THR Tests the Tours
On the road with the booming Hollywood tour industry.
Movie Stars' Homes Tours
The gold standard of celebrity tours, Starline's popular 2-1/2-hour visit to residences might not impress locals but still provides opportunities to be entertained. The tour, which is given in an open-top van and visits Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and Hollywood, includes the homes of Katy Perry, Ringo Starr, Bruce Willis, Al Pacino (the driver noted how small the actor's house is) and Billy Bob Thornton. The stop at the house where the guys lived on Entourage left the foreign tourists aboard unimpressed. But in Beverly Hills, David Arquette was spotted in his driveway. Jimmy Kimmel's modern residence, with all the blinds open, was surprisingly close to the street. Next up was Christina Aguilera's house, where the Osbournes lived while shooting their reality show. All interesting, but two-plus hours in Sunset traffic in a roofless van in 85-degree heat soured the mood.
While Harvey Levin doesn't personally grace the tour, those taking this two-hour sojourn (three with traffic) still will see plenty of him. Led by a member of the TMZ staff, the tour opens with a video that has the exact feel of an episode. "You are all paparazzi today," the guide says. Sights are accompanied by TMZ-style videos highlighting infamous happenings at such locales as Kitson (Britney Spears once splurged on a $10,000 shopping spree!) and The Body Shop strip club (Megan Fox had a fling with a stripper named Nikita!). The one celebrity residence highlighted was that of Elton John at Sierra Towers. The TMZ brand of humor that is weaved throughout becomes tiresome (one bit harped on Josh Hartnett's 911 call from Chateau Marmont about his gastric distress), especially when humdrum spots like the courthouse and police station are featured only to name celebrity mishaps. For a brand that touts itself as a breaking-news outlet, references to Michael Jackson's death and "hot" restaurants like Boa Steakhouse felt dated. And while the guide talked about celebrity run-ins, none happened.
Hollywood's Tragical History Tour
Wearing an "I put the FUN in funeral" pin, Richard Sebastian headlines this offering from Dearly Departed Tours. Promising a "thrilling and chilling" experience, the nearly three-hour tour proves to be a cocktail of Hollywood tragedy mixed with a Beverly Hills home tour and a splash of tabloid sensation. "This is where Paris Hilton lifted a copy of her own sex tape," the guide said before heading toward Chateau Marmont, where John Belushi died. Sebastian proved a wealth of knowledge when it came to Hollywood tales: Mae West kept her address and phone number listed until her death in 1980, and Lucille Ball invited passersby in for baccarat. But when a tourist inquired about the location of the Kardashians' new DASH boutique in West Hollywood, Sebastian suggested Google. When another asked where Bravo's Real Housewives of Beverly Hills cast lives, he was unable to deliver. The tour did hit the sites of the Black Dahlia murder and the Menendez killings. And the guide slipped in a few more somewhat current references, including where Chris Brown assaulted Rihanna (Hancock Park), where Britney Spears met Kevin Federline (Joseph's on Ivar) and the location of Halle Berry's 2000 hit-and-run (near Gil Turner's liquor store).
All Star Showbiz Tours
Decidedly downmarket: After warning patrons the car alarm will go off when she opens the door to her messy 14-person van, All Star owner and self-proclaimed actress/country singer Shellee-Ann Kellee begins by singing a song off her self-made album. The tour focuses on homes in Beverly Hills and Bel-Air, with Kellee's knowledge of old Hollywood much stronger than current pop culture. She blanked on the names of newer stars, forgetting Mariah Carey's husband (Nick Cannon) and at one point saying Charlie Sheen had been rehired on Two and a Half Men because "Ashton Kutcher wasn't doing so well."
Rockin' Hollywood Tours
A refreshingly semi-jaded two-hour look at the city's iconic destinations (from the Hollywood Sign to the Sunset Strip and Rodeo Drive), with enough sarcasm from guide Ashley to make gawking at the houses of Michael Jackson, Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts a slightly less bitter pill to swallow. ("If I had it my way, we wouldn't go anywhere near their homes," said Ashley.) Passengers are carted around a path similar to the tour's competitors but with perhaps a more honest guide. Case in point: While stopped outside Cruise's Beverly Hills home, a Starline operator was heard boasting to a bus full of kids that the property across the street once belonged to Walt Disney. (Not true, said Ashley.)
Beverly Hills Segway Tour
Thanks to a brief training session, none of the four passengers fell off a Segway on the two-hour tour THR attended (bumping wheels is forbidden). But the route, which runs around Rodeo Drive and its environs, failed to impress with dated and generic information such as Pretty Woman's shoot locations. The closest the tour comes to celebrity hotspots are aging restaurants like Kate Mantilini and the long-shuttered Chasen's (now a Bristol Farms), touted as having played host to Shirley Temple and Cher. Still, the Segways offer an exhilarating cruise around the 90210.
Reviews by Austin Siegemund-Broka, Leslie Bruce, Rebecca Ford, Brandon Kirby, Jennifer Laski and Sophie Schillaci.