It’s nearly impossible to miss the tour buses lining the street along Hollywood Boulevard. Maybe you’ve been on one, or suggested that visiting friends take a ride to see the sights and drive by the million dollar mansions of the stars. While Hollywood tour vans promise to give you some movie star history and an insider glimpse of their glamorous homes, the NBC4 I-Team has found many of the Hollywood tours are selling a steady stream of lies.
The I-Team took 20 tours, and found many operators charging tourists as much as $50 each, then delivering two hours of incorrect information that cheat riders and leaves some homeowners dealing with obsessed and potentially dangerous fans.
On one of the tours the NBC4 I-Team signed up to take, LA Scene Tours, the driver got more than a dozen Hollywood facts and celebrity homes wrong. While on Mulholland Drive, he pointed to a home and said, “See that house down there? That’s Ice-T and Coco’s house.” He was wrong.
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He also went by the home where singer Michael Jackson once lived and said, “This house right here, you see the balcony? That’s where he was dangling the baby.” He was referring to the 2002 incident in which Jackson dangled his young son over a hotel balcony. But that happened in Berlin, not Los Angeles. The driver also incorrectly pointed out the homes of 50 Cent, Paris Hilton and Danny DeVito, to name a few.
When we approached LA Scene Tours and pointed out the homes we were shown on our tour were wrong, a representative of the company told us, “This is all about fun, this is all about Hollywood.” When asked if it’s also supposed to be accurate, he responded, “No. It’s really just Hollywood, that’s what it’s all about.” He added, “I’m glad that you are going to advertise because I guarantee you put my company on that I’m going to have more people coming to do my tour. That’s a guarantee.”
Reporter Jenna Susko replied, “To see houses that don’t belong to celebrities?” to which he said, “They don’t mind about that madam, they really don’t.”
Other tour bus companies incorrectly pointed out the homes of Eva Longoria, Kim Kardashian, Meryl Streep, Tim Allen, Britney Spears, Robert Downey Jr., Justin Bieber, Orlando Bloom, Nicole Richie, Jodie Foster, Simon Cowell, Jennifer Lopez, Quentin Tarantino, Catherine Zeta Jones, Michael Douglas, Owen Wilson, Mark Wahlberg and Jeremy Piven.
It seemed so ludicrous that we met up with real estate expert Josh Flagg, the star of Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing.” He agreed to go undercover with us to see just how big the problem is.
Our bus tour guide on this trip treated us to nearly two hours of bad information. The company declined to comment when we asked about the misinformation, but Josh Flagg didn’t hold back – especially after we told him about all the other lies we heard on tours. “It’s just stupid,” he said. Another tour told us that Justin Bieber burned down a home.
“Justin Bieber did not burn down that house on the corner of Sunset and Crescent. That is just the dumbest thing I’ve heard in my life,” Flagg says.
Homeowner Michael Edson says he’s been dealing with consequences of a tour company pointing out his home as belonging to a movie star. “Julia Roberts has never lived in this house and has never been to this house,” he said. Surveillance video shows the intruder scaling the wall of his Hollywood Hills mansion. Another video shows a fan trying to fight his way onto the property.
“I opened the gate and it was a guy asking for Julia’s autograph,” he says. Edson also showed us letters full of death threats, with one reading “I see your house burning in flames around us.” Another letter says he knows Julia Roberts lives there because he was told so on a tour bus. Several times, he woke up to love notes to movie star Julia Roberts painted on the walls.
“A lot of these film stars have their own security and now I know why,” Edson said. Just a couple weeks after our interview, Edson called to say someone broke into his house in the middle of the night and left a rose on the table.
Surveillance cameras caught the intruder climbing over the wall with a flashlight. “The alarm goes off at the front of the house. I come running around to see what was going on and this lunatic is here just painting the side of the house,” he says. He says he was punched in the face and called police, but the masked man got away. He had previously asked the tour company to stop pointing out his home as Julia Roberts' but says they didn’t.
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He even documented it on camera during a tour, when the driver again named his home as belonging to the movie star. Now, he’s taking them to court. The defendant, LA City Tours, tells us it has no comment. “Knowing that so many mentally unstable people who are trying to chase down these celebrities,” he says. "I’m now being chased down and I’m not a celebrity and I don’t want to be a celebrity. I just want a peaceful life, which I now can’t have.”
The I-Team planted a camera at another non-celebrity home in the hills one recent Saturday and recorded about 25 different tour buses stopping in front every hour. The house was pointed out as the current home of Quentin Tarantino and the previous home of Britney Spears. The real homeowners, who do not want to be identified, say their mailbox has been vandalized and a wannabe screenwriter even left a fan letter and script. Like Edson, they’re concerned for their safety.
Top officials at the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board say it is always working to make sure the tourism industry in the area is representing the truth to Hollywood tourists.
“The tourism industry is a significant economic driver and employer for Los Angeles county, generating $2.5 billion in state and local tax revenues in 2015. As the official tourism marketing organization or the city of Los Angeles, L.A. Tourism's focus is on ensuring that visitors to our city have a memorable and authentic Los Angeles experience,” says President and Chief Executive Ernest Wooden Jr. in a written statement.
“We work with our tourism partners to help meet these important objectives. We do not condone or support activities in the L.A. area which are misrepresentative or inaccurate to our visitors.”
Two of the biggest tour operators on Hollywood Boulevard are Starline and TMZCelebrity Tours.
The I-Team rode Starline several times, and found that while guides still gave some incorrect information about celebrity home locations, the incidents were far fewer than most other operators.
Contacted for comment, Starline Chairman and Chief Executive Kami Farhadi said “we have always used a small group of our longer serving drivers to do fact checking and keep up to date with where celebrities are living.”
“As a company we take a good deal of time to train all drivers, even if they have been doing these tours with other companies to ensure that they are fully trained and learn the routes and position of celebrity homes accurately, as well as making sure that have the correct qualifications to be driving passengers on our services.”
The I-Team also took a tour with TMZ, which pointed out no celebrity homes.
TMZ does not promote itself as a “celebrity home tour” provider; instead its website promises riders will see “the hottest spots in Hollywood, Beverly Hills and the Sunset Strip,” and hear “inside information and never-revealed details about Hollywood celebs.”
Tips for Taking a Hollywood Tour
1. Carefully review online reviews (Yelp, Trip Advisor, etc) before choosing tour company
2. Visually inspect the vehicle you’re about to ride in to identify any potential safety issues
3. Take photo of/write down vehicles “TCP” certificate number (located on side or back of vehicle – if it doesn’t have one, reconsider your ride)
4. Pay with a credit card, in case you want to dispute the charge if you’re unhappy with your tour
5. Find out about company’s refund policy before you pay
6. Ask operator for exact times of departure and return, so you don’t wait longer than you expect for tour to start/finish
7. If riding with small children, ask operator to provide infant safety seat and/or booster seat – and make sure they are installed properly
Resources If You See a Problem
If you suspect problems with vehicle safety/licensing (if urgent, dial 911): CHP 1-800-TELL-CHP (1-800-835-5247)
If you suspect illegal/reckless behavior by tour company employee(s): LAPD Hollywood Division 213-972-2971
If you’re a resident with concerns about tour bus/van activity in your neighborhood, you can contact:
- Office of City Councilman David Ryu 213-473-7004
- Office of City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell 213-473-7013
- Office of City Councilman Paul Koretz 310-289-0353
Michael Edson and his attorney tell NBCLA they are organizing others who have had problems with Hollywood tours. If you are interested in contacting them, they can be reached at email@example.com