Lorna Landvik: Why I wrote Best to Laugh, Part 2.

Stand-up and improvisational comedian, public speaker, and best-selling author


This is the third post in a weekly series by Lorna Landvik.
#1: On destiny.
Several years ago on a visit to Los Angeles, I took a long, leisurely stroll down my old stomping grounds: Hollywood Boulevard. Most of my favorite landmarks and hang-outs were gone. There was no Highland Drug, at whose soda foundation I would sit, drinking coffee and paging through Variety; no Beef Bowl, where a lunch of teriyaki vegetables and rice costed less than three dollars; no JJ Newberry’s, the deliciously cluttered dime-store; no Broadway Department Store; no Brown Derby; no B. Dalton (formerly Pickwick’s) Bookstore; no C.C. Brown’s Ice Cream Parlor . . . 
So many ‘no mores.’

Maybe something was sparked in my writer’s subconscious then; a need to write about a place that had had such a strong physical and metaphorical presence in my life.

A phone store replaced the little boutique where I once bought a snazzy (I thought) blazer, which I wore to an audition in Studio City. The bus stopped close to the casting office, but still, I had to run a half block through a rare rain shower. My snazzy (I thought) blazer got wet enough that its red dye begin running in streaks down the cuffs and onto my hands. I looked like a soggy stigmatic; and, surprise, I didn’t get the part.

Hollywood Boulevard is more Vegas-ified now. Grauman’s is no longer the name of the Chinese Theatre, but it still exists, in the shadow of a huge shopping/entertainment complex built around it. There are more chain restaurants and fewer Beef Bowls; more chain stores and fewer boutiques that sell poorly dyed clothing. So there is progress, I guess.

Crossing LaBrea, I headed west toward the big old ugly high-rise that looms on the acreage where Peyton Hall once graciously nestled. When my fella and I used to skate the Boulevard, he often would get behind me and push me up the slight incline of the last long block. (One of the many reasons he became my husband.)

Robin Williams had a pied-à-terre there, and the magazine Apartment Life did a pictorial on his place. We shared garbage bins with several other tenants, including McLean Stevenson, who left his Christmas tree up all year, lights twinkling. Once he threw out a bunch of stuff, including a framed water-colored painting by his young daughter. We helped ourselves to it—we liked it—and it hangs on our bedroom wall now, next to the Picasso and the Manet. (Okay, next to the action shots of our daughters playing hockey.)

Our fellow tenants were old directors, young actors, screenwriters, guitarists, music critics, a fashion designer, restaurateurs, and a nurse who worked at the Screen Actors Guild Retirement Home. There were people whose show-biz careers were over or had never started, and people whose careers were just taking off. Dreams were a real currency to be spent, not to be hidden away in vest pockets. You could have a conversation by the pool with someone who seemed pickled in bitterness one minute and the next they were beaming with hope and excitement.

Ultimately, that’s why I chose to write about that time in my life of dreams and big dreamers, when possibility was like a county fair carney, urging all comers to “Come on in, step right up. Try your luck, don’t be afraid.”


Lorna Landvik is the best-selling author of many novels, including Patty Jane’s House of CurlAngry Housewives Eating Bon-BonsOh My Stars, and Mayor of the Universe (Minnesota, 2014). Her most recent novel, Best to Laugh, is now available from University of Minnesota Press.

“Filled with historical lore about Hollywood’s glory days, inside observations about the chauvinism that pervades the comedy boys’ club, and a bevy of secondary characters straight out of central casting, Landvik’s homage to funny ladies everywhere is a joyful, breezy trip down memory lane.” Booklist

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