Los Angeles Times

From a TMZ tour bus to a seat at the Oscars: My search for elusive celebrity culture in Los Angeles

"You know what she wants to do?" spits Aunt Mattie bitterly at the aspiring Esther Blodgett (Janet Gaynor) in William A. Wellman's 1937 picture "A Star Is Born." "She wants to go to Hollywood."

Standing before the Dolby Theatre at Sunday's Academy Awards, it's easy to think of Hollywood as a physical place of bricks and mortar. There's the theater, dressed up in red carpet and miles of gold beads. There are the roaring crowds in bleachers before a scrum of cameras. And there's Salma Hayek in her clinking lavender gown, gliding through like a Technicolor caryatid.

By midweek, all evidence of the Oscars will be gone. Hollywood Boulevard will be reopened to tourists and buskers. And the closest most of us will get to stars will be the ones embedded in the pavement.

Hollywood, it turns out, is an elusive concept.

And by Hollywood, I don't mean the Los Angeles neighborhood of roughly 78,000. I mean "Hollywood," the idea. Hollywood the stand-in for

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