6:30am came way too quickly…especially because Joe set the alarm for 6am by mistake (grin).

Our meeting time for breakfast was coming up but we left the hotel room early to get “real” coffee at Starbucks, in case the breakfast coffee (Disney could = Nescafe and Creamora, for all we knew) was nasty. After we got our liquid wake-up call, we went to the “walkway” level to meet everyone. We met for breakfast at 7:45am and once all 24 of us were assembled, Julie walked across the street to Disney’s Soda Fountain and Studio Store. Alas, we were not offered any ice cream for breakfast but instead had choices of fruit in a sundae glass, assorted flavors of yogurt, bagels, english muffins, scrambled eggs, Mickey Mouse waffles, oatmeal, bacon sausage, orange juice, apple juice, coffee, milk, hot tea, iced tea and hot chocolate. I got the oatmeal (which was just OK) and Joe got the eggs (which he said weren’t very good at all). The coffee, FWIW, was strong but not bad. We had a special guest towards the end of the meal, in the form of a meet & greet/photo op with Sleeping Beauty.

Above and below: Eating breakfast at Disney’s Soda Fountain & Studio Store

Sleeping Beauty & I both got the “wear pink” memo

Our first stop of the day was next door for a tour of the El Capitan Theatre. Alex was our tour guide and we had the disinction of being his first tour ever. Anyway, he offered us the history of the theater, who had owned it in the past and the process of renovation ($14 mil, in 2 separate renovations, over the course of several years) when Disney bought the building. We went upstairs to the balcony to get a better idea of the detail in the architecture (keeping it true to its original design from the 192’0’s), and then down to he Orchestra level to learn more about the Wurlitzer organ they use (they also had a “Name that Tune” sort of game…I won a CD for guessing “When you Wish Upon A Star” in 3 notes). Next was teaching us about the sound system and finally, they brought us on stage to show us the house (that part didn’t impress me so much…I’ve been on the stage of the Ford Theater twice (42nd St. and Chitty), the Linda Chapin twice and the Bob Carr once (soon to be twice)…a stage is a stage).

The El Capitan:

Off the Main Lobby

Above and below: They hide the instruments and some pipes from the Wurlitzer behind the box seats

The Wurlitzer can play thousands upon thousands of different sounds

Some of the big pipes (as seen from the stage) are large enough for a full-grown person to fit in

A view from the stage

Next we went next-door to the studio where they tape Jimmy Kimmel Live. Kelly was the Operations Manager and he explained how the building, built in 1921, was originally the Hollywood Masonic temple and what Disney had done with the building since acquiring it in 1995. Next we got to meet “Uncle Frank”, the show’s security guard (an ex-NY cop, former Frank Sinatra bodyguard and Kimmel’s true-life uncle) – he was a complete character! We were walked around to see the Control Room, Tape Room, Makeup Room and Edit Bays. We also got to hear some ghost stories since the building is apparently haunted. Next up was the Green Room (it was very loungy and apparently has the reputation of being the site of some great parties. Baba Booey LOVES it). We also got to go into the sound stage where the show is actually taped, where we got to take pictures with Uncle Frank (this was the only place any pictures could be taken and only Quinn & Julie could take them). Finally we went back outside through the Stage Door to see the permanent outdoor concert stage they have set up behind the building.

Our Motor Coach was waiting for us as we exited the Jimmy Kimmel Live property, with Don the driver (the bus, BTW, was a Coach America bus, yay!). He took us on a roundabout route to get to the Henson Studios, spending lots of time on Sunset Blvd and pointing out the highlights as we passed them (site of Schwabs drugstore – which is now a 3 story strip mall, the HQ of the Directors Guild of America, Laugh Factory Comedy Club, Chateau Marmont (Lindsay Lohan currently lives there and John Belushi died there), the Sunset Tower Hotel (Marilyn Monroe used to stay there a lot), a Hyatt Hotel (nicknamed the “Hyatt Riot” because rap stars have a tendency to trash it), the original House of Blues restaurant, the original site of Spagos (the current location is in Beverly Hills but I ate in that original Spagos in 1989), the Viper Room (previously partially owned by Johnny Depp and was where River Phoenix died), The Whiskey a Go-Go and The Roxy. We made a left onto Doheny, which is he dividing line between West Hollywood and Beverly Hills (Marilyn Monroe owned a house on the Beverly Hills side of the street). Next we took a left onto Santa Monica Blvd (which used to be part of the legendary Rt. 66) and saw The Troubador and the original Palm restaurant.

The original “Crossroads of the World”

Finally we made a left onto LaBrea and, after seeing the storefront made famous by “L.A. Ink,” we stopped at the Jim Henson Studios on the right.

The entryway to the Jim Henson Studios, as seen from inside the Studios (you can’t get a decent picture from the front without going across he street and it’s a very busy street)

To make it easier to travel around the relatively small studio, we broke up into 2 teams – the Mickey Team went with with Quinn, while the Minnie team followed Julie. Joe and I were on the Mickey. We were told that we were allowed to take pictures everywhere we went at the Henson Studios, except for the Creature Shop.

Quinn explained how the property was originally the Charlie Chaplin studio. Then A&M Records records own it for a while. Then Henson purchased the building and when Disney bought Henson a few years ago, the Studio was part of the package. Several of the buildings on the property were original to Charlie Chaplin’s ownership (which I think impressed me more than then Henson or Disney ownership) and those building are registered as Historic Landmarks. Some of the sidewalks are also quite historic, with Charlie Chaplin’s footprints still in them, albeit a bit faded after nearly 100 years.

There are also 2 slabs with his footprint and dated signature, but those are reproductions. The originals are housed at the alma mater of a former owner of the property.

We went inside several of the various buildings, many of which have 2 separate sets of signage…how the Henson Studios use them but also how the Chaplin Studios used each building.

“The Cottages” now house offices, including that of Brian Henson (one of Jim’s sons). Brian was at the Studio that day so we couldn’t go inside.

The (current) Reception building used to be “The Vault”. What is now an unused side door used to be where Charlie Chaplin stored his movie reels, as well as his signature hat, shoes and cane.

Inside the Reception building: some of the awards that the Jim Henson Company has won

We went into the “Theater” to see a movie (made especially for the Adventures by Disney tours) that explained the history of the studio, then the footprints, then into the Cafeteria (of all places) to watch a 50-year history time line of the Muppets (in 2.5 minutes). After that we went onto the sound stage and then into the Creature Shop.

Inside the Sound Stage.

The Creature Shop was COOL. It was where they design and build many of the Muppets you see today (many, but not all…they also have studios in NYC and London) and so there are Muppet pieces everywhere…boxes with “Gonzo-like” materials, ping pong ball noses, feathers and fur of every size and shape, you get the picture. There are also some Muppets out there for viewing, including the baby from “Dinosaurs” (“Not the Mama!”), Scooby Do, the moose and pig from the movie they had just shown us, plus several dozen I didn’t recognize. Our host in that building, Brian (not Henson), also explained how the Muppeteers do their work, aiming towards a camera that is high enough up so their heads don’t show. He explained how they make the Muppet look far away and close up and how he can make it look like it’s moving much faster than it actually is. Next he explained and showed their latest form of Muppetry…computer-animated Muppets. They use people (or dogs! The recently used a Great Dane “Hollywood dog”) wearing Spandex clothing with special markers on them that their computers pick up and translate into movement for a CGI character. Very interesting, high-tech stuff!

Above: Big, 3D Kermit. Below: Joe taking a picture of the big 3D Kermit, with “The Schoolhouse” behind him (the building was never used as a schoolhouse but it looked like one so that’s what they called it. Nowadays it’s offices.)

They had lunch ready for us by the time we got out of the Creature Shop – I had a chicken salad sandwich while Joe had a cheeseburger. After lunch we got to take some pictures with Brian and his friend, “Sweetheart”.

Next up was a special treat…after leaving the Henson Studios, we boarded the bus and headed to Griffith Park, so we could see Walt’s train barn and his (and others’) trains! As we arrived, we were greeted by a guy named Mike (ahem, Michael. Michael Broggie, founder of the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society and son of Roger Broggie!). He handed us off to Doug, who told the story of how Walt always loved trains and how he wanted a train for their backyard and, after some negotiating with Lillian (she didn’t want the train to mess up her flower beds), got his wish with the 1/8 scale train set (hence one-upping his friends Ollie and Ward, who each had mere 1/12 scale trains in THEIR backyards).

Doug telling us stories

He eventually decided to put a train in the Disney Studios so the public could have access to it (he linked it to the old “Saturday was Daddy’s Day” story), but that plan was ditched when he decided to go for a grander theme and make an entire amusement park – hence the birth of Disneyland. Anyway, Lillian lived in that house until she died and although the new owner tried to keep the building, there was just too much dry rot and it had to be demolished. However Diane and Ron Miller paid to have Walt’s train barn (where he worked on his trains) moved to Griffith Park, where it stands, intact, today. After hearing the history, we were invited to ride on the train and visit the barn (which now houses some of the original artifacts, such as the sink, paper towel roll, cup dispenser and desk) Walt’s trains, as well as train (and a little bit of monorail) related memorabilia from Frank Thomas’ Ollie Johnson’s and Ward Kimball’s collections. VERY cool!

The train. I took a video of the whole ride – still need to upload it

Walt’s train barn

Walt’s sink & “stuff” inside the barn

Some of the memorabilia inside the barn

We re-boarded the bus and went back to the hotel. Quinn and Julie had managed to get all of us tickets to the taping of Jimmy Kimmel Live but (A) Joe and I only barely cared about one of the guests – Alyssa Milano, (B) meeting for the taping meant having to be back out in an hour – for a taping that would take several hours and (C) we had to wake up EARLY the next morning. So we decided to skip the taping and go off on our own.

The first order of business for us was, of course, a nap. We had woken up early and had done a lot of running around all day so a nap was just what we needed to recharge our batteries. After we woke up, we decided to eat at the Japanese restaurant at the H&H Complex, since we had eaten there 3 years ago and really liked their variation of Shabu Shabu. It definitely didn’t disappoint, nor did the Beard Papa we got for dessert. We went to bed soon after going back to our hotel room.

It had been a really fun day!