Los Angeles, in our mind’s eye, is a montage of the city’s most iconic sights. But this flickering reel has been stitched together by Hollywood itself. Scattered across the sprawling city, the most popular attractions glint and wink from various pockets, attracting pilgrims of pop culture. The cultural Mecca lures tourism and talent alike, offering brief glimpses of the opulence and excess for which LA is famed. But these brushes with the mega-wealthy are both rare and addictive.
Under the heat of the California sun, the city is a melting pot for art, music and culture. The calibre of galleries and museums make Los Angeles a magnet for young people hoping to meet like-minded artists. It was at the Hammer Gallery’s open evening that I met an aspiring music editor from London. The fact that he had travelled five thousand miles across the globe to do a music course that was probably offered on his doorstep illustrated to me the rousing effect that Los Angeles commands in our modern psyche. With the homes of celebrities glistening like trophies on the Hollywood Hills, the forbidden fruit is seemingly within reach.
On various occasions I was somehow able to wangle a VIP pass into the life of the rich and famous. Enthralled by the superfluity, it was a world that I never wanted to leave. Through a seemingly tenuous connection, I found myself staying in one of Beverly Hills’ most prized properties. Fitted with its own golf putting green (and tennis court and swimming pool, obviously) it was easy to forget that the bustle of city life continued beyond the gates of this glamorous enclave. For those that win the human lottery (or the real one, at that) Los Angeles is a place of endless opportunity. A playground for the wealthy where anything is possible. Porsches and Teslas gather on the gilded streets of the gated communities waiting to reap the benefits of this sparkling city, home to 58 of the world’s billionaires.
A friend of mine became a regular at these parties and witnessed the escapades of LA’s high-flying, social elite. Her stories resemble something out of 90210, one of which began with an elusive and concerning invitation to a party. If she would ‘pleeease wear a sexy dress and heels’, she would be welcomed into LA’s billionaire congregation. Swallowing her scepticism, she obliged. Pulling up to Bel-Air’s newest ‘mega-mansion’, she realised the absurdity of the evening that was about to unfold. She had somehow landed herself an invitation to Dann Bilzerian’s house warming party. A modern-day Gatsby, the Internet personality had opened his doors to the socialites of the city to boast his shiny new bachelor pad, purchased for an outrageous sum of 100 million dollars.
Dancing with the likes of Chris Brown and French Montana certainly makes for a great story, one that I would dine out on for years. But these fleeting brushes with this dreamlike world are rare. These moments are the drugs that both lure people to LA and trap them there. Like pilgrims we flock to the enticing lights of the city that has taken on a cult following of believers.
The place where Hollywood and religion most obviously converge is in the Church of Scientology. It is no wonder that Los Angeles is home to the largest concentration of Scientologists on earth. The cult’s ‘Life Improvement Centre’ found on the Walk of Fame preys on the very same people chasing the fabricated dream of Hollywood. Like any good religion, both LA and Scientology make promises to the vulnerable offering vignettes of how much better life could be. Lead by the likes of Tom Cruise and John Travolta, scientologists congregate in the first ever Church of Scientology, located on Sunset Boulevard. The, ironically, converted hospital is now painted a garish blue, with a lit-up sign which is uncomfortably modelled on the Hollywood sign itself.
So what happens to the people who fall victim to this fragile promise of success and self-invention? Next week, I will turn to Skid Row to explore the suffering and squalor that accompany the glitz and glamour of this segregated congregation.