Mehlman's Famous Actors Tour of Los Angeles

NPR's Scott Simon takes a somewhat imaginary tour of Los Angeles with former Seinfeld writer Peter Mehlman. Among the sites Mehlman takes us to is a home once owned by the comedian Buddy Hackett, who, according to Mehlman, had one of the world's largest collections of third-edition books.

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

We're here on a rare rainy day in Los Angeles. You know, people who live here often have to play host to friends and families who come to visit and say, show us the real L.A., not the place that tour buses go, but, you know, the real Los Angeles.

Well, to see a little of that true heart of the city, we're joined now by Peter Mehlman. He's a former writer for "Seinfeld." He invented such signature phrases in modern life as yada, yada and shrinkage. Thanks for being with us, Peter. Can you show us around a little?

SIMON: Thank you. I would be happy to show you around my adopted neighborhood and town.

SIMON: So we just go straight now?

SIMON: Yeah.

SIMON: Okay.

SIMON: You know, this house coming up on the left, yeah, you could stop right here. Oh, yes, see, this one was owned for many years by Robert Mitchum, the great actor.

SIMON: Yeah.

SIMON: And he became the first person to ever install motion detectors while living in this house.

SIMON: Robert Mitchum.

SIMON: Really. It's interesting because for all his tough guy image...

SIMON: Yeah.

SIMON: ...he really had this morbid fear of home invasion.

SIMON: Really?

SIMON: Yeah. Apparently, he had a connection to the original designer of motion detectors, and as a promotional thing, he got them installed.

SIMON: So where do we go now?

SIMON: We're just going to go up and very few - very close by - ah, yeah, yeah, it's this one - I could tell by the hedge - this house is where Buddy Hackett lived.

SIMON: Buddy Hackett - one of my favorites.

SIMON: Yeah, great comedian. And while living in this house, he was - towards his later years when he had more leisure time, he compiled one of the largest private collections of third edition books in the world.

SIMON: Third edition, not first.

SIMON: You know, that's what made him such a great comedian.

SIMON: Yeah.

SIMON: He had that quirkiness.

SIMON: So this would guarantee, like, if there had been a misplaced semicolon or a comma instead of a semicolon...

SIMON: Right.

SIMON: ...usually by the third edition, they sort of...

SIMON: Yeah, they've gotten it right.

SIMON: That's extraordinary.

SIMON: Yeah.

SIMON: Now, do you have any idea who some of his favorite authors were, I mean, who he collected?

SIMON: I believe his all-time favorite was Graham Greene. It doesn't fit with him, I know. It seems...

SIMON: Well, I would - I...

SIMON: ...odd.

SIMON: Not off hand but...

SIMON: I mean, you would think maybe Phillip Roth, but...

SIMON: Yeah.

SIMON: ...he seemed to like the waspier authors.

SIMON: Really?

SIMON: Yeah. Okay.

SIMON: Where are we going next?

SIMON: We are going about four blocks up.

SIMON: Yes.

SIMON: See, we have this house with this ocean view right here.

SIMON: Yeah, yeah.

SIMON: And it was at this house that Harpo Marx lived.

SIMON: Yeah.

SIMON: And after a full day of shooting Marx Brothers movies, he would come here and apparently just scream at the top of his lungs for hours.

SIMON: Oh, because, of course, he couldn't speak.

SIMON: Right, right.

SIMON: Oh, my gosh, but somehow it just built up and he had to express himself, right?

SIMON: Yeah, yeah. And then they'd hear this guy...

SIMON: Yeah.

SIMON: ...screaming.

SIMON: Where do we go now?

SIMON: Let's see, we go a little bit over to the left here and as we're going to come up on a home owned by the late great Sammy Davis Jr.

SIMON: Oh, great.

SIMON: At this home, coincidently, it was a rainy day and, you know, this town is not built for rain, so when it rains, things go immediately wrong. Well, one of the first days he was living here, it was pouring and there was a gas explosion in front of the house, some kind of gas main blew up or something like that. And Sammy was talking to one of the Ratpack friends on the phone and said, it's a gas.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: And literally that's where the expression, it's a gas, got started.

SIMON: Right here...

SIMON: Right here on this street.

SIMON: ...on this street?

SIMON: Right here on this street.

SIMON: Well, you know, we've learned a lot, I've got to tell you. I was expecting something, if you don't mind, you know, just kind of celebrity gawking, cheap and superficial, but I think we've really discovered the heart and soul of a place here.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Well, I'm here to help. I love your show, and I'll do anything I can to - what - are you on Saturdays, right?

SIMON: I believe so, yeah.

SIMON: Yeah. I mean, you know, for me to sit here and meet Bob Edwards, it's some kind of...

SIMON: Well, Peter Mehlman, thanks very much for being our guide here.

SIMON: Thank you. Thank you.

SIMON: Peter Mehlman, former writer for "Seinfeld" with his tour of an imaginary Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: And you'll find photos from sites we visited here in L.A. at npr.org. While you're at it, plug into our podcast at your leisure.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News in Southern California. We're back in the snow next week. I'm Scott Simon.

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