Diary Of A Hollywood Refugee

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Hollywood Elementary

In 1994, the Northridge Earthquake, utterly devastated the apt complex where I lived in Sherman Oaks. I was offered an apt in a large complex in Toluca Lake, run by the same management company. I intended for my stay to be temporary, but in fact, remained at The Oakwood Toluca Hills for five years.

The complex is vast, with 24 buildings, two pools, jacuzzi, a rental office, small store, dry cleaners, and even a hair salon. Apts come furnished, but if one choses to make their stay more permanent, you can furnish it on your own.

The Oakwood Toluca Hills caters to families, singles and couples, pursuing a career in Hollywood.

Surrounded by WB, Disney, Universal, NBC, and a short driving distance from Paramount, the property is nestled close to the Hollywood Hills, and offers fitness rooms, personal trainers, and tennis courts. Basically you could cast an entire movie, from actors, to writers, directors, musicians, just in the lobby of the North Clubhouse.

I loved the place! I often found myself chatting up Hilary Duff, and Jennifer Love Hewitt, not to mention a LONG list of others, all of whom stayed at the Oakwood's on and off during the five years I lived there. Frankly, I was too busy to look for another place; my rent was so cheap and there would be no place in the same area for anywhere close to what I was paying, and certainly NOT with the amenities this placed offered.

One unique feature of The Oakwood is that it offers a Child Actor Program, which is the subject of a piece that appeared in The New York Times Magazine last week.

Each year, between mid-January and May, when some 100-odd pilots are being cast, one-quarter of the Oakwood's 1,151 furnished units are filled by families of child actors. "Home to the Famous, and Almost Famous," a billboard at the front gate reads. Located near Burbank, it's conveniently close to most of the major studios. The Oakwood's orientation for "newbies," the first-timers who make up about 80 percent of the families staying there each year, is also a draw: lectures about the entertainment business; connections to people like Simmons, who give complimentary classes to enlist new students; a show-biz-kid expo that displays all the tertiary industries: diction tapes, head shot photography and packaging, marketing-strategy DVD's. On-site tutoring — unaccredited, held weekday mornings in the conference room — can be paid for weekly to allow children to come and go, given their unpredictable work schedules. Units at the Oakwood start at $2,000 a month for a studio with a Murphy bed.

Hollywood Elementary is an interesting look into what kids go through for a chance to live out a dream. But exactly whose dream is it?

Lori finds Hollywood baffling. While she's now able to survive the freeways, she's still trying to navigate the etiquette of the place — businesspeople who hate small talk; phone calls that go unreturned; casting directors who refuse to shake children's hands because of germs. Then there are the cliques at the Oakwood, and the gossip, and the mothers who lie about their kids' representation and inflate the nature of their bookings, and the children who don't seem as if they even enjoy what they are there to do.

Fame is a demanding and fleeting mistress. Read more.



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