Santa Fe Ave. alongside the 1st Street bridge. Housewright calls it a “nightmare location” due to the prep and cleanup to make it filmable. “On the night shoots down there, you’d see rats come out that were the size of small dogs,” he says.
The largest practical location for Fright Night, and perhaps its biggest set piece outside the soundstage, was Club Radio, a fictional downtown nightclub. To find the location, we took to a 1987 L.A. phone directory. Upon searching “Nick’s Original Burger,” a corner market seen on film across the street from the nightclub, we came up with a matching location at 1600 W. 7th Street. Further research on the building proved to be of interest beyond its use in Fright Night. Today a WSS shoe store, the building at 7th Street and Union Avenue opened in 1925 as fine-foods specialty store Young’s Market Co. The architecture incorporated both Art Deco and Egyptian design motifs, and a series of animal mosaics on the interior, which can be seen in the film. In 1959, Andrews Hardware and Metal Co. moved into the building, using many of the original cases left over from the market. The hardware store had moved out just prior to the filming of Fright Night and it proved a perfect space.
“What was hip back in those days was to take spaces like that and convert them into nightclubs,” says Housewright. “People were converting old bank buildings into discos.” A perfect example is the ‘80s nightclub Scream, once located inside the Park Plaza Hotel at MacArthur Park, as seen in Less Than Zero (1987).
DeCuir vividly remembers his friend Ray Bradbury patronized Andrews hardware store, and the author visited the set of Fright Night when they filmed at the location. “Ray often mentioned his love for browsing through hardware stores,” says DeCuir. “We used to call Ray the metaphor man and he told me that he came across some of his best metaphor moments while rummaging around in hardware stores on Saturday mornings.”
The nightclub also represents the greatest example in Fright Night in which a location motivates action. Holland took advantage of a parking garage ramp at the rear of the building. As Charley and Amy try to evade Jerry at the bottom of the ramp, the two run into the garage, only to find Jerry magically appearing at the top of the ramp a moment later.
Holland says he fell in love with the location because of a balcony where Jerry could gaze out over the dance floor. “It had been built more like a Masonic temple or something,” says Holland. “The balcony, the woodwork, the stairs, it was a very impressive space.” The location was used as a nightclub a year prior to Fright Night in Brian De Palma’s Body Double (1984), which is bookended with a glam-rock vampire movie being filmed.
When speaking with Holland today, it seems as though there was no grand scheme behind the film’s locations, and it’s suburban setting was a means to create the film’s inciting incident: spying out a bedroom window and seeing a vampire in the house next door. But over time it’s clear Fright Night fans have identified with the film’s observations of the suburbs. Holland, who has a new novel called The Notch, says, “The few times I have been out at horror conventions, three generations will come up to me that love the movie,” says Holland. “I haven’t had that experience with Child’s Play. Well, a little bit. I think Child’s Play was too scary, especially if you were a little kid. … Five-year-olds love Fright Night.” Though Holland’s Child’s Play (1988) introduced audiences to the infamous possessed killer doll Chucky, the film takes place in a wintery Chicago, far from the insular and familiar comforts of Anywhere, USA, where children happily play in front yards while a mysterious stranger from who knows where moves in next door.