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City of Dreams into cesspit plagued by junkies and violent criminals

Hollywood’s Apocalypse NOW:

Rich and famous are fleeing in droves as liberal politics and coronavirus turn City of Dreams into cesspit plagued by junkies and violent criminals

Gold’s Gym has become synonymous with the Hollywood Dream.

Set just a few hundred yards from the ocean in sun-kissed Venice Beach, Los Angeles, Gold’s was the backdrop for Pumping Iron, the 1977 documentary which followed a young, unknown Austrian bodybuilder called Arnold Schwarzenegger as he prepared for the Mr Universe contest.

The film turned him into an overnight sensation.

He would go on to become a global superstar, marry a member of the Kennedy clan, and become Governor of California

A makeshift tent city made up of flapping tarpaulins and cardboard boxes surrounds the gym on all sides.

Junkies and the homeless, many of whom are clearly mentally ill, walk the palm-lined streets like zombies – all just three blocks from multi-million-dollar homes overlooking the Pacific.

Stolen bicycles are piled high on pavements littered with broken syringes.

TV bulletins are filled with horror stories from across the city; of women being attacked during their morning jog or residents returning home to find strangers defecating in their front gardens.

Today, Los Angeles is a city on the brink. ‘For Sale’ signs are seemingly dotted on every suburban street as the middle classes, particularly those with families, flee for the safer suburbs, with many choosing to leave LA altogether.

British-born Danny O’Brien runs Watford Moving & Storage. ‘There is a mass exodus from Hollywood,’ he says.

‘And a lot of it is to do with politics.’ His business is booming. ‘August has already set records and we are only halfway through the month,’ he tells me.

‘People are getting out in droves. Last week I moved a prominent person in the music industry from a $6.5 million [£5 million] mansion above Sunset Boulevard to Nashville.’

A homeless man on Hollywood¿s Walk Of Fame. Junkies and the homeless, many of whom are clearly mentally ill, walk the palm-lined streets like zombies ¿ all just three blocks from multi-million-dollar homes overlooking the Pacific

A homeless man on Hollywood’s Walk Of Fame. Junkies and the homeless, many of whom are clearly mentally ill, walk the palm-lined streets like zombies – all just three blocks from multi-million-dollar homes overlooking the Pacific

O’Brien, 58, who moved to LA from London 34 years ago, is also planning to move to Tennessee.

‘Liberal politics has destroyed this city,’ he says.

‘The homeless encampments are legal and there’s nothing the police can do. White, affluent middle-class folk are getting out. People don’t feel safe any more.’

With movie studios still shuttered because of the coronavirus pandemic and businesses only just starting to remove the wooden boards put up after city-wide rioting following the death of George Floyd while being arrested by three white officers in Minneapolis, LA is now in the grip of white flight.

Lou Ferrigno became friends with Schwarzenegger when both worked out at Gold’s. While he might not be quite a household name like Arnie, Ferrigno starred in the TV series The Incredible Hulk and became one of the wealthiest bodybuilders in the world, with a fortune of $12 million.

President Donald Trump appointed him to his council on fitness, sports and nutrition in 2018.

But Ferrigno, for all his impeccable connections, has become fed up with what he describes as the ‘dramatic decline’ in LA. He and wife Carla recently sold their £3 million home in Santa Monica and moved into a 7,146 sq ft mansion two hours north of LA.

Carla says: ‘One morning around 7am I opened the curtains in our beautiful Santa Monica home and looking up at me from our driveway were three gang members with tattoos on their faces sitting on our retaining wall. They were cat-calling me and being vulgar. I motioned I was going to call the police and they just laughed, flicking their tongues at me and showing me their guns.’

Her husband added: ‘We put the house up for sale after 40 wonderful years and moved north. We feel lucky to have made it out. Now we are in a wonderful place and very happy.’

Renee Taylor, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter and actress who appeared in the hit TV sitcom The Nanny, recently sold her Beverly Hills home after half a century and moved to the East Coast.

‘I feel so sad for my friends left in Beverly Hills who had to suffer through looting and rioting,’ she says. ‘I got out just in time.’

The virus only made matters worse. There are homeless encampments in some of the most instantly recognisable tourist traps.

Stretches of Hollywood Boulevard – embedded with glittering stars representing those who achieved their dream of fame and fortune – resemble a Third World shanty town rather than the heart of America’s second-largest city.

Outside the Chinese Theatre where Marilyn Monroe and other screen icons are immortalised by their handprints in concrete, the Michael Jackson and Superman look alikes who usually pose with tourists have been replaced by vagrants begging for change.

Hundreds of LA’s homeless are still without protection
One of the city¿s homeless ¿ there are more than 66,000 people sleeping rough every night. The virus only made matters worse. There are homeless encampments in some of the most instantly recognisable tourist traps

One of the city’s homeless – there are more than 66,000 people sleeping rough every night. The virus only made matters worse. There are homeless encampments in some of the most instantly recognisable tourist traps

Meanwhile, the visitors snap photos of a large Black Lives Matter logo painted down the middle of the street.

Car parks beside the beach in Santa Monica – a popular tourist destination for Britons – are filled with bashed-up motorhomes, each housing several people.

The authorities have even put portable toilets on the streets to try to stop the homeless relieving themselves on private property.

The Westwood area of LA, home to some of the most upmarket blocks of flats in the city, has been renamed ‘West Hood’ by locals appalled by rising crime.

Veteran publicist Ed Lozzi says: ‘The city was changing before coronavirus brought us to our knees. The homeless problem has been escalating for years, exacerbated by weak politicians making bad decisions.

‘Hollywood has always been the wokest of the woke, so politicians have done nothing to stop people sleeping on the streets. It’s not illegal and the weather’s nice, so they keep coming.

‘There is insufficient housing, inadequate mental health care. Add in Covid and it’s a perfect storm.

‘When I first arrived in LA 40 years ago, the town smelled of orange blossoms. Now the streets stink of urine. There is a beautiful park in Westwood but you can’t go there because there are people slumped on the ground and you step on a carpet of needles.

‘White flight is real. The elites and middle classes are leaving. People are taking losses on the sales of their homes to get out.’

The divide between rich and poor has never been more glaring. Just yards away from Gold’s sits the sprawling LA headquarters of internet giant Google.

The car park is housed in a building designed by architect Frank Gehry to look like a giant pair of binoculars. Private security guards wander round as a handful of employees returning after lockdown drive into the complex in their Teslas, Porsches and Range Rovers.

Charity worker Robert (he declined to give his last name) mans two portable toilets opposite the Google HQ. Recently released from jail, this menial job is the only work he can get. He says two people have overdosed in the toilets in the past two weeks.

‘I have a Narcan pen which brings them back to life after they overdose on opioids. I’ve had to use the pen twice since the beginning of August.

‘The situation is terrible. I don’t blame those who can afford to get out of the city for doing so.’

Some 66,000 people now sleep rough every night in LA – up 12.5 per cent on last year.

‘There’s no hope any more,’ he continues. ‘The rich are getting richer and there’s nothing for those on Skid Row. Trump has done nothing to help the poor. All he cares about are his rich friends making more money. If I had money I’d get out too.’

The pandemic has made many in Hollywood realise they don’t need to live in LA – or anywhere near it – to keep working.

Talent manager Craig Dorfman has moved to upstate New York. ‘A lot of people in the industry are re-evaluating their lives and saying,

‘You know, I never really loved LA. Where would I like to live? Because I can do what I want to do from anywhere,’ ‘ says Dorfman.

Fashion stylist Leah Forester and her film producer husband Bill Johnson have rented out their home and moved to the Mexican beach town of Careyes with their two children.

‘We wanted to be in the most healthy, supportive and serene environment we could be in so that we could have some sense of control over our immediate surroundings and our destiny,’ says Forester.

Comedian Joe Rogan, who makes $30 million a year from his self-titled podcast, has quit LA for Texas and says: ‘When you look at the traffic, when you look at the economic despair, when you look at the homelessness problem that’s accelerated radically… I think there are too many people here.

‘I think it’s not tenable. I don’t think that it’s manageable.’

Ironically, the celebrity enclave of Malibu – home to such leading members of the ‘wokerati’ as Leonardo DiCaprio – has cracked down hard on the homeless, bringing in local laws to prevent people parking their motorhomes along the beach overnight.

‘They’ve kicked the homeless problem into other areas of the city like Westwood and Venice,’ says publicist Ed Lozzi. ‘It’s a classic case of ‘not in my back yard’.’

Meanwhile, some of Tinseltown’s biggest stars are developing back-up plans, should the situation worsen. Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson recently took Greek citizenship and have told friends they intend to spend more time in Europe.

Skid Row residents force Eyewitness News van to turn around
More tents in Melrose Place, one of the trendiest addresses in Los Angeles. Stretches of Hollywood Boulevard ¿ embedded with glittering stars representing those who achieved their dream of fame and fortune ¿ resemble a Third World shanty town rather than the heart of America's second-largest city

More tents in Melrose Place, one of the trendiest addresses in Los Angeles. Stretches of Hollywood Boulevard – embedded with glittering stars representing those who achieved their dream of fame and fortune – resemble a Third World shanty town rather than the heart of America’s second-largest city

Producer Dana Brunetti, business partner of disgraced actor Kevin Spacey and producer of the Fifty Shades Of Grey films, has acquired Italian citizenship ‘because Italy is part of the EU – it gives me a lot of options if the s*** hits the fan’.

Nicole Kidman and husband Keith Urban have homes in LA, Nashville and her native Australia.

A source says: ‘They have been spending a lot of time in Nashville. There they can give their kids a more normal upbringing. They have been talking about getting rid of the LA place.’

When the news broke last week that Prince Harry and Meghan have chosen to make their home two hours north of LA in the upmarket hamlet of Montecito, the news shocked no one.

One Oscar-nominated writer told me: ‘They saw enough of LA those times they left Tyler Perry’s house to make them not want to raise Archie in a place like this. LA has always attracted beautiful and talented people from around the world who come here looking for fame or money or both.

‘Now the streets look like Haiti after the earthquake. It’s dirty, dangerous and work has dried up. Even when studios start to open up, people will choose to work from other places.’

The most recent high-profile name to quit Hollywood is Tesla billionaire Elon Musk, a darling of the showbusiness crowd.

Actor Robert Downey Jr has said it was Musk who inspired his portrayal of Tony Stark, the eccentric billionaire inventor in the Iron Man movies.

Elon Musk has recently sold his compound of 4 homes in Bel Air for a combined total of $62 million (£47 million) and is said to be considering a move to Texas, where he is building Tesla’s $1 billion new factory.

‘When the real-life Iron Man moves out of Hollywood, you know it’s all over,’ says a source at one of the major studio

Note: San Francisco was in no better shape in 1991-92. Homeless people crowded all the main streets. It was no longer a pleasure to walk the streets toward the many parks. I had visited West Hollywood in 1976 and walked to Beverly Hills and it was clean and nice to walk.

Barbara made me walk on air

Note: Re-edit of “I Should Have Told Barbara (Jan. 2003)”

The day before my trip to Los Angeles in the summer of 1976, Sue, the girlfriend of a dear friend of mine studying at the same university, asked me to get in touch with her sister Barbara.

I were in the USA since June of 1975, my first trip ever outside my country.

The International Office at the University arranged a group trip for one week to California, for some of us new international students. We were to meet families in this exchange program.

I did not care meeting any American families for the time being, but I needed to get away in my first summer and wanted to see California.

The International student advisor knew about my origin. The program matched me with an old Jewish couple in Pasadena without warning me. I do consider Israel as our existential enemy and anyone who support Israel financially could never be a friend of mine. I did assume this family supported Israel.

The family had a fourteen-year old boy, or maybe he was their grandchild.

I was Not that curious: They looked pretty old to me. The husband was very helpful and friendly, but his wife gave me the impression that she agreed reluctantly to join the program.

A student from Nigeria was assigned to the same family. The house was large with a garden.  The interior looked old, traditional, gloomy, dark and smelling like it was never aerated and reeking of old people.

The same evening they asked the Nigerian student a few questions, but I was spared this torture, may be because I didn’t look that forthcoming. Or that they figured out I’ll be very sensitive to whatever pertinent questions they might ask.

It is a crime to surprise youth among old people. Youth has to be forewarned, to be prepared on what to expect from elder people. Youth has to be reminded that elderly can be wonderful and much active, That older people are great people, still very much living humans And who could be funny, charming and could be very functional…

We had a general gathering the first day with all the host families and various students. Then we were given the daily program of places to see and I barely paid attention to the program.

We were to see Disneyland the next day for free. I declined the invitation: Disneyland is for kids.

I remember that I had another chance to visit Disney for free, two years later. And I again declined. Disney was still just for kids.

Many years later, I discovered that everybody liked to see Disney, including kids. I never saw Disney in California, but the smaller version in Orlando with my nephews. My little nephews and nieces, five in total then, loved Disney.

Not as much as I did enjoy it that day.

My host drove me for an hour to the meeting place with Barbara, living in West Hollywood. He drove two hours to pick me up, three hours later.

Youth: ruthless, mindless, uncompromising, and unappreciative.

I still can visualize Barbra after thirty years, coming toward me, in white shirt, long brown skirt reaching below her knees, almost touching her long brown cowboy boots.

Her boots must have added a couple inches to her stature. She is shorter than me in an afterthought. But the vision is always of a tall and grand lady.

She appeared taller than me but my pride increased correspondingly, by her side.

Her then long blonde-brown hair was raised over her beautiful head. She looked glamour incarnate.

She hugged me and made me feel I was a dear friend, of long time, whom she missed.

She spoke with effusion and earnestness.

She wanted to know all that is to know, instantly,

About how her sister is doing, what about her sister’s boyfriend who was my friend, About their relationship, about Oklahoma her home State…

About everything, but nothing about me, or how I feel or felt that moment.

I was glad that I was not the object of the conversation then, but not so glad now.

We walked together so close, and I was walking on air.

I felt that I must look the most envied guy, a most glamorous guy in the whole wide world.

I asked permission from my host family to move at Barbara’s, for the duration of the program, and they agreed.

Next morning was warm and sunny and I walked to Beverly Hills to see her in the fashion store she managed. I did walk on stars’ hands and the walk was Not that long.

She received me like a VIP and was happy at my surprised visit. And I toured Downtown Beverly Hills: Pretty empty of clients, boring, clean, expensive for no reasons… I cannot recall if I waited for Barbara to finish work or that I returned by myself.

I wanted to be with Barbara every second of my trip in California.

A couple of years later, I accepted to attend a conference in Los Angeles hoping to see Barbara again.

It was an important political conference but my heart was not in it.

My friends drove me through Beverly Hills, where the rich and glamorous live, but I was not impressed.

Finally, giving up, they gave me a lift from Anaheim to West Hollywood.

I called up Barbara and I invited myself to stay overnight at her apartment.

She had many friends. She was attached at the moment to a fashionable young man, working in fashion and with fashion, but they had problems.

She appeared depressed and disappointed and not in the mood for me. Her TV was on 24 hours.

I slept and woke up with the TV on.

Six years later, during my second extended trip to the USA, I had another opportunity to visit with Baraba

Sue was leaving to Little Rock with her boyfriend had she told me that Barbara was married and living in Oklahoma City and she gave me her phone number.

I met Barbara on Thanksgiving and she did not look the Barbara of my vision.

Her skin looked darker, her face emaciated, down to earth, resigned and decked in simple blue jeans and an old black sweater.

She was married to a full-blooded American Indian, herself a half-blooded lady.

A soft spoken husband, a polite artist who toured the USA exhibiting his paintings.

She stayed at home designing jewellery and managing her man’s business.

I accepted her invitation for a Thanksgiving lunch.

I went down to Oklahoma City for an important and specific purpose of mine: I was determined to tell Barbara my secret.

I went down with my steady girlfriend at the time. I had to because I had no cars: actually, I spent most of my University education on a bicycle.

Barbara’s eyes had an ironic shine looking at my oriental (Filipina) short friend.

She asked my friend all kinds of questions about our relationship,

How we met and what are our plans.

Barbara said to me: “You know, someone needs news about your friend”.

She meant that her sister needed to know the whereabouts of her ex-husband.

I had lost track of the whereabouts of my friend too and could not be of much help.

Barbara was entitled to know the truth, that the first time she walked with me, she made me feel that I was the most glamorous guy in town.

But I did not tell Barbara the truth.

I don’t recall that I talked during my two hours stay at Thanksgiving.

Maybe it did not feel right at that moment, but I should have persevered on my initial decision:

This truth is hers no matter what.

She could be eighty, but age does not erase the feeling, that to my young eyes, she was the most glamorous woman I set my eyes on.

She could be a hundred, but age does not change the fact,

That Barbara made me once walk on air.

Maybe if I had told Barbara, I wouldn’t have written this story.

Introspection: Barbara (Addendum #1)

Barbara made me walk on air

Note: I have written most of the addendum of my autobiography at least six years earlier, as I was trying to learn more about my behaviors by re-creating my life story, during a somewhat depressed phase, after my return to Lebanon.  I have realized that the best refresher for memory is to recall your relationship with women.  It seems that the extreme mood swings of women leave strong marks on memory.  The resilient nature of women and their compassion, when in love, cannot but add clues to your emotional levels and the trajectory of improvement to understanding life’s complex fabrics. These addenda are sort of detailed introspection of the daily emotions.

I Should Have Told Barbara (Jan. 2003)

Sue insisted that I get in touch with her sister Barbara on my trip to Los Angeles. It was the  summer of 1976.

I was in the USA for less than 11 months, my first ever trip outside my country. The International Office at the University of Oklahoma arranged a trip for one week to California, for some of us new international students.

We were to meet American families in this exchange program.  I did not care meeting any American families for the time being, but I needed to get away in my second summer and wanted to see California.  I was 27 of age and had never tasted a cigarette yet.

The International student adviser knew about my Near Eastern origin. The program matched me with an old Jewish couple in Pasadena. The husband was very helpful and friendly but his wife gave me the impression that she agreed reluctantly to join the program. The house was large with an unkempt garden.  The interior looked old, traditional, very gloomy, and smelling like it was never aerated and reeking of old people. It is a crime to surprise youths with living among old people without prior preparations and warnings. We should be reminded that elder people are great people, still very much living humans, who could be funny, and could be functional…

We had a general gathering the first day with all the families and various students. Then we were given the daily program of places to see and whatever. We were to see Disney Land the next day for free.  I declined the invitation: Disney Land is for kids. I remember that I had another chance to visit Disney for free, two years later. I again declined. Disney was still just for kids.

Many years later, I discovered that everybody liked to see Disney, including kids. I never saw Disney in California, but the smaller version in Orlando with my nephews. My little nephews and nieces, then 5 in total, loved Disney but less than I did.

My old host drove me for two hours to the meeting place with Barbara. He drove two hours to pick me up three hours later. I still can visualize Barbra after thirty years, coming toward me in white shirt, long brown skirt reaching a little below her knees, almost touching her long brown cowboy boots. Her boots must have added several inches to her stature.


Barbara is not tall, but the vision is always of a tall and grand lady. She appeared taller than me but my pride increased correspondingly, being by her side. Her maybe dyed long blond-brown hair was raised over her beautiful head. She was glamor incarnate.  She hugged me and made me feel I was a dear friend, of long time, whom she missed badly.

She spoke with effusion and earnestness. She wanted to know all that is to know, instantly, about how her sister is doing, what about her sister’s boyfriend who was my friend, about their relationship, about Oklahoma her home State, about everything but me.

I was glad that I was not the object of the conversation then, but not so glad now. We walked together so close, and I was walking on air.  I felt that I must look the most glamorous guy, a most glamorous guy in the whole wide world.

I asked permission from my host family to move at Barbara’s for the duration of the program and they agreed. I walked to Beverly Hills the next morning to see her in the fashion store she managed. She received me like a VIP and was happy at my surprised visit. I wanted to be with Barbara every second of my trip to California.

I accepted to attend a conference in Los Angeles a couple of years later, hoping to see Barbara again. It was an important political conference but my heart was not in it. My friends drove me through Beverly Hills where the rich and glamorous live, but I was not impressed. Finally, giving up, they gave me a lift from Anaheim to West Hollywood. I called up Barbara and I invited myself to stay overnight at her apartment.  She had many friends.

She was attached at the moment to a fashionable young man, working in fashion and with fashion, but they had problems. She appeared depressed and disappointed and not in the mood for me. Her TV was on 24 hours.  I slept and woke up with the TV on.

I visited her six years later during my second extended trip to the USA: Barbara’s sister had told me that Barbara was married and living in Oklahoma City. She did not look the same Barbara. She was skinnier. Her skin looked darker, her face emaciated, down to earth, resigned and decked in simple blue jeans and an old black sweater.

Barbara was married to a full-blooded American Indian, she a half-blooded. A soft-spoken husband he was, a polite artist who toured the USA exhibiting his paintings. She stayed at home designing jewelry and managing her man’s business.

I had accepted her invitation for a Thanksgiving lunch. I went down to Oklahoma City for an important and specific purpose of mine: I was determined to tell Barbara my secret. I went down with my steady girl friend at the time:  I still had no car.

Barbara’s eyes had an ironic shine looking at my oriental short friend. She asked my friend all kinds of questions about our relationship, how we met and what are our plans. She said to me: “You know, someone needs news about your friend”. She meant that her sister needed to know the whereabouts of her ex-husband. I had lost track of the whereabouts of my friend too and could not be of much help.

Barbara was entitled to know the truth; that the first time she walked with me she made me feel that I was the most glamorous guy in town. But I did not tell Barbara the truth. I don’t recall that I talked during my two hours stay. Maybe it did not feel right at that moment. But I should have persevered on my initial decision: This truth is hers no matter what.

She could be sixty, but age does not erase the feeling, that to my young eyes, she was the most glamorous woman I set my eyes on. She could live to be a hundred, but age does not change the fact, that Barbara made me once walk on air.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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